Sean P Carlin

Writer of things that go bump in the night

Home for Christmas: (Not) a Hallmark Presentation

I’ve spent a somewhat embarrassingly disproportionate share of my free time this holiday season watching those endless made-for-Hallmark Christmas movies.  Good God—the scripts come off like bad first drafts banged out over a weekend, though somebody is probably making a handsome living writing them.  (Any chance you’re hiring, Hallmark?)  There are a few variations on the formula, but most play out something like this:

A work-obsessed city gal—typically a “marketing exec,” though clearly zero research has been conducted as to what precisely that entails—finds herself stranded in provincial New England, British Columbia, at the heart of the holiday season (kindly disregard the lush summer foliage in the background of every wide shot), where an earnest Bill-Pullman-in-While You Were Sleeping clone, far too manly and pragmatic to have ever participated in something as frivolous as an acting class, teaches our heroine, often with the aide of a precocious (and fortuitously motherless) child, the true meaning of Christmas—read:  small-town livin’ in the real America.  Twirling gape-mouthed in an obscenely production-designed town squarebrought to you by Balsam Hill!blanketed in a freshly fallen silent shroud of SnowCel, our newly enlightened protagonist declares, “This is what Christmas is supposed to look like!”

And that got me thinking:  What should Christmas look like?  I mean, if each of us could put the holiday season on a postcard to serve as the perfect representation of what it evokes in our hearts, what would yours depict?

Perhaps this?

That sure as hell don’t look like any Christmas I’ve ever known!  Maybe something quaint and rustic, if a tad more realistic:

Stark Union Church, built in 1853, in Stark, New Hampshire

That’s kinda nice; I could spend the holidays there quite happily!  However, it’s still an idealized country Christmas a city kid like myself has never known outside the movies.  This is where I grew up:

Rockefeller Center in New York City

I’ve even been to the tree-lighting ceremony; I braved the tourist crush one December evening after class in freshman year of college.  (Let’s just say that never-repeated experience made the rush-hour subways seem comfortably roomy by comparison.)  And years before that, we spent every Christmas Eve visiting Santa at the grand (and now sadly defunct) B. Altman’s department store on Fifth Avenue before heading uptown for dinner at Cockeyed Clams (also kaput) on 94th Street and Third Avenue.  It was the kind of floor-sawdusted restaurant with newsprint-stock menusnot remotely fancy but perfect in every way.  That New York was part of my annual Christmas experience was something I took completely for granted; Manhattan, after all, was my backyard.

And yet neither the tree at Rockefeller Center nor the legendary window displays at B. Altman’s epitomize “that special feeling” Christmastime inspires in me.  Rather, this does:

This is Broadway at West 231st Street in Kingsbridge, a business district and major public-transportation hub in the northwestern corner of the Bronx.  I spent more time down there as a kid than I can quantify:  in the red-leather warmth of Ehring’s Tavern with my father (they’re both history now, too); at the long-gone Dale movie theater (where my pals and I snuck into that showing of the R-rated Major League back in ’89, you’ll recall); waiting for the bus or subway to take me in one direction or the other.  Everyone in that sector of the Bronx passes through this intersection now and again; it can’t be avoided.

One time, Dad left the car running at the curb as he popped into Optimo for cigarettes—a lifelong New Yorker, you’d have thought he’d known better—and, no surprise, it was stolen by the time he came out thirty seconds later!  I wasn’t there when this happened, but I have no doubt he shrugged it off and spent the next several hours across the street in Ehring’s—and anyone who knew him would be hard-pressed to argue with that.  Man, I loved borough living.

 

A FAIRY TALE OF NEW YORK

This stretch of Kingsbridge is always bustling with activity, but never so much as at Christmastime, when holiday lighting is suspended between the lampposts that line 231st Street between Broadway and Ewen Park, known locally as Suicide Hill for its precipitously steep pitch and dangerously short terminal outrun that makes sledding there a thrilling if life-threatening pleasure.  Hefty bags were what passed for Flexible Flyers back in the good ol’ days (what’s called turning a lack of lemons, to quote Stephen Colbert, into a lack of lemonade), though on rare occasion we’d acquire ourselves the sleigh-riding Holy Grail:  the “Bronx bobsled”—a cardboard refrigerator box that could accommodate multiple riders!  Once, as four of us zoomed down the hill together à la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I sprained my foot slamming into a curbside tree; I limped for two weeks.  Never much of a student, the episode was my first real-world lesson in the principle of momentum equals mass times velocity.

