Thursday, November 10, 2016
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The above clip is for 'Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks' by The Rapture. It is the namesake for this blog.
So recently I have taken a break from blogging. I have had a lot on my plate. More than you know. More than I care to discuss. I am always delighted to see that people actually read this blog. And it makes me sad that I have let people down. I hate letting people down. But seriously!? Do people actually enjoy reading this? Do people actually enjoy reading what goes on in my mind?
I often wonder what's the point in writing a blog like this. I write about so many different topics. Do people read this drivel? Do people care? If I stopped writing this crap, would anyone notice? Does what I say actually matter? You, the reader, do you like what I write? Are you interested? Intrigued? Inspired? Disgusted? Maybe I should ask myself what my intention is for writing this blog? Is it for self-aggrandizement? Is writing this only to appeal to my ego?
I don't really know the answers to any of this. All I know is that I love writing. Ideas and creativity are constantly flowing through my veins. My blog is my form of expressing what I want to come out. Music, art, creativity flows through my veins in place of blood. This forum is the attempt to express what I cannot say face to face. My blog offers another reality. It presents another side to my persona. I am presenting a character to you that is part of myself. An expression of myself.
So that presents a question worth asking, what is reality? Is it something that we perceive within our own framework? Or is it simply what others define for us? Maybe there is no reality. Or maybe we are all connected to machines and what we see is only an illusion of what's real. You know, like the Matrix. Whatever the answer, my blog paints a picture of my reality, my point of view. That is what makes us all unique; we see and comprehend the world in different ways. So with that in mind, does it really matter if this blog has a specific purpose or goal? If I enjoy it, isn't that what matters most!?
And I like writing this blog because it presents a picture of what I see as my reality. And I often think to myself that others can connect to this one reality. Do you share a view in what I see? Do you see beauty in the same presentations of life as I do? This is the essential reason why I write. I want to connect to other people. I want my writing to transcend human nature and its innate need to box everything in. Why do we have a need to distance ourselves from one another? Isn't it a basic notion that we all share something intrinsic? Aren't we all made of the same molecules, made of the same parts that form a beating heart, a breathing lung? In fact, human nature is built on the sheer notion that we all share something intrinsic and true.
Maybe it's this reason that I write this blog. I want to find this truth. After all, what is it that we all want in life? Don't we look for the same needs? Humans all share a common objective and goal in life. We want to make the most out of what we have in front of us. And lately I've been doing just that. There has been a lot going on and my life is going through some massive changes. I can sit here worrying about what may or may not happen, or I can just live today for its intrinsic value and worry about tomorrow when it comes. I'm not saying not to plan, but I am through worrying about what will transpire because that only immobilizes me with fear and self-doubt. And then nothing gets done.
What flashes through my mind is a slogan on a bumper sticker 'Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is the present. That's why they call it a gift.' Tomorrow is never guaranteed for any of us. Tomorrow, the whole planet could get washed away, engulfed under the ocean. An alien civilization could come to Earth and proclaim us its slave, or worse, dinner. Or you know, the inevitable hurtling toward a zombie apocalypse where you wake up thinking you hear raccoons in your garbage cans again, but then see the undead eating your neighbor's face. I had to go for an effectively graphic visual.
But reality can change drastically at any minute. None of us are seers with a crystal ball, able to predict the playing out of each moment of our lives. One minute you're a carefree art history graduate student in California, and the next you're married with four kids living in Florida selling real estate. A clean bill of health turns into having to return for what seemed like a 'routine' test because the doctor notices a 'growth' under your arm. No one knows for sure what we will turn into in one, five, fifteen years down the line. In one year, everything can turn upside down and change. You just never know.
So the best answer to why I keep an online journal like this is to share my thoughts with the world. Perhaps I might end up helping someone or making someone feel better because suddenly they don't feel so alone. Our thoughts and expressions can be isolating in that we all hide pieces of ourselves from the outside world. They look in and see one version of us that is often in juxtaposition to how we view ourselves. So maybe someone out there is having the same thoughts I am at the same moment. Maybe the song clip within my post is also running through someone's head at the very moment they come across this page. That thought is what keeps this blog running. The sheer fact that visceral human connection trumps everything: money, ego, power, war, disease, poverty. Our humanity is based on the fact that we all live in different versions of reality. But, for one moment in time, we have the possibility of connecting with someone who fits and overlaps in our Venn Diagram somehow.
