Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Reading List: 2011 Edition

(RSS & Email Readers, please go to the blog proper to see the visual aids and charts.  This post makes more sense that way.  Sorry for the inconvenience.)

And so here we are again, dear Readers.  Another year behind us, a bright, new shiny one just around the bend.  As always, I've kept up with the general statistics of my reading life, because knowing this trivial information thrills my soul to no end.  This year I read 47 books, a 35% decrease from 2010's 71 books.  However, taking page numbers into the mix, I read ~15626 pages this year, which is just a 14% decrease from last years.  Considering that I had a baby in June, I'd say that's pretty darned good.

If you'd like to look at the monster spreadsheet I keep that contains all of my statistical data, you can go here and browse around.  The link should default you to the 2011 tab, but if not, just click the appropriate year at the bottom.  This is my third year of running the sheet, and it's interesting to compare stats between the years, too.

Oldest Book: In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, 1965
Audio Books*:  7
Kindle Books:  7
Library Books: 23
2011 Books (Year Published): 10
Books Forsaken: 1 (In the Shadow of Swords, by Val Gunn)
From Publishers/Authors Received: 15
From Publishers/Authors Reviewed: 11
Most Popular Author: Mike Mignola and Alvin Schwartz
Most Popular Publisher: Dark Horse, Del Rey, and Waterbrook Multnomah (all with 5 books)
Busiest Month: January (8 reads)
Total Page Numbers: ~15,626
Average Book Score**: 3.63
Female/Male: 3/35

Like previous years, graphic novels and comics command a major portion of the year's reading.  However, considering page counts, the graphic section accounts for only 2500 pages or so, a paltry 15%, as opposed to 28%.  Nevertheless, the point of the graph is to display percentages based upon the number of books read, ignoring completely the thickness of the book.  Because of my personal qualms with classifying a book in only one genre, plus my disdain at using "graphic novel" as an umbrella super-genre, I've broken down the data into a more sensible chart.

This chart makes a bit more sense, but I'm still not exactly comfortable with it.  Books have far too many cross-genre aspects for me to qualify one novel as one thing over another.  Still, I try, and for these charts, I've used the predominate genre (as determined by me) to populate the data fields.

It's fascinating to me to see how my reading habits have changed***.  Five years ago, practically all of my reading was SFF and Graphic Novels.  Non-fiction was laughable.  Now, thanks to a few generous publishers and a more mature outlook in life, I read Christian Non-Fiction (which I deem as "Christian Thought") about as much as anything else.  I've learned much from this experience, and I'm glad for it.

Picking out my favorite book of the year is unfair.  (The extreme fanboy in me screams Pat Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear.)  There are several books I've read that I've ranked a 4 or higher on my scale, and truly all of those are recommendable.  Nevertheless, below are the books I'd select as my favorite 2011 reads, linked to my review.
The Third Bear, by Jeff VanderMeer
Hellboy Volume 9: The Wild Hunt, by Mike Mignola
The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
Just Do Something, by Kevin DeYoung
I Am Not A Serial Killer, by Dan Wells
The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
If hard pressed, I'd possibly say that Jeff VanderMeer's The Third Bear is my favorite read of the year.  From my review, I said,
There's really no good way to describe this book. It defies genres. It defies expectations and normal thinking, subverting tropes and typical story-telling methodology for something unique and unforgettable. There are some stories that, upon completion, I couldn't bring myself to describe coherently, even if the tale was spectacular. This holds true for many of the stories, the inability to put into words what you just read, but it only serves to make the reading experience all the better.
Seriously.  It's the strangest book I've ever read, and I was mesmerized by it.  Arguably, my favorite traditional SFF novel has to be The Wise Man's Fear.  I've been on the Rothfuss train literally since the month his first novel came out, and I've not looked back.  WMF was everything I wanted it to be, even if it was a bit winded.  If we're thinking of life-changing books, Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something rocked my world, shifting around how I thought about making choices and paths to travel in life.  It was such an excellent (and short) read that I gave away copies just so others could read it and be free.  The most unexpected book was Dan Wells' I Am Not A Serial Killer.  Simply, I read it in about 5-hours.  I could not put it down.  It was fresh and fun and creepy and I'm ready to read the next book in the series.

