Monthly Archives: December 2015

A Broken System

Anyone with any intelligence can see through Donald Trump’s words as just bluster and bullshit.

Not to say that he doesn’t make an occasional valid point that we wouldn’t normally hear from most career politicians, precisely because he isn’t one.  For instance, I appreciated his pulling-back-the-curtain admission that, as a businessman, he has made campaign contributions to whichever candidate asked him, but when Trump wanted something that particular politician could provide, Trump made no bones about calling on said politician to get it:  “They are there for me,” he said.  “And that’s a broken system.”  True that, Donald.  It is certainly the case that that one of the few (only?) items in the “pro” column for a Trump candidacy is the fact that he cannot be bought because he doesn’t need the money.  But if that’s his greatest selling point, then he shouldn’t be running for president – he should run for Congress or some local political post where he could actually propose and establish law and policy.

He could never be president.  That’s just ridiculous.

An American president is a figurehead.  The president’s stated role as “the leader of the free world”, when considered within the system of U.S. government, is really an illusion.  An American president does not have the ability to unilaterally do anything to effect change in law and policy in this country.  The U.S. government was designed to be a system of checks and balances for precisely that reason:  so no single branch could exert absolute power.  This is a prime example of how ignorant Donald Trump is of how his own government works – the government of which he thinks he can be elected chief executive.  The executive branch of the U.S. government may enforce the law, but it doesn’t make the law.

The real job of a U.S. president is to be the spokesperson for a united nation, particularly in interactions with other figureheads from other nations.   A president shouldn’t be above his (or her) fellow citizens; a president should be a representative of and for them.  He (or she) should be a real person who feels the same joys and pains as the rest of us.  The president is the face of America, the person we put forward as the exemplar of our best selves to the rest of the world.  And he (or she) should reflect the diversity of America, not just be of the mature-white-Christian guy variety.

That is one of the reasons why I think Obama has been the best president in my lifetime – because he meets all those criteria.  (See “OK POLITICS”, 6/30/15.)  He is a true statesman who takes the right tone in all situations, who has a sense of humor but can also be angry and serious and sympathetic, as when he has had to greet the families of people who have lost their lives in mass shootings.

I read an article about Obama the other day that reiterated a lot of the points I’ve made about him, including how, while a U.S. president has “some significant powers” (including being commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, appointing judges and entering into treaties with foreign governments), “[e]xcept in rare cases, a President cannot do anything if Congress stands in the way.”  And in the case of the Congress that has been Obama’s nemesis from the start of his tenure, “Congress has blocked President Obama at almost every turn.”  (K.J. McElrath, “Barack Obama:  Not Perfect But Certainly One of the Better Presidents Ever:  The Facts”,  The Ring of Fire website, 12/25/15, http://trofire.com/2015/12/25/barack-hussein-obama-not-perfect-but-certainly-one-of-the-better-presidents-ever-the-facts)  (The author of that article also makes the point that Obama has faced his congressional opposition “with grace and finesse” and concludes that “Mr. Obama has class,” all of which Trump sorely lacks.)

The Donald is delusional if he thinks he’d do any better trying to get his ridiculous policy points across, despite being an admittedly successful businessman who has managed to emerge from multiple bankruptcies to bully and glad-hand people into making lucrative deals with him for many years.  Congress would throw up blockades more insurmountable in scope than even his envisioned “Trump Wall” on the Mexican border.  Forget about getting Mexico to pay for it (hah!); how could he possibly make it happen against the wishes of the Congress – especially a Democrat-led congress –  and the majority of the American people?  Does he think he can impose his will like a self-professed dictator?

Can you even imagine Donald Trump – blowhard, unapologetic, narcissistic Donald Trump, with his ignorance and lack of impulse control – being part of a world economic summit?  The way he talks about what he’s “gonna do” when he’s elected president makes him sound like he models himself after Vladimir Putin (who Trump has admitted he would “probably get along with . . . very well”), not FDR or even JFK or any great American statesman, past or present.  The Donald just doesn’t get it.

