A lot of crazy, difficult things have happened to me in the past year. At the same time, a lot of incredibly good things have, too. It is a crazy world out there right now with the novel Corona virus pandemic in this unprecedented and uncharted territory. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, to paraphrase Dickens. I got to see and be with my father and brother and girlfriend yesterday. We had Orthodox Easter (Pascha) dinner together. I cooked my first lamb, something my mother usually did before she died. Last year I attempted to help her cook it and "learn" how to do it. This entailed me following her around her kitchen making sure she did not fall, as her mobility was increasingly declining at that point in the cancer's progression. She would take things out of my hands and insist that she do this part. The parts she did ended up being most of all of the parts, while I kept vigil making sure she didn't plummet to the ground.
This year I was not alone in the kitchen. My girlfriend was with me, eagerly and lovingly looking up recipes for other trays to supplement the lamb. (She made a delectable stuffed shells dish with goat cheese, walnuts, mushrooms, and peas that would make a fine meal on its own any day.) The lamb cooking was left entirely to me. I racked my brains to remember how mom had "taught" me to do it, and then tried to combine it with a recipe I perused online to put my own spin on the old Smith classic. My mom cooked a mean lamb. I daresay, (and I mean no offense to my Greek friends when I say this,) that her Pascha lamb was better than any of that which we would have after services at the local Greek parish. I didn't do too bad myself. I think it turned out very well. (Olive oil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and Dijon mustard go quite well with lamb!)
The night before Pascha (Saturday) I stayed up and watched what I could of the Paschal midnight Divine Liturgy live-streaming on YouTube from Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, WV, where my brother, Brother Andrew, is a novice monk. My other half and I sat outside in my backyard with a campfire. Like the monks, we waited quietly in the dark, listening to the hymns and readings stream from my phone, and awaiting the midnight hour with a light burning brightly before us, ours being campfire rather than candlelight.
At midnight, when the lights came on at the Monastery, we went inside and watched the service on the television where it was warm. I turned on every light the property I live on has, back porch, shed, and outside garage nighttime floodlight included, flooding the grounds with light the same way the Church does. I was privileged to see my brother Andrew streaming through YouTube wearing his golden Easter robe and carrying the golden cross at the head of the procession the monks led around the exterior of the grounds surrounding their small chapel. He was grinning from ear to ear in delight. I smiled too, and felt for a short while like I was standing there with him. I found myself whispering to him like I would have long ago when we served as altar boys together, forgetting for a brief moment the physical distance and separation. Shortly prior to 1:00 AM, just when the monks were re-entering the chapel to finish their liturgy and commune, the ISP at Monastery gave out, and the stream froze, cutting short. I think too many people were viewing it at once. I went to bed for the night shortly after that, tired, weary, but happy and with joy in my heart.
Then the darkness came.
Oddly, I could not sleep. I thought of my mom. I missed her, badly. I couldn't cry yet I felt like I needed to. I tossed and turned. I wondered if Dad was doing okay tonight, if he missed her as badly tonight as I did. I got up a couple of times. One time I had my phone in hand and almost tapped the words "Peter Smith" on the screen that would have initiated a FaceTime call. I did the same for "Gray Smith." Dad had plans to rise early to do prayers for Easter. Peter had online college assignments and was either currently still working or enjoying a hard-earned, well deserved slumber. I turned my phone back off. Like Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-dum I decided to face the night and its demons alone, sparing my loved ones of having to join in the battle and aid me. Sleep finally took me for 2 or 3 hours, killing the demon when I could not, and I awoke for the final time at 5AM. I let Hermione outside, and was surprised it was 37 degrees out, for I felt so warm.