As for disappointments, the Star Wars EU series Fate of the Jedi has been stagnant.  Fortunately there are but two books left in the series, which will be finished up next year.  I'm ready for the EU to get back to some good stuff, but alas, I don't have high hopes.  I feel practically the same about Terry Brooks.  His Bearers of the Black Staff was rather droll and unexciting, and I don't know whether or not I'll even finish the other half of the duology.  I also managed to pick up a forsaken book from last year, The Great Hunt, and finish it, though I'm not sure why.  It was better this year, but still held nothing to pull me back into The Wheel of Time.  Finally, GRRM's Dance with Dragons was good, yes, but ultimately a let-down, too.

I'm also disappointed by the lack of diversity in the authors I read.  Look at the F/M ratio.  I shudder to think about ethnic diversity.  Going out on a limb, I'm guessing the general author profile is a middle aged, white, educated, American male.  I'd like to mix this up somehow.

Next year should be a most interesting year for books.  I've laid down my 2012 Book Manifesto and firmly plan on sticking to it.  This should help with my bland diversity somewhat, but it won't be a panacea.  I also regret not getting to read The Alloy of Law, so I hopefully will get to that in 2012.

The year has been a slightly better than average year in reading.  There were wonderful books, and there were not so wonderful.  All in all, it's really a joy to read, and I do it because I love it.  I'm glad to be able to share my recommendations to you fine folks that read the blog, and thanks for coming back to listen to what I have to say.  If you've any questions about the data or my spreadsheet, ask away.

Now on to finishing up the still-reading and dive headlong into the TBR.

* All audio books were borrowed through the library, and thus are included in the library numbers, too.
** This is an arithmetic average of the books based upon the GoodReads 5-star scale, modified for my use to include halfsies.
*** See the bottom chart in the spreadsheet for this graphic.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Daredevil Vol. 2.1 - Guardian Devil

My friend Adam highly recommended the entire series run of Daredevil, Volume 2. From my understanding, Volume 1 had run stagnant after thirty-four years and 380 comics. Marvel decided to reboot the Man without Fear and start afresh. Anon, Kevin Smith was hired to write the first story arc for the new series, Guardian Devil, beginning in 1998. Volume 2 ran for 119 issues, and concluded with a 13-issue mini-run titled Shadowlands

I'll be the first to say that my knowledge of Daredevil is very limited. Having read comics for most of my life, I've always considered the hero as a lesser compatriot of Marvel's bigger names: Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and not to mention practically all of the X-Men. Daredevil just wasn't that interesting to me. Yet, on Adam's considerable recommendation (ending when he brought the entire run over to my house in a heavy, white box), I found myself with 131 comics to read. 

Matt Murdock is an attorney by day and a red-leather-tights-wearing superhero by night. He's blind. He's intelligent. He struggles with his faith. After a freak accident as a teenager, where he saved the life of a pedestrian from an oncoming truck laden with nuclear waste (it's always nuclear something something) and lost his eyesight, his remaining senses were all heightened to uncanny levels. 

The main plot of Guardian Devil revolves around an infant showing up in Murdock's law office. The mother drops the child off, claiming he's the Christ returned. Later, a mysterious man appears and tells Matt that the child is in fact the antichrist incarnate. Already conflicted, Murdock gets involved in a fight that spans from heaven to hell. Another important element to this arc was Murdock's relationship with his on-again, off-again flame Karen Page. 

Up front Adam told me the series started off kind of boring. He was right. The first eight issues held me captivated enough to press on, but suffered from some weak text and poor illustrations. Don't get me wrong. The art was just fine, but I was turned off by the peculiar choices Joe Quesada made, especially when it came to eyes*. Every time I looked at a person's eyes I was turned off. They looked almost childish. This just didn't work with the tone of the story Smith was telling (and I'm already not much of a Smith fan). 