Ach, I’ve already wasted too much time and space talking about him.  What amazes me is how he has managed to bamboozle so many people into taking him seriously.  My daughter’s great grandmother (of whom I am actually quite fond) is a big Donald fan, touting his genius to anyone who will listen.  His strongest base seems to be among white supremacists and the elderly.  But he does offer an outsider’s perspective, and we are all – ALL OF US – sick and tired of the political system as it is currently configured, with those with money and power controlling their puppet congresspeople and judges and lower-echelon lawmakers at every level, and the politicians themselves spending more time stumping on campaigns to get MORE funds from those rich folks than they actually spend doing the jobs for which they have worked so hard to get elected.

Why do people want to become politicians in the first place?  (I’ve wondered this before – see “Random Thoughts on Election Day 2015”, 11/4/15.)  I have to believe that perks and prestige are big drivers, because, as famously spouted in a movie from the ‘80s, “greed  is good” (and I fear it always will be seen that way by a large segment of humankind).  Consider two recent legal scandals involving long-serving New York State congressmen that were decided in the courts within a few days of one another:  Former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (a Republican from Long Island) pulling political strings to get his slacker son high-paying positions as a “consultant” with crony donors; and another New York State legislator, Sheldon Silver (a Democrat from Manhattan – political corruption seemingly has no party affiliation), convicted of fraud, extortion and money-laundering in connection with trading political favors for personal gain and then lying about it  Both guilty.  And now, amazingly, both are putting in claims for their $90,000-a-year pensions.  It will only be at the discretion of the judges in their respective cases as to whether these pensions will be subject to forfeiture – yet another travesty that the voting public tsk-tsks but doesn’t seem to take into consideration at election time.  Look at the U.S. congressman from Staten Island, Michael Grimm, who was actually voted back into office in 2014 despite being under indictment for (and eventually convicted of) tax fraud (not to mention threatening, on camera, to throw a reporter over a balcony)!

The system is indeed broken, but how to fix it?  Campaign reform?  Taking all money out of politics?  Who will be brave enough – and convincing enough – to shake up the status quo?  What will it take?  And please don’t say Donald Trump, despite his rare rational thoughts on this one matter.

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Pre-Resolutions

Well, I nearly let my Tuesday deadline slip.  I could blame the holidays, or a heavier-than-normal work schedule, or a sick child – all of which are actual contributing factors, by the way – but the bottom line is that I have to honor my commitment to myself (and to my limited but valued readership!).  So it’s gonna be a short post this week, but at least there IS a post!

I’ve also had a dearth of good blog ideas and no time to cull my journals for the seeds of something interesting.  There are a couple of semi-serious and/or controversial topics I’ve been kicking around, and there’s one large-scale project I’ve been envisioning although I’ll need to improve my technological skills before I can present that one to the masses.  But nothing was crying out to be written this week.

In fact, I find myself in end-of-year times to be perhaps as wiped clean of deep (or even coherent) thoughts as I ever am on an annual cycle.  I often blame the weather, the dark and cold that comes especially after the clocks are turned back, although this December has been the warmest on record (although it continues to be dark).  It could just be that I’m tired.

I’ve already confessed to my holiday Grinchiness (see “Feelin’ Scroogy”, 12/2/15) but my Xmas gifts are (mostly) bought, despite a trickle of a cash flow, and, at the request of my daughter, I’ve agreed to attend an annual extended family party that I’ve managed to avoid for a few years.  I’m essentially being forced into Xmas good cheer, so I intend to make the best of it.

Perhaps it’s the quiet chrysalis period preceding a fresh new beginning, a clean calendar January 1 and beyond, with an entire year ahead of me to do the things I’ve been promising myself to do – start exercising, stop drinking diet soda, eat in a more healthy way – so that whatever physical health and attractiveness I’m able to muster will hopefully emerge butterfly-like sometime in the spring.  (An aside:  I’ve given myself carte blanche to stuff my face with whatever I please from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day this year.  I also feel like a pimply stuffed sausage, which might be contributing to my malaise and blankness.)

I’m also optimistic that 2016 will be the year I discover my true calling, my authentic self, although I say the same thing at the end of every year (and I have decades of December 31 journal entries to prove it).  I suspect that it’s an organic process and I just have to put myself in the “right” situations (whatever “right” might be).  Maybe I need to take more chances in life, get out and talk to people, write more than just my blog posts.