Crossing Broadway after exiting the 1 train, the view beneath the steel girders of the el tracks this time of year, for anyone who cares to take note, is downright hallucinatory:  Flurries drift through gaps in the crossties overhead, the snowfall dyed amber by the phosphorescence of the city’s high-pressure sodium streetlights, creating a feeling of cold and warmth concurrently, and in equal measure.  This watermarked stock photo (of Brooklyn, not the Bronx) doesn’t quite do what I describe justice, and I thusly refused to pay the licensing fee, but it’ll give you a rough idea:

Waiting at the bus stop—or, as was more often the case, hoofing my way up the street when I didn’t have the fare—I’d stargaze at the prewar buildings, their brickwork blackened by decades of bus exhaust, the windows and fire escapes strung with dollar-store lights.  Nobody up there was having a Home Alone Christmas, but it was cheerful, and festive.  In some respects, it was even Dickensian:  This was how working-class people, in working-class New York neighborhoods, celebrated the holidays.  It wasn’t particularly distinguished or extravagant, but it was warm and welcoming nonetheless.  It always made me happy to be home again.  This is what Christmas is supposed to look like—at least for me.

 

TRUE TALES OF AMERICAN LIFE

As an author of the macabre whose stories are for the most part set in the gloom of autumn and winter, I admire and find inspiration in the idyllic Christmas visions of Thomas Kinkade and Norman Rockwell, same as I do the Gothic horror of Washington Irving and Bram Stoker and Anne Rice and Neil Gaiman.  But the life experiences of those artists aren’t my experiences; my fiction only has value and a singular voice if it reflects the world as I see it.

Stephen King tells stories of writers in New England because that’s a reality he can speak to honestly; same goes for John Hughes with respect to postwar Midwestern suburbia, and Woody Allen of neurotic Jewish New Yorkers, and Raymond Chandler of the mean streets of 1930s Los Angeles.  All of those writers stayed, for the most part, within a specific milieu not because it was commercially safe, necessarily, but because they knew about it, and had something meaningful to express about those cultures, those very American experiences.

So, when I think about my particular picture-postcard Christmas, I reminded of how my upbringing has shaped my own artistic worldview.  Escape from Rikers Island, my forthcoming urban fantasy novel, is about two men from the lower-middle-class subway stop on the socioeconomic spectrum—a cop raised in Bainbridge and a gangbanger brought up in Bed–Stuy—who’ve spent all their Christmases in apartments like the ones on 231st Street, because that’s a world I know, and love, and can speak to.  And, to be certain, it is one rich with creative inspiration:  For it was in Poe Park on East Kingsbridge Road that DeWitt Clinton graduates Bob Kane and Bill Finger developed one of pop cultures most enduring, recognizable iconsBatman, a personal favorite of mine, who showed me how to use my imagination as only comic-book superheroes can, and even taught me how to read.

A vintage Batmobile from the 1980s that sits on a shelf in my office, and reminds me of how I came to be a professional fantasizer

Of all the action figures of Christmas Past I had the pleasure of playing with—the He-Mans and G.I. Joes, the Star Wars and Super Powers collections—the aforementioned fictional cop and gangbanger are my favorites, because the world they inhabit is the one I inhabit, too.  Augmented with reanimated monsters, of course, but why should those lurk exclusively in the shadowy corridors of European castles and New England mansions, and on the pristine streets of white upper-middle-class suburbia in the cinema of Wes Craven and John Carpenter?  The blue-collar boroughs have their stories to tell, too—their horrors and their heroes.  So, I’m going to stick around awhile and chronicle them—the ones I’ve lived and dreamed, and have plenty to say about—starting with Escape from Rikers Island, which is my kind of winter’s tale, set in my part of the real America.

