Santa Claus: Christmas Wizard

MagiChristmas is a magical time of year. The Bible tells us that magi came from the East to see the Christ Child, the “King of the Jews”, but it tells us almost nothing else about these dudes. We can assume they were astrologers, as that was the hot science of the day, and they are purported to have mystical abilities, as they had prescience about Herod’s plan to kill Jesus. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and knelt before him as a sign of worship. Then they disappear.

Santa Claus has the ability to travel around the world in a single night, fit down chimneys despite his supergut, and deliver gifts to the children of the world, who he monitors year round. He also wears a typical wizard hat, has a typical wizard beard, is a master of celestial navigation, and lives among elves. The similarities to the biblical magi are striking, and I think I know why.

Clearly the Illuminati destroyed two of the Christmas Wizards some time after 0 A.D., but couldn’t finish off the troika of magical gift-givers. Santa Claus escaped to the North Pole to hide from the Hidden Hand but continues to gain power year after year. To this day the Pope denies the existence of Santa in order to keep him safe. Though the Illuminati tries to destroy Christmas every year by sending Scrooges and Grinches, the magic of Santa has become so entrenched and powerful that nothing can stop it. Not so far.

I recently saw on Fox News that NORAD had been tracking Santa across the globe, but I’m not sure what Rupert Murdoch wants with him. I’m assuming if Murdoch wants Santa dead, we should all prepare for a huge magical war in the near future. Up early this morning to watch nephews open presents, I realized the Christmas Wizard remains strong. And we all know how devious Murdoch can be. I hope I’m not asked to pick sides.

The End Of History

The Mayan calendar runs out this Friday, December 21, 2012. As the date approaches I hear references from all kinds of media and even personal conversation. I’ve heard well over a hundred references in the last month. I have brought it up myself, as you know. Ten years ago it felt like we were right on schedule for a big change, but as I tick off the days of this week I notice how normal everything feels. People are talking about the end of the world cynically or ironically as if to say “everybody knows this is not the end”. Yet we keep talking about it.

The end of the world probably comes along every 100 years. In the lead up to Y2K I was warned very seriously by believers. One guy explained exactly why planes would fall out of the sky at the stroke of midnight. I didn’t do the follow up research but I’m pretty sure he was wrong. However, there is something exhilarating about apocalypse myths. It’s something we can all do together.

Cataclysms happen throughout the Bible. Even though it’s their own God sending plagues and floods, they take comfort from the belief in some master plan. And they like to think that if they survive, they’re one of God’s chosen people. Even though our media is very secular today the constant mention of the Mayan end times sounds like a long echo of outdated superstitions. Didn’t the Information Age come after the Age of Reason?

If all religions petered out it would not be the end for the human sense of cosmic significance. The faculty of wonder is irresistible; people have always looked for some kind of significant design, whether it be in atoms or solar systems or internal modes of being.

Many religions are closely related to astrology, as it was one of the earliest approaches to cosmic significance. The idea that the alignment of bodies in the universe creates a harmony or disharmony seems like it could make sense. If you look at string theory or the morphogenetic field the right alignment and fluctuation of the universal system would have an effect over the whole system. But of course astrology has been written off as a pseudo-science by the popular media.

The alignment of objects in space could have some sort of effect on me at my birth, but so would the alignment of furniture in the delivery room. And it’s hard to believe that the position of Saturn had more of an effect on my personality than the socio-economic bracket I was born into by chance (from my perspective as a new human). In fact, the politics of the country I was born into probably had a huge effect, as did the climate, the medical system, how well I was taught at home and at school, and so on ad nauseum.

It’s really hard to gauge the cosmic significance of distant events. I’ve found no way to quantify cosmic significance so far. It’s much easier to find cause and effect relationships in microcosmic scales. Because the causality of our daily lives is so obvious it’s easy to think of things materially and measurably. But still we keep talking about the Mayan end of history. And if you open any newspaper you’ll find a horoscope.

The End of History is right now and it’s real. Believe that.

X-mas Trance vs. Ikea Trance

The Christmas trance seems to start earlier every year. It’s not something that I feel rise up in me naturally, but I see it around me, and I’m always surprised at how early it starts. Starbucks changes over to their Christmas Blend around mid-November and I start drinking Americanos. And the music…it’s like shifting into another dimension.

Little sparkling lights appear everywhere. Big and little snowflakes, icicles, wreaths, and straight lines of little electric lights show up and every once in a while you see one of those houses, done up like the Griswolds. From my rooftop I can see into a condo where a big tree pulses slowly in red and blue like some conical spaceship. Oh, the trees. The trees are everywhere too.

Red hats on people in stores, candy canes by the bowlful or giant and plastic on the walls, an abundance of gingerbread, cotton wadded up against displays to look like snow, and MallSantas, it’s definitely the only time of year all these things come out at the same time.

Christmas is a mindset. Many people don’t celebrate Christmas, but in North America, at least, it’s inescapable. The communal brain of culture is used to getting into this mode once per year and it seems to slide right into it just like falling asleep. It starts vaguely with a few hints here and there, then it builds, then suddenly you’re right in it.

Plus…the music. The shift in music is dramatic, coming on all cheery and dreamy, talking about how wonderful things are, painting pictures of Christmas we feel like we vaguely remember from way back when. But when? As kids, or parents of new kids? I always loved Christmas as a kid but I wonder how much of that is accurate memory and how much of it is nostalgia implanted by the Christmas trance, with it’s Christmas music repeating and repeating and repeating like a mantra. Sim-ply haaav-ing a wonderful Christmas time.

