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Continuing the Christmas Season

“Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for you?”

-Madeleine L’Engle

Analog Holidays

Do you think about New Year’s resolutions in advance? Maybe I’m alone in that. I tend to consider them before Christmas of late, not because I want to craft resolutions that I know I can keep (although the temptation is great there), but more because I want to give some consideration to what I really want to accomplish in the new year.

So, if you’ve been reading here long at all, you know some of this back story, and the back story is that there’s a story…a novel, in fact…that I started before our first daughter was born. That was back when the writer in me took precedence over most everything else in my free time, and this story was something that I really wanted to tell.

I still want to tell it, but life sort of got in the way for a few years. I changed careers, I went to work for myself, we’ve moved too many times to count, we’ve had a second daughter who is now only days away from being a year old. All the while, pacing in the back of my mind like a large cat wanting free from it’s confines, has been this story, desiring to get out. I want to tell it…and other stories, as well…but the only outlet for words that I can seem to find time for is this.

Really, though, this is a symptom of the problem. Writing, at the end of the day, is the result of ideas, and one can’t have ideas if one doesn’t have time to think. Thinking often requires peace and quiet for me, or, at the very least, time to read and reflect and let my thoughts formulate into something that can become coherent. And to have ideas, I need other outlets. Every creative is this way, I think…one creative pursuit feeds another. So, the problem-solving with code that I do in my professional life does, in fact, feed my creativity because it’s a very creative pursuit, but I also need some other things, lest I begin thinking exclusively in arrays and methods with no hope of recovering any prose from the inner workings of my brain.

Knowing this as she knows everything about me, Karen surprised me with something for Christmas that I’ve been wanting for a very long time: a drum kit. It’s an electronic kit, one that I can play with headphones without disturbing children, and perfect to get myself back into practice with something that I loved years ago.

Putting the kit together was contemplative for me in an odd sort of way. In my high-school days, I could put assemble and disassemble a drum kit in my sleep, just as I was proficient in hanging lighting equipment and handling audio gear in the theatre. Lately, because my days seem to revolve around a keyboard, I have lost my patience with manually assembling things. This makes assembling a drum kit a remarkably spiritual experience in that it’s an exercise in patience-building. Who knew?


Something else that Karen and I have been discussing lately, and that sort of require assembly, are traveler’s notebooks. They have a devoted following of users, and we began watching videos from users who invest significant time and attention to customizing their notebooks with inserts and accessories. At first, I thought that this was a novelty for which I wouldn’t really have use. After all, I could count on one hand the number of times in a given week that I actually pick up a pen. The more that we considered it, however, the more attractive an idea it became. I suddenly could picture this permanent repository for my reflections, my ideas, my inspirations.

So, I opened my new traveler’s notebook this Christmas.

Analog holiday gift: a traveller's notebook

What I don’t want this to be is a materialistic thing. I’m not looking for retail therapy. I want this to be something that contributes to our (Karen is planning a traveler’s journal adventure, as well…she’s particularly enamored with bullet journaling) spiritual development.

As I wrote my first collection of ideas in the journal on the same morning that I’m writing this, I found myself slowing down. Hand-writing takes longer, after all, and the action of it seems to force a deeper consideration of the words being recorded.

So, I guess I’m shifting to a more analog way of doing things in my free time. Perhaps this was inevitable as my working life is entirely in the digital sphere. Hopefully, next year, I’ll be writing here about all of the positives that this change has brought about.

Happy New Year to you all.

In the Interest of Civility

comment_latest by Rob McMahon, used under Creative CommonsKaren and I have always watched a lot of British television, largely because we both grew up with PBS as a fixture. Thus, our childhoods established a fairly high standard for quality television. This was actually a really good thing for us in terms of shared interests when we met, because there was already commonality in programs like (small surprise here) Dr. Who.

While the repertoire has expanded over our decade of marriage, the love of quality has remained the same. Karen tends to enjoy a broader range of British programs than me (Jane Austin, while I respect her as an author, does little to hold my attention, I’m afraid), but something of this nature is frequently playing in the background.

Over dinner a few nights ago, we were discussing something that she had recently watched, and the phrase of greeting used when someone knocked on the door in the program. The conversation, I think, was involving our daughter and polite greetings to use with people in conversation. Karen landed upon the phrase, “Do come in,” when inviting someone to enter your home as one having a particular ring of civility and decorum.

From my vantage point, I love the poetry of this use of our language, but am not particularly hung up on formality.

The word used in that conversation for this sort phraseology, however, works against my dislike of formality: “disarming.” Karen settled upon the phrase, stating that these sort of greetings are “disarming” in their politeness.


