MULTI-PURPOSE FURNITURE: BEDS!

Lectrology, the study of the bed and its associated surroundings, can be extremely useful and tell you a great deal about the owner, even if it’s only that they are a very knowing and savvy installations artist.”
from Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Well, yes, we all know about sex and sleep for energy recovery—separately or together, in no particular order! But for writing and/or personal reasons, think more broadly. What else happens in bed?

Plotting escape
  • Cuddling, before or after sex or on its own. One can actually hire a professional cuddler, female and/or male, paid by the hour for fully-clothed non-sexual cuddling.  
  • Getting/staying warm. Also think winter with no heat in the house.
    • In many parts of the world, it is customary for entire families to spend any free time in bed together, doing homework, making or repairing tools, or any other relatively stationary work, to conserve heat
  • Binge-watching TV (much more comfortable than on a sofa)
Escaping!
  • Getting sucked down the rabbit hole of YouTube
    • Or Tumblr, Cracked, Buzzfeed, Pinterest, etc.
  • Reading: books, magazines, newspapers, electronic devices
  • Eating and/or drinking
    • Sometimes this is just snacking, but on special occasions one may have a full meal delivered in bed
  • Working the Sunday Times crossword puzzle
Feeding your baby sister to the lions
  • Solving sudoku
    • Throwing the half-completed sudoku across the room when you realize there are two nines in the row
  • Playing a board game (carefully or with magnetic pieces)
  • Playing solitaire
  • Staring at the ceiling or into the dark and discuss serious issues with your bed partner
    • You can do this alone, but then it’s more of a monologue than discussion. 
      • Hearing a response to your monologue when you think you’re alone…!
Striking a pose
  • Indulging in catastrophic thinking about some personal issue, a family matter, and/or the future of humankind
    • What is the worst thing that could happen?
    • How could that come about?
    • And what might it lead to?
  • A refuge to escape an unpleasant task or situation by feigning illness
    • Often this is only a temporary fix, delaying the inevitable
Laying on the hard floor next to your bed without using it just to be stubborn
  • Recovering from an actual illness or injury
    • Applying ice or heat
    • Elevating a body part to reduce blood flow
    • Physical therapy exercises
  • Practicing modified choreography
  • Composing music
  • Cower with your head under the covers during a storm or earthquake
  • Playing with children or pets
Being the monster under the bed
  • Having a pillow fight
  • Jumping on the bed
  • Using bedding to stifle loud weeping, moaning, etc.
  • Toss, turn, and knot the bedclothes because you can’t get to sleep
    • Often with added frustration if someone is sleeping soundly beside you
  • Doing back exercises before getting up for the day
  • Nursing a hangover after being knee-walking drunk the night before
Yoga
  • Getting a massage: back, front, scalp, feet, calves, neck—whatever aches, feels good, or is your body-part fetish 
  • Sleeping excessively, possibly as a symptom of depression, illness, boredom, etc.
  • Thinking about plot points or themes for fiction and blog writing
    • In this instance, it helps to have a note pad and pen that light up when in use, or a device for dictating notes. Do not trust your memory!
  • Talking on the phone, usually for a l-o-n-g time
Levitating
  • Posting to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media
  • Sexting – NOT RECOMMENDED
  • Doing work/schoolwork, especially in the time of COVID
  • Getting bitten (bedbugs, spiders, humans. . .)
  • Deleting old emails, cleaning up the in box(es)
  • Mentally working out math problems and theorems using a base-6 rather than a base-10 number system

Bottom line: If you can imagine doing it in bed, you probably can—or can come up with a reasonable approximation.

Experiencing the outside world for the first time ever

PSYCHOLOGY OF CULTS

Cults are nothing new. Indeed, if asked to name a cult, you could probably name a few. In ancient Greece and Rome, a cult was simply the care owed to a deity, the rituals carried out at a shrine or temple. A mystery cult was a religious group that celebrated a minor god or goddess or a lesser-known aspect of a deity’s history. The word “cult” has different connotations today.

Janja Lalich, Ph.D., professor emerita of sociology at California State University, Chico, is a big gun in cult research.  Her website, Cult Research, provides extensive information about the mental mechanics involved in cults. She has also included resources for recognizing signs of a cult and how to help others who may have been impacted by a cult.

Modern Cults

There have been too many cults to count throughout history, but the vast majority have been small and soon forgotten. A post on Insider.com listed the six most notorious cults in history. (These cults have been extensively discussed and researched by people who were kind enough to share their findings online.) 

  • The (Charles) Manson Family famously murdered seven people over the course of two nights. Their stated intention was to start a race war. The Manson Family was formed in the late 60s.
  • Members of Heaven’s Gate were told that their leader was the reincarnation of Jesus, that God was an alien, and that the end of the world was near. In 1997, 39 members died after ingesting barbiturates and putting plastic bags over their heads. It is the largest mass suicide on US soil.
  • The Children of God was founded in 1968 as a system of communal living under the strict teachings of preacher David Berg. Multiple former members have testified that the church used prostitution as a recruitment tool and engaged in widespread child trafficking and sexual abuse. The organization later rebranded to The Family of Love International, and it is still active online.
  • Jim Jones founded The People’s Temple in Indianapolis in 1955 but moved the band to Guyana, and called the place Jonestown, in 1977. Reports of member abuse followed the group from place to place. In 1978, Jones instructed all of his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. More than 900 people died. This is the origin of the slang expression “Drinking the Kool-Aid,” meaning a person who believes in a possibly doomed or dangerous idea.

