Friday, December 16, 2022

The Ghosts of Christmas Presents

How many Christmas presents do you remember, either those given or those received? I started thinking about this as I was feeling bad about my current present-buying or lack thereof. Just how many presents that I've gotten over seven decades do I remember? 

The ones I most remember are the ones from Santa when I was growing up. The year I got my shoe skates and Brownie watch. The year we got the Flintstones bowling set and Give-a-Show Projector. The year I got a transistor radio and book about the American Revolution. The year I got my hot rollers. Beyond that, I really don't remember many Christmas gifts that I've gotten over the years, though they have been plentiful. 

And what about the presents I've given? Honestly, I can't remember many. When I was 6 or 7 Daddy took us shopping, and I got Mother a little blue metallic jewelry box (couldn't have held much more than safety pins and pennies) that played The Blue Danube when you lifted the lid. Mother had that on her dresser for years and years. 

Hm. Let's see. I give Liam the annual Hess truck every Christmas, so this one should be number 13 for him. (Yes, he has a great collection.) And I gave Kate and Greg a Nespresso machine last year. No clue what I've given the kids and grandkids, brothers, sisters, and sundry other folks beyond that over the years. I suspect they don't remember, either.

What I'm coming to realize is that, obviously, the presents don't matter. Yes, yes, something to open on Christmas morning, but the specifics of the gifts are irrelevant. Unwrapping is fun, but the contents are usually forgettable. 

Slowly, we're trying to move away from "things" and concentrate more on "experiences" - performances, events, travel, fun times together. Trading presents for presence. Still, everybody likes to unwrap stuff, so I need to figure out that part. Sigh. 

Oh! I did get a Soda Stream last Christmas that I use all the time. But that leaves quite a gap between hot rollers in 1968 and seltzer gas in 2021. I know those Ghosts of Christmas Presents are floating around somewhere, but somehow they don't seem that important. Ho ho ho.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Submitted for Your Horror Reading Pleasure

I love scary stuff. Movies. Performance Art. Amusement park rides. But especially a good book that will make me perk up my ears for imagined eerie sounds and get my heart racing a little.

Now, I’m not into extreme gore or sexed-up horror, just the good old-fashioned unexplained, unexpected, whoa-I-though-you-were-dead! kind. Things that go bump in the night. Why is that wall dripping blood? I do love a good Stephen King and 70s-80s classics by the likes of Thomas Tryon or Peter Straub, but I've broadened my reach over the time to include a diverse group of writers who have added new layers to the genre for me.

So in the spirit of the season, here’s a list of my best horror/thriller reads over the past couple of years. I won’t give you a synopsis of the stories, maybe just a side-note or two:

The Good House by Tananarive Due. Listen, if you’re not reading horror/thriller stories by African American writers, you are missing out on some of the best storytelling on offer. Due is amazing. This one blew me away!

The Midnight Man by Caroline Mitchell. “If you open your door to the Midnight Man, hide with a candle wherever you can. Try not to scream as he draws near, because one of you won't be leaving here.”

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole. Another wonderful African American storyteller. Still has one of the most evocative sentences ever written: “I stopped myself before I stepped on that particular Lego of regret.” Ouch!

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Ah, there’s nothing like a crumbling Georgian house, gardens choked with weeds, and a clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine to get the heart pumping!

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. When Black folks write horror/thriller stories, there’s usually an added element of the particular horrors they face daily just by being Black. Read and learn. But mainly enjoy creepy-great storytelling.

Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due. A collection of short stories, most of which I wanted turned into to full blown novels. Due pulls me along, and I just want more. Love her writing.

The Village by Caroline Mitchell. Another one by Mitchell. Where did the Harper family go?

Can Such Things Be? by Ambrose Bierce. Short stories full of ghostly apparitions, many involving the effects of post-Civil War US, by a noted American journalist. Wasn’t sure I’d like these tales, but full marks for creepiness. Of course, the biggest mystery of all: whatever happened to Ambrose Bierce? (Look it up.)

Okay. I have a lot more, but you should find something here to keep you up at night.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Why I'm a Big-City Girl

I've watched a lot of true crime lately. Not sure why I've fallen down that rabbit hole, but it's kept me entertained (entertained??) as the world burns around us. I'm also a huge fan of horror movies - the haunted house-kind, not the blood-and-guts kind - which is also a worthy escape genre in this day and time. Both true crime and horror serve to remind me why I favor big city, urban craziness over small town certain death.

Ninety-nine percent of true crime shows start something like this: "Dingleberry, West Virginia. A small town two hundred miles away from the noise and culture of a population center, where everybody knows each other and lends a helping hand when needed. Just like Mayberry." Horror movies start the same way, but these virtues are usually enacted rather than narrated. And then the slaughter comes.

