Stranded in the Middle of Miserable December

Yesterday there was a flash of sunlight in the early afternoon. I was just about to carry my laundry around to the washing machine on the back porch with the hope that I'd then be able to hang my clothes out on the line. But before I could tear myself away from the latest podcast from astronomycast.com, the clouds gathered back, and I decided to blow off the one thing I had planned to do Thursday. With a complete lack of motivation, I spent the day catching up on audio and video podcasts as well as a mountain of blogs I subscribe to. I also watched some of a foreign film Catherine loaned me. It's from Sri Lanka. “A Peck on the Cheek,” is the English title. It's a beautiful film, but for some reason, the DVD began to freeze up about thirty minutes in. I'll have to track down another copy.

I also got around to listening to an album available free online which I had bookmarked a few days back. It's a conceptual piece by Andreas Ammer and FM Einheit titled “Radio Inferno.” It's a raw, noisy piece (as one would expect with members of Einstürzende Neubauten onboard to collaborate). It's a multi-lingual version of Dante's Inferno. There are snippets in English provided by, of all people, the late great DJ, John Peel. His is the voice of Radio Inferno, warm and chatty, and when you're sure he's about to share with you the final results of the match between Manchester United and Arsenal, he's off and talking about how “the surrender to sin leads, by degradation, into solitary self-indulgence,” and then we switch to a basso profundo voice bringing in Dante in the original vulgate (or so I assume).

(As an aside, I was responding to an email from Pete. And I happened to reference Ted Cassidy, the actor who most recall as having played Lurch on the TV series “The Addams Family.” I hopped over to the IMDB site and looked up Cassidy. Much of his later work had been voice-over narration. There was one animation project I don't recall with the frightful name of “The Godzilla Power Hour.” When I clicked on the bio link, I discovered that Ted Cassidy had spent some time as a radio announcer in Dallas for WFAA. In fact, he was in town during the Kennedy assassination, and interviewed some of the eyewitnesses. Which brings us to John Peel. During his early years in the US, he spent some time in Dallas, doing some on-air work with WRR Radio. He was covering the arraignment of Lee Harvey Oswald. Why these two minor luminaries haven't been enfolded into the vast conspiracy narrative of the JFK assassination lore is a puzzle. Ah, but who am I kidding — I'm sure they already have been.)

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I just realized I own a CD where Andreas Ammer and FM Einheit collaborated. “Odysseus 7.” I'm listening to it right now. Powerful pretentious nonsense. It's a “radio space opera.”

But of course it is.

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It's mid December. I have to confess that I have almost no sense of the impending Christmas time. Strange in that I have spent the last three weeks helping to promote a Holiday Laser Show. Hell, I was in the theater for 14 performances, and it was nothing but holiday music. And, yes there are many houses on my block with Christmas lights. All except mine, I believe. But because I haven't been to a mall, or any retail establishment that isn't my neighborhood grocery store, and because I don't watch TV or listen to the radio, I feel almost completely disconnected from Christmas — and by that I mean the crass commercialism of the season. It's very liberating. Actually I was downtown on the riverwalk last week when the Urban-15 team was setting up the laser equipment for the show at the Aztec Theater. There were Christmas lights everywhere. It was beautiful. But there was no strident cry to buy buy buy.

The bottom line is, I'm not a Christian, nor am I keen on conspicuous consumption — fact is, I've major problems with both. However, I really like the colored lights. Also, I have a soft spot for the pagan winter rituals of celebrating death and the coming resurrection.

And I do have fond and warm memories of Christmas from my childhood. The nostalgia component is undeniable. I'm a huge Dickens fan, and he practically cornered the market on Christmas nostalgia.

That's why I got such a kick out of watching the elementary kids cheering and singing along during the laser show. Christmas is when we freely feed our kids the most outrageous fantasies … and that might be a wonderful thing, but the problem is, we've gotten lazy and allowed the corporate sector to feed these fantasies to our children, complete with product placements.

Kids don't need toys and crap. They need stories and magic. When I think back to my warmest and clearest memories of Christmas, I can only recall one or two gifts I got. What I really remember was that there was this special day just for me and my sister. And when I learned that it was all a big fat lie, it didn't bother me. The fact that my parents would conspire to lie to us (and such corny lies!) so we could have a magical experience was really one of the most wonderful things about Christmas when I look back on it all. Fuck the presents.

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Listening to all this Andreas Ammer and FM Einheit conceptual stuff, I'm thinking of working on some sort of San Antonio-specific multimedia post-modern rock opera. I'll utilize, of course, some of the elements on my novel in progress (I'm still plodding along with “The Cucuy Club”). Music from maybe three local sources. Live and prerecorded. Dramatic set-pieces as live action, as well as video inserts. Dance. Poetry. Narration. Hell, lasers. Why not?

It's slowly starting to percolate up to my frontal lobe.

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Today (Friday) was not much different than yesterday. Cold, grey, grim, and wet. I read through a back issue of the New York Times Review of Books and tried to keep warm. There was really one thing I had planned to do. I have three checks from various projects, and I really should take a drive out to my bank and make a deposit. But after I stepped out onto the porch and turned a despondent eye heavenward, I decided to take a nap instead.

Actually, I had another thing planned. My novel writing group was meeting for dinner in the evening. So I finally hauled myself outside. We were meeting at El Mirador. It's pretty much in my neighborhood. Within walking distance. But I put off leaving until the last minute so I had no choice but to drive.

El Mirador is probably the most famous restaurants in the King William area. It's one of those places praised by locals and tourists alike. It's fancy facade has kept me away for all the years I've lived here. As I recall, many people suggest visiting for Sunday breakfast or brunch and ordering the tortilla soup.

When I got there, I saw Beth and Tom already at a table. I sat down, greeted them, and peeked at a menu. The prices were reasonable. As we chatted, the rest of our group filed in over the next twenty minutes of so. Finally Gregg (Gregg Barrios) showed up. He's the one who brought us all together. When novelist David Liss, who was teaching the November novel writing class at Gemini Ink, turned all of us down — for whatever reason (keep in mind one had to submit a work sample to get into the class) — Gregg contacted the powers that be at Gemini Ink. His plan was to offer all those who were snubbed a chance to meet and workshop their novels for the month of November. For free. And so we were treating Gregg to a nice dinner.

Our intention is to continue this group. We'll begin meeting again in mid January. I have mixed feelings about this. I'm all for writing groups. But I don't know if this group of writers is for me. They're all wonderful people. And most of them are actually fairly gifted writers (no matter what Mr. Liss might think — fuck him). I'll just have to wait and see how things play out.

Here's a photo of all of us (except me — I'm holding the camera). We have Rebecca, Lauren, Rebecca, Gregg, Beth, Don, and Tom.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The food's very good at El Mirador. But avoid the place on Friday night if you want to carry on a conversation. Very noisy.

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