The Reluctant Artiste: Christmas Heebie Jeebies (Schadenfreude reverie)

I read somewhere that the reason you sweat, clench and throw up in your mouth a little when you see someone’s FANTASTIC NEWS on Facebook is that you are living your life in Real Time and experiencing theirs as a Sizzle Reel. 

Or maybe you don’t do that. Maybe it’s only me. Maybe I have issues. 


Okay. I have issues. 


However. I don’t care how well balanced you are, you are still gonna run for the Gravol when the Family Christmas Letters/Sizzle Reels start to arrive. 


The quintessential one that made the rounds on social media this holiday season was called Christmas Jammies, in which a tall (Dad), gorgeous (everyone), thin (but well-endowed—Christmas jammies are great for clinging to endowments), white (but you know the kids take hip hop classes), affluent (look at their great huge house! Look at their new car!) broadcaster/actor couple with adorable children make a playful music video family sizzle reel, all in support of the couple’s brand new exciting start up—making playful sizzle reels for other people and their achievements. In a dazzling display of consumer-based meta, it is an ad for a family that is an ad for the family’s ad-making. I assume the making-of documentary is forth-coming.


I shudder to think what copy cat videos by less tall gorgeous white thin adorable families were being rushed into production as it began to make the FB/Twitter rounds (Christmas jammies are great for clinging to things other than endowments…words like “crack”, “toe” and “pup tent” spring to mind). Still it was out there. And my acid reflux was riding high.  


Cause I’m jealous right? Must be that, right? If I was dancing on camera in stretchy red and green jammies, I’d looked like cherry-lime jello having a grand mal seizure. Seizure Reels just don’t have the same cachet as Sizzle Reels. Except perhaps in very very specialized fetish communities, and frankly I don’t want them looking at my Christmas Jammies.


 My life isn’t new hybrids and adorable moppets breakin’ it down. It’s interesting, and rich, and occasionally unbearably sad, and often hilarious, and full of stuff that does not so much sizzle as plop. And as I am not going to share the plopping with the social universe (‘cause even if I were willing, who would want to read that? Except for the aforementioned fetishists?), as a habitual truth-teller, and regular wanderer on the downright gloomy side of the street, I can’t share the good stuff, can I? Not and continue to feel morally superior to the Christmas Jammie-sons, who I imagine completing their adorable recording and then promptly stripping off their Spanx, flopping down,  lighting crack pipes and firing up some nice porn.  I think of their (completely undocumented, fired only by my raging jealousy) hypocrisy, and turn rosy with the warmth that comes from my sense of moral snooty-ness. If I made my own holiday sizzle reel, I’d have to give that up. And my imagined higher ground is all I have to cling to some days. 


So all I can do is sit here, sizzle-less, and try to think of what to say in my inevitably written after the fact Christmas letter. 


It was a year. Things happened. Since everyone in the family is basically a decent if flawed human being, everyone tried their best, even and possibly especially when making mistakes. Things changed, ‘cause that’s what they do, and we made the best of it. There was a day where everyone was okay and safe and happy all at once, and we had a cake, ‘cause we know better than to take that for granted. There was a day when things were very bad indeed, and we didn’t freak out, because they’d been like that before and we’d gotten through it, so we knew we could again. We had a cake for that too. 


There were days. Which completely and utterly beats the alternative. 



Peace, joy and light in the new year from Eric, Jessie, Sam, Finn, KJB the Reluctant Artiste, and the dreadful dogs. 





The Reluctant Artiste: Death Comes for Breakfast

Sometimes a reluctant writer doesn’t have a choice:

I had breakfast with Death the other day.

I have a 13 year old Aspie kid who is deep into the whole talking in role thing, so when he pitched his voice deep, and did his best to look moribund, and announced that he was the Grim Reaper, I just rolled with it.

He told me about the job—he took over for his dad 20 years back, who took over from his and so on—and the social challenges. Dating is a huge problem. He’s allowed to go out with angels, but they are snooty, and not up for much—but humans are forbidden since the incident. Seems he woke up one day expecting to see his live in girlfriend beside him, and  found a corpse. Tough way to discover his problem with Sleep Reaping.

At this point we were interrupted by his mother:

“Skully! Skully! Come in for breakfast!”

“Ma! Will ya leave me alone? I’m a grown man fer Crissakes. I'll eat when I’m ready!”

 I tried to chime in here, seeing Skully’s mom as my natural entrée into the improv.  But at my first “Skully! Don’t you talk to your mother like that…” he shut me down.

“No. She doesn’t sound like that."

Death and I went into the living room, where Ma couldn’t bother us. He looked at me quietly for a moment.

“I saw your  Dad a few weeks ago…. Is it okay if I talk about this?”

I nodded. Three weeks. To be exact.

“I think he was glad to see me.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.” I said.

