Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Free Kindle Novel For A New Year

An old year passes, and from its ashes shall rise a paradigm previously unimagined. In my debut novel can be seen the first glimpses of a new world. It is a world of magic, and it is available to all who are capable of escaping the rusted chains that have imprisoned us for far too long. Free on Kindle through January 2 of 2018. Happy New Year, everybody.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Meat Pies, Nun Farts, And Traditions

I settled in to making meat pies last Saturday in preparation for Christmas, a tradition I began nearly ten years ago. As someone with a French-Canadian background, meat pies have always been something of a cultural and family touchstone, but I have only recently merged them into Christmas tradition. Christmas had always been at my mother’s house, and then it had been passed to my sister, and then to my wife and I. So we’ve had to make new traditions, but in doing so we searched through our heritage to make sure that what has been has not been forgotten.

For the first time since starting the meat pie tradition, my wife was elsewhere as I started, though she promised to return in time to help me with the crusts. She was at her father’s house, going through his things and deciding what would be given to whom, what would go to Goodwill, and what will be thrown away. Her father is now in hospice, and it will be the first Christmas since her and her siblings were born that he will not be at the home they grew up in, where so many Christmases were spent.

It will also be my first year without my Mother around. She fell ill last Christmas Eve and died soon after. However much we try to hold on to traditions and memories of past holidays, time takes its toll, and some things will never be the same. And yet life goes on, and we attempt to bring what we can with us.

I take out my recipe for meat pies, which is a printed-out discussion I had with my Aunt Eileen via e-mail. Though she died not long after sending me her recipe, as I read the instructions I hear the words spoken in her voice, her personality coming through in her choice of words. She speaks to me every year at this time as she helps guide me through a job I’m not very good at. So long as I live, something of her lives on as well. So long as I hold on to tradition.

My Aunt Esther passed away last week. She was another aunt who was quite good at baking, and I might well have asked for her recipe for meat pies had she been available on the internet. But she was a little more old-fashioned, not there is anything wrong with that. Instead of e-mail, we would get an actual card from her every year at about this time.

I remember when I was a child, all the cards that would flood our mailbox from people who had strayed from our lives but still kept us in our thoughts at this time of year. My mom would proudly display them. So many connections, tenuous, but unbroken. People my parents had known since when they were young, people who they had known since the olden days. I thought of them as being old even in the olden days, but now I am older than they were when I thought such thoughts. We eventually become our parents, we eventually become older than the parents we knew when we were young. Roles are handed down along with traditions.

There will be no more Christmas cards from Aunt Esther or Aunt Eileen, from so many other people who were so important to our family once upon a time. When we went through my mother’s things, there were hundreds of cards she had hung on to. It seems as you get older it gets more difficult to throw things away. But eventually all these connections, like strands of a web, fall away.

As I work, I decide to put on a little music to get me in the spirit. Over Thanksgiving, I went through my mom’s things and brought them to my brother’s, to allow family members to take whatever they might like before bringing the rest to Goodwill. While doing so, I came upon a Glen Miller Christmas CD and that was the music I choose to listen to. It was made for her by my Uncle Paul, also taken from us this year. But listening to the music takes me back to when I was young, and when all of those people now gone were younger than I am now. It speaks to me of another age, one that I can only half-imagine. It must have seemed to those who grew up in such an era that it would last forever, but it is gone now. They are but the further ripples that fade as they echo upon humanity’s consciousness, drifting slowly to nothingness. They are gone but they live in my memory. As much as possible, I want to keep their memory alive.

For the first time I decide to use the leftover pie crust to make petes de soeurs. It sounds like a fancy pastry doesn’t it, but the English translation is “nun farts”. I remember my memere (French Canadian for Grandma) making them, remember enjoying the name as much as the pastry. I remembered it had brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, but I check online to see if there’s a recipe. I’m amazed to see many options out there, how popular petes de soeurs apparently are. You never know what from your childhood will pass away into obscurity and what will continue to thrive. Perhaps it is what we choose to give meaning to, what he hold most dear and refuse to let go.

We try to hold on. So much slips through our fingers however much we want to keep it. And other things—like my mother’s possessions—we must learn to let go of. Cleaning out a parent’s home is so very difficult, because every item was something that had meaning to them, every item was something they chose to keep with them. Each item we throw away feels like a betrayal to their memory, like telling them they didn’t mean much to us. I tell myself they are just things, that they are not what really matters. But in letting go of the physical ties to our loved ones and the past, we are left with nothing very tangible.

We need to find physical items to hold onto, need to know that something endures in a world where so many people are taken from us. But even more important than things are the traditions we are able to maintain. What is the point of anything if it is not worth passing on to future generations?

So I try to save what I can from the wreckage that time inevitably wreaks. Old traditions slip from us, but from them we weave new ones. Like a patchwork quilt we take all that still remains from what once was and attempt to weave it anew into something we can pass on to our children.