Because, hell, somebody ought to, seeing how they don’t make Hallmark movies about finding the true meaning of Christmas in friggin’ Kingsbridge.  Nobody thinks the glow of low-rent neon signage or the rattling of el-train tracks is especially romantic or yuletide-inspiring; none of that ever made the cover of the Christmas edition of The Saturday Evening Post, so far as I know.  Rockwell may have never seen beauty in that sort of thing, but I do.  “It’s my corner, after all,” observed Auggie Wren, in Paul Auster’s Smoke, of the Park Slope intersection where his cigar shop was situated, and that he dutifully photographed every morning at precisely eight o’clock for over four thousand straight days.  “It’s just one little part of the world, but things happen there, too, just like everywhere else.  It’s a record of my little spot.”

25 Comments

  1. Oh great goddess, not Hallmark movies! haha JK Yeah a postcard of my childhood Holidays would be filled with drunken family members fighting each other, or my crazy aunts playing pranks haha I’d take that over Thomas Kinkade anyday!

    • Yep! That was ultimately what drove Clark Griswold to the brink of insanity: He was chasing an idyllic vision of Christmas that couldn’t possibly be attained, instead of just enjoying what he had, warts and all.

      I know that when I look back at our low-rent childhood — sneaking into movies, sledding on garbage bags, splitting a ninety-cent slice of pizza into three sharable “strips” because that was all we could afford — I wouldn’t trade it for any of the crap kids have today (and can’t live without): the iPhones, the Internet, the endless high-tech entertainment. We didn’t have money or technology, but there was no shortage of pure joy back then. There were plenty of free amusements to be found on the streets, and those analog experiences have continued to pay dividends — in terms of both personal perspective and artistic inspiration — to this day.

      I cherish those times, and I love finding opportunities to celebrate them — like this one! Thanks for partaking in my walk down memory lane, Jess! Best to you and yours for a drunken, chaotic, prank-filled, joyous holiday season! Here’s to your continued success in ’18!

  2. Wonderful post, Sean. I love the Dickensian photos and the memories. I agree that Christmas is so much about childhood experiences, our memories captured in magical snow globes that leave indelible imprints on our minds and give meaning to the season. Whether a quaint snowy covered bridge, amber snow beneath the crossties, or frosty trees for sale by the subway, it’s the details that bring the experiences to life, not the cliches. Thanks for the tour through your Christmas. Loved it. 🙂

    • Aw, thanks, Diana! I so appreciate your kind words, and I’m delighted you responded to the piece exactly as I’d intended. It can be very tempting for us, as writers, to want to duplicate the particular fictions that captured our imaginations, that inspired us to want to be storytellers, as a well-meaning way of sharing their magic with others; God knows, in high school, I had visions of writing the kinds of buddy-cop actioners I devoured (I wrote a few painful Die Hard rip-offs in spiral notebooks!), or composing my own takes on Dracula and the Wolfman, replete with all the shopworn Gothic trappings (did that, too). And why not? I loved that stuff, after all, and wanted to play in those sandboxes.

      But part of our evolution as artists, which certainly includes finding our own unique voice, is learning to take inspiration from our influences, yet recast them in our own image — to tell stories set within the places we’re familiar with, populated with the kinds of people we know, with details that are authentic to our unique experiences and worldview, rather than just recycled tropes from other stories.

      And when I realized I couldn’t tell werewolf tales set on the moors, or vampires in Victorian England, or killer aliens on planetary outposts — because they’d already been told to death — I started looking within, and I saw the potential to tell monster stories about the people and places I knew best: the working-class denizens of the outer boroughs of New York. And that got me very excited, because now I was telling stories only Sean Carlin could tell, and fusing real-world observational particulars — like the amber snowfall you noted — with the kind of genre fiction that gets me excited (horror and dark fantasy).

      We’re always looking to avoid clichés — nobody wants to write one of those subpar Hallmark movies — and the way that’s done is by drawing from our unique experiences, and then figuring out what about them has universal appeal. That’s certainly a topic that could be more fully explored in its own blog post.

