I saw Star Wars: A New Hope at the drive-in theater when I was four. I remember sitting on a tailgate of a pickup truck and staring at the screen. I can't tell you if it was the vehicle I came in or just a random place to sit. Things were simpler then.
I saw The Empire Strikes back and Return of the Jedi in the theater when they came out, as every good, little nerd boy did. It was actually a requirement stated on the back of my nerd boy membership card. Some time after the word "geek" was stolen from the circus and used to describe fans, but I've always stuck with "nerd."
When The Phantom Menace came out I was so excited I played sick at work and left early to "go home and sleep this off" but instead went to the theater and saw it on the big screen. It was a thrill, but all for all of the subsequent movies I waited until they came out on disc. It wasn't that I didn't like them, it was just that my days of having to see things in the theater, paying high ticket costs and ludicrous food costs, were effectively cut short by my limited budget.
But then here comes The Rise of Skywalker, effectively the end of the series, although you and I both know that Disney isn't letting this cash cow die. I knew it was just a matter of time before someone ruined every aspect of the movie by picking it apart and stupidly arguing how they could have written it better (even though no one asked them to) so I decided I had to see it in the theater. By myself.
(Well, I did ask a friend to come along, but that didn't work out, and I wasn't going to wait so I went.)
I don't need to explain at this point that I'm uncomfortable around people in the general sense. Give me a shield (like work) and I can manage, but left to my own devices I tend to avoid groups, or people entirely save for those two poor, unfortunate souls who live with me and are obligated by marriage and birth to put up with me.
I could do this in a narrative, but that would be painstakingly reliving the whole thing, so it's time to resort to bullet points.
All things considered I had a good time. I got to see the final film on the big screen, and that made all the irksome things worth it. And now I have a gauge to use to judge the next time this situation comes up. It had better be a damn good movie to make me want to go out again.
I work in three buildings, with three different sets of staff, and three distinct sets of residents, all of which I will be abandoning for a full eight days so I can celebrate the holidays with my family. (This year Hanukkah and Christmas overlap, so there will be logistical issues at the best of times. Best to be focused.)
Today I finished up with one of my locations for the year, and tomorrow it's another and then Monday, the last. Sure I'm only off for eight days, but I've been pretty much full-on in these places for the past six months so it feels weird to step back and take a breath. It's a different feeling, though, than it used to be with the old company, where being away for too long carried with it the threat that someone may decide you weren't needed after all. Now I feel confident that I'm needed, and while I don't foresee riots if I was dropped, I can imagine a couple of sternly-worded letters going to the appropriate desks.
But there's no need to talk like that. I'm kicking ass at this job.
Soon I will step away and take a few breaths, then return to help all of the elderly residents come to terms with the new tech they will be given over the holidays. Way back when I told people what my job was going to change into and almost everyone commented that they would be driven mad by having to help the elderly with computers, and at the time I mostly agreed. Now I'm of a different mind. I enjoy it. The genuine gratitude that people show when you help them understand something that seems so foreign to them is beautiful. Some of the younger people I work with could take some notes there.
I just have two more work days and then it's Jingle Bells and Dreidel.
I wonder if I'll get any writing done?
Some twenty years ago or so I was having a conversation with Paul in which something resembling the following exchange took place:
Me: I've been playing that Chumbawamba album pretty much non-stop.
Paul: Which one?
Me: What do you mean, "Which one?" The one that song is on.
Me: That's the one. Love that album.
Paul: You do realize they have more albums, right?
Me: What's that now?
Cut to two decades later where the Chumbawamba discography has pretty much been the soundtrack for my life, and you'll understand why this story is so amazing to me (and also why I owe Paul a debt I can never repay, for this and for bullying me into writing down the stories in my head and ultimately leading us all here).
Track 12 on their tenth studio album ends with a girl singing a rhyme detailing the jobs children had during the Victorian era. It always stuck with me, both for it's catchiness and the haunting nature of the child singing the lines:
One up the chimney goes
Two hawks a tray of matches
Three braves the weaving floor
All pray for the life of Four
Five down the pit descends
Six plows in fields and meadows
Seven spins the handloom round
Eight lies in th' burial ground
That first line bounced around in my head for a long time, and there was a part of me that knew one day I would have to write a story with that as the title, but it wasn't obvious to me what the story was about yet. I didn't want to be literal and write a story about a Victorian child. I'm no Dickens, nor do I want to be. I needed the story to be its own thing.
Then came NaNoWriMo (don't worry, I'm getting to Boff). I had done it for five years, then taken two years off. My friends over at Firewords were encouraging people to give it a go this year and we could all cheer each other on, and I hemmed and hawed about it until finally deciding I would write a collection of short stories, and the title of the collection would be, you guessed it, "One Up the Chimney Goes."
But the story idea still wasn't with me. I wrote about twelve other stories before it snuck up on me one night when I wasn't paying attention. So I wrote it. And I didn't just use the first line, but the whole poem. It's a dark, gruesome tale and I love it.
All together I wrote eighteen new stories, but I failed to connect them in any real theme. Some are dark, several are suitable for my daughter. It's a mixed bag. So what do you do with eighteen new not-connected stories? You prepare them to shop individually.
But I had a problem. I had essentially "borrowed" an entire verse from this song, and though I know historically the band had done things like encouraging people to steal their album, I didn't know how it would sit with them if I published a story with their lyric blatantly used.
So I decided to ask.
Now I knew two members of the band had been involved from the beginning to the unfortunate end in 2012: Boff Whalley and Lou Watts. I found Boff's website and was happy to see a "Contact" section and with a mighty "What the hell can it hurt?" I filled in the blanks. I don't remember what I said, exactly. I'm hoping I came across as somewhat normal.
Regardless of how strange I may have seemed, Boff Whalley wrote me back.
Not only did he do that, but he also asked to see the finished story. I cannot express how incredibly chuffed I am.
It's in editing. By that I mean my wife read it and did line edits and Paul is giving it a once-over as well. As soon as it's polished I will send it to Boff. Who knows what his reaction will be. I certainly hope he enjoys it and delights in the fact that his words inspired someone else's.
We shall see how this unfolds. As always, there are infinite possibilities ahead, but what really sticks with me right now, what makes all of those possibilities, from the horrible to the happy, alright is one simple fact.
Boff Whalley wrote me back.
Edit: I've just realized that my signature file in my email has this web address, and I've written Boff back, thereby giving him that information, thereby creating a minute possibility that he may be reading this post. If so, Hi Boff! I swear I'm not a nutcase. Honest.
If you're expecting "Jingle Bells" or "The Little Drummer Boy", if you're ready to applaud "O Come All Ye Faithful" or "What Child Is This?", or if you're guessing that disturbing song about a grandmother dying or that emotionally manipulative tune about the shoes, then you're about to be disappointed.
If I was forced, at gunpoint (which seems very much against the spirit of the season, but there you have it), to choose the best Christmas song ever, I would have to risk the bullet and declare that the following two are equally perfect:
Slade - "Merry Christmas Everybody" - what better way to celebrate Christmas than with this epic tune that came out the year I was born. The hair, the polyester, and the crowd dancing right up with the band - it's visual perfection. The lyrics have it all, from fairy-enforced sobriety, rock and roll grannies, and pun-laden death by concussion. And on top of all that, nothing brings in the season like Noddy Holder screaming, "It's Christmaaaaaaaaaaaas!"
Meco - "What Can You Get a Wookie for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)?" - What kind of Star Wars geek kid would I have been if I didn't have this record, where the quandary of what to get a Wookie for Christmas is dwelled upon on the opposite side of a record where children sing to R2-D2 how much they love him. I was always more drawn to the Wookie song. Can't imagine why.
Everyone was sick for Thanksgiving, and now that we're pulling out of that pool of ick and gross it's time to decorate for Christmas. Fast. The damn holiday is almost here already.
This year Hanukkah overlaps with Christmas, and since we celebrate both in my house it will be a tricky venture, but the decorating couldn't be more different. With Christmas it's the tree (lights, meticulously placed, ornaments, etc), garlands, wreaths, stockings, festively dressed figures, and of course the inappropriate dancing Santa.
With Hanukkah, it's pulling the menorah out of the box and setting it on the counter. (After last years debacle of no one in my area selling Hanukkah candles, we stocked up, and now can keep the menorah lit for a full year if we want).
So today it's the great cleanup, where the big chair gets pulled out of the corner to make room for the tree and gets stored somewhere else for the month (this year it's the Sun Room, because why not?) and everything needs to be dusted and vacuumed, so of course my lungs are now full of dust and I'm coughing like an asthmatic octogenarian as the warren of dust bunnies band together like a weird high school production of Watership Down and attack me at every turn. Vicious little buggers.
'Tis the season.
Once it's all done it will be worth it, as long as I live long enough to see it. For now it's dust mask on, vacuum at the ready, an onward to battle.
Ho Ho <cough> <hack> <curse> Ho!
A few years ago I went to a writing conference, and in one of the classes which was specifically relating to submitting to publications the instructor made an offhand remark that a person should "try for 100 rejections a year," the idea being to not let fear of rejection keep you from trying, but to embrace the possibility as a necessary evil in the effort to get published.
I took that as a challenge.
I started on April 6, 2017 and as of this very moment I have accumulated 300 rejections, which means I am well ahead of schedule.
It's worth noting that along with those 300 rejections I have also been published nine times with a tenth coming up sometime soon. You can take a glance over at my Publications page if you're curious.
Each of those ten Acceptances have been a thrill ride, from the very first on October 2, 2017, nearly six months after I started submitting, to the last one on June 29 of this year, nearly six months ago.
And now thanks to NaNoWriMo I have eighteen new shorts to polish up and send out into the world. Who knows, maybe some of those beauties will get snatched up as well. Only time will tell.
Okay, here's the scenario: It's twenty years ago, and I wake up at my girlfriend's house and look out the front window to see the street filled with people. Not just any people, though.
Somehow we missed the letter they sent out saying that the street would be shut down due to filming. Luckily, she had already gone to work. Even more luckily, I had the day off. Even more luckily than that, my buddy Paul was a PA on the set.
The big names starring in this little movie (that went straight to dvd) were Danica McKellar (Winnie Cooper!), Tobyn Bell (Jigsaw, but not yet), and my man Billy Dee.
Getting a chance to meet any of them was a longshot, especially since I didn't want to overplay my Paul hand and get him in trouble with the powers-that-were. But Pauli came through and before I knew it I was standing in a lot waiting for the chance to meet Lando Freaking Calrissian.
He was very kind, and warm, and friendly. He posed for the above shot and signed a press photo for me, and in the short time we were able to talk, the following exchange happened (by the way, this meeting happened just before The Phantom Menace hit theaters):
Me: So will Lando be making a comeback in the new Star Wars movie?
BD: What do you mean? I'm not making a comeback. I've been working this whole time!
Me: No, I mean...what I meant was...Lando...I...<crawls in hole and dies>
This has all come back to me because I just watched the trailer for the Episode IX of Star Wars and was happy to see Lando on the screen.
Just as I predicted.
Only twenty years too early.