Nevertheless, I press onward. So far Daredevil still sits in the shadows of my mind, but I'm anxious to see if he rises to prominence. If I'm judging based on Guardian Devil, I'd say no. But, for the life of me, I'll read this series if only to see what Adam's talking about.

*Generally.  Note Bullseye's eye in the panel image above.  It's swell.  This, however, is not the norm.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm Sworn to Secrecy

Since I keep a journal here on Rememorandom, I've got something very important to ramble on about.

Recall, earlier this year I was selected by the church body to become a deacon.  I was humbled and after prayerful consideration, I accepted.  The next step was to be tested, so to speak.  Had to go to to a room filled with the current deacons and be questioned about my faith, doctrinal issues, those sorts of things.  I wasn't expecting the interrogation I got, especially not the vitriol I received.  After the whole fiasco, I was found to be lacking the spiritual maturity they required and was rejected.  (To be fair, 8/12 of the men voted in my favor, though this majority did not meet the qualifications set in the church's bylaws.)

To be honest, I was hurt and angry.  I was judgmental.  I was disappointed.  I was grieved.  In my mind, I was more qualified to be a deacon than several of the men sitting in that room.  I desired to impact the world, to impact the church, to love on people, to help, to go, to serve.  These were the things that I didn't see the deacons doing.  How dare they deny me?  I contented myself saying that you didn't have to be a deacon to serve and that God was in control.

I've spent the last six months growing in leaps and bounds in my faith.  My reliance on God has increased tenfold.  My devotion to reading and studying the Word has grown exponentially.  I've changed in my opinions on the dividing topics, growing even more firm in my beliefs about them.  I'm convinced that the bible speaks very clearly and that their opinions are based on more than just the bible.  But through all of my growth I've also layered myself in cynicism.  My ability to trust has wavered.  My faith in my local church has waned to non-existent.  My righteous anger has simmered.

The sad thing is that this is so uncharacteristic of me that it's not funny.  I'm an extremely happy optimist.  I believe in the goodness of people to a point well past logic and reason.  I'm not naive, I'm too much a Realist for that, but I'm hopeful.  And yet, over these last few months, I've changed my outlook, and I hate it.  I'm disappointed with myself and my scorn.  I realize that I'm wanting people to be held to a higher standard when I myself am regressing.  I'm expecting maturity from a group of people that have had very little rearing. Many are on the milk still, so to speak, and my expectations from them are unrealistic.

So I've resolved myself to do better.  To think kinder.  To love more.  To pour myself out until I'm drained dry.  If I'm wanting change, then let it be seen in me.

Flash forward to last night.  Skipping all the details, I was selected to serve on the pastor search committee, and last night was my first meeting.  (My church has been without a senior pastor for a long time now and tension is very high within the church.  Perhaps this is part of the reason why there have been so many problems.)  I received a packet of information, and among it was a sheet detailing the qualifications for its members.  I inwardly chuckled at the first two: must be spiritually mature and must be respected by the church to be competent and responsible.

The irony of being qualified to select the next pastor for the church and yet being unqualified to be a deacon of said church is more than a little amusing.

So what's the point?  The point is that I'm learning to rely on God more, to look to Him more, and to trust in Him.  On the PSC I am bound to confidentiality, something that I intend on taking very seriously.  Already after one meeting there are things that I would love to talk about and get off my shoulders, but I can't.  To ramifications could be tremendous.  Instead, I'll pray and look for guidance.  And I also ask, dear Readers, that you hold me and my church up whenever it crosses your mind.  I've a feeling that things are gonna be tough, but I've no doubts that God will reign supremely over everything.

Have a merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Not This Crap Again

Oh what joy it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh!

And if that horse should, say, break its leg or stumble?  Joy mayn't last long.