All I know for sure is, I no longer want to wallow in a day-to-day existence waiting for my “true” life to begin.  I want it to ACTUALLY BEGIN.  And January 2, 2016 is as good a time as any.

Time Ain’t On My Side

I should have a stockpile of blog entries that I could post when I was out of ideas (or, like this week, out of both ideas and TIME) so that I could maintain my disciplined weekly Tuesday night postings.  On the positive side, I am determined to post SOMETHING – ANYTHING – so as to avoid disappointing myself.  On the negative side, it’s highly unlikely that I can produce something meaningful and worthwhile in the span of a couple of hours, although I did manage to put together some notes for this week’s post on Saturday morning, which is the time I often find myself to be the most writerly (if I can manage to get my fat butt out of bed, that is).

It’s like being back in college, when you’ve basically slacked all semester but now it’s time to produce a paper overnight so that you don’t flunk outright.  I once took at class at Trinity College called “Color”, which was a really quite interesting examination of color theory for non-fine arts majors like myself.  We had to buy this big box of 5” x 8” sheets of colored paper, like giant paint chips, and lay them out to determine things like gradation and complementary and tertiary color combinations.  It was enough to make you go cross-eyed!  As a course-long project, we needed to re-create a famous painting using little colored bits of paper we had collected from magazines.  I chose Paul Klee’s “Sinbad the Sailor”, which I figured would be easy because it already featured a mosaic of similarly colored squares in the background (representing the ocean) and distinct colors and shapes superimposed on top.  I dutifully collected a file folder’s worth of mostly blue paper over a period of months but, thanks to a preference for play over work and a tendency to smoke too much marijuana, I sat down to start the project – a very LARGE project, I might add – the night before it was due.  It was December 8, 1980.  You may recall what happened that night:  John Lennon was shot.  I sat splay-legged on my living room floor, cramping up periodically, cutting and pasting hundreds of tiny blue pieces of paper on a deceptively and disconcertingly large sheet of oaktag, listening to a never-ending loop of Beatles songs and crying.  Needless to say, I did not do well in that class.

Paul Klee, Sinbad the Sailor [1923]

You know what I wish I could have?  A WHOLE WEEK to do what I want, at my own pace, without having to worry about paying bills or deadlines.  Just unfettered time to play with and pet the creatures, take walks on the beach, troll the internet, read whatever interests me, scribble in my notebooks and maybe organize and read them. Who knows when I’ll ever have the time to do that before I die, and yet why else would I have saved them for decades?  Clearly I think I’m going to get around to reading them and maybe even using them in some way, at the very least to prove that all those hours writing all those words, all that ink and paper (all those dead trees!), had some value and purpose – my LIFE, basically, had some value and purpose, because my writings, my journals, my thoughts preserved on paper ARE my life.  Even though much of it is pathetically repetitive drivel and daily whining, I’ve set it all to paper to the best of my limited ability, awaiting the perfect opportunity to re-address and create from it something worthwhile for the world – to justify my existence, basically.

But there’s so much minutiae of life that occupies our days, and I personally have two terrible afflictions that contribute to my time-wasting:  my inability to get out of bed in the morning and a proclivity for procrastination (see “Procrastination Station”, 10/14/15).

I envy so many of the guests I’ve heard on one of my favorite pop-culture podcasts, The George and Tony Entertainment Show [https://www.facebook.com/George-Tony-Entertainment-591652040911328].  Just to name a few from recent weeks:  Vivek J. Tiwary, the author of the multi-award winning graphic novel, The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story (illustrated by Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker), Broadway producer and proprietor of a multi-platform arts and entertainment company, Tiwary Entertainment Group (www.tiwaryent.com and www.thefifthbeatle.com);  Phil Rosenthal, the creator and executive producer of the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond” and currently the star of his own PBS travelogue series, “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having”; Darrell Taylor, a podcaster extraordinaire with a slate of entries on his own Taylor Network (http://taylornetworkofpodcasts.com/); Mara Wood and Maria Norris, two of the co-hosts of comics podcast The Missfits (http://talkingcomicbooks.com/category/podcast-2/the-missfits/); even the host of the podcast, George himself (though Tony is a bit of a slacker!!).  I’m constantly amazed at how these folks are able to engage in so many fascinating projects – both of the money-making and self-fulfilling varieties – in the limited number of hours in a day, days in a week and weeks in a year.  We all get the same number of hours (although the number of years may vary):  How is it that some people are able to achieve so much in those limited hours and some of us do so little?  Time is relative, they always say.  It goes faster when you’re older, or when you’re having fun.  Maybe instead of incessantly complaining about “where did the time go?” (both long- and short-term), I should be filling every hour with equal parts things I enjoy and tasks I abhor but that are necessary for my existence.  (Sleeping qualifies as both, but sleep is also a bit of a problem for me [see “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream”, 9/16/15].)