      And a real quick note on your comment that Christmas is so heavily about childhood experiences: Just this past week, I read a wonderful essay in the New York Times by Jennifer Finney Boylan called “My Favorite Holiday Movie Involves a Giant Rabbit.” In the article, Ms. Boylan discusses the unique power Christmas movies have to restore that special sense of security we know only in our youth:

      “Basked in the blue glow of television light, I am a child again, safe in my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, all the trauma of our lives off in the distant future. How sweet it is, to be restored, fleetingly, to that world, and how bitter to be reminded of how long it has been gone. It’s a loss that can feel especially keen to me at Christmas.”

      That really got me, and I wanted to share the article, because it’s one worth reading.

      Thanks, Diana, for the steadfast support you’ve shown my blog over the past year — it is very much appreciated! Looking forward to more creativity from — and rewarding interaction with — our WordPress community in ’18!

      Sean

      • “….telling stories only Sean Carlin could tell.” That little phrase made me smile. 🙂 I’ve always felt that writing stories involves a personal investment of the heart. It’s not the scenes of amber snow that are particularly unique, but how they stir you as the writer that gives them their power in the story. That’s what the reader feels in your words. It’s why the nostalgia in your post is so powerful–it’s replete with emotion. Happy Writing and Merry Christmas, Sean.

        • Thank you, Diana — your encouragement is beyond heartening.

          It’s important to remember that all the techniques and principles we study to be effective writers are only there to serve an emotional agenda. I spend a lot of time on this blog extoling the virtues of craft, but it’s worth noting now and again that craft is just a tool, a means to an end — not the end unto itself. As writers, we respond when something about the world around us evokes a feeling within, and we employ craft to refine those feelings, give shape to them, and share them with others so they may feel it, too. Think about that for a second: Storytelling is the power to take something utterly intangible and metaphysical — a sensation or impression that occurred in a moment — and to preserve it and convey it with nothing more than ink on a page. Is there anything more magical than that?

          And on the subject of the magic of both storytelling and Christmas, I encourage everyone to read Diana’s delightful short story “The Snow Globe,” which was just recently reposted by Sally G. Cronin on her Smorgasbord blog.

        • Alec Nevala-Lee’s blog post How to be useful (https://nevalalee.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/how-to-be-useful/) touches on this idea of telling stories only you can tell

          “Finally, after listening to the advice of a literary agent, (Euell Gibbons) sat down to try to combine his interests. He knew his subject first- and second-hand; he knew it backward to the botanies of the tribes. And now he told everybody else how to gather and prepare wild food.” The result was the book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, which became the first in a bestselling series.

          This is non-fiction, as opposed to fiction, but the same principle applies

          • That is a wonderful post you’ve linked to, Dell — thank you for making me aware of Alec Nevala-Lee’s blog! It seems he has a great many articles of interest…

            The Sontag quote about not wanting “to tell yet one more story in the first person of how someone learned that she or he had cancer,” even though that was her story, is particularly germane to what we’ve been discussing here, because every writer is faced with the challenge of telling an old story (’cause they’re all old) in a unique way (true to our own worldview and experience) so as to resonate universally. That’s the trick. Bad and inexperienced writers just emulate what they’ve read elsewhere, settling for being a second-rate version of someone else rather than a first-rate version of themselves, to borrow a quote from novelist David Morrell; masterful writers have learned the difference between inspiration and imitation, drawing from the former and avoiding the latter.

            And maybe that’s a good litmus test for all the stories (fiction and nonfiction, as you noted) we want to tell: Is this useful? Is it sufficiently different, in some way, from everything that’s come before it? Is it a story only I could’ve written? Like that Lin-Manuel Miranda quote Alec cites: “What’s the thing that’s not in the world that should be in the world?” If the story you’re thinking of telling is already in the world, reconsider or reconceptualize it. As we develop our loglines — the conceptual nucleus of our narratives — it would behoove us to ask ourselves if the premise itself is a useful one.

