Carol Week: Worry Wednesday

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“Oh my / friends I’ve / begun to worry right.”

What you might know about me: I’m a bizarre sort of perfectionist and I frequently feel guilty, whether I have a reason to or not. Despite my knowing that I’m not Atlas, that the world doesn’t rest on my shoulders, I walk around hunched like it does. Like if I don’t hold it all together, everything will start to fall—at least my corner of it will—and it will be nobody’s fault but my own.

Every year, I make myself wait until after Thanksgiving dinner to listen to Christmas music. Then I stop as of Dec. 26. I’m a big fan of Pandora, and my favorite two holiday stations are based off of Sufjan Stevens and Bing Crosby, respectively. While Sufjan’s “Sister Winter” is probably my choice song for the season—aside from the traditional “O Holy Night,” which I’ll take in any form—perhaps the song I most look forward to is an outtake of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing “Jingle Bells.”

I first came across the song in my Pandora shuffle a couple years back, and I’ve since sought it out. My Secret Santa at the office got me an MP3 download of it last year. The song moves along like a normal take on the tune, but there’s a hiccup here and there in the timing. You can tell Bing Crosby is sort of giving up after a while, because he throws in a joking “Yeah!” at one point after a flubbed cue, and as the wheels fall all the way off the cart, he sings “Holy Jesus Christ!”—prompting an “Urk!” from one of the sisters.

Sufjan sings: “All my / friends I’ve / returned to Sister Winter. / All my / friends I / apologize, apologize.”

Bing Crosby is calling out to Jesus flippantly, but I like the element it adds to the effort, like a sheepish plea to the original manger-born inspiration behind the ancient carols that have since given way to more generic winter melodies and lyrics.

Some church music has an odd history. There are hymns that actually began as drinking songs, freshened up with new lyrics. “What Child is This?” is set to the tune of “Greensleeves,” which was a slang term for a prostitute—or at least a woman willing to lie down in the grass, getting stains on her clothes.

The history and evolution of sacred music, the way it intertwines with popular music, is messy and surprising.

It’s not perfect.

I like that.

I didn’t realize until recently that one of the signs of the season for me is hearing a song that wasn’t intended to be heard. An outtake. A mistake.

I look forward to hearing it in my random shuffle of holiday music, even though it’s technically flawed. It’s profane, in the literal sense of the word. And yet.

The awe and wonder of this time of incarnation isn’t dimmed. Atlas can indeed shrug*. The plan, after all, was not for a baby to be born in a stall intended for livestock.

Sufjan sings: “And my / friends I’ve / returned to wish you all the best! And my / friends I’ve / returned to wish you a happy Christmas!”

 

* I can’t stand Ayn Rand by the way. At all. It’s a “Wonderful Christmastime”-level can’t standing.

Carol Week: The Non-Play List

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I mentioned yesterday that I can’t stand “Wonderful Christmastime.” The synthesizer, the lyrics, the overall cheesiness and dated feel of the song—I can’t take it.

But my least favorite song of the season is “Christmas Shoes.” It’s not technically a carol, I know, but it’s terrible. It’s sappy and saccharine and tragic and features a whole choir of children singing the chorus at one point. And it inspired a TV movie starring Rob Lowe, who was wonderful in West Wing and Parks and Recreation but makes bizarre career choices—like the remake of Salem’s Lot.

I can’t stand Christmas Shoes for a multitude of reasons, including the narrator’s belief that his encounter with a kid whose mom is about to die was a wake-up call for his benefit: “I knew that God had sent that little boy to remind me just what Christmas is all about.” Really? I’m so glad a desperately poor child with a terminally ill mother restored your holiday spirit.

I also don’t like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” because the man singer sounds so creepy—pushing alcohol on his female guest and invoking his own wounded pride as a reason she should stay with him. At one point she asks, “Say, what’s in this drink?”

Get out! Get out now!

Waiting Week: Freaky Friday

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This has been a busy week!

Well, they’re all busy, aren’t they? I’ve never liked using “being busy” as an excuse for falling behind in something, but that doesn’t stop me from doing so.

Still, it has been a busy week.

At this point, I’m just waiting for the week to end, as we’ve got a marathon of holiday activities planned for the weekend, including attending a holiday parade, a craft fair, a ballet, and a live performance of Mary Poppins, for which we’re skipping a potluck.

So it’s going to be a busy weekend, too.

I beg your pardon for not going too introspective or “themey” with today’s post. As happened with my spider/Internet post from yesterday, today’s image and the text weren’t planned to marry together—but unlike yesterday’s post, I’m not having a last-minute realization of a connection, no matter how slim or subtle.

My doodle today came from a conversation I had with my firstborn, when she was about 4 years old. I walked in to hear her declare to me: “Mom’s evil.”