From the Wikipedia entry on cults:

“In modern English, a cult is a social group that is defined by its unusual religiousspiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or by its common interest in a particular personality, object, or goal. This sense of the term is controversial, having divergent definitions both in popular culture and academia, and has also been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study.  The word ‘cult’ is usually considered pejorative.”

Cults are attractive because they promote a feeling of comfort, and because they satisfy the human desire for absolute answers.

Characteristics Common to Cult Leaders 

Lists of characteristics vary in inclusiveness and contain both personality and behavioral characteristics.

Personality
  • Narcissism shows up on every list
  • Charisma is an essential quality
  • Personal proclivities that shape what’s expected of group members
  • Need for control/maintain power imbalance
  • Psychopath
  • Often delusional, believing their own teachings 
Behavior
  • Offer tantalizing promises
  • Be unpredictable (reactions, appearances, next demands)
  • Organize “love bombs” for new recruits
  • Promote an us vs. them mentality, feelings of superiority
  • Isolate members from family, former friends
  • Public humiliation of established members
  • Demand detailed acknowledgment of individual fears and mistakes
  • Repeat various lies and distortions till members can’t recognize reality
  • Promote paranoia: a group, family or government is out to get members
  • Encourage members to spy on each other

Writing in Psychology Today in 2012, Joe Navarro, M.A., presented his personal list of 50 clues to identifying cult leaders.  Listed below are several of his items.

  • A grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve
  • Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance
  • Demands blind, unquestioned obedience
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement or power
    • Expects to be treated as special at all times
    • Expects to be able to bend rules and break laws without repercussion
  • Arrogant and haughty
  • Hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others
    • Is highly dependent on tribute and adoration and will often fish for compliments
    • When criticized, lashes out with rage
    • Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy”
  • Hates to be embarrassed or fail publicly; often reacts with rage
  • Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy
    • Habitually puts down others as inferior
  • Ignores the needs of others, including biological, physical, emotional, and financial needs
  • Frequently boastful of accomplishments
  • Needs to be the center of attention 
    • The word “I” dominates his conversations
  • Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated, or exploited for personal gain
  • Is deeply offended by signs of boredom, being ignored, or being slighted
  • Doesn’t seem to feel guilty for anything he has done wrong, nor does he apologize
  • Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems
  • Works the least but demands the most
  • Sees self as “unstoppable” and perhaps has even said so

Characteristics Common to Cult Members

  • Female: world-wide, 70% of cult members are women
    • Explanations for this vary
  • Generally average sorts of people. No trends in location, income, etc.
  • Suffer low self-esteem, making them especially susceptible to love bomb (compliments, etc.)
  • Many have rejected standard religions
  • Intelligent
  • From sheltered environments
  • Blame others for their failures
  • Strive for perfectionistic goals
  • Often have no idea they are in a cult!

Characteristics Common to Religious Cults 

  • It opposes critical thinking
  • Isolates members and punishes them for leaving
  • Emphasizes special doctrines outside accepted scriptures
  • Seeking inappropriate loyalty to leaders
  • Devalues the family unit
  • Crossing boundaries of behavior (especially sexual) set in accepted religious texts
  • Separation from the main religious structure

Common Recruiting Tactics 

  • Target people who are stressed, emotionally vulnerable, have tenuous or no family connections, or are living in adverse socioeconomic conditions.
  • People who were neglected or abused as children may be easily recruited because they crave the validation denied them in their childhood
  • High school and new college students are good targets for cult recruitment since they’re still forming their identity and (in the case of college students) have recently been separated from their families
    • One old (1980) study of 1000 high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area found that 54% reported at least one recruitment attempt by a cult member, and 40% reported 3 to 5 contacts
  • I can only imagine that the rise of various social media platforms would have exploded those numbers.

Damage to Cult Members 

Various research has established that former cult members suffer long-term negative effects. Dr. John G Clark, Jr, of Harvard University works with former cult members and their families identifies the following 

  • Increased irritability
  • Loss of libido or altered sexual interest
  • Ritualism
  • Compulsive attention to detail
  • Mystical states
  • Humorlessness
  • Heightened paranoia

Because these are symptoms similar to temporal lobe epilepsy, it’s reasonable to assume that membership in a cult is a brain-changing experience. 

Bottom line: There is much we can and should learn about cults—possibly in our lives, certainly in the world around us. Many of these qualities and behaviors are present to some degree in people who aren’t actual cult leaders or members. Still, they provide fodder for compatible/consistent constellations of attitudes and behaviors. Think character creation!

Hot Fuzz, in addition to being a great movie, provides an example of two cults working against each other and destroying individuals in the way.

Betrayed by the Tongue

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, writer, editor, favorite auntie, turtle lover, canine servant, and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher.

Believe it or not, not everyone speaks English as a native language. To strain credulity further, consider that not every character learned English as a native language. Shocking, I know!

But how to convey through written words that a speaker has an accent?

Otto von Chriek, vampire photographer

One method is to transcribe phonetically the way a character speaks, as the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett demonstrated so well. A vampire in his fantasy universe of Discworld, deliberately emphasizes his accent when he wants to appear odd rather than threatening.

