Monday, December 26, 2016

'Tis the Season

"I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"
"Yes ma'am. I said it looks like you have elves."
"Yes ma'am. About a dozen or so I'd suppose, th0ugh it's hard to tell for certain. They tend to keep out of sight, most times."
"Yes ma'am, you heard correct. Right around Boxing Day we start getting the calls in. Looking for a place to nest down for the season, you know." He looked around at the home: brick and neat white cladding, two-storey with shutters over the windows, icicles dangling along the edge of the roof. Pretty as a Christmas card. "Yep. This is the sort of place they flock to, your basic elf."
That he parked in plain sight in the driveway was bad enough. Now this? What would the neighbors think? She lowered her voice. "This is a good neighborhood," she hissed. "The realtor said nothing about… infestations."
"Oh, it's a fresh bunch," he said. "Probably smuggled in on one of them Alaska cruise ships. Real problem up north, you know. But global warming… well, they're losing habitat."
She shivered in her robe, clutching her cocoa for warmth. The candy cane tinkled against the edge as she shivered. It had taken hours to roll them out and get the twists just right, and dammit, they were going to get used. Except they'd been disappeared. A few here and there -- easy enough to blame on the kids -- but then this morning, over two dozen, just vanished. And two empty cookie tins, out in the yard. And all the decorating sugar, gone. The gingerbread village disappeared without a trace. Rats, she thought. Or mice. And she called the exterminators, and they sent this… person.
"I'm really having trouble with this," she said. "You know, yesterday was kind of a busy day…"
The exterminator nodded. "Perfect time for them to slip in, you know. All the hustle and bustle. But you can't miss the signs." He'd showed her the gap in the basement wall, lined with leftover tissue paper like a paper wasp nest. The neat piles of cedar shavings in the corners ("Probably tinkers," he said. "Mind you lock up your tools.") And of course, the little piles of peppermints stacked neatly under the stair. ("Droppings," he told her. "Fresh ones. Still sticky.")
"Isn't there anything you can do?" she said. "A spray or something?"
"Oh no, can't spray," he said. "They're a Protected group, your basic elves. More'n my job's worth to cross that line."
She felt a headache coming on. "Traps, then?" she said. "What do they do for raccoons? My sister had a raccoon up the chimney in their cabin once."
"No good," said the exterminator. He was filling out a complicated-looking form. "Far too clever to fall for that. Most of 'em could build better, anyway. You can't get 'em by outsmarting."
"Well, what am I supposed to do, then?" she said. She tried to ignore the noises coming from the dryer vent. It sounded suspiciously like Christmas carols, being sung by tiny, childlike voices.
"Well," said the exterminator. "There's no guarantees, but if you get all this down and packed away, nature tends to take its course, if you know what I'm saying."
"But these wreaths are handmade!" she said. "White pine from Scandinavia! Hand-woven grosgrain! Blown-glass bulbs from Austria!" It was enormous, too, and well-lit. She made sure the whole neighborhood could see it.
"I understand, ma'am, I truly do. But there's nothing for it. They look well moved-in now. Maybe you'd have a chance with an artificial tree…"
"An artificial… we are not barbarians you know."
"No ma'am, sorry ma'am. I'm just saying that you've made it all so nice, it's no wonder they flocked to you."
"Flocked? You said it was six or seven!"
"I said 'probably' six or seven, but there's no way to be sure. Two tins of cookies and a stack of peppermints. You have any sort of chocolate in the house?"
"Cocoa powder, of course. Baking chocolate. I know the kids have some candy from their auntie."
"Make a list," he said. "And check it. Twice. Basically, you need to get your supplies down now, before the hibernation season. See, they fatten up good for winter, maybe wake around Easter for a snack, and then again at Halloween before their migration. That's your best chance. Make sure you don't bring out any decorations until at least December first. Maybe St. Nicholas' Day, to be safe. The last thing you want to do is give them an excuse to stay through next winter." He tore off the back sheet of the form and gave it to her in a mittened hand. "Giving that it's the holidays, this call's on me. Merry Christmas."
She snatched it from him. "Christmas was yesterday, and thanks for nothing," she said. She slammed the door hard enough to dislodge a few icicles from the roof.
"You're welcome," he said to the door knocker. From a vent down by his feet, he heard the sounds of jingle bells and laughter. Checking that no one was watching, he left a stack of cookies next to the basement window. Chocolate chip. Still warm. "See you next year," he said to the window. A pair of tiny hands snatched the cookies and disappeared again.
And laying his finger aside of his nose, he climbed into his van, and out the cul-de-sac he drove.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Unwrapping Ire, A Resolution for 2017

I always have trouble sleeping at this time of year. My long-suffering wife blames it on the very true fact that mentally I turn into a raving seven-year-old during the Christmas season (actual quote from me yesterday: "Why is there no Christmas music playing [in the living room]? How will Santa know we're ready for him?") It's anticipatory now, knowing what's waiting for my family under the tree and looking forward to the surprise, the laughter, and the inevitable meltdowns as we try to take our family through the motions one more time: the 6:00AM sharp commencement of activities enforced by the youngest child, the mandatory extra coffee and fresh cinnamon rolls required by the adults. This is life in a normal year.

