Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Christmas Wish

Sorry for the No-Post yesterday, I was being a good citizen and performing my civic duty. (Jury Duty, that is!) I wasn't picked to sit but I was part of the selection pool so I got to witness the selection process in action. It was pretty fascinating. I was mildly disappointed I didn't get chosen to sit, I'd have like the experience.

Christmas is almost upon us. Tomorrow is a 1/2 day at work, followed by the annual Christmas (excuse me: HOLIDAY) party so I may not get a chance to post. Next week I am off. I always spend the Christmas week at home with my son. It's the only time of the year we get to hang with no responsibilities or time frames. We get up when we want, do what we want, go where we want with no one to answer to. (Read: sleep late, play video games, watch movies & eat junk food!) It is without question my favorite time of the year. It's my idea of what a REAL vacation should be.

I am a big fan of Christmas. You might not think so, seeing as I am anti-christianity and religion in general (For myself. Feel free to follow the beliefs of your own heart! Ain't I magnanimous?) but the holiday is far more important to me than any mere religious holiday. I listen to the arguments between those who are focused on the materialism and those focused on the religious signifigance and shake my head. Don't you all see the truth of the day? It's not about either of those things!

Christmas is about the people you love: no more, no less. It's the one day a year we stop and spend time with the ones who make our lives worthwhile. I don't care if your christian, jewish, muslim, atheist, or a deist like myself: that's a worthwhile pursuit and one you should take advantage of. Presents are nice but spending a day with the people closest to you has that beat hands down. Christmas day at my house consists of the boy waking us up (waaayyyy too early!) opening gifts, having a nice breakfast, then spending the rest of the day playing the new games together, telling stories about Christmas past, and just enjoying the hell out of being with my wife and son. We do the families on Christmas Eve or during Christmsa week. The actual day is about the three of us. I know folks get stressed on the holidays with all the shopping, gifts, cards, visiting, cooking, cleaning, etc. Here's my suggestion for you:

DON'T.

Simple, eh? Look, you have only so many people in life that you truly love and only so much time to spend with them. Focus on that and let the rest of the world deal without you. Choice seems easy to me . . . either spend all your holiday meeting the expectations of people you can barely tolerate so that they think well of you, or let 'em kiss your ass and have a day of bliss with the ones you love, in a messy house, eating sandwiches for dinner, and not answering the phone while you lounge about in your PJ's until 3:00 in the afternoon and play the latest Super-Mario extravaganza on the Playstation. I know which one I'm taking!

Forget church, forget the big turkey dinner and having all the In-Laws over for the "Martha Stewart Good Living Christmas-In-A-Box Pageant" and go make a cup of coffee, sit down on the couch with the significant other, kiss 'em, and remember to thank whatever entity you choose for the gift of having another Christmas to spend with them. It's a crazy world and you may not always have them around. Enjoy it while you can and let the expectations and formalities go fly a friggin' kite!

From me too you, dear reader: I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and that everyone you love is nearby, safe, and as glad to be with you as you are to be with them.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Good, The Bad, and The Stupid

THE GOOD

Surprise, surprise! I tagged in another 2,000 words on "First" yesterday without even trying. I just read over where I'd left off and it started flowing. Only had an hour or so to spare but it was nice to be working again. It was probably not the best work I've ever done, but it's words and I'll take 'em!

THE BAD

The boy came home last night with a horrific grade on his last Spanish test and I completley lost it on him. We'd been studying every night for a week! Problem was: WE WERE STUDYING THE WRONG THING! He didn't pay attention to the teacher's instructions and we never even looked at what the test was really on. Oh man, I was NOT a happy camper! Speaking of which, the wife and I are curtailing my son's Boy Scouts exposure until he can show an improvement on his next report card. (NO camping for you!)

THE STUPID

I don't know if I'm the stupid one, or my contractor is. He had five guys at my house all day yesterday and the managed to accomplish . . . (wait for it!) LESS THAN I COULD HAVE DONE ON MY OWN IN UNDER AN HOUR! Christ, I was through the roof last night. Between this asshole and my son's grades I was screaming like a lunatic. By the end of the night I was whimpering in the corner; begging my wife for a gin and tonic . . . hold the tonic, please! Today I leave work early to meet the guy who's installing my countertops (luckily NOT my contractor!) and I'll get to see if the guys there are actually accomplishing anything today (shall I hold my breathe, do you think?)

