Archive for the 'God' Category

More Than a Feeling

I read this article by David Brooks – “If It Feels Right” – in the New York Times the other day, and it made me wary and then it made me think. Lacking the usual implication of impending apocalypse at the hands of “youngsters”, Brooks pretty calmly suggests that people my age lack any real guiding sense of morality or ethics that goes much beyond doing what feels right at a given moment. The article contains quotation after quotation from my generation, claiming to know as little as possible about as much as possible. I went to college, so the perspective isn’t all that surprising.

It’s true that there are things we simply won’t ever know; and it’s true that admitting you don’t know is better than pretending you do know. But that’s not what this is. My generation, by-and-large, likes to camp out at the openings of the trails past generations spent their lives navigating; only, we couple it with a cynicism that scoffs at effort, unless we know precisely where the path will lead us (and a stupidity to think we deserve to choose what we’ll find at the end).

So there you see my default position: annoyance at my peers. But the article, while not giving them a total pass, significantly relegates the burden of blame to mostly general lack-of-maturity/ lack-of-experience type charges, which, okay I agree that those are true, but then you also have to discuss the growing syndrome of 20-somethings intent on acting like teenagers for longer and longer, and so eventually you still arrive at a place where some responsibility has to be laid at the feet of those who have the ability to grow up, just not the desire (and sometimes maybe not the incentive) to.

Interestingly, the article states that “the study says more about adult America than about youthful America.” Now that could just be interpreted as the classic blame-it-on-the-parents argument; but the more I thought about it, the more I perceived an air of validity and truth to it.

I Think the Sheer Fact of This Movie is Judgment Enough

I just started reading the Book of Judges, which, you may or may not know or care, many scholars believe was written by Samuel, whose mentor, you may or may not know or care, was Eli. And it turns out that Eli’s relationship with his sons contains an interesting parallel with Joshua and Israel. Both Joshua and Eli were incredibly esteemed by their communities for their leadership and guidance. But both also failed to train the generation that followed directly after them, in the ways of the Lord.

Joshua failed to prepare the next generation of Israelites, who, we learn, were not brought up in the knowledge of the Lord or what he did for Israel; Eli had two sons, whom he let basically get away with everything, until they pretty brazenly took the Ark of the Covenant (which essentially contained the Lord’s essence…just read the Bible) into battle – which was forbidden – where they promptly got it stolen before they were both killed. There’s a sad, poignant moment in 1 Samuel, chapter 4, when Eli, old and blind and alone, is sitting along the side of the road, waiting for news from the battle. He is filled with regret for not raising his sons better, and he knows the news isn’t going to be good, and he’s right.

All of this has made me think. I agree that a lot of late 20th Century parenting did a bellyflop of a job when it came to preparing their kids for adulthood, and they may be responsible for creating the seeming allergic reaction to personal responsibility. But the kind of wholesale moral relativism/individualism has just as much to do with a youth culture that saw an opportunity and just ran with it. This is all, as well, to say nothing of the roles innumerable other cultural variables (e.g. 9/11, increasingly techno-driven society, etc…) play in this whole matter.

And yet. I was a little bothered by how one-sided the article was. I kept waiting for them to share some perspectives by responsible young people who are engaged and intelligent and thoughtful, as opposed to merely the lethal combination of opinionated and outspoken. I know that other side exists, because I know them. They have brilliant ideas. They are wickedly funny. They understand technology and how to use it in uniquely creative ways. They hold jobs, they have ambitions, they don’t flinch at monogamy.

But the biggest difference between them actually isn’t probably that they make any fewer mistakes, it’s that they’ve stopped romanticizing their mistakes so unrelentingly damned much.


Come On Up to the House

A friend of mine just posted this on Facebook. I realize it’ll get substantially less play here, but it made me feel so at peace and settled down here at the end of my night, that I wanted to share it too. After a straining day at work, after a hard workout, after doing some praying and doing some writing and doing some thinking. Tom Waits is one of those indescribably important musicians for me, and this been one of my favorite songs of his from the moment I heard it in my bedroom, sophomore year of high school. How I long to walk into church one Sunday and hear it belted out by a choir, be able to join in and let it fly. This video is expertly conceived, too.

