This will be brief. We have had our girls in for the holiday, though Winter Storm Elliott very nearly kept our younger daughter in Denver for the weekend. We have managed the cold and kept the house warm with fires in the fireplace and well-placed space heaters. We’ve enjoyed clam dip and cinnamon rolls, homemade soups and Indian-style butter salmon. We’ve even had a couple of meals out.
We’ve exchanged gifts, watched movies, talked and laughed and reminisced. We might even have imbibed a cocktail or two.
I said in a previous post that all I really wanted for the holiday was to be with Nancy and our daughters. That was my wish, and despite a once-in-a-generation weather event, and several cancelled flights, I eventually got exactly that. I am content.
I could say more, but honestly that’s all I feel any need to say.
Except that I hope your holiday brought you joy and laughter, good food and a cup/glass/flute of your favorite beverage, time with loved ones and perhaps a moment or two of solitude, if that was what you needed.
And I hope New Year’s Eve/Day, which, in my experience, tends to be a holiday that disappoints, is enjoyable, safe, and whatever else you hope it will be. I will not be posting on Wednesday, but will, of course, recommence the blog next Monday, January 2, 2023.
I write about my father a lot in this blog. Last year at this time, I wrote a long tribute to him commemorating what would have been his one hundred and second birthday. I write about my mother as well (her birthday is in February). We lost both of them way too early, and I miss them both more than I can put into words.
I grew up the youngest of four children in a privileged family, and all of us enjoyed giving as much as we did receiving. Our Christmas mornings tended to be affairs of largess; we all had enormous gift piles. Record albums, clothes, books, the occasional piece of jewelry — as I say, there was always plenty under our tree. The Christmas morning I’m remembering came when I was in my early-to-mid twenties, and was home visiting either from Providence, where I lived after completing college, or California, where I attended graduate school.
All of us were in our usual frenzy of tearing wrapping paper and oohing and aahing over one another’s gifts. Dad sat watching us all, not unwrapping anything himself, but smiling contentedly. One of us said something to him — probably prompting him to open one of his as-yet-unopened gifts, and he waved off the comment.
“This is my present,” he said. “Watching all of you.”
I know: It sounds like a line from a Hallmark holiday movie. Thing is, he meant it. There was nothing he enjoyed more than watching and listening as his kids and his beloved wife talked and laughed.
I remember another time, the last summer we had with him: My mother had died the previous fall, and not long after Dad was diagnosed with leukemia. But during the summer, we rented a house in New England that was huge enough to accommodate all of us — my dad; my brother Bill and his partner, Sandy; my sister, Liz, her husband, and their two young children; my brother Jim, his wife, Karen, and their son (their daughter would come along a year later); and Nancy, Alex, and me (Erin was born three years later).
We had a great week, but there was one night in particular when we put the kids to bed, and dad retired early, leaving my siblings and me and our partners to hang out on our own. We didn’t realize how much sound traveled in the house, but we learned the next morning that Dad had heard us the whole time. He wasn’t at all angry, and he didn’t mind being kept up.
“Listening to you all laughing was better than sleep.”
By that time, of course, I was a father, and was starting to understand what he meant. I didn’t appreciate it fully, though, until after Erin was born.
I have been fortunate to hear live performances by some of the most phenomenal musicians in the world — jazz and classical, blues and bluegrass, rock and country. I have heard remarkable birdsong throughout North America, in New Zealand and Australia, in Costa Rica, in several parts of Europe. I have heard coyotes call in the desert, and Screech Owls trilling on a rainy night in Oregon, and Whip Poor Wills singing on summer nights in Tennessee. There is no sound I have ever heard that compares to the music of my daughters laughing together.
Nancy, the girls, and I have our own Christmases now, of course. There is always plenty under the tree, although this year Nancy and I don’t have much for each other. That’s all right. I won’t miss the presents. Because I’ll be able to sit, as my father did all those years ago, and watch Alex and Erin enjoying their holiday, laughing with each other and with us. That will be my present.
Yes, I know, this probably seems a little crass. But here’s the thing: Creators like me make our livings off the sale of our creations. It really is that simple. If our books (or music or art or whatever) don’t sell, we don’t earn.
