Trashing the old year, welcoming the new

christmas_tree_chipping_ukTonight is New Year’s Eve, and I’ve barely finished trimming my Christmas tree. Don’t tell me, I know—other folks are already taking theirs down, and a couple of days ago, I spied one of our town’s yellow highway department trucks cruising the neighborhood with one of those giant vacuum and chipper combinations, the kind they use to suck up autumn leaves and pulverize stray branches that diligent homeowners drag out to the roadside in the fall. The sight of the truck reminded me of one of this year’s more grizzly local news stories: his first day on the job with a tree trimming service, a young man was pulled arm-first into the chipper, thereby meeting an instantaneous and gruesome end.

The newspaper and the TV crews refrained from describing the grisly details; they simply interviewed some of his coworkers, who said the accident was the worst thing they’d ever seen. I wondered what kind of on-the-job training and orientation he’d received, if any, and whether the company got sued, but legal issues aside, it was a tragedy that conjured up images I’d rather not contemplate. That’s why I tend to avoid horror movies and chain saws. Even so, I’m flashing back to an otherwise forgettable film that featured bloody red slush spewing from a snow blower.

trump-swearing-in-by-chan-lowLooking back on what in many ways was an abominable year, I can think of a certain individual I’d love to see to see fed through a wood chipper. Or perhaps that would be too speedy, too kind a fate. Enduring the final terrifying days and hours of a doomed steer headed for market might be more appropriate—the death train, the feedlot, the slaughter house. . .

But never fear, dear reader, I won’t take you there. True, I kill people off in my suspense novels, but even my murderers treat their victims with relative compassion—there’s no outright sadism or torture. And I wouldn’t wish such a ghastly end on any of my friends or acquaintances, not even on the few people I genuinely detest.

Over the past year, and especially since the election, it’s been all too easy to get swallowed up and sucked down into a cesspool of negativity. I’m far from blameless in this respect, as you can see by perusing the paragraphs above. By and large I try to focus on the positive, but lately that’s been hard to do without adopting the mentality of an ostrich and burying my head in the sand. I limit my daily ration of news, but my Facebook feed is full of dire predictions of impending doom and urgent pleas to support worthy causes. Move On, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club—those and so many other worthwhile organizations are in dire need of my financial support, but as a senior on a fixed income, I can’t afford to shell out the cash.

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American Museum of Natural History 2014

So add guilt to the witch’s brew of toxic emotions—anger, fear, frustration, despair over the fate of this country we’re bequeathing to our children and grandchildren. Mix with a generous helping of salty grey road sludge from the wimpy storm system that failed to deliver a satisfying blanket of the white stuff. Factor in the meagre hours of cloudy daylight, the frigid winds, the pressure of last-minute shopping and spending, and you have the perfect recipe for sickness—sickness of the mind, body and soul.

And that brings me back full-circle to the day before Christmas, and the reason the tree didn’t get trimmed in time. Obligations and priorities—some self-imposed, others imposed by others—conspired to keep me away from trimming the beautiful Frasier fir that had been sitting forlornly in the driveway for a week. All afternoon, I felt my tension and anger building, my blood pressure rocketing skyward, and lo and behold, by the time I’d finished singing in the choir for the Christmas Eve service, I’d pulled in a full-blown cold, maybe even flu. Once home, I festooned the tree with a couple of strings of lights, then fell into bed and let an enormous glass of eggnog with lots of brandy lull me to sleep.

albert-joseph-moore-1884-english

Albert Joseph Moore 1884

In the end, everything turned out fine. Christmas in Woodstock with my family was wonderful, and a couple of lazy days in bed have set me on the road to recovery. But the mind-body connection definitely laid me low. I’m a firm believer in the powerful impact negative emotions and over-the-top stress can have on the body. Research shows that heart attacks are more frequent on Monday mornings than any other time of the week, and the holidays show a spike in cardiac events as well.

So for the New Year, I resolve not to let negativity take control and jerk me around. I vow to keep those trusty old rules in mind:

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

2. It’s all small stuff.

I’ve been wondering whether to publish this post because of all the negativity, but what the hell, here goes. If nothing else, it’s a good example of the unfettered creative process—segueing from an untrimmed Christmas tree to a town truck trolling the neighborhood with a wood chipping machine to a gruesome local wood chipper fatality to the pleasure I’d take in pulverizing Donald Trump. If you’ve hung in there with me this far, dear reader, I congratulate you.

