It’s official. Myself and a good number of people behind me declare that Christmas really does suck, and should be canceled with all the stress, hypocrisy, and gluttonous spending it represents.
We are not scrooges, nor are we schmucks. In fact, we are people who are very kind, generous and giving throughout the year, and find the Christmas idea of giving as contrived as the acting on a late night infomercial.
The fact is, we are all tired of it: the crowds, the traffic, and the line-ups. We no longer choose to wonder aimlessly down the crowded isles of department stores, picking out gifts with as much thought as pocket calculators; devices that know only one thing: that they should by something for somebody, because that’s what they are supposed to do at this time of year.
Nero once said: as long as you keep the masses happy with bread and circuses, you can control them. Like $13 movies and $5 Pepsi’s, Christmas is a circus in itself. Its a sham, a way of feeding the pockets of the wealthy by encouraging the desperate masses to be generous and open their wallets and spend more and more of the money they don’t have. The sense of power and control that consumers feel when they use their bank or credit cards lasts about as long as it takes Visa to send them a bill when its all over. And any hopes of getting out of the financial shackles they’ve grown into dissipates into yet another year of interest payments, and any hopes of North America’s average savings rate to rise above 0% vanishes into the next 12 good ol’ days of Christmas.
Look at it this way: at Christmas, do the companies you work for, the same companies that invest millions of dollars every year into TV commercials that convince you to spend your savings on presents, do they show you any generosity by giving you a week off – not even a paid week off – to be with your families? What about their contribution to the Christmas spirit? Most of the people I know had to be back on the 26th. Every year, Christmas becomes less and less an act of giving and more and more a payoff for not seeing your loved ones enough.
The fact is, Christmas has little to do with religion, and it has little to do with giving:
A) It’s neither mentioned in the Bible, nor is it for certain when the three wise guys made their way across the desert to find the baby Jesus. The Christmas tree is just a mishmash of beliefs from China, Egypt, Germany, and the lights are representative of an ancient ritual where victims were burned alive as an offering to convince a sun god to warm things up a little.
B) Santa Claus, the old Santa Claus, not the contemporary Santa Claus invented by Coca-Cola, but the original one known as Saint Nicholas, was a simple Bishop living in Turkey who once a year – NOT DECEMBER 25th – would stuff candies and trinkets into the little shoes of children. He did this because he, and the children were poor. Then, it was a humble act of giving. Now, in today’s North America, it’s not about giving, it’s about spending. It was an idea bread from poverty, and was never meant to be a novelty of luxury.
C) The original idea of Christmas has about as little to do with a developed country like ours, as Buddhism – another idea bread from poverty – has to do with BMW driving yuppies in Kitsilano, Vancouver.
And so, it is for these reasons, that many others and myself believe that Christmas should be canceled and replaced with daily acts of giving. Instead of one day of spending, people everywhere could enjoy showing their appreciation for one another in the some of the following ways:
1. Don’t tailgate. Its annoying.
2. Start a conversation with a complete stranger, every day.
3. Never send group emails, like this one.
4. Volunteer once a week.
5. Look people in the eye and say “please” and “thank you.”
6. Don’t be a snobby, ignorant bigot.
7. When some one wants to change lanes in front of you, don’t speed up and try to block them.
8. Don’t complain or brag repeatedly about your problems, they are meant to be solved, not worn as a badge.
9. And when you complain about your problems, don’t snub the advice you receive. When people give advice, they are giving a bit of themselves.
10. RAK: Random Acts of Kindness. Do one nice thing for someone, every day.
11. Don’t swear.
In conclusion, we believe that by following some of these examples everyday, instead sheepishly heeding the corporate call to the cleaners every Christmas, we could make life better for everyone ever day.
The following is an old entry that was erased by my substandard server, who even with the $100 US activation fee for all its members, couldn’t be bothered to back up their files in case of a server failure. Luckily we did.
Dan Savage is a popular sex advice columnist. He deals out advice to wide spectrum of society, but mostly to the gay community. This is a letter I wrote to him:
Dear Dan Savage,
I read your column last week about the guy you said was the closet-gay. It got me pretty worried. I read your column every week, does that make me gay? I am in some kind of denial? To make things worse, I usually read your column in my boxer shorts, and although I have never been aroused while reading your column, I usually eat olives while I read, and if you really look at an olive, I mean, its shape is well, you know.
And this guy, the closet-gay, says he fooled around with his best friend when he was in his early teens. Well, though I have never fooled around with another man, I was on the wrestling team in junior high and I kissed a friend on the lips at New Years Eve Party. Do these count? And this guy, the closet-gay, says he sometimes fantasizes about having anal sex. Well, although I have never wanted to have sex with another man, I remember now when I was 12 I sometimes used to look curiously at the bulges in my male teacher’s pants when they crouched, and sometimes when I see a handsome man on the street, I will think to myself “my, he’s handsome.” Do these things mean something?
And an old girlfriend of mine showed interest once in having a threesome with another girl. I didn’t want to because I wouldn’t know whom to thank. Anyway, is she gay? Am I gay because I said no? And another old girlfriend of mine fooled around with her best female friends a couple of times, and the decided to call it quits because of lack of interest. Is she gay? Can a woman fool around with another woman and not be gay? Can a man? Can you go back once you’ve crossed the line? Or is the gay lifestyle more like the Mafia, where once you’re in the only way you can get out again is feet first? Are there gays who are closet-straights? Are you? How can you be sure you’re not in denial?
Are we all supposed to take sides? Or is this a phenomenon of the oppressed, your lines so rigidly drawn by a society that fears, and sometimes hates you? And don’t these lines perpetuate the fear and strangeness? Aren’t they what make being gay something you have to deny, like a tumour?
A lot of questions, I know. But we monitor each other and ourselves so closely now. In the past and even today, the gay lifestyle has been seen as one of sin and wickedness and sickness, and in your struggles to change the world you’ve taken those opinions and made them camp. It is still a fearful world, but I believe lines have softened and society has changed for the better, but has the gay community changed? Can things become a little more fluid, Dan?
I believe you are the things you do when you’re not thinking about them. But I guess if this way of thinking gets out, you might be out of a job.
Rocco de Giacomo
Ps I’ll say in advance that what I said about the improvement of society will be completely subverted next week when, after reading this letter on my website, all my friends and family will call up and ask me if I am gay.
As the Saturday of this past weekend marked my 29th year of being alive, I allowed myself to dwell upon the happenings and experiences of my life. I thought a lot. I felt good about myself. I felt sorry for myself. I decided that there were parts of my life that I am very proud of, such as my writing, my teaching, and all the travelling that I have done. I reluctantly pointed out to myself that there are parts of my life that I think could do with a great deal of improvement, such as the maintenance of the relationships with my family and friends, and the recuperation of my rather dismal financial situation. In others words: quit acting like a schmuck sometimes and get a handle on my spending so I can afford to live above ground, preferably in a place with windows and ceiling space. After balancing the pro’s and con’s of my nearly 3 decades of existence, I’ve come up with a few personal notes, a number of helpful suggestions that, I would like to think, could help the reader live a less painful, and perhaps a more pleasant life.
1. If you borrow somebody’s car, always fill the tank or at least put a little gas in it before you return it.
2. With every pay cheque, try to put a third to bills and expenses, a third to your savings, and a third to fun.
3. There is a fine line between abstract art and wallpaper.
4. If you are worried whether you can afford something or not, 90 percent of the time, you can’t.
5. To the women, especially those in university: just because a guy wants to sleep with you, does not mean that he is romantically interested in you in any particular way. Getting a guy into bed is easy part (especially after 6 beers); keeping him there the next morning is the challenge.
6. A video game is one of the few things where a person can invest the maximum amount of time and effort into a challenge to learn and accomplish absolutely nothing.
7. To the guys, especially those in university: quit trying to impress one another, and just be decent, for Christ’s sake. Besides, everyone knows the stories of your sexual exploits are mostly embellished BS.
8. Travel. Travel. Travel.
9. On perusing different lifestyles: you can go to the zoo, but don’t get into the cages.
10. Believe in yourself, believe in your dreams, and don’t let anyone try to convince to give up on either. Whenever you feel any doubts, remember: the word “passion” comes from a Latin word meaning “to suffer.” No ever said it would be easy.
