Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

17Sep/120

And They’re Off!

The cast and crew of Sherlock's Last Case enjoyed four solid and amply-attended performances over opening weekend, with four more weekends remaining. We also received our first review, overwhelmingly positive, from Michael Dresdner. I'll keep you up to date on the production as it continues. In the meantime, here's my director's note for the program:

Sherlock's Last Case is not part of Conan Doyle's canon. Far from it. It's a story he would never have written; but though he might've abhorred it, he might also have admired it. After all, it features mysterious ladies, cunning traps, hairbreadth escapes, and diabolical villainy, yet there's always time for a witty bon mot and a full pipe.

As a Sherlockian of long standing, I think much of the charm of Conan Doyle's classic yarns depends on the relative harmlessness of their crimes. The Master battled murderers, sure, but he was a long way from our world of al Qaeda and weaponized anthrax. Many commentators express wonder that Holmes and Watson never sought Jack the Ripper in any canonical story, but that would've been too grim by far; we prefer the minor threats of an amoral college professor or supernatural hound. Yet even in 1897, darkness was falling, and the London of gaslights and hansom cabs was about to give way to the blood-soaked twentieth century. This is a story about Watson and Holmes in their twilight.

I'm a theatre critic part-time, so it should've been nerve-wracking to direct or act in the same community where I've reviewed the labors of my peers. Lakewood Playhouse rolled out the red carpet and continually inspires me with its competence, passion, and imagination. Sherlock's cast and crew surpassed my fondest hopes, and I'm grateful to them and my long-suffering wife for helping me stage one of my dream shows. It's theirs now, and I know you're going to love it. The game is afoot!

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5Jul/120

In Which I Exploit Justina Walford

This is the episode of The Unpleasant Truth podcast in which I interview my good friend Justina Walford. Justina is the screenwriter of Stripped, a movie about lesbian cannibal strippers. (How's that for a logline?) It's in production now. Justina's also the owner and operator of BareNakedBakeSale.com, a site on which attractive people get partially nude for the public good. She's way more interesting than I am, so I resolved to exploit her considerable charisma for a conversation about exploitation in movies and life.

This is the first time I've ever tried to record and edit a phone conversation. It's tricky, because the lag time between cell phones leads to unfixable echos. This will do for a first attempt, and I think you'll find Justina so fascinating that you'll be willing to put up with my audio ineptitude.

For you visual learners, here's a photo of Justina:

See how attractive she is? She's also whip-smart, which is totally unfair. Thanks for the interview, Justina! I look forward to another conversation down the road.

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31May/120

Adventures in Podcasting

I recorded this podcast last Friday, just in time for the three-day weekend. It was my first attempt at recording and editing such a thing, so I had to learn Audacity and figure out how to get WordPress, usually so easy, to display an MP3 player. Even uploading the podcast was difficult, because WordPress kept trying to tell me the file is larger than 20MB, and it so isn't. Long story short, this short job took long, but I managed to post it around ten Friday night. An hour and a half later, it suddenly dawned on me that my comments therein about death would seem mighty disrespectful to military families, especially those who've lost loved ones in the service, so I ran downstairs and yanked it off the air.

Please accept it as read that I meant no disrespect to anybody, living or dead. Having said that, here's the very first installment of what I may or may not decide to call "The Unpleasant Truth." In retrospect, it seems like that subject could get a bit depressing. I'm still mulling it over. What do you think? Too dark?

P.S.: I moved this installment to PodOmatic on June 6.

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23May/120

Hello, I’m a Name Brand

A few years ago, when my novel Lightfall was about to street (we cool kids use "street" as a verb), my publisher advised me to cultivate a web presence, starting with this site. Suddenly I morphed from Christian Carvajal to ChristianCarvajal.com, and I've had mixed feelings about that ever since. My publisher wanted me on Twitter, so there I am, @carvwriter. I went out and pressed the flesh and splattered comments about Lightfall all over my Facebook account and made a public nuisance of myself; but unfortunately, it turns out that's a vast, inescapable component of being a professional writer. I don't like being a name brand, but I sure can't afford to not be one.

So hey, may I take this opportunity yet again to invite you to download, read, and review my new ebook, Rereading the Bible, by using that convenient link in the menu to your right? I like the book, and I think it compiles and crystallizes many of my thoughts on the Bible effectively, but I didn't self-publish it merely to release another book. My larger goal is to remind you that I'm an author.