Later that evening as Dad and Peter arrived, we set the table and sang the hymn and ate and drank and laughed together. Peter made the Smith family Mac and Cheese recipe, and did a good job with it for his first time, from the kitchen of his first apartment living on his own for the first time. We conversed and when Dad brought mom up, I looked down at my plate. It was the set of family China mom had given me, with one plate that has a chip. She would always give me the chipped one for some reason. Maybe she knew I would not mind or complain. Somehow I always got the chipped plate, whenever she used that set of China. And tonight, when Dad brought her up, I looked down and sure enough, I had the chipped plate, somehow, completely by accident. I confided in Dad then that the night prior, while joyous, I spent sleepless and missing Mom. He said he had barely slept too, and had had a rough night as well. Peter, too. I regretted not calling them then. But, we all smiled and I told them about the chipped plate and as we ate the Paschal lamb, I think we could all feel her there.
Dad bid me and my girlfriend farewell for the night and drove home a little while later. We watched a movie that I passed out asleep halfway through, then went to bed. I had to teach early this morning remotely.
I was surprised to find myself unable to sleep again. I played cards on my phone through my favorite time wasting, yet still brain-engaging app, to no avail. So I pulled up my notes app again. The Muse came to me then and sang inspiration to me in my ear, fighting off the Balrog of the night with her song. I thought of Star Wars, one of my favorite things ever, as I often try to think of things, stories, franchises, etc. that I love when I find myself sleepless. I got an idea. A song, a poem, something that organized what many fans of Star Wars think of Disney's trilogy of films.
I tapped, typed, and I wrote, doing my best to follow some kind of meter, which is difficult for me; I usually work in free verse when I do poetry. I chuckled at some of the lines, and took some unabashed poetic license. I finished with a poem voicing complaints from the perspective of vexed Star Wars fans and fears and conundrums on the part of the Disney studio writers/producers. I woke up this morning to teach tired and groggy, but happy that I'd made something again.
And here it is! I decided to polish it up and post it here. My little poem from one of the nights I couldn't sleep, about one of my favorite things. I hope you enjoy it. I hope it makes you laugh.
It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. There is an awful virus killing hundreds of thousands. Times are uncertain. We are out of work, out of our ordinary routines, thrown for a loop, and some of us who have lost loved ones this year cannot sleep. Despite all this, "Make Good Art" as Gaiman says, always. This is an example of my art that has come out of this dire situation, born out of anxiety and sleeplessness. It isn't much, but it is something. I hope it will entertain you. And even though many things have all gone wrong, I will continue to stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah, as an old song goes.
Don't stop being positive, don't stop doing what you do best, and don't let the world change your smile, let your smile change the world.
ENJOY THE POEM,
May the Force Be With You Always,
T. D. Smith
* Disclaimer: the opinions in the poem aren't necessarily my own. I love all the Star Wars films, good and bad. Like I said, it is one of my favorite franchises ever. I just got inspiration/an idea to write a poem that embodies and encompasses the contemporary complaints of the fans, capturing their zeitgeist, so to speak. *
The rest of the story, "March the 33rd: A Quarantine Story," is complete! The story is available in its entirety RIGHT HERE.
I honestly never intended this to be an Easter release, and it isn't an Easter story (per se,) but I am happy to give it to you to read as a gift for Easter, anyway.
Enjoy it, may it bring you joy and something productive and meaningful to do during these troubled times, and Happy Easter from my family to yours!
Stay healthy and safe.
Easter Sunday 2020
A bunch of crazy stuff has happened in life. I will likely blog about it after a long hiatus, soon. In the meantime, you can read Part I of a story I have been working on below. It is inspired by all the craziness that has come along before and during the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of these details in the story are true! Can you guess which ones? Enjoy, stay home, and stay safe, my friends!
The following is a true story.
Well, parts of it are. Santarchy, or Santacon is actually a real event, run by an organization called the "Cacophony Society," who raise a ruckus at Christmastime, allegedly to protest the holiday's over-commercialization, although one suspects it to just be an excuse to riot and cause mischief. Most of the people involved in this organization don't really protest anything, they just dress up as Santa and have a good time. Generally it is a peaceful event that simply entails a bunch of people dressed up as Santa in many major cities across the world.
