HBO had some interesting offerings on Christmas Eve

As I started to wrap gifts on Christmas Eve, I switched on HBO, thinking, "Maybe I'll watch that Elf movie for the first time. Or A Christmas Story. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Love Actually. Hey. Maybe Die Hard will be on."

You know. One of those classic Christmas staples. 

HBO had apparently failed to notice that it was Christmas Eve. When I flipped through the HBO channels, the offerings included: 

The Terminator: A seemingly indestructible humanoid cyborg is sent from 2029 to 1984 to assassinate a waitress, whose unborn son will lead humanity in a war against the machines, while a soldier from that war is sent to protect her at all costs.

Fifty Shades Darker: Erotic romantic sequel to Fifty Shades of Gray. While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her.

A United Kingdom: The story of King Seretse Khama of Botswana and how his loving but controversial marriage to a British white woman, Ruth Williams, put his kingdom into political and diplomatic turmoil.

Assassins Creed: Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, before taking on the secret Templar society.

Rock Dog: When a radio falls from the sky into the hands of a wide-eyed Tibetan Mastiff, he leaves home to fulfill his dream of becoming a musician, setting into motion a series of completely unexpected events. 

Going in Style: Desperate to pay the bills and come through for their loved ones, three lifelong pals risk it all by embarking on a daring bid to knock off the very bank that absconded with their money.

What the hell was HBO thinking? Not one Christmas movie on Christmas Eve? If I was fringe lunatic Republican, I might accuse HBO of engaging in a war on Christmas. 

No bother. I had plenty of movies recorded on my DVR and on demand programming

I watched The Bourne Ultimatum instead. 

Any gift that includes murder, blood, and betrayal is perfect in my book

I never expect a holiday gift from my students, and when asked what I want, my reply is always the same:

"Word hard. Be kind. That would be more than enough for me."

Despite these protestations, I often receive gifts. 

This year the class was kind enough to give me my very first pair of footie pajamas (New England Patriots themed) and the opportunity to take my kids to dinner and a movie over vacation. It was a thoughtful and generous gesture. 

I also received gifts from individual students, including notes and cards with words that I will save forever. It's the words that students write to me that mean the most.   

But this year also included one of those unforgettable gifts, created by a boy named Henry. Built from his own imagination, Henry recreated a moment from Macbeth, a play that we studied earlier this year, in Legos, with eerie precision.

He didn't purchase a kit. He didn't download directions. He made this with the Legos that he already owned. He demonstrated knowledge and understanding of the play and his own incredible creativity.  

Honestly, just the idea alone is genius. 

It will sit in a place of prominence in my classroom for years to come.

Lest us not forget the real story of Christmas

It's a damn shame how racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and disregard for human life outside our borders keep getting in the way of the those God loving conservatives like Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions and what should be their desire to help those less fortunate. 

If only they knew the true meaning (and origins) of Christmas. 

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All I want for Christmas is a machine gun

Not really, of course, but damn do I love this sweater.

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For those of you who can't quite pick up on the reference, it's Die Hard, the greatest Christmas film of all time.

In the movie, our hero, John McClane, has just managed to kill his first terrorist and acquired a machine gun. He sends the lifeless corpse down to Hans Gruber, the terrorist boss man, in an elevator with this note written in red Sharpie on his sweatshirt.

There's nothing better than a barefoot underdog taunting his well armed enemy.

For the record, while I'm not interested in owning a machine gun, I'm not at all opposed to the second Amendment. I believe in the right of Americans to own firearms. I simply want every gun owner to undergo a thorough background check, restrictions placed on criminals, perpetrators of domestic abuse, individuals on the no-fly list, and the like, and a complete ban on assault weapons. 

You know... reasonable, rationale gun ownership. The kind of gun ownership our founding fathers envisioned with they wrote the Constitution. 

Except for John McClane, of course. He can have as many machine guns as he wants. 

My 2016 Christmas haul

Every Christmas, I take inventory of the holiday gifts that my wife gives me.

Some people wish for cashmere sweaters, new video game systems, stylish watches, and jewelry. My hope is often for the least pretentious, most unexpected, quirkiest little gift possible, and she never fails to deliver. 

For the past seven years, I’ve been documenting the gifts that Elysha gives me on Christmas because they are so damn good. Every year has been just as good as the last, if not better.

The 2009 Christmas haul featured a signed edition of a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
The 2010 Christmas haul featured a key that I still use today.
The 2011 Christmas haul featured my often-used Mr. T in a Pocket.
The 2012 Christmas haul featured my fabulous No button.
The 2013 Christmas haul featured my remote controlled helicopter.
The 2014 Christmas haul featured my "I Told You So" pad.
The 2015 Christmas haul featured schadenfreude mints: "As delicious as other people's misery." 

Once again, my wife did not disappoint.

The best gift (and one of the best gifts I have ever received) is this artist's rendering of the map of Yawgoog Scout Reservation, the place where I spent many of my childhood summers and my favorite place in the world. She found an artist on Etsy, contacted my brother and two of my former Scouting buddies, and together, they ensured that all of the most important landmarks were included. 

