The Meaning of Christmas, Non-Believer Style

29 12 2009

Christmas always seemed like such an arbitrary holiday to me.  I guess they are all pretty much arbitrary, except for the 4th of July, which is one of the only ones I can think of that actually corresponds to an event that happened on that day.  There’s only a one in 365 chance that Jesus was born on December 25, but at some point somebody decided that on that day and for the entire month preceding it, we would sing songs about little drummer boys, dress in hideous red sweaters, spend our year-end bonuses on an obligatory gift for our uncle’s third wife and prop up big evergreen trees in our living rooms.

The Christmas holiday has gotten so folded into our culture and our mentality that it no longer feels like something we repeatedly choose to do– it feels like something that naturally occurs, like a blizzard or a rogue wave.  December is marked by the occurrence of Christmas, which is characterized by holly and reindeer and snowmen.  What must it be like to live in the half of the world where Christmas occurs in the summertime?  Do Bolivians dress their chihuahuas in little elf outfits and reindeer antlers despite the fact that it’s 95 degrees outside?  Because that would be kind of weird.

I digress.

The point is, everyone sort of goes through the motions of Christmas every year, buying gifts for people and putting milk and oreo cookies out for Santa simply because that’s what’s always been done.  I go home to Louisiana for a week, revert to my childhood dynamic with my brothers (hair-pulling, name-calling, etc.) and sit around with my old high school friends for hours while everyone catches up on who’s married, pregnant or in jail.  We tell each other the same stories every year– the one about Peggy Sue getting suspended for flashing the math teacher, the one about Betty Jo convincing everyone in gym class that she had leukemia.

What’s different, as we get older, is that the holidays give us so much more perspective on our lives.  Your friends start to come into focus as adults– John is a 5th grade teacher, Susie is an architect, James is running the first co-ed brothel in Reno– and this forces you to evaluate what kind of adult you’ve become, how your life compares to theirs, how your relationship or lack thereof compares to theirs, and which friends you still want to take with you into adulthood.  Your grandparents are older, your little sibling is becoming more like a real person than a little sibling, and your ex-boyfriend’s toddler has his unibrow.

Single people are made to feel really single at Christmas, and relationships are either broken or fast-forwarded.  That guy Sarah was fine with dating in July suddenly becomes unacceptable in December because it’s clear that he will never marry her, and Jacob realizes that the girl he was so-so about in November is really great with his family and their dogs and has thus become a stronger candidate for life-partnership.

Christmas is an annual emotional upheaval, and it’s all very strange– but by January 1st, you really do feel a sense of closure on the previous year.  You’ve had a chance to reconnect with family and friends, to evaluate your life and relationships, and to get a better idea of what direction you want to steer your life.  It’s a perfect time for the new year to begin, a fresh slate.

So for me, and I think for a lot of people, Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.  In fact, this was the first year of my life that I did not attend Church with my family on Christmas eve, and in lieu of the priest’s homily, I discovered the meaning of Christmas for myself (cue theme music from Miracle on 34th Street).  It’s about seeing your life in a snow globe, figuring out the kind of person you want to be at this time next year, nurturing those relationships that are important to you and shedding the ones the aren’t.

I’m also really excited about my new iPhone, but that’s neither here nor there.

So tell me, friends– what have the holidays done for you lately?



18 12 2009

Happy Rednecks

According to a recent study published in Science magazine, Louisiana topped the list of the happiest states in America.  Here’s how the study was done:

“The researchers examined a 2005- 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System random sample of 1.3 million United States citizens in which Life-satisfaction in each U.S. state is measured. This provided a league table of happiness by US State reproduced below. This is the first large scale analysis of happiness levels in the US.”

So Louisiana came in first, Hawaii second, Florida third, and New York came in last.  But what accounts for these discrepancies?

The Huffington Post (God bless ’em) posted an article by Randolph Schmid that claims, “The places where people are most likely to report happiness also tend to rate high on studies comparing things like climate, crime rates, air quality and schools.”

