Saturday, December 23, 2017

Alternative Christmas Presents + "A Very UnCONventional Christmas"

If you just want the condensed Amazon review, you can get it here.

Originally, my plan was to re-post the review of the Christmas book, along with another review of a more recent Osborn book, but that didn't work out. So, this is the format we have.

In other places, I have discussed my aversion to Christmas, and the possible agents for change in the way I think about the holiday.

I was going to expand on that a bit now, but I changed my mind. I will mention that this morning, I read Old NFO's blog post, "One to think about," which is a very sweet Christmas story, with all the appropriate classic elements. I hope you will click on the link and read it, particularly if you want, or need, a bit of Christmas cheer.

In recent years, I have requested that anyone who wishes to provide me with a Christmas present should make a donation to those with real needs.Here are my suggestions for this year; I posted them fairly recently, but here they are again.

1. Walter Strickland & Vids for Kids. Walter Strickland is a former professional wrestler, now doing other things. For a great big guy, he has a very tender heart for kids. This year,  assisted by the people at Retro Rewind Collectibles and Games, he collected and donated video games for Christmas presents to kids who might not get anything else. The games have already been shipped, but the cost of shipping and handling required Walter to dip onto his household fund. If you can send him a few bucks via PayPal, even $3, it would help. Help a big guy bless some little people!

2. Andi Keenan Therapy Fund. Young wife and mother Andrea (Andi) Keenan suffered a stroke in August. Being a young and healthy person, she was not correctly diagnosed for two weeks, and treatment was delayed. They are paying for her physical therapy out of their own pockets, since they fall into that category of working folks who cannot afford insurance. Any donation will be helpful; as of the end of November, over $18,000 had been raised, with a goal of $25,000. The IRS taxes GoFundMe as income, so they are trying to raise enough to pay for the treatment and cover the taxes on the donations.

3. City of Refuge Programs.  Atlanta area outreach. No matter WHAT touches your heart, they have a ministry you can get behind. Job training. Housing for families in crisis. Providing educational support to inner city kids. Medical care. Just click on the link, pick ONE of the several ministry opportunities, and send them a few bucks. Or a LOT of bucks.

Now, here is the review of the book:

 The Division One Alpha Line is approaching Christmas, and there are some unusual circumstances.

One of the NON-unusual circumstances is the well-executed and witty cover, a comment I am inserting at this particular point because if i don't I'll forget it, and this whole word processing thing is just a fad. Why copy and paste to a better location, when it interrupts the flow of ideas? Or something. At any rate, the cover design is by one Darrell Osborn; I believe he and the author are known to take personal liberties with each other as a medium of exchange.

I hope you see what I did there, because that IS one of the unusual circumstances. Partly because Agents Echo and Omega are the top dogs in a pack of alphas, and perhaps for other reasons, there are nasty rumors floating around about the nature of their relationship. Since they both have history which prevents clear perception of relationship possibilities, they have not hurled themselves into each other's arms, and the filthy-minded simply refuse to believe that things are as they appear. She's gorgeous, they think, so he MUST be sleeping with her. And since he is sleeping with her, that MUST be the only reason she has the job.

Well, sorry to tell you nasty, nasty little creeps, but their relationship is held in check by the author.

So there.

In addition to the lies, rumors, and innuendo, Echo and Omega discover there has been a major security breach. Their first clue? Getting ambushed by children. Seems that the hottest toy this Christmas is a thinly-veiled Division One replica, with look-alike agent action figures, blasters, and so forth. And a movie is in production.

Oh, my! Who could be behind such a dastardly plan to expose the most secret of all secret agencies?

Yeah, well, the answer IS "bad guys," but I'm afraid I just can't get more specific than that.

Spoilers, ya know.

Nicely Tuckerized in the story are several figures who are Known Associates, and no damage is done to the reputation of any. Although: there is one scene in which the determination of one character to do a thorough job causes him to get repeatedly brain-bleached.

For the record, it takes place at a science fiction convention, which is the 'CON' hidden in the title. I've never attended one of those, but I have been to a large number of professional cons, and being brain-bleached is NOT, by far, the worst thing a behind-the-scenes person may expect.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, December 15, 2017

"The Last Closet," by Moira Greyland

You can find my Amazon review of the book here. If you go there and find it helpful, I would appreciate your clicking the helpful button.

Moira is an angel. See the Halo?

By now, most of us know that even beautiful women can have problems with self-esteem. For many, that's because the ONLY thing they were valued for was their beauty. Intelligence, creativity, athletic ability: none of that mattered because they were beautiful. So, they grew up thinking that was all they were good for, and began to live in dread that one day, their looks wouldn't be good enough.

It's a common story, and it's a sad and troubling story.

It's not Moira's story, though.

She wasn't valued for her beauty. She was hated for it, and even more, she was hated for being a girl. It was never a secret; her parents told her how worthless she was, and how worthless she would become. 

Her mother was the celebrated science fiction and fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her father was a famous coin authority, Walter Breen. And they both abused her, mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually,; they neglected her as well, depriving her of food, forcing her to live in a filthy, bug-infested pigsty.

They were progressive, you see. Material things didn't matter. And they both believed they were doing absolutely the right thing.

" mother told me she had tried to beat me to death twice and she had “locked herself in a closet” to stop herself from killing me. ... I was appalled both by what Mother told me, and why: Mother wanted me to sympathize with her over what an evil child I had been, and how terrible her life had been while she was caring for me."

Greyland, Moira. The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Kindle Locations 4699-4702). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.  
The insanity of that statement leaves me shaken. Her mother, referred to as MZB, actually was bragging to Moira about what a tough time she had, raising such a brat; and that she had made the great sacrifice of restraining herself from killing her young daughter.

Her father, Walter Breen, was a known pedophile. He molested her from an early age, and raped her at age five.
"My father believed that early sexual experience would create gay children by helping them get in touch with their “natural homosexuality.”"

Greyland, Moira. The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Kindle Locations 955-956). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.  

He went to his death, believing that having sex with young children was the right thing to do; his motto was "sex before eight, or it's too late."

He refused to accept any boundaries, not even when it came to bathroom privacy. He customarily walked around the house naked, and pressured others to do so as well.
"His insistence on nudity made me feel uneasy, because I was aware of his sexual interest in everything which breathed, and I was afraid that one day I might breathe around him."

Greyland, Moira. The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Kindle Locations 4405-4406). Castalia House. Kindle Edition. 

Her mother sexually assaulted her as well, fondling her  while she was trying to take a shower; nearly drowning her once when a very young Moira refused to perform a sexual act on her.

"I felt so filthy and so soiled because of what had happened to me. I irrationally thought that anyone would be able to tell by looking at me that I had been defiled."

Greyland, Moira. The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Kindle Locations 4709-4710). Castalia House. Kindle Edition.  

I could not understand how this person could be alive, must less well-functioning, after all the abuse. There was NO ONE in her environment who was supportive of her. My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and I often refer to strong Christians in our families as the reason that we were able to survive adversity. But Moira had no one like that. At first, her parents rejected all forms of religion; later, they both became very active neo-Pagans, holding ceremonies in their home. Finally, they were ordained by one of the 'clergy' who brought young boys to the house to be used as sex slaves; they named the church they created "Gnostic Catholicism," and continued in their depraved ways. In no case did they ever provide her with any of the spiritual tools needed to offset the abuse and neglect. Thus, I was amazed to come across this passage:

"I had quietly become a Christian a few years before. When Jesus came to me speaking in a small, still voice, He told me that I was His and He would take care of me. I couldn’t tell anyone, of course."
Greyland, Moira. The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Kindle Locations 3232-3234). Castalia House. Kindle Edition. 
This is the ONLY resiliency factor I have found in her life. She does have a staggering intellect, but was placed in substandard schools where she was rejected by other students and even teachers for being so smart; so, brains MIGHT have helped, but overall, it appears that it was just another thing that separated her from others.

Ultimately, she found affirmation through her singing ability, and later with her savant-level skill on the harp. And finally, beginning, I believe, in 2014, the world has affirmed her, by repudiating the treatment she received at the hands of her parents.

Alas and alack, there remain some morons. I read today a comment by the president of the Science Fiction Writers' Association, a certain Cat Rambo, which attempted to defer criticism of their devotion to MZB by invoking Donald Trump.

Donald Trump? What in the great green world does Donald Trump have to do with ANYTHING related to this story? Just how much power are people ascribing to him, anyway?

