Friday, December 27, 2013

So This Is Christmas

Christmas is supposed to be the best time of the year, right?

So why don't I enjoy it?

It's been years since I could say, "Man, this was the best Christmas yet." They are actually getting better, however. This year we only had two Christmas parties to go to, one of which was cancelled due to weather and has been rescheduled as a post-Christmas party at a time we can't go. We stayed home at Christmas, with a small group. Three people I invited to spend time with us never responded to my invitation, so we remained just me, Lynda, her mom, and her brother. Small is good, right?

This year we put up Christmas decorations, which we didn't do the last two years. I decorated a nice tree, put out a nativity scene, and put some garland inside in the translucent window by the front door. Of course it fought me, not wanting to stay in place with tape. I didn't want to put hooks in the wood. Last night one string of the garland finally fell, and I'll leave it on the floor. But the house looked good.

This year I cut out one major source of yule strife: the Christmas letter and cards. My wife and I never could agree on what should go in a Christmas letter or the style it should be written in. And of course Christmas cards take a lot of time. Our card list had shrunk from somewhere around 150 to around 50 last year, and I'm the one who always did the lion's share of the work on them, at least for the last ten to twenty years. This year I said the heck with it, told Lynda I wasn't doing them, and so we haven't sent any yet (though I know she worked on sending them to those who sent us cards). No Christmas letter, no Christmas cards, two less Christmas headaches.

One reason, I think, that I don't like Christmas is so few of my family's Christmas traditions survived and have found their way into my modern Christmases. The tree is thematic, not random. The decorations go up early, not late. No candy house. Different dinner menu, and time. Yeah, that was 40 years ago, and you would think I'd be over it now. I don't think that's the only reason, but it is surely a contributing factor.

I actually dislike, almost to the point of hate, all the gift giving activities. It seems such a waste of money. People who can't afford it give so much at so much expense that they are in debt for months afterwards. I think the person who gives only what he/she can afford, and the child who receives a meager amount from their parents but an amount that is out of love, are much more blessed than the child that receives everything.

Sorry for the rambling. I'll be 62 in less than a week. Hopefully I'll have a few Christmases left, and will find a way to enjoy them.

Monday, December 23, 2013

For My Enjoyment

An on-line conversation with a writer colleague and friend resulted in this exchange.

Her: I've asked this before, and I will continue to ask this until we make headway. What do you do for enjoyment, just for you? I know you write, walk, play computer games, and you are interested in stocks and family genealogy. Writing is work, even though you enjoy it, and it is a avocation right now. You feel guilty when you play games. Stocks are a financial endeavor and could be work. You don't do your genealogy currently. Walking is a part of a healthy lifestyle. What do you do just for you?

Me: Just for me? I think the endeavor that provides the most enjoyment is genealogy. This combines so much: history, detective work, family, culture, and writing in terms of documenting what you've done. I think that is the thing that combines all that interests me and gives me joy and fulfillment.

Her: Why have you stepped away from it? I know your time is limited, but you enjoy it, and you should spend time dong things just for the sheer joy of it. You have been reading the Carlyle letters. You seemed to have enjoyed that.

Me: While genealogy is at the top of the pyramid, the top is not very pointy. Other endeavors play king of the hill with genealogy, unable to dislodge it, but staying close at hand. Wordsmithing combined with story telling or message making is close, very close.

Me: Reading is close as well. It can be almost anything on the printed page, or a screen that emulates the printed page. The Bible is good; other Christian books are good; novels are good; short stories are good; non-fiction book-length or shorter is good.

Me: So when I do one of these, it's almost—almost—as good as doing genealogy.

Apparently she'd asked this before, and either ducked the question or gave an unsatisfactory answer. So this time she tried to pin me down more. The truth is that this is difficult for me to answer. I don't do many things that I dislike. I don't have a lot of yard work to do, but what I have I enjoy. Clearing dead trees from the un-built lot next to me also brings enjoyment. Even mundane chores around the house give me a sense of fulfillment, of a task accomplished. Doing things around the house never leaves me thinking I wasted my time.

With so many good choices, how do I answer the question "What do you do for enjoyment?" Yes, some of those things are work. Since I'm trying to both reach people and make money from my writing, I suppose you could say it's work, but it's work that is enjoyable. Since trading stocks is a money-making endeavor, you could say it's work. Yet, I enjoy it. Perhaps not the losses that come, but certainly the gains.

Study, through reading, contemplation, meditation, and reasoning is highly enjoyable for me, especially in the Bible and related readings. The "Harmony of the Gospels" that I wrote, which is a non-commercial venture, is among the most enjoyable things I've ever done. It combined study and writing, heaving in research and wordsmithing. While I'd love to figure out how to publish it, I think it will forever remain a study aid for me, and for the few people to whom I've given it.