            Thanks, Dell, for the thought-provoking contribution to the conversation, and for all the support you’ve shown the blog this past year; your participation is very much appreciated.

      • Yeah, but it can take a bleep of a lot of courage to tell the story only you can tell

        Easier and safer to stick to somebody else’s visions

        • Hey, Dell! Happy Holidays!

          It does take courage to tell the story only you can tell, and to tell it the way you think it should be told; that’s something I discussed at length in last month’s post on the pros and cons of writers groups, in case you haven’t had a chance to read it. It’s only when (and if) we have something insightful or meaningful to say about the world around us — conclusions drawn from the observations inspired by our unique experiences and personalities — that all the craft we’ve practiced (and mastered) can transcend the mechanical exercise of typing words on a page to become art. And producing art — taking the time to learn your craft, using that craft to then shape your visions into something you share with the world — is very much a sustained act of courage.

          Thanks for visiting, Dell! Here’s to a creative and productive 2018 for you, my friend!

  3. I’m sitting with my feet up on the coffee table, having just string the lights on the tree I picked up for only $20 at a local farm. I haven’t added any ornaments yet — and I may not. I’m enjoying the simplicity of my little tree, sparkling with clean, white light, a hand-woven wicker star on top.

    And that is where I’ll leave off regarding my own Christmas experience(s), present or past. Because I don’t want to take away from the wonderful images you’ve shared with us here. Thank you for the unique insider perspective on a setting most of the world will never know first-hand. It’s a beautiful reminder that “normal” is relative.

    • Everything you describe, Erik, sounds absolutely perfect! Enjoy every moment of it — the holidays go by so quickly.

      I hope everyone takes an opportunity this season to look around at the people and places in their life and appreciate just how special their particular circumstances are. The visions of Christmas they sell us in the movies are, to be sure, wonderful — they give us a chance to vicariously experience other lives, other corners of the world, and other yuletide celebrations — but they don’t hold a candle to the ones right in front of us. Christmas is a nice occasion, I think, to remember that.

      Thanks for your support and friendship this year, Erik — something I will certainly be reflecting on and celebrating in the coming weeks. Looking forward to the Best Advice Yet-to-Come in 2018!

      • Thanks for your own friendship and encouragement, Sean. As time goes by, I need and want less by way of material things, while valuing meaningful time and interactions with good people more.

  4. That was fun. I ws definitely drawn into the Norman Rockwell-sort of image that you first presented but I also loved the down-to-earth. In the end, it’s what resonates with us, innit.

    Gothic Christmas image–that has me thinking.

    • Thanks, Jacqui. I think it’s important to remember that as appealing as the conventional fantasies can be — and I certainly get swept up in them same as everyone else — our realities have their own special magic to them. That can be hard to see after awhile, because we become so used to them, but there’s something about the special texture the holiday season endows our “ordinary circumstances” with that makes us consider them anew.

      To your second point: I submit that Gothic literary traditions and Christmas share a long history, from A Christmas Carol to portions of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon by Washington Irving to the Christmas Eve ghost stories of M. R. James (who himself sought to eschew some of the genre’s more clichéd trappings in favor of more down-to-earth settings, not entirely unlike what I’ve strived for with Escape from Rikers Island). There’s a reason, after all, why Andy Williams included the telling of scary ghost stories among our most cherished yuletide activities in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”!

  5. What is with you guys?! Not long ago, I gave my husband a ton of grief for wasting an afternoon glazed over, wide-eyed with the slightest bit of spittle at the corners of his mouth,on the Hallmark Channel. OK, the spittle part is made-up, but his time spent zoning through a couple one-and-one-half star movies was for reals. I love your idea that Christmas is where and how and what you knew. I’m as sentimental a fool as anyone, but my Christmas never fit the ideal we see in TV film or in commercials. In younger years I wondered why not, but the reality is that my Christmases were perfect. Perfectly imperfect with my perfectly imperfect family. I wish you the merriest of everything the season has to offer, Sean. Cheers to you!