Church on Sunday; or Ode to Bruce Beresford

I am a Christian not usually moved by Church. What I mean is this: I go to church, I can appreciate the ideas and truth content of a sermon, but rarely does the experience – the packaging, if you will – itself move me. Oftentimes, I leave slightly fussy and have to get over myself on the car ride back home. This is not a film. This is not a novel. This is not art. This is proclamation on a 7-day cycle. Pastors don’t have teams of writers like sitcoms and anytime I think “Well, hell, maybe they should” I am immediately struck by the stupidity and un-enlightened-ness of the concept. It is just possible that the sermon was not crafted with me in mind – and that it shouldn’t have to be for me to be willing to see what it’s saying. This is a lesson continually learned. For myself and people like me, small group meetings are more fulfilling: discussing verses, digging into them more than usually happens in a sermon. This is where His words come alive for me.

Which is why when a Sunday at Church – in this case, Pacific Crossroads Church – does move me, it’s a big deal. This week was a big deal; one of those times when everything in the sermon and the verses preached upon and the music and all of it overcomes all usual preconceived notions of expectation and cuts directly to your own personal heart. My heart. There was even a moment today when my friend and fellow writer Josh looked over at me after the pastor said something and said “We just talked about that.” It’s true, we had, last night, because it had been on my mind for the past week.

The sermon was the beginning of a series about the life of David (as in  “-and Goliath” and “-and Bethsheba” and many other “as in”s), but today was all groundwork and precursor. It was about Hannah, the barren woman in 1 Samuel who is mocked because she cannot have a child and goes to the temple to pray. The verse recount a bitterness and frustration of spirit not often spoken of in church. Most of the time we’re asked to abide, to stand it. Hannah approaches God with an honesty and frankness and brokenness so rare, she seems drunk. This is God’s word (emboldens, mine):

10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”  … 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk… 15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” 18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

The sermon was about our own personal terms for a successful life. How at that time if a woman didn’t have children, she was viewed as worthless. How Hannah assumed that this must be true. How while our society has progressed and evolved in its role of women in society, there are still mostly arbitrary societal pressures and incorrect criteria for what it means to be a successful person. How we assume that this must be true.

I Want to Go to There

There is a way to read those verses and see them as Hannah bargaining with God. Growing up in the church, this was my understanding of the passage, and I didn’t understand why or how it (the verses) could be suggesting this when I had so often promised things to God if he would just allow me to be Batman or Spiderman. This was one of those stories in Sunday School that the teacher thought would be an easy lesson – she prays, things change! – but very quickly got out of hand because of its dis-unity with our basic understanding of God. Snack-time was often invoked much earlier than normal on days like this.

What the passage is really about is a woman giving up what she had always been told her dream would be. It’s her wrestling with God to do this. It’s her arguing with God why this must be. And eventually it’s her decision to make God her barometer for success, to the point that even if He should decide to give her a child, she will deliver it right back to God; that is she will deliver her dreams into the hands of God instead of holding onto them for herself – “Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

The sermon was about how our expectations and dreams and societal/personal preconceptions about success have to be molded and given over to God. We assume that the blacker things in our lives should be given to God. Our greed and lies and sins, anything we dislike. Much harder is to give to God those things we like and want to keep and think will complete us – which good things in the end won’t complete us but seem like they will complete us at the time. It’s in some ways a sermon that goes back to the notion of a God-sized hole that nothing but God – which is to say nothing but Christ – can fill.