Christmas. Christmas is coming and it will be the savior of my sanity! (It better be or they're gonna put me in the rubber room!) Happy-family-loving-calm-joy-time! Yes? (Hey, stop laughing at me!)

Later!

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Trouble with Testacles

Don't misunderstand me now . . . all Mondays suck turtle eggs through a rusty bit of pipe you found at the bottom of a sewer, but as far as Mondays go: this is probably one of the better one's of the year. Oh, not because anything particular's happening but rather because of the lack of happenings. This is the week before Christmas so there's not a whole lot of stress here in the office today. Everyone's half-assing their work, thinking about the holiday, hovering around the coffee and sampling the platters of cookies and brownies folks have been bringing in. We've also gotten a ton of fattening cakes, cookies, and assorted candy from vendors and clients so the place looks somewhat like a bakery right now. (Not a bad thing by my lights!) It's still a Monday, but a bit less heinous than most.

The weekend was an unpleasant disaster for me. My contractor is still dragging his heels getting things done. Oh, his crew is there every day but four guys are doing about the same amount of work I'd do on my own. The wife was a foaming-at-the-mouth, rabid, starving, pit bull and my ass was covered in A-1 sauce! We spent most of the weekend screaming and cursing at each other over the house.

Why?

Good question! There is nothing I can do at this point (other than fire the SOB, but that ain't feasible now either!) but the wife needs must vent her frustration at someone and since I have testacles and am within proximity . . .

In any event, I got our Living Room cleaned up and re-arranged so that we could set up a Christmas tree and spend the holiday in something resembling a home. (Of course, I did it WRONG, but that goes without saying, doesn't it? It's the testacles again . . .) That means I have to keep the contractor working only in the basement until next week, so that everything's not covered in dust from the spackle, etc. for Christmas.

On to the important stuff: the writing. Haven't done any actual words in almost three weeks now but I've been tinkering with some background stuff for "First". Things like a calendar, lifestyles, economics, etc. Things that won't necessarily show in the book but I need them to make sure everything runs logically. This is where I'm usually weakest: in getting the background info put down on paper. I tend to get bored with it after awhile and just fly by the seat of my pants as I write. It leads to a lot of editing and I'd like to avoid that, so I'm trying to get the overall stuff down as best I can. "Clans", the last novel I wrote, is going to be a horror to edit for that very reason. There are bits of legend, references to cities, festivals, and religions scattered throughout the book that I made up on the spot. Now I have to go back, flesh them out, cobble together some detail for them and in a lot of cases, insert earlier and/or more detailed references to them. A LOT of work.

I wish I could do some editing (where I usually go when the words aren't coming!) but there is nowhere (and I mean that literally!) in the house where I can lay out papers to do any work. I have "Clans" and "Fish" that both need editing and I can't get to either of them. Frustrating.

So, Christmas is coming and I haven't begun shopping for the wife yet. she won't tell me what she wants (and we don't even want to discuss the unmitigated disaster that results from my trying to "surprise" her! Testacles also render one incapable of selecting appropriate holdiay gifts for spouses . . .) I'll try to get out & get it done tonight. I don't want to wait till the end of the week, because the crowds just get worse the closer you get to Christmas. Ah well, it'll all work out somehow. Always does.

Later!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Perception

Does society seem out of whack to you? Oh, I don’t mean the inanities and bitching over morality and what’s the PC catch-phrase of the day, but the entire structure under which we live our lives. There is a vague . . . wrongness to it somehow, like the very concept of human culture itself is somehow a violation of whatever purpose we were originally put here for by (insert deity and/or scientific theory of personal choice here). I look at what we do and where we’re going as a species and I swear to you, the only rational thought I can come up with is: why?

That’s what baffles me.

We spend most of our lives in pursuit of an imaginary concept. We kill, steal, make ourselves ill and generally miserable by trying to collect vast quantities of a non-existent object. What object you ask? (I know you are asking because you are an intelligent and discerning reader, else you would not be here on my blog, would you?) Money of course. (Here you pause and say: “Imaginary? Jim, I have greenbacks in my wallet at this very moment! What are you talking about?”) Ah, I have cash in my wallet as well but here’s the thing: it’s not real. Sure, there’s a slip of specially blended pulp dyed with trademarked ink and filaments that only show under black light in there but it has no value. It’s only paper.
Ah,” you say, “NOW I understand! Silly, Jim! The paper HAS value. It represents the gold and silver that the government keeps in Fort Knox. It’s simply a more convenient method of transferring the value of these precious metals.”