“Vell, I’m not official,” said Otto. “I do not haf zer sword and zer badge. I do not threaten. I am just a vorking stiff. And I make zem laff.”
from Thud! by Terry Pratchett

But what about a subtler signifier of a character’s foreign origins? There could be a million reasons to let your audience know that a character was originally not a member of the “in” group.

  • Signal that a character will have a different cultural perspective when reacting to events.
  • Sign that a character, by virtue of a different upbringing, has insight or expertise others may need.
  • Foreshadowing of any kind of discrimination practiced against a group designated as “others.”
  • Mockery of any slight difference shows the character of the people mocking as well as those standing by and those reacting.
  • Very subtle differences can clue in a reader that something is off, for example a spy or an imposter.

Fortunately for our purposes as writers, English is weird. So many rules have exceptions or no reasonable guidelines of when to apply them…. it’s enough to drive any ESL student mad. If any of these rules (that you probably follow without noticing) are broken, that’s enough to make a reader notice that something is off.

Articles

Should a noun have a definite or indefinite article? Or no article at all? Go ahead and try to explain the rules without looking it up. I’ve been an EFL teacher for years (and occasionally an ESL teacher), and I still mix things up. Like most native English speakers, I tend to rely on what sounds right.

If your non-native English speaker hails from a real country on Earth (as opposed to another planet or a fantasy realm), you can simply have the character follow the rules of their native language. A native French speaker would be likely to overuse articles. A native Russian speaker might skip articles altogether.

Consider these examples:

  • Quick brown fox jumping over lazy dog.
  • The dog, she is lazy. A fox jumps over the dog, no problem.

Of course, if the character learned a language you’ve made up, the rules are entirely up to you.

Word Order

English, like Bulgarian and Swahili, is a SVO language; Subject Verb Object is the typical sentence structure. The meaning of a sentence can be changed simply by changing the word order. The most common word order is SOV– the verb comes at the end of the sentence, after the object. Qartuli and Mongolian are SOV languages.

Other common sentence structures include VSO (Hawaiian), VOS (Malagasy), OVS (Hixkaryana), and OSV (Xavante). Trying to fit English sentences into any of these other structures can create some very awkward conversations.

Just to be contrary, Latin word order makes no difference to the meaning of a sentence and is often jumbled deliberately for poetic effect. (I’m looking at you, Virgil!)

Yoda is one of the most widely known characters who speaks English with inverted word order. Although he has no obvious accent, his speech immediately lets the audience know that he is alien.

Agreement

Some languages have declensions and conjugations and all sorts of ways in which words change form to indicate specifics. Others have separate words to indicate number, tense, intention, etc., though the word itself stays the same. English has both.

Sometimes verbs change when they’re in the past tense (walk-walked); sometimes they don’t (put-put). Just for fun, some verbs change into entirely different words when they change tense (bear-bore).

Nouns are just as bizarre. In kindergarten, the teacher told me I just had to put an S at the end of the word. Then there were geese, children, moose, alumni, crises, and vortices. I still haven’t figured out the rule for the cello.

Naturally, this is an area of difficulty for many people who did not learn English as children. It’s also an area of difficulty for people who have been speaking English since infancy.

Idioms and Connotations

Even if a character speaks English absolutely fluently, there are still a million linguistic tripwires. A native English speaker from Minnesota will still have trouble understanding casual speech in Scotland.

I once watched a Scottish man and a South African man argue about something (I think it was Australian immigration policy, but that’s just a guess). They were mutually unintelligible. As they grew more excited, each slipped further into his native accent and became less understandable by the other. Theoretically, all three of us spoke the same language. In practice, I felt like I was watching a verbal tennis match that gradually turned into frantic hand gestures and facial expressions. It was both surreal and hilarious!

Other Sources

Translators are very useful sources for learning the grammar of a language you don’t know. If you want to have a character be newly arrived in Australia from Siberia, try looking at the translator’s notes in a new edition of War and Peace.

  • Mobi Warren, a translator of Hermitage Among the Clouds by Thích Nhất Hạnh, explained some of the difficulties in translating Vietnamese into English. He wrote, “All this moving between past and present is more easily expressed in Vietnamese, a language in which none of the words have tenses.”
  • Ancient writers can be particularly difficult to translate to modern English, but understanding those difficulties is a great way to highlight changes over time. If you’re trying to invent a language for a fantasy or science fiction setting, try basing the grammar on ancient Egyptian or Shang dynasty Chinese.

Another very useful source for finding ways to indicate non-native English speakers in dialogue is to look at resources for teaching English as a Second Language or English as a Foreign Language. If other teachers point out an area that’s particularly difficult, odds are that a character you write would have trouble with that same area.

Bottom Line: Lack of fluency is not the same as lack of intelligence. Odd speech patterns imply accents without needing to use odd spelling.

DELIVERY DEBACLE REDUX: The Madness Continues

A week ago, I wrote about all the packages that hadn’t arrived before Christmas. Well, as 2021 began, the backlog continued. Again, drawing from my circle of family and friends, the waiting continued.

Some local offices haven’t switched to the newest technology yet.

. .

