Parody: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, and Facebook was quiet,
No weather whines or “election rigged” riot,
I examined a link, posted without care,
Of the 20 hottest celebrities without any hair.

As I pondered on my next riveting status,
I heard a faint tapping at my window lattice,
I should have got up, for I was no craven,
But was distracted by a meme of Poe and The Raven,

Then out on the lawn there arose a loud clatter,
So I quickly checked Twitter to see what’s the matter,
No tweets about accidents or troublesome boys,
I even searched for the hashtag, #whatsthatnoise

Then back to my news feed, but still heard a scuffle,
Couldn’t write a status with this annoying kerfuffle,
What’s all this jingling, hooves clomping on wood,
Perhaps a little TikTok would do me some good.

From somewhere above a voice so merry and thick,
I wondered if this could be the fabled St. Nick,
If it is I should make this my status forthwith!
But according to Snopes it’s just urban myth

So I went back to scrolling through pop culture ga-ga,
This guy says he’s Antifa and also a MAGA
Then came a rustle from the chimney behind me,
Oh…party tomorrow, thank God Facebook reminds me

So I clicked yes to join and asked what can I bring?
Then watched a YouTube video, “When Bad Carolers Sing,”
I coughed as I waved away all the soot in the air
While enjoying a clip of Mr. Stephen Colbert.

Was that heavy boots stomping over to the tree,
I probably should get up and have a look-see,
But this post about Lymphoma, a disease we must beat,
Says I must love cancer if I don’t repost this toute de suite.

It must be my wife carrying some neatly wrapped boxes,
Hey there’s that video about the sound made by foxes,
I can’t get enough of hearing them yelp,
And my honey would tell me if she needs any help.

Then a whole bunch of statuses appeared in a flurry,
Santa’s been sighted!  To your window! Please hurry!
I laughed and I scoffed and replied “No thank you, I’ll pass”
Besides have you Nicki Minaj’s ass?

My Twitter followers rebuked me and begged me to look,
But hadn’t an interest in some fat clumsy crook,
Locations of the statuses, were all in my town,
But Santa’s not real can we all please calm down?

I decided to end this hysteric aberration,
And get the final truth from the folks at Fox Nation,
You see Santa’s a commie or a socialist at best,
Giving handouts to children at Biden’s behest

As I started a feud between the left and the right,
There was a crack of a whip that gave me a fright,
So I decided to get up and saw tracks of a sleigh,
I guess Twitter was right, it HAD snowed today.

Then it struck me what status I knew I must type,
Before talking to family in the morning on Skype,
The Christmas spirit filled me with joy and delight
“Merry Christmas to all!” Would you all please click Like?

Crime and Punishment

On Dec. 17th, Ethan Couch, age 16, was sentenced to 10 years of rehabilitation after admitted to driving drunk and killing four people.  The reason for his light sentence according to the judge was that the defense successfully proved that he suffered from affluenza.

If you clicked on the Wikipedia link I provided for this condition (a condition which doesn’t even pass my spell check), I think that one could conclude that if someone was suffering from this condition, this could certainly impact their decision process greatly and make them likely to be reckless and careless.

Now I am a strong supporter of psychological treatment and the impacts our parents have on our development and decision-making processes.  We over-incarcerate far too much in this country and I am especially for providing our young with psychological treatment over incarceration because study after study shows how the earlier we recognize a behavior (whether due to a traumatic event or crappy parents) we can correct that behavior.

Ethan is a rich, white kid.  Worst-case scenario his parents are selfish assholes who spent little time with him, who enjoyed the privilege that money has given them.  They probably flouted laws themselves knowing that as an upstanding member of the community they probably wouldn’t get too many speeding tickets if pulled over, and even if they did they could pay any fine.  Remembering, I’m sure, to mention to the cop that they might have a talk with some politician of theirs who is a friend and talk about possibly reducing the budget of the police force after a generous donation to that politician’s re-election campaign. When you have ridiculous sums of cash, the law is always on your side.  After 16 years of seeing such behavior and without your parents giving you the time a day, I would say that your sense of right and wrong would be screwed up.  Your attachment to reality would also be screwed up, because you literally don’t understand how most of the world lives when the only other people you know are also filthy rich.  So I support the idea that it is at least possible that bad, extremely rich parents can screw up their kid so badly that he would do something so terrible.  I mean there was no intent to kill here, but this is always the danger of drinking and driving, and punishments are often quite harsh for most people.  Now most people are outraged by the judge’s verdict of affluenza, and for good reason.  I am among one of those outraged, but perhaps for slightly different reasons.