I see a new generation growing into positions of power, and I have no desire to force upon them those things I hold dear. But I do want to share with them what has been shared with me. I did not embrace all that my parents told me was right, but what I did I clung to tightly. I want to introduce the younger generation as best I can to my Aunts and Uncles, share with them the memories that stuck to me in hopes that they may gain from them and that their influence may remain. But I have no delusions that those I learned from were flawless, that in the passing from generations nothing need be changed. I love those who came before, just as I love those who are to come. I have no wish to limit them but rather inspire them. I want to give to them what inspired me, and those who have gone before us will never cease to be worthy of influencing us. We need not fear that, and so we need not fear that future generations will ever stop appreciating and learning from those who came before.

What tradition passes on to future generations is every bit as important as what is passed down through our DNA. So long as the line is not entirely broken, nothing is ever truly lost, though it may for a time lie dormant. And like our genes, that which is most applicable in helping us deal with the world we live in will survive while the rest will fall to the side. In this way traditions survive, so long as we do our best to pass them on.

 This Wednesday I will be making molasses cookies, my favorite. But I will not be making them alone. My daughter-in-law will be helping me. As we bake, I'm sure stories from Christmases past will be shared. In some small way I will be introducing her to people she never had the opportunity to meet. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Decadent And Awesome Are Not The Same Thing

We live in an age where the words decadent and awesome are used interchangeably. Think about it: This chocolate cake is decadent, this chocolate cake is awesome. Now you may say the words are knowingly used out of context, but the more words are misused the less their original meaning has value. When was the last time you heard the words awesome or decadent used in their original sense? I’m sure the last time I came across either of them is while perusing an old book. I can’t recall ever hearing them on television.

When we lose the meaning of such words, the very insight they give us fades away as well. Awe: a mixed feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder, caused by something majestic, sublime, etc. Decadence: a process, condition, or period of decline, as in morals, art, literature, etc. ; deterioration ; decay.

Does anybody see through such eyes anymore? Perhaps on the fringes of society, but even there it is rarer than we would like to think and has less in common with the original intent than those who use them would like to believe. If those in the evangelical movement speak of an awesome God, they do a poor job sharing such an awe through their words and actions. But such words as awesome and decadent and, hence, such insights are utterly absent in our mainstream culture. Concepts that have clung to civilization and have been a major part of what it means to be civilized have vanished, or else been bastardized by advertisers looking to push product.

How did it happen, where did we go wrong? How did we lose understanding of such basic terms? It’s not like we have to agree with them, it’s not like we have to go about using the words decadent and awesome in their correct meaning, but we should at least understand their original meaning before dismissing the ideas the suggest.

It began, I guess, with the advent of modern advertisement. The abuse of language has given us such abominations as “Wessonality” and “manscaping”. It began in a different sense in the 60’s, when a young generation began to question the institutions upon which our society was built. It was a necessary questioning, but the problem was they never got past the questioning stage in order to find answers. As the Baby Boomers grew up, they put aside their quest for answers, settling instead for a reluctance to judge. Judging was what their parents did, and they weren’t going to be their parents.

So they didn’t judge, they accepted. They accepted everything. Instead of forging anew standards and ideas upon which a society could exist, they let it grow wild. Finding no other moral precept than tolerance, which was just a lazy way of avoiding building new ways of building a better society, we abandoned society’s moral structures. But abandoned buildings are breading grounds for vermin.

With no moral guidance from the Baby Boomers who were now in positions of power, money became the only motivating factor. With Boomers unwilling to become moral leaders, to say after lengthy contemplation and discussion that “this is good for us” or “this is bad for society”, profit was the only morality left standing. If you could make money doing something, it was good. If you couldn’t, it was bad. A nice simple replacement for those complex moral problems mankind has been grappling with since the beginning of time. Let the market sort it out. When you think about it, there really is no difference in saying “Let the market sort it out” than “Kill them all, let God sort them out”. Both take away any responsibility from the actor and his behavior and place it on an invisible and unknowable agent.

So money became the new morality. And English majors fresh out of school, their minds swimming with the deepest thoughts of the wisest thinkers, were thrust into a world that cares not a whit about Plato, Shakespeare, or Goethe. But there are people willing to pay graduates who know how to argue persuasively: advertising and marketing firms. Thus, those who are entrusted with holy and meaningful words such as “awesome” and “decadent” find different purposes for them.

When words like awesome and decadent have no more relevance to society than words like “crunchewy”, we have lost a vital insight into our world, our society, our existence. We can no longer see the world through the eyes of the world’s greatest thinkers, we see it through child’s eyes. For marketers have long ago learned to speak in emotional rather than intellectual language.

Again, it is up to the individual to accept or reject the ideas that such words suggest, but it is crucial we understand the terms and what they mean. It is crucial we gain the perspective that seeing from such a lofty height gives. The world we live in now is one built upon a single and simplistic notion, that the pursuit of money and what it can provide is the answer to all of humanity’s deepest needs and aspirations. There needs to be individuals and institutions willing to give a counter-argument to such a powerful and, yes, decadent notion.