I had the great good fortune to watch online Moira's very first EVER public speech, to a gathering of Children Of Gay Parents (COG). In that presentation, as in the picture in this blog, the lighting gave her a halo. That was consistent with the power in her speech; she commented later that she was so nervous that she felt ill, but you would never know it by seeing how well she did. She was composed, a bit whimsical over the fact that the person introducing her pronounced her name wrong (it's pronounced MOY-ra, I believe), and she freely and honestly spoke of her own years of misery, suffered at the hands of her parents and their friends.

It's ONLY because I had seen her that I was able to keep reading her book. I kept encountering the most depraved incidents; in some cases, they seemed impossible. And yet, I'd research the most extreme example of pedophilia, and discover there was plenty of documentation to support it. The fact that Moira, today, is a reasonably functioning human being, able to give and receive love, able to perform beautifully in public, is the reason I was able to keep slogging through examples of the misery she faced on a daily basis.

I hope that she progresses in her healing. I hope that her voice is heard, and that there never, ever exists another community that is so willfully ignorant of the torture and exploitation of innocents.

And I hope the community of those who support her grows and grows, and that the community that wishes to cling to the idea that depravity is acceptable is exposed to the light, and vanishes.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Review of "The Good, The Bad, and The Merc," Seventh Seal Publishing

This is mostly the same material you'll find on my Amazon post, which you can find here. It will also be reviewed on Goodreads sometime in the next several minutes.

If you read the review on Amazon, please click the 'helpful' button. I'm trying to recover from a rather harsh series of days starting in August and extending into November.

Close examination of my Amazon review reveals that I presented 10 'notable stories,' singled two out for exceptional praise, and said nothing about six. What's my justification for that?

It's all a matter of taste. None of those stories were awful; if they had been, I would have said so. It's certainly NOT a defect in the authors; I've read & reviewed work by most (if not all) of them in the past. Reading these six, today and yesterday, just didn't ring any bells for me. If any of the authors want to contact me to get any specifics, feel free, but I MIGHT not have anything to offer; it might be just an impression.

Reviewing anthologies is HARD. I couldn't review several of these short stories without giving away an important part of the plot, so sometimes, I just hinted. That being the case, I decided to limit my reviews to the stories I had the best reaction to. YMMV.

Now, here's the text of the four-star Amazon review:

 I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.
As long as they keep writing books in this series, I will keep reading them. I like the fact that with the anthologies, we get to read the works of LOTS of authors, and I hope this is a trend that will continue. It might even help to bring back the short stories as published in the Golden Age, and hook new generations of 14 year olds.
Overall, this book seems grimmer to me than prior books. Lots more good guys get killed. Cliff hangers with unrevealed horror. That sort of thing.

Notable stories:

'The Beach,' by Phillip Wohlrab. It's good to see medics get some respect. I've wondered if the wonderworld of advanced technology and self-administered nanobots would leave any room for the field medic. The answer is YES, and an even greater need exists. Since the weapons are so deadly, an assault requires a LOT of medics. Everything has to be done right now, and too many are DRT. If we can get you stabilized and on the medevac, though, you are probably going to make it.

'Velut Luna,' by Chris Smith. I love this story, in every different set of clothes it wears. Snotty street kid, given a chance to do some good before they die or get sentenced for hard time. A family is forged out of the mild steel and hot flames. Particularly good scene here about the teaching taking place over slicing vegetables. I REALLY liked that scene!

'Keep the Home Fires Burning,' Jason Cordova. Tribalism in space, rotten intel, stupid team members, loyalty, and hope for the future of the clan. It's told in a series of flash-backs, but I had no problem following the story.

'Vvremya,' Mark Wandrey. Down-and-out team risks it all on one last throw of the dice. Some authors delight in doing horrible things to their characters. Is the Horrid Little Planet going to produce treasure? Make sure you read the fine print before you sign the contract !

'The Last Guardsman,' by Stephanie Osborne. He's the very last of his bloodline, but that's not a problem, because he just has this one tiny job left to do, and then he retires, marries, and has lots of kids. He's very mindful of the need to leave a legacy.

'Unto the Last - Stand Fast,' Robert E. Hampson. Unless I am mistaken, this story calls upon the memorable resistance of Swiss mercenaries who died protecting members of the French aristocracy in 1792 during the French Revolution. Somewhere around here, I have a picture of myself standing in front of the Lion Monument in Lucerne, Switzerland. Beside the appeal of this aspect of the story, I liked the combination of humans and aliens into a more-or-less unified church, complete with schisms.