As some of you know, a little over a year ago I had some trying circumstances at work.  Everyone was reduced to four-day weeks, effectively cutting everyone's pay by 20%.  A few people were laid off and/or let go.  Then paychecks started arriving late, sometimes very, very, very late.  I continued working four-day weeks up until Avonlea was born, when some craziness happened and suddenly I was paid everything I was owed and put back on five-day weeks.

Avonlea is six-point-four months old now.  No problems.  Until today.  "Paychecks are going to be late," I was told.  "How late?" I ask.  "Don't know."  And I go and ask the President, who also doesn't know.  "Not before Christmas, I guess," I say.  "Nu-uh."  Sigh.  The most wonderful time of the year, indeed.

In addition, I've worked here at the MLC for two-and-a-half years now, and every year our insurance plan has changed.  This year we had a $6k deductible and a $10k OOP.  Rather high, I think.  Consider: Keisha had an emergency C-section to deliver Avonlea, followed by a few days hospital stay; Keisha fell and had some x-rays and urgent care; Keisha and Avonlea had some routine medical stuff.  Through all of this, we still haven't hit our deductible.  But wait, there's more.  Our new-and-improved plan, effective 1/1/2012, changes everything.  Now we're looking forward to a $10k deductible and a $12k OOP!

If it sounds like I'm aggravated at the MLC, then you may be on to something.  It's hard to have a passion to want to work if you don't feel valued.  It's also hard when you get very little communication between the Chief Potentates and us brave peons.  (Days can pass without so much as a "hullo.")  Worst of all, it's hard to want to work when you're not getting paid.  Dang it, I want to work and I want to be a good little boy and I want my money!  Why is this so difficult?

I'm hoping/banking on getting paid next week.  But whether I do or not, I'm not going to let it spoil my first Christmas with Avonlea and the last of my vacation time for the year.  I'll get it when I get it.  Until then, the Dude abides.

Post Script: The pun is intentional.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A 2012 Book Manifesto

For 2012 I want to do something different.  Something that will involve commitment and patience.  Something that also will clear up a lot of the TBR pool.  Something I've been thinking about (and alluded to) for a while now.

  • I will not purchase any new/used books in 2012.***
  • I will read only from books I own or can attain freely (ie, library, friends, publishers, et al.)
  • I will will read only selections from my GoodReads To-Be-Read shelf (dated 12/31/11).  This is currently visible on the right side-bar.
  • I won't have to spend money on books.  (Granted, I don't spend that much money on books as it is, but even so, in principle, I'm saving money.)
  • I can finally dwindle down my TBR pool and read things I've been putting off forever.
  • To see if I can actually do it.  Self-discipline is a tool that needs to be used more, as its benefits are manifold.
  • I will continue to make my monthly trek to the comic shop and pick up the newest issue of Fables, as has been my wont for some time now.
  • I will purchase anything Pat Rothfuss releases, though the only possibility (to my knowledge) is a potential novella.
  • If I receive gift-cards to bookstores during the year, I will use them, as I'm not spending any of my money.
  • ***If I get an amazing deal through my Kindle with Special Offers, then I'll likely gobble it up, as these offers are usually $1 or $2 for a book and not altogether common and I would be a fool to turn my nose to the offer.
  • Finally read The Brothers Karamazov, 100 Years of Solitude, The Shadow of the Torturer, Peter & Max, and the multitude of random comics/graphic novels that have piled up. {own}
  • Finish the Fate of the Jedi series, as I have only two books left.  {library}
  • Read a lot of Lovecraft during the RIP challenge for 2012 and possibly The Stand.  {own}
  • Read The American Book of the Dead, which I received earlier this year but haven't had a chance to even start it yet.  {own}
  • Continue getting free books from the few publishers I receive from, as well as possibly take on some new authors/publishers.
  • I hope Justin Cronin's sequel to The Passage comes out, and I also hope Peter Brett's third volume in the Painted Man series is released.  {library}
  • The Alloy of Law?  {library?}
There we are.  This manifesto will be stored as a separate page under the appropriate tab above.  Wish me luck.  (This list is subject to change and edits throughout the year.)

