Why You Should Change Your Name

Saturday is National Name Yourself Day. I’m kind of fond of the idea since I changed my name a few years ago.

I know. Now you’re giving me that look. Because when you think of changing your name you’re thinking of something like Beezow Doo-doo Zopittybop-bop-bop, Santa Claus, or even Max Power:

But there are a few more credible people who did this. Saul changed his name to Paul after his conversion. Jesus Christ changed Simon’s name to Peter. Jacob became Israel. Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah. These name changes occurred after significant experiences.

That’s what happened to me, In the course of a year I had some significant trials and growth. I learned some things about my past that changed my whole perception of who I was. I changed my name to reflect the changes that happened inside. I also did it so that every time I heard my name I would remember the changes and who I was now trying to be.

I never was particularly fond of my birth name, Matthew. It meant that I was always Matt F. in school, because there was always another Matt in my class. I used to watch Voltron and fantasize about being named Lance, because there were no Lances in my school.

When I was a newspaper reporter I even interviewed another guy with my same first and last name. He was as unhappy about the situation as I was. He did ask me not to write anything liberal.

I guess I could have just used my middle name, but I was named after an uncle who was killed in an accident seven months before I was born. Every time it came up my grandmother cried and my dad refused to talk about him. Since my middle name is one of  of sorrow and pain, I didn’t want that to be what came to my mind every time someone called me.

Instead, I chose Cheminant. It’s a French word that means “one who wanders.” As a hiker, I thought it fit. I had been using it as an online username for years. As I considered my name change, I learned that “cheminer” the verb form of the word, does mean “to wander,” but it also means “to progress.” Since my name change was a mark of my internal progression, I thought it especially fitting. I do progress, but I often wander as I do it. The other benefit is that NO ONE has this name. Like a Tigger, I’m the only one!


In Pacific Island cultures, I’m told that changing one’s name is a regular occurrence. It’s used to mark those watershed moments that change us. In fact, to go through life with the same name is seen as a failure to grow.

So go ahead and name yourself. Just don’t make that decision when you’re drunk or as the result of a lost bet.


Field Notes Observing the Urban Commuter

I commute to work each day. This involves a 40-minute ride each morning and each evening. I like commuting because I figure I’m more likely to make it to the Celestial Kingdom if I don’t drive in Utah. Because the minute I start driving on freeways in the Beehive State, I have no charity, and commit several felonies in my head because Utah drivers are just rude. No, serious.
Anyway, most people think of riding a bus as an experience of sitting between high schoolers and a wino. That might be true for most buses, but I ride an express bus, it’s like those coaches you rent for long trips with senior citizens. The seats are in pairs with a middle aisle between them. They recline just enough to bother the person behind you. There’s wifi and almost all of the other passengers are also working professionals.
But like anyone else, there are seat hogs—people who want to sit by themselves, and who take preventative measures to keep others from sitting next to them. Here’s a list of the strategies employed by Commuticus Workus to get a little extra room.
The Aisle Grabber. This method involves sitting down in two empty seats but instead of moving over to the window, sitting by the aisle. In doing this, the grabber forces anyone wanting to sit next to him to ask the grabber to give them access. Since most people want to avoid confrontation, they’ll just look elsewhere.
The Bag Holder. In this technique, the commuter will sit down and place their work bag(s) in the empty chair to their right or left. Again, this forces another person to ask for access. Note, this tactic has been combined with the Aisle Grabber to great effect.
The Sleeper. This person closes their eyes and pretends to sleep. The lady on my bus who normally uses this tactic combines it with the Bag Holder. Studies have shown that people anticipate how awkward the situation will be when the sleeper wakes up and will just move along. I have noticed that our sleeper “wakes up” and responds immediately if you ask to sit there, defeated by someone willing to ask.
The Saver. This involves someone who is “saving a seat” for a friend getting on at a later stop. It’s amazing how often the friend misses the bus. This tactic is unique in that it’s the one most likely to actually tell you that you can’t sit in the seat. The others will sullenly move their things and let you in.
The Gabster. This one isn’t an attempt to be alone, so much as it is a preemptive move to be left alone next time. In some cases they don’t intend to be alone. The Gabster strikes up a conversation with the person sitting next to him or her. Subjecting them to photos of children, vacations, and pets. Often everyone has marked the Gabster in their heads and will even climb over the sleeper to sit somewhere else.
I mention these because it’s funny to see among adults, people who are ostensibly mature and successful members of society. These commuters often find conflict, just because the route I take is popular and the bus is almost always full.