'Under The Skin,' Marisa Wolf. The Depik are a race of assassins. They have the ability to become transparent to all forms of detection. In fact, they are TOO perfect; like Superman, they need Kryptonite. That appears to be contained in their aggressive family structure, which appears to serve driving them apart, rather than uniting them. And, they are cat-like, at least in this: they like to play with their prey.

'Angels and Aliens,' John R Osborne. Pastor Jim wants to know about God, and how aliens fit in with people in God's creation. That could be a real problem for a mercenary company, but Jim also has an uncanny ability to read people, and thus provide comfort in the format they need. Is there room for a theological discussion in the middle of a firefight? I would argue that there is no better time to discuss the meaning of the universe. This was truly a superb story.

'Life,' Chris Kennedy. Zeke is a slave. He was captured during the first Earth mercenary wave, known as the Alpha Contracts, although Zeke never heard that term. Instead, he's been doing slave work. After a gladiatorial contest gets the attention of his new master, he gets to work on biological solutions to life and death. He's a little bit weird, though; decades of hard labor captivity will do that to you.

'Lessons,' by Kacey Ezell. To the best of my knowledge, Kacey Ezell finds it impossible to write a bad short story. In fact, she can't do mediocre, or even good. Everything of hers I've seen has been brilliant; she finds a way to put us into the person of the universe's most frightening and loathsome beasties, and makes them something that we want to buy as fluffy toys for our grandchildren. "No, Eliott, don't pull on that string just yet. That makes her fangs grow, and she might bite you by accident. You can pull that string when you wear your welder's gloves, okay?' If I am not mistaken, this is another tale of the Depik race, the super assassins of the galaxy. In an attempt to weaken his rival, a semi-rogue Depik steals the newborn cub of his clan leader, and abandons her to die. Ezell makes us EXPERIENCE the physical and emotional pain the newborn feels at being abandoned. Instead of conveniently dying, however, the cub finds food, and a mentor. And she not only survives, she thrives. I don't know if the Depik have archived legends, but if so, there is likely a body of work dealing with the appearance of a savior/destroyer, who will transform the race into something unimaginable.

For one reason or another, these are the stories I found noteworthy. There are others that you may enjoy as well.

My one suggestion for improvement: include a Bestiary (or whatever term describes sentient aliens) with each volume of this series. I'm not obsessive enough to remember the characteristics of each race, just based on their name. My PREFERENCE would be a hypertext link whenever an alien race is on stage. And, if you REALLY wanted to blow us away, give us a picture along with the descriptions. And print up trading cards for sale. You KNOW there is game potential here, so you are going to have to do it sooner or later.

The Lion Monument
Lucerne, Switzerland

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Amazon Reviews, Inspired by Today's Mad Genius Club

Our Blessed Sister of Groovy Writing, Amanda Green, wrote the inspiratory post today over at Mad Genius Club.

She comments there on THREE THINGS Amazon has changed in their reviewing program, and it is to that I respond. (She also comments on another item, which seems hinky to me, but I haven't read the source document yet.)

DISCLAIMER FOR AUTHORS: I am EXCLUSIVELY a writer of reviews (and opinions), and thus, I don't represent the author's perspective re: Amazon review policies. I'm gonna TRY to limit myself to plain, descriptive words, but since this happens to be an area I know a lot about, sorry. I'll try to be interesting, though.

Thing 1: Amazon destroyed a bunch of bogus reviews.
Thing 2: Amazon now requires that reviewers have purchased $50 worth of goods from Amazon per year, or they can't post a review.
Thing 3: Amazon has prioritised reviews, with 'Verified Purchase' reviews receiving greater weight than others. However, books which were paid for through the Kindle Unlimited program are not recognized as 'verified purchases.'

Thing 1: Amazon destroyed a bunch of bogus reviews. 
ALL legit reviewers hated the pseudo reviews that appeared on Amazon.
The true offenders were referred to as 'coupon clubs,' and they were explicitly formed to vend reviews to merchants. Reviewers who participated in the  clubs were required to produce a certain number of 5 star reviews per week in order to receive merchandise or other consideration. While not technically illegal under the old system, it was abusive, in my opinion. Those were killed first; lots of reviewers had all their reviews removed. Wails ensued; nobody cared. I wish to point out that the villains were NOT those who were members of the coupon clubs! They were just taking advantage of an opportunity. The villains were the owner/operators of the clubs.