That brings it down to genealogy. As I said in my reply to my friend, it is perhaps a small notch above other things I do in terms of enjoyment. For the reasons I state in my answer to her. If I didn't need the money, I probably wouldn't mess with stocks, and I might or might not write with the intent of selling. Perhaps I would just pursue genealogy as my enjoyment avenue. But not being independently wealthy, and with genealogy research without cost being limited in what it can do, and having come close to exhausting free sources for the main lines I'm working on, I can't really pursue it a whole lot more.

I could start writing some family histories from the information I have in hand. I've done that with two families in Lynda's lines, and am close to starting one in my paternal line. But all in all it's going to be a while until I get back to much genealogy work.

And that's all right. The things I'm doing now are enjoyable. Even the day job is enjoyable. I would, though, if independently wealthy, or even comfortably prepared, forgo some of the 4 years and 8 days I have left, and spend more times in these other pursuits.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Anticipating Messiah

Once again this year, our denomination is doing a common study during the Advent season. This past Sunday was week three of four. Except we didn't have Life Groups on week 1 and I missed week 2 due to the combination of illness and bad roads. I took my turn teaching this past Sunday, and enjoyed the lesson material. Good class discussion, too.

The devotional for that day talked about the three groups of Jewish people who were anticipating the coming of the Messiah at the time of Christ. But actually, as Pastor Mark said in his first sermon in the series, there were really four groups.

The Sadducees. These were the political leaders, who had modest spiritual credentials. They were open to compromise with their Roman occupiers, so long as they could take their political positions. Blending of religion and state were fine with them.

The Pharisees. These were the religious purists. They cared less about who ruled the civil side of the nation so long as they ruled the religious side.

The Zealots. These cared about Israel returning to an independent nation. Rome had to go. They probably had a sense of religion, and possibly thought the lack of religious fervor contributed to the unfortunate civil situation.

The Essenes. This group separated themselves and lived in a sort of monastery. They were the searchers, the ones who studied the scriptures and other writings as much as they could. I suppose this group probably could care less who ruled the land, or the temple. They just wanted to be by themselves and do their studying.

The question before our class on Sunday was what each of these groups expected the Messiah to be like. We figured the Sadducees anticipated a presidential Messiah: someone who would take the reigns of government and make everything better. The Pharisees would undoubtedly expect Messiah to return Israel to the purest possible form of Judaism. That would make everything right. Yes, Messiah would be a religious fanatic for the law. The Zealots would expect Messiah to be a conqueror. He would raise and lead an army to fight against Rome and free the Jews from the foreigners. And the Essenes would likely think Messiah would be a scholar. Through leading Israel into more knowledge, including spiritual knowledge, the Jews would be saved.

But it seems to me there was another group, one that I've never heard discussed. That group could be called, "Everyone Else". The four groups listed were small. Some of the population at large would align with these four, but I suspect the vast majority just lived their lives. Everyone would have been aware that a Messiah had been prophesied in their scriptures, and that he was overdue for any number of reasons. But I doubt the majority ever gave it a whole lot of thought. Messiah would come. Maybe while they were alive, maybe not. They still had to go to work the next day, struggle to live, try not to get sick, and spend what time they could worshiping I Am.

It seems to me that today we have these same five groups in Christianity in relation to what we believe is the second coming of Messiah. I won't try to make an exact comparison. But we have those who try to compromise between the various interpretations. Some expect the returning Jesus to preside over pure religion, others see him as a conqueror. Some pull away and just study the heck out of prophesy, almost to the exclusion of all other items that could be studied. Then the vast majority of the world's two billion Christians don't give it any thought at all, have no idea what the conditions will be when and after Jesus returns.

So it seems to me current religious expectations. The groups are all there, under other names, but they are there. I probably align most closely with the Essenes, or at least that's what I'd like to do.

I'm not sure there's any real purpose to this post, other than to report on Sunday's class, and muse about the melding of scripture and the conditions of the times in which it was written.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go astray.

Mine did over the snowy weekend. I left work on Thursday, the 5th, knowing that the storm that had already started was going to be major and that I would have a couple, or maybe a few, days at home of being shut in. What better things to do but write?

Alas, what I feared was also happening, which I didn't mention in my last post, came true. On Wednesday I felt the early stages of a cold coming on, but I ignored them. I get two colds a year, and I'd already had three in 2013 (including the flu back in January). So although the symptoms were there, I convinced myself it wasn't a cold.

But as the day progressed Thursday, the symptoms increased. By Thursday night I knew it was a cold, not as deep as some I've had, but still deep enough. Friday I did very little. The snow ended at noon, at 7 inches, just as was predicted. I got out and shoveled some of the driveway. Then I took a walk up to the highway, .65 miles away, to see conditions. The exertion may have been stupid, but I always think fresh air helps me to heal, so I did it. In the evening I was able to write a little on Headshots.