Anyone else have any bookish goals for 2012?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: Waiting for the End

The world was supposed to have ended by now.  After the 2061 famine I thought for sure we were over.  Ten billion people reduced to three-point-one.  But we survived, somehow.  Rebuilt.  Then the year of the firestorms came, and then the plagues.  And who can forget the ninth World War?  

Still, through the many years, I can't tell that we're any closer to the end than we were back when there were seven habitable continents.  After OmniBiotechnics came up with the Life 2.0 serum, we're now farther away than ever before.  I've been walking this earth for four millenia and I like to think that things are better now, but I'm no longer sure.  Death is a rumor created to keep us in line.  The same is true with love.  There's not been a recorded birth in three thousand years.  I'm not sure I remember what a baby looks like.  My days are spent sifting through forgotten tomes of ancient history, looking for prophecies in dead religions and bizarre cults.  The Entertainment House wants to find something "new and exciting" to present to the populace, and where better to look than in the past?  "There is nothing new under the sun," I read in one of these books, and I'm inclined to agree.  From what I can tell, all of these religions point to some sort of Armageddon or some breaking of the earth.  Something that finally wipes us all off of the face of the earth.

I think it's safe to say that they were all wrong.

Dear Adelith, 
I know it's been over two hundred years since I last wrote, but I woke up this morning thinking about you and thought I might as well.  How've you been?  How's Averret doing?  Does he ever ask about his papa?  I imagine not.  He was so little when I started my sentence that he probably doesn't even remember me.  I hope you told him about all the good things that I did back before I screwed up.  What House does he work in?
This is stupid.  I'm not expecting you to write me back, and hell, I don't even know if this letter will find you, but if it does, I want you to know that I'm so sorry for everything I put you through.  Had I known I would have received a life sentence I never would have got involved.  You don't understand what it's like here, serving a life sentence when you're practically immortal.  The boredom is maddening.  The only new thing I see each day is a different color wall to my cell.  Today it's a blue day.  Tomorrow is black.  Those are the worst.  Reds are pretty bad, too.  If there was any way I could off myself in here I'd do it in a heartbeat, but the guards are rather vigilant, especially to people like me.
I don't know why you were on my mind this morning, but you were, and I just wanted to let you know that I still love you, even after all these years.  I think fondly of the days before the serum, when we were poor but happy.  I hope life is everything you wanted it to be, Adelith.  I love you with my whole heart.

Kee-yu dreamed of food. A rice paddy, vibrant green and teeming with millions upon millions of healthy grains. A gentle wind cooled her face, tussled her hair like Mama used to do when she was a child. She tasted rain in the wind. Uytugyo will provide, the shaman said. He always will.  Kee-yu wondered where Uytugyo was when the monsters swarmed in and stole her mother away all those years ago.  

She ambled through the paddy, fingers lightly touching the plants as she moved. The grains were full, and she idly plucked a kernel and popped it in her mouth. She made her way to the center of the field, stalks dancing all around her, bending and twirling with the wind.  Far in the distance, just beyond the Blue Mountain, she could see smoke rising from the Dead City.  You must never go there, Kee-yu.  Never.  The monsters live there and they will gobble you up if you wander too close.

A gentle kick pushed against her swollen belly.  "You like the rice?" Kee-yu asked, gently rubbing her hand against the child's hidden body.  The baby pushed back against her hand, and Kee-yu smiled.  