11. Sexual “quickies” are the dipstick to any relationship. The more you have them, the healthier the relationship.
12. As Canadians, we should learn to cut back on the amount of times we say “sorry” by about 50%.
13. Always leave them wanting more.
14. Leaders are usually those who have the guts to make tough decisions.
15. And lastly, and often the hardest piece of advice to follow: if you say you’re going to do something, do it. Every time you don’t takes a little self-respect away from you.
Well guys, I hope this helps. Have a good workweek. And you can send “Happy Birthday” wishes to me via Latchkey.
Well, it’s over. Nothing left to do but kick my feet up, take some heavy sedatives, and prepare myself for the long trip home. The fifteen-hour ferry ride from St. John’s, Newfoundland to North Sydney, Cape Breton – which I am presently on – is just the beginning. From there, it’s about a 30-hour bus ride home to TO.
It’s not looking good.
I just spent the night twisting and contorting myself in a lounge chair and trying to ignore the midnight wails of infants, the sugar-induced yelps of chubby adolescents, and the infernal crackle of pop of coke cans being opened by an ensemble of caffeine addicted adults. Regardless of what family sitcoms and social optimists are trying to ignore, little Canadian children are irritating, and older Canadian children are fat. If you don’t agree, just ask the pudgy 12 year old sitting beside me, hand-stuffing bits of bacon and sausage down his gullet, or ask his parents sitting beside him giggling and dropping more fried pork on his plate. In fact, I can’t help but observe that as a people, we are steadily looking more and more like a herd of overfed Buffalonians, fresh off the Greyhound from Cheektowaga.
OK, I am in a bad mood, and at this point, I’m already getting to jump ship. But, as much as the process of leaving St. John’s is proving to be quite an ordeal, the process of getting there and experiencing the city and its arts scene has been one of the many high points of my tour.
If you just want to find out the goods on St. John’s, skip my diatribe and head to the bottom of the entry.
There are two ways to get to and from St. John’s without flying: a fifteen-hour ferry ride to Argentia and a two-hour drive, or a six-hour ferry ride to Port Aux Basques followed by a ten-hour drive.
Take your pick.
Either way, you’ll soon find out that Newfoundland is an enormous island and that you can’t get further east in Canada than St. John’s. The landscape of Newfoundland is unlike anything I have seen. One of the guys I hitched a ride from, Terry, told me that the tectonic plates that make up the island have drifted together from all parts of the world. Whether this is true or not, it might help explain the diversity in land formations across the island.
On getting off at Port Aux Basques, on the western point of The Rock, as it’s called, my first impression was that of a lunar creator, covered by a thin amount of grass. Then came the mountains, which reminded me of the range of older mountains around Chilliwack, BC. Then came the lakes and seacoasts, which reminded me of Muskoka and Georgian Bay in Ontario. And then finally came the vast expanse of trees and forest, which somehow reminded me of the Australian outback, but green. It was at this point, that I, only a tiny collection of senses in a great emptiness, experience the size of the place. The green, the trees, went on and on for hours, out of sight in all directions. Never had the vehicle I was in, felt so important. All the while I kept on thinking, “if I’m let out here, I am done for.”
But I wasn’t let out, and despite the feeling of emptiness I got from the place, people kept on popping up along the highway. Children, old men, and women would periodically appear from the bushes, walk in the wilderness with the cadence of walking to a corner store, and then vanish into the brush from where they came. I was informed by both guys who drove me that despite the vast look of the terrain, Newfoundland was dotted with communities and roads all along the Trans-Canada highway. It seemed hard for me to believe that somewhere hidden behind the endless veil of trees, towns and villages existed.
Having missed my chance to get on the overnight ferry to The Rock, and spent my bus money on a motel room, I had little choice but to get a ride with someone on the morning ferry. As luck would have it, the second set of people I asked, a couple of Newfoundland boys coming from Edmonton were heading where I wanted to go. Both Terry and Bryan were driving their cars down home for the winter months, having finished a summer construction contract in Alberta. I drove with Terry most of the way to St. John’s. He was the quieter one of the two, and seemed to have a preoccupation with moose.