I am not ashamed to say that I cried upon opening the gift and realizing what she had done. 

In addition to the map, she also included this set of fabulous Christmas stocking stuffers, including two Shakespeare related items, two Patriots-related items, a golfer's multi-tool that was admired by fellow golfers on Christmas day, and the pen whistle, which should make my days at school much more interesting. 

I love each and every one of these gifts and will put all to good use. 

I celebrated my Christmas in the company of strangers

My wife and I hosted Christmas in our home, as we do every year. We open our doors to any and all and offer chili, cornbread, and sweets to friends and family who want to join us.

In the past people have dropped by for 15 minutes or stayed all day.

The list of guests this year was interesting. We had fewer people than usual join us, but the people who did were an exceptionally diverse bunch.

Oddly enough, no one who stopped by knew anyone else who stopped by except for Elysha and myself. As many people as Elysha and I know, these people were all strangers to each other, and yet the house was filled with conversation and laughter. 

I like to think that this is what Christmas is all about. 

The way we met these people was just as diverse:

A storyteller who I met while performing in New York four years ago

A storyteller who I met while performing in Boston last year

A woman who Elysha met while standing in line at the doctor's office three years ago
That woman's brother, who we met at a party last year
That woman's son

A man who we met at a Speak Up performance this year

Elysha's former fifth grade student who she taught more than a decade ago

A former colleague of mine from 17 years ago turned Speak Up storyteller and book collaborator
Her husband

A woman who Elysha met at My Gym classes four years ago
Her husband
Their three children

They came in as strangers but left as a group who shared a part of their Christmas day together.  

Taylor Swift teaches a valuable lesson to all content creators.

If you haven’t seen Taylor Swift’s Christmas video, you should.

It’s a lovely thing, but it’s also an exceptionally valuable lesson for anyone who creates content. Actors. Writers. Artists. Musicians. Designers. Anyone.

Treat the people who make your work possible very, very well.

My agent, Taryn, once told me that although she thinks I’m a talented writer and a great storyteller, one of my greatest attributes is that I treat people with kindness and respect.

Basically, I’m not a jackass.

This may come as a surprise some of my friends, but it’s true. 

I’m polite and respectful to my editors and the professionals at my publishing house. I respond to every email and tweet from my readers. I bend over backwards for bookstores and libraries. I’m accommodating to the organizers of literary festivals and speaking tours.

Taryn said that it’s much easier to sell my books when the people who buy them know that I’m not a jerk. That I am a decent person to work with.

I think this was probably Taryn’s way of warning me not to become a jerk, which can apparently happen after someone sells their first book.

I didn’t understand her concern at the time, but since publishing my first novel in 2009, I’ve had the honor of meeting many, many authors. Most of them are kind, humble, generous souls. The salt of the Earth. The best of the best. Truly some of the finest people who I have ever known.

But there is a very specific segment of authors and unpublished writers who are not nice. They are entitled, arrogant, rude, angry, demanding jerk faces.

They are also almost all men. This may simply be a reflection of my personal experience, but probably not.

I suspect that the same is probably true for musicians and celebrities like Taylor Swift. Most are kind, generous, and polite. Some are probably not.

I was not a Taylor Swift fan prior to watching her Christmas video. Her music was fine, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I would occasionally play her songs her songs at weddings, but I didn’t have any Taylor Swift songs in my musical rotation. Other than a handful of her hits, I didn’t know any of her work.

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After seeing this video, I’m an enormous Taylor Swift fan. I’m not sure if I like her music any more than before, but I like Taylor Swift as a person a whole lot. I’m much more likely to give her music a chance now. More inclined to watch a video on YouTube. 

This was a very smart thing for Taylor Swift to do, but most important, it strikes me as exceptionally genuine. I felt like I was watching a real person doing real things for real fans. I felt like I was seeing the real Taylor Swift. 

Perhaps I’m naive. Maybe the video was a carefully orchestrated, cleverly choreographed production by a team of promoters and marketers, but I don’t think so.

I think that Taylor Swift is probably an exceptionally kind person. Someone who knows how to treat her fans. Someone who values them and understands what they have meant to her career.

Taylor Swift has a new fan today thanks to that video, and she’s reminded me about the importance of treating my substantially fewer fans well. To go above and beyond whenever possible.  To thank them for making it possible to do what I do.

I might not be sending Christmas presents next December, but I’ll be watching for ways to let my readers know how much I appreciate them.

My highly improbable weekend

On Saturday, I played golf. In December. In New England. The course was closed, and there were sticks and pine boughs in place of the pins, but that didn’t matter. I played.  

I didn’t even care that I lost.

On Sunday I attended the Patriots game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots lost to the Buffalo Bills. Since New England had already locked up the top seed in the playoffs, the game had no real meaning. The Patriots sat many of their starters, and as a result, they failed to even score a touchdown.

I didn’t even care that they lost.

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On Saturday night, I attended my extended family’s Christmas party in Massachusetts. I was in the room for more than five minutes when my wife called over to me. Pointed.

I looked. Standing in the corner was my father.