Every animal has its natural enemy, and the common predator of these types of commuter is the Equalizer. This commuter surveys the crowd when he gets on the bus, looking for one of the aforementioned commuters. Even if half the bus is empty, he’ll slowly walk up to the person trying to keep some space and say, with a wry smile on his face, “May I sit here?”
In the interest of disclosure, I once unintentionally deployed a seat-saving tactic known as the Crazy. I have never seen this method deployed before or since. At the time, I was trying to certify as a climbing instructor. When I got on the bus, I started studying. Once I finished reading about anchor safety, I put the book away and pulled out about six feet of rope to practice knot tying. This was about two minutes after a man had sat down next to me.
The man looked up from his book and stared at my rope. He glanced from the rope to my face, and back to the rope. He grabbed his bag and moved to the back of the bus. I still wonder what he told his family when he got home.

The Malagasy Way

About five years ago, I traveled to Madagascar on business. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I grew up in North America. I served a 2-year mission in France. True, the French weren’t up to the American way of life, but that meant I only saw one dishwashing machine and no microwaves in the two years I lived there—not exactly real deprivation.
But Madagascar was something else. This is a country where the average monthly income is $28—less than $1 per day. Each morning almost every spare place became an open-air market as people sold whatever they could make or raise to provide for their necessities.


Side street just off Avenue de l’independence in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

But it’s this latter quality that I want to focus on. The Malagasies I met were happy people. They did what they had to to get by. They truly lived by the old pioneer maxim, “fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

The handcarts you see in this photo are made from old trucks. The cart is called a “pousse-pousse” from the French word for push. It’s one example of the Malagasy Way.

I remarked on this to my guide. He said, “Yeah. We call it the Malagasy Way.”
“What do you mean, ‘the Malagasy Way’?”
“Well, let’s say you have a car, and one of the cylinder’s in the engine breaks. In America, what do you do?”
I shrugged, “Hire someone to repair it? But that’s so costly, you’d probably buy a new car.”
“Ah, not here,” he said with a smile. “Here, we check the junkyards and see if there’s another one or if we can order it. If so, you’re in luck. But you probably won’t find it, and that’s where the Malagasy way comes in. First you find a large piece of scrap iron larger than the cylinder that broke. Then, you machine that piece of metal into a new cylinder and install it. Your car will work again, probably not quite as well as it once did, but you can get by. This is the Malagasy Way.” He shrugged and tilted his head apologetically. For him, the Malagasy Way was a term of denigration, referring to the substandard performance that followed the repair.
But that’s not how I see it. My grandfather is from Oklahoma and had a whole truck held together by baling wire and duct tape. We had a show called MacGyver that celebrated the self-reliance embodied by a man who could use whatever he had at hand to get the job done. I loved that show.
We even turned MacGyver into a verb. That’s cool, we celebrate an individual who did that. But in Madagascar, this sort of thinking is a way of life. It’s an attribute affiliated not with an individual, but with their national identity.
Here in the U.S. We make so much more money, and when we need something we run to the store or hop online to purchase something that will take care of whatever problem we have. But next time stop a moment and as yourself if you really have to go buy something. Maybe you can find a fix right in your home. That’s the Malagasy Way.

Giving your characters personality

Now that you understand the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and the four main personality types, let’s talk about writing books and how it can help you.

As I previously mentioned, the MBTI offers 16 subtypes. This allows for a bigger variation among types than personality profiles that allow only four. Because the test is made up of the four basic scales, it’s easy to understand.

And now, after two posts, we finally come to my point: you can use this personality test to help you identify your characters. If you don’t know enough about your character to tell me if she is an introvert or extrovert, feeling or thinking, sensing or intuitive, and perceiving or judging, then you don’t know your character. And if you don’t know your character, your readers won’t know your character either.

Knowing your character is important, because if you don’t, you can’t make her act in a realistic manner. Let’s look at a character as an example:

Since I’ve been using the pronoun her, let’s have a woman, Sophie, as our protagonist. She’s 29, single, and from a small community. If we decide she’s an ISFJ, we can choose some careers that feel real. Making her an engineer isn’t going to be a good choice, but a nurse, teacher, therapist, or administrative assistant would work. Let’s make her a therapist.