Unfortunately, multi-tasking is not my forte.  For years I’ve observed my boss, who possesses one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever known, carry on myriad simultaneous activities with seemingly no loss of effectiveness, but lately I’ve noticed that even he is no longer able to multi-task like he used to.  He might be slowing down with age, but frankly I’ve never been one of those folks who could walk and talk and chew gum at the same time.  EVER.  I get flustered and discombobulated when forced to hold too many thoughts in my head at once, and then I just break down and lose track of everything.  Even listening to music in the background while I’m drafting or reviewing contracts can be a distraction, because I’ll hear a new song that appeals to me and then I have to stop what I’m doing to (a) listen more closely and (b) find something to write on to remember the name of the song, or the artist, or the thoughts it invoked in me.

Unfortunately, making money has become the driver of my life.  I’ve got too many expenses, even though – trust me – I do not live extravagantly.  (In fact, I find people who do live extravagantly to be a little gauche – see “An Excess of Excess,”, 6/24/15.)  But I do appreciate a comfortable life and being able to get what I want when I want it, and to pay for things I need, like pet care and my daughter’s education and food and my TV.  Yes, there are things I could live without, but I don’t WANT to live without them.  Ergo, I have to make money – a lot of money – just to afford it all.  And that means devoting a large chunk of my time to mercenary pursuits.  Fortunately, all my years of education and (sort of) hard work have made it possible for me to earn more money than I ever thought possible 15 years or so ago.  But I also never imagined that I’d be so miserable doing it.

Such is my life these days.  I don’t enjoy it even though I know I should be savoring every moment, because you never know when it could all be taken from you.  I don’t want to end this post by getting all dark and depressing, but I feel like I’m wasting valuable life here.  I need to find ways to sneak in some snippets of joy when I can:  cuddling with a kitty or a pup, watching the Rangers win a good game, eating some yummy food guilt-free, talking to a dear friend on the telephone, discovering some gorgeous new music.  The moments are there to be grabbed – I just need to grab them and let the happy times outweigh the drudgery.  Tomorrow!  I’ll start tomorrow.  Tomorrow is another new day, a fresh new 24 hours to work (and play) with!

Hockey Days Are Here Again

The New York Rangers are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL:  They don’t get no respect.  Quick to be torn down when they fall short a few games in a row, their wins are discredited as “lucky” and solely the result of the brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist.  They’re anathema to the analytics community.

Coach Alain Vigneault also doesn’t get his due.  True, the Rangers haven’t won the big prize (yet), but they’ve been about as good as a team could be during the two years of AV’s tenure (and even before) short of earning the Stanley Cup.  Who else has been so consistently close?  Chicago and L.A., pretty much, and we know how their respective campaigns have ended.

But like all teams, despite one of the best starts in team history, they sometimes go through dips.  For the Rangers, their dips can sink to the level of divots due to one simple reason:  THEIR GOAL SCORING DRIES UP.  As well as they play defensively, as well as King Henrik guards his crease, if they’re not scoring, even one goal against will defeat them, and two down is a huge mountain to climb.

I have my theories (and advice, if there were anyone I could actually GIVE it to!!).  For starters, there’s no real sniper on the team; whether slappers, wristers or tips, I swear we must lead the league in shots going wide.  And while Rick Nash and Chris Krieder and J.T. Miller and even Kevin Hayes (although Hayes is more of a playmaker) probably fall into the category of “power forward” and often take up residence in front of the opponent’s net, they don’t do it often enough (fully realizing that it’s not a pleasant place to be and requires a high pain threshold, especially in the cross-check-to-the-ribs area).  The most infuriating thing for me is to see scary-fast, 6’3”, 225-pound Chris Krieder barreling down the wing, with a defenseman helplessly on his heels, and instead of going straight to the net he does this back-pedaling buttonhook thing.  NO, KRIEDS, NO!!  USE YOUR BIG BARRELLING BODY TO GO FORWARD, SON!!