The One and Only Bruce Beresford

Saturday night, amid much movie talk, my friend Ben brought up a film he really likes starring John Cusack and Morgan Freeman, about a convict and a father. You know the one? Neither did we. It’s called “The Contract,” and it was made in 2006 and directed by Bruce Beresford, who also directed “Tender Mercies” and “Driving Miss Daisy.” It was released direct-to-market (a.k.a. straight-to-DVD). How can this be? His films used to win Oscars. He’s got two Hollywood heavyweights in his film. How does this movie not get released in theaters? How can this movie fail to be seen as “capable of cinematic success” with all this clout behind it? Has the world gone crazy?

This is my own personal fear. I want to write and direct. But what will happen on the day that I make something that I believe is worthy and good and am told by the world that it doesn’t measure up? How will that fit into my goal of being a first-rate filmmaker? How can it possibly be my goal to achieve something so intangible and fleeting? Or, what if I “Beresford” my career? What if I achieve great success early on, only to be all but forgotten and disregarded later? Woody Allen would be a more shining example, but his films always make it into theaters. He’s still seen as an auteur. Jason Reitman, whose early success with “Juno” he said could be a terrible thing because it’s a lot to live up to for the rest of his career. To be honest, if you’d asked me before Saturday night to name the director of “Driving Miss Daisy,” I wouldn’t have been able to. He hasn’t been forgotten by me, he was never known. And if this is the case with people like me, what must that mean for him?

I’m sounding incredibly insulting. My question is, what does success mean for Bruce Beresford? Is he bitter? As someone who has achieved essentially nothing to date, I look at his career and know that I would be bitter if it were me. I would cry out to God how totally bullshit it is that Morgan Freeman and John Cusack can’t get me a theatrical release. Yes, but Beresford has made 15 movies since “Driving miss Daisy,” many of which have had theatrical releases, and many of which have gotten very good reviews.

So the question returns to what is success? How do I define it for myself vs. How should I define it? The question has been on my mind much of late, due to a sortof existential “Would You Rather…?[1] proffered by my roommate, Adam, and due to some brilliant passages in (what else?) Infinite Jest, by the late great David Foster Wallace (prepare thyself):

“And for the ones… the lucky who become profiled and photographed for readers and in the USA religion make it, they must have something built into them along the path that will let them transcend it, or they are doomed… For, you, if you attain your goal and cannot find some way to transcend the experience of having that goal be your entire existence, your raison de faire, so, then one of two things we see will happen…

“One, one is that you attain the goal and realize the shocking realization that attaining the goal does not complete or redeem you, does not make everything for your life “OK” as you are, in the culture, educated to assume it will do this, the goal… and you are impaled by shock…

“Or the other possibility of doom, for the etoiles who attain. They attain the goal, thus, and put as much equal passion into celebrating their attainment as they had put into pursuing the attainment. This is called the Syndrome of the Endless Party. The celebrity, money, sexual behaviors, drugs and substances. The glitter. They become celebrities instead of players, and because they are celebrities only as long as they feed the culture-of-goal’s hunger for the make-it, the winning, they are doomed, because you cannot both celebrate and suffer, and play is always suffering, just so.”

A clear image of any number of celebrities might leap sharply to mind. Along, hopefully, with some pity. Is it sortof narcissistic to think I am even in the running to have this sort of problem? Maybe. I can see it on many levels, though. For everyone. Because anything can be an idol. A girlfriend can be. A job. An artistic aspiration. These are all good and wonderful things for which we have found ways in our infinite wisdom-of-the-tunnel-vision to muck up and ruin and bring low. I’ve done it. Often. It’s caused incredible pain and nothing good. I’m still tunneling through the wreckage and still repairing the damage. Well, not me. God. And I’d rather like not to do it again, when given, on any level, the chance. I’d like to be able to look up and to see through it this time. I’d like to have internal systems in place, intellectual-emotional understandings of myself and my goals enough to avoid these pitfalls and trappings, such as they are, and undoubted as they will come.