Now, many of you are probably saying at this point that you have already bought my books and, I hope, read and enjoyed them. That’s wonderful. Thank you. Truly.
The holidays, though, offer an opportunity to share with others the things that you have enjoyed. Maybe a relative or friend loves historical fiction. Turn them on to the Thieftaker books! Maybe someone you know and love enjoys thrillers — Radiants and Invasives might be just the books they’re looking for. Maybe you have a fan of time travel on your holiday gift list. The Islevale Cycle books are time travel blended with epic fantasy. Sounds perfect, right?
Someone else you know might be a huge fan of short fiction, in which case, I would recommend you to the Zombies Need Brains site for any number of speculative fiction anthologies.
This post probably isn’t about what you think it is.
Nancy and I are nearing the end of what has been an exhausting and at times terribly difficult year. I won’t catalogue our burdens because they are, frankly, no worse than those faced by many of you. We have things in our lives that mitigate the challenges, things for which we are incredibly grateful. But we’ve had a rough year — the third in a row, actually. Again, this doesn’t set us apart from others. There may be differences in the specifics, but there are far more similarities of kind. We have all faced struggles.
That’s not really what this post is about.
After Thanksgiving, as we were mapping out a very busy December, we made a decision not to have a Christmas tree this year. Mostly, I made the decision. I am the one who goes down into the valley to buy a tree. I’m the one who sets it up, who waters it daily, who takes it down at the end of the season. And I just didn’t feel like dealing with it this year.
When I informed our daughters of this they were disappointed, to say the least. They don’t live with us anymore, but when they come home for the holidays, they like to have the house looking festive, the way it did when they were kids and Christmas was everything. I justified the decision to skip having a tree this year by assuring them this was not something permanent. We would surely have a tree again next year. But this year it felt like too much, everything was too fraught. We went back and forth, but eventually they accepted my decision, albeit reluctantly.
And then, this past week, on a rainy afternoon, I went down and bought a tree after all. Nothing had changed, of course. Nothing happened to make the past year suddenly, magically turn easy. The work of setting up and maintaining the tree remains. I changed my mind.
To be clear, this is not a post about the Christmas spirit suddenly moving me to want a tree, though in a way I suppose it did. It is not about the importance of doing something nice for my kids, although that is, of course, incredibly important, and it was gratifying to know how pleased they were by my/our change of heart.
In the end, my choice regarding the tree was about me, about what I needed, what I realized I had to do even though I didn’t really want to.
I have written a bit recently about my uncertainty regarding my next writing project. I have been unable to choose from among several possible projects, and I am starting to understand that my inability to make that choice is not about creative impulses, or marketing uncertainties, or even an inability to decide what possibility excites me the most.
I’m simply stuck. For reasons I haven’t sussed out quite yet, I can’t get myself to make that professional choice and move forward with it. And, I realized this week, the whole Christmas tree thing was sourced in a similar lack of motivation and momentum. I was stuck personally as well as professionally. Too many things going on, too much occupying my thoughts, too many emotional impulses pushing me one way and another. And my first reaction to all of this was to stop. The push-me/pull-you of life was more than I cared to address in any way, and so I simply dug in my heels. The tree, ridiculous as this now seems as I type it out, was the bridge-too-far, the thing I decided was too much.
What made me realize this I was doing this?
Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe it was the reaction from my kids. Maybe it was the recognition that, despite knowing it meant a bit of effort and work, I actually wanted a tree, almost as much as my daughters did. I love having a tree. There’s a reason I’m the one who usually does the work required each year. I enjoy the smell, the lights, the ritual, the departure from routine, the sight of the tree with its lights on, glowing in the middle of the family room. Suddenly, denying myself that pleasure, denying Nancy and the girls that pleasure, didn’t make much sense to me.
And in the same way, I know I want to begin work on my next writing project, even though I feel stuck, even though none of the projects is really calling to me right now. I believe I need to do with my work what I did this past week with the tree. I need to get off my butt and start working on something, even if I’m not sure it’s THE project I should be writing now.
All of us find ourselves in circumstances like these now and again. Sometimes they manifest in the professional realm; sometimes they show up in our personal lives. For some of us, the inertia I’m describing works its way into everything. I have glibly written of my decision to “snap out of it” with respect to the tree. I don’t mean to make it sound easy. This week has been hard for me. I suffer from anxiety and panic disorders, and recently both have been troubling me more than usual. Breaking out of these patterns takes work. For some it takes enormous courage as well.