So with that thought in mind, I leave you with the thought that you, the reader, and me, the writer are linked in this moment that will be forever frozen in the cosmos of time. Our history is built on connection and collaboration but somehow, in today's society, when we are on each other's front doorstep as a result of social media and technology, people are more isolated and disconnected from each other now more than ever. So in an attempt to heal a fractured and broken world, I write. Positive thoughts, actions, and words can mend the unraveling that has begun to happen. Will it stop the inevitable meltdown that we seem stare in the face? Perhaps not. But at least at the end of the day, I know that I did not give up.
'The Wave' by Animal Kingdom
'Being Alone' by Young Man
'!!!' by Yadnus
'!!!' by Yadnus
Friday, February 14, 2014
I don't celebrate Valentine's Day. I never really liked the day much. People should celebrate their love every day, and I'm sure they do. It's just ridiculous that we have yet another holiday that has Christian connotations yet is also completely stripped of its religious context. It's yet another excuse for Americans to go out and spend their money on things that they do not really need, namely chocolates, plastic perfumed roses, and giant teddy bears. I'm all for flowers. Buy your sweetheart flowers every chance you get. But don't go buying roses that are hiked up to twice the price just because you feel like you have to get your sweetie something on February 14th. It's just another day. You really don't need to get perfume or heart shaped silk boxers. I swear, all of those annoying noise making cards and stuffed animals that sing 'Wild Thing' or 'Muskrat Love' should be put into a large bonfire and like a Viking funeral, be sent out to sea.
I realize that I sound like a complete grouch. Many of you are probably saying, oh well this guy needs to get some lovin'. But I'm married. So there goes that argument of yours. I think the real issue is that I've never liked the gushy sappiness surrounding Valentine's Day. In high school, I would wear all black and go around giving people un-Valentines (with black hearts and messages of doom). In college, my friends and I had a Goth anti-Valentine's celebration by moshing to heavy metal and grunge and then drinking coffee/chain smoking at a local coffee shop where we saw some locals who had the same idea as we did. Even though I'm not single and I have a family now, I still do not like Valentine's Day. I think it's a crock of crap, really. Like I said, it's another excuse to spend money on things on someone who will probably be an ex-something in less than a year. It's fine if you buy a card for your dear old grandma or your angelic children. Even cooking dinner for your husband/wife is a nice touch. But people really go way too far.
So in my spirit of anti-Valentine's, I have a mix for you. I tried to make it 14 songs, but then there were too many good ones. I tried to limit it to 28, but I extended it to 30. So now you have a song for every day of February, including extra for leap years.
With no further adieu, here is my Valentine's playlist.
1) 'Love Gun' by Kiss (1977)
2) 'Love Hurts' by The Everly Brothers (1961)
Nazareth's version (1975)
3) 'Bad Medicine' by Bon Jovi (1988)
4) 'I'm Gonna Follow You'- Pat Benetar (1980)
5) 'Heaven on the 7th Floor' by Paul Nicholas (1977)
6) 'Love' by The Smashing Pumpkins (1995)
7) 'Sour Times' by Portishead (1994)
8) 'My Lover's Box' by Garbage (1995)
9) 'Love Buzz' by Nirvana (1988)
the original Shocking Blue version (1969)
10) 'The Perfect Drug' by Nine Inch Nails (1997)
11) 'Hate Then Love' by The Dears (2008)
12) 'Song for the Dumped' by Ben Folds Five (1997)
13) 'Satellite of Love' by Lou Reed (1972)
14) 'Shady Love' by Scissor Sisters (2012)
15) 'Love Boy' by Dana International (2007)
16) 'Get Your Hands Off of My Woman' by The Darkness (2003)
17) 'Terrible Love' by The National (2010)
18) 'Only Love' by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (2010)
19) 'Addicted to Love' by Florence + the Machines (2009)
Robert Palmer version (1986)
20) 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' by Joy Division (1980)
21) 'Sewing the Seeds of Love' by Tears for Fears (1989)
22) 'Always' by Erasure
23) 'Believe' by Elton John (1994)
24) 'Crying' by Aerosmith (1994)
25) 'Nobody Lives Without Love' by Eddi Reader (1995)
26) 'Everything About You' by Ugly Kid Joe (1991)
27) 'Apologize' by One Republic (2007)
28) 'No One's Gonna Love You' by Cee Lo Green (2010)
original by Band of Horses (2008
29) 'Part Time Lover' by Stevie Wonder (1985)
30) 'Who Wants to Live Forever' by Queen (1986)
I hope you enjoyed that non-sappy, hopefully more original rendition of songs that celebrate February 14th without being too Celine Dion/Whitney Houston/Mariah Carey cliche. So get out that box wine and turn up the volume on these. Drown your sorrows in some songs that celebrate the real meaning of heartache and sorrow. That is how Valentine's Day is truly meant to be celebrated, crooning and moaning along to songs for the broken hearted and commonly misunderstood.