[1] (And here I embellish the actual wording) Essentially: If you could only and ever make just ONE film (since for the purposes of this hypothetical you died of a sudden and rare leg-tumor), would you rather make Film #1, which was beloved by critics and audiences; which made hundreds of millions of dollars; which won all major awards, including numerous Oscars both you and all involved; but which you yourself knew in your heart of hearts was not your best work and so was not a film that you were proud of, though you could be proud of the attention it had garnered; OR Film #2 which was received only partially well by critics – some of whom liked it quite a lot (maybe it made a few scattered Year-End Top 10 lists) – and which never really got a wide release; which only made somewhere between let’s say 6.7 and 7.2 million dollars; which was altogether overlooked and not even in the mental running for any awards, either for yourself or for any involved; but which you yourself knew in your heart of hearts was your best work and so was a film you were completely and utterly proud of, a film about which there is not a single solitary frame you would change if your life depended upon it? Which do you choose?

Recent Readings 1 – David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace killed himself in September of 2008. I turned 25 that month. He’d already published a book by that age. When he died, he left an uncompleted manuscript for a novel he’d been working on for years, since his second novel, Infinite Jest came out in 1996. Before he hanged himself, he wrote his wife a note and left the manuscript on his desk, incomplete, but findable. It will be published this fall.

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and somehow between buckling down so I can finish Infinite Jest and thinking about the legacy we leave behind, I’ve been drawn more and more to Wallace. I read a wonderful selection from his unfinished novel, The Pale King, which appeared in The New Yorker as “Wiggle Room” in 2009, in addition to an extensive farewell article, a short biography of his life and work and hopes and fears. It’s called “The Unfinished.”

Page of transcript from “The Pale King” w/ notes and alterations by its author David Foster Wallace

My goal was to give an analysis of both the selection and the article, but jeez, I just think you should read them both right now and then call me and then we can talk about it for hours and hours.

The article about Wallace’s life dealt with his (Wallace’s) belief that in a world of hyperactivity, boredom can lead to amazing breakthroughs in one’s life. Transpose that to food, and it’s the same as fasting. What is strange is that reading, for me, in my current place, is just such a breakthrough. It has served as a reminder of everything I want my life to be, even if that’s not what it is right now. His novel is about an IRS Rote Examiner, saddled with the task of an endless string of reports to calculate, tabulate and validate. That he tries—and fails—to do this mindlessly is the biggest problem in his life. He can’t get over how much his mind won’t just go blank, let time slip away, and let his body do his job. If he could, he knows his days would go by faster. But he can’t and so he is left checking the clock moment to moment to moment.

This is the very same issue I’m dealing with at work: boredom. With nothing to do, the break-through for me has been returning to reading. I’ve noticed if left to my own devices and with everything available to me, I read less than I would like to. I write less than i would like to. At work, all I can think about is how much I want to do these things, because all of the other distractions and activities are removed and I am faced with boredom, with nothing. And when I see that nothing, I can also see what I want it to be filled in with. With writing and reading. With films, absolutely, but I don’t have to push myself to watch movies or TV shows. So at work, I find my appetite for reading is immense. I inhale articles and stories. But how weird to be sitting at work, as all around people are on the phones and talking insurance, and there I am being taken away and deeply moved by writers. There have been moments when I wanted to cry for being moved or laugh out loud for being tickled. I find myself glancing around, sure someone has noticed. My facial expressions aren’t those of an adjuster. They’re of a reader. I love it.

Some of the best things about the article are Wallace’s thoughts on writing:

Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being” and should make one “become less alone inside.”

“It seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies . . . in be[ing] willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow. Even now I’m scared about how sappy this’ll look in print, saying this. And the effort to actually to do it, not just talk about it, requires a kind of courage I don’t seem to have yet… All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers.”

“Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.”

“The idea that something so simple and, really, so aesthetically uninteresting—which for me meant you pass over it for the interesting, complex stuff—can actually be nourishing in a way that arch, meta, ironic, [post-modern] stuff can’t, that seems to me to be important.”