Bottom line:  When you’re collectively, as a team, having a bad game (which is something I’ll never understand – how can all 12 forwards and 6 d-men suck AT THE SAME TIME?), the key is to keep it simple.  Get the puck out of your zone ASAP; get it deep into the other team’s end and make them come 200 feet, through you, to score; and when you manage to get into the offensive zone with numbers, throw everything – pucks and bodies – at the net whenever you get the chance.  It seems really simple, doesn’t it?  Why can’t these guys figure that out?  It’s obvious to ME, and I’m just a dumb girl who never played the game.

It’s taken 20 years, but my daughter Darian is finally a true Ranger – nay, a HOCKEY – fan.  She never misses a home game of the West Virginia University American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I Mountaineers.  (Admittedly, she has a small crush on one of the back-up goalies but she really does go for the hockey, especially as the crush is going nowhere – stupid hockey boy!)  She’s even taken advantage of bargain student tickets to go to Penguins’ games, strictly to root against them in her Ranger jersey, of course.

I’ve come to relish our back-and-forth texting commentary during Ranger games.  It doesn’t work as well when I’ve DVR’d the game (although that does have the benefit of allowing me to fast-forward through the despised car commercials), and even when we watch in real time she’s always about 40 seconds behind because I watch the games on MSG Network and she gets them via a shared NHL GameCenter package.  As a result, I’ll type my reaction to a great goal, or a save, or a “can you believe that?” moment immediately but I have to wait until I get the icon that she’s typing before I send it.  By now we’ve got it all figured out, but sometimes I get excited and forget and she writes back, “Too soon!”

Very rarely, the Rangers will play a ho-hum contest or, rarer still, a “please let this end” type of game.  I’ve gotten accustomed to those aberrations over the decades of my Ranger fanhood, but after the thoroughly uninspiring 2-1 loss to the lowly Colorado Avalanche last Thursday, Darian experienced one of her first such sentiments.  “I think I need a break from watching,” she texted.  “But you can’t stay away!” I replied.  I know how it is.  Sure enough, we were tuned in and ready to text for the match-up with the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.  We were rewarded by one of the Rangers’ best efforts of the season, especially in the third period, taking advantage of an Ottawa team that had played something like 6 games in 9 nights, including some overtimers, to give up only three shots on goal.  Power play – two goals.  Penalty kill – 2 for 2.  Henrik only had to make 23 saves, and really none of the breathtaking variety that have been on display so far this season.

It’s especially aggravating to fans actually at the game when they throw up a stinker like that Colorado game, and believe me, I know.  Walking down the internal staircase at MSG after a bad or boring loss, you hear a litany of curse-words or, depending on just how bad a loss it was, sometimes just angry, dejected silence.  It’s particularly tough on young kids just learning to become fans, but it offers an important lesson:  Life is full of disappointed expectations, even when mom or dad has paid upwards of $300 for the privilege.  On any given night there’s a 50/50 chance you’re going to be grumbling down the stairs at MSG.

As part of Darian’s Xmas present this year (and, yes, I confess, an Xmas present for myself as well), I purchased a couple of high balcony seats at Madison Square Garden for the Rangers-Caps game on December 20.  All I have to say is, they had better win!!

* * *

There was a great little Yahoo! Puck Daddy “panel discussion” (on paper) this week about the NHL players of whom the various Puck Daddy pundits were secret, begrudging fans [Greg Wyshynski, “Which NHL player do you begrudgingly admire? (Puck Daddy Roundtable)”, Puck Daddy, 12/3/15, http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/which-nhl-player-do-you-begrudgingly-admire—puck-daddy-roundtable-080239232.html?soc_src=mediacontentstory&soc_trk=ma], which reminded me that I have another “Top Ten” list to share:  My Top Ten Favorite Non-Rangers (in no particular order):

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens:  a jokester and formidable defenseman who sincerely cares for his fans, especially the young ones.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators:  graceful and handsome, with a sick flow and a knack for just APPEARING where you least expect him; also a friend of Henrik and Carl Hagelin (see “Former Rangers” category).