The NEXT practice banned was merchants contacting individual reviewers, and offering merchandise in exchange for a fair review. This was much more legit, but was also banned. In some cases, it was alleged that reviewers would then resell the reviewed items, and that was a part of the objection.
NOTE: while not quite industry standard, this IS a practice followed by numerous mainstream vendors; they offer a sample product to a reviewer, and as long as that is disclosed, nobody freaks out. In the case of low-dollar items, the reviewer usually keeps the product; high dollar items usually require the product to be returned after review.
ALSO NOTE: I accepted a few of these items myself. I always disclosed the transaction in my review. I only accepted for review things I would have bought anyway.
ALSO ALSO NOTE: Even though Amazon banned the practice more than a year ago,  I continue to get request from vendors to review their products just about every day. My Amazon page explicitly states I'm not interested. It doesn't seem to matter.

Thing 2: Amazon now requires that reviewers have purchased $50 worth of goods from Amazon per year, or they can't post a review.
From the reaction I saw in the Top Reviewers Forum on Amazon (RIP), this didn't seem to be a big deal. While there were some who insisted Amazon hated reviewers and they would never patronize them again, most people took it in stride. It seemed that almost everyone got it, that this was to prevent a recurrence of an abuse of the review system, where people were paid to review, and had nothing actually invested in either the product or in the integrity of the Amazon reviews. There was some discussion, I believe, on whether the membership fees would be counted in this, either Prime or Kindle Unlimited,  but that's it.
UNRESOLVED PROBLEM: It seems to me, and to others, that anyone who purchases an item ought to be able to review that item, regardless of the total amount spent on Amazon per year.
ALTERNATIVES EXIST: I have had one very well respected author tell me that she prefers a blog review of her book over an Amazon review. She says it makes a much better citation for her to quote a line from a review taken from the fabulous book review blog "Papa Pat Rambles," instead of a citation to an Amazon review. Thus, if you are one of those reviewers who are shut out of Amazon because of the spending requirement, create your own blog, and also post it on Goodreads. BTW, Goodreads will post your review on your Facebook page if you wish, and transfer the correct graphic, unlike Amazon.

Thing 3: Amazon has prioritised reviews, with 'Verified Purchase' reviews receiving greater weight than others. However, books which were paid for through the Kindle Unlimited program are not recognized as 'verified purchases.'
This one is personal! I get ALL my reading material (almost all) through the Kindle Unlimited program, and it costs me $10 per month. And in return, I write a LOT of reviews. According to Amazon,  I've reviewed 489 items since I started reviewing, which was, I believe, July 6, 2014, with "Plant Life" by Cedar Sanderson. 

Here is the objection offered to the fact that KU items aren't granted 'Verified Purchase' status:
A. I PAID for the right to access these books.
B. Many writers have found that their income from KU rivals their income from purchases. In October, KU paid off with a per page rate of $0.00456. That's roughly $1.37 for a 300 page book, per read, paid TO THE AUTHOR.
C. In October 2017, Kindle Unlimited paid authors 19.7 million dollars. Anybody want to argue that 19.7 million for one month is inconsequential in publishing today? As one of the contributors to that $19.7 million paid out in October, I'd like a little more respect, please. Treat my reviews nicely!

A Final Note: My impression is that Amazon doesn't really want to bother with any hassles that come from posting reviews. People complain all the time, whether they are writing reviews, or they provide a product that is reviewed, or if they are an author who has a review given they don't think is deserved. For a period of maybe a year or so, I was following along in the Top Reviewers forum in Amazon, and often, found good information there (along with some psycho stuff).
Anyway, Amazon abruptly pulled the plug on the entire forum recently, and to the best of my knowledge, there is now no location (on Amazon) where reviewers can meet and exchange information. In the VERY brief period between the time Amazon announced the forum would close, and the actual closure (it was about 8 days, or something like that), people speculated that The End Was Near, and that Amazon was going to terminate the entire reviewing process. I tend not to believe that. I think it's just that the forums were a source of aggravation to them,and not providing them with value. Since then, I DID have one problem with a review not posting. I went through Customer Support, and it was resolved within 24 hours. So, there DOES remain some investment. And I think that the entire system is truly an Amazon feature, and not an Amazon bug.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I Wish Stuart Could Save Al

I'm gonna say something that is likely to get people upset with me, and I regret that. I often wish people wouldn't get upset, and they probably often wish I wouldn't say things.