What would be an idea day for our ISFJ? Well, maybe successfully helping a client overcome an addiction, lunch with her mom, and dinner with a good friend. Or, maybe she goes home and watches her favorite movie for dinner. Now, what situation is going to make her most uncomfortable? It depends on the novel. If we’re dealing with a modern setting in the real world, maybe being forced to go to the office party with her boyfriend where she has to make small talk with people she doesn’t know. If we’re going fantasy, being moved to a magical world. Trust me, the first thing an SJ will do upon arriving in Narnia is start trying to figure out what drug she took.

If we’re developing other characters and we want to really bother Sophie, we could give her a business partner who is an ENTP. He doesn’t feel obligated to follow the rules. He comes up with theories and expects Sophie to figure out the details. He doesn’t understand Sophie’s needs from an emotional standpoint, and he thinks she’s a snob since she isn’t as sociable as he is. See, we just heightened the emotional tension.

On a related note, I believe pairing off opposites types is the basis of almost every romance novel. Example: ISTJ male who is grounded in the real world, follows rules, thinks logically and is kind of an introvert, meets or marries an ENFP woman. She’s a free spirit, not very organized, and loves people, especially doing weird things for reactions. You know what we have? The basic plot of What’s Up Doc?, Barefoot in the Park, and Charly. I can think of plenty of others.

Before I sit down to write, I usually outline my novel. I figure out what types my figures are, and where they are on the spectrum. I also know how they’re going to react in various situations. If I decide I need a character to act in a way that’s contrary to their core personality, I have to give them a huge reason. If I don’t, the action will ring false to the reader and you’ll lose him or her.

Don’t do it. Get to know your characters. The MBTI is a simple tool that will help you create more believable characters, and can be used to increase tension by knowing the exact types of situations will be chaotic for that individual.

Introduction to the MBTI 2

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 5.52.36 PM
Courtesy of dilbert.com http://dilber.com/strip/2000-01-25

So last week I explained the basics of the MBTI. This week I’ll mention the four main groupings:


This group makes up 38 percent of the population. SPs are the life of the party. They tend to be impulsive. They’re charming coversationalists. They like to try new things. Thee people like jobs involving action. They tend to focus on the process, on the doing of a thing. For example, if you have a piano virtuoso who is SP, it’s not because he or she had a goal of becoming a master pianist and dedicated hours to that goal. It’s because this individual enjoyed playing the piano so much, that he or she willingly sat there for hours honing the craft.

Also, if an SP is an actor, it’s because acting is fun, something he or she enjoys. An NF on the other hand becomes an actor because he or she wants to make ART.

SPs are great in a crisis. They tend to do well in positions that require one to examine the situation, and make the correct changes to fix things, regardless of how things have been done in the past.

SPs are pretty athletic and are more laid back in their disposition than others.


Remember that teacher’s pet in your second-grade class? She was probably an SJ. These people want to belong and to earn their place in the group. They tend to be obedient to rules, care deeply about other people, and honor tradition. Like SPs, they account for 38 percent of people.

SJs tend to gravitate toward service professions: teaching, administrative assistants, nursing, and counseling. If they see something that needs to be done, they tend to do it. If the SP is on stage, the SJ is working the lights and designing costumes.

SJs don’t like change. They also tend to be more pessimistic than the SP, who is optimistic by nature.


NTs are intellectual by nature. They are also more introspective than the previous two groups. NTs love knowledge for knowledge’s sake. They thrive on theories. For this reason, NTs are more likely to be found in college classrooms if they’re teaching. They do it because they are passionate about the subject. They like to work in fields related to the discovery and application of principles, such as scientists, engineers, securities analysts, things like that.

If you have a different opinion than an NT, it’s because you’re wrong. NTs can appear arrogant but they are also the most self-critical. You can win over an NT but you have to do it through well-thought out discussions.

NTs make up about 12 percent of the population. They’re very inquisitive. They solve problems in a practical and unsentimental way. They can be oblivious to the feelings of others.


NFs are highly visionary. They’re introspective and are driven self-discovery and self-actualization. Their goal is about becoming the person they can ultimately be. Integrity in action is huge to an NF. They are imaginative and passionate about a few causes. They make up 12 percent of people.