“I sure hope we don’t run into any moose,” he’d say with a healthy Newfoundland accent. In fact, the whole island seemed to have a preoccupation with moose. On the ferry ride over, several announcements were made to remind drivers to be careful driving at night because already this year several serious accidents have occurred. Given that it no longer has any natural enemies on the island, it is said the moose has infested Newfoundland. Both Terry and Bryan knew people who’ve had run-ins with moose on night roads, and both could tell you about the strength of the beast, the hardness of its bones, and the thick toughness of its skin. Thick enough, Bryan mentioned, that you’d be lucky to stab a sharp knife through it. I think part of the reason Terry and Bryan gave me a lift was to be a second set of eyes for them both.
Moose paranoia, by the end of the ride, finally got to me. Once, upon nearing St. John’s, I switched cars to ride with Bryan, and shortly after that Terry fell behind. Bryan pulled to the side of the Trans-Canada, and there we waited in the dark, both of us watching car after car drift passed that wasn?t Terry?s and both of us dreading the possibility that so close to home, a moose had at last got him.
As it turned out, Terry had just stopped to get a coffee, and Bryan was kind enough to drive me an hour out of his way to drop me off in downtown St. John’s. Not only that, showing exceptional courtesy, especially after driving for five straight days, he gave me a tour of the oldest harbour in Canada, pointing out the different kinds of boats and how far they went out to sea to make their catch. If you are reading this Bryan, you have a place to stay when you come to TO.
St. John’s was awesome. There I stayed with fellow poet and writer Kevin Hehir. He not only put me up for a few days, but organized a couple of readings for me as well. He lives with his girlfriend, Cara, in the old part of the side, in the “bowl” of the harbour. His neighbourhood, like most in the bowl, is comprised of wooden townhouses, old and crooked and leaning into one another with their slanted walls and floors. Most are painted with different colours or covered with different kinds of vinyl siding. To compensate for having no front yards, the back yards of the townhouses are cluttered jungles of trees and fences and gardens. In other words, the place has a charm about it that I already miss.
In St. John’s, it was my first time to be labeled CFA, or “come from away.” You could always tell the locals from the CFA’s as soon as they open their mouths. The locals speak with the stereotypical accent, which is to me, a combination of Irish, French, and Australian. Outside Newfoundland to hear the accent is usually a cause for a joke, but to hear that accent on the island, and all the idioms that come along with it, evokes in me a sense of age and untouchability and remoteness. And once I climbed up out of the bowl and onto the rocky cliffs above the harbour, and had a look at the vast expanse of land, it became evident to me timelessness of the place, a city kept and held away from the world in a pocket of stone.
If that isn?t enough for you, downtown St. John’s doesn’t even have a Starbucks.
Even Beijing has a Starbucks.
The art scene in St. John’s is phenomenal. For place of about 300,000 people, what I was shown in the three days I was there, could very well rival Toronto with its energy. While the Toronto arts and writing scene is large and it feeds off a more competitive nature, the St. John’s scene is only a fraction of the size but thrives on supportiveness and cooperation. While in the city, I took part in a reading at a 24 hour art marathon in a factory-turned-studio down by the water where artists, musicians, and poets alike worked together to produce and exhibit their art from 2:00 in the afternoon Friday, to 2:00 in the afternoon the next day. The next day, those who had manage to discern our flyers from the cluttered mosaic of flyers posted throughout the city, turned up for my reading at the Ship’s Inn, a venue that Kevin Hehir had been running up until a few months ago. He revived it for the visit, and I hope that he will continue it again on a monthly basis. Even if he doesn’t, there is no worry. I hate to speak for him, but just contact him if you are going to make a visit, and Kevin will be happy to set something up for you. So will the rest of the St. John’s art and poetry lovers. Though they have more than enough potential to stand on their own, they are also hungry to watch and listen to someone who has come from away.
See you in TO, folks. The Latchkey poetry feature for September is J Dennie, and the photography feature will soon be announced. So give the site a look and a few comments.
Also, as for the Latchkey National Word Calendar, myself and Kevin Hehir will be combining forces to produce a calendar that will provide information about spoken word and poetry events from more that a dozen Canadian cities! The calendar will be released a few weeks from now.