A month or so after Lightfall was released, it was already clear it wasn't on its way to the New York Times bestseller list, but it was successful (and lucrative!) in ways I didn't expect. Being an author gave me the credentials needed to land that job at Cengage. It aimed me straight at the Weekly Volcano, if only by boosting my self-confidence enough to apply there. Heck, I even found myself delivering motivational speeches, which is bananas. I've been a professional writer--meaning paid, in money--for two and a half years now. Not too shabby. It's one of a handful of careers I always wanted.

Look, I'll be honest, I'm not gonna earn squat from Rereading the Bible. I'm selling it for cheaper than McDonald's sells an order of fries. Why? Because the goal isn't to make money on book sales, it's to launch a new enterprise I call Carv's ThinkyWorks. If I can write a novel or an agnostic Bible commentary, it's a safe bet I can write about your company. If I can write, record, and edit an amusing vlog before lunch, maybe I'd be a good fit for your corporate video project. Maybe you need a public speaker, or a technical writer, or a teacher. I've been all those things...and I'm good at them.

No one likes a braggart; but then again, isn't bragging the whole point of a resume? My name is Christian Carvajal (TM), and I run Carv's ThinkyWorks. I'm the brain, hands, and heart behind this site and everything on it. That's my brag for the day. I feel grody publicizing myself and my writing, but I vastly prefer it to false modesty from me or anyone else. As my old-school text resume says, I tell great stories. That's my purpose, my identity, and my brand. You should put me to work.

Or at least read my book.

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20May/120

“5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say”

I want to turn your attention to a thoughtful blog post by Pastor Tim Brown, aka "the Reluctant Christian." I agree with everything he says here. His reminder that "Christian" is a noun in the Bible rather than an adjective is particularly insightful.

Have you said any of these things? Your heart was probably in the right place, but was your head?

Check it out.

5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn't Say

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12Mar/120

Thinking Locally, Selling Globally

So I was eating lunch with a friend of mine--Kitzel's corned beef, delicious--when my friend mentioned a company called MerchantOS. Ever heard of it? If you're looking for a "No" button to click, don't bother; I assume you haven't. That's because the company is based in Olympia, Washington, and I live in Olympia, Washington, and I'd never heard of it until just that moment. A search of the Olympian newspaper's website reveals exactly three references to MerchantOS, all in reference to a college startup workshop the company supported and attended. MerchantOS has one of those generic names that could refer to an open source Windows 7 competitor or, just as easily, a Russian Mafia front. In fact, one must scan its "About" page to learn the company has already handled a billion U.S. dollars in business transactions.

Uhh, excuse me? Say what?

See, that gets my attention. Now, most of you aren't fortunate enough to live in Olympia, so I should tell you a bit about our disgustingly livable environs. (I dig that word, "livable," by the way, as if the less "livable" city of Houston, Texas were slathered in poisonous gas. Which, let's face it, it kind of is.) Olympia is our state capital, a college town full of highly educated, mostly liberal people. Education doesn't always enjoy a one-to-one correspondence with intelligence, but in our case, it usually does. What we loosely call Oly is really four small towns: the west and east side of Olympia proper, the eastern workaday community of Lacey, and the southern, decidedly middle-class Tumwater (where my wife and I happily reside). Together, they contain about a hundred thousand citizens. We enjoy a somewhat bohemian reputation, thanks to a mostly defunct brand of beer, the Evergreen State College (aka Berkeley North), and our place in rock history as the birthplace of grunge and its distaff cousin, the riot grrl movement. Things you expect to find in Oly: sleeve tattoos, deep-fried vegan burritos, "Coexist" bumper stickers, and people who smell like Woody Harrelson's man-cave. Things you don't expect to find in Oly: haut cuisine, Rick Santorum, and multimillion-dollar business security outfits.

MerchantOS created and sells an online service for handling POS (point of sale) transactions. For about fifty bucks a month, each card-swipe transaction handled by a small business is processed over an Internet-based service that also keeps track of purchase orders, inventory, daily batches--all those boring essentials. It's a pretty nifty way of solving a variety of everyday problems, and while online POS may not be as sexy as Near Field Communications or Google+ (ah, Google+, you were cool for a week), MerchantOS has attracted a surprising flow of dinero in less than a decade. It was started in 2004 by Ivan Stanojevic and Justin Laing, two San Jose bicycle geeks who set out to code a POS program specifically for bike shops, including their own. The product worked so well that it escaped into the wide world of small businesses, so MerchantOS set up a full-time operation here in Thurston County, staffed largely by idealistic young Evergreen alumni. But don't be fooled! For an unpretentious company you'd need GPS to find, MerchantOS is surprisingly secure: its defensive protocols include 128-bit encryption, Level III explosion resistance (take that, Hans Gruber!), and what the company website calls "multiple mantraps"...which are really just hardened airlocks, but sound awesomely like pits full of Malay curare spears, or perhaps giant rolling boulders to chase intruders from the server farm.