This group despises conflict and tries to smooth things out between family members. They are very compassionate and tend to be good listeners (as long as their minds aren’t caught up in an idea).

Occupations that appeal to the NF include writers, poets, journalists, psychologists, psychiatrists, ministers, and teachers (but as teachers they’ll probably be found in the social scientists and humanities). Knowing how this group tends to go into writing, look at how many books have a theme of discovering oneself. It might surprise you.

Inside of each of these groups are four subgroups. They have subtle differences. It’s worth studying them. But if you do, you’re probably an NF.

Of course, the more entertaining way to do it is by seeing who you would be in Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Doctor Who based on your personality type. I put Doctor Who below because I couldn’t find a good place to link it. WARNING: You might not like the result. Trust me. My daughter was pretty upset to learn she was Emperor Palpatine/Draco Malfoy/The Master.


Next time I’ll finally talk about how we can use this knowledge to make better characters in our novels, and to increase the psychological tension.

Introduction to the MBTI

So, I wanted to share some writing advice, but it’s long and complex so I’ve broken it up into two posts. In the first I wanted to talk about the MBTI, and in the second, discuss how it can help writers. So, here’s part 1:

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality test that divides personalities into four large categories and 16 subcategories. Each of these is based on where you fall in four different scales. So, I think the best way to do this is to explain each scale first. I’ll do it in the order the results normally appear. Please understand, that these are scales, so you might land right in the middle of something and not show a strong preference for either end of the scale. That’s okay; it’s one of the strengths of this personality profile. The capped letter shows how that characteristic is represented in the results.

Extrovert vs. Introvert

As I mentioned before, this isn’t whether or not you like people, it’s about where you get your energy. Interacting with other people energizes extroverts. They tend to be great at cocktail parties: they move from person to person, chatting with them and getting to everyone. Extroverts like to get things moving and are outwardly focused.

Introverts on the other hand, find energy in themselves. They like working in their own thoughts. If they go to a party, they tend to sit in a corner and have deep conversations with one or two people. Ironically, introverts can feel lonely in a large crowd of people. Introverts are prone to more reflection than action.

iNtuition vs. Sensing

Notice the capital “N” in intuitive? That’s because we all ready used the “I” for Introvert.

Where you fall on this scale makes for the biggest difference in personality.

The easiest way to explain this difference is that sensing people look at what is, and intuition people look at what could be. Sensing people make up 75 percent of the population. A friend once told me that this was good: you have one person to come up with new ideas, and three people to respond.

Sensing people trust information they bring in through their senses. They tend to be grounded in the here and now, and look for practical uses in things they’re learning.

Intuitive people like to look at the big picture. They tend to be drawn to metaphorical language, and think about what the world could be like.

To illustrate, my wife (S) and I (N) were driving down the road one day. We were talking about all the challenges our children face: Internet predators, pornography, moral relativism, etc. I said, “Wouldn’t be great if we could use a time machine to go back 150 years and raise our kids there, when things were simpler?”

My wife looked at me and said, “But that’s impossible, so we need to work on raising them in the world they’re in.”

Thinking vs. Feeling

This is about how you make your decisions. Do you tend to use logic, or do you lean toward gut feelings and how others will feel about your decision? Like I said, It’s a scale, so it’s not like you have to choose between Spock and McCoy here. This division is the most likely to fall along gender lines, so 60 percent of men are T and 60 percent of women are F. I’m just sharing information here, I didn’t make that up.

It’s good to know how your boss makes decisions when asking for a raise. If he’s a T, then you’ll need to present how much more productive you are than co-workers, how your salary stacks up against the median in your industry, and how the company can justify the raise. If you’re an F, you might talk about the benefits of this raise to morale (both yours and the company’s), and maybe explain why you need the raise.

Judging vs. Perceiving

Let me start off by saying that this last category has nothing to do with either how perceptive you are or how judgmental you can be. Essentially this is about how you do things. The Myers-Briggs Foundation clarifies that this is about your outward-facing behavior, since internally you might be different.

So, Judging people seem to prefer a more orderly life. They put work before fun, they plan out projects to avoid a deadline-induced flurry of activity. They tend to make lists. They also tend to obey rules more, and have more respect for tradition, and like to plan things out.

Perceiving people on the other hand, like to keep their options open. They work to deadlines, tend to work in bursts of energy, and like to mix work and play. They also tend to question rules more. Never tell a P that we’re doing something because that’s how it’s always been done. They might just do it differently to see what happens (which may or may not be an autobiographical truth).

