Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Preface to Plates: A Christmas Concatenation

(By way of introduction, here's the preface to my new book of short essays and stories. The title is Plates: A Christmas Concatenation. It sells for $16.00 and can be ordered through the University Book Store @ Toll Free: 1.800.335.READ )

 Everybody has that one friend. Sometime in July this person starts counting down the days until Christmas. Let's be honest, I say "friend" but nobody likes this person. If you are this person, nobody likes you. Well, nobody likes you when you do this. Nobody. And nobody needs another reason to not like anybody else these days. Think about it. In addition to the ever widening political divide, everybody's got a reason to find the rest of us annoying. There is good cause not to much like humanity as a whole nowadays, but individually it tends to come down to very particular behaviors: the woman who eats carrots every day in the breakroom, the guy who insists his growling dog is "usually friendly," the person who can't tell a story without directions. Life online is in some ways simpler because you basically get to scroll past the bus-stop smoker and the couple fighting over meth. Still, you can't get away entirely. There are still people who regularly encourage you to find out which Disney princess you are, the proud owners of reptiles, defensive readers of BrenĂ© Brown, the guy who wants to show you pictures of his corrective surgery, and the Christmas-count-downers. We all have access to a calendar, you petty sadist. We all know how badly we did mailing out cards last year, and the people on our list who ended up with a gas-station gift-card. There really is no good reason to remind us when we are standing in our underwear in front of the refrigerator, trying to survive an August heatwave, that time is running out to get our orders in for fruitcake. Seriously, if you do this, you are a bad person, but you can still change. Just stop it. You feel the urge to mention how fast Christmas is coming up, don't. Dickens believed people can change, so in the true Sprit of Christmas I guess I probably do too.

I'm not being a "hater." I actually have no problem with the trash who keep their twinkle-lights up on the trailer year 'round. Find such harmless cheer as you are able, fellow redneck. Life is genuinely hard. And anybody who's Christmas tree stays up through January, we'll just agree to disagree. When it comes to the holidays I am generally very much live and let live. Really the only two types I find intolerable are the white gays who want to explain Kwanza to me every damned year, and those "only X days until Christmas" people. (What in the Sam Hill is wrong with you?!)

Just so you know, I've become something of a Christmas queen myself. I've aged into a strong physical Santa vibe: belly, beard, rosy, jolly. Nobody to blame but myself, though it is my beloved husband who's been making all the pie and cookies for forty years that helped get me here. (Food Is Love.) I do an annual reading of Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory at the bookstore where I work and I may be the only one in the joint who's happy when they switch to the Christmas music mix. The Holidays are sorta my thing. So it is that I find myself with such a strong backlist of seasonal scribblings. No, I did not sit down and think to write a collection of Christmas pieces. Like those last curls of wrapping paper too good to throw away but not long enough to be really useful, I find I have lots of stray thoughts on Christmas and not a few pieces rather randomly tagged as related, so here they are.

Many of the little essays herein started out as introductions or encores to my holiday reading. Anybody who's been may remember some of these. I've left out a few things I actually still like, because I found there was no way to disentangle them from their original occasion and setting. When I tried, they fell to nothing and seemed not worth saving after all. (Never explain a joke after, or rely on dated references, particularly at length. Yesterday is gone. Different time. Let it go.)  A couple things I've included aren't really to do with Christmas at all beyond the fact that I mentioned the day for one reason or another. I've kept these because they seemed to me in keeping with the spirit if not the letter of the law, as it were. Not every thought of Christmas is a happy one. Other pieces are light to the point of triviality, but I'm comfortable with that. Not a few are darker than would be usual in this sort of thing, more expressive of the emotion with which they were written than with any clear idea I might have intended to convey. I preserve these here, just as they are and without apology. Could be worse, I could be one of those relentlessly cheerful souls who actually sits down at the computer and think that what the world really needs is another little collection of insipid cheer; another heartwarming book about a family being saved by a puppy in a Christmas bow, another seasonal cozy mystery, new and inferior illustration for A Visit from St. Nicholas, more Christmas in July Lifetime and Hallmark pap. That ain't me, sweetie. 

If this hasn't convinced you yet to put this little book down and walk away, I should just warn you that I am a sentimentalist as well as grump. (You'll find this is still a very popular combo in Very Special Holiday Episodes of American sitcoms. You damned kids get off my lawn! For me?! God bless us, everyone! Hey, if it ain't broke.) So any I might not drive off by being a snappish atheistic smartass, I may yet alienate by going all gooey about the good old folks to home and grandma's kitchen, or by too warmly or too often remembering the dead. Again, no apologies. Seems we may all have a part to play and evidently this is mine.

I could say that I wish everything in here was better than it is -- because I do -- but I have learned to let that go as best I can. Best I could do with what I have. Hope you might like some of it.

One final note, specifically on my very short Christmas stories. Unlike the essays herein, I never thought to see these little fictions again. They first appeared as my snarky captions to a series of vintage Christmas photographs posted online by a dear friend with an excellent eye for kitsch and commentary. I made up these little stories to go with the pictures and hopefully to make my friend laugh. When it came time to gather more than a decade of my Christmas scraps together, I was reminded of these unusual and largely forgotten bits o' fiction. I do not have the imaginative gifts for invented stories. (Wrote a whole novel once that proved this to my disappointment.) So why reprint these little squibs? Well, there were more of them than I'd remembered, and I found they still made me smile. I decided as an experiment to see if I could read them without the photographs on which they were written to riff. Maybe I'm wrong, but I rather like them naked. So why not? Think of them as regular, sometimes bitter little laughs between my more usual pontifications, preachments, and poorly reasoned flibertigibittetery. And yes, that is a word. I made it up. I can do that. My book. Enjoy. 

And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays if you are reading this sometime between Thanksgiving and the end of January. Otherwise maybe put it in the box of Xmas decorations and take it out when you're ready to put up the lights next year. I don't want to be one of those people.

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