Now, if you happen to be someone who runs a small business--say, a bike shop with half a dozen employees--you might desperately need a POS transaction system, but know relatively little about POS transactions. It may surprise you to learn, for example, that there are dozens of vendors offering POS software, the best-known being the impersonal software giant QuickBooks. A company called Imonggo offers a web-based POS system free, and with very high ratings. MerchantOS, like many of these companies, succeeded by targeting a specific niche first (in this case, small bike shops). Soon, however, thinking locally morphed into selling globally. The free edition of Imonggo, while certainly first-rate, has some significant limitations: it can only handle one store with less than a thousand product items, it doesn't offer tech support by email, and vendors are unable to download sales data to their in-store computers. These features are available in Imonggo's Premium edition, but its cost is comparable to MerchantOS's standard cost per month.

What MerchantOS sells first and foremost is a quality product, but it does so by conveying the scrappy, idiosyncratic personality of Olympia at every level of service. Local flavor is all over the company website, from pictures of its founders' vacations to mild profanity to beer pong at the office Christmas party. Don't get me wrong, the MerchantOS product itself is entirely professional, but potential clients get a feel for the people--not just the product--they'll be working with. When vendors sign on with MerchantOS, they don't feel like they're buying a boring Firefox add-on and getting a generic product and email receipt; rather, they're forming a relationship with Ivan and Justin and the whole support staff on a personal, multidimensional, first-name level. Not every small business owner runs a bike shop or even owns a bike, but potential customers learn Ivan and Justin ran their own small business so they know what vendors need. When you scan the About page on Imonggo's site, by contrast, pretty much all you get is a stamp-sized PNG of a featureless office building in the Philippines. Yikes.

It occurs to me that MerchantOS is a web-based service that greets the world by using a web-informed approach. The company has a personality that's been crafted for Internet social conventions. Twenty-first-century customers respond positively to quirky, individual elements that would've seemed unprofessional in the old business model and atmosphere. This actually hearkens back to a pre-corporate mentality, when the local barber was a hit because a.) he cut hair professionally and b.) (this is just as important!) he told wonderfully off-color fishing stories. I may not be able to get my hair cut by a charismatic barber in Trenton, New Jersey--I'd need a true local business for that particular service--but cool vendors in Trenton can buy quality, scalable transaction services from two laid-back dudes in Olympia. The day will come, I think, when we all need and expect every vendor we do business with, for any service or product at all, to feel like our "friend" via Internet social media. I can tell you from trying to sell my novel that the only way to interest potential readers (aka buyers) in a no-name, first-time author was to put my individuality out there. It's not about becoming a name brand. It's about establishing a relatable identity. If I told a few bad jokes and put my book in someone's hand, chances are, that person would decide whether to buy my product based on what they knew about me. Not my publisher...not my credentials...not even my product (which, after all, he or she hadn't read yet)...but me. You can offer the best product in the world, but trust me, someone out there has a product very nearly as good. If you're reading my site, you should be reading hundreds of other authors whose books are comparable, perhaps even (dare I say it?) superior to mine. But you read me first. Why? Because, whether you like everything about me or not, you have a feel for who I am. I suspect that's how every product will be sold in the brave new web-life world.

The greatest benefit of all this is that nothing has a necessary, inflexible center anymore. "Things fall apart," Yeats wrote, "the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...Surely some revelation is at hand." The poet wrote these lines in 1919 to commemorate the War to End All Wars (sigh), but they apply more happily to the Internet Age. Thanks to digital technology, one needn't be Spielberg or even an L.A.-based slicko to be the auteur of a visual effects movie. Peter Jackson works out of distant Wellington, New Zealand, Battlestar Galactica (the good one, I mean) was made in Vancouver, and Sin City was shot in Austin, Texas (an arts capital not unlike Olympia, Washington). Writers need no longer relocate to New York or Los Angeles to find publishers or readers. And yes, a small startup in Olympia, Washington can be a hidden money fortress bristling with intrusion monitoring, mantraps, and (for all I know) the zombie Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang.

