the eve of christmas eve list.

1. I watched AFTER THE FALL last night. Because I'm a parent who can't afford a lot of babysitters and so I can't get to an actual theater, most of my movies for grown ups have to be viewed late at night, fervently, on pay per view or DVR'd or streamed via Netflix. This is no way to live. There's nothing I can really do about it at the moment, but this is no way to live.

At any rate, may I suggest you watch this beautiful movie? It is finely nuanced and thought-provoking, and I wish I had someone to talk with, to argue with, for hours about it. (This is why I need a cinema date with a movie professional. I'll buy dinner.) If you like super exciting scenes with blood and guts and stuff getting blown up, and very defined outcomes to your movies, this will not be for you. (There is, however, a gun shooting scene for all you crazy gun nuts.) However! If you are a cultured and nuanced and very very thoughtful human being who is able to think critically and maintain an open-mind, then go see this! Go see it. It's playing in an indie theater somewhere near you, I bet. (Or it's on pay per view and you can watch late at night when everyone is asleep and then we can compare notes on having to do that, too.)

The only thing I didn't like about this movie is the fact they changed its original title from THINGS PEOPLE DO to AFTER THE FALL. I wish they'd left the original title because there's (I thought) a pivotal scene that sort of just defines the whole movie, in which one of the characters tells the other character (I'm paraphrasing, because it's been 24 hours since seeing it) "There's no virtue and there's no sin, just things people do." 

There's a thing short story writers and novelists sometimes do within their stories that reflect the overarching theme of the whole story and if it has a term I've forgotten it but I know it when I see it: they'll write a sentence or a paragraph, a beautifully crafted and lovely sentence or paragraph, somewhere inside the story that sort of defines the entire piece. It's a sign of an artistic soul, and I've never ever been able to accomplish it in my own writing. 

Philip Roth's THE HUMAN STAIN had a really beautiful passage in it that does this:

“We leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error, excrement, semen - there’s no other way to be here. Nothing to do with disobedience. Nothing to do with grace or salvation or redemption. It’s in everyone. Indwelling. Inherent. Defining. The stain that is there before its mark.” 

This movie's "things people do" scene does that, and that's quality writing and you know how I am about quality writing. Plus, I love when that happens. I feel like I'm in the hands of someone who's way better at this than I am. (Most everyone who's been published or produced is, I sense.)

So please see it if you have a chance. And if you do, and want to discuss it (the open-ended ending; why's and why not's; the themes of virtue vs. sin, man vs. self, man vs. God,etc and so forth), call or text or tweet or facebook or email me! My six year old is completely disinterested. She just wants to talk Santa right now.

2a-I finished my Christmas shopping today. Oh my god. Sweet Jesus on a parking lot popsicle stick. What a day. What a DAY! The mall was the most relaxing part, because I got there before all the other shopping humans awoke. The cashier at Justice (a diabolical store--not only is it set up to attract my daughter like a fly to honey, it is also set up to make me want to buy all the sparkly things and completely live out the childhood no one born in the 70s ever got to have...we only had polyester. These kids! They have SPANGLES. And freaking cute stuff with their initials on them. With soft feathers. THAT LIGHT UP) agreed with me: it's better to get to the store before all the other shopping humans.

2b-I came THISCLOSE to drop kicking another person in the grocery store parking lot. That's when last minute shopping day shit got real. Literally, there were NO spots. When I finally got one, 20 minutes later, I entered the store (on a tight schedule because I had to pick up Miss M from basketball camp so I was slightly stressed and pressured) and immediately found myself navigating a store full of oblivious people shopping for dinner in groups of 10. All standing in front of the condiments, spending hours debating which type of mustard to get: French's? The store brand? I hear Heinz makes a tasty one. Oh, but what about Dijon? Maybe we should go for a Dijon this year. OH MY FREAKING GOD, JUST EFFING PICK ONE!!!!!!

I had to grit my teeth, breathe in with the good, out with the bad, remind myself what Baby Jesus would want me to do in this situation, and use my nice words.

2c-But not in the parking lot, when leaving! I put my bags in my trunk, got in my car, and answered a text message before driving. Because answering texts while driving is dangerous and illegal. But I wasn't fast enough for a woman who wanted my spot. There were two other spots in the row, but she wanted MINE. And so she repeatedly honked her horn at me. And I could feel my tightly wound rage beginning to unwind. So I casually finished my text message and slowly turned the car on and sloooooooooooowly backed out of the spot (because remember? I'm totally passive aggressive). And then I passed her and she gave me an unfriendly wave. I wiped at the corner of my eye in return. With my middle finger.

