Thursday, December 30, 2010

Turning the page

I am baffled that we celebrate so many holidays that mark the passage of time. New Year's and birthdays are prime examples. Each signifies that another year has gone by. Glass half full advocates will view such things as a new beginning. Glass half empty types would say we are simply celebrating another day closer to death.

The turning of a calendar page is such a contrived thing anyway. Where did time actually begin and when does it actually end? What possessed whoever the primitive person was who began marking time? Was it one of the earliest manifestations of morbid fascination for figuring out how much time we have squandered and how much time is left to be squandered?

I am no one to talk. I am obsessed with time. I have an awesome collection of wristwatches, all ticking away the seconds of my mortality (well almost all...I need to get some new batteries for a few of them). Perhaps it is natural to become obsessed with time the older you get. Because when you are young, time drags because you think you have an endless supply of it. When you reach middle age, it slips quickly through your hands because you become painfully aware that supplies are limited.

But time is like the weather, everybody bitches about it, but no one can doing anything about it. Poets wax poetic about it. Songwriters write songs about it (Jim Croce wrote about keeping time in a bottle and then ironically died young in a plane crash). Science fiction writers create endless plots about how to cheat time and achieve mortality.

But time outlasts them all. None of us understand it. Shoot by the time you think you have figured it out by living long enough, your time is up. Father Time is essentially a practical joker shaking your hand with a joy buzzer.

Why am a writing about the futility of time and celebrating its passage? Well, I wanted to squeeze out one more blog post before the year ends and I didn't think I'd have time to write one tomorrow night. I'll be too busy celebrating the arrival of a new year.

Ironic isn't it?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Seeing the light (and pulling the plug)

I have always liked Christmas lights. I don't really understand how they became associated with the holiday, but I enjoy them. In the past, I would enjoy them on other people's homes, but I never got inspired to put them on my own house until this year.

As with most things these days, my motivation for putting up Christmas lights on my house was for my children. I kept reminding myself of that while I was standing on top of a step ladder clinging to my gutter forcing the little light clips on at one-foot intervals. I also reminded myself of that fact when I lost all feeling in my hands and realized that, although I'd spent nearly $100 on lights,  I'd only bought enough to stretch half way across the front. And I reminded myself it was for the kids when I hopped in the car and drove to the store to buy more lights.

Every night, I'd plug the lights in wondering if I was going to get electrocuted in the rain and every night after the kids went to bed, I'd slip into the rainy, cold night and unplug the lights.

Ironically, I don't think my kids noticed the lights. What they did notice were the other houses we drove by that had elaborate light shows with dancing reindeer, sparkling snow globes and inflatable Frosty the Snowmen. Feelings of inadequacy began to seep in when I compared these mega displays with my meager strip of white icicle lights. To add insult to injury, one small two-foot section of my modest lights went out in the center of one string for no apparent reason. It all reminded me of why I had never put up lights on my house before.

It is, however, one of those things you are supposed to do.

But now Christmas is over and the lights need to come down. I wish I could get away with just leaving them up like a friend of mine does each year. When I told him I'd spent a couple of hours hanging lights he said he just went out and plugged his in. Said they were a bit faded from being out all year, but they still worked. Now granted his are the old fashioned big-bulb type. I think they are less noticeable in the daylight than the icicle variety I have that hang down. With my luck, I'd leave them out and they wouldn't work next Christmas so I'd have to replace them anyway.

Although I like Christmas lights, I will be relieved when I've tucked them into boxes with the rest of the decorations and stow them in the garage. Something happens to the magic of Christmas lights and decorations when the clock strikes midnight on December 25. They become as dismal as the piles of discarded wrapping paper from too many presents littering the floor around the Christmas tree.

On that note, my two-year old son came marching through the living room when I came home last night demanding to know where Christmas was. I told him it was over and he said that it wasn't. It was Christmas Eve and he wanted his presents back.

I feel that way about Christmas in general. I always long for the feeling of Christmas coming and dread the emptiness of it being over. Oh well, the stores have already begun swapping out Christmas crap and replacing it with Valentines crap. So I have that to look forward to.

In the meantime, it's time to get out the step ladder and pull the plug on Christmas 2010.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Things you are supposed to do

I have never been particularly good at doing things I'm supposed to do because you are supposed to do them. It is not that I am philosophically opposed to doing things I am supposed to do. I just don't always know that I am supposed to do things that I am supposed to do. I also do not always understand the origins of some things that I am supposed to do and why.

Oh, I understand and accept common courtesies such as writing thank you notes and acting like you want some gift when someone gives you something you don't want or really like. It is other things I don't understand. For example, years ago my first girlfriend's mother used to wrap boxes of chocolates and keep them under the tree without a name tag in case someone dropped by unexpectedly and gave them a gift. She would then slip away, write their name on a gift tag and covertly stick it on one of the unmarked gifts under the tree as if she was going to give them a gift in the first place regardless of whether they gave her one. When I questioned the sincerity of such a gesture I was told it was what you were supposed to do.