“He’s a great guy. He’s on our hockey team.”

I managed another nod.

“Now your brother,  he wasn’t nearly so easy to reap.”

“Well no. He was so…” I wasn’t quite able to get the “young” out intact.

“I have this thing I do with the tough ones. I pull down my hood, show them my fleshless skull, all horrible, crawling with maggots. Scare them to a better place….You know what he did when he saw me like that? He laughed. Can you believe that?”

“Yes. I can.”

“”We’re great friends now. He wanted you to know something.”


“We’ve solved the problem of atheist heaven. “

“That’s a problem?”

“People like you who don’t believe in heaven or hell. You were a problem. But now we have an atheist heaven. Carl Sagan set it up.”

“He’d be the guy for that.”

“Yah. You get to become part of the cosmos. Like the stars and stuff. Become part of everything.”

“I will be star stuff?”

“Yah. You will be star stuff,” Death looked at me, “Just not for a long time.”

And then, Death went to school.  I sat awhile after, rocking, stars running down my face.



The Reluctant Artiste: Avoiding my bliss

Danse (II) --Matisse, 1909, but it looks like joy to me....

I have had the opportunity in the last couple of weeks to view sorrow and joy in extreme contrast. I had a series of losses this fall, and as a result, I have time to do something daily that I have only been able to do in micro-bursts in the past: write. And so, most days, I get to watch the jolt of joy that comes from writing hard and well cut through, and burn off the general fog of my grief.

You would think that would lead to some kind of realization about following my bliss, or using my finite hours only for what imbues my life with meaning, or something like that. You would think that I would be eager to ditch the sorrow for the joy. 

On the contrary. I am dragging my ass to the computer each day, actively resisting emersion in happiness, as if it were icy lake water, and my sadness the warm sun of the beach.

I will scrub dachshund pee rather than approach my office (I do have an incontinent or at least imprudent dachshund; I don't wander the streets looking for a home that seems to need that sort of attention. Yet.) I will dig away at the hardened molasses at the back of the fridge, unaddressed since the pursuit of the perfect ginger cake, Xmas, 2012. I will even f*****g vacuum rather than write another scene in my new play.  

I love this play entirely. I hum like a kettle of bees as I write it. My toes curl. I force strangers, cold and frightened, into my house, and more disturbingly up to my second floor, to listen to a bon mot I just got down that is simply too good to go unwitnessed.

So what is my, and I use this word quite consciously, damage? 

I'm going to put this down to something I call "The Chump Factor." I think most writers have experienced the "I leap onto stage crying Tah Dah and am met not with applause but silence--save for the cougher in the third row" kick in the gut that can follow the euphoria of creation. You thought you had painted Venus on the Half Shell in words. You acted as if you had painted Venus on the Half Shell in words. In fact, you got a broken Barbie, some gull splatter and a bad clam down on the page. And then said Tah Dah about it. You are a Chump. Again. 

Particularly when the warm ooze of grief is offering not only predictability (the gut punch and the loss has already happened, you won't get fooled again; you are already doubled over, retching in the ash can) but the comfort of accuracy (not going to get grief wrong. Not going to go Tah Dah, and find out that there's no grief. The older you get, the more hard core, bone-aching losses you have in the tear cistern, ready to roll out in a mighty heaving sluice, or slide down so steadily no one recognizes your face dry), particularly when grief is justifiably quiet and withdrawn and totally Chump-proof and normal when compared to creation--it is not all that surprising that I have to drag myself away from it, to the aberration of joy. 

I give myself the speeches. "Once more into the office, dear have nothing to fear but fear of looking like an idiot itself--and people think you're a bit off anyway..." (I have no career as an inspirational speaker in front of me). That sort of thing. It doesn't work. Thinking about it doesn't work. Because while your brain is busy doing its zappity do dah thing, your body is just experiencing grief. And pain. And knowing that the joy of creating may shut that down for a bit, but that will only mean it comes back sharper, more clearly delineated, because it has an other to define itself against. Better to just be evenly sad. 

Except. Except. There is no evenness to joy. It does not measure.  Grief may fill every cranny there is, but the joy I get when I am writing,  punches new nooks into the crannies, leaves indentations that wait to be filled again. It makes me hold more.  Of everything. Even the grief. I hold it. It does not hold me. 

I believe that now, because I am writing this. In an hour, I will be a Chump, vacuuming.

At least the floors are clean.  






Deadline Coming Up: Facilitated Retreat with KJB at St. Pete

There's still time to apply for the facilitated writing retreat at beautiful St. Peter's Abbey in Meunster Sask. 


KJB to be Mentor in Residence at Sask Writers' Guild retreat at St. Pete.

I will be the mentoring writer in residence,  November 7-10, at the Sask Writers' Guild retreat at St Peter's Abbey in beautiful Muenster, Sask. So looking forward to this.