And by the way, it's ridiculous that while our society has a day for love that many Americans still cannot show their love openly (yes, I'm talking about the gays). Everyone is all for love and affection as long as it exists between a man and a woman. For the record, I don't like PDA of any kind but if we're going to have a day honoring it, then you might as well include everyone. Right!? So know that my personal boycott of February 14th also has to do with our bigoted views of homosexual relationships. If we're gonna let the love light shine, then let everyone shine it brightly.
See, I'm all for love, just not the commercialized, consumerist kind. You can't box up and price my love. Love is far too powerful of an emotion to be packaged as a categorical commodity. Love is love. Let yours shine.
Love unconventionally, unconditionally,
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Sometimes I wake up in the morning and ask myself if the reality I am living in today is the same exact reality I was living in yesterday. I truly ask myself if our society is getting crazier by the minute or it it has always been this way. Perhaps the transition to full fledged adulthood is realizing that no matter how hard you try to stay out of the mess, you are still a part of it. As children, the lucky are able to get protected by the evil and darkness in the world. But who is there to protect us when the bubble has been popped and you are out there on the streets to fend for yourself? It's man against shark; only the manipulative survive.
Lately it seems that my dreams have more sanity and make a whole of a lot more sense than what I observe in reality. Though I try to find the goodness in everything, it is hard to ignore the writing on the wall. Let's examine American society. Many Americans are still out of work and are still hurting from the economic recession. Despite the SOTU last night and President Obama promising that those people out of work will find jobs and will soon be able to support their families again, the light at the end of the tunnel seems very dim. Note that I am an Obama supporter. However, you also have to question the intentions of our government, especially when so many of them are out of touch with mainstream America. Democrats and Republicans alike are in it for themselves. And when you take a look at Congress, over half of them (Reps and Dems) are millionaires. Sure, many of them grew up in working class households and saw their parents struggle (take Obama for example); but we have to ask ourselves now more than ever how democratic things really are.
These days it seems everything is all about money. Every media outlet pretty much is connected to corporations that dictate what they report about and how they tell a story. If a news source is connected to a particular food company and there is a nasty e coli outbreak, the severity of what's reported depends on the interest of the company. If the e coli is in broccoli from a competitor, then the reporters might drum up the severity. However, if the outbreak is in a batch of vegetables from the parent company, the news might not get reported at all. Have you ever thought about that the news we get trickled down to us is all connected to corporations' deep pockets that may or may not want you to know the whole story. If a story hurts the image of a corporation and risks a loss of millions, then we get fed lies on top of bullshit (if we're lucky) telling us that whatever problem at hand is not that big a deal.
It is especially scary now that American society has been dumbed down. Our educational system has become a big bureaucratic factory that churns out children to memorize and recite figures that may not have any consequence to critical thinking. In the SOTU, President Obama said that we need a nation of thinkers and innovators. How does testing and measuring up the wazoo achieve this end? Don't throw the baby out with the bath water; remodel the bathroom, that's all. We are training kids to learn without actually learning. We should be training kids to think independently and creatively. Kids should be taught to think outside the box and color outside the lines. At the rate we are going, we will have a bunch of robots who do not know how to question and challenge the status quo. We all know what happens when we teach kids to be compliant and learn without context. They end up supporting dictatorships and totalitarian governmental regimes. Is that what we want?
What's worse is that many people do not think anymore. They read things on the Internet on sites like Twitter and Reddit and accept it as fact. What happened to looking things up in an Encyclopedia and doing research at the library. Do not just accept something just because you read it online or are told so in a news report. Analyze and question. Read multiple sources. Look at another site (other than Wikipedia) for basic information. I admit that I too have become lazier in the digital age. Why read a book when I can just 'google it'? And thanks to technology, language has begun to fall apart. With texting and Facebook, people would rather abbreviate and take short cuts. Is it too much to ask to at least be grammatically correct when sending an e-mail? What has happened to language? What's worse is that there is little separation between informal and formal language. Soon every child will be speaking in 'text speak'.
