Oh no. Remembrance Day has passed and that can mean only one awful thing: It’s time for The Annual Bombardment of Everything Christmas.
Ahem, including, of course, this column.
It happens that I have a long list of peeves about Christmas.
The (Many Many) Things About Christmas That Irk The Hell Out Of Me
1. First up is the strange idea that we have to buy at least one truly amazing gift that will wow the recipient so profoundly that they will have a heart attack, at which point they’ll need to exchange the gift for a bunch of bedside novels to read during recovery unless, of course, they just die on the spot, in which case there is that sweet bicycle you’ve had your eye on for some time now.
2. The endless-loop stream of ‘funny’ (read: mean-spirited) videos that’ll crop up anytime now - videos that show screaming kids who are genuinely frightened to be on Santa’s lap. What says Christmas better than making a video of your kid crying his heart out (he’s holding his arms out to you to hold and reassure him, isn’t that cute, and you would, too, but dammit you’re too busy recording, he will have to wait). You get to play the video again and again so your kids can see how much fun you have watching them cry. The best, of course, is that you then get to post your video on YouTube so it can go viral and millions of people can laugh at your kid for being scared and unhappy. If that isn’t the Christmas spirit, I don’t know what is.
3. And speaking of Christmas spirit: Even before Remembrance Day we saw the first stirrings of the ridiculous and repetitive Battle of Merry Christmas VS Happy Holidays. This new tradition involves, among other things, posting lots of memes on Facebook to let people know that by god you are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’, dammit, because, it is not ‘Happy Holidays’, it’s ‘Merry Christmas’, and you’re not ‘afraid’ to say it. You can’t help it, you’re just really brave like that. And if someone says ‘Happy Holidays’, you will, after defiantly throwing a ‘Merry Christmas’ in their face, curse them and, if given the chance, run them down with your car, because Christmas is all about kindness and generosity and good-will to all, except for people who say ‘Happy Holidays’. Here’s a tip: It really doesn’t matter which one someone says as long as it is said with good friendly cheer. You can respond by using my special greeting for this year, one that will keep things simple by offending everybody: “Seasoned Hello”.
4. Businesses that so much as whisper the word ‘Christmas’ before Remembrance Day. Businesses that so much as whisper the word ‘Christmas’ before American Thanksgiving Day.
5. Facebook. It’s bad at the best of times, worse during any holiday and absolutely awful for all of December and most of November. Walls reach new levels of inanities/piousness/cloyingness/pretensions/blessings/maudlinisms, etc. at this time of year. It rattles the brain. Aside from the Merry Christmas VS Happy Holidays schtick, you have the Annual Altruism-One-Upmanship schtick, the Season Is The Reason schtick, the Famous Christmas Quote By Someone Who Didn’t Actually Say That schtick, and, of course, 1,000,000,000,000 memes celebrating or vilifying Christmas.
6. Re The Annual Altruism-One-Upmanship Game. Yes, this is the time of year when you brag as much as possible about your wonderful efforts for charity. If a donation is done without an audience, does it count? Hell no. The secret is to come across as humble while doing it, which is tricky at best. You can’t say, “I gave a whack of money to Families of Happy Holidayers Murdered by Merry Christmasers - oh boy what a good boy am I!” No, you want to be all casual, “Yeah, so this FHHMMC is a pretty good cause, I can vouch for that because I donated a bit of money to them. BTW, Christmas presents will be smaller this year as a result, but it’s all for such a great great cause. Oh, hang on, the repo guy is here to repossess my car now. It’s okay. My money has gone to something more important.”
7. Endless articles with tips on how to eat sensibly during the holiday season. Those articles are delusional, self-defeating, pointless, done-to-death, boring, and absolutely unnecessary. Eat and drink whatever the hell you want, it’s for two weeks tops, people. You’ll survive (and those who can’t indulge for health reasons, you already know I don’t mean you).
8. People who go on and on about their Christmas holidays to warm climates while you sit, cold and cranky, in front of a fire that won’t burn because you set it up all wrong and there’s nothing you can do about it because you used up your last match. Hey, ‘Merry Christmas’ crowd, I’ll bet those sunbathing fools are ‘Happy Holidayers’. You should meet them at the airport when they return and yell ‘Merry Christmas’ at them before running them down.
9. Schools that don’t have Christmas plays anymore, and people who never stop whining about schools that don’t have Christmas plays anymore, and people who never stop griping about people who never stop whining about schools that don’t have Christmas plays anymore. I hate all of ‘em.
10. I’ve saved the worst for last: Smart-alecky kids who know that it is far better to maintain the illusion of believing in Santa Claus because it means more gifts, especially the
‘Santa-will-get-it-for-me-even-if-you-say-no’ gifts. That’s just . . . well, dammit, that’s just wrong, I’m appalled and sad at the state of kids today. And more to the point, I am devastated that I didn’t think of this angle when I was a kid.
And so, in closing, a Seasoned Hello to all, and to all a Hello With Seasoning.
In theory when you take a break from work you return feeling fresh and eager. You fully intend to stop being a slacker. However, ‘theory’ is just another word for ‘yeah right’, because you will soon find that your brain has come to a complete standstill from too many idle thoughts thunk for too long. This means you will need to work through a back-to-work process called Restarting The Slacker Brain. I have used ‘writer’ for our worksheet example because a) that’s what I was before my brain went into slacker-mode, and b) writers rank as the worst slackers in the entire world. If you’re not a writer, just wing it. That’s what I do.
1. You sure had fun while away from work. Now you are fresh and eager to get back to writing. All you need is a functioning brain, which is not what the idling blob of slacker-tissue inside your head can reasonably be called at this point.
2. You have so many things to write about that you are feeling overwhelmed. Do not worry, that’s just your seized brain, deprived of brain nutrients. It wants a glazed doughnut.
3. Glazed doughnuts are good, they contain an important brain nutrient called ‘toomuchsugar’.
4. While eating your doughnut, you consider using the feeling-overwhelmed card as an excuse not to write.
5. You realize that using the ‘feeling-overwhelmed’ card has ‘Fail’ written all over it. See? Your brain has already recognized a Fail, a sign that it is attempting to reboot.
6. Look! It’s sunny outside!
7. You return from your sunny bike ride to find that the page is still blank. As is your brain.
8. You sit down with a serious look on your face and get busy not writing.
9. Wait, where is your coffee? Coffee is a powerful brain stimulant. However, it only works on an active brain. Your brain is essentially still missing in action. Still, can coffee hurt? Of course not. Go make the damn coffee.
10. You return, with coffee, and type ‘Untitled’.
11. You suddenly remember that years back you wrote another column about writer’s procrastination. Yet here you are, writing another. You don’t care. That column was then, this column is now. People have short memories. People are also crazy. You suspect that crazy short-memoried people are easily tricked, so you start writing. Besides, this column will contain avant garde words fresh off the avant-garde vine, and will be typed in a totally different order.
12. You feel sick. Maybe you are dying of Ebola. That would be an awesome way to get out of writing the column except for certain drawbacks, like dying.
13. You type ‘by Jo Slade’.
14. You realize that you’re not Jo Slade, I’m Jo Slade.
15. So now I am one step ahead of you:
By Jo Slade
17. You have an epiphany: Everything worth writing about has already been written by someone somewhere at some point in time. Why even bother?
18. You think, no, that’s not a good approach to life. You will write because your words will be coming from your unique brain.
19. You decide it is pretty vain, maybe even pathetic, to think that you’re really all that unique.
20. You wonder, can you plagiarize your own work? Sure, why not? Who’s going to sue you? You?
21. If you could, in fact, sue yourself, you could be rich if you won the case, and you’d never have to do a stick of work again. Except you would also lose, meaning you’d be poor, so there’s that.
22. Your brain flutters at #21’s seemingly insurmountable paradox. Your brain slips into full flutter-mode. Not even a doughnut will help now.
23. There is no #23. While your brain was in flutter-mode, I submitted this column.
24. There is no #24. This is the end. You’ve probably failed Restarting The Slacker Brain.
25. Hold on, that wasn’t the end. This is the end.
26. The end.
What is home? Ask a hundred people and you’ll get a hundred different answers, but what they’ll have in common is this: all want to be there. This story is about a human who spent his life searching for a home. This story could be about anyone: You, someone you know, someone you love, someone you miss.
From childhood he was out of step with the societal standards of the time, Born in 1947, he grew up in an era where being out of step meant hardships the like of which we can’t imagine today. It was a time when a person could be beaten for choosing their own road, and if not beaten the condemnation did as much, or more, harm. He accepted the condemnation, took it to heart. “I have no value,” he said. And so he lived most of his life from that point of view. It is a hard way to live a life.
He left his family home at a young age because it wasn’t really a home at all for him. In his 20s and 30s, he weaved a fine line that ran close to, but never wholly within, societal bounds with its layers of restrictions and exclusions. He worked hard, lived hard, played hard. He met the woman he eventually married, and while it lasted the marriage made him happy, and almost content. It ended after a decade or so, although the deep connection and affection between them remained. “I’m not cut out for marriage,” he said. And he never stopped missing her.
He embraced life’s adventures to the max, as though they might somehow show him the secret of being happy in his own skin. Skiing, scuba-diving, hiking, running, bicycling (he was an urban commuter cyclist decades before its time), traveling - all done kamikazi-style because that was his way. From his first steps as a baby he simply charged forward into adventures without any sense of caution. Yet he was also a health-nut purist, rabidly outspoken against any substance that could harm a body. “It’s disgusting,” he said, “what people will put into their bodies.”
He had a lifelong best friend who he met in childhood, a friend more like a brother, one who, over the years, passed extraordinary tests of friendship that very few could pass. A partner in adventure but also a voice of caution when things went too far . . . not that anybody was listening.
The facade, all but impenetrable, was of a wild man without a care in the world. The reality, detectable to those who cared to see, was complicated, and ultimately beautiful. He asked of friends and family only to accept him for who he was, and the lucky ones did.
He was a kind man, and a generous one. Intelligent with a sharp wit, he had a wry and askance view of society that grew over the years as he became increasingly weary of the farce. In many ways he was like his beloved Vancouver: hedonistic, free-living, crazy, rough around the edges, and wildly dysfunctional.
"Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free."
~ Leonard Cohen
He was a tormented soul, and the things that tormented him would sometimes become too much. He would disappear for months, sometimes years, going off to live whatever life he felt his family shouldn't see. He never seemed to realize that the disappearances were as hurtful to the ones who cared about him as whatever it was he didn’t want them to see.
Then, twenty years ago, he walked away forever, went off the grid. “Don’t try to find me,” he said. And through those years he could not, would not, be found. His best friend was the only one he contacted, on rare occasion.
Sometimes walking away from family and friends, even the ones you care about and who care about you, is the only way to find redemption, the only way to be free. And sometimes, people find home in unexpected places.
Did he? If home is where you’re accepted for who you really are, then I think he did, in a community of square pegs and misfits and troublemakers and rebels . . . they became his family, and the community his home. Well-liked, he volunteered his time to help others in dire situations, something as natural as breathing to a man with a generous spirit. I like to think that he was finally able to say, “I have value.”
Only at the end did he try to find those he hadn’t seen in twenty years, but they weren’t found in time. It doesn’t matter anymore why he needed to stay away for so long, only that he lived life his way, and stayed true to himself. In my mind that is about as good as it gets for any of us.
For the countless humans out there still searching for a home, may you soon find it, and with it, peace. And if it feels right, call the ones who loved you once upon a time.
“For the world he saw was sadder than the one he hoped to find
But it wasn't near as lonesome as the one he left behind.”
