Saturday, November 26, 2005


The first time I finished writing a book, I burst into tears and called my mother. I'd spent years working on the concepts behind The Crystal Tree, but start to finish, the writing had occupied only 15 working days--an average of 20 finished pages a day. Think of it as a two-week orgasm, and you won't be far wrong.

Today I crossed the NaNoWriMo finish line, but I am not bursting into tears. For one thing, I have more than 50,000 words, but I don't have a completed manuscript or anything like it. Moreover, my life is different. I'm not a full-time, home-based writer any more. I go to work and do one kind of writing, come home (or go out to lunch) and do another kind. Nor am I a 27-year-old newlywed. I'm 46, divorced, repartnered. It's not May in Stockholm, NJ. It's November in the Bay Area of California.

And yet--this is even better. That first orgasmic rush of words was grand, but this is craft as well as inspiration. This book is fiction, but like the first nonfiction book, it's based on ideas I've been pondering for decades. I have confidence in this book, in my skills, in myself. I'm considerably more sane than I was 20 years ago. I'm going to keep working on sanity and fiction.

Made my 50K? Sure. But I've only begun working on this book. I have months of joy ahead of me. Years of joy beyond that as I work on other books.

And now I have a write-in to attend.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Merry Trucemas!

Yes, already there is an update to the Trucemas story.

As you may remember, Trucemas is a holiday proposed by a nonreligious friend of mine who is also a military historian. He may not care about Santa, but he’s impressed by anything that could bring peace, music, stillness to the notoriously bloodsoaked Western Front in World War I. He started the idea last year; this year it may receive a little extra impetus because we recently lost one of the few who were there to participate.

The last known surviving allied veteran of the Christmas Truce that saw German and British soldiers shake hands between the trenches in World War One died Monday at 109, his parish priest said.

Alfred Anderson was the oldest man in Scotland and the last known surviving Scottish veteran of the war.

"I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence," he was quoted as saying in the Observer newspaper last year, describing the day-long Christmas Truce of 1914, which began spontaneously when German soldiers sang carols in the trenches, and British soldiers responded in English.

"All I'd heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning across the land as far as you could see.

"We shouted 'Merry Christmas' even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again."

Troops in the trenches swapped cigarettes, uniform buttons and addresses and even played football in one of the most extraordinary episodes of the war.

Parish priest Neil Gardner of Anderson's Alyth Parish Church in Scotland said he had died in his sleep and was survived by a large family, including 18 great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren.

"He was a wonderful old man: he was gracious, gentle, he had a great sense of humor and a fine sense of wisdom from his experience spanning three centuries," said Gardner, who also served as chaplain to Anderson's regiment, the Black Watch.

Anderson also served briefly as a member of the household staff of Queen Elizabeth's uncle, Fergus Bowes-Lyon.

With Anderson's death, fewer than 10 British veterans of the war remain alive, of whom only three or four were veterans of trench warfare on the Western Front.

Attention has turned to the last survivors in recent weeks, with filmmakers bringing out documentaries in time for this month's Armistice Day holiday, marking the day the guns fell silent on November 11, 1918.

To me, Trucemas is one of the shining examples of the value of recognizing other people as fellow human beings. For my friend, it’s a celebration of peace amidst war. For everyone, it can be a way to strip off the aggregation of tinsel, family demands, cultural baggage, and personal expectations that can make the holidays a burden. I freely admit to giving in to some of those expectation—like the whole question of snow at Christmas, which has everything to do with my childhood in a cold place and nothing to do with the birth of the incarnated Lord.

(Did you know they actually import snow here? You think I’m kidding? The organizers of Winter Festivals rent a snow-making machine, and parents bring their children to gawp at the cold white stuff. There are also snow parks (or as the State of California refers to them, Sno Parks) where you can go for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and making snow angels—all conveniently located near a parking lot and Portapotty. Snow is not just weather you can shovel; it’s a feature attraction, like the Pirates of the Carribean at Disneyland.)