LJ: I’m SO frustrated. We mailed a box of gifts to Virginia on December 7. It sat in Cuyahoga Falls [Ohio] PO till December 15 before it arrived 7 miles away in Akron regional distribution center, arriving on December 17. It has been sitting there since, no movement shown in the tracking system! I know all the problems they have been having this year, but what is going on now? It only needs to get to Fredericksburg now. Just a little farther…

. .

NP: We’ve had the same problem here. A package G was expecting sat 10(!) miles from our house for more than a week.

Pretty soon, the packages might start opening themselves.

. .

KC: My box is still in Akron. No movement. The cookies are stale.

. .

TB: Me too, L! I hope EL finally got hers.

DA: BTW—we were not nearly as happy with UPS & FedEx. Several packages were randomly tossed “somewhere” in the vicinity of the house. One package (of nice chocolates) sat for a day and a half out in the rain before the meter man saw it & alerted us.

LJ: MJ had a photo of a package he sent to his sister in Buffalo. The Amazon guy left it in the snow. M got the delivery photo notice and he sent it to his sister. If they can’t get up to the house because of heavy snow, delivery people should have some way of notifying the recipient. At least Amazon’s photos help with that.

Good thing this one wasn’t left out in the snow.

TB: Our son’s pkg took almost 3 weeks from Oregon [to Ohio].

LJ: Weird, since the packages I sent to Florida and Memphis arrived at their destinations in time for Christmas with time to spare. Only my East and West destinations were screwed up. Arizona made it yesterday and Virginia is the one still traveling. That was the shortest journey by road mileage.

LJ: Mine is still at Dulles in Virginia; this is the 31st day. It needs to get to Fredericksburg. I’m happy you got yours before the New Year, however.

KC: I received a message on Dec 20 that my package was to be delivered Dec 3! It arrived on the 22nd!

There is a network distribution center in Cleveland that has been severely backlogged since September. Perhaps the letter carriers should upgrade from tricycles.

MH: I think Ohio is the problem! D had an order for pants from LLBean and there were in the center near Columbus for a month! It wasn’t a Christmas present so it didn’t matter. We didn’t realize so many people were having this problem. In Ohio’s defense, I’m sure the diversion of trucks for vaccine delivery and the major storms were a factor.

LJ: There is something wrong with the Ohio to Virginia connection.

SB: Yup, still waiting for mine. Jan 6th now.

DM: My friend ordered a Christmas present for her husband on 12/2 and by 1/4 it still hadn’t arrived!

Australian mail is delivered faster because their tricycles are yellow.

DA: We must be the only people alive who had no (zero, null, nada) problems with package delivery. Our mailings to California, New Jersey, and Boston were delivered exactly when the tracking said they’d be.  On the other hand, “normal” mail is quite another thing: no regular magazine deliveries (New Yorker, etc.), one priority mail that was sent from Hiram to our Hiram PO Box (for $3.80) took seven days. (Simply bizarre.) Not a single package or card from Europe has arrived yet—but Australian mail has exceeded all expectations. Tell me it’s not a plan to destroy the USPS so that it can be privatized….

[You may recall that in my blog about the Great Delivery Debacle posted 12/29, I offered three possible explanations—other than sheer overload—but an effort to privatize wasn’t one of them!]

Since January 1, a dam seems to have broken—but still no rhyme or reason I can find!

My order of poodles has finally arrived!

January 2-4, I received 11 packages, everything from nutritional supplements to a present I’d ordered to give as a present. Saturday and yesterday packages were delivered morning and afternoon.

Because you must be waiting with bated breath to know about the package from my sister, I won’t keep you in suspense: box of presents she mailed in Lancaster, OH, 12/11, arrived Saturday, 1/2! I was sorry to see that she had paid $20.40 for priority shipping!

Similarly, a standard  8.5X11-inch family calendar mailed from Massachusetts, $9.90 for two-day delivery, arrived after 5 days.

The other packages, mailed from all over the country between December 18 and 28, all arrived together. I noticed that two from Florida on the same day, one priority and one first class arrived together.

Surprise, shock, and awe!  An item scheduled for delivery on January 6 arrived January 4!

Some of the delivery vehicles are a bit out of date.

There is a method to all of this madness… sort of. Several factors combined this year to delay mail and package delivery schedules in every company. The various delivery servicesUS Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and othersoften work together to carry goods to their destinations.

In particular, the Post Office is often responsible for delivering mail to individual residences in less populated areas, regardless of which company began the shipping. This means that a delay in any of the delivery services almost always ripples out.

Holiday delivery surges happen every year, but this year was extra special! You may remember some disruptions in US mail services from this past year, highlighted again at election time. Many of those disruptions are still in place.

I still think the new guy looks shifty.

Sorting equipment that was removed and destroyed has not been replaced. Delivery trucks have not been serviced and so have broken down. Employees are still exposed to COVID, and many are sick or have passed away.

Kim Frum, a senior public relations representative for USPS, released a statement that read, in part, “While every year the Postal Service carefully plans for peak holiday season, a historic record of holiday volume compounded by a temporary employee shortage due to the COVID-19 surge, and capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving this historic volume of mail are leading to temporary delays.” 

Employees at Amazon, FedEx, DHL, Hermes, and UPS also interact regularly with the public and thus are exposed to increased risk of COVID. International service has been disrupted because of travel restrictions. Everyone is dealing with increased volumes because people are ordering things online to comply with quarantine orders.