Believe it or not, I’m actually feeling happy and optimistic, and I hope you are too. Any resolutions or random thoughts you’d care to share? I’d love to hear them. Here’s wishing everyone the happiest of New Years. Let’s keep in touch!

new-years-eve-mirror-balls

The week of The Taint

Thor_Father Christmas with goat wagon by_ronchironna

I’m working on a new post about this week between Christmas and New Year’s, but I’m not quite ready to publish it–a little too gross and gloomy. So in the meantime, I’m sharing this from last year. Warning: it’s still gross in spots, but at least it’s less gloomy.

Norwegians have a word for the week between Christmas and New Year’s: romjula. The closest we have in English is the word Taint, meaning it ‘taint Christmas any more, but it ‘taint New Year’s either. I’m indebted to Rex Smith’s December 26th essay in the Times Union for this information, which inspired me to undertake some further research about this interlude in the darkest days of winter. I’m especially interested because of my Scandinavian heritage—I’m ¾ Norwegian and ¼ Swedish.

The theme of last night’s Poets Speak Loud open mic at McGeary’s Tavern was “holiday hangovers,” so I decided to write a poem about my findings. My research uncovered another meaning for “The Taint,” a meaning not fit to print in a family newspaper, but totally appropriate for the traditionally bawdy end-of-the-year event hosted by Mary Panza. In the version below, I’m highlighting the dirty bits in magenta, so you can skip over them if you’re squeamish.

The Christmas Goat and the Taint

The Taint—that’s what the Brits call this week that’s neither here nor there.

‘Taint Christmas any more, ‘taint New Year’s either.

A weirdly nebulous time, in northern climes devoted to slothful lassitude,

To wallowing in the doldrums, swallowed up in food and booze.

Some call it the Witching Week, claim you’ve got a free pass to excess

And nothing counts against you during The Taint.

That goes for calories too, so scarf down all those goodies.

Chugalug that eggnog, channeling Miss Piggy.

No fair weighing yourself till New Year’s morning.

Assuming you can see down past your bloated belly,

The digital red numbers will inform you of the penalty for all that gluttony.

Ding dong, the season of the witch is dead and gone,

But you’ll be paying the price in pounds for months to come.

Nude Waking Adonis painting

But speaking of butts, The Taint has another meaning:

The place between the vulva and the anus, that narrow swath of skin

Also called the perineum, that keeps the delicate lady parts

From filthy nether regions. Also the area between the scrotum and the asshole

That keeps a man from shitting on his nuts.

This definition dates from the Renaissance, probably precedes

The tamer version focused on dark December,

And sheds new light on Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.”

Norwegians have less judgmental terms for the perineal lull

Twixt Christmas and New Year’s Eve: Romjula or romhelgen,

From the Norse, means “That does not need to be kept strictly sacred.”

In other words, no guilt trips. Nearer the North Pole,

Cradled in relentless never ending darkness,

They cut themselves some slack, feast on foods like krumkake and nuts,

Smash and devour the gingerbread houses

So carefully built for Christmas. They cozy up at home with family,

Slug down Aquavit, take contemplative walks in winter’s frigid cold.

Norwegians still may “go the Christmas goat.”

Children wander from house to house, begging treats. In earlier times

Folks dressed in shaggy pelts and brandished horns. The glowing yule log

Was once a goat, slaughtered and devoured to celebrate fertility

And ensure good fortune in the coming year.
Two goats pulled Thor’s thunderous chariot across the sky.

Tanngrisner and Tanngnjost by name, they made a fearsome racket

Called Tor-boom. We call it thunder, worship the Norse thunder god

At the multiplex, crown him the sexiest man in the world

As decreed by People magazine, though Chris Hemsworth’s actually Australian.

Hosting Saturday Night Live, he flashed his killer smile

And stashed his enormous hammer out of sight.

In Norway, long before Santa Claus, the fearsome Christmas goat

Brought presents for good children, punished the bad.

The goat is virile, beastly, a satyr, in league with witches or the devil,

A symbol of sexuality. All in all, a hell of a lot more fun and energetic

Than the amorphous, foggy phantom called The Taint

That blankets Merry England in the depths of winter.

I call myself Norse Crone, proud to be Norwegian.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

I’d love your feedback. Please let me know how you feel about the “naughty bits” in the poem. Are they a total turn-off? Too tastelessly over the top? Since I’m working on the sequel to my vampire soap opera thriller HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL, your comments may help me decide how outrageous my writing can be.