Really? We’ll skip the conspiracy theory that says it was all shipped out of the country under the LBJ administration and concentrate on the U.S. Mint’s public statements regarding the Fort. Currently, there are 147.3 million oz. of gold in Knox at a value of $42 and change per oz. By my math, that sets the total value at: 61.8 billion dollars. (BTW: I suck at math, so feel free to correct me) That’s a lot of money, right? Well, not really. Let’s compare, shall we?

Just as a benchmark – the cost of collecting federal taxes for 2004 (that’s just the cost mind you, not the actual tax amount!) was 125 billion dollars, which was approximately 13% of the total federal taxes collected. Hmmm . . . something’s not adding up there.

Let’s forget all that for a moment and just assume that I am na├»ve (admittedly so) about the true nature of national economics. Here’s the question: what is the value of money? Does it truly have a value, or is it merely PERCEIVED to have a value? Do we work between 1/3 and 1/2 of our life for an entirely imaginary concept? Are we losing time with our loved ones and driving ourselves into early graves, toiling at jobs we despise in order to accumulate something that doesn’t really exist because that’s what we were told and taught to do? Money derived as a simplification of the barter system. Trading chickens and cows works well enough when you’re neighbors, but they’re tough to travel with so we found a medium (precious stones and metals) that were perceived (there’s that word again!) as useful and valuable by most societies. Their rareness guaranteed that they wouldn’t be in abundant supply, thereby devaluing the base currency system. Good concept, but the metals themselves were heavy and awkward to carry, not to mention people had a tendency to “clip” the coinage (shave bits off the coins for later use) further devaluing the currency. So, along come the grand idea: we issue pieces of paper –that have no value in themselves- to REPRESENT the coinage. They’re easy to carry and transfer, and the “clipping” issue disappears. To paraphrase the Guinness commercials: “Brilliant!” The idea works well, but in larger economies, there is simply not enough precious metal to back every transaction without inflating the values to unreasonable levels which would force people to hold onto their metals, destroying the system. The answer? Print more cash of course! Put more bills into circulation, hence enabling the economy to continue at reasonable levels. The problem is, without hard value to back the paper, it truly doesn’t have any value it is just . . . paper!

That is where PERCEPTION becomes vital to the success of the experiment. So long as we perceive the cash to be valuable, we will continue to work for it. So long as we perceive ourselves to be moving forward on the economic ladder, we will continue to struggle for more and more money (read: paper!) thereby increasing our output and enhancing the perceived value of those who stand above us. You can see the fallacy as you move further up the chain. In truth, Bill Gates has no more value to society than I do, he is simply perceived to be of remarkable worth (that’s not meant as a personal judgment, Bill!) I can’t help but think that if you move high enough on the economic food chain, that the folks at that level fully understand the mythos involved here and are using it to their advantage. They live remarkably comfortable lives, doing nothing but allowing lesser people (from their viewpoint) to provide them with all their playthings for no other reason than they know how to alter and control our perception.

Sounds a bit paranoid, doesn’t it? It may be, I don’t really know, but as Frank Burns said: “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me!” It frightens me that this is what I am doing with my life: scrambling after an imaginary concept created by greedy men for the sole function of keeping me chasing it, thereby providing them with the lifestyle of which dreams are made.

This returns me to my original thoughts of violation of our purpose on this planet. If you accept in any way that we were created for reasons (hell, even if you’re an evolutionist you can see the problem here!) then you have to ask if you’re meeting that purpose. You work for money to buy the things you need (read: want) and that’s how you go through your days. Does it bother you to think that your life is being stolen from you for a non-existent item? Does it frustrate you that you are a slave to a system from which there is no visible escape? Does it anger you that the grand purpose, or divine mission, for which you were placed here, has been subverted and over-ridden by other men’s desires? I regularly struggle with feelings of pointlessness and frustration in the daily life I lead and I have to imagine I’m not alone there. What have we given up and what has been gained by our pursuit of the “middle-class” dream of Americana? What do you have that your grandparents or great-grandparents (depending on your age!) didn’t? Television, telephone, Internet, PC’s, cars, planes . . . are they truly good things? Have they improved your life; made you happier? Or are they simply more distractions from that elusive purpose you’re trying to find?

