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There, I’ve said it…right there in the title of this blog entry–Christmas songs make me cry. I sit at the piano and play a stirring rendition of O Holy Night and I bawl like a baby. I hear Do You Hear What I Hear on the car radio–even that cheesy Whitney Houston version–and I’m bound to get to wherever I’m going with tear-streaked makeup. And I’m an agnostic. I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God any more than I believe that there really was a Fred Flintstone who drove a car operated on foot power. So why the reaction to songs that are clearly Christian?

The honest truth is that I love the Nativity story. I was raised Christian, so I grew up believing that an angel appeared to some frightened shepherds and bid them go to Bethlehem and take a knee so as to properly worship the newborn king. I have always loved the idea of the baby Jesus asleep in the manger while Mary and Joseph and even the stable animals watched on in love and awe. I am intimately, achingly familiar with the story of three wisemen traveling a great distance, following a special star, to bring Jesus their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The mythology is as beautiful to me today as it was when I believed that every word of it was truth. My own evolution as a person hasn’t affected my love of awinter solstice sun good story, and the Nativity story is as good and as touching as they get. It’s not particularly original (if you’ve studied mythology or if you’ve read up on Joseph Campbell and The Hero With a Thousand Faces you can see how this is true), but it’s still my favorite.

Many of our beloved Christmas traditions aren’t rooted in Christianity–they’re rooted in pagan traditions which the Christians later adapted as a celebration of Christ’s birth. And why not? The pagan Yule festival, celebrated on the winter solstice, included many wonderful activities such as decorating a Yule tree, hanging mistletoe and holly, ringing bells (more to drive away evil spirits and push back the gloomy Winter darkness in the Northern Hemisphere than to “make a joyful noise,” but still), singing songs, feasting and giving gifts. But the most profound thing, at least to me, is the reason for the celebration; and that reason is the same across many cultures and religions–light.

The pagans celebrated (and neo-pagans still do celebrate) the return of light to the earth at Yuletide. The winter solstice marks the longest, darkest night of the year. It is indeed a night to chase away the shadows and ward off what might be perceived as looming there, unseen. It is the perfect night for ringing out the bells and lighting candles and Yule log fires. It’s a time to celebrate because although the night of December 21 (or thereabout, depending on the solar calendar) will be long and bleak it marks the turn of the tide. After the solstice the days gradually lengthen and the light returns. Each progressive day grows a little bit longer, and by early Spring we start to notice that it’s not so dark. The dark, cold winter has done its work–helping plants through necessary dormant stages and, in some parts of the world, insulating the earth with winter’s white blanket–but the sun will warm us again, and life will renew itself as it always does.

Pagans celebrate the returning light of the solstice. Christians celebrate Christ, the Light of the World. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Across many cultural boundaries, light is a recurring theme, symbolizing hope and the promise of rebirth. I can think of nothing more profoundly beautiful than the many different stories used to spread that promise and germinate that seed of hope.

And that’s why I cry when children light candles and stand in the cold singing Silent Night. It amazes me to see that no matter how different we are, under the surface our stories are much the same, and our needs resonate with one another. We all need light. We all need hope.

I don’t know how my husband manages to watch CNN Headline News. I almost always seem to find something in their newscasts that drives me nuts. If it isn’t the way the simpering newscasters attempt to pull off a look of sympathy after showing a gut-wrenching news clip it’s that they seem to lack a quality I find integral to broadcast journalists–the ability to articulate; to turn thoughts to words quickly when not reading off a teleprompter.

Today I heard a CNN newscaster, talking about the California wildfires, say that, “the damages have caused billions of damages.” Now, I might write that off as a slip of the tongue, but that sort of slip happens so often on CNN, particularly during the daytime Headline News broadcasts.

What I found more annoying occurred when one newscaster was discussing CNN’s bulletin board feature with another. Newscaster #1, presiding over the bulletin board, had just read a comment from a man who had lost his home to the wildfires and watched his memories go up in flames. With a heartfelt look, Newscaster #2, the anchor, commented that “talking about this must be cathargic for people.”

Cathargic? You mean cathartic, sweetheart. Apparently you were absent the day your class learned that little vocabulary word in high school English, huh?

