This year’s book is titled “Santa Monica Christmas.”
I’m almost embarrassed to mention it.
After years of thinking I was a writer, I’ve just about come to the conclusion that writers are nothing but vainglorious fools, engaged in an activity of indiscernible use. The bringing forth of a piece of writing strikes me as something akin to a pre-schooler showing his scribblings to mama. The product has no real worth or purpose, and exists merely to feed the juvenile ego of the scribbler.
I’m not sure which is the more bracing discovery, that I’m not much of a writer, or that I’m childishly immature and egocentric.
I’m not a writer, I’m not an author, and this is not a book.
Nonetheless, it’s called “Santa Monica Christmas” and you can buy it for $8. And I wish you would. Not just because it was last year’s book that kept our family in the black through 2011, but because it may actually have something useful to say.
And it may not suck as bad as prior efforts.
For years – for almost 30 years – I have quietly felt that someday I would be a writer of literature. Newspapering was a stepping stone, I thought, but it led to talk radio instead of novels, and lack of time has kept me from actually doing any substantive writing.
Or at least that’s what I’ve told myself.
More realistically, it is probably a lack of talent and ability.
Several years ago, an opportunity came up to write a Christmas novella. I didn’t know such things existed until I was asked. But having made a pledge that I would take every professional opportunity that presented itself – that I would say “no” to nothing – I threw together a short fiction book. It was religious in nature, and didn’t have much to recommend it.
But it gave me a chance to meet radio listeners at book signings, and I really liked that. So did my bosses.
So in succeeding years I wrote more books, little works of fiction, and went to scores of book signings up and down the Wasatch Front in Utah. I loved the signings.
And last year I wrote a book for the Rochester audience, “Joseph Avenue Christmas.” Like the others, it was short – about 70 pages – and light – another essentially religious book. The book wasn’t much, but the chance to meet people at book signings, and start that tradition in Rochester, was something I enjoyed.
Which brings us to this year.
“Santa Monica Christmas” isn’t fiction, and it isn’t religious. It is a memoir of my first-grade Christmas and of the circumstances in my life surrounding it.
I wrote it for two reasons.
The first is personal.
I have three siblings – two brothers and a sister. They are the children of my mother and step-father. Because of some reversals in our lives – including the early death of the step-father – and because of the difference in our ages, they have few if any memories of their parents together. The world that created them is a world they don’t really know. Their dad, stolen by death, is a stranger to them.
So I thought I would write something that would introduce them to their parents, at a certain stage of their parents’ lives.
This book is meant to show my brothers and sister what their mom and dad went through, and hopefully give them a better appreciation of these people and their goodness.
The second reason is professional.
Given the state of the economy, and the seeming likelihood that we may yet face years of hardship as a country, I wanted to write something about seeing the good in the midst of the bad. I wanted to write something of encouragement and appreciation. Something that reflected our day and the best way to approach our day. I hope in some small way that this book does that.
It is, in parts, a sad book. But life, in parts, is sad. It is not, however, a depressing book. It is a book of hope.
For years on the radio at Christmas time, I have told the story of my first-grade Christmas. “Santa Monica Christmas” is a putting of that story in context, a context that ads meaning.
As the title indicates, it takes place in southern California, where I lived from the first- through fourth-grades. Though I may be the only person to recognize the details, they are correct in every regard. I want to hunt down some people who lived in Los Angeles in the 1960s and see if material in the book rings any bells.
An ironic aspect of the project is that as I wrote about being a first-grader, I am currently the father of a first-grader, a little boy who looks a lot like me. It has been interesting to look back on these days, and cobble together my memories, while watching him skip around in boyish fashion, imagining that at the time I was just the same.
Writing this book was hard in a way because I don’t really think about this part of my life. When you’re 52, the first-grade was a long time ago. I am the only person who took part in these incidents who is still alive. We don’t get together as a family and tell these stories. It is an era of my life that is essentially dead and gone, sealed up and forgotten by the passing of time and the passing of people.
It was also, on the whole, not a pleasant or stable time in my life, and sealing it off behind a wall of forgetfulness has been protective.
Writing it left me with two feelings. First, I miss my dead mother, and I wish during the relatively short overlap of our adult lives that we had been closer. Second, I want someday again to go to the Santa Monica pier and fish with a handline over its top railing.
Sadly, time does what it does and the past is lost. But it can still teach us.
And that’s what I hope this book does.
I’m not much of a writer, and this isn’t much of a story, but it is heartfelt and true. And I think it says weakly what we must all understand completely – that you never quit, and you never despair, and you always hope for the best.
So please read the book.
If you can’t afford it, borrow it from a friend.
It is short, and can be read in an hour, and if you don’t like it, you’re not out much time. But if it has something to say to you, it will be a worthwhile investment.
The book is for sale over the Internet, as well as at Wegman’s stores throughout the Rochester region, at Seagull Books in Utah, and at various independent stores and WHAM radio sponsors. I will be doing signings at several Wegman’s stores, and at various radio sponsors. At this point, no Utah signings have been scheduled, though I have been tempted to talk somebody into letting my son Lee and daughter Sophie – who are in Utah – host a book-selling event.
It is a family project. I wrote it, my wife laid it out, designed the cover and published it.
And that’s about all there is to it.
It isn’t much, but it will do.
And I would be honored if you’d consider reading it, and giving it as a Christmas gift.