Previous month:
November 2022
Next month:
January 2023

Christmas Message

(length warning)

In the fine old tradition of journalists who recycle their holiday messages year after year, here's the 18th rerun of my Christmas message since Dec. 21, 1998 (with a few slight modifications and a few years off).

Season's greetings to one and all. Apologies to those of you who feel oppressed by the season. I know Christians, atheists and Jews who feel the seasonal oppression in equal parts. Oppression and depression. I'm sorry. This message isn't going to cheer you up, much.

This is a time of year that has inspired some of the most brilliant writing in the English language. It ranges from Dickens' A Christmas Carol (which single-handedly revived the celebration of Christmas as a major holiday in the English-speaking world), to the sturdy newspaper editorial entitled Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. In more modern times, we have, among other things, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the unforgettable Bill Murray as Scrooge in the Dickens adaptation, Scrooged, or Will Farrell in Spirited. (Not to mention Olive, The Other Reindeer. Never seen it. Love the pun).

This item ends with some lines of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales which Fr. Harrison West and I recited several times at Benson High School assemblies (long before he was Fr. West).

What is Christmas about? It can be about the birth of Jesus, but for most of us it isn't. It's about many things.

Christmas is about singing (or listening to) Christmas carols. My favorite annual Christmas party, bar none, was the Christmas Caroling party once held annually by our best friends. They're Jewish, and so are many of the party goers. Joyful voices raised together. Doesn't matter if they're not in tune. Doesn't matter if some of the lyrics are Christian claptrap. Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Here Comes Santa Claus, along with the rest of the secular Christmas liturgy are just plain fun. I loved doing "Five Golden Rings" every year (new partners, as my friends Norm and Kent passed away) when we sing The 12 Days Of Christmas.

Christmas is about family and friends. It is about egg nog (or fat-free "Holiday Nog") and all the rest of the seasonal food. It is about the children.

It's about traveling, at the worst travel time of year, to get away with your family.

Christmas is about family traditions when you're a kid, and the blending of family traditions when you marry. In childhood, my family stayed at home on Christmas, my wife was always a Christmas runaway. My lights went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and came down the Saturday after New Year’s. Vicki's went up on Christmas Eve and came down on Boxing Day. There aren't as many lights as when the girls were little. That's OK.

We've had artificial trees for years. M asked for a big real tree her freshman year at college, so we put a 14-footer in the library in 1999; then R asked for one and got it in 2003. This year ― just a little tabletop tree with Chinese decorations.

Christmas is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving is the official holiday to give thanks for our good fortune, but nothing says you can't do that at Christmas as well. Every Christmas morning when I wake up with my health, my wife and my children as part of this world, I count my blessings. Mine are beyond counting. I hope yours are too. I have adult-onset diabetes, but there are lots of worse diseases in the world. Mine, at least, is under control. I almost died in a car crash in January 2007, but I'm still alive. My wacky ticker made me faint, and now I have a defibrillator/pacemaker. Beats the alternative.

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six..

--Dylan Thomas

Read my very first Christmas column, from MIT’s ERGO student newspaper in December, 1970, along with a plug for Jon Carroll’s Untied Way.

There Are No Little Things 5: The Non-Job at the SF Examiner

“Come on down, you’ll be my next hire,” David Dietz of the SF Examiner told me when I called from my desk at the Oregon Journal. His decision to hire someone else (dictated by management) probably took him about 30 seconds (who disobeys a direct order?). Thank God I didn’t have to commute into SF every day, and miss my daughters’ childhoods.

There Are No Little Things: Explanation

Stuff Dad Knows

I was telling a group of friends about this the other day, and they were unanimous that both ideas are good ones.

Be like a journalist: write your own obituary. Even your immediate family doesn’t know the parts of your life which you want to emphasize, and for sure there will be a lot of “In the 70s,” when you could introduce the precision of “1972.” Just make sure your family knows where to find it, and is willing to spend the big bucks newspapers now charge for publishing an obit.

The other idea came to me a few years ago: there a lot of things I do for my wife and family that they don’t know about. All our pictures, for example, are digitized in the cloud. It would probably be a good idea to pay for all that so it doesn’t disappear.

Taxes. Passwords. Maintenance. Where stuff is on my computer. I have placed all of it in a large binder, very clearly marked “STUFF DAD KNOWS.” I have also given my daughters and sons-in-law memory stick versions. Thus, unlike when I was dad’s executor, and unlike all the widows I know flailing to keep their lives going when all that knowledge died with their husband, I have made sure my family will have a smooth transition into life after me… which I hope they won’t need for a few decades.

AI Jokes

One morning recently I read a comment on LinkedIn which said, “Wake me up when AI can write jokes.” I knew there had been efforts along this line (fall down the Google hole for yourself), but I found one I wish to plug. Witscript. It’s on Twitter, and I don’t do Twitter, so I won’t be seeing much of it. It’s best at Pythonesque/Firesignish non sequitur humor.

Two examples:

USER: Police in a Pennsylvania city are warning the public to be on the lookout for a white python. WITSCRIPT: The snake is believed to be about 6 feet long and was last seen wearing a denim miniskirt and tank top.

USER: Senator Mitch McConnell called President Biden’s decision to cancel some student debt "a slap in the face to working Americans." WITSCRIPT: Senator Elizabeth Warren called it "a high-five."

And just so you know I know: yes, there was an AI joke writing program that was fake―just a front for a comedian. Also, there is Jon, the comedian bot; it doesn’t write its own jokes, but it does change its delivery and set order based on audience reaction.

You remember; I forget

(length warning)

I have always been in the public eye, or at least conspicuous next to it. Many people think they know me: I have forgotten them or never knew them (I have a terrible memory for names and faces, so I’m not sure which). Plus the things they remember about me are sometimes not what I want be remembered for.

I can’t count the number of times that an MIT alumnus of my era has come up to me and said some variation of “You were so nice to me at The Tech (I’ll wager that never happened to Michael Feirtag).” I was nice to everyone, so it’s hard to remember specific people. I did  champion several women on the staff at a time when  MIT was only 10% women and The Tech was about 1%.

I’d prefer they remember me for the things I thought were memorable: the time I ran for UMOC, my radio shows (Sam Patch and the New Eugene Oregon Show). Or even the numerous movie reviews I wrote, and the small handful of PSACOT columns. My support for women.

In 10 years of teaching 8th grade U.S. history, I taught 1,000 students. I live in a relatively small town, so I run into them all the time. They inevitably start with, “You  were the best teacher I ever had.” Then they go on to remember that my room was cold and dark (deliberately; dark keeps them quiet, cold keeps my at operating temperature). They also remember me giving DVD copies of Groundhog Day as a prize to the best students, and showing it on the last day of school (the day before I played highlights of my game show appearances).

They say viewers feel like they are friends with people on TV since they see those people in their living room. After a decade of doing software reviews for The Computer Chronicles, people would walk up and say hello. I never knew what to say, until my boyhood pal, a wildly successful disk jockey, taught me to say ‘Thank you for watching.”
Then there are the parents. After ascertaining that I am Mr. Schindler, they ask “Do you remember [fill in name]?” First I ask where the student is going to school and how they are doing. Then I always say, “They were a pleasure to have in class,” since most of them were.

There Are No Little Things: 4 UPI Broadcast Style Guide

If Norm Sandler gave 10 seconds thought to the UPI Broadcast Style Guide before he tossed it into  our shared closet, I’d be surprised. But since it was there, I could read it on the train into Boston for my first shift at UPI. For me, broadcast style seemed trivial; so I filed eight hours of flawless New England Radio Wire copy, and began one of my most interesting journalism jobs.

There Are No Little Things: Explanation