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins:  an impressive talent on offense and defense, a face-off savant and an all-around classy guy.

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks:  Jumbo, with his sidekick Slappy (and/or Tomas Hertl), quick with a quip and the master of the tape-to-tape pass.

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals:  how could you NOT love that gap-toothed, bent-nosed, grinning man-beast who enjoys hitting people and has a shot like a rocket?

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins:  does things normal humans shouldn’t be able to do.  Too bad he plays for the Penguins.  (Not for much longer???)

Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars:  love his sense of humor and offensive skills; he and his buddy Jamie Benn are making hockey sexy in the Big D.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks:  A leader in the Mark Messier mold, but my absolute favorite thing about Captain Serious is a photo of him on a bus with the Stanley Cup.  (Look it up.)

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks:  A literal Bigfoot-on-ice, a rare player who can play both offense and defense equally well, with a bomb for a shot.  He also loves animals of all kinds and has a cool personal reptile zoo at his house.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames:  The latest in a long line of little men who make people stand up and take notice every time they’ve got the puck.  (We’ve got one of those in Mats “ZOOOOOOK!” Zuccarello.)  He also looks like he’s about 12 years old.

Honorable Mention, Former Rangers Category:

Brandon Prust (now with the Vancouver Canucks and recently fined for poking Bruin Brad Marchand in the pouch, to the delight of so many anti-fans that they’ve started an online fund-raising campaign to help Prust pay the fine); Carl Hagelin (now gracing the Anaheim Ducks with his flowing locks and blazing speed); Ryan Callahan (always “Captain Cally” to me); and, of course, the ageless one, Jaromir Jagr (now grandfathering the kids in tax-free Florida).

Feelin’ Scroogy

I hate being a Grinch but I’m really not into Xmas anymore and I don’t know how to make it better.  (And don’t even get me started on those damn radio stations that play nothing but cheesy, shop-worn “Christmas Classics” from Thanksgiving to December 25th.  GAH!!)

I loved Xmas as much as the next kid growing up.  There were certain family traditions – cookies, of course (my favorites were peanut butter kisses and magic cookie bars, which I miss to this day), decorating not only the (artificial) tree but the entire house, wrapping green plastic garlands with big red bows around the wrought-iron stair railings, and getting together with my extended family, where we’d play cards in clouds of cigarette smoke into the wee hours.  The older we got, the more sparse the family gatherings became, as the aunts and cousins scattered to variously distant geographic locations.  The last few years before my mother passed away, it was just us – my mother; my sister, her husband and my niece; and Darian and me.

Darian spends Xmas Eve at her paternal grandmother’s house, where they do the whole traditional Italian fish and pasta meal (including a seafood salad that features calamari with their chewy little tentacles intact), then stays the night at her dad’s with her younger siblings.  I usually spend the night before Xmas wrapping presents.  Then I show up on Xmas morning to open presents with my ex’s family, after which we head off to my sister’s for brunch before my sister goes to her in-laws’ for dinner, which then leaves Darian and me to our own devices on Xmas afternoon and evening.  She might go out with friends, or we’d watch a movie on TV.  Last year we actually went to see Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken in the theater and then to a diner for dinner and dessert.  As far as I’m concerned, that was a fine new tradition, so we’ll have to find a good movie to see this year!  Even better, we can visit our “other” pets at the shelter first!!

Not that long ago, I even managed to get enthusiastic about shelling out $50 for a live tree from the local guy (a bit of a rip-off artist but they’d set the tree up in my house for an extra $10 tip) and decorating it with my limited collection of ornaments.  (My favorites are a set of porcelain Hummels trimmed with gold.).  But I can’t even have a tree anymore, thanks to cats who think everything hanging on the tree – high or low, it doesn’t matter – is there for them to play with.  And it’s a pain to climb up into my crawl space without a proper ladder to take down the decorations, just to struggle to put them back up again a couple of weeks later.  Likewise with putting up lights on the outside of my house, or the huge blow-up reindeer I splurged on the first year we were in our house, plus I’m always afraid of getting electrocuted in the rain and the snow.  Sometimes I wish I could have a “husband for hire” just to do stuff like put up (and take down) Xmas lights.  They certainly do look pretty, as long as they’re tasteful and not over-the-top explosions of Xmas on people’s front lawns.

