Sunday, December 29, 2013

From the Archives - Descent Into Chaos: My 2005 Holiday Newsletter


Introduction

Every year I write a Holiday Newsletter and send it with my holiday cards.  As newsletters go, mine isn’t very useful; it doesn’t, for example, describe the highlights of the year.  In fact, I usually focus on a single low point of my year, just to counter-balance all the highlights you’ll read about in other people’s newsletters.  Or it’s simply random—the “secret Santa” of holiday newsletters, you might say.

In 2005, I had a hard time thinking clearly enough to write anything.  My kids were four and two and I wasn’t always getting much sleep.  So I decided to embrace randomness as not only the style but the substance of my Holiday Newsletter.  Since this year’s newsletter was inappropriate for a wide audience, I’m posting the 2005 edition from my archives.  Enjoy please enjoy.


Holiday Newsletter - December 17, 2005

I’d hoped to elegantly summarize this past year into a coherent, flowing essay.  But I just don’t think I’m going to get there.  In fact, I think I’ll always remember 2005 as the year I gave up on structure altogether.  I guess this was inevitable, given the whirlwind of family life, especially the inexplicable behavior of children and their sudden tantrums. 

For example, Alexa broke down crying during an argument about whether “Mulamimoto” (the name of her imaginary cat) begins with an “M” or an “R.”  She’d asked me how it was spelled and then refused to accept my answer. 

Pre-verbal Lindsay, meanwhile, will fixate on some food item, cry because it’s not presented quickly enough, stop crying when she gets it, and then start bawling all over again.  Why?  Too hot?  Too cold?  Too much?  Not enough?  When this kind of scenario occupies most of your waking moments, it gets to be too much.  So I finally gave in and accepted that my life had become jumbled and  disordered and there was nothing to be done about it. 

Once I acknowledged the chaos of my life and stopped trying to maintain order, I began to find unpredictability addictive.  I started listening to MP3 music on “shuffle” mode, which has caused some shocking segues.  I’ve decided to bring that randomness to my newsletter and write down whatever ideas come to mind, in no particular order.

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A magazine called “Real Simple” appeared in my bathroom.  It’s an easy read.  It really is simple.  There’s a recipe in there called “cupcakes with ice cream frosting” that has only two ingredients.  One is “cupcakes.”  I’m not kidding!  Anyway, there’s a column in “Real Simple” where readers write in with their time-saving tips.  I’m going to send them this one:  stop worrying about cleaning out the car.  The next time you forget the diaper bag, you’ll be glad you can get by with what’s strewn on the floor.  We keep a bag of clothes in the back that we intend to donate to the Salvation Army.  When we’re really behind on laundry, it’s nice to be able to dip back into that bag to dress the kids.

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Here’s a nice segue:  “Puff the Magic Dragon” right into Beastie Boys’ “Time to Get Ill.”  (Speaking of music, I got stuck in a mall recently and have decided that “Winter Wonderland” should be classified as a munition.  It must have been developed to demoralize the enemy.)

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I had a rough night recently.  At around two in the morning, my wife Erin shook me awake.  There was an incredible racket:  it sounded electronic, and yet human.  A ringing/screaming kind of sound.  Erin handed me a white plastic object and said, “Make it talk.”  Or maybe she said, “Make it stop.”  Or maybe something else entirely.  I took the object in my hand and stared at it.  It was making at least part of the noise.  Then it hit me:  this thing is a phone!  This realization introduced a new problem:  how to make it talk, or make it stop.  Then I remembered:  the talk button.  I found it and pressed it.  Some of the noise subsided.  Now I realized there had been two noises:  a ringing phone, and a crying baby.  But what was Lindsay doing in our bed?  (Only later did I learn that she’d had a nightmare about a “scary monkey” and demanded to sleep with Erin and me.)  Now I was more confused than ever.  I stared at the phone.  Why had it rung?  It dawned on me that somebody must have called, and whoever that was must be on the line and waiting for me to speak.  I put the phone to my ear and said:  “Hello.”

There was a long pause, and then the person on the phone spoke, very quietly, a babbled, murky word, as though spoken across a great distance, and muffled by cotton, or a mouthful of mashed potatoes:  “Brandon.”

I have a colleague named Brandon, but this didn’t sound like him.  It sounded like somebody on his deathbed speaking his last word.  I considered this for a moment before saying, “Brandon?”

Again, the voice gurgled:  “Brandon.”

Totally confused, I decided to go with what I knew to be true.  “This isn’t Brandon,” I said.  “This is Dana.”

A long pause.  Over the screech of Lindsay’s crying, I was finally able to make out that the caller was someone from work trying to solve a problem and looking for Brandon.  He had to settle for me.

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Another time-saving tip for “Real Simple”:  forget the Diaper Genie.  Instead, when you change your baby, just drop the soiled diaper anywhere.  Then, whenever you think to do it, kick a few diapers toward the bathroom trash can.  At some point, gather them from the bathroom floor and throw them out all at once.  This way, you won’t have to wash your hands as often.

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I guess I shouldn’t admit this, but I haven’t seen Lindsay’s glasses in weeks.  I’m not sure anybody else has even realized they’re missing.  I fear we’re not running a very tight ship here.

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Another nice segue:  from Chopin’s Nocturne for Piano in G minor, Op. 15/3, right into “Fell On Black Days” by Soundgarden.

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I think there was a distinct moment when I gave up on structure and accepted senselessness.  It was when buying hair gel.  I hadn’t been getting to the barber as often as I should, so I’d been experimenting with increasingly robust hair gels.  I started with Suave “Mega Hold,” which is rated as an “8” on the hold scale.  (The units aren’t specified.)  On my next trip to the store Mega Hold was gone, but in its place was “Maximum Hold,” at 10.  This all made sense until my next trip, when I discovered “Extreme Hold” at 12.  Given how arbitrary the units were, couldn’t they have made 10 have the top rating?  And since when can you get more hold (or more anything) than Maximum?  Isn’t “Extreme” less than “Maximum”?  The precise calibration of hair gel hold had turned out to be total illusion. 

I almost called Suave for clarification until I remembered my argument with Palmolive customer service.  A sticker on their “new” product had said, “Kills twice the bacteria.”  I called customer service and expressed shock that my old Palmolive was leaving bacteria on my dishes, but they assured me it did not—that both the old and new products killed all the bacteria.  How could this be?  If the old Palmolive killed all the bacteria, how could the new Palmolive kill twice as much?  We went around and around until the service representative said, “Sir, it’s just a slogan.  It doesn’t mean anything.”

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Despite being frazzled a lot of the time, I think my attitude has actually been pretty good.  Still, I sometimes worry.  Tonight Alexa asked me to play a game with her.  (She doesn’t do board games yet; just made-up role-playing games.)  I assumed she meant our standard game, in which I surgically remove her appendix.  But tonight she announced she wanted to play a new game:  Deathbed.  I told her I didn’t know that game, and she told me we could make it up together.  It went fine.  At the end I told her she had to speak her last words.  Her choice:  “Done.”

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A final time-saving tip for “Real Simple”: When it’s time to do big chores, Erin lets me go downstairs to (as she puts it) “play on the computer.” This keeps me out of her hair and gives us something to talk about right before bed.

On that note, I guess I should go. Happy holidays!

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