I see you. I understand and I sympathize. Perhaps that’s why I chose to share this story with you today. The holidays can be a struggle in all kinds of ways. These past few years have taken a toll. Maybe this post was about all of that after all.
The holidays are upon us, and chances are you — like me, like everyone I know — have
been caught up in the spirit of gift-giving. We want to find those perfect presents for the people we love most. We want to surprise and delight. For Nancy and me, shopping for our daughters, who are grown and very much aware of the things they want and need, has become fairly easy, if unexciting. They give us lists, we do our best to find the things on those lists, and everyone is happy.
A few years ago, we surprised them with special presents we’d spent a good deal of time planning and acquiring, and we still try to do that when we can, but our lives are busy, and these days the holidays really are much more about being together than about stuff. Which is as it should be.
But I wanted to share with you two brief stories about the two most thoughtful, memorable, wonderful gifts I have ever received. Because I think of them often this time of year.
When I was very young — about seven years old — my brother Jim, who is six years older than I am, developed an interest in birding. How that came about is his story to tell, but the important point is that his love of birds soon infected our older brother, Bill, and me. We began to go on bird walks together whenever possible. Jim and I were both living at home still, and during spring migration we would get up early in the morning, even on school days, to check out the warblers, orioles, tanagers, vireos, thrushes, and grosbeaks moving through our neighborhood. Bill, fifteen years my senior, nine years Jim’s senior, joined us whenever he came home to visit, or whenever we went to visit him.
Again, I was seven, Jim was thirteen, Bill was twenty-two. We ought to have had little in common. But birds and birdwatching shaped and cemented our love. Other shared interests and passions contributed as well, but our love of birds, of nature in the broader sense, was formative.
As birders, Jim and I started getting serious about keeping track of what we saw and when, and about a year later, on Christmas day 1971, Jim surprised me with what was, to my mind, an amazing gift. [Geek warning: What a young birder thinks is an amazing gift may not match what you think is an amazing gift . . . .] It was a binder with custom made bird checklists for my year lists, my life lists, my lists for our little town. He had typed up the life lists, created a “template” for the year lists (back when that meant using a typewriter and a ruler and a marker) and actually filled out my life list up to that point based on his own memories of our earliest excursions, which were clearer than mine.
The amount of work involved, the effort, the attention to detail, the amazing thoughtfulness of the present, from someone who was fourteen at the time, for his annoying little brother — it all still boggles my mind.
I still have that binder. I don’t use it for much anymore, but I will NEVER throw it away.
The other thing that bound Jim, Bill, and me together was music. They introduced me to so much of the music I still listen to today. Jim was my gateway to jazz. Bill, though, was my gateway to rock, and to blues, and to bluegrass. He was my guru. As I said, he was fifteen years older, and as I entered my teen years, and was diving into music in a serious way, as both a listener and a budding musician, he was the person to whom I looked for guidance. He was an incredible musician in his own right, he was in a very cool band, and he was a student of music, particularly classic rock.
Sometime in my late teens, I can’t remember the exact year, he gave me two gifts for Christmas. The first, I could tell right away, was a record. An LP, because back then that was pretty much all we had. The second gift I couldn’t figure out. It felt and looked like a thin sheaf of papers.
“Open the album first,” he told me.
I did. Exile on Main Street, by the Rolling Stones. A legendary double-album by the rock band of the era. “I think you’re ready for this,” he said.
I could stop this story right there. My older brother, my rock ‘n roll mentor, he of the effortless cool, telling me I was ready for what I knew was his favorite album of all time? That was gift enough. But then he told me to open the other package.
Exile on Main Street didn’t come with a lyric sheet. The Stones couldn’t be bothered with such trifles. And so Bill had transcribed the lyrics to every song on the album. This was before the internet, before personal computers. He listened to the two records over and over again — he later told me he had to replace his copy of the album, because he wore the grooves down so much — trying to decipher the mumblings and rantings of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, men not known for their clarity of speech. And he typed them up for me. I still have the album, of course. I am ashamed to say, I don’t know where those lyric sheets have gone.