    • Haha! You know, they really ought to call the Hallmark Channel the Broken Promises Channel, because every stupid holiday movie they advertise makes me go, “That looks so good!” And then you watch it… and it is so not. But like Charlie Brown with that damn football, I get tempted to try again the following weekend! Rocky Mountain Christmas, here I come! C’mon, Treat Williams, don’t let me down…

      When I was a kid, I myself would sometimes wonder why our particular circumstances — living in a rental apartment in the Bronx — didn’t look anything like what I’d see on TV: The Brady Bunch, Eight Is Enough, Family Ties, Growing Pains — that sort of thing. But as I got older, I realized that what was so special about our upbringing — and that includes our Christmases — was that they were uniquely ours; that they weren’t represented in any movies or TV I’d watch almost became a badge of honor: It was a secret world we lived in — our world — that was special not because it was quintessential Americana, but because it wasn’t. And that is a world I now have the privilege of portraying, exploring, and celebrating in my own fiction, so it’s a cherished “feedback loop” I share with my beloved hometown.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours, Wendy! I thank you for being so steadfastly supportive of my little blog all year long, and I wish you only the best of health and happiness in 2018! Looking forward to more great conversations about life and music in the year to come! Meanwhile, I hope you’re spending the holidays in the place most meaningful to you.

      SPC

  6. Christmas is what you make of it, and it helps not to have unrealistic expectations.

    I don’t have much in the way of childhood Christmas nostalgia (I’m an abuse survivor), but I tried to have all the components for my kids–tree, gifts, cookies, movies, stories, children’s mass.

    As far as Christmas movies go, I was never one for Miracle on Whatever Street or those of that ilk. Unlike you, I can’t relate to New York. But I did love Scrooged, as well as several other adaptations of A Christmas Carol (the muppet one is surprisingly good in my opinion). My husband likes Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase–it’s somewhat slapstick-y, but it does portray the stress of trying to get everything perfect. And I have fond memories of the Grinch and Charlie Brown.

    • And I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas, in whatever way you choose to celebrate it. 🙂

    • Cathleen,

      Sincerest apologies for taking so long to respond! I only just returned from Christmas vacation (I left town the day before you posted your comment), where I was merely sporadically keeping up with e-mails and social media. Please don’t think I ignored your contribution or didn’t appreciate it; I was only waiting to reply to it when I had time to compose a proper acknowledgment. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

      I think nostalgia for Christmas is very much a double-edged sword: The occasion carries a sentimental weight that puts us in touch, in a very immediate and tactile way, with times long past, and that can be comforting… but it inevitably turns a bit melancholic, too. The happy days and loved ones of Christmases Past seem so close at this time of year, yet still hopelessly out of reach — like a specter in the room, or a supermoon in the sky. You know what I mean? They’re right in front of us — right there! — yet can’t be touched. We feel a thrill at being in such close proximity to them again, and simultaneously a frustration with the metaphysical veil that thwarts direct contact with them. Like all true magic — and, to be certain, Christmas is magical — it comes with a curse, or at very least a price. The holiday functions best, then, as an ephemeral reminder of a childlike purity within us — something acknowledged but not overindulged.

      In short, the ghosts of Christmas Past are — to many yet not all — cherished and sacred, but, regardless, they don’t compare to the celebrations of Christmas Present, because there’s no greater gift than the here and now. Making memories for your children is a much better way to seize the day than revisiting the memories of your own childhood, be them happy or otherwise. Hope your Christmas last month was a special one however you chose to celebrate it.

      As for Christmas cinema: The Grinch and Charlie Brown are better than ever, half a century later — products of a Golden Age of animated holiday specials yet to be surpassed. My favorite version of A Christmas Carol is the one with George C. Scott from 1984 (which I have fond memories of watching with my father back when it first aired on television). It’s a Wonderful Life and Babes in Toyland also evoke happy memories of Christmases Past, because both aired in constant rotation on WPIX in New York around the holidays in the eighties. I love the John Hughes classics Christmas Vacation and Home Alone (the latter of which I wrote about here). Love Actually never gets old (I’m not among those who hold it in disdain). And of course there is a long tradition of Christmas-themed action movies from Lethal Weapon to Die Hard to Batman Returns to The Long Kiss Goodnight to The Last Boy Scout (among many, many others) that offered the best of both worlds to the twelve-year-old boy I was when I first saw (most) of them!