Um… have they ever been to Louisiana?  Louisiana has one of the worst school systems in the nation.  It’s always either raining or oppressively hot outside, and the crime rate in New Orleans is laughably high.  But the secret is, Louisianians aren’t really bothered by those things.  They  just want you to pass them a beer. If that’s all you need in life– a beer, some shrimp and rice, and maybe a good football game– then it’s pretty easy to be the happiest state in the union.

Know why New York came in last?  Because New Yorkers are high-maintenance, constantly demanding absurd luxuries like “quality health care,” “lower crime rates,” “honest politicians” and “good schools.”

There’s a lesson to be taken away from this study, and that lesson can be summed up in three words:

Lower. your. expectations.

I would also like to note that Texas is number 16.  Heh heh.

Here is the full list of rankings, since many of you will be too lazy to click on the above link:

  1. Louisiana
  2. Hawaii
  3. Florida
  4. Tennessee
  5. Arizona
  6. Mississippi
  7. Montana
  8. South Carolina
  9. Alabama
  10. Maine
  11. Alaska
  12. North Carolina
  13. Wyoming
  14. Idaho
  15. South Dakota
  16. Texas
  17. Arkansas
  18. Vermont
  19. Georgia
  20. Oklahoma
  21. Colorado
  22. Delaware
  23. Utah
  24. New Mexico
  25. North Dakota
  26. Minnesota
  27. New Hampshire
  28. Virginia
  29. Wisconsin
  30. Oregon
  31. Iowa
  32. Kansas
  33. Nebraska
  34. West Virginia
  35. Kentucky
  36. Washington
  37. District of Columbia
  38. Missouri
  39. Nevada
  40. Maryland
  41. Pennsylvania
  42. Rhode Island
  43. Massachusetts
  44. Ohio
  45. Illinois
  46. California
  47. Indiana
  48. Michigan
  49. New Jersey
  50. Connecticut
  51. New York

Top 5 Crime Movies of All Time

16 12 2009

I think I might have a trace of OCD.   I get on these weird kicks sometimes, where I do the same thing at the same time every day for a curiously long period of time.

Usually these kicks are food-related.  For instance, I’ll have the same random burrito from Burrito Brothers– spinach with pinto beans, no sour cream, add cheese– every day for three straight months until someone I work with gets weirded out and forces me to reevaluate.  I can’t help it.  If I try to order something else, I just feel like I’m missing out on what I really wanted.

Other people do that too, right?

Anyway, this latest kick is not a food kick– it’s a YouTube kick.  Every night after work I have to sit down and watch the Uma Thurman/John Travolta twist scene from Pulp Fiction. I watch it two, maybe three times a night.

That Chuck Berry song is perpetually stuck in my head, but if you’re gonna have any song in your head, it might as well be that one.  It’s perfection.

And speaking of perfection, I have another top 5 list for you guys:

Top 5 Crime Movies of All Time

1. Pulp Fiction

2. The Godfather, Part II (the only sequel in history that was better than the original.)

3. Goodfellas

4. The Departed

5. The Usual Suspects

Did I miss any? What’s in your top 5?

Junkie-Geniuses: Why History’s Visionaries All Got High

15 12 2009

Ernest Hemingway hitting the bottle.

Hemingway was a drunk.  Coleridge was addicted to opium.  Poe struggled with drinking and drugs.  Cobain, Jagger, Hendrix, Joplin were junkies.  Freud? Cokehead.

Why is it that many of history’s greatest thinkers and artists are also history’s most notorious addicts?

There’s one obvious answer, which is that some artists self-medicate in order to escape the crushing pressures of fame.  Creative minds are also prone to experimentation, which explains away the drug use in many scenarios.

But I also think some part of it has to do with IQ.  The brain of a visionary artist or thinker can be so overactive that they drive themselves mad with their everyday thoughts.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be Thom Yorke, constantly churning out these brilliant, provocative, depressing lyrics.  People like Yorke and Edgar Allen Poe and Kurt Cobain probe into life, choosing to see what other people prefer to ignore.  That can be a really scary business.