I’ve also heard this attribute explained as how you feel about decisions. Are you more comfortable before or after the decision is made? J’s like decisions already made. P’s like to have their options open.

I’m a P. I had a four-hour layover in Paris once. I turned it into a 28-hour layover and spent the day wandering the city without any clear plans. I walked 22 miles, eating, smelling, seeing, and shopping my way through the city of lights. About 11 p.m. I realized I hadn’t considered where to sleep. I went back to the airport and slept on a bench. Serendipity is often my guiding principle when I travel. I figure I’ll find something really cool, like a night in New York when I wandered into a small Italian restaurant off Times Square where a live jazz trio was playing. These moments are more precious to me because I feel like I found something really special.

I have a very good J friend who planned out a vacation with our family. She emailed us a detailed itinerary saying where we were going and when. It was a busy trip. There’s nothing wrong with that. We had a good time and pretty much knew what we would see before we left the house.

Wow, given the length of this post, I think I’ll stop here. Next time I’ll talk about the four major types, and then we’ll talk about how to use this in writing.

In-Doctor-ination: How to Introduce Your Friends to Doctor Who


If you’re a Whovian, you’ve run into the problem: You tell a friend about this great show you love, about an alien from Gallifrey who regenerates into a new person at the moment of death. They get excited, log onto Netflix and start watching. But after one or two episodes, they say, “It’s not really for me.”

I understand. I did that. The first season (2004) of Doctor Who can be a barrier that keeps people for watching one of the best-written shows out there. I love getting to the end of the season and saying, “Oh! When they said this, in that episode, it meant this!” It’s a great show with beautiful writing (Vincent and the Doctor, anyone?) But it was only after watching the episodes featuring the weeping angels that I decided I wanted to watch this show.

Why is Season One so bad? Well, The original series ran from 1963 to 1989. Due to low viewership (I blame Colin Baker), the series was cancelled. Russell T. Davies pushed to bring the series back. BCC was reluctant to do it. Season One was funded by BBC-Wales. Because no one was sure it would succeed, the investment was light. Most of the first season looked like it was filmed in a basement in Cardiff. Special effects were poor because of the budget. No, really! Mickey getting kidnapped by a trash can, anyone?


The other problem was that no one knew what Doctor Who was going to be. The characters weren’t well-developed, and their personalities changed. It took me a season and a half to like Rose after End of the World. It also took them awhile to decide what approach to take. Poor Christopher Eccleston had to face flatulent aliens—twice.

So how should you introduce your friends to the Doctor? You could just start at The Christmas Invasion and watch Season 2, then once they’re invested, go back and show them the Ninth Doctor. Or you could show then a smattering of good episodes and hook them quickly. Season One is still valuable because it introduces you to people and aliens that are core to the series, but they need help to make it through. Based on that second approach, here are my suggested episodes to introduce your friends to the Doctor.

Introducing them to the series:

Blink This is a great episode because the POV character doesn’t know the Doctor, so the viewer can be introduced to the time traveler. Note, Love and Monsters also has this advantage, but the episode isn’t as suspenseful. Besides, statues that attack when you’re not looking is so compelling that you can’t. Look. Away.

Human Nature/Family of Blood In this two-part episode, the Doctor transforms into a human and can’t remember that he’s a Time Lord. Once he comes to himself, the way the Doctor punishes these aliens that have killed so many is epic.

Vincent and the Doctor The final scenes are great in this one. The Doctor and his companion help Vincent Van Gogh fight off a monster. The scene where they show Vincent his legacy is beautiful.

Girl in the Fireplace The Doctor meets Jeannette Poisson, mistress of Charles XV. This was written as a love story for the lonely Time Lord. The episode is full of great lines, such as “I just snogged Madame De Pompadour!” and You’re so thick! You’re mister thick thickity thick face from thicktown thickannia. And so is your Dad!”

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship The title says it all. This episode represents all of Matt Smith’s manic energy. The bickering robots are a fun addition to a great episode. Besides, it’s fun watching Amy fight off raptors. Did I mention that Filch from Hogwarts is the villain?

Robots of Sherwood Peter Capaldi comes into his own in this episode. He beats Robin Hood at sword fighting with a spoon. His argument with the famous outlaw in the prison is hilarious.