Now, I was raised in a small city, yes, watching The Andy Griffith Show, and nothing terrified me more - well, OK, daddy longlegs terrified me, too - than the idea of having to live out my life in a Mayberry, however charming the TV denizens might be. Shoot, I didn't even want to live out my life in that small hometown city, as I was constantly looking longingly down the road to the energy and excitement of Atlanta. And had I been able to see a future that included living and working in the greatest of all cities, New York, I would've probably just died in ecstasy before actually living that dream. 

So, no. I was never a small town/small city girl. No, I do not want to live in a place where I know everyone and where everyone knows my business. And I certainly don't want to live in a place with a per capita murder rate way higher than NYC (yeah, look it up), full of secrets, illicit liaisons, and ax murderers. Big cities have all those things right out in the open - no sneaking around -  and with so many people that the odds of your murder are pretty slim. But small towns? Yikes! 

And while my reasons for being a big-city girl have their foundations in the desire to live smack in the middle of a cultural, educational, and financial center, I've gotta say that I breathe a sigh of great relief after watching the horror and true crime of some picayune little Mayberry. 

Now, excuse me while I watch yet another grisly small-town crime story as the sound of big-city traffic and sirens outside my windows supply comforting white noise to the whole affair. 

Friday, May 20, 2022

Servant of the People: Fiction to Fact

The Ukrainian television series, Servant of the People (2015 to 2019), is currently airing on Netflix. It stars and was produced by Volodymyr Zelenskyy - yes, actual President of Ukraine -and follows a high school history teacher who, thanks to a rant about government corruption caught on video by one of his students and uploaded to YouTube with 8 million views, becomes the unlikely president of . . .  you guessed it . . . Ukraine. 

I can't turn away from it. Yes, it's subtitled, but you get used to that quickly. 

The storyline is poignant and hopeful and funny and way too true. Every corrupt thing Ukraine faces - selfish politicians who enrich themselves and their cronies, gotcha' media hounds, crazy families, global entanglements - every government faces. Yep, there's even a defeated president who refuses to leave his office. Very prescient (remember, this was 2015). 

And whenever this TV president needs to get the attention of fighting parliament members or citizen hordes, he shouts: "Putin has resigned!" stopping people in their tracks. ("Not really" he apologizes, once he has their attention.) I guess the real President Zelenskyy feels that more than ever now. 

Watching Zelenskyy these last few months, fighting desperately for his country and against Putin, then watching his very political television series is mind-blowing. He is adorable (yeah, sorry, he is), he is smart, he is funny. And he loves his country.

I'm learning so much about Ukraine - a modern, beautiful country. It's also affirming to see that people and politics aren't so different the world over.  

I'm dreaming of a world where we have more history teacher world leaders and fewer lawyers and business folk. It couldn't hurt. 

The good people of the world are on your side, President Zelenskyy. (And thanks for Servant of the People!)

Monday, May 02, 2022

Simple Gifts

Sometimes the most ordinary things bring joy. 

Today I planted a fresh crop of red geraniums in my balcony boxes. Just seeing the splashes of red against the green outside my windows helps me breathe better. My heartbeat eases. Shoulders relax. Stress evaporates. 

Red geraniums are my favorite flowers. Always have been. Mother told me once that red geraniums were Mama's (her mother, my grandmother) favorite, too, and that I must have inherited that love from her. Well, I don't know about that, since Mama and I were never that close, but I do like the family connection.

I also planted a bunch of zinnia seeds. Zinnias were Daddy's favorite. We had this little flower garden next to our driveway at my growing-up house, and every year we'd planted lots of zinnias (he called them "old maids") and marigolds. He especially loved the zinnias, so I do this in his memory. I hope they bloom like crazy, because I love those old maids, too. 

Take joy wherever you find it. Simple gifts are usually the best. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Heretical Thoughts on Holy Week

I've always wondered what Jesus might think about the Christian observance of Holy Week, especially Good Friday. 

"Seriously, people. Why so much focus on the absolute worst week and day of my life?"

"I get celebrating the Resurrection, but the awful week that preceded it? Nah."

"I love what y'all do at Christmas, though, even though it's not really my birthday. (I was born in April, by the way.) The lights, the presents, cinnamon/pine/peppermint - a splendid birthday celebration, so thank you." 

"Really, you can appreciate the empty tomb without making us all relive the trial, the agony, the torture."

"So go forth and bless the incoming of Spring - flowers, bunnies, Peeps, Cadbury Eggs. It's kind of a mini-birthday celebration rolled into the Resurrection story. That I enjoy. But making me relive that terrible week and day over and over and over? I'd rather not."

"And don't even get me started on Lent."