Ignorance is bliss; it’s trite, but it’s true.  And it poses a huge dilemma: is it better to sacrifice knowledge for the sake of being happy, or should you force yourself to do the kind of difficult, between-the-lines thinking that sometimes brings your mind into really dark places?

Obviously, you choose the latter, and find some kind of outlet by which to express yourself.   Or if you’re someone like Hemingway, you booze to make up the difference.

Sometimes the booze and narcotics seem to work in these artists’ favor.  Coleridge could have never found the inspiration to write “Kubla Khan” without the opium-induced hallucination.

“For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.”

(We all know what you fed on, Sam.)

But inevitably, the drugs always get the best of these people.  The lifestyle becomes too much for one brain to handle, the artists/thinkers either OD or they commit suicide, and America loses some of its greatest minds.

Tragic, really– but maybe that’s what they were going for.

Food for thought: In a world without artificial mind-numbers, would you rather be dumb and happy, or brilliant and (occasionally) miserable?

Need love advice? Don’t ask Spitzer’s call-girl.

14 12 2009

Ashley Dupré, New York Post Advice Columnist

Remember Ashley Dupré, the infamous call-girl that scandalized former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer?  Well she’s back in the news, but this time for a highly entertaining new advice column in the New York Post.

Among the many nuggets of wisdom Ashley bestows upon her lucky readers, here are a few of my favorites:

Q: Are there tell-tale signs a man isn’t happy in his marriage?

A: “Guys are primal. They’re proud and need to be treated like they’re proud and special… Guys are so easy to please and I don’t just mean sexually. We all need to feel loved and appreciated. Ask yourself, when was the last time you did something to make your husband feel loved, special and appreciated . . . and if you can’t remember, then that’s your sign right there.”

Men need to be treated like they’re proud?  WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! Now I understand why you’re getting paid to sleep with married men and I’m not.

Q. How do I know if my daughter may be getting into trouble?

A. “If your daughter is getting good grades, shows you respect and has a good head on her shoulders, give her room to go out, grow and make mis takes. And be there when she falls. I would definitely educate her on what is out there in the world to be wary of.

Sometimes instilling a little (but not too much) fear into her is not a bad thing. It validates your concerns so she won’t think you’re just being an overbearing, overprotective parent who isn’t ready for her to grow up.”

How does instilling fear into your daughter validate your own concerns? We are all dumber for having read that.

I don’t know what’s worse, her advice or her writing skills.  Ashley Dupré is about as qualified to dole out marriage and parenting tips as Tiger Woods.

New York Post, you have failed to impress me again.  I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

7 Lessons I Learned this Weekend

13 12 2009

On Saturday I invited eight people over for eggnog and charades, and 20 showed up.  I was underprepared for the crowd in terms of food, beverage and entertainment, so my hostessing turned into a bit of a clusterfuck.

For future reference:

1. If you bake a wheel of brie cheese at 400 degrees for 2 hours, it turns into a hockey puck.

2. If you put a bottle of spiced rum on the counter next to a pot of apple cider, the rum will be gone long before the cider.

3. Lebanese people love cream cheese.

4. Lebanese people do not love charades.

5. Vegan cupcakes are not nearly as delicious as regular ones, unless you can’t tell the difference because you’re on serious painkillers from a recent knee surgery.

6. If you turn your TV to the Christmas carols channel for musical entertainment, at least one person at the party will call you “gay” and promptly leave.

7. Whiskey and eggnog are only festive prior to entering your body.

Good to know.

Look Ma, I’m a reporter!

11 12 2009

This will be the first and the last time I ever link to one of my own articles on this blog, but I’m pretty excited about this one.

Behold, my first legitimate attempt at investigative reporting:

Networks Host ‘Military Analysts’ without Disclosing Their Massive Conflicts of Interest