Climbing Down

This holiday season, I will get into the holiday spirit.  Eventually.

Really, I will.

Any other year, I would have been nearly Christmas-ed out by this point.  Sick of Christmas Carols, offended by the over-commercialization of the holiday season, struggling to find places for all of my aunts’ hand-me-down ornaments that I couldn’t bear to let go.  I would have spent my evenings snuggled on the couch with my youngest child, pretending that I was watching all of those Rankin-Bass Christmas shows because he wanted to.

I’m just not feeling it this year.

I’ve gone to my kids’ holiday parties and band concerts at school, and I sat in the audience with my husband and the Upgrade and her little boy and my kids like some sort of modern Brady Bunch, and I had a really strange desire to hug her because she is really really nice and I almost believe that we are going to be able to make this “friendly divorce” business work.  But I’m not feeling any warm feelings when I see the lights and tinsel, and I haven’t bought any gifts yet.  I don’t even know what to buy for anyone.

I have put some thought into how many cups of Rum Chata-laced egg nog I can drink alone before I have to add alcoholism to my list of things to worry about.

For some reason, I keep thinking about a poem I read all the way back in high school:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

I couldn’t remember the rest of it, so I turned to Google and found that it was called “Christ Climbed Down”, written by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1958.  Then, because I am easily distracted and a poetry nerd, I went on to learn all kinds of things about Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his fellow Beat Poets, which then led to a binge on the works of e.e. cummings and others.  I finally stopped after bawling my way through “anyone lived in a pretty how town”, especially the part about how someones married their everyones.

When my marriage imploded, I thought I would be on my own by Christmas.  I pictured myself in a new home with a small, tasteful tree and understated, classy decorations.  Of course, tasteful, understated and classy are not words that anyone has ever used to describe anything I have ever done.  If it helps, I’ve always been a very elegant person in my imagination.  Especially after a few cups of egg nog with Rum Chata.

I had this great mental picture of myself being really cool about everything this first year, but it’s just not working out that way.  I’m still here, in the house I’ve shared with my husband for almost two decades.  We are up to our ears in boxes and clutter and uncertainty until there’s just no room for a tree.  We’ve hung the stockings and I try to remember to move that stupid elf to a new location every morning, but that’s about it.

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

This year is my Ferlinghetti Christmas.  I don’t want the plastic tree and Hallmark ornaments, and I swear to God I am going to kick the radio the next time I hear that moronic song about wanting a hippopotamus for Christmas.  I don’t want to see the flashing lights or that tacky little Nativity set we own that has Mary and Joseph as Native Americans in front of a teepee with a tiny papoose as the Baby Jesus.

Xmas-Native_Nativity

I want Ferlinghetti’s bare tree with a simple star on top.  I want to hear Carols about Jesus, about Faith, about His love.  I don’t care about Santa or presents or wrapping paper or hippopatamii.

I will get into the Holiday Spirit at some point over the twelve days.  I swear.  But it’s going to be a different kind of Holiday Spirit this year.  Oh, I’m keeping the egg nog and Rum Chata – I’m buying it in bulk.  As for the rest of it – the decorations and the music and the presents and the forced gaiety of the whole thing – I’ve decided to let my husband have custody of it all this year.

This year, my Holiday Spirit is about trusting in God to watch over me and my loved ones to make sure that we all get through this as painlessly as possible.  It’s about learning to care about my husband as a friend instead of a lover, about forging a good relationship with his new love and trusting that we are all going to be adults about this.  It’s about having a good Christmas because of who we are and how we treat each other, not about the size of our rootless plastic tree or the amount of lights we can pile on it.

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest of
Second Comings

Write Right

I love getting good reviews on my fiction that I post on fiction sites.  And by “good review” I don’t mean the ones that say “it was good, I liked it”.  To me, a good review is one that points out weak spots that could be improved.  As far as I am concerned, the best reviews are the ones that help me grow as a writer.

