760 Boulevard Athens Georgia: A Christmas Story

Dec 20

I like Christmas. But I used to hate it. Does that sound like a Christmas story to you? A bad one, at that-the most repeated theme of the holiday special from Scrooge to the Grinch. But it’s true, I did hate Christmas…so gather round children and hear the tale of the Christmas that almost wasn’t:

It was so long ago and my life was so different that it feels today like another incarnation, some weird past life that I led in my twenties where it was always night-time. I lived in a Arts and Crafts style house on Boulevard in one of Athens Georgia’s historical districts. It was a picturesque place to live, but despite its visual appeal, there were certain disadvantages. The chief of these, was that, in the winter, you froze your ass off in that house (and in the summer you fermented in your own juices, a story for another day, perhaps). No matter how hard we cleaned, it still seemed dirty and the lighting was always shadowy and dim. The place was even haunted.

Athens during the holidays is somewhat desolate: all the students and much of the University staff leave town to be with their families. Businesses slow down, the streets are nearly devoid of traffic, sort of resembling a post-apocalyptic film. A natural spirit of contemplation comes with the quiet and the cold, as well as some reflection. Who am I? What am I doing? And for those of us who don’t want to look for answers, feeling awkward with our inner conversation, try to find a way to distract that voice of the mind. Generally, this meant going out to holiday parties thrown by those of us left in town or going out to the bars where it was almost a sure thing to run into someone you knew a long time ago and reconnect (this was in that distant, barbaric time before Facebook). I always made sure that I was out and about, catting around with friends. Getting wasted and glutting on party food was part of the holiday season for me as a twentysomething in the early 1990′s.

But there was one day on the Holiday calendar this was especially difficult to accomplish: Christmas Eve. It seems like none of my mates were ever available-as much fun as we had during the rest of the month, this one night, the worst night to feel alone in a dark, cold house always culminated in myself sitting at home, alone, watching bad holiday specials and then going to sleep.

One year, things were a little different. A friend of mine that I worked with was having some problems at home and we both decided to go out and get hammered after work in protest of the mean season. Work ended a little late-and as it turned out all the bars we went to were, sensibly enough, closing early. Wherever we went, we just missed our chance to get something to drink. I’d forgotten to buy alcohol earlier-a real surprise in retrospect. But as time wore on, our chances to get a buzz to wrap around our brains became slimmer and slimmer.

As the night wore on, I kept saying, “Don’t worry, the magic of Christmas will come through. You’ll see!” a jest on the simple minded hopefulness of every holiday cartoon I’ve ever seen. But as I repeated the age old refrain, I got the weirdest feeling. It was like an invocation, like I was calling some sort of power down to earth and offering up my humble plea.

We went back to the house empty handed. So much for the Magic of Christmas. The deeper night was coming full on and I couldn’t even meet it with the dignity of a drink in my hand. But then, headlights, an engine. A car pulled up outside. Doors slamming shut, voices, a knock at the door. Two men, reeking of alcohol and grinning toothily stood on the porch, looking for a room-mate of mine that was gone for the holiday. They asked if they could come inside and I of course, offered up my abode, as humble as it was, to them. They brought some cases of beer. It turned out my friend had left his Laserdisc player at my house and in no time, we were drinking, laughing, watching Star Wars and inserting the sort of jokes those who have seen it a million times over would recognize (wretched hives of scum and villainy, bulls-eyeing womp-rats, there ain’t no invisible force guiding my destiny!). Later, through a voice slurred with drink, I repeatedly said, “See, the Magic of Christmas came through! The Magic of Christmas came through!” And indeed it had. Eventually, the two men returned to the night from whence they came. I never saw them again.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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Years in blogging

Dec 11

Earlier this week, I renewed the DNS for my blog, marking the annual for when I began the thing twenty four months ago. It didn’t occur to me last year to blog about my blog itself-I’m not really sure just why. Certainly, it makes sense as the Holiday periods slow down time for the upcoming transition from one year to the next. Time to review what we’ve done or didn’t do-how well it worked out, and to make plans for the future. When I started blogging two years ago, I’d just emerged from a major life event. On Father’s Day 2008, I collapsed, was hospitalized and discovered I was within seventy two hours or so of death. This was due to a congenital condition whose ultimate seriousness was not known to me. I lay in the hospital for three days, feeling the life drain out of me. Transfusions temporarily fixed the situation, enough for me to be released. It was a perfect day when I left the hospital, a day that was so profound it needs no poetry for expression: a blue sky, sun on my back. Each day is a gift, no moment is something we can take for granted. Life is the most valuable things, all life, human life, animal life, plant life. I was transformed by the experience: the same, but different. It was a slice of illumination, a moment so small and so vast I’ll take it with me for the rest of my life.