What I find most frightening, however, is how saturated our society has become with violence and fear. It seems to be a mundane occurrence nowadays to hear about school, mall, and movie theater shootings. 'Oh, there's another crazy person who got a gun and shot 14 people dead.' Or what about this 'knockout game' phenomenon. Violence has no purpose; it's just violence for the sake of violence. There is no goal of robbing someone of their wallet or shoes, though I'm sure that still happens. It's violence because what else is there to do? I feel that we have reached a point where things are turning into Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange (though the movie is excellent, the book is better).
If you haven't read the novel, do yourself a favor and read it. It takes place in a future England where all rules and structure have broken down. Teenagers run rampant in the streets doing drugs and having sex. They speak a whole new language, 'Nadsat'. In fact, when reading the book, you need a dictionary of Nadsat handy because words do not mean what they used to. For instance: clothes are 'pletchkos', friend is 'droog', person is 'veck', and money is 'lolly', 'cutter', or 'pretty polly'. Adults are in fear to walk the streets, especially at night. Gangs roam free; the main character, Alex is in such a gang. They spend their time raping and pillaging all while completely doped out of their minds. I truly feel that our society is turning into the world Alex inhabits in A Clockwork Orange. Youth lack the respect for authority. If children get in trouble at school or get bad grades, it's the teacher's fault. If a child gets in trouble with the law, it's society's fault. There is little culpability and personal responsibility any more. Without the boundaries, guidelines, and rules of authority, society will be ruled by youth who lack self-control and laugh off authoritative discipline.
Add to this the calamity we face with our climate. By now, if you do not believe in climate change, then you're a moron. Sorry, but you are. And know that when I talk about climate change it's not 'global warming' in the sense that everything is getting hotter. Oh, we're having a severe winter, so much for climate change! Actually, think of it more like GCV: Global Climate Volatility. Everything is in extremes. Some parts of our country will have more rain and consequently more flooding. Other places will have unprecedented droughts. And note that flooding and droughts may exist in places where the opposite was once true (ie. places with too much rain previously had none). And if we look at the country right now, pretty much everywhere is experiencing an awful winter with record low temperatures and tons of snow/ice. The weekend brought winter to places in the South that have never or hardly ever seen snow/freezing cold. Climate change means that things are off kilter. Climate is no longer as predictable and constant as it once was.
This will have effects on many things in our lives like resources and mobility. I predict that in the near future, we will not be able to travel by airplane or possibly by car because the weather is too unpredictable. Tornadoes, violent storms, blizzards, and hurricanes are increasing in ferocity and frequency. Isn't it strange now we hear about 15 full strength tornadoes hitting an area all at once? When towns/cities/states go through an unprecedented weather/nature event, people run to the store for canned goods and water. People want gas in their cars and heat/AC in their homes. The more out of whack things become, the more people are overutilizing these resources and placing a strain on natural supply and demand. Not to mention that with massive climate upheaval, crops and livestock will become affected as well. Imagine placing an extremely obese human onto a tiny scale meant for half the weight. How long before the scale completely breaks?
I don't know what it will take for all of us to stop and listen to what we are doing to ourselves. We are eating ourselves alive. We must stop, evaluate, and recalibrate the direction we are moving as a global society. Unless we are planning to build a space ship and explore the possibility of colonizing other planets (oh wait, that's happening) then we must take care of what we have. I believe there is still hope to turn this nightmare around and wake ourselves out of this crazy daily existence we call reality. Things are happening; some of us are waking up and realizing that we're laying face down in a pile of sewage, garbage, and radioactive waste (metaphorically). I just wonder how many horrors must take place before everyone wakes up and smells the blatantly obvious.
What's the answer, you ask? Love, compassion, positivity, and unity.
It may sound hippy dippy, but it's true.
Love and Light,
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
One thing, however, is for certain; each song has a purpose. They paint a rich tapestry. I put together songs that artistically paint a picture of what the past year has meant for me. I then give this mix to individuals as I see them throughout the coming year. My hope is that people make connections to the songs and as they listen, they unintentionally connect to me and other individuals listening. I don't expect everyone to have the same connection, but what I expect is a visceral connection. Music is often all I have to hang onto, and my hope is that through it, we can connect as human beings.