Two sparkling, wonderful gifts, from my two brothers. Both shine in my memory to this day. They were born of love and thoughtfulness and a type of generosity that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.
Something to think about as we approach the holidays.
The past couple of years, usually on the Monday of this calendar week, I have written about Thanksgiving — last year a catalogue of all the things for which I’m thankful (the list still holds), and the year before, ahead of the country’s first Covid Thanksgiving, a rambling remembrance of holidays past that still makes me laugh when I read it over. For obvious reasons, I didn’t feel like writing such a post for this past Monday. But with the holiday upon, I thought I would try again.
I don’t know how to approach a Thanksgiving post this year without repeating myself from those previous posts, and yet here I am making the attempt. And maybe repetition in this context isn’t the worst thing in the world. The things for which I am thankful year in and year out remain remarkably consistent — boring for a blog, but gratifying in every other way. My marriage, my children, my extended family and friends and fans, my career, and, of course, the good fortune of having a home, food in our pantry, health care access, and so many other blessings that too many people lack.
As I have said before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, in part because it forces me to take stock, to set aside the petty grievances that too often cloud my mood, and recognize that in the important ways, despite real and serious problems in our lives, my loved ones and I are doing okay. We live, it often seems, at 75 mph, the world blurring past as we try to complete our work, take care of our chores, see to our obligations. Even when we are “on vacation” or taking a bit of time off, we try to squeeze in so much that the relaxed times feel rushed.
To me, Thanksgiving is a time to slow down, to focus on the now, on those things that matter most. It is a time to inhale deeply and say, “Right now, in this moment, I am grateful for _______.” The things we fret about, the things that inconvenience and nettle and worse — they’ll still be there the day after Thanksgiving (in fact, they’ll probably be on special…). They’re not going anywhere. So why not push them away for a while and accentuate the positive? This from a confirmed, life-long pessimist.
In any case, I will hop down off the soapbox now. And I will share with you a brief list of very important people, outside my circle of friends and family, who have made an enormous difference in my life this year. Their mention here is small thanks for all they have done for me and my family.
1. I am thankful for my therapist, a woman named Rebecca, who has been absolutely incredible to work with. She is insightful, gentle, funny. Best of all she gets me and understands when to push me and when to let me stumble into truths on my own. I have learned so much from our time working together, and feel better equipped than I have ever been to deal with the uncertainties of this crazy world.
2. I am thankful for my editor, the marvelous Debra Dixon, who has been an amazing creative partner, mentor, critic, and booster. She is terrific with artwork. She did the gorgeous covers for the Radiants books, and she has done a fabulous job with the first book of the The Chalice War, the Celtic urban fantasy about which I’ve told you all so much. You’ll see a reveal of the cover not too long from now.
3. My older daughter’s oncologist, who shall remain nameless so as to protect my daughter’s privacy, is just terrific. He is compassionate, honest, brilliant, devoted to our child and her battle with cancer, and willing to communicate with us whenever we have the need (so long as our daughter has given her okay, of course). We know he can’t perform miracles, but he has our daughter’s complete trust, respect, and affection, and that is all we can ask.
I wish these three a glorious Thanksgiving, and I wish the same to all of you. May your day be filled with laughter, joy, and the companionship of people you love. And may the year to come be filled with blessings large and small.
I had fully intended to write a fairly typical Thanksgiving week post — things I’m thankful for, what the holiday means to me, etc.
I can’t now. Because once again, America is killing its own. This weekend, a quick perusal of any news site (at least any news site that publishes real news) turned up a shooting on the campus of the University of New Mexico, a continuing investigation into the shootings at the University of Virginia, and, of course, the horrific mass shooting at Club Q, a nightclub in Colorado Springs that was a gathering place for that city’s LGBTQ community.
I have written before about the mind-numbing frequency of shootings in this country. For today, I’ll refrain from doing so again. Guns are part of the American psychosis. They plague our society and, I am afraid, always will. The Second Amendment to our Constitution, a relic of a different time, which should long ago have gone the way of the document’s limits on enfranchisement to white men, has somehow become more sacrosanct than protections of free speech and the prohibition against state-established religion. It is a vestigial amendment, as useless as T-Rex’s forearms. And yet it remains.