. .

The Postal Police take their job pretty seriously.

The madness comes from playing Russian roulette with your packages. Will your box be the one in the back corner of the truck? Will your letter be the one that won’t fit in the bag and has to be left for the next round? Will your parcel be the one that hasn’t been sorted by the end of the shift and must stay in the warehouse until tomorrow? Most chancy of all: whose mail will that shifty new guy take to the TV studio with him?

. .

Bottom line: I’m waiting to see what the new mailing normal will be.

THE JANUS OF 20-21!

January is named for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and endings. He’s depicted with two faces, looking in opposite directions. In any event, this is the customary time of year for people to take stock of what was and what’s to come. 

In the most basic terms, we do know some things about 2021 for an absolute certainty. 2021—MMXXI if you’re particularly old-fashioned— will be a common year (not a Leap Year) starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar. This is the 2021st year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 21st year of the 3rd millennium, the 21st year of the 21st century, and the 2nd year of the 2020s decade.

2021 Chinese Zodiac Predictions

Metal Ox, not Math Ox

In the Chinese Zodiac, 2021 will be a year of the Metal Ox beginning on February 12th (2020 was a Metal Rat). According to custom, the Ox is very hardworking and methodical.  In the year of the Metal Ox, we should all focus on relationships of all kind (so let’s hope we don’t have to keep social distancing too much longer).

The Ox is also associated with hard work and responsibility, so expect lots of that in 2021 as well. The repercussions of previously made decisions will hit this year (oh boy!), but at least all our hard work will be rewarded.

2021 Angel Number Predictions

Angel Numbers are a branch of numerology based on the idea that groups of reappearing numbers or sequences of numbers are coded messages from angelic protectors.

The Angel Number 2021 symbolizes faith, whether it be in your guardian angels, your relationships, or your own intuition. Don’t doubt that your angels have good plans for you and that allowing change will bring progress. Seeing Angel Number 2021 indicates that you need to control your thoughts more, as they can affect your reality.

As per the Numerology Horoscope 2021, this year will be good for you financially. You will have a balanced and flourishing family life. Though you may face some stressful situations in the middle of the year, you will gradually overcome those challenges with your understanding and wisdom.

What about 2020?

In general Numerology, 2020 is like 1616, 1717, 1818, and 1919, because the first two digits match the second two digits. Being alive in 2020 is special because it is the only year you are likely to live through wherein the first two digits will match the second two digits—unless you believe in cryogenics or reincarnation.

At what point do therapists start offering bulk discounts?

The energy represented by the number 2020 has a resonance of focus and relationships. It also resonates with conscientiousness, pragmatism, and teamwork.

Apparently, the Angel Number 2020 was telling us all to be prepared for what is coming our way. Guardian angels were telling us that extreme changes were about to enter our lives. Had we paid attention, perhaps we would have been more prepared, both mentally and physically.

“The year 2020 ushers in the Universal Year 4 – a number representing stability, organisation, industriousness, convention, and a mini-wealth cycle,” said Gracy Yap, a Singaporean numerologist and author of Secrets Of Golden Numbers.
Jan 3, 2020

It seems everyone said 2020 would be a year of healing and big changes. Well, that was half right.

Interestingly, no one foretold the COVID-19 pandemic or the upheaval surrounding our presidential (and other) elections. Massive wildfires in Australia and California, murder hornets, flesh-eating bacteria in Mississippi, swarms of locusts in Africa, and wide-spread civil unrest in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, America, Hong Kong, and Sudan… none of these were mentioned in all those 2020 predictions.

Bottom line: We have every reason to believe that 2021 will be a good year, new president in place and COVID vaccinations injected. But don’t count on it!

THE GREAT DELIVERY DEBACLE: FACTS AND FICTION

UPS and FedEx are much involved in delivering COVID vaccines, and their reported delays are at least partly due to that. On the other hand, USPS delays are attributed to sheer volume. How bad is it? Reportedly, more than 93% of USPS package arrived on time. If so, why am I so special? 

FACTS

Unrelated to anything, Halibut Cove, Alaska has a floating Post Office!

Here’s a look at the sorts of delays that happened this year—and are ongoing—within my own circle. 

His credentials check out, but there’s something funny about the new guy.
  • I ordered a gift for a friend on 12/02/20. It has not yet been delivered.
  • On 12/16/20, I mailed 4 packages, to OH, MA, CO, and CT. 
    • 12/19/20 The package arrived in Arvada, CO.
    • 12/24/20 Packages arrived in East Longmeadow, MA, and Winstead, CT.
    • 12/28/20 The package arrived in Lancaster, OH.
  • 12/11/20 A package was mailed to me from Lancaster, OH, and as of this writing, it still hasn’t arrived.
Maybe they had trouble reading the shipping label.
  • Merchandise ordered:
    • 12/17/20 Est. delivery 12/22/20, in transit, currently in MD
    • 12/18/20 Est. delivery 12/23/20, in transit 
    • 12/20/20 Est. delivery 12/26/20, still in transit
    • 12/21/20 Out for delivery in Henrico
    • 12/28/20 Again out for delivery in Henrico—but not delivered.
The US Postal delivery tracking looks a bit like the wiring for a bomb.
  • Hiram, OH, is a town so small that there is no home delivery of mail. A former colleague there reported mailing packages to CA and two other distant states, all of which arrived on time.
  • On the other hand, a local friend of his (in Hiram, OH) mailed a Christmas card to him at the same post office, which showed up in his mailbox six days later.
I didn’t know the Post Office had a police force, but being a Mail Cop is now the highest goal in my life.
  • A family member in East Longmeadow, MA, shipped two packages at the local USPS on 12/19/20, one to PA and one to VT.
    • Both packages left the local USPS at 2:30 that afternoon.
    • The PA package arrived at its destination on 12/22/20.
    • The VT package arrived in Atlanta at 5:17 on the 12/20/20.
      • On the 21st it arrived at the “local” USPS facility in Stockbridge, GA, and was out for delivery.
      • On 12/22/20 it went from Stockbridge to southern CT, arriving on 12/23/20.
      • That night it went to Nashua, NH, where it remains.