Saturday I was well somewhat improved, I thought. I shoveled some more of the drive, and again walked to the highway. Roads were awful, worse after a day of light traffic than they had been before. In the afternoon I was able to knuckle down and work some on my book. For the weekend I added about 2,400 words. That was below my goal, but given my physical status I wasn't unhappy with that. Our Christmas party that night was cancelled—not that we would have or could have gone.

Sunday we didn't try to go to church. I again shoveled on the driveway, finishing one lane up to the street. Then I walked down to the nearest convenience store, about 8/10th of a mile, picking up some things and finding somethings unavailable. I crossed the highway and the competitor didn't have those items either. I could see that roads were still really, really bad, and the decision to stay home was the right one. I called to the house and suggested Lynda walk out to join me on the return leg. She did so, but then decided to go on while I wen home. As she saw the condition of the roads she could see that my decision to not try to go to church was the right one.

By Sunday night the cold had moved into the coughing phase, and I coughed continuously. I knew I shouldn't be at work Monday. The combination of the cold and road conditions caused me to decide not to attempt going to work on Monday. I mostly rested on Monday, taking only a brief walk on the nearby streets to assess if I could get out on Tuesday. I concluded I could. Also my coughing was considerably better by the end of the day, so I knew I'd be going in on Tuesday. Got lots of rest on Monday, Sunday as well.

But I didn't do any new writing either of those days. As I was writing on Saturday I realized my writing has been so sporadic that I didn't remember what scenes I had. So I decided to print an read the whole book where it currently stands, doing light edits as I read, looking for overlap and gaps. I completed that by Monday evening: found a couple of gaps, and one area where there's a little overlap. Not as bad as I feared, but still some edits will be needed to fix it.

Tonight I typed all the edits to date, and closed one gap. I contemplated filling the other gap, but decided against it. That will be work for tomorrow night. Thursday is a Christmas party, so adding to the end of the book will have to wait until the weekend, hopefully Friday night. At last I feel like I'm getting warmed up. The word count stands at 19,108, which puts me well into the middle of the book. I have the next three chapters reasonably well planned out, so they should go quickly. With any luck I'll be over 25,000 words by this time next week.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Storm Commeth, and Is Here

For several days weather forecasters have been saying we would get a significant winter storm beginning on Thursday, today, and lasting into most of the day Friday. They've been fine-tuning exactly what kind of precipitation we would get, and how much of it. At one point they thought it would be mainly an ice event, then a combination of all types (ice, sleet, freezing rain, and snow), and finally beginning as sleet/freezing rain and shifting to mostly snow. The latest winter storm warning suggests we'll get up to 7 inches of snow.

This forecast has come long before any sign of a storm showed up on the radar, or even in the clouds. This feels eerily the same as in early 2012, I think it was, when a week ahead of time they forecast a blizzard, long before anything showed in the sky. Darned if they weren't exactly correct. We got 16 inches of snow at our place in that storm, and the temperature and wind were exactly what the forecasters predicted.

This storm they forecast would hit our area about 11 a.m. to noon today, and last through Friday afternoon. But they were wrong. The first frozen precipitation began falling around 10 a.m. Imagine that. A prediction three or four days ahead was off only by an hour. Not as to the type of storm, or how it started, but only to the exact timing of the start. As of right now it is playing out exactly as forecast. The show should start around 4 p.m.

So how do I turn this into a metaphor of life? Or of my writing life? Deciding to write added a layer of busyness to my life. And a degree of separation. While certain writing tasks I can do while with others or with background noise, such as the TV, other writing tasks require quit for concentration. This includes the research for non-fiction. It includes most original composition for fiction. Plotting, proofreading, editing, correcting, these can all be done anywhere anytime. At other times separation and silence is necessary.

I won't be coming in to work tomorrow. Every way I could go has hills to navigate, and my truck doesn't handle well in snow. So I'll stay home, and write to my heart's content. I'll shoot for at least 3000 original words on Headshots. Typing edits on 20-30 pages in the Carlyle encyclopedia book. Maybe completing the first draft of the first chapter of The Gutter Chronicles Vol. 2. I might even see about the short story I've started, the next in the Danny Tompkins series.

How much of this will I actually get done? Will the storm cause us to lose power? Will I have to shovel snow and chop ice, or in other ways burn valuable time? I certainly have much non-writing work to do at home, include filing three or four months of accumulated financial papers, as well as get caught up on financial calculations on the stock trading business.

Yes, my life is a storm, a self-caused storm. Very predictable. Known tasks recurring at known frequency, put-off-able, but eventually piling up to the point where shoveling and chopping is necessary.

So let the snow come, as much as it wants to. A few days of isolation will be a welcome break in the routine.