Fortunately for me, my condition was fixable, with corrective surgery. Post op wasn’t too fun. I went home, stinking from anaesthesia and drugs and spent the night in and out of bed, in a feverish daze. Things wound down, and eventually, I was back to physical health. Not too long after, I registered my DNS, built a web-site and started blogging. Life is short-something I understood a little more literally than many people. I’m a writer-I wanted to export my writing as fast as I could to as many people I could. Using the Internet for this was just common sense. I wasn’t sure what I’d blog about, just that I’m a writer, that I had something to say and hopefully someone would listen.

My first posts were pretty standard stuff, just my thoughts for the day. I tried to keep it interesting, and steered clear of stock like my pets, my hobbies, whatever. Then, I started writing what a friend described as parables. I’d like to think they weren’t too bad, but perhaps the Internet isn’t the best format for prose accounts of different states of being. Or was it? I took a long break from blogging-a couple of months. When I returned, I was pleasantly surprised that people had read and not only that, commented on what I wrote. I felt spurred to go on-but was still searching for my voice. The parables gave way to fairy tales with moderne political messages. These were a lot of fun to write-more biting satirical stuff than anything else. My favorites were (and still are) Three Bad Wolves and The Trials of Prince Charming.

Then, one Saturday afternoon, I tried something a little different. My kids were running around the house, it was bright and warm and August. I was drinking coffee. Lisa, my wife, went out somewhere. Amid the chaos of managing my children and their playmates, I wrote my latest blog piece. It was something I’d played around with writing for years, but never really knew what sort of format to put it in. I wrote a post called “The Little Prince.” It was about a doomed relationship I’d had with a woman years ago. I was painfully, brutally honest about the humiliation I endured, the weakness, the betrayal of my own sense of dignity. I was frank about the numbness to the event distance in time created in me-about how today, I’m somewhat dumbfounded that it ever happened. The person I was seemed like someone else-not myself at all. It was my first attempt at narrative non-fiction, memoir. I was completely overwhelmed by the response I received. People emailed me, messaged me. They told me they read the post to friends, relatives. Eventually, it started to rank on Google, and to this day I get at least one person on the planet every day (according to Google analytics) that comes across my blog because of this post. The most recent email I got about it was from India. Of course, everyone has gone through heartbreak, everyone has a story about an ex-lover that, for reasons they can’t understand, they were willing to do almost anything to stay with them, only to have it end anyway. But the coolest thing about the post wasn’t Google rankings or feeling like I’d done something and gotten accolades. The coolest thing about it was that I wrote something that resonated with other people. That what I put out there for the world to read connected me with others and I got to share with them and they shared with me.

I felt inspired to do more. I had other things, other pains and wonders from my life to put out there. A stranger wrote to me about one post, saying it moved him to tears. He thanked me for telling the events the way they happened; how honest I was about wanting to help but ultimately  avoiding the person I felt needed it because there was nothing I could do about it. He thanked me for not moralizing the story or trying to frame it in any other context than what happened. It was a post about a good friend of mine that killed himself. I’ve cried for him often over the years (and the holidays mark the annual of his death) and I finally got to relate the experience, to tell the world what a great person he was and how tragic his loss.

I got to blog about the stories of my hometown: Athens, Georgia. Every town, every person is interesting. A lot of the story is in the telling. With the post called Magazine Street I got to tell about my search for a street in Athens that doesn’t exist anymore. I was given a thumbs up by an old-timer from the Classic City, a higher accolade, I couldn’t have asked for. I also wrote about haunted houses, Christmas.

I blogged about my spiritual experiences. I reported these in complete and unexpurgated format. Adventures out of the body, encounters with supernatural beings, journeys to other worlds. This was a little fun. Some of my more skeptical friends didn’t really know what to make of it all. In fact, a writer from the Huffington Post that I clashed with online (I was speaking out about the mistreatment of the Palestinians) tried to discredit me by finding my blog and putting up the hyperlink. But more than that, a lot of folks contacted me in private and related their own experiences. It seems that everyone has had some sort of interface with a world of marvel, a moment of the miracle where all things seemed possible. Many of them said I was brave for putting it out there. I suppose in today’s lest respectful and scandalous age that could be the case-my own hope is that by being open and honest I’ve written something that was worth reading. But then, that’s what I feel about anything I’ve ever done. Honesty in our creative endeavors, whether it’s writing, music, art, what have you, is essential for its meaning. Art without meaning (and here, I indicate inner meaning, not necessarily something high-brow or philosophical) is useless.  

I’m going to post stuff that I personally liked from the past two years to mark my annual. Thanks for reading my blog-if you have anything you’d like to read, just let me know. It’s been an honor.

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