The Most Over-Hyped Time of the Year

Three years ago, I wrote this poem and posted it along with some commentary on my blog. Reading it over now, I believe it’s worth an encore.

Only eight days till Christmas, and I’m immersed in the holiday spirit. But there have been past Christmases when I was mired in depression or feeling very “bah humbug” about the holidays. I’m well aware that this season conjures up a wide range of emotions in shades from joy to despair, and that December can be a problematic time for many people, especially those living alone or with emotional, physical or financial problems – and doesn’t that include just about everybody?

For this night’s Nitty Gritty Slam at Valentine’s in Albany,* I wanted to write something christmas-andy-williamsnew to read at the open mic that precedes the actual poetry slam. Tonight’s theme, in keeping with the holidays, is the “Annual Airing of Grievances.” On my car radio, even the country station has been playing Andy Williams’s inescapable “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,”** and I’ve been thinking of writing a parody substituting “horrible” for “wonderful.” But I didn’t want to focus on negativity – not completely, at any rate.

But walking my dog by the lake this morning, I came up with “over-hyped,” and by the time he’d finished pooping, I had the beginning of these lyrics in my head. Feel free to borrow them for your local sing-along.

OVER-HYPED TIME OF THE YEAR

It’s the most over-hyped time of the year.

So you’d better be happy, and best make it snappy

Or people will jeer.

It’s the most over-hyped time of the year.

All your family will want lots of gifts.

So you’d better go shopping, and don’t dream of stopping

Or you’ll cause a rift

If you don’t spring for pricy new gifts.

christmas-mall-shoppers-toronto

(bridge)

There’ll be parties each night and if you’re not invited,

Then you can just stay home and mope.

Drink your brandy-spiked eggnog till you’re in a deep fog.

You’ll wake up a hung-over dope!

It’s the season they sing about snow.

But you can’t shovel white stuff ‘less you’ve got the right stuff.

Head south now, just go –

Oops, you can’t, ‘cause you don’t have the dough.

 christmas-trees-abundant-but-consumers-might-find-higher-price-tags-2

(bridge)

Hang those lights, deck those halls. If being cheery seems false,

Just keep wearing that shit-eating grin.

This will pass soon enough, just hang in and stay tough

Till the January bills trickle in!

(dramatic key change)

But for now, eat and drink, have no fear.

Though this season’s depressing, more turkey and dressing

Will fill you with cheer,

And you’ll gain ten more pounds for New Year! 

christmas-fat-cat

* For more about the Nitty Gritty Slam, visit www.albanypoets.com. This is the last slam of the year, and by next Christmas, Valentine’s will have been demolished to make way for a huge parking garage for Albany Med. Right now, the snow’s coming down hard, and I may not make it to tonight’s event after all. But I just poured some eggnog, and I can always sing this at “Poets Speak Loud” next Monday at McGeary’s. You can find info on that at the same website.

**The song was written by Edward Pola and George Wyle for the Andy Williams TV show and premiered in 1963. It wasn’t an overnight smash, but he sang it every year and it slowly gained popularity. Now, love it or hate it, it ranks among the top ten Christmas songs. Andy Williams died in September, 2012.

Postscript, December 2016. Sure enough, Valentine’s was demolished as predicted, and Albany Medical Center continues to metastasize throughout the neighborhood. The owner of Valentine’s opened a new bar, The Low Beat, on Central Avenue, where the Nitty Gritty Slam lives on. They’re on a winter break right now, but the slams will resume in April. “Poets Speak Loud” is still going strong at McGeary’s, and I was the featured poet there a few months back.

How are you faring this holiday season? I’d love to hear from you. In any case, eat, drink and be merry! You can always lose the weight next year.

low-beat-exterior

mcgearys-tess-collins-at-bar

Tess Collins of McGeary’s

Poor pitiful me–I hate marketing my books

Why should people buy my books? And why do I feel such overwhelming anger when they don’t? The answer no doubt lies deeply buried in the most basic infantile needs for unconditional love and acceptance. In my new book on maximizing creativity, I plan to delve into the research surrounding these issues, but today I simply feel the urge to vent.

julie-at-fuusa-crfts-fair-12-4-16

Last Sunday, following the service, my church held a fund-raising crafts fair, and I had a full table to show and sell my books. The early December timing was ideal, I figured. People would be in the throes of holiday shopping, and I’d priced my books to sell: $10 for a single book, with deeper discounts for more than one. Ten per cent of sales would go to FUUSA, the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, thus providing an added incentive for people to feel proud of their generosity, or so I naively imagined.