The case raises numerous philosophical questions for me.  At what age do we become blameless for the mistakes of our parents?  Should parents ever be made responsible for crimes their children commit?  How long does the psychological impacts of things that happen in our childhood last? How long can we use them as an excuse for poor decisions that we make?  A child that is raised to hate African-Americans will probably hate African-Americans, but will he ever commit a hate crime? Who knows, but if he did, would it be an acceptable excuse to use the fact that your parents taught you to hate as a defense?  If the kid committed the crime at 13, is that adult enough?  Would we still all be as outraged at the verdict?  What about traumatic events like sexual abuse or physical abuse?  These things have definitely been shown to do psychological damage for possibly the rest of one’s life.  It seems reasonable that if you reinforced from childhood that a certain behavior is acceptable, you will likely feel that way as an adult.  The condition of affluenza, however, is perhaps not as legitimate as one thinks, at least according to one of the co-producers of the 1997 PBS documentary on the subject.   As John de Graaf points out, that in a capitalistic, consumer based society such as ours, we may all suffer from this to a certain degree.  Furthermore he says it is not a psychological condition, but rather a societal criticism.  Affluenza is not a condition recognized by the American Psychological Association.

But let’s say that even if we accept that bad parenting seriously messed up this kid, a whole host of other questions come to mind.  How often can we use psychological conditions as a defense?  Are such rulings equally applied to all such cases?  If there is a psychological condition that can be contracted by rich kids, what psychological condition does poverty cause and can these not be made for their defense when they commit crimes?

The same judge gave a 14 year old African-American a much harsher sentence for a much lesser crime the previous year.  One only has to look at the amount of minorities and poor people in the prison system, who commited crimes that did not lead to anyone’s death, to be convinced that such defenses as affluenza or any other defense based on psychological damage in their upbringing has not been successful.  The impacts of poverty on children, in fact, is a far greater reason actually for “deviant” behavior as young adults and is actually well researched within the psychological community.  Ultimately this is why I am so enraged.  There is probably no greater slap in the face the legal system could give to the poor than this verdict.   A compassionate sentence is either deserved by all or by none.  Whether you think incarceration helps society or not, there cannot be any true justice when it does not apply equally to all citizens.    If prison isn’t the answer for Ethan Couch then at the very least he should be made to volunteer and live in an inner city neighborhood.  If society truly believed in his correction then he won’t receive the education he sorely needs which is compassion and understanding for how the rest of society lives, especially since he hasn’t been punished in a way that the rest of society is punished for similar crimes.  His parents are paying $450,000/year to go to this swanky facility in California.  I shudder to think how many lives could be made better with that money instead of teaching one kid a lesson that would perhaps be better taught in other ways.  There is nothing inherently more valuable about Ethan Couch than any other youth who has been sent to a juvenile detention center or jail.  As income disparity mounts every branch of our government still continues to help the smallest minority ; the rich.  How long can we live in this illusion that we are the best country when we incarcerate more people than those places we consider our enemy and backwards in thinking?  How long can we live in the illusion of trickledown economics?  How long can we live in the illusion of the American Dream that all you have to do is work hard and that dream will come true?  This case is as much about racism and inequality as the George Zimmerman case and it is even more of a reason to be outraged at where our country is headed.  Don’t confuse the meanings of money and value.  Nobody is better person just because they have money and it’s time the government and the justice system stopped acting like this was true.

Christmas in times of war

What is this war on Christmas I keep hearing about?  Is it real?  And if so, how will it lead to the downfall of the United States?  My feeling is that both sides of the argument are both a bunch of scrooges, so let’s take a look.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I am not going to spend a lot of time going into the detail of the origin of Christmas.  And when I say origin I don’t mean the birth of


Christ.  Scholars agree that he was not born in December.  Using December was classic early Christianity.  A time when many already celebrated the solstice, Christianity took the day to celebrate the birth of Christ to make it appear as though everyone was celebrating it.  A celebration in December goes far back into human history.

Moving closer to the present we see the celebration of St. Nicholas’ day in Early December where gifts are given starts to overtake Christmas as a popular holiday.  Martin Luther, hero of the reformation and part-time door abuser, decided that the celebration of St. Nick be moved to Christmas eve, and even suggested that instead of St. Nick bringing presents it was the Christ Child (ChristKindl).  I find it interesting that Santa has been usurping Christ for some time.  The attempt to have a cherub-like Christ Child deliver gifts didn’t really work.  Unknowingly many North Americans mock Martin Luther’s attempt to keep the focus on Christ by calling Santa, Kris Kringle.

It’s important to remember that historically, wishing someone a Merry Christmas was only done on Christmas day and not in the weeks preceding.