My father was at the party. My father does not go to parties. My father does not leave his house unless forced to do so. My father does not interact with large groups. My father does not attend family functions. 

My father was attending a family Christmas party. 

Given my immature and petulant need to win at all costs, I’m not sure which was more improbable this weekend:

  • Playing golf in December
  • Not caring about losing my golf match
  • Not caring about the Patriots losing their game
  • My father attending the annual family Christmas party

It’s nice when life can offer up such a bounty of surprises.

Best Christmas gift ever. Someone strongly hint about this to my kids when they are old enough to understand.

Christmas is over, but how about a one last bit of Christmas cheer? And maybe even a tear or two?

You’re going to love this. Unless it makes you feel like a terribly inadequate son or daughter, which is possible.

Risk it. It’s worth it. 

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Christmas seems to have arrived early this year, and shut the hell up.

I’ve heard a lot of whining, both in person and via social media, but the early onset of Christmas.

Santa is already at the mall. Christmas music is playing in shops. Holiday decorations are already going up.

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It’s true. Christmas has arrived early this year, and every year it seems to arrive earlier and earlier. But if you listen to the whining and complaining of some people, you’d think that twinkly lights and Jingle Bells are tiny stabs to their small, black hearts.

Get over it. Shut up.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not supporting the early onset of Christmas in any way. I’m merely coming out against whining and complaining about things that don’t actually matter.

Christmas has arrived early this year. It doesn’t matter.

That said, early Christmas gave me the chance to see my first Christmas commercial (from the UK), and it’s brilliant. Right up my alley given the books I’ve written and am writing.

Be sure to wait until the end for the payoff. It’s worth it.

My 2013 Christmas haul

Another Christmas and another outstanding haul of gifts from my amazing wife, who understands me so well.

Some people wish for cashmere sweaters, brand new video game systems, stylish watches and jewelry. My hope is often for the least pretentious, most unexpected, quirkiest little gift possible, and she never fails to deliver. 

For the past four years, I’ve been documenting the gifts that Elysha gives me on Christmas because they are so damn good. Every year has been just as good as the last, if not better.

For point of reference:

This year was just as good.

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In case you can’t tell from the photograph, my collection of gifts from this year includes:

“…the ultimate challenge for any know-it-all who thinks they have noting left to learn.”

I’m not sure if she’s trying to tell me something.

  • A pin. The perfect pin, really:

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  • A small bag of blue candy with a fantastic marketing plan (and from an Etsy seller in New Mexico, no less):

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The math lesson on Christmas morning was not my idea. I swear.

This early morning hug and kiss were one two of the best moments of my Christmas morning.

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But the teacher in me also loved the moment ten minutes later, when my daughter refused to open any more presents, opting instead to practice her numbers on my computer.

I never thought I would be spending part of my Christmas morning explaining to my daughter how to form numbers above nineteen, but that’s exactly what we did while gifts remained unopened under the tree.

Don’t get me wrong. It was weird and slightly disconcerting, but it was also kind of amazing, too.

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A holiday gift idea that is unusual, renewable, charitable and might gleefully annoy the materialistic moron in your life.

My classroom operates a microloan account through Kiva that has been funded over the years by students through the sale of poetry. We have a total of $250 that we loan to small business owners and entrepreneurs around the world, focusing primarily on third world nations where our money can do the most good.

Whenever we have money available to loan, my students spend a couple hours researching prospective loan applicants on Kiva’s website, choosing possible recipients for our loan and writing proposals that are then read to the class. We debate the merits of each proposal and ultimately decide to whom our money will be lent via a vote.

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My students love the process. The ability to make a tangible difference in another person’s life is a powerful experience for them, and the time spent learning about these struggling entrepreneurs provides a greater perspective and understanding of the world beyond our borders.

It has also led to a possible holiday gift idea:

In lieu of a traditional gift, why not open a microloan account on someone’s behalf via an organization like Kiva and provide enough funding for the recipient to begin making loans? Kiva requires loans to be made in $25 increments, so for a relatively small amount of money, you can give a friend or loved one the gift of gift giving. There are even microloan organizations that allow for the lender to charge a nominal interest rate, meaning your gift could continue to grow for the recipient as the money continues to be lent.

I love this idea for both children and adults. It’s unusual, it provides the recipient with a renewable experience, it serves as a counter to the materialism and commercialism that dominate so much of holiday gift giving. and it does not contribute to the accumulation of stuff in a person’s home.

It’s the perfect gift.

Moreover, there is a decent chance that this particular gift would be poorly received by the gift-obsessed, materialistic moron who insists on traditional, quid pro quo gift giving.

You know who I mean. Right? That less-than-enlightened person in your life who remembers every gift that he or she has ever received and attempts to infer your intentions and level of affection based upon the quality and cost of the gift. 

In exchange for the cashmere sweater that he or she has given you, this particular breed of materialistic friend or relative expects something of similar value and quality in return. Offering the ability to loan $50 to a dressmaker in Guatemala or a fruit picker in Pakistan might annoy this kind of person, which makes the gift even more appealing in my eyes.

Poking and prodding and provoking the materialistic can be great fun, and even better, it’s al for a worthy cause.