A Christmas Carol Speaking of Hogwarts, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) plays a mean-spirited man that Doctor tries to change on Christmas Eve to save a spaceship full of people. The episode also has flying sharks and the Doctor marrying Marilyn Monroe. What else do you want?

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances Not all Season One episodes were bad. This one is a bit creepy, but really good. It’s like zombies during the London Blitz. The Doctor’s “everyobody lives!” speech is great, and the phrase “Are you my mummy?” has never been more terrifying.

There you go, my suggestions to help your friends love the Time Lord. Allons-y!

You Say You Want a Resolution?

It’s the New Year, and if you haven’t set some resolutions, I’ll bet you’ve heard from someone else about their own resolutions. I’ve read about them on Facebook, heard about them on the news, and just received an email titled “Four Resolutions Worth Keeping.” I deleted it. Now I’ll never know what they were.

Resolution is related to resolve, so a resolution isn’t so much a goal, as it is a decision. I’m not big on setting New Year resolutions for myself. I’m fine, it’s everyone else who needs changing. (Kidding. Kind of.) The reason I don’t like the tradition is that it infers that this is the proper time to examine one’s life and resolve to do better. Too many people say something like, “I’m going to set a resolution to lose weight in the new year.” They then spend all of December stuffing anything that doesn’t move fast enough into their mouths. I’m not sure if it’s because they are afraid of missing out next year or if it’s that they want to give themselves something to work on.

To me, the proper time is whenever one recognizes that something needs to change. I made and started a couple of significant resolutions this year—in March and October. If I only made them in January, all my resolutions would be things like: move to Arizona, NEVER give my children sugar again, or burn down the house of the person who wrote, “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” (to diverge, go read the lyrics: “say, what’s in this drink?” Really? Is date rape a holiday tradition?)

But there’s so much pressure to write a few resolutions. Drive by an LDS Temple or a gym in January. Look at the parking lot. Everyone is doing it (which is why I wait until February to exercise).

But I’m sure you’re dying to know how I plan to be a better person this year, so fine, I’ll give you a list:

My 2016 New Year Resolutions

Sleep. A lot.

Read. Almost as much.

Lock the pantry door (I’m serious. This is what happens when my children have unfettered access to candy)

Put antlers on my dog’s head. Laugh at him.

Put antlers on my children’s heads. Laugh at them.

Finance the resulting therapy.

Talk my daughter into playing Risk again (it’s not my fault that she and her brother were so busy placing armies in Asia that I ended up with all of North and South America at the start of the game).

Buy a big, satiny blanket.

Wrap up in it.

Sit in front of the fire.

Put out the fire.

Check blankets for scorch marks.

Install a fireplace.

Sit in front of THAT fire, wrapped in the satiny blanket.

Read more books.

Write more books.

Don’t go into a store. Ever.

Buy a large pack of Nerf darts.

Have a Nerf war with my children. Those shooting back are the enemy and must be vanquished. Those who aren’t shooting back are zombies—finish them off.

Eat smoked Gouda and baguettes.

Eat Swiss cheese and ham on crepes.

Eat cherry tomatoes and hummus on Triscuits.

Drink Crio Bru.

Become a cryptozoologist, even if I never find anything, interviewing witnesses will keep me amused.

Plan an expedition to find Bigfoot.

Ride a Pegasus.

Raise dragons.

Put Trump and Clinton into a celebrity deathmatch. Let a dragon eat the victor.

Invent a giant fan to clean out the inversion.

Take a meteor shower.

Move to Rivendell.

Live in a library where I can hear the comforting murmur of stories escaping the book bindings.

Sentence people who talk on phones in the library to eating dinner with trolls. They drown out the stories.


Savor the Season

How was your Christmas? Chances are you started seeing the decorations going up in shops in October, or even September. It seems like the Christmas season shifts forward every year. One year to protest the season creep I bought candy canes and gave them out for Halloween. I confused a lot of trick or treaters that year.

But that’s over now. We’ve moved on. The Christmas presents have been opened. In some cases they’re now broken or exchanged. And the whole thing is becoming a memory. We’re a society that looks ahead for the next thing. We count down to holidays, movie releases, iPhone releases, and so on.  Christmas music is symptomatic of the way we view the holiday. It’s played nonstop for more than a month on the radio, then the day after, it’s just gone.