However, in 2005 in Auckland, that year's Santarchy took a turn from its usually peaceful protesting event, or simply fun party, and got way out of hand. Some drunken Santas actually committed some of the acts described in my story. You can read the news story from 2005 here: https://www.smh.com.au/world/bad-santas-rampage-in-auckland-20051219-gdmnfy.html
Learning of this event on an archived page of Neil Gaiman's blog (of course) and finding an expired link to a CNN story that no longer existed, and down the internet rabbit hole I went! After much searching I finally found the full story on the Sydney Morning Herald, and was (of course!) inspired. I got to thinking, what if something more was going on in this story? What if there was something deeper happening behind the scenes? What if the REAL Santa was in some way involved? Adding a SciFi element of cloning and the Fantasy element of magic, and making it as Christmas-ey and heartwarming as possible by its end, writing essentially 2 stories and suturing them together, all the while taking care to add/embellish elements in each to keep them consistent and part of one overall narrative coming from two different perspectives, and eventually I had this story.
Christmas is in and of itself a good thing. It is a positive outlet to remedy stress for the work force, a day off to look forward to, a time to be with family. It is a time full of cheer, excitement, and elevated, hopeful feelings. It is a day we set aside our usual earthly cares to focus instead on goodness and giving, helping each other, thinking of others, and going out of our way to be helpful our fellow human beings. It is a time of forgiveness and a designated season for focusing on the more important things in life, even if it has become incredibly commercialized. Behind the facade of commercialism and the rampant stampede to buy things, the more important, deeper aspect of the holidays are still there, and they always will be. Goodness, goodwill to man, love for one another, and giving will never go out of style. They will stand the test of time.
Christmas will come no matter what. It will continue and go on and on each year. The Yuletide Spirit will not, cannot, and has not been conquered, regardless of even the most violent of Santarchys, or vilest of plots by Krampus.
This story is my gift to you, the reader. As always I sincerely hope you enjoy it, and I sincerely wish you a
December is here, and with it the Yuletide spirit has come rushing in.
Today, December 6th, is St. Nicholas Day, recognized by Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and other Christian denominations worldwide. The historical saint's image has been preserved and passed down through the ages and morphed and changed in the cultures, mythos, and legends of the peoples of the world. In America, today the Saint is best recognized as the chubby, rosy-cheeked, white bearded man adorned in a fluffy red coat, an image spawned and popularized by the Coca-Cola company in the 20th century, and re-dubbed "Santa Claus." The group of ideas associated with that name is now inseparable from the historical saint whenever you bring up his name. The real, historical figure who lived in the 3rd century in Asia Minor was likely vested in Christian clerical bishops' robes for most of his day, and the black cassock/tunic he would have worn underneath for the rest of it. He would have been olive-skinned, and emaciated due to the fasting that came along with his clerical and monastic vows. By all accounts he really, truly cared for people, and went out of his way to help them, putting their physical and spiritual needs before his own. He did this daily, and year round, caring for people's real needs, not just giving them things they want in one magical night before the morning of the nativity.
Regardless of the transmogrification that his appearance and character have undergone in the modern public eye, St. Nicholas has stood the test of time and remains today a figurehead of the holiday season and its spirit of good will toward mankind, giving, forgiving, and seeking to serve and help others who are less fortunate than ourselves. In that regard he is still very much here and among us, and I like to think he meets us where we are, taking a form now in our postmodern, consumerist society, that we all can understand and identify as a good and saintly type of person. In that spirit, I'm posting a story that's (sort of) about the Saint, in a way. There is a famous legend about St. Nicholas of Myra dropping gold coins into the drying socks hanging outside on the windowsill of a man and his three daughters under the cover of night so that the destitute widower would not have to sell his children into slavery. And that is how the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings began. (Or in many cases, setting your shoes out for St. Nicholas on the evening of Dec. 5th, to find him having filled them with goodies the next morning!)