"More Christmas. Less 'Holy Week,' because it was flat-out UN-holy for me." 

"Love y'all. All of y'all. Spend more time living out the Beatitudes. That's what I really want."

Can't Help Falling: Another Elvis Moment

I'm a faller. I just am. I can be walking barefoot on a flat, dry surface, and I'll take a tumble. I have a history, even writing a blog post about a spectacular fall down some stairs at New York's Tabla Restaurant in 2008

Then there was a fall in 2015 when I mis-stepped off a curb when a young couple walking a dog didn't move aside as I approached. Still have the scars from that one. 

So I was due for another klutzy, fabulous trip-up, which happened the other day at work.

Leaving the Swan House to refresh my tea before taking over for a colleague's lunch break, I tripped on the sidewalk, falling forward really hard on the flat, dry surface. (See, I told you!) Tea tumbler and walkie-talkie went flying as I managed to brace the fall with my hands. Despite my arms and hands taking the brunt of the tumble, my head hit the pavement, bouncing once. 

Guests approaching the house rushed to my rescue, retrieving the walkie and cup and helping me sit up. Hands chewed up and bloody from the sidewalk, small head wound, and general body-shock, it took a few minutes for me to shake it off. I notified my bosses on the walkie and assured the guests that I was fine, just a little shaken. 

Security and bosses rushed to assess the damage, document my injuries, and offering to call an ambulance. Nah. I was shaken (not stirred) but felt well enough to carry on for the rest of the work day.

Two days later, I'm still sore all over and the heels of my hands are bandaged, but my hard head only has a small cut, not a swollen lump or anything that would belie the fact that I'd bounced my head of a hard pavement. The band-aid across my right temple makes me look kinda bad-ass, so I'll keep it on for a few days. 

So, yes, another spectacular Elvis moment, because I can't help falling. Sigh.

Monday, April 04, 2022

I do, with God's Grace

Today marks the 40th anniversary of my Confirmation. I was late to the game - just about to turn 31 - because I was raised Southern Baptist and they don't confirm. I have my own thoughts about why they don't offer the choice to stay or move on to teens and adults, but I'll keep them to myself. 

Anyway, we landed on the doorstep of All Saints' Episcopal Church, Atlanta, in September 1981, shortly after a new rector, Harry Pritchett, arrived on the scene. I've often wondered if we'd stepped in and heard a sermon by anyone but Harry on that autumn day whether or not we'd have returned. And returned. And returned. But here I am. Forty years later. 

Harry had the wild and crazy preaching style of a tent revival preacher, but his message was one of love. Always. Harry (and subsequently, Martha Sterne and Barbara Brown Taylor) is foundational to my Christian belief system. It was so refreshing to hear his message of love, forgiveness, justice, and mercy after years of being told repeatedly what a sinner I was. (Yeah, I get it.)

Jack and I were in Harry's first Adult Confirmation class the fall and winter of 1981-82. The class was small, maybe 10 of us, and held in the church library. Jack was Roman Catholic and already confirmed, so he would just reaffirm and be received into the Episcopal Church. But as a former Baptist, I was to be fully confirmed. Coming from a non-liturgical background, I had a lot to learn. All you clergy who want to be called "father" or "mother" can blame Harry for the way I address you for responding to my question of what should I call him. His answer? "Harry." (Anyway, y'all ain't my father or mother, so, nope, not gonna call you that.) Just Harry. 

On April 4, 1982, I was confirmed by the Right Reverend Bennett Sims, bishop of Atlanta, renouncing evil, affirming my faith, and renewing the Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. 

Harry, Martha, Barbara, and many dear parishioners of All Saints' have helped me live up to those vows, even when I do a lousy job of it. In the years immediately following my confirmation, we faced two major crises, homelessness and AIDS, testing those baptismal vows. Do we really want a night shelter for homeless men on our property? Yes! Can this be a safe haven for gays and those suffering from AIDS? Yes! So, I was thrown right into the deep end of the pool of how to respect the dignity of every human being as a new confirmand. 

It's not always been easy to stick around. I had to learn how to deal with clergy coming and going (it's normal and healthy for them to do that, by the way). Harry eventually moved on to become Dean of St. John the Divine in New York City. Martha moved on to her own church in Maryville, TN. Barbara, of course, moved on to teach and write and become really famous. Losing them hurt. Finding out that all clergy don't preach as brilliantly or love as strongly hurt, too. But I learned to abide. There will always be glory moments and desert moments. When you've hung around as long as I have, you learn to navigate the ebb and flow. 

Daugher Kate was born, baptised, confirmed, and married at All Saints'. The grands were baptised here, as well, and the whole family is active in various ways. I will be buried in the church cemetery under one of those fabulous windows. So, yeah. Forty years. Just wanted to honor the journey.