I don’t have answers. I only know that this is one of the many things that bother me about life. There are many more (oh yeah, I’m just a barrel of laughs!) but the concept of working for money is near the top of the list. In ages past, we worked for food and shelter: at out own pace and in our own ways. It was hard as hell –and dangerous at times- but when we secured those things our life was our own and we were free to pursue our purpose . . . our dreams if you will. Now, it seems we work for work’s sake. It becomes even more outrageous when you consider the concept of “taxes”. Not only must we work for the imaginary paper wealth but the folks in charge take back large quantities of our “wealth”, hence making sure that the struggle to accumulate goes on and on in a never ending cycle. Worse, they’ve even imposed criminal penalties on anyone who dares break free of that tyranny and refuse to play their game. Didn’t pay taxes? Prison! No cash or credit cards? You’re a vagrant: Prison!

It’s an ugly game and I don’t like playing any part in it but I –like you my poor reader- am a slave to the system. I have a family to support and there are portions of the “American Dream” I am not willing to give up. So, perhaps we are all slaves in a way. So why bother with this diatribe? Well, by way of answer I will leave you with one final question:

Is it better to be a slave and know it or to be enslaved and unaware?

Later.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Back from the Rat

Greetings, all!

I have returned from the land of the great satan; from that heinous place of rampant insanity and forced infantilism wherein all people are treated with equal disdain, their worth measured only in so far as they are capable of putting forth the printed green slips of paper that verifies their level of status within that dispicable community.

Yup, we went to Disney World.

It wasn't so bad I suppose; Epcot has some cool stuff to see and the Spider-Man ride at Universal was pretty cool (especially for an unrepentant Uber-Geek like myself!) Other than that though, I find the place pretty damn depressing. Spending time with the family is always good, and the weather was lovely (We dodged snow in our native NJ for some Florida sun!) but Disney on the whole is not for me. I don't understand the draw. Fighting crowds of hot, angry, sweaty, miserable, middle-aged mothers and screaming brats with faces covered in blue goo-juice (what the hell is that stuff anyway, and why does every kid under six eat it?) for the dubious privilege of finding an uncomfortable seat to see bits of metal covered in cheesy fur bounce up and down to a bad voice-over (aka: Animatronics! Oooh!) is not my idea of a "magical" place. The thing that kills me is that NOBODY in the whole place smiles (except the help, who are paid to do so!) They're all flustered, short-tempered, and impatient; looking for all the world as if they can't wait to get the hell out of there and back to their 14 hour-a-day job in the meat packing plant so they can relax a bit.

So why go? The wife wanted it. It was important to her and the boy was all in for it (though he seemed prety disappointed by a lot of it) This was our second trip and I hadn't been thrilled with the first go 'round but the wife wanted to see it all done up for Christmas. I think we're done now. Even the wife had her fill (I think) and the boy seems like he's just too old to give a rat's ass (no offense, Mickey!) about people walking about in giant animal suits.

The house is moving along, but still slowly. The wife would like me to open up a can of whoop-ass on the contractor about how long it's taking but I can't. The fact is, he's doing a good job. It's taking a good bit longer than he said, but the work is fine and the price was excellent so how do I complain? He was there every day while we were away and got a decent amount done (though not as much as we'd hoped) He's getting close to finishing up and we'll be able to decorate for Christmas (which is the wife's big concern) by the end of the week.

Writing. Nothing to say, haven't done any. We got back from Disney and I vegged on Sunday, then got back to work and it hit me like a ton of bricks. (Didn't get home till after 8:00 last night!) and the rest of the week ain't looking much better. Maybe some work at home this week, but I ain't counting on it. The good thing about doing Disney was that I had a lot of time to daydream while my wife was watching parades, shopping, etc. and I came up with some really good ideas for "First". A lot of dark and dangerous twists that will lend a lot of depth. I even had some ideas about "Clans" which I will start editing once I get my office done (in January, I think) and I can take a number of those ideas and push them out as part of the second book for that series.

Much else on my mind, but time to share is short at the moment. I'll dazzle you more with my brilliant intellect and charming wit on the 'morrow!

Later!