For me the religious holiday is Christmas, and the beauty of the Incarnation shines amid the long winter nights. But the secular holiday, the one we all can share, whatever our religious beliefs, is Trucemas: season of goodwill, a time to pause and be kind to others, a time to remember the holidays of your childhood without necessarily attempting to duplicate them.

Friday, November 18, 2005

'Tis the Season

Ever since August, Costco has been decking its halls. The number of catalogues in the mail has tripled. At least one local radio station has gone over to all holiday music, all the time.

Holidays are difficult. I'm thousands of miles from my family and the newest generation of awestruck children. It never really feels like Christmas here, and all those songs about Jack Frost's icy mucus and winter wonderlands glazing the garbage dumps with magic are pure bilge when there are roses blooming in every garden and no frost for 87 miles.

One way I avoid the holiday season is by immersing myself in NaNoWriMo until my eyes fall out. Or rather, until Thanksgiving is well past and the Christmas season is upon us. And then I'm too bleary-eyed to care much.

However, there's one holiday I can seriously get behind. I like the idea of Trucemas, and I'm one of those people who celebrates Christmas as the birth of the incarnated Lord.

Some suggested ways to celebrate Trucemas:
* Avoiding all malls, shopping centers, parking lots, and big-box retailers until at least January 15
* This goes double if you are employed in any of these
* Playing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” a minimum of once per day
* Playing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” a maximum of once per day
* Being kind to people who annoy you
* Yes, even family members
* Yes, even the ones who give you fruitcake
* Sincerely thanking annoying family members for the lovely gift of fruitcake
* Cramming the gift fruitcake into the public address systems of any mall, restaurant, school, or big-box retailer that is currently playing Christmas Muzak
* Binding and gagging anyone who comes to fix such systems (mince pie makes an excellent gag if you're out of fruitcake)
* Reading or rereading Terry Pratchett's Hogfather and similar uplifting holiday tales
* Watching the Mr. Magoo Christmas Carol
* Watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and lamenting the absence of elf-ridden electric shavers from the commercials
* Watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and replacing “Rudolph” with “Adolf” and “Reindeer” with “Nazi”
* Arguing over whether Goebbals or Goering should be Yukon Cornelius
* Arguing over whether Goebbals or Goering should be the Abominable Snowman
* Having more eggnog
* Threatening to sic the Blackshirts on anyone who uses canned, pre-grated nutmeg on your eggnog
* Honing a butcher knife while explaining the role of suet in (A) the human body and (B) mince pies to anyone who does not display the appropriate Trucemas spirit
* Getting enough sleep
* Reading “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” aloud
* Remembering that you do love at least some of your family, at least sometimes

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Trucemasses be covered in blooming roses.

Monday, November 07, 2005


It's been years since I wote poetry, unless you count snarky haiku (a special form I particularly enjoy). Today for some reason two undersea poems came to me. Here's one of them.

For Diana

Under a clear sky, cloudy water.
The scarred stone moon, blind, diminishing,
Scatters her light like ashes on the milky sea.
Sunk beneath the waves, the fallen
Statue of Diana rests. Her eyes -- stone-lashed, brine-stung --
Stare tearlessly skyward, past elusive jellyfish
And eels like moonbeams trapped in tanks.

A kind hand would seal those eyes.
A kind heart would smash them.

No algae clothe her breasts and sex.
Naked, unyielding, her will is armor
Stronger than the chisels that chipped this form from stone.
Once violated, she chose to be invulnerable. The swordfish
Have more tenderness than she,
The jellyfish more mercy. She is her father’s daughter.
The huntress, amused by mortal pain,
Played Herod to Niobe’s brood.

Now she watches
Austere, unblinking, as otters mate, as fish devour their own
Scattered offspring, as sharks rise to snap
Their unsuspecting prey. Even Olympian calm
Cannot survive immersion. Baptized into the world of desperation,
She sees but cannot mend the damage she has done.
Even the tepid-blooded oysters feel too much.
She prays for lava to melt her memory,
For resurrection as unthinking stone.

—Lynn Alden Kendall

copyright 2005 Lynn Alden Kendall