Winter is Coming

It’s coming…can you hear it?

It’s coming!

Okay, look, I was once described — quite accurately, mind you — as a 12-year-old with a car and a job.  It doesn’t actually matter how “old” I am, a big chunk of me is still that young kid who wants nothing more than to lose himself in fantasy and dreams and other worlds.  For me, as a writer, that is an inescapable part of who I am, and of why I write.

But it spills over into the real world, too.

Last night was the Gardiner Christmas Stroll.  For most of the year, Gardiner, Montana is a busy gateway community, one of the main entry points into Yellowstone.  But right now, after the close of the autumn season and before the start of the winter, it is just a tiny, tight-knit town.  Everyone who lives and works here supports the park, and caters to the tourists, in some way, so we all share many of the same highs and lows, many of the same frustrations, the same jokes, the same reality…

Yellowtone’s winter seasons kicks off on December 15th, so the Stroll is the last chance we really have to enjoy and celebrate each other, rather than the tourists.  It is a chance to chat and get to know the others, those who you won’t get much of a chance to see and talk-to — except in passing — when the buses and snowcoaches and hordes get running again.

For me, the Stroll marks also the beginning of that which I love so much: the Christmas season.  That’s why I talked about being an arrested-adolescent, by the way.

Like most kids, I love Christmas.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, in spite of my best efforts to be that “12-year-old with a car and a job,” Christmas looks different, and certainly feels different from when I was young, but…  But, I can still feel the echoes and hints of that little kid I used to be, back when what I was matched who.

I have friends to whom Halloween is the ultimate holiday.  The license to let loose their own inner-child in dark, over-the-top worlds of fantasy and nightmare is just too much to resist for them.

For others, it is the whimsy and drunken idiocy of St Patty’s Day, or Cinco de Mayo…

The patriotism and backyard traditions of July 4th…

For me, it’s the snow and the trees.  It’s the lights and decorations.  It’s the breathless enthusiasm and dreams of the young.  It’s the sense of community and sharing with family and friends.  It’s the knowledge that the deepest, darkest part of winter is genuinely a reminder of the spring to come.

And it was the Stroll that truly brought home to me that it’s coming…

shutterstock_543528610George RR Martin had it wrong, by the way.  His words, intended to be dark and fearful and foreboding, are nothing of the sort.

Winter is coming.

Winter — Christmas — is coming!t0z4r3mwzccfc_600

Oh, I’ll be out I the park watching the wolves and snowshoeing the trails.  Never doubt that.  I’ll also be working long hours, through frustrations and annoyances, to support the organization and the park.  But…but, more than that, I’ll be who I really am: that 12-year-old kid, staring off into the distance in wonder and delight.  That kid who still dreams, who still lives in a world of magic and possibilities.  And the adult shell that exists around that little kid will still use those dreams to write, and to create.

 

P.S.

I’ve written before about this time of year.  This is the most recent (and Christmas-y) of those old posts.  But, for those who are just as lazy and slacker-ish as I am, I’ll boil all that down to — of course — a song.  My favorite Christmas carol, as a matter of fact.  The Christmas carol, if you want to get right down to it, for the broken and flawed who have nothing to offer but themselves…

 

P.P.S.

Err…I talked about two songs in the linked post above, but I hadn’t yet learned to link the videos inline with the text.  Below are the videos of the other two Christmas carols that truly matter to me:

When Writers Don’t (Have To) Write

A short post today — it is, after all, an important day…

Merry Christmas, y’all!

I bitched about no one taking time out just to relax and live in last year’s Christmas post — well, the post from the day after Christmas — so I suppose I should take my own advice this year.

Still, that concept makes me wonder…  Okay, okay, it makes me kinda semi-wonder in the most general, unfocused way: does that rule apply to writers?

Is taking an hour or two to write on a holiday actually work?  I mean, c’mon, we’re writing, it’s not like we’re actually working

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the self-directed jab.  Not even I can be all dark and cynical today.  The sun is out, there’s several inches of snow on the ground…and I didn’t have to take twenty-three hours to drive all of two hundred miles in a snowstorm the other night, as did a family member.

I considered trying to come up with some profound, serious post for today.

I considered it, then I got better.

Have a great holiday, everyone — wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, take a moment to smile and just enjoy things.

I will, of course, be back to the regular programming of writing and snarky, bitter cynicism later this week!

Rolled Along The Unbroken Song*

*Hey, it’s a great freakin’ line…I had to use it at least once!

When you get right down to it, the church drove me out of established Christianity, but it didn’t kill my faith. It wounded it…it drove it into hiding…but it didn’t kill it. I still have my own version of faith, and Christmas is still a time of year that means…well, everything to me.

Now, my favorite carol is a semi-nonsense song: “Little Drummer Boy”.  If you listen to the lyrics, however — and I mean really listen — it is a song about the poor and broken, about those who have nothing to offer but themselves.  As an artist, that song resonates more than I generally like to talk about.

