Thursday, December 27, 2007

The West Virginia Uglies

I think that Charleston is a pretty city. From some vantage points it is a beautiful city. The postcard- esque, if somewhat cliche, view from Cantley Drive (Fort Hill) is classic, and the view from Sunrise is nearly as nice. I really enjoy the view from the YMCA road off Hillcrest Drive, but the view of the town is fleeting as you round the curve near the top of the hill.

One of the reasons our city is so pretty is the massive amounts of vegetation that grows in and around town (this is also why people suffer so badly with seasonal allergies around here). The vegetation, especially the leaves on the deciduous trees, provides a beautiful green backdrop to the man-made portions through most of the year, and then it really comes to life in the fall.

But from late November through mid-April that backdrop changes, and it changes for the worse. In fact, the whole region loses much of its appeal as the leaves fall to the ground, leaving behind the skeletons that invisibly support them throughout most of the year. The green hills turn an ugly shade of gray, the ground turns muddy brown and the whole character of the landscape changes from cheery to dreary. I've heard people call this time of year "The West Virginia Uglies."

I'm sure that there are folks who like the change, but I do not count myself among them. I guess the best thing I could say about it is that the "Uglies" at least provide the contrast that helps us appreciate the amazing transformation that happens around us in the springtime. But that is really stretching optimism to its limits. It's just ugly. And it lasts too long.

Of course, a nice blanket of snow can really cover up the ugly and make the city look presentable for a while, but the snow comes with its own stress: Bad roads, shoveling walks and driveways, etc. Then when the snow begins to melt it is even uglier.

Can someone put in an order for an early spring?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Xmas Wishes

I don't like Christmas. That's not exactly true; I like Christmas as it should be, but I despise it as it is. If Christmas would begin on the evening of December 24th and wrap up at bed time on the 25th I could be a real fan. But the excess it has become is offensive to me, and I therefore quite involuntarily maintain a chronic state of crotchetiness throughout the month of December.

You know that Dr. Suess story about the big green thing that stole Christmas? I hate that story: The ending is so tragic. The Grinch, a creature with what I think is a perfectly understandable attitude toward the foolishness of Christmas, ultimately gets wooed by the sappy and sentimental Whos and is brainwashed into joining the party. I see this story as a parable or myth that explains why all humanity loses its collective freaking mind for the entire month of December every year. We all, I believe, are naturally like the Grinch. We can see the folly and meaninglessness in the obligatory giving and receiving of gifts. We all recognize that we only do it because Madison Avenue says it's what we should do. Everyone, if asked in the right way and in the right time (at least every sane person) will admit that Christmas is overblown and far too commercial. Some people, like the Grinch, resist the hyperbole for a while but then they are finally seduced by the materialism, the orgy of excess that is Christmas in America. We end up holding hands with all the other inmates in the asylum, circling the tree and singing "Fah who for-aze! Dah who dor-aze! Welcome Christmas, come this way!"

So now that we've established the fact that I'm not a fan of the holiday, allow me to wax maniacally and share with you some specific things I dislike the most about it:

First of all, I don't like the way that Christians have commercialized this nice quiet little pagan festival and turned it into something it isn't. If I were a pagan I'd be really pissed: They had a perfectly good party for centuries until all of the sudden it gets the incarnation of a deity ascribed to it and it gets blown all out of proportion.

Now before you start the flames, hear me out: I'm a Christian and I know how sensitive people are about this subject, but those people are mostly idiots. They get bent out of shape about things that they simply don't understand. Their outrage is usually fueled by some completely uneducated preacher or talk show host who has told them they should be offended if someone wishes them "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." They take this righteous indignation to the streets and strike out at the infidels who threaten to "take Christ out of Christmas." They frequently lash out at people who say or write "Xmas," thereby proving their ignorance. If they studied their own church history they would recognize that the "X" is an ancient way of writing the name of Christ, and using it this way actually is a more respectful way of ascribing His name to this holiday than calling it "Christmas" since that name has taken on a completely secular meaning (or so says the supreme court of the United States). Using the X as a monogram for Jesus Christ is a sign of reverence for the deity of Christ since it embraces the spirit of the Jewish prohibition against using the name of God; recognizing that God can't be understood or labeled with human words.

Then there are those people on the other side who invoke the tired old "Jesus wasn't born on December 25th" argument which is equally as stupid. It's metaphorical of another thing I despise about this holiday: That it provokes more religious intolerance than any other thing in our culture. Secularists and atheists take great joy in trying to use the occasion to ridicule the beliefs of Christians. No one with a brain thinks that Jesus was born in December: The reason that The Nativity is celebrated in December has nothing to do with the lunar calendar, but the church calendar which uses a year-long cycle to portray the entire life, death and resurrection of Christ. I won't go into it here, but you folks who want to use this argument should understand that any Christian that has a brain already understands this: It's arguing apples and oranges. Enough already.

But there are more than enough things to dislike about the holiday without even bringing up religion. I've used popular Christmas songs and carols to help put them into some kind of order:

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! - This is a lie on several fronts: First, weather-wise, Christmas just happens to fall a few days after the first day of winter. This means we get to go out and and freeze ourselves to death buying presents we can't afford, that nobody needs and only a few people (most under the age of 17) even want. It's also the most hectic time of the year, filled with way too many activities, too much travel, too many calories and far too many expectations that it is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year and we had better by golly enjoy ourselves.

Silent Night, Holy Night - Most Christmas memories from my youth are of loud obnoxious relatives crowded into a too small house with their kids screaming, first "When can we open our presents?", then screaming about their presents or screaming while they played with them.

The Twelve Days of Christmas - What I wouldn't give if Christmas were limited to 12 days! The current Christmas season begins shortly before Halloween, when Wal Mart opens their Xmas department. Christmas music CDs usually begin to advertised for sale in about mid-November. Of course, Thanksgiving Day (a day that used to be set aside for reflecting on one's blessings) is now the official start of Christmas shopping season.

I'll Be Home for Christmas - Let's be honest: There is nothing more stressful for parents and children than being forced to be cooped up in the house with each other pretending that they want to be together for hours on end. Add grandparents, aunts, uncles and in-laws and you have a recipe for disaster. With this kind of pressure even the best families can find themselves on an episode of "Cops."

O Christmas Tree - Imagine yourself, if you can, as an alien from another planet who lands on earth at Christmas time. You know nothing about the culture and practices of the people. Now, try to understand why anyone would cut down a perfectly good tree, bring it inside where it will become tinder-dry in a matter of days and then string electric wires all over it? Oh, and don't forget to put bunch of paper underneath for kindling!

Joy to the World - Yeah, right.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Coach Rod Adds to Our Fatalistic Self-View

It's legendary. No, not the football program at the University of Michigan, I'm speaking of what might be the single most important dynamic of our shared Appalachian psyche: Our fatalism. And this fatalism is best seen in world of sports fanaticism. Ask any WVU Mountaineer Football fan tomorrow after the news spreads about the defection of our beloved native son, Rich Rodriguez, to greener football pastures. They will be answering in platitudes and cliche`s that are chock full of fatalism.

Rather than expound on it here, let me point you all in the direction of a great post on the subject over at The Jacknut Chronicles.

So long, Coach Rod: We knew you'd be leaving eventually. Nothing good ever lasts for us.