The massacre at Club Q raises different, deeper concerns. This was (another) hate crime aimed at the gay-queer-trans community. Such crimes have been on the rise this year as demagogues on the right have aimed poisonous rhetoric and destructive policy initiatives at all in the community, but especially trans youth, their parents, and their doctors. Too many politicians — among them Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and the entire Tennessee Republican party— are trying to make a name for themselves in conservative circles by banning books that deal with LBGTQ themes, passing “Don’t-Say-Gay” laws, filling the political airwaves with falsehoods and ugly accusations, making it seem that any who are different, who live their lives outside the heteronormative assumptions of a bygone era, are enemies of our republic and a danger to our children.
The attacks are sick. They are founded on lies and inaccurate stereotypes. And make no mistake, they are directly responsible for the rise in violence aimed at the queer community, including this weekend’s shooting.
How do we reconcile this sort of tragedy with a national day devoted to giving thanks for our blessings? How do we look beyond the carnage, the grief, the fear, the devastating psychological toll this sort of terrorism has on entire communities, so that we can find our way to gratitude and compassion and love? I’m asking, truly. Because I don’t see it.
I’m thankful my children and other loved ones are safe? Of course I am. But that feels thin, self-serving, a bar set so low as to be meaningless. I’m thankful to live in a free country, a land that often trumpets its exceptionalism, its boundless virtues, its capacity for charity and resilience? Again, yes, I suppose I would rather live here than anywhere else. But the calculus gets harder with each shooting, with each act of brutal intolerance. What good is liberty if huge swaths of our populace live with constant, oppressive fear? What has happened to the promise of America when nearly two hundred and fifty years after the Declaration of Independence, so many of our citizens are still subject to physical violence and psychological brutality simply because they don’t conform to what a few narrow-minded fools consider “normal?”
Thanksgiving at its best — and it has long been my favorite holiday — is about taking stock, slowing down to acknowledge, in private or publicly, those people and things for which we are most grateful. It is a time for family and friendship, for sharing and giving. And, yes, for good food and laughter around the dining room table.
Murder, bloodshed, terror, hate, bigotry — these have no place in our celebrations. Today, I don’t feel thankful. It doesn’t feel right to catalogue all the ways in which I am so very fortunate, though I know I ought to do so. Everything I eat tastes like dust and ash.
In days to come, we will hear more about the man who did this. He’ll be called “troubled” and his actions will be condemned. We’ll hear the inevitable pablum from the right — “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
But few will speak the obvious hard truths. This man may be sick, but so is our society. His actions may be those of a madman, but they are the natural outgrowth not only of mental illness, but also of cold, cruel political calculation. And today’s thoughts and prayers will be rendered meaningless by tomorrow’s soundbites.
With much larger family neighborhoods, not to mention dormitories, only two miles away, in the village proper, the families with kids in our area tend to drive over to town for trick-or-treating. Certainly, that was what we did when our girls were young enough to go out in search of gobs of candy. Nancy and I don’t usually buy candy at all, knowing that whatever we buy we’ll wind up eating ourselves, since no one will be ringing our doorbell. Okay, some years we DO buy candy, knowing that whatever we buy, we’ll wind up eating ourselves . . . .
The larger point remains, though. For us, for many years now, Halloween has been a non-event.
When the girls were little, we used to take them into town, meet up with their friends and their friends’ parents, take a bunch of photos (all of them too cute for words), and then commence the hunt for goodies. We would actually bring a bag or two of candy to supplement what our friends were giving out, so that we wouldn’t be total freeloaders, and while half the parents (sometimes the dads, sometimes the moms) went out walking with the kids, the other half stayed, gave out candy, drank a bit of wine. Those were great evenings. Sadly, I missed out on trick-or-treating as often as I participated. Back then, World Fantasy Convention was held each year on Halloween weekend. If Halloween fell anywhere between a Thursday and a Sunday, chances were I’d be away. Sometimes, if the travel was complicated enough, I missed out on Halloween on other days as well. I considered WFC one of the most important professional events on my calendar — I still do — but looking back, I wish I’d skipped the convention more often than I did. I missed out by not taking my girls door-to-door more than I did.