To that carol, I want to add another.  Err, two more.  This post was, in fact, intended to be about only one of those, but I’ve always been given to excess, so you get two.

The title above comes from the first of those, comes from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”*.  It would be hard to find a song that better mirrors the bitter despair that so characterizes…well…just about everything nowadays:

 

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

That pain and despair, and the hope that arises at the end of the song…well, Ray Bradbury described it best: “immensely moving, overwhelming, no matter what day or what month it [is] sung.”

Much as I like that carol, however, that is not what I set out to write about.

No…for a number of reasons, I am not ready to unpack that song. Nor am I ready to truly embrace the hope with which it (and the Longfellow poem from which it was created) ends.

The song behind this post is very, very different. It channels that one sin I have so often sworn does not afflict me: the sin of nostalgia, and of memory.

It doesn’t afflict me because I don’t let it…except at this time of year. This time of year starts a chain of memory that, for me, runs unstoppably from the bittersweet of Christmas to the still-raw pain of New Year’s Eve.

There has been a lot of water under my particular bridge. I’ve felt some of the highest highs you can imagine. And the lows…they’ve been there, too.

In all that has gone on in my life — from success to depression, and everything in between — I have built and strengthened that armor we all wear…the armor of the adult. We insulate ourselves, we protect ourselves…and we forget what it means to feel.

Think back to when you were ten…

The world was a very different place to a ten-year-old. Now, in many ways, the act of “growing up” is as good as it is inevitable. But, no matter how good, we lose something in the process. More than lose something, we sacrifice something…we sacrifice a very great deal, in fact.

We sacrifice not just the magic, and the honesty, and the imagination, of childhood…but also the hope, and the ability to lose yourself. To lose yourself in the excitement of a special time of year…to lose yourself in the simple pleasures of the world around you…to lose yourself in the closeness that comes only from those who share the imagination and dreams of the young…

I want to feel Christmas how it used to be
With all of its wonder falling on me
This season has felt so empty, oh, for quite a while
I want to feel Christmas like a child

I want to see snowflakes fall to the ground
My brothers and sisters all gathered around
Singing “away in a manager” as we sit by the fire
I want to feel Christmas like a child*

Part of this, I have to admit, is because my family is not whole…and has not been for years. I miss my sister…and, for whatever reason, that loss is just more real on Christmas. I want to be able to laugh and love — to play and live — the way it was so many years ago.

I want, in the end, to go back to when it was all so easy…and so happy.

 

* “Christmas Like A Child” — Third Day, 2006, Essential Records

 

Ho Ho Ho!

Yay! It’s Christmas time!

Okay, well, it’s Christmas in Yellowstone, anyway.

Let me ‘splain: we, as a group (the seasonal staff), all live together in close contact for 5-6 months, so we become pretty close. The company I work for understands this, and years ago decided to start celebrating Christmas at the end of August to acknowledge that feeling of our “summer family”.

So at this moment it’s Christmas time for us.IMG_0747

Have I mentioned that I love Christmas?

The best part of all this is the international kids. We have a number of kids in ones and twos from various countries (France, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, etc…), but we also have two big groups.

The first is a group of eight from the Dominican Republic. When they first got here, they were energetic, boisterous and loud. Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of them. Now, they’re still energetic, boisterous and loud…and I love ‘em. They’ve brought such a different perspective, and so much fun and life, that you can’t help but smile.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they all (well, all but one) work their asses off. Every single day they are coming to me and asking for overtime. No matter what job I give them – whether it’s something okay like stocking shelves or something (literally) shitty like cleaning bathrooms – they do it both quickly and well.

The other group, of fifteen(ish), are from Taiwan. Oh Lord, these are the cutest “kids” in the world (all are college grads, so kids they ain’t). Their enthusiasm knows no bounds. Every day-off, they get out on the street and hitchhike around the park to the various sights. Every day at work they are the happiest, friendliest people in the place*.

Last night, after work, I wanted to unwind a bit, so I went upstairs to the front of the store to sit and look at the stars (in spite of the cold). What was waiting for me up there? The entire group of Taiwanese kids practicing the Christmas routine they are planning to do at our Christmas party.

It was the most adorable thing in the world. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Jingle Bells” in a mix of English and Mandarin.

*I’ve spent a pretty significant amount of time abroad. I’m good at languages, and can usually learn enough to get by even when I don’t originally know the local language. But, with the exception of Japan, never have I been to places where English was not at least a somewhat common option. I am beyond impressed at the English skills of these Taiwanese kids, and at their ability to so totally immerse themselves in a culture and language completely alien to them.

I know this is kind of a choppy, stream-of-consciousness post, but if you’ll excuse me…I have presents to wrap: Santa Claus is comin’ to town!