I see these ideas being sorted out in Infinite Jest, particularly the third sentiment. I also love how much he plays with words. “Wallace explained that Broom [of the System] wasn’t “realistic, and it is not metafiction; if it’s anything, it’s meta-the-difference-between-the-two.” ”

And if Wallace felt that way about his first book while writing his second, he seems to have had apprehensions about the second while writing the third. He still felt like he was using too many tricks. He’d been working on the book since 2000, and he couldn’t find his way through it. He wrote to numerous friends and other writers, looking for inspiration, begging, pleading for them to help his breakthrough. He fell into a sortof Charlie Kaufman-esque state. Aside from all the sections about the IRS workers, he writes himself into the book through faux-introductions and he makes up things about himself and just sticks it all in there. Because he couldn’t help how interested he was in absurdist writing and how in love with language he was. Because one of the things that is so great about his writing is the way it battles itself with its disparate tempos- here calm and straight-frward and beautiful in its simplicity; there frenetic and confusing and dumbfounding in its linguistic complexity.

Another Page of transcript from "The Pale King" w/ notes and alterations by its author David Foster Wallace

And yet, he didn’t want his work to become only about that. In the article he notes how irony can do a lot of things, but one thing it can’t do is redeem. It’s outside of the realm of irony’s abilities. It seems like he battled that throughout the composition of this new book. In one of those letters (I think to Franzen), he said for it to be any good, he would have to write a 50,000 page transcript and then cut it down from there to a readable “thing.”

The article is the place to go for info about Wallace. This is much more about how I think of myself in relation to what he said. But before he died, his goal was to create a work that is all the things he believes about writing and the world. So of course it includes him. He wanted to write something that helped someone. But, because of his mental state, which was in disarray (the article details the litany of medications he took and his various attempts and failures to half-successes to deal with depression), he couldn’t bring himself to write anymore. He had an untold number of pages and notes and ideas, but he couldn’t make it work the way he wanted to on the page. (The above pages were also posted on The New Yorker’s website. You can click on them to enlarge and read his notations. To me, it’s inspiring to read a writer at work.)

I know very well what that’s like. To get the tone of the thing right, to make it all of the things you want it to be – all of which are different so as to immediately avoid any criticism that a) it’s too nice or too cynical or too whatever and b) more importantly, to avoid any assumptions or categorization by readers (or viewers) about which parts of the writing directly mirror your own personality, c) it covers all the bases you know of to cover.

Wallace’s suicide seems almost like the given ending to his final novel. How else could an author’s final novel end, how else could his career end, but in death? It’s a surprise, given he wrote so much about himself in his new novel, that he did not write a post-script in which he killed himself. Perhaps because he could not focus enough to write or could not settle his fears enough to focus on anything other than the fact that he thought the fears were taking over him, he decided to make his reality the ending to his fiction. Perhaps this was the way he thought he could prove to his readers that he was willing to die for them.

He spoke so often of wanting to move of wanting to make his work something useful that would point people toward something better. He wanted his work to help people. And so it seems that he made his life the warning  and the blatant plea he could not figure out how to give on the page. A warning and plea to get help. A warning and plea to keep going. A warning and plea to do what, in the end he could not: to keep writing and to write something that helps make people less alone inside. He did it so well and so beautifully for a while. But he couldn’t sustain it, and he hated that fact.

Maybe he thought his life had become the emotional, mental equivalent of what my Grandfather’s body’s physical state was just before he died: unable to breathe on its own; damaged and deteriorated beyond repair, such that to go on living would not be living anymore. I’m not commending or even excusing his suicide. I’m just trying to gain some hint of his possible motivation.

And so the book will be published this fall. Talking with my good friend BJ, recently, he observed that for someone so wrapped up in style and the way Wallace’s own feelings about it expanded and arced the older he grew, combined with an increasing drive to be simultaneously helpful and innovative, the idea of an unfinished novel – particularly an unfinished novel he had grand reservations about – becoming the published work just might be more interesting than a “fully-realized” work of fiction. More interesting, more fitting, and more final. And besides, when in the history of any artistic endeavor worth pursuing has the phrase “fully-realized” entered the artist’s mind as a thing achievable?