Fast forward to the recent past what was life like in America before this war on Christmas?  Well anybody who has been around long enough can tell you that corporate America and marketing has been taking over Christmas for some time, and this trend has only continued.  The way Black Friday has become so ridiculous in terms of now trumping Thanksgiving is a good example of what I mean.  Jesus Christ and St. Nicholas would be turning over in their grave (or heavenly cloud shelter) knowing that the kindness, compassion, and generosity they tried to live their lives in accordance with has been replaced by the stress and greed.  So if you haven’t noticed Christ disappearing from Christmas slowly over the past 50 years you haven’t been paying attention.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

So we now live in this age of political correctness and people being easily offended.  We also live in a country that has been dominated by


Christianity for some time and has been used to justify slavery, segregation, preventing interracial couples from marrying, and most recently homosexual couples.  We’ve never had a non-Christian President, nor does one appear to be electable in the near future.  So it’s perhaps not completely out of the question that people might be worried about Christmas being shoved in their face.

That being said, should wishing someone a Merry Christmas really be offensive?  In India, even many Muslims celebrate Diwali (the festival of lights) and wishing people a happy Diwali is not a national debate even though there are certainly a diversity of people in that country who may celebrate different holidays.  As the American population grows it makes sense that businesses should try to not be exclusionary around this time of year.  Hanukah and Kwanza are around this time and you are likely getting time off from work for so this does represent the holiday season.  So if you don’t know exactly who you are addressing as a business why not try to be more inclusive in your marketing and advertising.

As individuals though should we really be that offended if someone wishes us a Merry Christmas and we aren’t Christian?  Should we call the emergency number at Fox News because our favorite department store now says Happy Holidays and not Merry Christmas?  Perhaps I know all the wrong people but any time someone has wished me a Merry Christmas I never got the impression that the subtext was apparently “convert to Christianity you heathen pond scum”.  People seem sort of friendly when they say it and have good intentions.  I am an atheist but I grew up in Canada and my mom celebrated Christmas so we all did.  My memories of Christmas are filled with warmth, togetherness, lots of cookies and chocolates, presents, and decorations.  There wasn’t a lot Christ mentioning at Christmas for me but my parents were charitable people, and we often had wayward international students who couldn’t go home for the holidays at our Christmas dinner.  I’m pretty sure Christ would be pleased at the way we celebrated his day.  One of Jesus’ big things was tolerance.  Perhaps getting easily offended isn’t the best way to keep Christ in Christmas.

And here’s the thing war on Christmasers©, how is your Christmas going to change in anyway?  Is the day going to be less fun?  Are you going to love Jesus less on that day?  Are you going to give or get less presents?  Are you going to have to drink even more now to tell your sister she is too fat and that’s what she gets for getting knocked up when she was 16?  You can still have the best Christmas ever without nativity scenes on your capitol building lawn.  And since it tends to be Fox news and other conservatives carrying the banner of this war on Christmas you might also take a look at your own hypocrisy because you also support corporations, capitalism, intolerance towards minorities and other religions, and turn away from the plight of the poor.  These are some very non-Jesus-like qualities.

Holidays are about relaxing.  This is something we desperately need to do in a society that doesn’t value leisure time in favor of the pursuit of money.  This is a shame because the pursuit of happiness is far more fulfilling.

The Ghost of Christmas Not Yet To Come

So there are two possible futures my dear Scrooges.  One involves many angry atheists and other minorities being wished a Merry


Christmas by well meaning people.  The years of offense that these poor souls who have been wished a Merry Christmas endured will lead to aneurisms causing us to marvel at the power of two simple words.  The angry secular battle will win out in the media, business and government.  Everywhere you go there will be signs that say Happy Holidays and you will look up in despair because you know that even though it is the holidays, Jesus has all been forgotten by everybody, except for all the millions upon millions of families who will still be celebrating Christmas in this future which still makes calendars available to the general population.  These will not be happy Christmases though because you won’t get to hear about Christ because whenever you turn on the TV it’s just filled with advertisements, trying to convince you to spend your money on presents you don’t really need by a rotund man with a beard that has got to make it difficult to drink a bowl of soup.  People in need of help around Christmas won’t get it because after all it’s only the holidays and not Christmas.  And since there is no love for Jesus anymore (except for about half of the American population) what is really the point of being nice anybody anymore?  What day is it today?  The 25th?  Oh whatever.

The second choice is to remember that Jesus was a good human regardless about how you feel towards his divinity.  He cared for the poor, showed tolerance towards others, and was kind.  We should be like this all year, but these qualities are worth celebrating at least once a year.  Peace on Earth and good will towards men (and women).  What more can summarize the Christmas spirit better?  What could honor Jesus better if that is what you believe?  Shouldn’t such words be the central tenet of everyone regardless of race or religion?  If Christmas is to have any meaning on the 25th or on any day of the year it is in what you do to make things merry for your fellow human and not just saying the words.