But wait a minute. Why the rush? Why are we always moving headlong into the future.No, really. One year my wife and I ran to the store on Christmas Eve to buy some treats for our daughter’s stocking. The clerk in the seasonal aisle pointed us to the discount carts and went back to arranging the Valentine’s Day candy. ON CHRISTMAS EVE, PEOPLE!

Let’s look at what the Christmas season used to be. Somewhere around Dec. 20 or so, people began getting a tree, and making a few gifts for friends. Dec. 25 was the day we have decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. This holiday began a celebration that lasted almost two weeks (hence the 12 days of Christmas). The last day was Jan. 6, Epiphany. This holiday marks the visit of the three wise men. When I was in France, I was invited into a home for Epiphany (La fete des rois—the celebration of the kings). We had a cake. Inside was a small porcelain crown. The person who found it received a little plastic one to wear. It was in my piece, and I still have my crown, tucked away in my journal.

Instead of only one day, which gives lip service to the birth of our Savior, but in reality has become the biggest shopping event of the year, there were 12 days to reflect on the most important birth. According to that, today is really the fifth day of Christmas.We’re about halfway through the celebration.

I say, slow down and enjoy the moment. We decided to slow things down a bit at our house. Yes, the presents have all been opened. Our children have eaten almost everything that was in their stockings (and ours), but we’re still taking time to recognize this special season. We’ll read a talk about Jesus Christ. We’ll still sing about peace on earth and good will toward men. And our tree isn’t going down until our children have all ready been back in school for a few days. So while the rest of the world starts filling out Valentine’s Day cards, we’ll be wishing a merry Christmas for another week or so.

Is There Music inside You?

Every year I try to cross an item off my bucket list. Some years that has meant doing a particular hike, climbing all of the highest county peaks in Utah, or riding LOTOJA. This year I decided to learn the guitar. I have been practicing each night, using Hal Leonard lesson books and CDs. I have found it immensely satisfying to pick up my guitar and play a song. I’m not a great guitarist, but I can play a few chords (really, you don’t need to know more than four), pluck out a melody as long as it doesn’t have anything more complicated than an F-sharp. I’ll get better but I’m still good enough that my family knows what I’m playing.

This isn’t my first experience with music. I sang in choir in high school. I continue to sing in my department choir at work (that happens when you work for the LDS Church). When they don’t make practice too early, I even sing in my ward choir. I took up singing when I misunderstood a relative’s comment that I was the basest teenager she knew, but that’s another story).

What makes this new is that the music didn’t come FROM me as it does now. Even what I sang, with few exceptions, didn’t come out of my heart like it does when I play. It made me think about music and how it has changed. Fifty years ago an artist would write a song and release it. If it were a popular song, dozens of others might release the same song. Kaw-liga is a good example (You may not know country music, but it’s one my dad used to sing in the truck). Hank Williams wrote the song with Fred Rose. The same song was released by a dozen different artists. The first one to record and release it wasn’t even Hank Williams.

Now, we generally leave songs to the first person to release them. I think it’s because we have such easy access to Youtube, iTunes and Spotify, that we have no reason to explore the music beyond the person who first recorded it.

Going back 100 years, if you wanted to hear a song, you either played and sang it yourself, or your friends did. Edison’s phonograph was relatively expensive. My point is to show that we have gone from producing music, to consuming it. We can fill our ears nonstop for months from our iPods, but the music passes is taken in like an audio candy bar.

It reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. In the novel, everyone had wall-sized TVs, but didn’t talk. We get together to play games, watch movies, or listen to music, but how many of us sit down and talk, not about current events, yelling into our echo chambers but to build worlds with words, to philosophize and even challenge our deepest beliefs. I remember waking up early and listening to relatives talk. I’d pretend to be asleep because I didn’t want to disturb the flow of conversation.

Think about what we do in the evening. Do we watch a video? Spend the night scrolling through social media posts? What about reading to one another and discussing what we read? It sounds hokey, but that was the main entertainment 150 years ago. The words we took in became part of our souls. Now we seek for constant entertainment, until we can’t produce any music because we haven’t fostered our souls enough to allow those little seeds to grow, whether it be into a song we play, a book we write, or an invention we share.

I hope that I am a producer, not just a consumer. Our souls desire to create. Don’t drown it out by filling your head so full of noise and lights that you can’t think your own thoughts.