So Now Then

Ten years ago tonight, with the clock ticking toward midnight, there was an immense anxiety in me about what would happen. The world might forever be changed. It so filled my mind that I don’t really remember anything else I talked about that night, aside from this one thing – will I get to kiss my girlfriend? Y2K be damned, I didn’t care if the world ended or not; only about what it would be like to kiss her.

I didn’t. I chickened out. But it’s okay, we made up for it and then some for the next year or so.

Boy things were different back then. Looking back on the last ten years of my life, I am in the unique position of having come of age during this time, which is a strange thing and who knows, maybe ten years from now I’ll be saying the same thing about the next decade. But for now, I want to remember when.

This was the decade I graduated high school. And college. It’s the decade I got my first car. My first job. While things were in motion, this is the decade I fell in love with the movies and with acting and with writing. I directed my first movie. Isn’t it strange to think that 10 short years ago, I hadn’t seen my favorite movie of all time? Most of my favorite movies, in fact. I started reading books. Started reading The Bible. I hadn’t heard most of my favorite music yet. Think of it. All of these things that occupy my time and my mind and my heart and direct my life on a daily basis, and I didn’t have any idea they were out there. Things I can’t imagine being without; not the physical thing-ness of them, but the experience of them. The knowledge of them, the understanding of them. If you take enough of those things away, you take me away. I’m not me without them. I couldn’t be, I wouldn’t want to be, and I don’t know who I’d be. I’ve seen well over 1,000 movies in the last 10 years. Many of them good, some of them bad, and quite a few of them life-changing. Life-changing. A movie. A song. A television show. A fiction. A podcast. People doing things who I don’t know personally but somehow know deeply. Now how in the world does that happen?

And what about the people who do populate my life? Friendships that were only a few months or a couple years old are now lifelong bonds that have carried me through so much these years. People I didn’t know, or only knew peripherally. And now, what would life be without them? Where would I be? I had the immense fortune of having incredible friends around me at every turn these last 10 years. Where I would be without them is lost, completely stupidly lost. What kings and queens of goodness they are, what multitudes they hold.

There are small big things too. I voted for the first time, had my first beer, got my first tattoo, my first apartment, got my first corporate job, quit that job and moved to another state. I took my first trip out of the country, I went on vacation by myself and found I am a good traveling companion. I wrote and wrote and wrote thousands of pages of stories and journals and movies and essays and papers. Endless experiences and events and things done and things wished for and not received and regrets and elations and disappointments and poorly-timed, well-worded remarks that got me in mountains of trouble. 10 years ago I thought I was right all the time. Now I know the percentage is slightly lower, and things are often my own fault.

10 years is enough time, it turns out, to meet someone, love them, know them for 7 years, be hurt by them long enough and badly enough that you don’t know her anymore. 10 years of my life is still a pretty high percentage of it at this point (a little over 38% of it). And there is no bleed-over. It is a thing contained within one decade, a little parenthesis of a thing that, 20 years from now will matter, won’t matter, who knows? But there is before and there is after and it doesn’t reach either of them. It is cut off. That’s a little scary when you think about it.

10 years ago, I thought of my life in terms of my parents’ rhythms. Married by a certain age, children by a certain age, career by a certain age. It took time to realize that a different pattern was waiting for me. 10 years ago, I don’t think I could ever know I’d be sitting where I am today. If I talked to myself, I wouldn’t believe me. How much I had to learn. How much I have to learn. 10 years ago, I thought I would be a film actor. I don’t think I thought very highly of the theatre. 20+ plays later, I see I was a fool. The thrill of walking onto a stage in front of an audience and inhabiting another life is one of the most beautiful things in the world. The experience of being watched is similar to playing a sport, but it’s a different kind of thrill. I love them both. Still another is to write something you’re proud of and see it performed by someone else in front of a couple thousand people. And another to write and direct something, find the time and people and equipment to capture it on film, edit it, toil over it, and then see it projected onto a screen in a dark room with people you don’t know. To hear them react to it, find it is all out of your hands now. These things are magical. I wouldn’t trade these things for anything, and I wouldn’t ruin them by explaining them away to my younger self. If I never see them again, I’m glad for what I’ve got.