I grew up in a small suburb, a bedroom community of New York City. From an early age, my parents felt comfortable sending me out with my friends on Halloween night. Before then, I remember my sister, Liz, taking me trick-or-treating. She is older than I am by twelve years, and so by the time I was old enough to go out, she was old enough to have given it up. She was a good sport and always accompanied me for as long as I wanted, for as far as my little legs could carry me. Back then, we young-uns would be armed with two items: a brown paper shopping bag bearing the image of a ghost or a stylized witch or a spooky jack-o-lantern, and a small, orange, slotted cardboard box in which we were to collect pennies for Unicef. A quick internet search tells me that “Trick-or-Treat For Unicef” is still a thing, though these days the boxes have little handles and, yes, QR codes.
I judged the success of the night by the weight and jangle of that orange box, and the weight and sag of that shopping bag. Each year, the latter proved disappointing. Somehow, in the build-up to Halloween, I pictured myself filling my shopping back to the brim, which, of course, would have required a walk lasting days rather than hours, and covering leagues rather than miles. The truth was, I always returned with more candy than I could possibly eat (not that I didn’t make the effort). In one of those old paper shopping bags, candy piled two inches deep was a lot of candy.
My parents, of course, examined and culled my takings. My father loved Mary Janes — peanut butter flavored taffies that always threatened to tear the fillings from his teeth — and Bit-O-Honeys. My mother loved Good and Plenty and anything chocolate (though obviously she didn’t take ALL the chocolate, or anywhere near it). The inspection of our haul post trick-or-treat was, for my siblings and me, a bit like April 15th. We got to keep most of what we brought home, but the powers-that-were took their cut.
Any loose candies, home-packaged candies (like baggies filled with loose candy corn), or homemade treats we threw out. Our parents were not trusting. We threw away apples as well, our fears stoked by urban legends of people slipping razor blades into apples. Raisins we were allowed to keep, but honestly, what kid wants to get boxes of raisins on Halloween?
I remember several of my costumes — baseball player (in a vintage woolen Yankee uniform that I thought was very cool, until I put it on and found it itched like mad), hobo (with burnt cork rubbed on my face to make me appear unshaved), astronaut (this was at the height of the Apollo era, and my helmet “mask” had a tiny little lightbulb that flickered on when I pressed a control at the end of a thin wire that ran from the helmet, down my sleeve, to my hand), ghost (with a freaking scary rubber mask), Charlie Chaplin (I honestly don’t know why; I never was particularly fond of his movies). I think I went as a vampire one year, with those plastic teeth and my hair slicked, but I might be making that up.
All this by way of saying I miss Halloween. I miss the excitement I felt for it as a kid, I miss the anticipation I saw in my own kids as the end of October approached and thoughts turned to candy and costumes. (I remember a pirate and a tiger, a ballerina and a soccer star, a kitty-cat and a scarecrow, a froggy and a princess.) I would love another chance to savor the holiday . . . and I suppose that’s what grandchildren are for. Someday!!
The first fireworks display I remember with any clarity came on a Fourth of July when I was three or four years old. My family had gone to the park in town where the fireworks displays took place each year, and we were sitting with our neighbors, including the high school student who babysat me when my older siblings were unavailable.
I was terrified of the big booms, and I cowered on my babysitter’s lap, my eyes closed, wishing this nightmare would end. Until she convinced me to look at just one.
It was magical! The colors! The patterns! Even the resonance of the explosions in my chest. From that day forward, I was hooked, and I have been ever since.
Anyone who knows me, knows that my politics track well to the left of center. On no issues am I more committed or more radical in my advocacy than those pertaining to the environment. And so, as environmental groups and activists, including some in our little town here on the Cumberland Plateau, turn more attention to the negative environmental impacts of fireworks, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between fighting against something I love, or making myself look like a hypocrite.
This one time, I’m embracing hypocrisy. Hear me out.
First, let me acknowledge the obvious. Fireworks ARE bad for the environment. They release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They pollute the air with particulate matter, and, because those lovely colors are produced by the burning of different elements, including heavy metals and other toxins, they pollute our water and soil as well. They are incredibly loud, and so can be deeply disruptive to local wildlife, not to mention being harmful to our pets and to livestock. And, with drought impacting more and more of the U.S. every year, we can’t ignore the significant fire danger posed by fireworks.