So I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!  Take time to rest.  Spend it with family and loved ones if you have them.  Help people as your time and budget allows.   If you are feeling sad during the holidays, giving is a great way to fill any emptiness you might feel.  Try to spend your time around joyful people, because in this cold and flu season joy is the best contagion worth catching. 🙂

Jacob Marley

Only the Lonely

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then- in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life- was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

Alone by Edgar Allen Poe

I wanted to preface this post with one of my favorite poems.  I spend a lot of time thinking about how we interact with people because I love company, I love talking to other people, trying to understand them as I try to also understand myself.  I have a wonderful wife, great friends, and am surrounded by bright and energetic students and colleagues, but an incident recently made me feel alone, and I started contemplating what it means to be lonely, to feel alone.  I’ll understand if this isn’t a fun read during the holiday season! 🙂

Being alone can have two different meanings and I’d like to focus mostly on only one of them.  One can of course be literally alone with nobody else around.  I equate this more as solitude and solitude can be a


good thing.  It can be a time of reflection, possibly getting in touch with nature, and can be a very rejuvenating experience.  Being alone however can mean lonely and this is quite different.  Certainly you can be literally alone and feel lonely, but I find that loneliness comes in many shapes and forms and is most strongly felt when one is not literally alone.

When I moved away from home to go to graduate school I didn’t know a soul, and since I didn’t have the money to come down and look for housing I unfortunately lived in the dorms for the first couple of months (a horrendous experience I might add!).  I ate my meals in the cafeteria and University of Oklahoma is a big school.  There were probably about 500 people eating their meal and I would of course find a spot that wasn’t next to anybody and eat my meal.  Now there are some people who might have just sat down next to somebody and started talking, but I’m not that way.  It really hits you that you don’t know anybody and yet you are surrounded by people.  It is a very intense feeling of loneliness.  I would have felt less lonely if the cafeteria was empty.  This of course was compounded by the fact that I had just moved away from home and so when you are feeling very lonely it is easy to think more about the friends and family you’ve left behind.

Of course this feeling of loneliness is something you get used to, to a certain degree.  Being in new social


situations where you don’t know anyone, can feel awkward especially if you are like me and seek genuine conversation over the normal small talk.  It’s a skill you have to learn to get good at the small talk to get to the better stuff.  I think a lot of introverts are like that, but they just refuse to play the game.  A lot of people think I’m an extrovert, but I just think I’m an introvert who has learned to be more brave with time. 🙂

One of the more intense feelings of loneliness I think occurs when we don’t have someone to be intimate with.  I am not just talking about physical intimacy, although we certainly crave and miss that as well, but just the intimacy of even a close friend; somebody that you can share thoughts and feelings with, and most importantly be yourself around.  This type of loneliness is compounded by the presences of others, especially those we wish to be closer to but are not.  When you’re shy or lack confidence in approaching someone I think we all start to even get down on ourselves thus worsening the situation instead of making changes to improve our situation to feel less lonely.

Loneliness of this kind can lead to all sorts of behavior that can be unhealthy to you and others.  In a desire to get intimacy we may turn to sex as a substitute which gives momentary pleasure but not the intimacy we crave that is longer lasting and ultimately more fulfilling.  We may turn to a group of friends that become “drinking buddies”.  This may feel like fun temporarily, but often those friends aren’t confidants are even people that you can really be yourself around, and at the end of the evening you still come back alone and feel empty again.  We may seek out chat rooms on the internet, and sometimes you can even get to know someone really well, but it’s just no substitute for being in someone’s physical presence.

I have also noticed a type of loneliness that I could best describe as intellectual or behavioral loneliness. A sort of loneliness you feel when it feels like you are the only one who thinks a certain way.  Like being surrounded by a bunch of pro-gun people and after the umpteenth school shooting you are thinking


maybe we should pass some gun laws, and they say make the teachers wear guns!  Or wondering if you are the only one who thinks that Julia Roberts isn’t that great of an actress!  I know many people who often feel lonely when raised in a certain religion and feel doubts about their beliefs, but feel alone because nobody else seems to be asking the same questions.  I would imagine realizing you’re homosexual and not knowing anybody else who is, has to feel very lonely too in this sense of loneliness I am talking about.  When you feel like you are different from everybody else.  Poe was a pretty depressed guy, but I think this is the type of loneliness he speaks of in his poem and what inspired this post.  This loneliness is both unsettling yet necessary.  I am not sure if I can explain why I think that.  I just do.  Perhaps this is why the poem has captured me.