      I think Christmas as a narrative setting works best when it serves as background, as it does in Lethal Weapon and Love Actually and even in A Christmas Carol. Where the Hallmark movies get it wrong is they make the stories about Christmas, versus being about believable characters grappling with real problems (like soul-deadening avarice in Christmas Carol or suicidal despair in Lethal Weapon, and not a contrived distaste for the holiday itself) that happen to be exacerbated by the yuletide ambience. Perhaps that’ll be next year’s holiday post!

      Thanks, Cathleen. Wishing you a very happy, healthy, and productive New Year!

      SPC

  7. I am completely guilty of watching those cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies. I can’t help myself. In my mind, the image of Christmas is the Thomas Kinkade portrait. However, I do admire greatly the other picture you posted with the covered bridge. That picture is also part of my idea of what Christmas looks like. I grew up at the Jersey shore. Christmas didn’t actually look like those photos either. I love the idea of the small town square where everyone gathers to sing Christmas carols, drink hot cocoa, and skate on the nearby outdoor rink.

    I also don’t have a big family so holidays pretty much consisted of the same people I saw every day. In my New England small town Christmas fantasy where I live in a modern day cabin surrounded by evergreens, I also enjoy the company of many people who bake cookies, help each other, sing Christmas carols, and ice skate. Ha ha.

    Hallmark appeals to my imagination, minus the trees in bloom and the women who wear short skirts with their legs bare, in the middle of winter.

    Whatever Christmas looks like, the message of peace, love, and good will is the best picture of all.

    • Thanks, Stacey, for weighing in with your Christmas visions!

      To give those Hallmark movies their due, they are completely harmless pieces of entertainment that make people happy. They’re the perfect bit of “background noise” when you’re baking cookies, or wrapping presents, and you can put them on with kids around and not have to worry about objectionable content. That fact remains, human beings need fantasy as a component of their lives, be it Hallmark, superheroes, science fiction, or even Fixer Upper. Fantasy as an escape from reality is perfectly acceptable (it’s only troubling when it becomes a retreat from reality). So it’s not all that surprising, then, that the ratings for this year’s Hallmark holiday offerings were higher than ever, given the state of geopolitical affairs of 2017.

      I’m a capital-R Romantic myself; to this day, my favorite show of all time is Gilmore Girls, and I fantasize about moving to that town, even though I know it doesn’t really exist. But I nevertheless draw inspiration and aspiration from it. To quote one of my favorite Rush songs, “We each pay a fabulous price/For our visions of paradise.”

      But all of that is to say I concur with your closing sentiment: What Christmas looks like externally is not as important as what it inspires internally, as exemplified by this lovely, real-life Christmas story from Greater Than Gravity. I encourage everyone to take three minutes to read it, and, if you’re feeling charitable, to donate to the cause it supports.

      Thanks, Stacey! Wishing you a productive New Year, which you are clearly already on the road to having

      SPC

  8. Thank you. As always, for your continued support.

    I love your insights on all topics. This one was no different. I hope your wife appreciates your romantic side. That’s a tough one to find in a guy. Especially one with so much testosterone. Wink!

    • Likewise, Stacey! You know, I was just this morning chatting online with D.G. Kaye about how we as authors are part of an uncommon community — mutually supportive, non-zero-sum — that I’ve come to cherish. (Screenwriting, alas, is a far more competitive vocation.) You and I were talking the other day about Love Actually on your blog, and to invoke a sentiment from that film, whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the kind and creative folks — yourself included — that comprise our group of writers and bloggers, and how we all seem to understand that we rise together: We share ideas and promote one another’s work, and everyone comes out a winner.

      On the subject of romance and my wife, she and I will be celebrating the twenty-second anniversary of our very first date tomorrow! We went to see (speaking of testosterone) the Al Pacino/Robert De Niro thriller Heat, an experience I commemorated here. Twenty-two years — we must be doing something right!

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