~ Kris Kristofferson
Read more Old as dirt. Twice as gritty. articles
Hard to choose a topic this week. Teachers or ice buckets? Strikes or causes? Something that drives me crazy or something that drives me insane? It was a tough call. However, the BCTF strike is at the peak of passion as I type this on September 3, and some crazy hopeful part of me feels that it might actually be resolved by the time this column appears, so I’m going with ice buckets.
There’s no denying that online social media is a powerful mover and shaker, and is highly efficient at generating far-reaching new fads. Fads, almost without exception, annoy me, but there is one in particular that is chalk-on-a-blackboard irritating: the Cause-O-The-Day Awareness Schtick.
Awareness campaigns work on an assumption that we, the Great Unwashed, are clueless and in need of education by those (your friends, say) who are smarter and more aware about stuff. For example, it is assumed that you don’t know about a disease called breast cancer. You need awareness to find out that it is a bad thing, and so *blip* another awareness campaign is born to run alongside all the other diseases that you apparently knew nothing about.
You open up facebook to find an endless march of awareness campaigns lighting up your wall, with requests to like awareness posts, wear pink ribbons or bras, support someone theoretically planning a walk or run (‘theoretically’ as in ‘until something unforeseen gets in the way of actually doing it’), grow a mustache, post ridiculously coy status updates, shave your head, dump a bucket of ice water . . . whatever it takes, man, because, dammit, you care.
This is how awareness campaigns work:
1. Do because everybody else is doing it. You want to be cool, right?
2. Declare that you are doing it to raise awareness (because clearly nobody else has your level of awareness). Sure it will sound self-righteous, but that’s okay, your job is to lead the clueless into awareness.
3. Be brave about the gimmick you're doing, remember that although it might be cold or hard or stupid to do it makes you look really caring, and besides, you'll get tons of likes for it. You can feel really proud of yourself, so much so that you can announce on facebook that you’re feeling really proud of yourself.
4. If you are female and the gimmick involves dumping ice over yourself, you get to add a bit of titillation into the mix.
5. Once you've done the gimmick and posted about it so that everybody else knows how awesome you are, badger others to do the same, and be relentless about it. If they don't support your charity, they clearly don't support charity at all.
6. Only raise awareness for causes that are currently trending. Nobody wants to know about the boring non-trending diseases, even if they happen to affect more people than the trending ones. Be real here, you know that trending causes are hotter, sexier. They pop. Besides, going with the trends means you don't even have to research it, or give money. You just have to do the gimmick, whatever it is.
7. Sit back and bask in the knowledge that you are super altruistic, super caring, and, most importantly, now everybody knows that you are.
I’d like to offer an alternative way to help:
1. Donate money or time to the charity of your choice. And don't brag about it, just do it.
2. Leave other people the hell alone to do the same. If they don't donate to your charity, don't assume that they aren't donating to any charity, but do assume that in the end, it is none of your business one way or another.
3. Doing stupid/cutesy/trendy things to show that you care about a disease accomplishes nothing. If it's cancer, you don't have to shave your head or post a silly status update, if it's ALS, you don't have to dump ice over your head. Just donate your time or money or both, that will do just fine.
4. Don't be arrogant: believe it or not, if you are aware enough to know about the disease in question, chances are high that your friends and family are aware as well. Don't be arrogant (part II): badgering everybody to support whatever it is that you support is rude and always inappropriate.
5. Don't tell people that you personally know someone with the Disease-O-The-Day. Just about everybody knows someone with a horrible disease, everybody knows it is rough going.
6. If you really need your ego stroked, don't show off about the money you gave or the gimmick you did for charity. Just go to your mirror, gasp in awe, and kiss your image. There, aren't you beautiful? Now, if you need affirmation from your friends on facebook, post a selfie of that mirror kiss.
Climbing down off the Cause-O-Rama machine will make you less noticeably giving, sure, but remember this: doing good work is best done because you care, not because you need attention.