This piece is similarly inspired by my flash fic piece titled "Waiting for the Rain."  Where that piece dealt Realistically with differing POVs as they waited for it to rain, this story offers three different POVs in a fantasy setting revolving around a series of futuristic events and an obvious leitmotif. Also, I presented this piece in 1st person, 2nd, and 3rd-limited, so as to stretch myself.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Dug Down Deep, a Review

This isn't a book on systematic theology proper. It's more like a mixtape of biblical truth that I've found personally significant. Dug Down Deep is my reveling in theology in my own simple way--not too polished, sometimes awkward, less than scholarly, hopefully gracious and faithful. Even thought these are deep truths, I don't pretend to be swimming in the deep end of the pool. I'm splashing in the shallow end. But if my splashing can inspire you to dive in, I will have succeeded.
In 1997, Joshua Harris broke into the scene with his book on dating, appropriately titled I Kissed Dating Goodbye.  I'd heard of it, but never had a desire to read it, nor anything else by this author.  As I saw it, he was one of those Christian authors that wrote on one and only one subject matter, and it just happened to be one I was uninterested in.  However, back in September I requested a copy of Harris' book on systematic theology called Dug Down Deep, primarily because of the book's style.  Harris chose to tackle the subjects through transparent memoirs (as opposed to exhaustive biblical analysis), and I thought his journey sounded interesting.

In some ways, this book could have been written by Donald Miller (author of Blue Like JazzSearching for God Knows What, and several other books), as the tone of the author was very reminiscent.  Harris begins Dug Down Deep with a thought-provoking question: what are you building your life on?  He then goes on to talk about Jesus' parable in Matthew 7, comparing the man who built his house on the sand with the man who built his house on the more solid foundation: rock.  Harris argues that building on the rock takes work, it takes some digging, but in the end, after the wind and the rain and the storms, the house remains standing.  He explains,
In the past I thought the point was simply that being a Christian is better than not being a Christian. And I suppose on a very rudimentary level, that is what it means. But I never thought about the specifics of what digging down to the rock represents.
This was the impetus for the book.  He grew up in the church and found himself lacking any biblical depth.  He was familiar with theology, doctrine, orthodoxy, and the like, but at the same time, they meant very little to him.  They were just old sounding words that old people used.  For the remainder of the Dug Down Deep, Harris opens up with humbling honesty, explaining how he came to understand certain elements of theology.  Some of the essays included are about the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the Word, sanctification, justification, the church, orthodoxy, and a few others.  And if you're anything like me, some of those words sound boring (i.e., orthodoxy), but Harris points out (reasonably) that they shouldn't, and he explains why.
Knowledge doesn't have to be dry and lifeless. And when you think about it, exactly what is our alternative? Ignorance? Falsehood? We're either building our lives on the reality of what God is truly like and what he's about, or we're basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions. We're all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.
When I finished Dug Down Deep, I had several passages highlighted and underlined.  The chapter on sanctification is definitely worth the read, as I found it thoroughly fascinating and incredibly awe-inspiring.  Another recommended chapter is the last one, where Harris writes on humble orthodoxy, bringing home the point  of how crucial it is to remain humble in our lives.  This is something I think many of us should read and take to heart, as pride is ever so subtle and we must be on guard.  These are just two of the eleven chapters presented in the book, and all are well thought out and stimulating.

Dug Down Deep is a very accessible book.  It offers deep thoughts and unfathomable truths about God and His character, but Harris attempts to explain them as clearly as he can.  I think the book would be a great tool for new believers, but I think the impact would be even stronger with those who've walked with God for a while, especially the ones that have grown frustrated with their fellow believers or their own faith.  Really, the book is relative even to those outside of the fold, those that have questions about life's journey and the roads we travel on.  Overall, I really enjoyed Joshua Harris' Dug Down Deep.  Maybe it's where I'm at in life, but Dug Down Deep resonated with me.  I found it encouraging and refreshing, and I think it's a book that many people could read and  get something out of it.

FTC Thingy: This book was provided to me free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I received no goods other than the ebook, and had I been offered any other goods (like, say, chocolate chip cookies) I would have been tempted to take the bribe.  Nevertheless, I wasn't offered, nor did I ask.  As such, the opinion expressed in this review is entirely my own and has in no way been affected by my lack of receiving free, home-baked chocolate goodies.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Being Santa

Saturday we did our Third Annual Nativity Project.  (See here for how it started.)  This year, we partnered with a local community center--the Neblett Center--that was much bigger than our previous venues.  In addition to its increased size, the Neblett Center was also in a prime location, as it's near the heart of the poorer side of town.