So now then. What have we learned? What conclusions can we draw? What do we do now? How can I do better? The best answer I know is to say that these aren’t questions reserved for the ends of decades, but for every day. Contentment in limbo. It sounds like an impossible thing, but I think that’s where the truth lives. If I find out, I’ll tell you in 10 years.

Deep Breath…

Sometimes you eat the bar and sometimes, well, he eats you.” – The Big Lebowski

The Coen Brothers know what’s up. I’ve been in a cranky mood today. It’s been a long week. I haven’t gotten much sleep. I’ve been an Amish Man over and over and while the reading time has been appreciated, the hours have been long. But I like being on set, so it’s not that. Christmas can be stressful. There’s a lot to do. Presents to buy. Cards to send. Parties and events and this and that, and oops, forgot that other thing.

I’m tired, is the thing. And when you’re tired, you can unknowingly regress to the state of a 9 year old. I’d planned to see a big budget action movie and munch popcorn and get taken away by blue people and their special effects. What happened instead was a hassle to get there and an extra 20 minutes parking and the movie being sold out. We should have planned better. So, we scrambled, were going to see it at a different theater, but after getting on the wrong freeway going the wrong way, I was just angry and pissed off, and anyway the other screening wasn’t going to be in IMAX, so why pay that much extra? I’ll skip the debacle of getting food that followed and just say if you want Thai food in L.A. on a Sunday, don’t call me or I may scream at you.

Now this isn’t in the Holiday spirit, is it? No, no, I know. Did I mention I’m tired? Also, I’ve had a headache for the last 5 hours, undoubtedly a physical reflection of my internal condition.

So what’s to be done? It’s Christmas, I can’t go around being a Scrooge for the next week. That does nobody any good. Well, I pray. And I complain at God for a while and then I complain in my journal for a while and then I complain in a blog for a while. But I apologize, too. And I take a deep breath. And I ask God for help, and I know that He will, and I breathe and try to remember that through my headache. And then I put on Sufjan Stevens’ Songs For Christmas, the 5 disc compilation that’s just great.

Here, have a little hope

I don’t tend to like Christmas music at all. But I really like this. It’s got some original songs and some really good versions of traditional songs. An appropriate one I just listened to again, “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad,” which has some bits of wisdom in it:

Since it’s Christmas, let’s be glad/ Even if your life’s been bad/ There are presents to be had…La la la la la la ah / Since the year is almost out/ Lift your hands and give a shout / There’s a lot to shout about today

The set also includes Sufjan sharing some Christmas thoughts and then, out of nowhere, a little essay/song by one of my favorite writers, Rick Moody? Is this a Christmas miracle? And so I read it while I listen, in the middle of typing this, and I read it looking for something funny to quote from Mr. Moody and instead I end up in tears and feeling so much the relieved and the better and without headache, not just because he’s a great, fine writer, but because he describes my day today and week this week:

What is this thing about Christmas, the paradoxical tendency of Christmas, that the more heartbreaking it is the closer it seems to get to the point? Why is failure and awkwardness so human and so natural at Christmas? Why is it that really unacceptable gifts are somehow perfect, no matter how horrible or insulting or inexplicable? Why is it that having no gift to offer, just completely failing in the gift-giving department, admitting as much, seems closer to the No Room at the Inn concept, as described above? Why is it that anxiety and panic on Christmas seem more human than good-natured fun and loving Christmas? Why is it that Christmas seems like such an appropriate day to hyperventilate, to palpitate, to sweat profusely, to be certain that you are having a nervous breakdown? Why is it that desperation is closer to God?

And now, at least, I can breathe again, and continue on with the season, hopeful and… well, that’s enough isn’t it?

It Has Come to This

May 2018
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