This story is quite loosely based on that legend- it is a humorous tale, both a ridiculous and absurd one, lighthearted and meant to make you laugh. It reads to me like a skit from "Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!" on Adult Swim, one of my favorite, most bizarre comedies I've ever seen. It is really silly, but like all my stories, (at least I like to think so and strive for this in my writing) there is something for everyone who reads it, and while it is funny and not meant to be taken seriously, there is still an underlying dimension of depth beneath the surface of even the seemingly silliest story, for those willing to dig deep enough to find it. I wrote this 2 years ago in July 2017, thinking of a vague notion of Christmas in July, and have gone back since and touched it up and embellished here and there to present it here to you tonight. The name of the man's best friend in the story went through several changes from the rough to final draft, starting as simply "Ted," then transforming to "Kris," and finally, and I think most appropriately, "Nick."
Well, without further ado, here is the story. As always, I hope you read and enjoy it. I hope you laugh and it warms your heart, and brings you good cheer as the holiday season begins.
We could all use a little more absurdity, the kind that makes us smile and/or laugh in our lives, after all.
-St. Nicholas Day, 2019
Well, another Halloween, and another Spooktober, has come and gone and it is now November. My head is spinning!
There are more, fun things coming soon- I am working on several stories and ideas in my head. In December I will be releasing (at least!) 2 Christmas-themed stories that month, and with any luck, a story or two in the meantime this month. Keep checking back and continue reading and enjoying!
I hope you enjoy this story, the final installment of the 2-story (okay, so really 3, unofficially) Spooktober 2019!
Couldn't help myself. Here's a bonus story for Spooktober; I posted it to Reddit back in late May.
Peter and I wrote it over the summer by texting back and forth and adding/embellishing the story.
It was fun!
Here you go!
Daniel and Michael were walking down the street when they accidentally got lost and walked into hell.
"Where are we?" asked Daniel.
"Hell." a distant voice answered back.
"Oh." Daniel responded.
"How do we get out?" Michael inquired of the echo.
"You don't." the voice replied.
"Ah. Okay." said Michael.
"Well, what do we do then?" Daniel queried.
"Burn, basically." the disembodied audio retorted.
"Is that any fun?" Michael questioned.
"Kind of," replied the voice, "Depends which end of the burnin' you're on. Either way, ain't nothing special, really."
"Well, what do you do for fun here?" Daniel posed.
"Oh, you know, the usual hellish things: monitor stock prices, balance our checkbooks, invest in up and coming companies, host tickle fighting tournaments..."
"What was that last one?"
Suddenly hell and the voice disappeared and Daniel was sitting in a room in a recliner wearing a wife beater, his underpants, covered in alcohol, smelling of feces, and looking down at an empty container that had held dissolvable tablets. A bit of vomit trickled down his cheek. He realized he'd never known a Michael to begin with.
"Honey, are you okay?" a soft voice, belonging to Daniel's wife spoke, as she strode into the room.
Her hair was rolled up in pink curlers, her face covered in a green, creamy mask, and she was clad in a taut, light blue nightgown that accentuated her feminine curves.
"Yeah babe, I think so," Daniel replied, groggily.
He stood from his recliner and stretched his tight, aching back and heavy, sand-filled-feeling arms. He yawned and scratched his balding scalp, followed by his buttocks. Pacing his way to the bedroom window, his considerable belly billowed over his belt and spilled downward, jiggling all about and sagging droopily towards his toes. He peered out into the darkness for a second and squinted. Then his eyes widened suddenly.
"But what is David Bowie doing up in our tree?"
"What?" his wife asked, indignantly.
Turning, Daniel saw only his wife's back, and then her reflection in their dresser mirror. The color drained from his face and he gasped when he saw the long strands of hair that uncurled themselves and were now slithering, hissing, and bearing venomous fangs.
"What is it dear?" Daniel's wife asked, turning round, her hair still in curlers.
Her shriek rattled the entire house. Several lights went on throughout the darkened house in response, as the children stirred. Daniel, her beloved husband, stood frozen before her, there in their bedroom, having been turned completely to stone.