In short, they are pretty much a nightmare, and at some point, as we continue to fight the effects of global climate change, we will probably need to get rid of them altogether. But we are nowhere near that point yet, and, in fact, trying to get rid of fireworks now could actually set back the cause of environmental protection.
Again, hear me out.
All the fireworks used in the United States in a single year, including displays put on by municipalities as well as those set off by private citizens, emit about the same amount of greenhouse gas as 12,000 gas powered automobiles do on average, over the course of a year. Which sounds like a lot, until we place the number in context. There are 276 million automobiles in the U.S., which means that the entire universe of fireworks in this country emits less than 0.00005% of what cars produce. Put another way, if we could come up with technology that reduces car emissions by one percent — just one percent! — the reduction in our nation’s carbon output would be 20,000 times more than what a total ban on fireworks could accomplish.
What about the particulate matter in our air, the heavy metals and toxins in our water and soil, the sheer solid waste of all those fireworks casings made out of plastic and cardboard and paper? Yes, the harm from fireworks is real. But as with greenhouse gases, the contribution of fireworks to all of these problems is minuscule when considered against the scale of industrial pollution in the U.S., or automobile pollution, or household waste production, or any number of other causes of environmental degradation.
Aiming our ecological ire at fireworks is foolishness. It is virtue-signaling en masse. It is like ordering a double-patty bacon cheeseburger, a super-sized container of curly fries, and a huge slice of New York cheesecake, and then also asking for a Diet Coke.
Worse, it is politically stupid. Progressives could come up with a comprehensive, scientifically sound, guaranteed-to-address-the-problem legislative package to combat climate change, and if it included a ban on fireworks that would be the only thing Fox News and the Republicans would focus on. “Liberals want to ban your fireworks!” “Liberals have declared war on the Fourth of July!” “Liberals hate America for winning our independence!”
The fact is, progressives have, again and again, come up with comprehensive, scientifically sound, guaranteed-to-address-the-problem legislative packages to combat climate change, and always the right-wing climate deniers have latched onto the one element of the plan that is a) least significant, and b) easiest to parody and misrepresent. “Liberals want to keep you from eating hamburgers!” “Liberals want to replace your pickup with a bicycle!” “Liberals want to use climate legislation to turn America into a socialist hell-scape!” “Liberals want to make you compost your puppies!”
Okay, I made up that last one, but you get the idea. Banning fireworks gets us next to nothing. The impact would be minimal at best. And the cost to the larger cause of saving our planet could be far greater than this one step is worth.
So what should we do about fireworks?
Already governments across the globe, national, territorial, and municipal, are beginning to use drone and laser technologies to make celebrations less fireworks-dependent. We should do more of this. Displays that blend these newer approaches with traditional fireworks, have less impact on our land, water, and air. Moreover, many U.S. states already ban the purchase and use of fireworks by private citizens. More states should do the same. This would lessen fire danger while also lowering the amounts of smoke and pollutants we put into the environment. We would still get to see our fireworks displays and celebrate July 4th as we always have. We would just have to rely on public fireworks displays for our yearly fix of “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air.”
That, it seems to me, is a reasonable sacrifice for the greater good.
Here’s some writing advice for today, three days before Christmas:
Stop trying to write and go spend time with someone you love.
I am all about BIC — put your Butt In the Chair. Writing, like exercise or playing a musical instrument, grows easier with practice and repetition. The more you write, the better your prose and storytelling will become, and the more productive you’ll be. So I often tell writers to write every day (though I am less dogmatic about this than I used to be).
But I will also say this: Sometimes we have to take time off. Write every day if you can. But once you’ve established the habit, be willing now and then to give yourself a day for other things. This year in particular, I am conscious of how precious friends and family are to us, of how many things in our lives are far more important than publications and word counts.
Yes, we have deadlines to make. For all I know, you’re reading this and thinking about submitting to Noir, or one of the other Zombies Need Brains anthologies. And yes, that deadline looms. December 31, 2021.
And still I say, turn off the computer and take time off to be with the people you love. You’ll make the deadline. You’ll put in a bit of extra work next week, and you’ll be okay. Give yourself the time. Take care of yourself. Share your day with others.
That’s it. That’s the post.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have people to see.
Wishing you and yours a magical holiday. Be well. Be safe. Be kind to one another.