Without further ado, here is my music mix for 2013 (this mix literally sits in my Itunes library, as I've legally downloaded/purchased every single song):
1) 'Prologue'- The Antlers
2) 'Loading Phase'- Bobby
3) 'Seven One Eight'- Fannypack
4) 'Snakes Crawl' (feat. Bush Tetras) (East Village Mix)- Phil Kieran
5) 'Waterflaws'- Wild International
6) 'Love Natural'- Crystal Fighters
7) 'Shout!'- Lindsay Katt
(this is a live version from Joe's Pub in NYC)
8) 'Relax Your Mind'- New Look
9) 'Interlude'- Thievery Corporation
10) 'Floating in Space'- Apples in Stereo
11) 'Take the Kids Off Broadway'- Foxygen
12) 'Telephone'- The Black Angels
13) 'Attic Doctor'- Youth Lagoon
14) 'Hey There Fancypants'- Ween
16) 'The Red Balloon'- Ginger and the Ghost
17) 'Eight Days Before the War'- Trappers Cabim
18) 'Oh Louise'-Korey Dane
19) 'The First Freeze'- The Loom
20) 'You're Golden'- The Polyphonic Spree
22) 'New Light'- The Great Lake Swimmers
23) 'Fly Me to the Moon'- Radiation City
24) 'My Tears Are Becoming a Sea'- M83
25) 'The Ends'- The Naked and Famous
26) 'Sound of Silence'- Kina Grannis
27) 'Medicine'- Daughter
28) 'The Bells Play the Band'- Bell Orchestre
29) 'Mother to Son'- (recited by) Langston Hughes
(There is a stunningly beautiful choral version of this poem (which didn't fit on my mix); I performed it with my college chamber choir. Itunes has that arrangement sung by The Fisk Jubilee Singers. I recommend dowlonading it.)
I hope you enjoyed these 29 tracks. Feel free to download them on Itunes or just upload this page and have a listen. Or, if you really want, I can make a mix for you and give it to you when I next see you. I felt that by putting my playlist here, that people can listen and have access to my annual mix more easily. However, I can still make a few hard copies to give out.
As reflected in the music, you can tell that 2013 was quite a roller coaster. This past year has not been easy. I have faced a lot of personal life challenges. So my hope for 2014 is that things will be brighter and better not only for me, but for everyone reading this. My blessings to you in the new year.
Love and light,
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
It's Christmas, but to me, a Jew, it's just another Wednesday. To Jews, Christmas means Chinese food and a midnight/matinee showing of a movie not having to do with Christmas and/or featuring a Jewish actor/director (Woody Allen, anyone?) I've always been fascinated with the whole concept of Christmas. The whole hustle and bustle to get presents, clean the house, bake cookies, make a meal, get everything done by the December 25 deadline. To me, it always seemed impossible for people to get it all done just in time for Christmas. I always said to myself, thank goodness I'm a Jew and don't have to worry about it. Having been on a very tight budget these past few years, I'm very thankful that I don't need to worry about any of the things that others, who celebrate Christmas, must worry about each year. How do people ration out enough cash to budget everything? I really don't know how people do it.
But then I think about the pang I feel at not celebrating Christmas. I'm glad and proud to be Jewish, don't get me wrong. But there's always this left out feeling, like you're looking in from the outside. As a little kid, I felt this way. Going to school Christmas parties and chorus recitals, I just didn't feel like I fit in. As the token Jew, I always either brought cookies shaped like stars of David or insisted that we sing a Hanukkah song. But those efforts made me stick out more. It was either assimilate like them and go through the motions of Christmas or do nothing at all. I choose the latter.
I know what you're thinking; I could do what many Jews do and celebrate the 'holiday spirit' of the day. Some Jews put up Christmas trees, aptly disguised as Hanukkah bushes. Some Jews even exchange gifts or have family over on the big day. For me and my family, we sit it out. The whole holiday season is free of hustle and bustle. For us, there is no Christmas ham or Christmas tree.
