At the Birth of Light

I love Christmas. The celebratory aspect, the cheer, the merriment, the baubles on the tree, the sparkling lights, the awareness of certain gifts that have come my way by no will of my own. Blessings, I suppose you could call them.

And I love the books, especially A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Briggs’ The Snowman and Winterson’s The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me.

And I love the movies — It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol (from the Muppets to Scrooged), A Christmas Story, to all the Rankin Bass holiday specials, especially Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.

And then there is the music: the Choir of King’s College, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Sting’s If On A Winter’s Night…, and the duet of Bowie and Bing’s Little Drummer Boy.

But I’m not religious.  I don’t go in for all this immaculate conception and the swaddling Jesus as the light of the world. Lovely metaphors. But still I doubt.

And it’s annoying how Christianity has claimed this season as its own creation when it is obvious to any human being that Christianity stole from the pagan winter solstice celebration. Nabbed nature’s unknowable and enigmatic power of giving us more light in this dark season. I understand how easy the heist must have been: it’s not too much of a creative leap to transform light into a symbolic and divine gift. In fact, as a writer, I respect the kind of imagination that made such a connection: the sun growing to its zenith; the birth of the son of God bringing new light.

It’s just frustrating how Christianity in its ignorance decided to stamp out the untamed pagan wisdom and replace it with a certain domestic piousness. Refused to acknowledge the source of its inspiration. (In writing, nobody likes a writer who refuses to pay at least some homage to the others writers and books that have got the fever of creativity going.)

To my mind, the pagans celebrated the wild, unkowable, unhuman, unpredicatable, chaotic, frenetic, passionate, and primal element in the universe that they saw the sun representing. This probably needed a change when viewed from human existence since it leaves us all just a little bit insignificant and trivial compared to such a mind-boggling power like nature, the universe, the great unknown. And what better way to battle this ambivalent universe than by creating a baby born in a manger. That act so quickly grabs our attention and places existence so firmly and materially and spiritually back in the human. I have no problem with this, I am human after all and need to be reminded of it.

It is the divine nature of this birth that has always bothered me. Why the desperate need to transcend this human existence? Isn’t this what divinity offers, a sense of getting as far away from the human as possible? But why? Why not celebrate our humanity?

In fact, if we want to really celebrate anything, then let’s celebrate our creativity this time of the year, and not some unknowable god. We are the ones who create. Not gods. The light comes back for us in so many ways. Why limit it to one baby in one manger?

That’s why I enjoy this time of the year; it makes me celebrate the best in us with the hope to transform the worst.

But not through divinity. Through a wild imaginative act!

This is what I want to celebrate: that metaphor can transform life from a sense of darkness to one of more light. This is worth celebrating. This is worth living for. Not piety, the holy, the divine, worship. Not even the bleak reality that the economic crisis has created because bankers decided to sheepshag us and bag us, the other 99, and then try to sell us as mutton. But the act of creative transformation.

That’s where the light resides this time of the year.

“Swift as a spirit hastening to his task
Of glory & of good, the Sun sprang forth
Rejoicing in his splendour, & the mask
Of darkness fell from the awakened Earth.” Shelley, “The Triumph of Life”

The Illusion is the Thing

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for gracing our plush seats. I hope I can amuse and amaze.

Although I must add that there will be no sword swallowing, or cutting Aphrodite in half, or delighting you with a feverish amount of legerdemain.

Tonight, I have something very special.

Tonight I have a willing participant. A specimen par excellence.

He is, I’m afraid to say, not so much a rare specimen as an all-too ubiquitous specimen of our day and age.

But he is fitting subject material, I can assure you, for your entertaining pleasure.

Let us begin by saying that he is the finest example of one of those sad individuals who crave power but who never get to wield it in the ways they imagined.

Ladies and gentlemen, please!

There is no need for that exhaustive sigh of sympathy. I can assure you that this individual has willingly signed the paperwork and is also being paid a handsome sum. So he doesn’t need your pity.

What I want to offer you tonight is a rare glimpse into the psychology of such an individual.

But I will use no scalpel, no parlour tricks, no gold watch swinging expensively back and forth.

I will be laying his soul bare. I will be placing my fingers — and you will notice that I have nothing concealed up my sleeve — deep into his psyche.

First, we will lower the lights so as to keep out specimen’s identity unknown. But I can assure you, he is no actor. He came to me,  fraught for the stage. Desperate to be given one last chance to wield a power that has so far eluded him.

You see, our chosen subject is a frustrated individual at heart. He has followed society’s incessant voice of success and, yet, the power he was promised has still eluded him. He has been handed a hoax when he expected sweet dominion.

He has enjoyed a privileged education. He has risen like a hot-air balloon of human insatiability. He has garnered awards that sprout like infections.

He is, in a word, a specimen!

But now I must refer you to the hoax.

The power that came like an exorbitant tickle of self-gratification is a major disappointment. It is a shadow of the power he sought. It is nothing but a tickle — but a sardonic one.

It is so crushing, you can imagine,  to find oneself a giant dancing on the head of a pin. A generator of power reduced to an innocuous zap.

To come to the realization that the great, all-consuming, cosmos-creating power is nothing more than the power of a pigeon to shit on a stranger’s head.

To hear that big band sound, but to be surrounded only by a forlorn squeak.

And he has tried, our specimen, tried to dig his fingers into the mask of power and place it firmly on his face.

Thwarted again!

This time by underlings. By those he is supposed to have power over. Because they are immune to all his lashings out, his idiotic ravings, his histrionics made in a state of despair.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, you see him standing here before you. The glare and heat of the stage lights eating away at his hubris.

Please don’t get alarmed if you begin to smell burning flesh.

When I said “eating away” I was not being poetical — and, anyway, poetry is wasted on a power-crazy individual.

The lights are in fact burning away our specimen’s flesh.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please don’t leave your seats just yet! The show is not over and I would hate to cheat you of your hard-earned cash.

Our specimen knew the price of his latest enterprising venture.

Also, right now, there are attendants walking down the aisles with handkerchiefs for anyone who cannot abide the stench of burning flesh.

But the lights are very strong and his flesh should burn away quite quickly. As I see it is.

I do think, at this point, a round of applause is due our willing subject. He has quite a stoic character, despite his other failings. I have not heard him scream, have you?

I said, I have not heard him scream, have you?

That’s better. Drollery is mankind’s finest gift.

Ah, we are at last to the marrow of this night’s entertainment. And, no that was not a mere pun. I meant it.

But I shall wait until he is dust to conclude our entertainment and leave you with my final pronouncement.

And here it is: ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But wait, we are not done yet….

Look! A spectacle of light. A burst of flame.

Wait! Where are you going? All is not over.

Our Grand Guignol has just begun.