First, I cannot lay claim to being a fan or follower of Al Franken's career over the course of years and years. I had a brief exposure to his work in 1979 (I think, but it might have been 1980), because one of the more vocal kids in the church youth group I was leading kept quoting the punch line from his skit about the decade belonging to him. Then I think I saw only one more skit where Jane Curtain gave him sulfuric acid to drink, because he was such an obnoxious dork.

And that was the character he played: obnoxious dork.

A few years later, I discovered another of his characters: Stuart Smalley. Stuart was a sweet and gentle dork, who was a participant in a 12 step program for many different addictions, all of which Stuart either had, or participated in in case he might have them later on. I only saw a few of those episodes, which were shown in the early 90's I believe, and what I recall best about them is that at the end, the gentle-spirited guy with the sweater would look in the mirror, and repeat "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

Then, in 1995, I saw the movie "Stuart Saves His Family," along with about fifty other people worldwide. In the movie, Stuart has had his public access cable self-help show cancelled, and is called on to help his utterly messed-up family, each of whom is utterly immersed in their own particular addiction. Stuart, supported by his 12-step sponsors, is able to reach out to his family members, and fortunately for the integrity of the movie, some get better, and some don't.

I liked Stuart. I understood him. I understood the repellant-attraction relationship he had with his family. And, since I was pretty new to recovery myself, hearing the little snippets of recovery wisdom proclaimed was nice, even with the pratfall humor attached.

So, that sums up my experience with Al Franken, prior to his Senate race. 

My next data bit came when he co-sponsored a bill with Republican Johnny Isakson, the senator from my state of Georgia, which made service dogs available for disabled veterans to adopt. 

I looked it up: In Congress, he introduced an amendment that would deny government contracts to companies that did not permit employees to take workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination to court.   

Itr is certainly true (there are pictures) which show him behaving like an obnoxious dork, pretending to sexually grope a sleeping woman. He's being a dork; that's consistent with his character. 

He hasn't tried to excuse his behavior, and there really isn't an excuse; he was being a dork. But, at the time of this particular bit of dorkiness, he was on a USO tour, to bring comfort to US troops in a war zone. And I, personally, am gonna give him a pass on this one. Why? Because he was in character, and because he took full responsibility for his actions when the person offended called him out on it, and she accepted his apology, and because he and she were both in that place at that time in order to entertain our troops. 

Other women have come forth to complain that he groped them in photo-ops; I have no read whatsoever on the accuracy and severity of those accusations.

I'm not defending his behavior as appropriate. I didn't think some of his other comedic stuff was appropriate. But, I believe this guy gets it; and I have heard NOTHING that leads me to believe that he has used his position as senator to take advantage of anyone, nor that he has demonstrated  the profile of a systematic abuser. 

It galls me that he doesn't have anyone defending him, particularly no one from the left. 

If the voters of the state of Minnesota want to trash him because they don't think he represents what they want him to, let them do so. But despite the fact that he and I do not share the same  ideology:

I believe Al is good enough, and smart enough, and enough people like him for him to remain a member of the senate

Please, Al, don't resign.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Christmas Might POSSIBLY Become Okay To Me

My family knows I'm the Grinch & the Scrooge & Bah Humbug.
Well, that's changing, maybe a little bit, and maybe you can help change it more.

My choice, though, and it IS a choice, is to stay Grinch.

A brief history on why I Grinch, and

A possible path out of Grinch-ness:

History, Part The First: Although it is all the rage today, in 1954 in semi-rural Georgia, it was the rare family with children that had been split by divorce. My older sister and I were the only two kids I knew of, that had that as a part of our lives, and thus we were the only kids I knew that spent Christmas in two places. The way I remember it, we would spend the days running up to Christmas at one parent's house; then on Christmas afternoon, the other parent would get us, and we'd spend some days there. Sometimes it was different, and instead of spending days, we'd spend an afternoon.

Summary: it was freepen weird and cumbersome and yucky for a little boy as he became a pre-teen.

Disclaimer: I'm looking back at these memories which are 50 - 60 years old, and the ACTUAL event may have been much different.