Personally, I would rather give a person a gift with no expectations of anything in return. And I'd rather get an unexpected gift without feeling obligated to reciprocate. But this view, although paid lip service by many, is usually superseded by the unwritten rules of "things you are supposed to do."

I wonder if there is someplace where all of these things you are supposed to do are written down. That would have to assume that there are universal things you are supposed to do rather than things that you are supposed to do that were cited by your parents simply because their parents beat it into their heads that they were things you were supposed to do. And they believed this because their parents in turn impressed upon them that they were things you were supposed to do.

I am willing to bet most things you are supposed to do evolve that way instead out of some universal law dictated by the natural order of things. Most people don't question things we are supposed to do because questioning them is something we are not supposed to do.  Besides, the only answer you ever get when you question doing something you are supposed to do is that that is what people do. There is a paradox here somewhere.

I am greatly pleased that wearing live cats as hats is not one of those things you are supposed to do.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total lunar eclipse over my hammies

Last night I saw my first lunar eclipse. It was the first total lunar eclipse in almost three years. And it was the first total lunar eclipse to take place on the Winter Solstice since 1638.

It was the first lunar eclipse I have ever seen because a) I am normally totally unaware of such things b) if I am aware of them, I fall asleep anyway and c) I live in the Seattle area and most things in the sky are obscured by clouds most nights. I managed to see this one because, a) I read about it on the Internet, b) since having children, I seldom go to sleep before midnight and c) by some miracle the clouds lifted last night and I could actually see the moon.

The photo above is supposedly how it looked from Seattle. I found the image on Wikipedia (thank you Yatharth Gupta whoever you are). I tried taking my own photo, but I haven't yet mastered all of the technical mysteries of my Canon Rebel (translated I haven't read the manual and basically still point, shoot and hope for the best). All I ended up photographing was a big, black square (which is basically what the eclipse looked like at about 11:30 p.m.). But then again, the whole thing could have just been obscured by a cloud. You never know in the great Pacific Northwest.

I am surprised that no one tried to super glue some significance to the fact that th eclipse was taking place on the Winter Solstice. It didn't seem to have any affect on me.

I did have a strange urge to go into a Denny's during the eclipse and order a Total Lunar Eclipse Over My Hammies just to see how the server would react. Given that it would be a Denny's during a full moon, eclipse  or not, I imagine the server would simply ask me if I wanted fries with that.

Note to Denny's: this would have been a great marketing opportunity. A Full Lunar Eclipse Over My Hammies could have been a ham sandwich with two fried eggs with the yolks removed. The next total eclipse will take place on June 15, 2011, so you have time to flesh this one out if you want. Just give me some of the credit, okay?

But I digress. I'm looking forward to the June 15 eclipse. But if I miss that, there is supposed to be another one on December 10th next year, too. Maybe I'll read the manual for my camera by then. But then again, it will probably be cloudy anyway.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Watching football

Of all sports, I enjoy watching football the most. I do not claim to understand all of the nuances of it, but I like the spirit of it. What drives me crazy, however, are the endless string of commentators who babble on during the games. I find their inane diatribes mind numbing at best.

What kind of insight does, "they need to come up with some big plays" provide? And don't get me started on sports casters ability to turn nouns into verbs (as in, "credit him with the pass defensed").

Although I like to watch football, I am also appalled at watching the other people who like to watch football. On the rare occasion I actually go to a game, I watch in horror at the out of shape blobs squeezed into football jerseys that should only be stretched as tight as they are if they are being pulled over shoulder pads and body armor. These jerseys are stretched to capacity by bellies that put Santa Claus to shame.

And the spectacle of it all. The wigs, masks and face paint rivals Mardi Gra in its garishness. But the thing that always blows my mind is the level at which these rabid fans believe that they actually have anything to do with whether the team wins or loses.  Now granted, noise becomes a factor in a game, but the actual physical act of playing the game lies strictly with the men playing the game, not with the mohawked fan wearing the kilt pounding his head against a pole in the end zone stands.

I understand the need for individuals to identify with people, real or fictional, who can live out realities they can't. But it is sad that many of the people I see at football games can't seem to accept that wearing a football jersey doesn't make you a football player any more than wearing a cape makes you Superman.

It is also easy to fall into the trap of second guessing everything that happens on the field. I catch myself swearing at a missed tackle, a dropped pass or a fumbled ball. Then I remind myself that I have never played football out of the confines of a backyard and that I was a drum major in the marching band during high school.