The most painful feeling of loneliness however comes from the people we love the most when we fight, or a relationship is ending.  When I was having marriage troubles and it seemed like divorce was imminent, since we both live far from our families we had no place to go so we had to live in the same house, sleep in separate rooms.  It was horrible.  I never felt so alone in my life.  Here was somebody I was so close to emotionally, and so close in proximity, but all of a sudden I felt there was a great distance between us.  Someone I loved so much and yet I felt like touching her was inappropriate and maybe even talking to her intimately was inappropriate, it was terrible.   I am sure many have experienced this before, but it’s not something that I would want people to go through.  Because for all the ways of feeling lonely I’ve talked of already this is the only one that I didn’t feel like I learned anything from.  Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.  It just sucked.

My goal in  exploring this topic is the recognition that loneliness is a very shared experience.  We’ve all felt it in its various forms and so what seems sort of cool and interesting to me is that even through loneliness are we together and I take some comfort in that.  I wish you the least amount of loneliness possible, but loneliness is something all people have to bear throughout their lives and I have found it to be an extremely good source of self-esteem to have battled through lonely days towards better days.  It makes you appreciate good company even more. 🙂

Correlation vs. Causation

I decided to write a response to one of the many excellent posts written by a fellow blogger.  It became long enough and I thought a worthy enough to be a blog post of it’s own!  If you are interested in the idea of correlation vs. causation you can read his blog here first.

In your last paragraph I was reminded of Dawkins’ argument in the God Delusion when he is talking about miracles.  Since miracles are by definition unique and rare events there is no way to really disprove a divine explanation.  This is of course if the same thing doesn’t keep happening again and again, which if it does, you really don’t have a miracle on your hands anymore.  He uses the example of the one documented miracle in Catholicism in which some 100,000 witness near Fatima, Portugal reported the Sun doing some odd things including zigzagging towards them and crashing to the Earth.  Dawkins argues that in looking for a natural explanation for the event, all of them, including the possibility that all 100,000 people are lying are actually more probable than the laws of physics being thwarted for a group of people in one part of the world (no other people reported seeing anything other than those at the event).  So I think that you are very correct that we the “correlation does not mean causation” argument does not negate a particular postulation for why a correlation exists.   However I would go a step further and say that it is not even an argument in of itself.

It is of course the responsibility of anybody who poses a correlation to provide a reason why such a correlation exists.  Provided you have done that, then the “correlation does not mean causation” response isn’t a logical argument in response to yours.  The person on the other side of the debate must either address why your reasons why are not valid, or must present something else that correlates better and why their reason for x causing y is more probable.  So I think you might be giving a little too much weight to the argument in how much it actually negates a correlation between two variables.

In many areas in science we can say why pretty easily because there are usually physical laws that explain why quite easily, and those things are testable and repeatable.  In social science this may be harder to do.  Especially since it is not always clear what all the variables are.  For instance it is clear that there is a positive correlation between gun deaths (accidental, homicide, and suicides) the amount of guns per capita in a population.  There are plenty of psychological factors of course to consider here on why would a person own a gun or why would someone choose to kill themselves?  There are practical questions like how to we get people to be more responsible about locking up their guns so their kid doesn’t pick it up, how to we make sure that more people remember to store their guns unloaded, how can make guns safer from accidental misfires, and how can we make sure that people who buy again are well trained in how to use it? There are likely even bigger questions like how does income disparity lead to increased crime in general? What are other ways that don’t involve firearms where people can be made safe?  All of these and plenty more are likely part and parcel of explaining gun violence, but that doesn’t change the fact that reducing access to guns would result a lowering of the number of gun deaths.  So making some laws that create a national gun registry, that do better background checks, and limit the type of weapon the general public could buy, would make some sense even though it clearly won’t eliminate gun deaths completely.  If by a counter-argument someone says “correlation does not mean causation” they haven’t actually addressed the argument being made.  They actually have to find an example with all other variables relatively constant between the U.S. and that country, except gun control laws, and show that an opposite correlation exists. i.e. Restrictive gun control laws and increased gun deaths, or high gun ownership and low gun deaths.  And that would be for a country with similar economies, democratic, with a high standard of living, and that doesn’t have mandatory military service in which the high amount of gun ownership isn’t because they keep their piece given to them in the military (Switzerland the example always used here).

So in the classic humorous example that has been around for awhile is that graph between global temperature and the number of pirates.  I can’t just show that graph and say see…look how the number of pirates is impacting global temperature?  I actually have to provide a reason why pirates might impact temperatures.  I can say there is less plundering and razing of towns so the urban heat island effect has increased thus raising global


temperatures.  Obviously this is a silly argument, but a response of “correlation and causation are different”, while a true statement, does not negate my assertion.  There are many ways to disprove my assertion but pointing out a correlation is not causation does not. Because the truth is, “correlation does not always mean causation” so one has to go past this statement to further argue one’s point.  This is true for many arguments that contain logical fallacies.  You could take the classic argument used against gay marriage.  Well if we let gays marry, pretty soon we’ll have to let people marry their pets.  Well this is of course the slippery slope logical fallacy.  Slippery slope arguments may not be incorrect, but are very often wrong.  So it’s not enough for me to counter your slippery slope argument with “Hey that’s a slippery slope argument”.  I would be quite wrong to think the argument was done, because they could actually be right.  Some events do lead to a chain of events that are far from where things started.  To win the argument I would actually need to argue that there has never been a push for legislation to marry a pet, that if anybody has tried this they were a crazy person, that this is not a psychological drive of human beings as a species, etc.  I could also point to many other marriage related laws or other laws that have not led to a hyperbolic slippery slope situations.

To say that “correlation and causation are not necessarily the same thing” is actually a Straw Man argument (which is fallacious) because the argument assumes a position that you have not taken in the argument.  Correlating variables is a valid method for discovering relationships, and by presenting that correlation, one’s assertion is not that correlation is a valid method, but rather that two variables are related to each other.  And to say two things are correlated doesn’t imply that this is the only important variable, or that even it is the primary or secondary cause of a particular event.  One has simply said there is a relationship and a counter argument must challenge the relationship.  A correlation must be presented along with some sound reasons why there is a correlation, and an argument in response must challenge those reasons.  The art of argumentation isn’t easy and few people can actually argue well. 🙂

The Whole Story

Who doesn’t love a good story? We see it television, in movies, and in books. We all love good stories told around a campfire, around the dinner table. We love writers and directors and people who can weave a good story together. Are stories just something that purely are for entertainment if they are fiction, and education if they are true? Is there any such thing as a true story (and if there is, is it exciting enough to listen to)? Is there any such thing as a fictional story?

There are plenty of people I’m sure who have addressed this topic, so I don’t think I am coming up with anything new here. The value of stories and storytelling has been on my mind ever since I read Patrick


Rothfuss’ two books The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear. The main character in that book is from a group of people that are somewhat gypsy like. They live their lives on the road traveling from town to town putting on performances of plays, telling stories, acrobatics, and playing music and singing songs. They are performers. The main plot of the series (which is not finished yet and I’m anxiously awaiting the 3rd and final book in the series) is that the main character is trying to determine the truth behind a traumatic childhood incident (don’t want to give too much away). The source of the traumatic event was something that he heard as a story and thought it was just a myth, something not real, and thus when this myth does seem real he questions his own memory of the event, since he was a child and could possibly have just made a story fit what he witnessed, or did it really happen. As this main character grows and travels he hears more stories from different cultures and different people. Stories are always slightly different because good storytellers exaggerate a bit here and there and of course stories generally change throughout time as they get passed down and pass from region to region. taking on aspects of the culture they move into. In a way the main character is learning about what’s real through what everyone thinks are fictional stories. Taking bits and pieces from all the different stories and putting it together into a narrative that might explain what happened to him as a child. The books represent masterful storytelling themselves, but the author really hits home the value of stories in general. The main character states at one point “There is truth to every story”.

Truer words were never spoken.

Fiction is defined as:

1. a. An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.
b. The act of inventing such a creation or pretense.
2. A lie.
3. a. A literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
b. The category of literature comprising works of this kind, including novels and short stories.

Even the most damning definition of fiction here “A lie” can carry with it truth.  If you know someone is lying you might know then that the opposite is true.  You might know that to find truth more investigation is needed.  You might try to understand why I’m lying and learn something about why people lie. I think we need to be mindful that this doesn’t necessarily mean that there still isn’t any truth to be found within the context of our imagination. And I think everybody sort of gets that, but for a while I was heavily into non-fiction because I was like I have so much to learn, and I still do, but I think in my mind I had forgotten sort I also decided to write about this today because of an article I read recently regarding stories and how they impact our view of the world. For instance if we are old stories about violence repeatedly this may skew our view of how prevalent violence is.  The article has many more thought provoking ideas than that, but the gist is that stories shape our lives, because we do search for meaning in every story and when we read only one kind of story all the time, whether it is non-fiction, a news story in the media, or in a movie, our neurons start to forge pathways that make that one kind of story a narrative for our life.  So it seems it is important to actually fill yourself with different types of stories.