These events are, indirectly, caused by COVID: people are out less, traveling less, shopping online, and mailing rather than delivering presents. Thus, the presumed disruption is sheer overload of the system. 

Whew! Been stuck in that box for almost a month!

As essential workers, employees involved in packing, sorting, driving, and delivering all these orders are more exposed to infection. Every sick employee puts extra strain on all the others, who have to scramble to fill the supply chain.

But what if there’s more to it than that?

FICTION

Never discount the possibility of dragons. They show up when least expected.

All of the above are true, but my writer’s brain can’t help spinning far more fantastic scenarios. Three possibilities come immediately to mind.

A Shadowy International Organization Did It

Foreign agents from several countries have demonstrated that they have the ability to hack into and interfere with U.S. systems. Perhaps it was the Illuminati. Maybe it’s a rogue branch of the CIA or the NSA.

What’s that bit in the middle?

In this case, possibly they created a bug in the electronic sorting systems to misdirect randomly targeted packages in a way that never shows up but creates massive unpredictability.

It could even be the manufacturer of what was ordered, secretly diverting every product bound for the East Coast and implanting surveillance equipment as part of their plan to take over the entire supply of saltwater taffy.

The Postal Workers Did It
Something seems a bit off about his uniform…

Postal workers have felt overworked and under-appreciated. The new Postmaster General is a political appointee who doesn’t know or care how the United States Post Office works. Hours have been cut, essential equipment has been removed and destroyed, some customers are told to be treated better than others, and warehouses are filling with ever-growing piles of late deliveries.

If you refuse to wear a mask, Postal Workers give your mail to these two.

Because December is always the busiest month at the Post Office, employees are burdened by irate customers. They retaliate at both the local and national level. At the local level, the packages of rude customers are shifted to a “delay” bin. When a customer comes in with an inordinate number of packages, half of them also go to the delay bin. When the packages in the “delay” bin go out, they are stamped with a secret symbol telling other works along the line to delay this package. Members of the Postal Workers’ Union have passed the word on the dark web.

The Fickle Finger of Fate is Responsible 
Shipping children is probably not great for your karma. They didn’t even have air holes!

A great, cosmic karma targeted people who haven’t suffered enough during COVID—who haven’t suffered food deprivation, loss of housing, loss of employment, depression, substance abuse, or actually suffering COVID hospitalization. These people have their packages delayed and lost as the first part of Cosmic Balance Restoration. Unfortunately, sometimes people outside the target group are affected.

Bottom line: Consider your delivery debacles (or any other disruption in your usual expectations) and what might be the real cause!

Why is Christmas Celebrated on December 25th?

From the Basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris, France

The logical answer would be, “We celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th because that’s when He was born.” But in this instance, the logical answer is probably wrong.

From St. Joseph Catholic Church in Somerset, Ohio

Neither the Bible nor any other record dates Jesus’s actual day of birth. In addition, the season when shepherds would be watching their flocks by night and when the census was taken would argue that the actual birth was either spring or autumn.

The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum

According to Stephen Nissenbaum, author of The Battle for Christmas, early Christians weren’t bothered by not knowing Jesus’s birthday for “It never occurred to them that they needed to celebrate his birthday.”

Further, according to Nissenbaum, the Church got into something of a crisis, with people tending to believe that Jesus never existed as a man. Instituting a birthday celebration was a way to counteract that trend.

From Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was 336AD, during the time of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. Perhaps he chose that date because Pagan Romans would be celebrating the Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, and “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti” (birth of the unconquered sun god, Mitra) anyway.

From the St. Michael Cathedral Basilica in Toronto, Canada

Another possible explanation stems from Jewish tradition. Male babies were circumcised and given their names eight days after their birth. Church elders may have settled upon the beginning of the new year as the Naming Day of Jesus; eight days before that would be December 25th.

Pope Julius I is said to have declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th of December. However, the sources for this claim are extremely questionable.

From the Church of São Salvador in Trofa, Portugal

One very early Christian tradition held that on March 25th the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would have a very special baby. The Annunciation is still celebrated on March 25th—and nine months later is December 25th.  

The early Church celebrated Christmas, the Epiphany, and the Baptism of Jesus all on January 6th. In some parts of the UK, January 6th is still called Old Christmas.