Just for kicks, I Googled “cathargic” and came up with 620 results. Almost every time I saw cathargic used it was clear from the context that the author meant cathartic. None of the results I found were from what I would consider intelligent sources, although one was a comment in a blog from someone who said he’d discovered that cathargic meant “causes evacuation of the bowels.” I found no such thing (because no matter how hard one tries, apparently cathargic is still not a word), although cathartic means “purging,” and it can be used to refer to something with a strong laxative effect. Either way I like the comedic value in this definition.

Imagine the bubble-headed newscaster:

“Talking about the fires must be cathargic for people. I mean, because first you say, ‘Holy shit, my house is on fire!’…and then you do it!” (With apologies to Bill Cosby, who used that joke in another context.)

Now, I’m no genius and I certainly do not possess perfect grammar skills or a vast vocabulary, but I do expect the people who deliver my news to be articulate and to use real words instead of made up ones.

I guess I’ve seen Broadcast News too many times.

Greyhound Gala Fun

We attended the 13th Annual GPA-Wisconsin Gala Greyhound Gathering today. It’s both a fundraiser for GPA and reunion for greyhound adoptees. It was incredibly fun (though tiring, as the sacked dogs beside me will testify).

I took this video of the group roo event. My husband Peter introduced the hounds, and our greyhound Quin (who got a bit of stage fright, I think) and our GPA friend Shawn’s little girl PeeWee (the very vocal diva) started the roo. If you’re interested, watch and see several dozen greyhounds singing their hearts out. It’s kind of like the Twilight Bark in 101 Dalmatians…except without the dalmatians and without the twilight.

Happy Birthday, Speedbump!

It’s Quin’s birthday, and I made a little video montage to celebrate. I can’t seem to embed it here, so a link will have to do.Quin

And yes, I know how impossibly goofy making a video for a dog’s birthday is. Thanks for noticing.

Impossible Perfection

Dove is doing some really cool things with its Campaign for Real Beauty. This one’s apparently a commercial from the UK, but I believe the same one is running in the US. (I haven’t seen it; but then I don’t watch much TV.) We’re bombarded daily with cultural pressure to be perfect, and the beauty industry is a key player. How many times a day do we see or hear ads that tell us we have to have flawless skin, no lines or wrinkles, vibrant hair color, long lush lashes, and nary a ripple of cellulite or anything less than washboard abs?

What would our world be like if there was no “beauty industry,” and instead there was a “healthy lifestyle industry?” What if advertisements urged us to make healthy choices instead of showing us how to correct the damage our unhealthy choices have done? I’ll bet I see dozens of ads for weight loss products to every one ad that encourages me to eat a balanced diet and get more exercise, and dozens of ads for anti-aging products to every one that tells me to eat foods rich in antioxidants and use sunblock.

Sad, isn’t it?

Character Flaws

Which comes first, the character or the plot? For me, that’s an easy question to answer. There are so many characterscharacter sketch roaming around inside my head that I would have to admit characters are my first love in fiction writing. And from my characters, my plot evolves. All I need to do is put my characters in difficult situations and watch them work their way out and—voila!—instant plot.

Even so, many writers love their characters a little too much; a writing crime of which I’ve certainly been guilty. It’s painful to watch a character you’ve developed, someone you feel a genuine fondness for, suffer. Yet your characters have to run into some trouble if you’re going to tell a good story. And above all, they must be “human”—they’ve got to have flaws.

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The Foiled Snausage Heist

Ella...bustedGreyhound owners are all too familiar with a little something we call “counter surfing.” This act of thievery occurs when a tall greyhound sees something edible on a kitchen table or counter and desire, not to mention a bottomless pit of a stomach, overcomes reason and training.

Last night I was preparing a quick meal of kielbasa and pasta salad. I plopped the kielbasa, still steaming, on the table and went to get the rest of the meal set out. When I turned back to the table, there was my precious little greyhound girl with her mouth poised over the sausage.

I barked a warning, “Elll-aaah…” and she stopped dead, mouth open but not touching her intended prey. She was completely frozen in mid-snatch.

Trying not to laugh, I said, “Just what do you think you’re doing, young lady?”

Body still frozen, her eyes turned toward me and I could almost hear her thinking, Aw, crap. BUS-ted!

No snausage for you, Ella girl.

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