Like previous years, our Sunday School class has been collecting gently used clothes and toys throughout the year.  A week or two ago we all met up and sorted what we had, which subsequently filled a 10-ft. trailer to the max with some items left that wouldn't fit.  Over the next week, our class received several more donations, but we also were given some anonymous monetary donations, too, totaling over $1600.  So a second trailer was acquired (a 12-footer now) and again was filled to the brim with stuff left.  Everything that couldn't fit was loaded into vehicles, and on last Friday, all of it was brought to the Neblett Center.

The Neblett Center is a after-school type facility for children & babies to go while parents work.  It's not as big as an average elementary school, but it's still rather large, and our class was given the gym to setup in.  It turned out that there were several kids still there, and they all watched with wonder as we bustled many, many boxes & bags in.  Cheers of delight and excitement made the unloading process an absolute blessing.

Soon, all was unloaded, and then we began the daunting task of unpacking and organizing.  We spent the next several hours piling items on top of tables and bleachers, and when we left, the gym was transformed.  God provided so much for us this year to give that the previous years were as nothing compared to this.  If we liquidated all the goods, I'd estimate we gave away well over $5k worth of things.  Winter coats.  Jeans.  Shoes.  Toys.  Wrapping paper and gift boxes.  And clothes and clothes and clothes.

Saturday morning came early, and we arrived at 7:30.  A few small things were left to unpack and set out.  But my day was going to be different.  I wasn't going to get to be in the gym and help parents "shop" for their kids, for their families, and for themselves.  (Note: A staggering number of people selflessly shopped for others, especially young siblings.  They wanted to get gifts for their brother or sister, sometimes several, and not a thing for themselves.  Amazing.  Humbling.)  I wasn't going to help go through the piles of clothes and look for certain sizes.  No, my day was different.  I was going to be Santa Claus.
Santa and Avonlea
We had a room off to the side for the kids to play and color in while their parents shopped.  In the same room we set up a photo shoot for kids to get pictures with Santa.  I donned the suit, took a seat, and experienced the wonderful joy (and occasional sadness) of being the Fat Man.  Almost every child that entered got this glow on their face when they saw me.  Some where bashful.  Some were in awe.  A few were terrified.  One little girl ran up to me and jumped in my lap and put her arms around me and squeezed, saying "I'm so very happy to see you Santa Claus!"  I think my heart grew enormous there.  She kept sneaking peeks at me throughout the day, always smiling and blushing.  For some, the magic of Christmas still exists.  One boy, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, responded with "a belt."  That was it.  No toys or electronics or race cars.  No, he only wanted a belt.  Still, through everything, these kids got to see Santa and get a free picture taken with him.  Hopefully they'll cherish that; I know I will.

By eleven o'clock, a lot of the stuff was gone.  I had successfully sweated my last three hours away and Santa had left the building.  By noon, the doors were closed and still a lot remained.  We talked with the Neblett Center director and he said they'd like to keep all the stuff and bring it out again in a couple of days/weeks.  He knew several people that couldn't make it on Saturday, plus he'd go door-to-door in the neighborhood and invite folks.  He had a general idea of who the needy were.  We eagerly agreed.

Now it's over.  The event is exhausting and draining, but it's something so to behold.  We started this ministry three years ago just trying to make a difference in people's lives.  We wanted to show love to those in need and possibly provide Christmas to families that wouldn't have had one otherwise.  God has blessed our class and this mission tremendously in these three years, and I suspect we've grown more from it than any of the receivers of gifts.  We've already started planning next years, brainstorming on what worked and what didn't.  We're thinking of ways to raise funds to get even more.  God is a mighty God, and He delights in showing His love.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Slipstream of Consciousness

I am a child of Icarus, aflame and agog, dancing through streets alive with Marker Men.  They see me and point their skeletal fingers at me, bringing with their stares all the lights of heaven.  Rudy jumps up from behind me, bayonet in hand, and gives me a sad little smile. His eyes change right before me, once as brown as an acorn in the hands of a dead squirrel in the mud, and now... nothing.  There's no color but black, no reflection of light, only vacancy.