Then, too, not everyone celebrates Christmas on December 25th even today. Many Christians use other dates or December 25th on non-Gregorian calendars. The dates below are all Gregorian.

From the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Turkey
  • January 6–The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church
  • January 7–Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Rite Catholics in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
  • January 7 or 8–Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
  • January 19–The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
From the Basilique Saint-Urbain in Troyes, France

If you’re particularly bored (or really itching for a fight) in the next few weeks, go online and declare that you know the definitive birthdate of Jesus. No matter what date you claim, people will swarm to prove you wrong.

“THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR.” REALLY?

CONSIDER THE DOWNSIDE OF CHRISTMAS.

Part of the downside of Christmas is this myth that everything and everyone is merry and bright, and if you aren’t, you must be a Scrooge. Or a Grinch. Or Burgemeister Meister Burgher. Indeed, much of what follows also applies to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ōmisoka, and other holidays too numerous to mention. Almost everyone (every character?) suffers one or more of these downsides of typical celebrations.

Exposure Fatigue

“Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues reflects the loneliness despair of Christmas.
  • Going into a store in October and see “decorations” for Halloween, Thanksgiving, AND Christmas
  • Christmas music that begins to be played everywhere before Thanksgiving
    • Christmas music gets old fast, particularly for people working in retail
  • Commercials touting the “perfect” gift
  • The pervasiveness of sappy Christmas movies (and over-exposure to the good ones, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”)

Physical Fatigue

  • Decorating
  • Food preparation
  • Package wrapping and/or mailing
  • Attending celebratory events, especially navigating office/work place parties
  • Hassles of travel (insane boarding lines, delayed flights, driving clogged highways)
  • Making gifts or cards by hand
  • Shopping for presents
    • Finding a mall parking space 2 miles from the shops
  • Tracking down the right present for the right person 

Weather

  • Living in a warm place, one laments the lack of snow
  • Living in a cold climate, one laments cold and snow that keep people inside
  • Ice storms that keep one from attending/hosting a holiday event
  • Combination of extra traffic, stressed drivers, and wintry weather can make every drive a terrifying experience

Family Stresses

  • Feeling compelled to see family you’d rather not
    • Spending time with the family of one’s significant other can be even worse
  • Conflicts between/among guests
  • Pretending to like presents you don’t
  • Taking awkward photos
  • Kids demands for presents and apply pressure in  in terms of values, money, and parenting
  • Waiting in endless lines for kids to visit Santa at the mall
  • Bad situations can worsen, and marriages are strained
    • Recently divorced parents navigating custody arrangements
    • Divorce lawyers have their busiest month in January

Financial Strains

Why does everyone want a pony?
  • Feeling pressed to give a gift of equivalent value, even when the “gift lists” for giver and recipient aren’t the same
  • Dealing with a year when one’s gift-giving must be cut/downsized in number and/or expense and it will be obvious
  • Higher electric bill for huge outdoor displays 
  • Travel, tickets, decorations, food, etc., can drain bank accounts and max out credit cards even without buying gifts

Physical Health

  • Emergency room visits are up 5-12% around Christmas
    • Slips and falls on icy walkways or while putting up decorations
    • Sharp object injuries from unfamiliar cooking utensils, new toys, assembling gifts
    • Falls from a height
    • Workplace accidents
    • Abdominal discomfort from overeating
    • Psychiatric disorders exacerbated by stress and crowds
    • Poisonings
      • Incorrectly prepared food
      • Overconsumption of alcohol
  • Disruption of healthy patterns
    • Abandoning diets or eating irregularly
    • Loss of sleep
    • Failure to follow doctor’s instructions for treatment and/or medication
  • A typical Christmas meal is likely to be two-to-three times the recommended daily calorie count
    • Indulging in meals, cakes, pies, chocolates, or whatever sweets
    • Cookies, biscuits, candy, homemade treats brought in to the workplace or shared by shops for the entire season
  • Stress levels are almost certain to be higher than usual
    • Stress contributes to heart disease, stroke, and cancer
    • Stress leading to immune system breakdowns, leading to colds, for example
  • Mingling with more people exposes them to more infections, especially flu and flu-like symptoms
  • Falls, cuts, and burns result in tens of thousand of visits to the ER
  • Alcohol consumption resulting in alcohol poisoning, broken bones from skips and fall, car and home accidents, etc.
  • Domestic violence is up about one-third compared to an average day

An ambulance driver explained it to me this way:

“It’s like everyone’s on a hurt-yourself schedule, same every year. Early morning starts with the drunk drivers going home from parties, sometimes the homeless with hypothermia, depends on the weather. Then the kids get up way too early and open their presents and start hitting each other with them or falling off anything with wheels and breaking any bone you can think of.

Even the angels are drinking too much!

“After that, you get a mix of cooking accidents and alcohol poisonings through the afternoon. Eventually, people hit their limit with family, have too much to drink, and start beating on each other. That’s also about the time ‘lonely hearts’ start calling us, asking to go to the hospital just because they have no place else to go and they don’t want to be alone.

“People eat too much at dinner and get the ‘too-much-macaroni sweats.’ They get heartburn and think they’re having a heart attack. We get more alcohol calls, either people fighting or passing out.

“And then everyone heads home, driving drunk. Better hope your tree doesn’t catch on fire. Happy Holidays.”