I get it though. There's this whole notion and expectation that Christmas brings a day of comfort and peace to the hearts of everyone who celebrates. Even for me, as a non-participant, I feel that on this day, all my cares and worries are put to rest. There's a general sense of calmness and serenity surrounding Christmas, no matter where the day falls. I think it's that Hallmark/Norman Rockwell picturesque family around the tree or eating goose and fig pudding that I felt I was missing out on. And I would argue that it's this feeling of missing out that makes many Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists take part in Christmas despite not believing in baby Jesus and the whole idea of a nice Jewish boy being the son of G-d, chosen messiah figure.
As a culture, we have romanticized Christmas to the point of having expectations and hopes that my or may not come true. As an outside observer, it seems to me that Christmas is very existential. For almost two months, from after Halloween until the very eve of Christmas, we are up to our ears in lights, tinsel, pine trees, flash sales, and 24-hour Christmas song stations. There is constant planning and prepping from the minute we enter the month of November. And then Thanksgiving, probably what should be deemed secular Christmas, or prep for the marathon that Christmas has become, everyone becomes obsessed with finding the best discounts and bargains so that Christmas can be perfect. Right after Thanksgiving, the race is on to make the best Christmas ever and recreate a Martha Stewart living fold-out.
Now, I don't mean to take a dump all over the holiday. I know that for many of my friends the holiday has significant meaning and importance. And the majority of people who I know choose not to be overly commercial and materialistic. I know many folks who make their gifts and ornaments. Some people have been collecting vintage decorations for years or recycle Christmas traditions handed down from childhood. Some families sing carols around the piano sipping spiked Eggnog while others take turns reading Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol' around the fireplace in flannel pajamas (wait, do they?) Wait, I think I have my notions of the holiday mixed up with movies and television shows. See, that's the problem. Where do we separate the actual holiday from the myth and hype surrounding it? There is so much pomp and circumstance to Christmas. It's like, everyone holds their breath until the 25th, and then, on the 26th, what's left? A de-boned bird carcass, lots of dishes to clean, and perhaps a few gift returns. Then, hit all of the post-holiday sales at the mall. I ask, as an outside observer, why all the hype and zapping of energy for one day? It's one day out of the calendar year.
And I get the thing about being with family; peace and good will, all that jazz. But shouldn't people be incorporating all of those warm fuzzy Christmas-time things during the rest of the year? Everyone rushes around like chickens without heads to make their Christmas special, but then what's the point? Isn't the holiday more or less built up on false definitions of what makes the holiday so great? Again, I'm not trying to poop all over the holiday. I get its importance for those people who celebrate it. However, I feel that as a result of sappy movies and TV shows, that we have a very high expectation for what the day should look like. Think of all of those postcard-like images we get from even the Christmas songs. One 'dreams of a white Christmas' where one 'decks the halls with boughs of holly' and 'come a-wassailing among the leaves so green' and has visions of sugarplums 'dancing in their heads' and has 'bells on bobtails ring' and sees 'glories stream from heaven afar' where everything is perfectly in place including 'a partridge in a pear tree'. I admit that even I love listening to those Christmas carols, as they evoke a feeling of euphoric peace and nostalgia. I especially like the 50's and 60's crooner tunes. By the way, many of those Christmas carols are written by Jews. It's not only the music, though.
Film has romanticized Christmas too. There are movies like: 'It's a Wonderful Life'(1946), 'Meet Me in St. Louis' (1944), 'Bundle of Joy' (1956), 'Holiday Affair' (1949), 'Christmas in Connecticut'(1945), 'The Man Who Came to Dinner' (1942), 'White Christmas' (1954), 'Miracle on 34th Street' (1947), and 'A Christmas Carol' (1938/1951). From these films, we get a packaged idea of what Christmas should be. Despite problems, the characters are still able to work things out and have not only a memorable but an epic Christmas that tops any past memories of the holiday. Again, it's like this existential phenomenon. There is a build-up toward Christmas and when the holiday actually comes, magic and wonder fill the hearts of everyone gathered around the hearth which is ironically right next to the Christmas tree. Hot cocoa, gingerbread cookies, roasted chestnuts ('on an open fire'), building snowmen, going for sleigh rides, opening mountains of presents, wassailing (whatever the hell that is), decorating a nine foot Christmas tree by threading popcorn and cranberries are the images of Christmas we get from the movies and songs. Anything less is not acceptable.