I realized this would happen way back in 1994, but I was too broke and busy (I was just starting grad school, among other personal crises) to take advantage of the opportunity. I remember asking my then-boss if I could teach "electronic mail" as part of an Intro to Microcomputers class, and although he was a bona fide genius who wrote the book, literally, on the Ada programming language, he predicted it was a minor diversion that would never catch on. I knew the Internet would generate superficial celebrities, which it did a la Rebecca Black and Antoine Dobson, but also that it would decentralize other glamorous professions. The Internet, for better or worse, is the great democratizer, and if you, my friend, want to make metric crap-tons of money without leaving your parents' basement, this is still a pretty great place to do it. The web is a functioning meritocracy, so one good bike shop POS transaction system can generate a global empire.

There's a song from the musical Title of Show that goes, "I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing," and that used to be my whole raison d'etre. But it occurs to me that what we used to call, aptly, "the World Wide Web" is now a place where the best and brightest among us can make exceptional cake and sell it, too. The next Great American Novel will be written in hypertext. Some kid who's now directing Star Wars fanfic videos will one day oversee the next Pixar. And a couple of GORP-scented bike geeks from San Jose can juggle billions of dollars from a nondescript bunker in Patchouli Town, USA. It could happen to you, Gentle Reader. We live, work, and dream in unprecedented times.

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7Mar/120

Be Gentle…

What you're about to see (should you choose to hit the white "Play" triangle below--you know how this works) is my very first ever video blog. It was recorded in one ad-libbed take and then edited by a total newb (me) in about half an hour...so please, manage those expectations accordingly.

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27Feb/120

Brahms: You’ll Like It!

The title above is a lame pun only my Oklahoma friends will get. Everyone else, please accept my apology.

I find devotional music beautiful, ironically enough. I enjoyed singing in my college chorale, and I missed it over the years. My wife, a trained alto who sang with Opera Pacifica, inspired me to audition for their choir director, Claudia Simpson-Jones. Much to my surprise, I was accepted and "cast" as a bass. Now, almost two decades after my last choir experience, I find myself belting Brahms's Requiem along with Amanda and about 150 other voices. Not to brag, Gentle Reader, but cold-reading Shakespeare comes easy to me. This fancy belting stuff is hard!

Singing choral music isn't like crooning along with Bruno Mars on the radio. It requires a wider range, for one thing, and it helps if one can read musical notation. I can't. The last two months have been a desperate crash course in picking through a splatter of flags and dots, struggling through my "role" while keeping track of the tenors, altos, and sopranos. Then, a few rehearsals ago, we blended our efforts with a full orchestra. It's incredibly difficult, even for the trained opera singers who surround me. It feels as if I'm trying to prepare a gourmet meal between Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay. They're awfully supportive, but I'm sweating all the same.

So how can I persuade local readers to come listen to us sing? Choral music is achingly lovely in a way popular music seldom achieves. We admire the harmonies of the Beach Boys or Shins, but ignore an entire body of work devoted to much more complex melodic intertwinings. I don't claim to know more than the basics myself, but even my untrained ear can process Brahms's awe-inspiring fugues; oh, I can hear what he's doing; I just can't imagine where he got the talent needed to accomplish such a thing.

In film soundtrack composition, when a melody references onscreen action directly, they call it "Mickey Mousing." For example, in classic cartoons, if Mickey took a spill, the tympanist played a thump of percussion. Similarly, choral music often "speaks the dialogue" of the poem or verse that inspired it. You can imagine which instrument accompanies the Requiem line, "We shall all be changed ... at the sound, the sound of the trumpet." When the text promises, "Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth," the music swoons into a low lullaby. "Here on earth have we no continuing place," sighs the verse, and the alto voices pun on that text by "continuing" past all the other voices. "The righteous souls are in the hand of God!" the Requiem vows, with what can only be described as a superhero's fanfare. It's too, too clever, but more than that; it's as glorious as music gets, from any genre.

Generation after generation, people rediscover this stuff, so it plays to packed houses after centuries. We'll fill the main auditorium at South Puget Sound Community College. You should give it a shot. For a requiem, it's awfully lighthearted. There's a baritone soloist in our ensemble who has a voice like warm honey, and he's only an undergrad, still in the first bloom of his abilities. The choir is made up of folks from Opera Pacifica, SPSCC, and St. Martin's University, along with overreaching posers like me. The Olympia Chamber Orchestra joins us. Chances are, you Olympians will know someone on stage--but even if you don't, I can promise you no MP3 will ever hold a candle to such a live musical performance on a grandiose scale. It's like hanging out in God's media room.