Mental Health

  • There is a MYTH that suicides peak around Christmas – they actually peak in spring
  • That said, it is breakup season
    • The peak breakup time is the two weeks before Christmas
  • Overall, holiday depression is a real thing
    • Family conflicts
    • Financial woes
    • Expectations of perfection
    • Singles watching couples get all mushy
  • Loneliness is highlighted, especially for older people who live alone and have no one available with whom to celebrate
    • People 65 and older are twice as likely to spend Christmas alone, compared to younger people
  • The loss of a family member—previous or recent—is especially painful
  • Being/fearing being left out of desirable events
  • Mistletoe invites unwanted advances
  • People with birthdays anywhere near Christmas often find the events conflated
  • Dealing with someone who has problems, like alcoholism or domestic violence
  • Wishing to skip Christmas because of other events in one’s life
  • Accessing helpful services that normally help one cope can be more difficult
  • Finding other religious festivals or holidays fade in comparison to Christmas
  • Overall, people are more likely to experience anxiety, sleep disturbances, headaches, loss of appetite, and poor concentration
  • Call rates to help hotlines spike on Christmas Eve

Environmental Downside

It’s after midnight! Wake up! Time for presents and sugar highs!
  • Massive amounts of trash going to landfills
    • Decorations
    • Single-use wrapping paper
  • Food waste
    • Imported foods enlarging your carbon footprint
  • Energy consumption
    • Traveling burning fossil fuels
    • Turning up the heat
    • Electric lights inside and outside

The End

  • Taking down/storing items for next year
  • Missing the buzz and activity
  • Realizing that nothing can be done about many things now regretted
Queen Elizabeth doesn’t take down her Christmas decorations until early February, in memory of her father’s death.

Bottom line: These are all for typical Christmases.  Consider which might be eased and which might be exacerbated in the year of COVID?

Christmas Music Then and Now

Christmas Carols have always been around, right? No, not exactly.

Welsh druids are into extreme harping.

Carols were sung in Europe thousands of years ago. The word “carol” means dance or song of praise and joy, typically in rings and circles, and they used to be common during all four seasons. Pagan carols at Winter Solstice celebrations were sung as people danced around stone circles.  The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually falling around Dec. 22.

Carols at other seasons of the year have largely disappeared. Perhaps winter carols have survived because early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones.

In AD 129, a Catholic Bishop said that a song called Angel’s Hymn should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. Another early Christmas Hymn was written in AD 760, by Comas of Jerusalem for the Greek Orthodox Church.

“Hey, any idea what that guy keeps singing about?”
“Eheu, enim operor non intellego.”

In subsequent years, composers all across Europe wrote such hymns. They never became popular, some say because they were written in Latin, which common people didn’t understand.

In AD 1223, St. Francis of Assisi started Nativity Plays in Italy. The people in the plays sang canticles that told the story during the plays, normally in a language that the audience could understand and join in. The new carols spread across Europe.

In AD 1426, John Awdlay, a Shropshire chaplain, listed twenty-five “caroles of Cristemas,” the first written record in English.

During the 15th century and through the Elizabethan Era (ending 1603), these carols were fictional stories loosely based on the Nativity described in the Gospels and intended as entertainment rather than worship. They were sung in homes or pubs, not churches.

“And the Angels came to Paris, where the French shepherds guarded their French sheep in the lovely Parisian evening…”

Traveling minstrels freely changed the words to suit the local people wherever they were. For example, I Saw Three Ships might first have represented ships taking the skulls of the three wise men to the Cologne Cathedral, but over time and venues, the travelers on the three ships were sung to be many different Biblical characters.

No more obferving CHRISTMAS by dreffing in Fine Clothing or Feafting! Only Satan worshippers dreff and feaft!

When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in England in 1647, the singing of carols was banned. Carols survived because people sang them in private.

“No, I don’t have a clue what a welkin is; I thought you knew! Maybe we’d better change the lyrics.”

During the Victorian period, many new carols were written including Good King Wenceslas. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (originally Hark! How All the Welkin Rings), The First Noel, and God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen were popularized.  The custom of singing carols in the streets became popular and remains so today.

  • Martin Luther authored carols and encouraged their use in worship.
  • Adeste Fideles had attained its modern form in the mid-18th century, although the words might date to the 13th century.
  • God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, The First Noel, I Saw Three Ships, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing appear in a collection assembled by William Sandys in 1833.
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear also dates from this period.
  • In 1865, Christmas-related lyrics were sung to the melodies of traditional English folk songs, such as Greensleeves—think What Child is This.
  • Good King Wenceslas and The Holly and the Ivy can be traced directly back to the middle ages, and are among the oldest musical compositions still sung regularly.
Singing while wearing a corset deserves a medal of some sort.
Christmas carols are a bit different in Russia.

In older times, caroling children asked for (and were given) edible gifts such as dried fruit, eggs, nuts or sweets. By the 20th century, the edible gifts had been replaced by money. Caroling is also done by choirs, marching bands, groups trying to raise money for trips, projects, or charity, folk societies, neighbors, and well-wishers.

Now caroling often includes secular as well as religious music. Such songs written in the United States range from Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman to O Little Town of Bethlehem to Away in a Manger.  So gather round the old piano and celebrate the season with songs of your choice!