However, there are movies like: 'A Christmas Story' (1983), 'Christmas Vacation' (1989), 'Elf' (2003), 'Bad Santa' (2003), and of course 'Home Alone' (1990). In these movies, things are not 'perfect' and everything goes haywire on the big day. You end up in a pink bunny suit, which was a present from Aunt Clara and that Christmas turkey you were dreaming of got eaten by the Bumpus' smelly hounds. Not to mention that your father tried to display a tacky lamp, in the shape of a woman's leg, in your window for all the neighborhood to see. And did I mention that you actually almost succeeded in shooting your eye out after using your Red Ryder BB again? Or you could end up having a Christmas where your bonus never comes because your boss decided to do away with them. So you cannot build your family that swimming pool they were dreaming of. Then your crazy shit-for-brains cousin Randy decides to kidnap your boss in order to make things right. In the process, you killed Aunt Bethany's cat and burned down the Christmas tree. And Christmas dinner consists of jello mold filled with cat shit and a very bone dry turkey. Or, you forget your kid at home while your family is en route to New York and do it again the next year en route to Paris. Think of those moments, and you have the anti-thesis to a Bing Crosby Christmas, where everything goes wrong despite your best intentions and ambitious plans to make it a perfect holiday.
So know that if you don't have the Christmas promised to you by the iconic movies and songs, that you're still doing fine. Take this from a Jew who watches it all through a plate glass window smiling because he doesn't have to get involved. He just smacks his head in exclamation, 'Oy vey! Goyem!'
However, know, that as a Jew, it is not an easy time of year. Even though I am an outside observer, it is still very strange watching the majority of the nation partake in something that has become for all intensive purposes, American, and by not doing anything I feel very un-patriotic. I don't feel bad, at least, not anymore, for not celebrating Christmas. Believe me, I don't have any desire to partake in the 'joy' of the holiday. Not at all. But it's strange that the religious meaning has been totally stripped from a day that should be completely religious. Again, I'm not speaking for everyone. There are many friends and individuals I know who find a lot of religious significance to Christmas. As they should. It revolves around the birth of a religion's personal 'lord and savior', Jesus Christ Superstar. But for some strange reason, Christmas is now just as American as the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving. It is a religious holiday that because of it's universal nature, is shared by many who aren't even Christian.
And it's hard to stay out of the whole Christmas show pony. Every television channel has some kind of Christmas themed special. Every talk show gives away gifts and money. Every office and business has a holiday party. My father's family business always had a holiday party and guess who dressed like Santa? Well, my dad does have the build for it. How can you not participate? I've done Secret Santa and have gone to parties to pig out on sugar cookies shaped like reindeer and stockings. So now I ask, as a non-Christian, how are you supposed to participate?
I had a lively debate lately with a friend about the commercialization and gaudy display of Christmas. I brought up the fact that my son, who loves PBS, has been watching the Curious George Christmas special over and over again. He became obsessed with presents and a Christmas tree because he thought this was 'normal'. I mean, doesn't everyone, in the end, decide to celebrate Christmas because they don't want to be left out? Everyone does this, right? Wrong. Aside from not actually being Christian, my fear is that I do not want my son to have a stigma like I did when I was little. Why should Jewish children be ashamed of their heritage because they don't celebrate was has become so Americanized? I don't want my son feeling like he has to participate so that he doesn't feel left out. So, I explained to my son hat we, as Jews, do not celebrate Christmas. We have a string of lights in our apartment, but that's it. And they are lights, which have no affiliation with Christmas at all. We put them up to bring more light and color into the apartment since in winter, it is dark and depressing by 3:30 every afternoon. Lights are completely a-religious. Everything else on the other hand is debatable.
I don't know what the answer is in terms of remaining completely true to your beliefs but polite to your friends and neighbors. We've become hyper PC about the whole thing and wish each other 'happy holidays' or are sure to include Kwanzaa and Winter Solstice. However, when you think about it, Christmas is not the end all be all of the holiday season. Just about every culture and religion has some kind of festival or holiday about light.
Christmas certainly involves a lot of ideas surrounding light, both literally and figuratively. The whole story of the three wise men (magi) following the star of Bethlehem in order to give gifts to baby Jesus. But Jews have Hannukkah, which is about the miracle of oil burning for eight nights and the revolt of the Maccabees against the Greeks. Hindus have Diwali, a festival celebrating the new moon and triumph of light/good over dark/evil where diryas (lights) are illuminated and mithai (sweets) are eaten and gifts are exchanged. Kwanzaa, a celebration dating to 1966, and the name comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza ('first fruits of the harvest'). It has seven principles, like unity and faith, that are represented through the lighting of seven candles. There's also the Tazaungdaing festival within Buddhism, which celebrates the full moon and end to the rainy season in places like Burma. In some locales, there are robe weaving competitions, while in others lights are lit in hot air balloons and released.