Our next choral project: La Traviata, by the incomparable Giuseppe Verdi, quite possibly the greatest Italian composer of all time.

Hey, no pressure, right?

[South Puget Sound Community College, Brahms's Requiem, Saturday, March 3, 7:30 p.m., $15-$20, 2011 Mottman Rd SW, Olympia, 360.753.8585. This shameless self-plug was reprinted courtesy of the Weekly Volcano and its editor, Matt Driscoll.]

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24Jan/120

The Devil in Ms. Jones?

When my book tour passed through Oklahoma in early 2010, I was surprised and delighted when Davee Jones turned up at one of my signings. She was a friend of many friends back in college--I dated several of her sorority sisters--and we'd run into each other again on Facebook. She told me she was looking forward to reading my novel, and that she was thinking about writing something of her own.

A scant two years later, Ms. Jones is on the verge of becoming a published author twice over. Her first book, Finless, comes out this spring. In the meantime, her novella On Ellicott Street will be released on 3 February. That's remarkable enough, but what really grabbed my attention is the genre she writes in: erotic romance.

For the uninitiated--I was one myself--erotic romance is a subgenre of romance novels in which the plot depends on vivid descriptions of the characters' sexuality and bedroom behavior. It's not a spicier version of a Harlequin throwaway, it's a detailed character study that takes into account the most private motivations of its randy protagonists.

Is erotic romance a classier name for chick porn? No (not that I have any objection to female-friendly adult material, mind you), but it depends on your definition, now, doesn't it? I know what porn is when I see it, I think. I've read multiple chapters of both Davee's books, and they don't qualify. They are, however, steamy as hell. If your taste in light reading doesn't include words like "semierection," then erotic romance may not be the genre for you. If, however, you're intrigued by the thought of modern romance salted with lessons in boudoir sadomasochism, then you'll find Davee's efforts surprisingly involving. Granted, standards aren't especially high for erotic romance, but I applied more rigorous criteria while evaluating her books. Trust me, Davee can write.

I was interested in her work because, while the novel I'm writing now isn't erotic fiction, it is, first and foremost, about American sexuality. It's about what we do under the sheets and what we wish we could do, and it tilts at the windmill of sexual taboo. I promised myself years ago that I'd write about religion, sex, and politics, and I plan to keep that promise. I interviewed Davee last week about her book and the challenge of writing sexy fiction.

I asked her how it felt to earn the title of "soon-to-be published author." "I literally jumped up and down," she said. After receiving the news by email, "I know it sounds crazy, but I had to read it three or four times before I understood what was happening...They took Finless first. That was in September...I was so nervous about it during the World Series that I wrote my other book."

To preorder On Ellicott Street, visit Davee's publisher, Secret Cravings. "At first it'll be electronically," Davee says, meaning released as downloadable e-book, "then, a few months later, in the print-on-demand format." Secret Cravings is not some rinky-dink, vanity publishing house, by the way. Thanks to the ease of electronic release, Davee's publisher can handle a wide variety of erotic romance novels without charging its authors a dime. If anything, her deal is better than my contract for Lightfall.

As for the sex in Davee's writing, "Most people do it," she shrugged. "God created it. It's a natural part of life, a very important part of life. The story I had to tell required it. Without it, the story would've been too bland."

I asked her what drew her to the subject of S&M. "That lifestyle fascinates me," she admitted. "The commitment involved is sometimes deeper than a traditional relationship." Was the novel based on her own experiences? "Some," she revealed carefully, "a small part, and other things were from people I knew or talked to. When you become interested in that lifestyle, you become friends with people who are involved."

"It changed me as I wrote it," she continued. "When you're involved as a personal experience, you can describe it better...There are some things I learned about that I'm not interested in, but someone else may be. Someone may read it and say, 'That's something I want to find out about, maybe even experience a bit deeper.' That does happen. And it's okay, as long as it happens behind closed doors."

Davee considers herself both a lover of God and a sexual free spirit. "People believe they've fallen because of certain things they've done," she says, "but if you believe in a loving God, then you have the opportunity to reconcile your relationship with Him." But she doesn't believe reconciliation has to come at the cost of a plain Jane, vanilla sex life. "I have an open mind. Open up your mind to a new experience, and you might learn something. You may not like what I have to say, but you might find some truth in there."

