An Aspiration For the New Year

Now the holidays are over and the new year’s on its way, its time for that Janusian moment, where we look back over the year that’s passed and look forward to the year to come. And while much electronic ink will be spilled on retrospectives and top whatever-number lists, I find myself more inclined to look ahead, and to, if not resolve, then at least aspire to make improvement to myself and my way of being in the world.

Number one on my list of aspirations for 2016 is to project my best self in my online and social media presence.

The internet is a wondrous and enchanting place (at least it can be). But it’s also, thanks to the distance it puts between people, a really easy place to give your worst intincts free rein. It’s easy to say things online, in comment threads or tweets or blog posts, that you’d never say to a person’s face. It’s easy to let your anger get away from you, or hell, just say some nasty shit just to get a reaction out of somebody. It’s easy to call people who don’t agree with you idiots, and to denigrate their intellect, parentage, and character, largely consequence-free.

It’s easy, in short, to be an asshole.

And it’s not like I haven’t done it. Among folks who know me I am famous for anger management issues, and I have always loved a good argument.

But arguing rarely convinces, and being an asshole doesn’t do much but make the folks your sphincter is pointed at unhappy. Maybe some people may deserve that kind of treatment, but on the whole it’s not particularly productive or helpful. It certainly doesn’t do anything to make the world a better place.

So, for my part, I’ve decided to trade argument for discussion, insult for empathy, and superiority for conviction. I aspire to reflect my best self, not only in real life, but in my online incarnation, too. I hope other folks will choose to do the same.

Santa Claus and the American Dream

I thought of this the other day, but I didn’t want to harsh anyone’s mellow this holiday season, since there are lots of folks I know who genuinely love the holidays, especially Christmas, and I respect that.

But it occurred to me how the mythology surrounding Christmas, at least the American conception of it, kind of encapsulates us as a nation in a less-than-entirely flattering way.

Think about it. The Christmas myth is, essentially, that if you behave yourself and do as you’re told by authority while being surreptitiously surveilled by an invisible judge given to binary distinctions (you’re either on the nice list, or the naughty list), you’ll be rewarded with material goods. If you don’t behave, bam! Coal in your stocking (which does at least beat having Krampus). Or fewer presents. Or none.

The worst thing is that the kids who actually receive this punishment aren’t necessarily misbehavers: they’re just poor. The mythology connects material prosperity with virtue and obedience to authority. I don’t mean to take too jaundiced a view of the whole thing, but it’s a hell of a thing to teach little kids, never mind that it sets them up for the inevitable disappointment of learning that Santa Claus is actually just their parents, and that the volume of material love under the Christmas tree has more to do with their parents’ wealth than anyone’s virtue or behavior.

Every year there’s noise made about a War on Christmas, and as far as I can tell, the folks making the noise think the war is on the Christ part. Maybe for some folks it is. For my own part, I’m pretty down with JC. But if we wanted to declare war on the crass materialism that we’ve come to celebrate alongside his birthday party, I’d be inclined to join up.

RandyCon Writers’ Retreat Wrap-Up

Should have taken more pictures.

Let me just say that the Winter 2015 RandyCon was a rousing success. Songs were sung, jokes were told, and many thousands of words were written, or, in the case of the revisers, unwritten. I myself churned out almost 9000 words, which is around thirty-five pages for any non-writer-folk readers this blog post may attract. I killed off a character, introduced the Big Bad, wrecked the town and the magic school, and my protagonist did something unpredictable and that I didn’t like but that showed me a little more about who she is and what she’s capable of.

So yeah, I feel like it was pretty successful.

For those still scratching heads, RandyCon is a twice-yearly writers’ retreat put on by Randy Henderson (a hell of a writer and a hell of a nice guy, you should check out his books here) at Fort Worden State Park near Port Townsend, WA. It’s a decommissioned military base that used to house artillery for coastal defense that’s been repurposed as a rudimentary resort and office park, and RandyCon happens at (I’m guessing) an old NCO barracks. It’s a pretty good setup: big kitchen and common areas, and four wings of three or four small rooms each, with a bathroom in each wing. There were thirteen of us, all told (although there was some coming and going), and we all brought treats and provisions and took turns cooking and cleaning and so forth.

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