Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Introspection

Many will have dreamed of a White Christmas this year.  I dreamed of one like I used to know.  It was the wonderful dream of a tree decorated with scores of lights and ornaments and tinsel, topped by a star.  Underneath, a wave of presents looking like a wheat field waited for our anxious hands to tear the wrapping off and discover the treasure within.

There, the five of us (mom, dad, sister, brother, and me), opened presents at four or five in the morning, whenever my sister woke up, and enjoyed each other's company.  Even while living on my own in the Jack in the Box days, I'd stay either stay over or, more likely, come after closing the place down.

I even remember the last present I gave my father, tickets to the Cowboy playoff game.  Christmas 1978.

He took my brother.

Dallas beat the Atlanta Falcons 27-20 on December 30.  They went to the Super Bowl that year, losing to Pittsburgh 35-30.

Starting the year after my father died, Christmas's changed.  Not the loot portion.  Neither of my parents received much when they were young due to depression finances so they took it out on their kids with extravagance.  My mom became even more lush without anyone to check her, but something else changed.  The spirituality of the season left never to return, so my brother, sister and I clung to what was left ... the packages.  Since my mom wasn't particularly demonstrative in handing out affection, we took what we could get.

There's something obscene in having a thirty-five year old, a thirty-one year old, and a twenty-six year old all still getting presents from Santa Claus, but my mom insisted at a certain point in Christmas preparations up until that time that all three of us go to bed while she finished up ... before Santa came.  And she would get mad when we told her that if there any heavy lifting to get me or my brother.  No, she said.  Santa would take care of it.  And she determined to spend to the penny the same amount on each of us.  She even apologized to me one year for spending five dollars less on me than my siblings.  Five bucks out of three thousand.

Did it occur to us at the time that something was dreadfully wrong here?  No it didn't, because the loot was the loot, and Christmas morning was all about the loot.  It would take a level of maturity our mother took great pains to check for us to refuse to accept so much.

About the adage, "'Tis better to give than receive," my sister expressed our attitudes perfectly by saying, "That's true.  But if someone gives, someone has to receive.  That might as well be us."

I laughed, having nothing more than a vague idea just how wrong these Christmas's were, that my mother was trying her damndest to buy our love when we should have reassured her, letting her know that she didn't have to go into debt at Christmas.  But hey, the loot was the loot wasn't it?

I tried so hard to find something more, like attending midnight mass, saying the rosary, whatever ... but looking back, it was cold on Christmas morning, even if the outside temperature was in the seventies.

My mom died the night before Thanksgiving 2000, and Christmas changed again, becoming about me and my sister.  I would spend some of it with her and her husband, then with her alone when he left her, and would visit other friends as well.  I did find a measure of spirituality but didn't really appreciate it, didn't really understand the dynamic of it or of my life for that matter.

My sister died six days before Christmas in 2006, and the day then became no more relevant to me than President's Day.  I spend it with wonderful friends and have dinner and conversations and even present exchanges, but try as I will, I can't seem to find the magic anymore.

It's not there.

I wonder now if it ever was.

It wasn't there this year, either, though my friends Aaron and Jill were gracious enough to cheerfully have me over again.  I am most grateful.

But something has become clear now.

Thanksgiving and Christmas have lost their meanings for me and I have to find them again.

It goes beyond that though.  I've lost my way through life.  I had a long conversation with a mentor at work, and damn, at the tender age of fifty-three I still have very little confidence in myself as a person.  She obviously hasn't been the only person to have noticed, though I thought I was brilliant at hiding it.

Well, actually that's not quite true.  There have been times in my life when I've had far more confidence in myself than now.  Never as much as I would like, but certainly more than now.

Which begs the question, how do I get it?  Or how do I get it back?

Books have been written on the subject, but it's not books that are going to get me through this unless ... unless they are mine.  :-).

A friend of mine told me not long ago that I changed after mom died, and then again after my sister died and not all of the change was good. Those things I can't see, but I'm feeling that he's right.  And if he is, then have I wasted more than ten years of my life?