It takes me a while to get into the Christmas trance. The “Spirit of Christmas” has certainly changed for me since I was a little kid. I enjoy taking off work to spend time with family, like eating big meals and drinking good beers with my brothers, like watching kids unwrap presents, and do generally find it a very comfortable mindset once I get into it, but like most trances, it’s a lot harder to get into than to stay in.

A fairly new addition to the North American Index of Trances is the Ikea trance. You need new furniture for your place, or some dishes, or some framed art for your wall, but you’re not sure exactly what you want, so you take a little trip.

Now you’re shuffling through the door of a huge Ikea with a group of people. You’re up an escalator, have your cart, and you cruise inside. You’re looking around at bathroom furniture and there are these people, standing there in this space set up like a real room in a house, like a set from a movie, and they’re having a conversation. Maybe they’re nodding in agreement or talking about the prices, or they’re arguing or having a conversation about what they had in mind for the bathroom. But as far as your own sense perception is concerned, they might as well be arguing about failed birth control in their bathroom at home.

If you’re in Toronto, like me, maybe a monkey walks by.

 

It’s tough to navigate all these little clusters of people and the displays, so you can’t move very fast at all. In fact, you notice that the same people have made it to living room. There are some new people chatting idly in front of a television set (which is not a real television set) and they might as well be acting out a scene from Blossom. In the next room you find the birth-control-couple sitting on a bed – probably to test its firmness – but there they are, facing away from each other on the bed like the end of some emotional blowout. Now you’re eating cheap meatballs across from a guy who looks like Jeremy Piven. Is this weird to everybody else?

As I watch these scenes unfold when I’m in Ikea, which is not often, these ridiculous narratives develop and I feel slowed down, like I’m moving through molasses. These fake rooms and strange little environments make me feel like I’m in the movie Cube or walking through The Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Fortunately, with the internet and some forethought I can avoid the showroom and go straight for the warehouse.

Both trances can cost you a lot of money, and in both you stand to gain new stuff. Although I like a Swedish meatball now and then, my judgment on the better trance has to go to Christmas. It just feels better once you’re inside. The travel arrangements, the shopping, dealing with crowds and so forth is the recipe for calling down the Spirit of Christmas. Once you’re over the hump it’s all good.

P.S.

I’ve tried to find a good definition of the word trance, but I haven’t been satisfied. Here is a selection from various sources:

noun

1. a sleeplike state (as of deep hypnosis) usually characterized by partly suspended animation with diminished or absent sensory and motor activity
2. stupor, daze
3. a state of profound abstraction or absorption

4. an ecstasy; a state in which the soul seems to have passed out of the body, or to be rapt into visions

These definitions describe completely different states of mind. So how do we know when we’re in a trance? To the person experiencing it, one mindset is as real and valid as another. If I’m reading, that’s a certain kind of mindset. If I’m into a movie, that’s another, if I’m talking to someone, that’s it’s own kind of trance, and when I’m working I’m in a certain mindset. We shift mindsets all the time to suit our psychological needs. The only way I can really define one trance is by it’s contrast with the mindset that came before and the mindset that came after. Saying “I’m alert” doesn’t indicate anything absolute; it only describes that I’m more alert than I am at other times, which isn’t saying much.

 

Rewriting the Watched Pot

I made the NaNoWriMo deadline and wrote 50000 words in a month. I’m pretty happy with that feat. My novel Residuum is almost done. With a chapter and a half left to write, it sits at just under 200 pages. I definitely recommend the experience to anyone interested in writing because it forces your fingers to the keys.

A lot of writers will tell you that “writing is rewriting”. It’s not, really. Writing is writing. NaNoWriMo doesn’t allow you the time to rewrite. If you want to make that total, you have to plow through your work without looking back. Rewriting comes later. I plan to do some large-scale editing on my novel before submitting it to anyone.

The phrase “writing is rewriting” speaks to the fact that first drafts are rarely right. Ideas take time to develop and should be considered from a lot of angles, so the adage is implicitly telling us that we need to reread our stories, soak them in, and reconsider them from different perspectives.

In the throes of prose it’s tough to tell if your audience will pick up on everything, or if you’ve overwritten something. When a writer is typing away he or she often isn’t considering the prose from an abstract perspective. But a worthwhile novel should work as both concrete drama and abstract notion. This is why John Grisham novels don’t make sense to me. There is solid storytelling, master craftsmanship, but no substance. The stories don’t elevate me. Once I finish one of his books the only time I ever think of it again is as an example of well-wrought-but-meaningless literature.

But Grisham gets it done and makes a good living at it. He’s successful because he’s productive, and this is the value of NaNoWriMo to me. Writers write every day. And with a deadline like that, you have to write every day, word by word, until it’s done. You can see every day your novel gets that much closer to the goal.

It reminds me of the phrase “a watched pot never boils”. First of all, no pot ever boils; it’s the water that boils. Secondly, a watched pot will definitely boil if you watch it long enough (provided the conditions allow it). So the phrase is patently false. However, it is meaningful.

“A watched pot never boils” describes the plasticity of subjective time. The passage of time is directly related to the amount and quality of stimulation we experience. The stimulation of someone twisting a corkscrew through your leg is apt to make one minute seem like half an hour. When we watch a more or less stationary object, time can stretch out like taffy. When our minds are occupied, time seems to move faster. The adage implies that we have short attention spans.

People less anal than me don’t nitpick at the falsehood of age old phrases. I do it because it amuses me. Falsehood is a fact of life. False but meaningful phrases work because words are tools that can be used in creative ways. Fiction and poetry are the best examples of this. I hope people other than me will find my novel meaningful.

P.S. For a mind-expanding read on language and communication, check out The Structure of Magic, a two-volume set by John Grinder and Richard Bandler on neurolinguistic programming (NLP).