Christmas lost its religious cachet for me years ago.  I must have been about 12 and a star in the junior choir at the United Methodist Church of Seaford.  I was all set to sing “O Holy Night” at the Christmas Eve service, which was my grandmother’s favorite holiday song, when God saw fit to make me ill so I never got to sing despite weeks of rehearsal.  Actually, I think it might have been more stage fright than laryngitis, which makes me feel a little ashamed in retrospect.  But whatever the reason, Xmas soon just became about the accoutrements – the pretty lights, the clan gatherings, the endless chocolate and cookies, and of course the gifts:  mountains and mountains of painstakingly wrapped presents, especially when my daughter was younger, because there were gifts from mom and dad and also gifts – the most extravagant, expensive ones! – from Santa, plus a stocking stuffed with little goodies I’d been carefully collecting for weeks (although in later years, the stocking contents were basically comprised of items I’d picked up at the local CVS the night before).

Work has clearly been a prime contributing factor to my lack of Xmas spirit.  For the past 13 years, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’ll be working non-stop up to the last minute of December 23, scrambling to help clients close deals by the end of the fiscal year.  If that doesn’t suck the Xmas spirit right out of you, I don’t know what will.  It also doesn’t help that my financial situation has changed considerably in the past few years.  When I was earning a full-time lawyer’s salary, I was able to splurge on gifts, usually at the last minute (having had to work till December 23, after all) and usually more expensive than they needed to be, especially for my daughter.  Of course I was compensating for not being around very much – no cookie baking for us, and decorating was often an afterthought, but I could be counted on to come up with some pricey presents!  Now, with my part-time work schedule, while I might have a little more time to spare, the funds have officially dried up.

When I had money I also used to make charitable donations – to Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, the ASPCA, Global Kids – but now I barely have enough to buy gifts for my loved ones let alone give cash money to worthwhile nonprofit organizations.  Truth be told, I’d much prefer charitable giving to paying my tithes to the retail gods.

There aren’t any little kids in our family anymore.  The youngest is Darian’s sister Guin, who’s 11, so there’s no more Santa charade or visits to Toys ‘R’ Us.  But that also means it’s tougher to come up with meaningful gifts for an 11-year-old girl (clothing is an option, but you need to choose the correct style du jour), a 13-year-old boy (Darian’s video-gaming brother Erich, who I used to get away with buying a GameStop gift card but that’s become a little old hat) and my almost-16-year-old niece, whose birthday arrives just two weeks AFTER Xmas so I’ve got to come up with yet another gift for that, especially given the milestone nature of this year’s celebration.

I’ve spent so much time and money buying what I believed to be thoughtful gifts for others over the years.  That’s really what the season is all about, right?  Giving?  Except I despise how materialistic it has all become.  There was a great quote on Facebook the other day:  We spend Thanksgiving being grateful for all the things we have, and then we go out at the crack of dawn on Black Friday to, in some cases, literally fight with each other to get a bunch of things we think we need.  Hah!  We need nothing more than the company of friends and family, and maybe some magic cookie bars – screw the gifts!!

I actually suggested to my sister that this year we don’t buy each other gifts, or maybe get just one each for my niece and my daughter.  After accusing me of being a Scrooge, she then told me that she already has my present, which probably means (ingrate alert!) it’s something I didn’t ask for and don’t necessarily want, and yet I will need to be appropriately appreciative when I open it on Xmas Day.  And I guess I should be grateful since lately it’s the only gift I get.

I know people talk about this being the season of “peace on earth, good will to men”, and I appreciate that concept very much, but for most of the planet, Xmas certainly isn’t that.  I’d much rather have peace on earth, good will to men (er, PEOPLE) all year round.

By now I’ve probably dragged you down on my “bah-humbug” trajectory, so let’s end on a lighter note, shall we?  I present the Four Stages of Life (courtesy of a post today on Facebook):

  1. You believe in Santa Claus.
  2. You don’t believe in Santa Claus.
  3. You are Santa Claus.
  4. You look like Santa Claus.

I think it’s safe to say I’m squarely in #4 territory!