No.  I've already had that pity party.  I'm not going to have it again.

But, factually, I allowed myself to be controlled by my mother from the beginning of time.  She, herself, was so scared that she couldn't be loved that she spend years trying to buy the love of people, her mom, me and my siblings, and even friends.  She had no concept that people could love her just because she was a good person.

So, she dangled the carrot and I jumped.  That cost me a marriage, and whatever self-confidence I may have developed.  Okay.  That's done and over with.

So, what steps do I need to take now?

Well, I need to lose weight and finish Catch a Falling Star.  No doubt.  But I'm thinking that those will have to be by products of a more confident me.  So I can't use those as crutches.  In reality, they are the symptoms.

Okay.  Fair enough.  So what do I do?  How do I gain self-confidence?  Don't I have to have at least a measure of success to be confident?  I haven't yet had success as a writer, less than zero success in relationships since I haven't really had many ... but I'm a friend and am blessed with a number of friends!

Let's start there, shall we?  That resonates.  I'm a friend and am blessed with a number of wonderful friends.

You know something?  I'm writing this part Christmas Eve.  I'm going to pause a while to watch It's a Wonderful Life, so let me do that and I'll be back next paragraph.

And here I am.  Can anyone watch that movie without crying?  I sure-as-hell can't.  And the only reason it played this evening on my television was tradition.  Since I first saw it, I haven't missed a year seeing it, so I thought to just put it on as background so as to claim that I watched it another year even if I really didn't "watch" it.  Couldn't do that, though.  Not at all.  Like reading nearly 900 pages to read Agnes telling David Copperfield, "I've loved you all my life," ... the most emotional line I've ever read in fiction ... I had to see the buildup to Clarence getting his wings. 

What a marvelous character actor Henry Travers was!

Anyway, back to my introspection.  It's impossible to gain confidence without success, isn't it?  Even George Bailey in the story had to face that.  Of course, George had amazing success that he didn't see.  He just had to be shown the difference he made in the world.

So where to start?  It's going to sound trite, and sentimental, and stupid, but I have to start each day by looking in the mirror and finding a way to like the guy looking back.

The dude I see there now is one selfish son-of-a-bitch and has been for a mighty long time.  That's pretty harsh, but true.  So I have to start by looking past that and into the good parts.  They are there.  I know they are.  From time to time they just sort of jump out and announce themselves briefly before returning to the safety my heart's cellar.

My friends can see those good parts from time to time.  I have to look with better eyes.  And, well, I have to start another Christmas tradition, someway, somehow.  Too late for this year, but I can certainly spend this next year considering just how to do that.  A possibility occurred.

Prior to the publication of a particular work of literature, Christmas was a time for revelry and celebration.  Lord knows I've been through those times, haven't I?  But from the time of this particular work of literature, the emphasis has shifted to giving, particularly to the poor.

That particular work of literature?  You know it.  It's pictured above.  It's, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens published December 19, 1843.  Then came the popular carol, "Good King Wenceslas" in 1853, about a king bringing meat and drink to the poor.

And the last line of that song is, "Ye who now shall bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing."

Wow.  So what do I do?  I'll start greeting the dude I see in the mirror every morning like my best friend in the world.  Every morning.  Right now, that's the poor guy I need to bless.  Dude?  Guy?  How about man?  Never have I been comfortable referring to myself as a "man," or being referred to as a "man."

That's telling, too.

I have a lot of work to do, but it's not too late.  Not at all, and there is still time to make progress before San Francisco.

It's now Christmas morning, and I feel good.  I've taken a step.  And I suspect that if I can somehow develop some measure of confidence, then other good things will fall into place. 

Including finding my way to help the real poor.

See y'all next week.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oscar Time For Colin!

I have to be reminded from time to time that stories don't have to be about war or forbidden romance to be compelling.  Sometimes, the best stories are about simple things brought into an intense spotlight.