I froze.

“Oh,” I said. “Tell me more about that.”

“I’m evil, too,” she said.

I didn’t know quite how to respond to this one. While I fumbled for the best way to continue this conversation, she added: “So, we’re the stepsisters. You can be the prince.”

Aha. Cinderella. This shows why it’s generally a good idea to wait after a kid says something startling, as opposed to knee-jerk reacting with something crafted from an adult’s logical and often cynical/world-weary frame of mind.

On a side note, I’ve traditionally heard those stepsisters described as “ugly”—which may not be fair, but it is tradition—but I suppose “evil” applies, too.

My girls have showed an increased interest in classic fairy tales lately, which delights me. My 4-year-old specifically requested “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood” for bedtime stories last night, and I’m so glad. These stories are some of the foundational building blocks for, well, storytelling, which is a subject very near and dear to my heart.

I’m a professional journalist, pretty much because it’s one of the best way to frequently and regularly get stories out to the masses. It’s why I fell in love with this line from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: “The story tellers, gathering attention into their tales, spoke in great rhythms, spoke in great words because the tales were great, and the listeners became great through them.”

I could just sigh at that line all day.

But I don’t have time for that. Sorry. In fact, I don’t really have time for this post any more!

What are some of your favorite stories? Or—to get meta on you—your favorite thoughts/words/quotes/ideas/stories about stories?

Waiting Week: Advent

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I collect a lot of things, including thimbles, Pez dispensers, loteria decks, first-edition books, dragons, and worries. I also collect nativity scenes, and each Dec. 1 marks the beginning of my push to get all of them out of the holiday shelf in my girls’ closet and set up on the mantel and around the house.

I get one new set a year, at least, and I have a loose aim of collecting creches—as they’re called when they’re feeling fancy—from around the world. I’ll post more about them later this week, but this morning I wanted to highlight my newest set, chosen by my 4-year-old daughter as a present for me for Dec. 1. She found it at a thrift store, and my wife OK’ed the purchase.

I left the lens flare in the photo not as an homage to J.J. Abrams, but because it’s sort of Star of David-ish. I’m not sure who the two non-obvious people are: shepherds or angels or two of the three wise men. But I love it. I also love the Advent season, with its focus on anticipation and waiting for what’s to come. I’m generally not good with patience, so Advent is a good exercise for me.

If my wife looks upset, and I ask her what’s wrong, and she says “Let’s talk about it later,” I’m antsy until then. I’ll often push her to talk now, which rarely goes over well. If my boss says he’d like to meet with me that afternoon, I ask if there’s anything we can discuss immediately. I definitely need to work on waiting.

And it’s waiting, not procrastinating. I already have procrastinating down.

As another Dec. 1 present, my wife got me a pair of Star Wars-themed ugly-Christmas-sweater inspired boxers, with AT-AT walkers instead of reindeer. She’s amazing. Too bad I can’t show them off. Much.

Toy Week: How Do You Figure?

Toy Week: How Do You Figure?

My wife’s family does a gift exchange for Christmas, for which each person draws another person’s name and handles the gift for him or her. It’s a way to save money and avoid clutter—and the little kids are excepted. Anybody can buy for them.

Before Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law circulates a list for everyone to write down gift ideas for themselves. I filled in mine two weekends back, and then was talking to my wife about it.

“I put some Pacific Rim action figures on my list,” I said.

“Oh.”

“Does that disappoint you?”

“No … just … where would they go? You already have a bunch of toys in the garage.”

She’s right, but those are my Lord of the Rings sets, several of which I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to open. The Nazgûl looks so awesome in its box. Plus, those toys had been at my office for a long time, and they came home during a move, and I haven’t got around to finding them a permanent home yet. After several years …

I actually split my time between two offices, and I have a lot of toys on my respective desks: A complete set of Homestar Runner figurines, a set of Umbrella Academy figures, and a Davy Jones action figure from Pirates of the Caribbean sit one one. The other boasts Batman, Iron Man, and a few My Little Ponies.

I grew up on action figures. More than one closet at my parents’ house is still filled with Star Trek: The Next Generation toys and collectibles, including an entire set of Playmates figures still in the packaging and a second entire set for display purposes. Sooner or later I’ll figure out a way to display them all.

No, I don’t really need them, but I do enjoy them. I don’t make them walk around on my keyboard or anything, but I do fondly admire them from time to time, and I like to explain what they are to guests who give me puzzled looks.

They’re sort of like geek badges, I guess, especially the obscure ones: I know what these characters are from. Do you?

After my conversation with my wife, I looked back at the all-family wish list. For herself, she’d listed certificates for restaurants or movies for date nights with me, her husband.

That really put things in perspective.

Still, I hope I get to unwrap at least a kaiju this Christmas.