When I think of our current state of public discourse in America, civility is not a term that springs to mind, and I’m not surprised because it is a reflection of our current state of interpersonal communication. We’ve lost tolerance for those with differing viewpoints from our own. We’ve lost interest in hearing other perspectives. Our accepted mode of debate is to talk louder than the other party so that their perspective cannot be heard, and, failing that, to openly insult others while on the public stage. Think of your mindset when a dinner conversation turns to one of “those” topics that you wish everyone would just avoid at family gatherings (the most obvious example currently being politics). We are immediately in a defensive posture when someone raises certain subjects, and move quickly to assume the offensive posture. We’re simply culturally conditioned to do so.

The thing about politeness, however, is just what we discussed over dinner that night: it is disarming. Politeness…treating the other party with a deferential respect and courtesy…brings down barriers to communication. It establishes a common ground immediately, removing the need for offense or defense. It allows the exchange of ideas and viewpoints in (at least initially) a mutually respectful atmosphere.

I think that a huge part of why our nation (and not only our nation) has grown so intolerant and closed-minded is because we assume that a given interaction will not start with a tone of civility, but rather be primed for confrontation. That assumption, after all, has been proven correct more often than not.

The challenge is that beginning an interaction with politeness takes courage. After all, there’s a chance that it might not be reciprocated. What it will always be is disarming, acting to lower the potential friction point of anything from welcoming someone into one’s home to launching into a debate on presidential politics.

The concept of being disarming is difficult in a culture marked by the desire…and propensity…to always carry a bigger proverbial stick than the other person. Our national identity, after all, is a sort of swagger that comes with being powerful. Something that simply doesn’t compute in our modern American mindset is that civility and politeness mean lowering one’s guard, placing oneself at an intentional disadvantage to the other person.

Sort of like how the fastest way to calm down someone who is angry is to lower your own voice so that they have to pause to hear you.

If nothing else, if we can muster no other form of civility than this, I think that all Americans would benefit if we would simply lower our voices.

There would be something remarkably disarming about that.

Image attribution: Rob McMahon under Creative Commons.

Glimmer of Hope

I’ve had a long-standing rule that I don’t write about politics in this space. I’m not going to violate that tonight. Sometimes, though, politics intersect with culture. It’s the culture that I’m writing about, so don’t find that off-putting.


A week ago was Halloween. I’m honestly not a big fan of Halloween, but I am a big fan of cosplay, and it’s fun to watch our oldest daughter pick out her costume and get excited each year, so I’m at least tolerating it for the time being. Last week, Karen and I decided to divide the responsibilities. She took our daughter around the neighborhood, and I stayed at home to hand out candy to the other children. There were some excellent costumes (my favorites were a Nightmare-Before-Christmas guy and goth Raggedy Ann couple), but what struck me was how, in true New England fashion, everyone was so polite.

We ran out of candy early. I had to tell one group approaching the door that we were out just before I extinguished our porch light. They smiled and thanked us before moving on.

Everyone was happy. Everyone was getting along.


The election season of 2016 has taken something ugly and brought it to the surface. I don’t believe for a moment that this election created our hatred…it was festering well before the likes of Trump whipped it into a fever pitch. Unfortunately, it has brought it to the surface. Sure, we’ve seen the footage of violence at rallies from both sides, but there are more anecdotal experiences, as well. I’ve seen people stop speaking to each other. One of my dear, long-standing friends told me succinctly during a Twitter debate to leave America. I’ve heard fear about today, election day…fear of intimidation, fear of sabotage. I’ve had more than my share of tense family conversations.

Certainly, I’m watching the news with much trepidation as I write this. I arrived at my polling place early this morning, though, with even more trepidation.

What I found surprised me.

The people in line were joking and laughing. People holding signs were thanking others for coming out to vote. A police officer was present. He was greeting those in line, and assisting those with disabilities that prevented them from standing for an extended time (it was a long line) to the front. Police officers are always so much more respectful in New England than other places I’ve lived.

At first it was a release of tension, perhaps…I think nearly everyone is tired of the hatred that has been passed around liberally over the recent months. Ultimately, though, it was more than that. There was civility, regardless of which political direction was going through any of our minds. There was a sense that we were in this together.

Just like last week, when the entire neighborhood…and those from surrounding neighborhoods…were so polite and kind to each other. Perhaps moreso, as today there were no masks behind which to hide.

This gives me hope.

Because after all of the ill intent that has been spoken and acted leading up to today, there is something after. Whatever happens tonight as votes are tallied, there is a life beyond. And, when the dust settles and the cults of personality fade away…whichever way this election goes…we must all still live with each other. We must find a way to be colleagues, co-workers, neighbors, fellow church-goers, again. We must heal from the hate.

We’re all still citizens of the same country, but we’re also all human beings. There’s so much more that we have in common than divides us.

From this small experience this morning, I’m hopeful that we’re beginning to remember that. I need that hope.

We all do.

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Independent Thinking

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

-Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds