Thursday, December 24, 2009

An improbable Yuletide message from your host.

It may shock many of you to hear this, but I have always loved Christmas. Sure, some of the attendant chores can be a pain: It's no fun stringing lights in a 16-degree wind chill and then discovering that the strand that worked perfectly when you tested it indoors no longer works when you finally get it tacked onto the fence around the deck. But even in that instance, once you get all the bugs out, and you're sipping hot chocolate as dusk arrives and you plug everything in and your little white lights instantly come alive, peeking through the accompanying pine boughs into the gathering indigo sky, and you're able to get the full effect of your handiwork for the first time... It's a great feeling. It isdare I say it?a joyous feeling.

I have always loved lots of things about life. And in my personal approach to daily living
that is, the little dialogue that occurs between me and meI am upbeat and positive, expecting good things and generally seeing the glass as three-quarters full. What ticks me off is the commercialization of positivity, with the concomitant insincerity of the notion that if you pay me $9695as James Ray's marks, uh, clients paid himI can teach you how to apply a positive attitude to yourself as easily if you were putting on lipstick. Then there's the equally pervasive notion that by allowing you to hang with meone thinks of Joe Vitale's obnoxious Phantom meetingsI enable you to absorb my own positivity in some osmotic way, such that my success will rub off on you. First of all, there's no evidence for the belief that Person A's path to greatness will also lead Person B to the same destination. (As I said in a recent TV interview, if it were that easy, we'd all drop out of college and become billionaires. After all, it worked for Bill Gates.) But you already know chapter and verse about that, and this started out as a Christmas post, so let's return to that theme, shall we?

In the course of my 59 years I have met so many people who trudge through life expecting nothing special. They have lost their reverence for life's grand and romantic traditions, for the things and times that are supposed to uplift us, energize us. We get jaded, cynical.
"Scrooge-ified." We "outgrow" the childish enthusiasm that made certain events so magical. I'm not just talking here about formal occasions like Christmas and Easter and our birthdays, but also milestones like our first car or our first kiss or the first time we made love and really meant it. Even if those things are landmark moments, they shouldn't lose their meaning. There should be an echo of the same joy in every kiss, every time you make love, every time you look at a sunset. I think I've said this before but when I first moved to California, I lived in an area that was nestled in a valley between two minor mountain ranges. It was a gorgeous tableauit was gorgeous each and every dayand yet I noticed that when my neighbors walked to their cars to get to work in the morning, few of them bothered to glance up. And no one ever actually paused to take it in. They didn't even look up on the cooler winter mornings when those encircling hills were likely to be capped with snow. For my neighbors, most of whom were lifelong residents, the whole panorama had become a Given, an amorphous, characterless backdrop. Those snow-capped mountains? They might as well have not even been there.

And I asked myself: How does your heart ever get that old and tired?

That's why I address this last part to the curmudgeons among us: those of you who long ago lost the joy of the season. It's been said before, but I recommend that each of you spend some time watching a child, preferably a group of children, experience Christmas. Look for the light in their eyes; drink in the giggles, the unending smiles. And now I'm going to close by getting really over-the-top syrupy, so those of you with no stomach for it may want to look away: I'm going to go Polar Express on you. Because I'm betting that somewhere deep inside
, no matter how much time and distance and garbage and disappointment and sheer life has come between you and the wide-eyed child you were once, that bell is still faintly ringing. Where's the harm in trying to listen for it?


Mardi said...

What a beautiful post Steve. From one eternal optimist to another - Merry Christmas!

Pamela James said...

Steve, first I found you via your recent op-ed in the Viewpoints section of The Dallas Morning News ("Can we afford a vanity tax?" Dec. 2, 2009) - good stuff; some great points. Second, as to your question, "How does your heart ever get that old and tired?" I'm afraid I'm living proof it can happen. I'm also living proof you can turn it around, 360 degrees. I did. Took me about a decade to wake up, but eyes wide open; I'm alive again. The physical effects of aging sucks; it's what got me into the abysmal stinkin' thinkin. But it's just a damned number to me now. I'm also a journalist - who removed herself from its confines a decade ago; no more bylines for me. But I'm writing again, living again, and loving life again. I'm a kid in an adult's body; enjoying the Hades out of the metamorphis. I agree with your - OK, admit it won't you?- cynical view of oppulence and decadence - it can seem illogical. Why should anyone pay extra money for something that a less pricey, more functional model, can do? Hope you're sitting down; because civilization as we know it depends upon it. I'd have never thought this way until I landed on Howard Bloom's latest work, "The Genius of the Beast, a radical revision of capitalism" I"m a git-a-rope logical thinker. So it seems illogical in itself I'd have such a notion now. Trust me, you've got to read Bloom's reasoning to understand it. He's a 66-year old visionary, a scientist, a biologist and OMG so much more; with a bio two pages long (single-spaced). And get this he's not just some nut job brainiac he's also the former owner of one of the largest PR firms in New York City for entertainers; Bloom International (its heyday was the '70s and '80s) but he worked directly with people like Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Bette Midler, AC/DC, on and on. So he's been in the belly of the pop culture beast as well. OK, of course, I digress. Just trying to make a point. Love your work. Hope to follow more of it.

Steve Salerno said...

PJ: Thanks for looking me up. Glad to hear of your personal turnaround. I will check out Bloom's work. Though it sure sounds to me like I should already know of him, I'm afraid he falls into that ever-expanding category, "things I should know at age 59 but, alas, don't."

PJ James said...

Steve: You might recall another of Bloom's books: "The Lucifer Principle." Ring a bell? If you're ever in New York you've got to ring this guy up - he's a kick in the pants. I happen to have his personal email address and phone number if the urge suits you. Two genius publicity gurus in the same room - OMG - the horror! (big ol' Texas grin)