The movie "The King's Speech" is exactly that.  The evolution of war and the consummation of forbidden romance are supporting tales to this wonderful story of the courage of a king and the development of a friendship with a commoner.

The king is George VI of England, the reluctant king, and the man who ascended to the British throne when his brother Edward VIII abdicated to marry twice-divorced Wallis Simpson in what was called "The Love Story of the Ages."  This tale tells how the King prepares to present a speech over the radio.

Huh?  What?

How he prepares to make a speech?

How about if I added that the speech was to be broadcast live over the radio?  Not convinced?

How about if this speech had to rally the British Empire against the tyranny of Adolf Hitler?  A little better?

Let's add something to that.  We already know he never wanted to be king.  Now you see...

... the poor man suffered from a bad stammer and had since boyhood.  Most of us take for granted the ability to speak with one another, or even speak with several at once.  This man was uncomfortable speaking to individuals he didn't know, but as the son of the king was expected to speak publically.  When in 1925 the, then, Duke of York, botched a speech at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley he sought the help of Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist and hack actor and resolved to make as few public speeches as he could get away with.

His father dies.  His brother abdicates.

Now, what happens when this shy, reluctant king with a cataclysmic stammer must rally the British Empire for war with a speech broadcast live over the radio?  Ah!  That is what the very best stories are made of.

That, and the developing friendship between a King and a commoner, probably the only commoner who could get away with calling the King of England, "Bertie."  And how the latter helped the former overcome the impediment to give a brilliant speech and prepare the Empire for the dangers ahead.

I don't suffer from a stammer, but don't think I could broadcast live to the world with the intent to rally the troupes.  What a burden that would be to carry, don't you think?  How many of us could do it, even without the extra challenge he faced?

Oh, folks, what a movie this is!

Colin Firth was brilliant as King George VI, and Geoffrey Rush shined as Lionel Logue.  This is the best movie I've seen this year, just nudging out "The Social Network."  I'm going to see it again, maybe a few times.  What that man did way back in 1939 was courageous beyond belief.  Courage is doing something you're afraid to do. 

I have a newfound admiration and respect for King George VI.

And Colin Firth should win the Oscar for playing him.

Now on to a little scattershooting...

My sister died four years ago today (Sunday the 19th).  I still miss her, but am determined to enjoy Christmas this year.

For the first time in awhile, I have a Christmas song of the year, one that really touches me.  It's Vince Vance and the Valiants, "All I Want For Christmas is You."

I am determined to not gain weight over the holidays, and have composed a list of reasons to lose weight.  The first item on that list is that I want to be able to tie my shoes and breathe at the same time.

Catch a Falling Star is progressing nicely.  I'm nearly at page 200 on draft Lucky 13, and liking the way it's coming along.

I'm looking forward to my trip to San Francisco in February, hopefully to sell the novel, and head toward writing for a living.  Damn I want to be writing for a living.

But then that's what this blog is about ... the road toward that very thing.

Happy Holidays to all of you!

See y'all next week.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over

I watched the "Ice Bowl" on television.  The game in1967 when Bart Starr on fourth down quarterback -neaked into the end zone behind guard Jerry Kramer and tackle Forrest Gregg (later a Cowboy) to win the NFL championship.

That game solidified Vince Lombardi's reputation as a coach, and Starr's as the quarterback just behind the great Johnny Unitas.

But what about the losing quarterback that day?  The one who had the game won until the final few seconds?

Don Meredith was a brilliant quarterback.  He was tough.  He was intelligent, and, in the words of Tom Landry, "the best player I ever coached."

Every home game he ever played was in north Texas.  He played high school in Mt. Vernon, college at SMU, and his entire pro career with the Cowboys.

When he retired, I couldn't understand why.  He had barely spent nine years in the NFL.  He was just coming into his prime.  Had barely lost NFL championship games to Lombardi's Packers.  Barely.  Each game could have gone either way.  A play here or there could have turned the tide.  But he called it a career a season after the Ice Bowl.