Then, of course, there is winter solstice itself. The Zuni and Hopi tribes have the festival of Soyal, which celebrates the return of the sun and is seen as a time for both purification and renewal. Prayer sticks, pahos, are made to bless the community along with their homes and possessions. Yalda is the Iranian winter solstice festival, where Mithra, the sun god, who, like Jesus, was born to a virgin mother, and represents goodness, truth, and friendship is celebrated. The Chinese have the Dongzhi festival, which is celebrated by families eating with one another. One item eaten, mostly in Southern China, is tangyuan, a ball of rice which symbolizes reunion. And in Northern China, dumplings are eaten. This custom dates to the Han dynasty where poor people suffered chilblains (blisters and inflammation from the cold) on their ears; the dumplings were given to the poor to warm them up and because they resembled ears. Solstice itself marks the darkest day of the year, where we go from long nights and short days to the opposite. After solstice, the light literally begins to return again and everyone plunged in winter begins dreaming of spring. And of course solstice has links to Stonehenge and Druids, but just about every culture has some form of solstice/light festival.
I get it, though. Christmas is a major holiday for the dominant religion of this country. However, as an outsider, I see through the artifice of the holiday. For many, Christmas offers a day filled with warmth, light, and joy amidst the darkness and somberness of winter. For one day immortalized and suspended in time, individuals can be surrounded by loved ones with good food and cheer. What I don't get, however, is the marathon up until Christmas Eve. It's almost like there is more hype in the preparation than the actual day. Or maybe it's just because to me, it is just another day. Everything up until Christmas has such a glorified importance and careful amount of planning. I can only imagine how people feel the day after. It must be like what Jews feel right after the string of Jewish holidays in the fall. There is probably a feeling like you're coming down from a cloud, arriving back to the harsh realities of life. I guess that's why Christmas is so special to those who celebrate it. But the point is that many people do not and should not be forced or shamed into celebrating even the joy of the day.
In fact, the point is that there is more than just Christmas. So making everything about a Christian centered holiday is just not fair. In NYC, I never feel that the city overwhelms you with Christmas. I feel that there is a conscious effort to remember that there are people coming from all parts of the world who celebrate many different things. In fact, I enjoy Christmas in New York. Looking at shop windows like Macy's and Bloomingdale's or going to the Union Square Holiday Market have become iconic. You can go ice skating at Rockefeller Center or go to Dyker Heights (in Brooklyn) to see holiday lights. I just feel that even the Christmas centered events are a-religious and it's not all about Jesus and Santa Clause. However, there is still an over-commercialization, even in NYC. Stores are open until the last minute and bargain shopping is not only encouraged; here, it's a sport. I've worked retail around the holidays and it only brings out the worst in people. They dicker over the language in the store's latest ad bulletin and try to convince you that because it's Christmas, you should give them the sale price even though the sale ended two weeks ago.
Again, I don't want to sound like Scrooge, but Christmas has been so stripped of its meaning that it's hard not to be negative. What should be about kindness, joy, and heart is more about greed, consumerism, and selfishness. I guess my hope for humanity is that we realize that the romanticized principles on Christmas should be applied to every single day of the year. And perhaps that's what people strive to accomplish by listening to the hype; it's the idea that on Christmas, we can forget our woes and relax with family and friends. We can return to a moment in time that exists outside of time, where time is linear and we each create a Norman Rockwell snapshot that will be remembered for years to come. The mall fights and stampedes are forgotten; the high rate of suicide and identity theft is discarded by the side of the highway. What we, as a society, try to create is rustic, simplistic joy based off of nostalgia and fiction. But is that so bad, really? Christmas is a day where time stands still. You know that you went over the budget for presents and might not be able to pay your bills, but let's worry about that tomorrow. For now, you can get cozy by the fireplace and sip hot cocoa while you sing along to the record player crooning Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra.
Have a Merry Christmas, for those of you that celebrate. And for the rest of us, it's just another day where we must figure out how we belong without assimilated to the point of stripping ourselves of our own culture/religion.