The Marker Men begin to swarm in on us and to my horror I see that Rudy is no longer Rudy but now one of them.  He's chanting in their crazy language of only neologisms, never using the same phraseology more than once.  Some call it newerspeak.  I call it insane.

But there's a tree sprouting up, reaching through the concrete, up through the first floor, through the ceiling, through the floor above, ending below my chair.  Thousands of tiny, winking LEDs blink in a somewhat familiar pattern.  Their combined illumination pulls me away, into the music of Van Morrison as he pulls me into the mystic.  "Beloved," says Toni Morrison, speaking in italics, bending my mind with her words.  "You will never win a Pulitzer."  And her teeth chomp down on me, breaking through my bones as sure as Stonehenge falling on me.

There's nothing, only the hum of the earth's natural harmonics, the rattle of one-hundred-thirty-thousand air conditioners, the chattering of a freezing child's baby teeth, the sploosh of blood coursing through seven-billion humans--all alive, somehow, but whether living or not is undecided--the sound of actually speaking the word onomatopoeia, wondering if it, too, grasps at straws or if it's just content at its almighty existence.

For it's onomatopoeia that reigns supreme when it comes to words. For all words, whether English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin), Tagalog, Polish, Korean, Chinese (Cantonese), Vietnamese, Portuguese, Japanese, Greek, Arabic, Hindi (Urdu), Russian, Yiddish, Thai (Laotian), Persian, French Creole, Armenian, Navaho, Hungarian, Hebrew, Dutch, Mon-khmer (Cambodian), Gujarathi, Ukrainian, Czech, Pennsylvania Dutch, Miao (Mmong), Norwegian, Slovak, Swedish, Serbocroatian, Kru, Rumanian, Lithuanian, Finnish, Panjabi, Formosan ,Croatian, Turkish, Ilocano, Bengali, Danish, Syriac, Samoan, Malayalam, Cajun, Amharic, or any of the other hundreds and hundreds of languages, they're all really just onomatopoeia.  Right?

Tonight there is a party where we turn into sheets of paper and allow ourselves to experience the exhilarating life of flimsi.  Some of us will be crumpled into tiny balls and thrown across the room.  Some of us will be carefully folded and bent and made into glorious works of art.  Some of us will be poked and stabbed with ink pens and markers.  Some of us will be torn to shreds.  Party party party!  I hope there's Doritos there, but probably not.

Kittens mewl.  Cats meow.  Puppies yelp.  Dogs growl.  I may have a book review next week.  I think my brain fizzled out.  I need some sort of focus for weeks when I have nothing.  I've never really been a fan of memes and the like.  Maybe I'll just copy verbatim Dave's latest post and put it up here.  I'm usually of the opinion that if I don't have anything of value to say/write, then why even post it at all?  But then Cornelius Anton Scruzz (he insists that I only use his first name, but I insist otherwise. It's no trouble, Corn!), bless his soul, reminds me of one of Rememorandom's goals: journaling.  [Aside: Cornelius Anton Scruzz has returned!  Oh happy day.  But, alas, Claudio Montezuma has been amiss for many days now.  If you happen upon him, please send him my way.]  So on I go, sitting, waiting, wishing.  Are my eyes the color of Rudy's?

Was that?  I think it was.  By Jove, the Great Somnambulist and that time-traveling rogue Millard Filmore just flashed through my room.  I've got to go find them.  Some coffee, some tea, some Dew, and I'm set for the weekend.  Hope yours is as adventurous as mine's bound to be.