Perspective is everything, especially while watching football.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I broke the wing off an angel

It wasn't a real angel. It was a little plastic glow in the dark angel that someone taped onto my office door. It fell on the floor and I accidentally stepped on it and broke the wing. But I felt bad and glued the wing back on with a glue gun. It's not that I'm superstitious, but I don't need the bad karma breaking a wing off an angel implies.

Technically, it was probably more of a glow in the dark Cherub anyway. Or since this is the holiday season, it may have been a baby Jesus with wings. Funny thing is, the next day five more of the things showed up at random spots in my office. I rooted them out and they are all sitting on top of a commuter coffee mug next to my computer monitor with their little glow in the dark arms reaching up toward heaven (or the sky if you don't believe in such things).

I am not sure why angels have wings anyway. You'd think heavenly creatures could simply levitate without resorting to flapping their wings. But while we are on the subject, why do demons and hellish imps have wings, too? You would think they'd need them since they are supposed to be spending their time slinking around on their bellies in the fire, brimstone and icky ooze of hell.

But I digress.

It can't be good to break a wing off an angel around the holidays even if it was an accident. Now granted, technically the angel had wings so it shouldn't have fallen on the ground anyway unless it was indeed a fallen angel (or cherub). So that would mean breaking its wing off wouldn't be a bad thing because it was headed to hell anyway.

Come to think of it, that is why demons and imps have wings. They are supposed to be fallen angels. It kind of makes sense now. But I am just winging it. Ha, ha...

Now I am really going to hell.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, the Elvis tree is still in the building

I honestly couldn't tell you any more when the Elvis tree began. I can tell you that I bought the white, artificial tree from K-Mart (which seems pretty appropriate). And many of the ornaments came from uncontrolled buying binges on eBay. But I can't pinpoint when the tree took root.

I suppose it began as a rebellion against mainstream conventions associated with decorating for Christmas. And it was fed by the convenient aspect of combining my unexplained obsession with collecting Elvis crap with decorating a tree.

Now that I have a family, I have bowed to conventional decorations on one level of our house, but I have held onto the tradition of constructing and decorating the Elvis tree. My toddler children so far find it fascinating and spend a great deal of time pushing the buttons on the musical Elvis ornaments for abbreviated versions of Blue Christmas, Here comes Santa Claus and I'll be home for Christmas. I have forgone my tradition of placing a model of Graceland under the tree until my kids are old enough to resist the urge to touch it.

Some things are just sacred and Graceland is one of them.

But I do sense my four year old daughter beginning to wonder what the whole Elvis tree is all about. A few nights ago, she was playing in the room where it shone it all its blue splendor. An Elvis Christmas CD was playing on the DVD player. Suddenly my daughter got this very thoughtful, serious look on her beautiful little face. Then she turned to me and asked, "Papa, why do you have all of this Elvis stuff."

I got the same feeling I imagine the Grinch had when Cindy Lou Who confronted him and asked why he was shoving the Christmas tree up the chimney. I stammered something about just collecting Elvis stuff over the years. She nodded her head and replied, "I like Elvis music. He sings handsome." Then she resumed playing.

So I dodged that bullet, but I don't imagine there will be too many more Christmases left that I can put up the Elvis tree in peace without explaining to my kids why.

The problem is, I don't have an answer. I've always kind of looked at the tree as a lark. It's like this perpetual art project that represents everything good and bad about our culture. And regardless of any deep philosophical or psychological reason for it, I just think it's pretty.

But I suppose I'd better start working on a better answer.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Cave paintings

I wonder at times if blogging has become as archaic as cave paintings. Compared to the digital fast food social sites like Facebook and Twitter, blogging has just lost its newness and appeal to most people. For one, it takes too long of an attention span to read a blog post versus a Twitter or Facebook update about what you are having for lunch.

I was so enthusiastic when I started blogging. I felt so cutting edge and progressive. Blogging was my opportunity to share all of these fascinating stories I'd stored up for years. I was pretty damned prolific in the beginning, posting on an almost daily basis. I covered my cave walls with enough stick figures to entertain thousands. Trouble is, my cave seems to be a bit hard to find. And, I seem to be running out of paint and wall space. On more than one occasion, I've even painted the same pictographs over and over.

Kind of like this post. I think it is at least the hundredth time I've whined about blogging. Yet I still bundle up in my fur robes and trudge on back to the cave.

At times I ponder about what will happen to my cave paintings when I'm gone. It is hard to imagine a time when Google will close up shop and scatter all of its various digital properties to the winds. But even the dinosaurs eventually trudged off slowly into the sunset to become petroleum products. Have I built a digital house of cards by storing all of my cave paintings in one blog?

I've toyed with converting my blog posts into a primitive hard copy book. There are several self publishing options out there. But having one copy of a book of my rambling digressions seems a bit sad at times. They don't call the paper book covers dust jackets for nothing.

Once again I've become maudlin and cliche about leaving a legacy when I've gone.

Maybe that is my legacy.

Ug...need more paint.