I love reading.  My wife and I actually read stories together, with usually me reading and her listening.  I tend to read in a British accent most of the time, because hey it makes the story sound better for me, but I also try to do different voices for different characters.  She likes the way I read, but I sort of wish she would read to me more too, because when we started she was the one that read to me, and it was actually her getting into the reading and doing different voices that made me feel comfortable getting into it. 🙂  She says I’m better at it, and maybe that’s true, but I just hope I haven’t taken something away from her that she enjoyed doing.   I do find value in reading a story out loud, telling it.  It makes you think about the characters more, what their moods and emotions might be.  I sort of find that when I read to myself I pay

Orpheus and Eurydice (from www.

more attention to the non-dialogue part, where as when I read out loud I pay more attention to the dialogue.  It’s a very different experience.  I strongly recommend giving it a try. 🙂  Rothfuss’ books have also made me think that it would be cool to have, instead of a book club, a story club where once a month you meet and tell stories to each other.  I am super excited to read stories to my child that is soon to be in this world, and I hope I can share the appreciation I have for the value of stories. 🙂

For my parents

Dear Mom and Dad,

Though you are divorced now, you are still my mom and dad and thus I address you together as the parents who raised me.  Of course with my own child on the way my mind has drifted many times to the type of parent I will be.  There are plenty of people who have advice for you when you tell them you are expecting a baby.  A lot of it is good advice, some of it seems strange.  Some advice I imagine might make more sense once the child is an entity outside the womb.  Ultimately you can never really know exactly how good any set of parents are without seeing them in action, and there are few parents that I have seen  as intimately as I have seen my own.  As I look back on who I was and who I am today, I am proud.  I think I was and still am a good person.  I hope that doesn’t sound egocentric to say, but I also know that I am by no means perfect.  I have made mistakes and still do, but I have learned well from them.   I have strength, compassion, love, and try to be humble (even if this doesn’t sound very humble right now).  It would be foolish to think that any of my qualities that I am most proud of are simply some genetic trait, even though I know that those things do help shape you.  Ultimately I know that it is my upbringing that has had the largest impact on who I am today.  I then ask myself, what is it that you did that made me into someone that I am proud of today, and that for the most part, have always made me feel free to be who I am?  What are the lessons that I must make sure to teach my son so that at the very least he can become the man I am, even though I hope that he will be even more than I can dream.  I am not sure I know the answer to this, because I think a lot of the answer is just working hard to be the person that I want my son to be.  So instead I am writing this letter so I can let you know what things you gave me that I am so thankful for and that I hope my son will also be thankful for.

I first wanted to thank you for the things you both gave me, which was extreme amount of dedication to providing me with a life you could not have.  You wanted better for me, and you worked so hard to get it.  I am probably not even remotely aware of all the things that you denied yourself so that you could give me something that I wanted.  You cut corners everywhere to save money for your brothers and sisters, your parents, and for your children.  You gave me my undergraduate education, you helped me even afterwards when I had unexpected large expenses.  Your kids always came first in some way or another and I am so grateful for that.  You always showed a tremendous amount of confidence in me.  You’ve trusted me.  You have never tried to interfere and make decisions for me and have let me make my own decisions. And if after I made mistakes you’ve always been there though to help pick me up.  Even now with a child on the way, a situation in which many parents become over involved you place so much confidence in me and it is a source of strength. You’ve also taught me great lessons in tolerance.  Through mutual respect of each other’s cultures and other ethnicities you have made me extremely respectful of people’s differences.  More importantly though you showed me that despite the color of skin or particular beliefs there is nothing to fear.  We all just want good company, a good meal, and to learn from one another.  You’ve taught me the value of togetherness.

I also wanted to thank you for valuing education.  Even though both of you did not have a lot of education post high school, you recognized its importance.  More importantly you taught me to love learning.  It would have been very easy to work your jobs knowing nothing more about the world than you already did, but you always enjoyed reading and learning more or watching documentaries, nature shows, playing scrabble, boggle, doing puzzles etc.  You both enjoyed learning more about the world and challenging your minds, and made me feel like it was natural to do so.  This in turn made me value all people a lot more.  Not many in this world have a Ph.D. and it is easy for the educated to turn up their noses at those who aren’t as educated, but you taught me the value of every job in this world and that having a job that doesn’t require much education doesn’t mean that you have to stop learning.  And you exposed me to so many good people from the places you worked and made me appreciate the goodness in people from all walks of life. You always saw the positive in what you did.  You always wanted to do your jobs well even if there was some other job you would have rather had in life.