Then he gave pro football his greatest contribution ... his presence from 1970 on Monday Night Football.  How many of us remember that the original Monday night trio was Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.  It was 1971 that Gifford, Cosell, and Meredith became a team.

And what a team.  The three of them changed football.  They blended together like the Three Stooges, or Johnny, Ed, and Doc.  And Dandy Don was the analyst and the comic relief all at the same time.  He brought the concept of entertainment to pro football announcing, something no one ever had before and no one has since.  He knew the sport and knew how to entertain while keeping the sport serious.

He became more famous than when he was a player.

I remember once when the camera showed a fan live flipping the bird to the nation. Gifford and Cosell were dumbfounded.  Didn't know what to say.  Meredith told a shocked nation that the fan was "telling everyone that his team was number one."  It broke the tension and brought Gifford and Cosell back into the picture.

Of course there was controversy.  Like when he was stoned on a broadcast from Denver and said, "Here we are in the Mile High city ... and I sure am."  Of course, the fact that Cosell had once puked on Meredith's cowboy boots and passed out, forcing Keith Jackson and Meredith to do the game alone doesn't get that much press.  Yes, he referred to the then President as "Tricky Dick."  Who cares, now?

I don't.

I just miss the man and what he brought to the sport.

He died this last Sunday, after hurting for a long time.  What I'll always remember about Dandy Don was that on any given Monday night, when a team would make a play to put the game out of reach, he would sing the lyrics to an old country song.

So, Don, I sing it to you now.  "Turn out the lights, the party's over.  They say that all good things must end."

Oh, heavens, I haven't said what I learned from Don Meredith.  Simple.  I learned to have fun doing what you do.  And I learned that having fun will get us through the most difficult of times.

And Don, stealing from Bob Hope, let me add, "Thanks For the Memories."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On To The Next

Every aspiring author has chosen at least one book off the shelf, read all or part of it, and wondered how the hell it got there in the first place.  I have one of those sitting next to me right now.  It's title I will keep to myself because a friend fervently recommended it to me and I'm still pondering how I will answer the question, "What did you think?" when this person asks.

Oh, hell, I already know how I'll answer it.  I'll be honest.

And I know the why those books end up on the shelf.  Other people like them.  Or some editor thought that people would like them.  I am progressing well on Lucky 13, preparing for the San Francisco Writers Conference over President's Day next February.  But here's what has to happen.  Regardless of what happens with Catch a Falling Star there I will be done with it until and unless an agent or editor requests it.

I'm tired of it.  Sick of it as a matter of fact.  It's time to move on to other stories and other characters.  Other books.  Sometimes I wonder at all the time spent on Falling Star.  But why?  I've learned so much.  Grown so much as a writer through those pages.  And I'll keep growing until it's finished.

Then it's on to the next.

For now, here's a little scattershooting.

Recently I saw a wonderful production of The Nutcracker. So here's a big time shout out to Victoria as Clara and Olivia as the Sugar Plum Fairy.  Both of you were amazing!  And, both are daughters of friends of mine.

And how about a shout to Tchaikovsky for writing such diverse, memorable music that is as much apart of the Holiday Season for me as Christmas Trees and ... whoa! ... Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

So what will be my next project when I'm through with Falling Star?  I have two in mind, one a Young Adult fantasy.  I'm leaning toward that one because I can already tell that it will be fun to write.  The other will be for readers coming out of Young Adult mode and is a more complex story.

Hell, who knows?  I might work on them simultaneously, though I've never been successful when trying that approach.

I'm looking forward to the release of the latest movie based on the Narnia Chronicles, this one, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."  I loved the books when I was a kid, and ... well, we'll see.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to Part 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows next July.  And ...

I got away last week from admitting to my weight last week.  To be honest it didn't occur to me to do it.  So, this morning I weighed in at 266, down a total of 19 pounds, but up two from the previous week.  I think dinner at Rathbun's followed closely by Thanksgiving had a lot to do with that. 

OH!  And I posted the prologue to Catch a Falling Star on my other blog.  Catch it at this link ...

Happy Holidays!

See y'all next week!