Of course, 2016 has been far from a normal year.

With dread and anxiety, we're all hoping we can just make it through the few days we have left without some new bleak piece of news. I won't rehash all the terrible events of the year. I'm already sleepless, and there's no reason to get miserable before the sun has even risen. I'm sure you have no shortage of reasons to want to see the memory of 2016 dropped in a hole and buried as soon as possible. My more faithful friends say that this has been a year that Tests each of us, and I would not be surprised if that's the tone and tenor of the Christmas Eve service we'll be attending later today. But even they are struggling with the ongoing drumbeat of terrible things that happened this year, and which continue to happen. The horrible news and pictures from Aleppo leave us all haunted and feeling powerless, for example. Any cheer and seasonal joy we muster feels artificial and fruitless, honestly. This is the legacy of 2016 -- one ass-kicking after another, for those of us left who can still stand.

And here this gets political, especially United States-political. If you have the stomach for it, hear me out. Have some coffee and a cookie if it helps. I'll wait.

The political pendulum swings as always, and for a large number of American voters, we feel that we're now swinging in a very bad place, dangling over the very swamp infested with the worst sort of creatures. It's just One More Thing, and it's haunting and demoralizing. Social media drains directly into that swamp. The water's turned foul, and just keeps pouring in. It's easy to feel like you're doing something when you're fighting the current all day, and the echo chamber of outrage, dismay, and anxiety grows in sound and fury, if not significance. It's no accident that my nation chose a President-elect that can think only in easily digestable and resharable word-bites. This is where discourse has landed now. That haunted and powerless feeling is here at home, too. And this is what woke me up this morning. Not the promise of excitement in the next 24 hours, nor joy, nor breakfast with my loved ones -- the fear that we've all slipped into a place where everyone is yelling, and nothing is changing.

And then I realized the True Meaning of 2016. 2016 existed to Piss Us Off.

2016 showed us the frailty of life, the horror that man is still capable of in the name of "peace" and the throwback ugliness that still lies beneath the surface of voting populations of the world. And we have a choice, here, with about a week to go in the year. We can look to the turning of the calendar and pretend that all the terribleness is behind us and that 2017 cannot possibly be as terrible as 2016 -- and I admit, that's a high bar -- or we can be realistic, and realize that 2016 may have just been a warm-up for tough times ahead. Much as I'd like to believe it's the former, I'm steeling myself for the latter. I'm tapping into the despair of 2016 and planning to punch back in 2017, and I want to encourage you all to do the same.


* To become a better-informed citizen by following local, state, and federal legislative activity
* To post my elected representatives numbers by every phone and to call, regularly
* To do the same with the office of the President
* Not to confuse "shares" and "likes" and "retweets" with direct action
* To donate blood as often as I can, and encourage others to do so

This year was terrible. Next year will probably be terrible, too. But I'm kicking back.

What do you pledge?

Thursday, December 1, 2016


So, my tenth Nano come and gone -- and quite a year it was, too. It reaffirmed my need to be team planner versus team pantser as I struggled to bring the two complementary story lines I had in my head together for a dance. But all was not lost, not at all: I uncovered details and backstory that had not even been hoped for in my pre-writing process, and amid all the rambling dialogue and word-padding, I've uncovered some potential bones for future work. I don't have a novel to show for the month, but I've got over 50,000 words spread across scenes and dialog that will be seeds for something bigger and better to come.

Now December's here, and I'm looking forward to really-and-truly having written every day of 2016. I'd like to say it's been easier as the year has gone on, but this has been a hell of a year to face with creativity. It's been anchoring and grounding, and more than a little therapeutic at times. And I've been doing it enough that the thought of "getting in my daily" is a sense of something I need to do instead of something I ought to do. It's become a vital piece in my life now, and I'm glad for the addition. Even if the output doesn't amount to anything, it's been good for me to work through. Fitting this year together has been like working a massive, at times frustrating jigsaw puzzle, and there have been points where I was afraid to look up to see all the work yet to do.

As always, I'm grateful for the madness that is the NaNoWriMo Typewriter Brigade, the collective crazies that insist on banging out their own creative pieces year after year, on manuals, electrics, wedges, or (shhh) AlphaSmarts. Literacy and creativity and the joy of making feels like it's in short supply this year, in a season of political divides, fear and doubt, accusations and blame. And more than a few creative minds were taken this year, and left holes in many of our hearts. It's been tough to spackle over all those cracks. Seeing the Brigade reform against all common sense is heartening.

I'm also glad for the relative normalcy of the typosphere, and its doged determination to keep growing despite all my shameful neglect. Social media seems to have turned largely into Antisocial Morass this year, so a cheery picture of a custom-painted Lettera or gleaming typebars or some truly dazzling typewriter art is a welcome smile. I'm glad we can all celebrate the little positive pieces of our lives, too. Thanks for being here, Typosphere, and if you're a Brigadier, too, thanks for jumping into the annual fray!