I asked Davee if her family already read her books. "My sisters have read it," she said. "My husband will not read it. He doesn't want to...I think it's because it's so revealing, he's not sure how much of it is my personal experience. I think that part bothers him, not knowing." But she's ready for the inevitable fallout when her work hits the street. "I was more disturbed by my family being embarrassed, not myself at all. I had something to say, and that's why I didn't write under an anonymous pen name." Indeed, her actual maiden name is Davee Jones, which should come in handy as she starts her publicity campaign--she already has the name of a rock star. She and I are from similar small towns in Oklahoma, where expectations are limited and people don't write about taboo subjects. But as Davee puts it--a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree--"I've got something to say, and I'm proud of what I have to say."

I admire Davee's courage. In coming months, I'll be attempting to share it. Like Davee, I know there are people, even people who know me relatively well, who'll assume if I write about a sexual act, then I must be revealing my personal history (or my wife's). Like Davee, I'll inject relevant experiences into my work, never saying what's what or who helped, and then draw the rest from conversations with close friends or pure imagination. Get ready to know me a little better than you probably intended to.

In the meantime, check out On Ellicott Street and Finless. You may be inspired to visit your friendly local purveyor of fur-lined handcuffs. If so, hold your head high. It's a free world, not-so-Gentle Reader, and you're free to find the love you want in it. If Davee's right, even God will understand.

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23Dec/110

Jukebox

Every year, it seems, I write a new Christmas message, devoid of my usual cynicism and skepticism (they are different, by the way), replacing both with my heartfelt wish that you, Gentle Reader, have a marvelous holiday and a better new year. That was proving to be difficult this time around. I searched for inspiration all week. Not that I haven't had a terrific year myself, mind you; it's been one for the record books. Twelve months ago I had yet to pop the question to Amanda, sweat the answer, or celebrate the results. I'd just started writing for Cengage, a gig for which I felt I was still auditioning. Since then I've joined the middle class, so I'm the rare lucky schmuck who's come out of the recession in better shape than when it began. Instead of creepy roommate drama, I fall asleep each night in the embrace of a scrapper with a tender heart. I'm sitting in my office with the Waitresses rapping into my headphones, having just left a schmaltzy holiday revue. It's Christmas all up and down in my world, yet I haven't been able to shake a demoralizing case of the bah, humbugs.

I wasn't raised on Santa's lap. As most of you know, my parents were Jehovah's Witnesses, so I knew the fat man was a myth from day one. I also knew Jesus wasn't born in December, that his "birthday" is really just a glorified winter solstice party, and jolly Saint Nick may as well be a registered trademark of the Coca-Cola Company. Usually none of that matters, and I accept Christmas as a joyous time to chug eggnog and relax with family and friends in the warm glow of a shopping mall cineplex.

But this year, I couldn't pull myself out of a yuletide funk. It had nothing to do with anything anyone said or did. No one's been unkind to me, the creditors aren't baying at the door, the tree is all merrily a-twinkle. I should've been happy as a child with a Toys 'R' Us gift certificate. But when I tried to look ahead to Christmas, I could only look back. I remembered the afternoon Mom and I watched skaters in Rockefeller Center, reenacting Schoolhouse Rock's "Figure 8" while John Lennon wished us all a "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" over loudspeakers. Meanwhile, our troops were headed into Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Twin Towers' footsteps were still ugly gashes in a heartbroken island. I couldn't get that memory out of my head. Why, you ask? I haven't a clue.

But here's the thing about late December: the days are too short, and the nights are damn cold. We need Christmas. We all need it, true believers and Grinches alike. So just for now, just for a little while, can't I leave all my usual hopelessnesses aside?

Let's pretend, just for now, we're neither Republicans nor Democrats, men nor women, gay nor straight, simply humans of no particular color. Let's pretend we're neither Christians nor Jews nor Muslims nor none-of-the-aboves. I know it's the Lord's special day, and I wish Him well on it, but Christmas is bigger than one religion these days. Every human needs Christmas. We need to feel blessed and loved. We need to feel we're part of a family, and we need that family to sing together, billions strong. We long to hear the music of a planet at peace.

So put on the music you love this starry night, hold that special someone close, and raise a glass to the sacrifices and lessons of so many who helped us arrive at this moment when all is calm, all is bright.

Merry Christmas, my friends. May this new year bring us perfect gifts of laughter, music, and love.

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