That’s why I do a lot of reviewing and critiquing on those sites.  I want to help other aspiring writers in the same way that I want others to help me.   I try to be nice about it.  I really do.  But I have been seeing some things lately that have me scratching my head at the sheer stupidity of the people posting nonsense and expecting everyone to sing its praises.

Harsh?  Definitely.

I don’t mean to come across as a snob.  The people on those sites are not professional writers; like me, they are just amateurs with dreams of someday being successful writers.  But this goes beyond plot holes or grammatical errors.  I am talking about the kind of mistakes that make me wonder if these people have ever actually read a book, or if they have completed anything beyond a third-grade education.

These people want to write.

They choose to post their work.

They want others to read their work.

And then they cry and wail “bully” or “flame” if anyone has the audacity to say anything that doesn’t fart rainbows or belch sunshine.

So I have put together a list of basic things that your average chimp should be able to master before putting anything on a writing site for others to read.

  • Paragraphs.  People, learn what a paragraph is.  Do not write your entire 3000-word story in one gigantic paragraph.  Do not have more than one character speak within the same paragraph.
  • Capitalization.  Do not post your 5,000-word opus without any capital letters and call it your “artistic style”.  Names are to be capitalized.  Period.   Sentences begin with capital letters, even when those sentences are inside quotation marks.   You are not e.e. cummings, so knock it off.
  • Punctuation.  Okay, there are a lot of very confusing rules about punctuation, and everyone is going to make mistakes.  However, it’s pretty easy to remember that sentences must end with some kind of punctuation.  A period.  A question mark.  An exclamation point.  Something.
  • Spellcheck.  Don’t tell me you didn’t have time or that your computer program doesn’t do spellcheck.  I call Bullshit.
  • Story vs. Play.  A story has narrative.  That’s a fancy way of referring to the parts of the story that are not dialogue.  If you want to write a script, write a script; if you want to write a story, write a story.  If you don’t understand the difference, go read Slaughterhouse Five and The Crucible and see if you can figure out which is a story and which is a script.
  • Sex scenes.  Don’t write them if you’ve never had sex.  “Nuff said.
  • Site rules.  Please take a moment to read the rules of the site you are choosing to use.  If you don’t agree with the rules of that site, post your work elsewhere.  Violating those rules and climbing up on a soapbox about Freedom-of-Whatever is not defending your rights.  It is having a tantrum and being an ungrateful brat.  Grow up.
  • ALL CAPS/Bold/Italics.  These are to be used for emphasis.  Do not write your entire story in one of these forms.  It is annoying and difficult to read.
  • Plagiarism.  If you didn’t write it, don’t post it.  Duh.
  • Right Site.  If you are going to be brave enough to post your work on a public site for the entire world to see, please put it where it belongs.  Don’t put short stories on a poetry site; don’t post fiction on a non-fiction site.  And please, please, stop posting non-fanfiction work on a fanfiction site.

That last one is a biggee for me.  I know I spend far too much time on Fanfiction.Net, but I am absolutely mystified by the number of utter numbnuts who insist on posting original fiction, journal entries, essays and personal announcements on that site.  I mean, the site is called Fanfiction.Net.    It’s right there, in the name.  It’s a fanfiction site, for writers of fanfiction to post their works of fanfiction.  Pretty simple.

Or so one would assume.

I sound like a grumpy old English teacher.   I can deal with honest mistakes, such as “lie” vs. “lay” or “its” vs. “it’s”.   I get that we all make mistakes; I’m sure there are a few grammatical errors in this piece that I’m posting today.  I am far from perfect, and I would be wrong to ask anyone else to strive for perfection.

But I am asking for basic common sense.  An acceptable level of literacy.

If you want to write, read.  Learn from other writers.  See what’s out there.

And for God’s sake, learn to take criticism.  Not everyone is going to love everything you write.  Deal with it.  Everyone who points out your mistakes is not a bully, not out to get you, not jealous of your questionable talent or lack thereof.