I'm not proud of it. I mean, I know it's Christmas and that was the opposite of what Baby Jesus (and Ghandi and Dr. King and Mother Teresa) would do. But I felt that response was a lot better than jumping out of my car and bashing in her passenger window with my bare hands like I actually wanted to. I bet she went inside and stood in the baking goods aisle in front of the cake mixes debating between Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines for an hour. 

3-Phew. Thanks so much for letting me get that out of me! I really needed to rant to someone.

4-I'm not religious. I believe in Something, which I call God for convenience and to not get strange stares and threats from the Bible Belt Christians. But I'm Christian culturally, and so this is one of my favorite holidays. I love all the tacky lights people put up in their yards, particularly the ones that spell out JESUS IS THE REASON. People in the South get so frickin' defensive; they act like everyone's out to get them at this time of year. I disagree--this is clearly the time of year Christians own the entire world. All the marketers bow down to them. Stop being so paranoid. Jesus wasn't, and he totally should have been.

One time I drove by this house that had spelled out SINNERS REPENT on its roof, a very elaborate and lit up Nativity scene in the yard, and there was an entire series of lit up crucifixes outlining the entire place, and one had a crucified Christ on it. It was delightful. In a really creepy, CARRIE by Stephen King kind of way. 

5-But I love the story of the Nativity. I think it's a nice story. I think it's a metaphor for possibilities and rebirth and innocence and hope. I think there may have been a real Mary and a real Joseph and a real Jesus, but I remain skeptical about the magical bits. And this is coming from someone who really, really, really wants there to be magical bits to life. I don't always read The Bible, but when I do, I read it metaphorically. I think a lot of our planet's problems could be solved quickly if everyone read their religious texts metaphorically.

6-My favorite holiday movies of all time go in this order: LOVE ACTUALLY (which feeds all my anglophiliac needs), A CHRISTMAS STORY (because you'll shoot your eye out), A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (because, hello! Charlie Brown). There are no other holiday shows worth watching. Maybe Baryshnikov in THE NUTCRACKER. When he was young and luscious, back in the 70s. 

7-Melissa got her picture taken with Santa. We always go to Bass Pro Shop's Santa. First, he's free. Second and most importantly, he's such an awesome Santa! Full, real beard, really really blue eyes. Very kind. There's a wait--you go in, get a Get In Line ticket, and come back in 2 hours for your picture. And when you get back, there's always a huge line to wait in...you don't get in right away. But this Santa, he doesn't even care about that--if a kid wants to give him a list, he takes it and puts it in his pocket. If a kid wants to sit and talk to him for a bit, he sits and listens. He says to the children things like, "Come on up here, baby." and "Here you go, darlin'" as he hands them a little candy cane.

My grand scheme, for the last 5 years, has been to have M's picture taken with this guy every year so that when she starts doubting Santa's existence, I can whip out all these pictures and show her: See? Same guy. Every year! 

Damn you, Bass Pro Shop 2014. You messed up my entire scheme. Now I have an out of sync Santa.

This year, when we went in, we got our 2 hour ticket. We walked around the mall, had lunch, rode the carousel, yada yada. Then we went back to Santa's Bass Pro Shop. And there was no line (this was the giant red flag something was amiss). One of the elves goes, "Do you guys want to go ahead? There's no line." And I was all, Yes please! And so we went. And my heart fell.

He was a nice Santa. He was kind and sweet. His beard was real. But he was very, very old. He wasn't the youngish-old Santa. And he was too skinny. And he was out of little candy canes, damnit. And now we have an out of sync Santa. Dagnabit.

8-I've been sick. My mom is sick. So no Christmas Eve service tomorrow night. It's the only time I go to church. I like the very end of the whole thing, the part where they turn off all the lights, and we stand around lighting one another's candles, and sing SILENT NIGHT a capella. It's the whole point of Christmas, I feel. That moment completely negates the rude shoppers, the impatient parking lot drivers, the disappointing Santas, the entire craziness of the year before. It's like the moment in a story or a movie where the narrator or a character sums up the entire reason for, the overriding theme to, the story: this is about light, shining through darkness. And redemption. And hope. In spite of what people in parking lots do under duress.

And then the next day? You get to open a crap load of presents! (That's the Three Wise Men part.)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwaanza (nobody celebrates that), Season's Greetings. May the rest of your 2014 nights be filled with quiet moments of light.

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