The results were underwhelming. True, I sold a few books, so my efforts were moderately worthwhile, and I would have been there for coffee hour anyway. But I spent half my haul on infinity neck warmers and ginger cookies from other vendors. The annual event is a good place to pick up on stocking stuffers. Books would fall nicely into this category, you’d think, but apparently not. There was a brisk sale in homemade $13 pies and soups. People love stuffing their faces, but reading? Not so much.

I’ve blogged about this problem before. People tell me it comes with the territory and that I should get over it, and I’ve seen a similar phenomenon at conferences like ThrillerFest and Bouchercon, where people queue up in long lines for a few well-known authors while the majority sit forlornly ignored, doing their best to put on friendly, welcoming expressions as they hand out book marks, post cards and candy. I’m as guilty as anyone in passing them by—I already own far too many books, and I can’t afford to buy many more.

Those are excuses I frequently hear from people bypassing my table, and they’re valid ones. I’m especially sympathetic to those who plead poverty, and I admire them for their candor, especially at a place like FUUSA, where the majority of congregants are comfortably well-heeled. It’s the ones who are loaded who bug me—people whom I’ve known for years, who can afford to jet around the world to exotic vacation spots yet never consider supporting a struggling local author.

I first self-published Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders a decade ago, and Eldercide a couple of years later. My vampire soap opera thriller, Hope Dawns Eternal, came out last year. This year I reissued my first two in new editions, so the three books make a nice matched set. Over the years, quite a few FUUSAns have bought my books, but the vast majority haven’t. On Sunday I asked a friend if she’d ever bought any of my books, and she admitted she hadn’t. “I never read novels,” she said. Fair enough, so I suggested if she might consider buying any as presents for friends or family who might feel differently. She gave a noncommittal shrug and turned away.

Yesterday some friends from my Nia class at the YMCA met at Panera’s for lunch. I was ranting rather profanely to Richele Corbo, our wonderful instructor, about my marketing problems. She’s not fond of marketing either, but she’s more objective about it. She’s passionate about Nia, which combines nine forms of dance, martial arts and body work, and she talks it up to people who might be interested, but many refuse. Some feel it’s too strenuous, others that it’s not strenuous enough, or too esoteric. One woman told her “Sorry, but it’s a little too ‘kumbaya’ for me.” She doesn’t take the rejections personally, accepting that Nia’s just not for everybody, and she encouraged me to adopt the same attitude.

But Richele didn’t invent Nia,* so it’s easier for her to be objective. My novels, on the other hand, are deeply personal, and although they’re not autobiographical, the first two draw on life experiences that affected me profoundly, so it’s hard not to feel the pain of rejection. I used to feel the same about my paintings, but I’m no longer so personally invested in them, since they’re now a part of my past.

On Sunday I brought two small oils—one a vase of tulips, the other a view of Lake George—to fill out my table display.** I didn’t expect to sell them, since they’re priced at over $300, but lots of people admired them. Strangely, many said they hadn’t realized I was a painter, even though I’ve shown those paintings at FUUSA in a solo show and a couple of group exhibitions. Apparently they had never bothered to look at the walls.

But enough kvetching. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably in agreement with those who tell me to “get over it.” But I’ve got a lot more to say in future posts—including thoughts about a local reporter who was writing up until his death at 84, and about what L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, had to say about the importance of admiration.

Please share this post, subscribe, and leave comments so I’ll know you’re out there. Even more importantly, please buy my books! You can’t possibly be finished with Christmas shopping yet. You can order them from Amazon, or I can inscribe them personally and mail or deliver them to you in time for the holidays. To discuss these options, contact me at julielomoe@gmail.com.

julie-at-wpa-swat-truck-aug-16

*To learn more about Nia, visit www.nianow.com. Here you can also find a registry of Nia teachers in your area, including Richele.

**The colors in my oil paintings are much more vibrant than they appear in this photo. I also did the illustrations for the original covers of Mood Swing and Eldercide, which are visible behind the new editions with their wonderful covers by Kim Killion. I still have a few copies of the original editions, although they’re no longer available on line. My stylistic influences include Munch, Van Gogh, the Fauves and the German Expressionists.