History, Part The Second: My kids didn't have to go through THAT, but they did have to go through my desire to give them everything in the whole world, coupled by inability to do so, due to not being wealthy. I HATED not being able to buy them anything their hearts desired; and, thus, it always seemed to me that Christmas was just a little bit disappointing for them. THEY NEVER EVER EVER SAID ANYTHING TO GIVE ME THAT IMPRESSION!!! This was all stuff going on inside MY Grinch head.
Now, SIMULTANEOUS with this perceived failure on my part to provide my children with every eye-brightening gift, I was able to observe from a distance families which DID have the ability to buy little boys and girls every gift, and frankly, that was pretty awful, too. Even if stuff didn't break, even if it lived up to all the claims made for it, Christmas became sort of an orgy of package unwrapping. After it was all over, no matter how much stuff had been under the tree, there was a STRONG element of 'Is That All There Is,' and it wasn't sung by Peggy Lee, either.

So, I find myself sentenced BY myself to a place between the Scylla of 'I'm too poor to buy you what you want' and the Charybdis of 'prodigious presents produces emotional poverty.'

Yes, those are mutually exclusive. Yes, this was something I did to myself. So what? I'm an American parent. It's what I have to deal with.

Anyway, as I became able to do so, I ignored Christmas, except for the religious celebrations. And I embraced Grinchness.

A path out of Grinchness, Part the First: The first time I met my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, was Christmas Day, 2010.
I brought gifts with me for the children: a 1996 Olympic Security Swatch I had been given for being on that team; a pen/pencil wallet set; stuff I don't remember;
 For the grandchildren, silver Peace Dollars, wrapped in foil, with a promissory note to exchange for other gifts at their convenience.
For Vanessa, I brought the gift of my high school ring, and my dog tags. Even though this was the first time we met, I had already told her that when she asked me to marry her, I would say yes. That may seem strange to you, but it made perfect sense to me then, and still does now, seven years later.
So, in place of lots of Christmas memories I found unpleasant, I put this memory, and it has helped.

A path out of Grinchness, Part the Second: I do not need, neither do I want, any material goods. From children & grandchildren, I will joyously accept photographs and pictures drawn with crayons, and any pasty, goopy project completed at home, school or church. Beyond that, I request that anyone who wishes to present me with a Christmas present select one of the following:

1. Andi Keenan Therapy Fund. Young wife and mother Andrea (Andi) Keenan suffered a stroke in August. Being a young and healthy person, she was not correctly diagnosed for two weeks, and treatment was delayed. They are paying for her physical therapy out of their own pockets, since they fall into that category of working folks who cannot afford insurance. Any donation will be helpful; as of the end of November, over $18,000 had been raised, with a goal of $25,000. The IRS taxes GoFundMe as income, so they are trying to raise enough to pay for the treatment and cover the taxes on the donations.

2. Walter Strickland & Vids for Kids. Walter Strickland is a moderately aged young man with a heart for kids. He is accumulating, assisted by the people at Retro Rewind Collectibles and Games, donated video games for Christmas presents to kids who might not get anything else. His stated preference is donation of older video games you no longer play, but you can send him money, as well. Help a big guy bless some little people!

3. City of Refuge Programs.  Atlanta area outreach. No matter WHAT touches your heart, they have a ministry you can get behind. Job training. Housing for families in crisis. Providing educational support to inner city kids. Medical care. Just click on the link, pick ONE of the several ministry opportunities, and send them a few bucks. Or a LOT of bucks.

4. Pick your own. There are LOTS of places out there which would benefit from additional support.

Money is good, because green goes with everything, but it doesn't HAVE to be money. Scrounge an envelope, a stamp, a pencil and a bit of paper. Write a note, saying "I heard about your ministry, and it's great! Here's hoping!" If you can't write a better note than that, I would be surprised.

Don't do this in place of your regular giving; this is a Christmas special. And don't sweat it, AT ALL, if you are not able to do ANYTHING because of your funds. I have SO been there, and I GET it.

And do me the great good favor: if and when this blog post moves you to contribute to, or at least be GRATEFUL FOR,  one of these programs (or one of your own), would you comment to that effect on this post? Remember, I still don't like Christmas. But, I'm trying, about as hard as I can, to leave the Grinch behind. If my words have had an impact on your behavior or attitude, that might help.

Peace be on your household.