There were also things unique to each of you that have meant so much to me and so Dad I will start with you.  There are two things that you always said to me that are so important.  “I just want you to be happy”.  It’s simple but so important.  These weren’t just words to you either, because you made them the truth by how you acted.  And I just want you to know that I do have happiness and so if my happiness is the thing you wanted the most for me, then you can say that you have successfully completed that mission.  Also, although I have just mentioned education there is one line that sticks out in my mind, “Don’t get grades for us.  Get good grades for yourself.”  You always reinforced this selfless notion and as a result, ironically, I wanted to make you guys proud of my success in school all the more.  But you made me recognize that letting yourself down is ultimately harder to overcome than letting down others.

I have already mentioned about your jobs, but I just wanted to make a specific mention about your job Dad as a machinist.  I can’t even count all the times you would come home and show Joni and I the new cuts on your fingers from shards of metal that would fly out at you while machining.  You worked your body hard and bled for us to have a better life.  I will always be thankful for that.  I have also already mention your appreciation for other cultures, but the stories of your travels always gave me a bigger sense of the world, and has made me feel like it is natural to go where the world takes you to try and make a better life for yourself.  You came a long way to make a life in Canada from India.  That journey is what made me, and that is wonderful story.  I also appreciate how you always wanted to take us to different ethnic restaurants because you have given me my love for good food.  But really what I value most about that is how you were always interested in experiencing the food of other cultures the way they experienced it, because you recognized that all of it is part of the cultural experience.  And your interest in learning about other cultures not only developed my interest, but seeing how happy you made people when they saw your genuine interest in who they are, made me realize that the world always gives back when you truly care about it.

Finally, the most important thing you gave me was the fact that you were affectionate and emotional.  A lot of fathers are not.  I have many memories of lying in bed with a cold or flu and you sitting at my bedside before going to work, putting your hand on my forehead and cheek and looking at me saying how much you wished your touch could take my sickness and give it to yourself.  That was so wonderful for me.  You also gave me many hugs and I remember many times lying on the couch together watching hockey games or movies together.  I don’t know if this is a lesson you intended on teaching me, but from you I learned tht there is nothing wrong with men showing love through affection regardless of gender.  Touches from men are often seen as sexual in our society and that’s simply not true.  Your feeling free to show your affection is also what let me know that you had a big heart.  Even though you didn’t share deep emotional feelings with me growing up, I knew you felt things intensely and could not help but show those emotions outwardly.  I am emotional too, and I am very proud of that aspect of myself.  So many men are distant towards their sons emotionally and affectionately.  You were never that way and I am a better man for it.

As I start writing the part of this letter to you, Mom, I find myself at a loss of words.  It’s not easy because when I think of you, what you have given me is harder to breakdown.  To say you weren’t also affectionate would be untrue, so I don’t want to minimize your outward displays of love but unlike Dad who I attribute what is outward and obvious about me, you are my inside.  You are my perseverance; you are my humility, and my compassion, you are the glue that holds me together when life throws things at you in an attempt to make you fall apart.  You were a safe harbor in a storm and a rock who kept shape against all the elements.  You were thoughtful, reflective, protective but without ever lying to me.  You were both honest and kind.  Although I don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, I admire who he was as a person, and I know of no one in this world who is more Christ-like than you.   All those things you gave me were not just words, but they were things you lived and still do today.  Even if we don’t share the same faith, you taught the value of faith.  Having faith that everything is going to be alright is because of you.  All of us fight and struggle, but you conquer, and it makes me always believe that I can conquer as well when I need to.   And all these amazing things about you and you still had all the boundless energy that mothers always seem to have.  For all the cleaning, laundry, sewing, cooking, helping with school projects, doing crafts, I mean the list goes on and on.  All this on top of going to job all day that wasn’t particularly stimulating.  You showed me that love is as much a function of space as it is of time.  When it comes to being a parent, I don’t know if I can compare to you.  I don’t know if I can be as amazing as you were and I’m honestly a bit scared, ut everything will work out.  I have faith.

I hope you will forgive me for posting this letter to you both publicly.  I do it in part to let people know where I come from.  I do it also to remember where I come from so that I might better see where I am headed next.  Most importantly I do it because I think you both were wonderful parents and that maybe there is nothing really magical about it all, it’s just hard work.  I wouldn’t trade you for anything in the world.  Nobody is perfect and you weren’t always perfect and that’s okay.  I don’t know if your jobs made you feel ordinary, but you will never be ordinary to me.  You both game me so much love and never asked anything in return.  The best way I know how to repay you is to give my child all the good things that you gave me.  I know you both live far away and won’t have the chance to spend as much time with your grandson as some other grandparents, but I promise you that my child will know you because of what you’ve given me.  I hope that I make you as proud of me as a parent as you’ve been proud of me thus far.  I love you both very much.