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Going Flat Out

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Journal 12.26.20

People are said to have talents, by which we mean something you are gifted with at birth and which you did not earn. Whereas a skill is something you hone over time, through hard work and determination. Aptitude might be considered the possibility that your talent, if honed, could become a skill. 

A talent is not always all that impressive. Sometimes it’s more like a party trick, like being able to whistle and hum at the same time, the type of thing you might do at a party if you’ve had too much a drink, and this party was in a rec-room in the 1950’s.

“I don’t hold with the theory that everyone is just using a little bit of his gray matter. I think we’re all going flat out.”

Calvin Trillin

We are used to thinking of talents as things people perform, in a show or on a stage. A stupid human trick reserved for high school auditoriums and beauty pageants. We don’t often think of these things as being serious, or terribly worthwhile, and almost never worthy of a career. There are those who go on to a career in music, comedy, juggling or dance, but not many of us. For most of us, it ends right there, on that sad little stage, to the sound of quiet applause.

If The Suit Fits

I don’t own a suit. I used to own, and even wear, suits to work. Not everyday, but on special occasions when myself and a few colleagues would attend business meetings where I was called upon to present my ideas to a boardroom of people. I would get dressed in my business costume and perform my act.

Even though I owned suits, really nice suits I might add, I never wore a tie. Even though I might have been wearing a $1500 Giorgio Armani suit, I was still wearing a $20 tee shirt underneath it. They were all black or charcoal grey. 

Crazy Like A Fox

A central theme to a lot of comedy is that men are all big dumb animals, Neanderthal in nature, practically incapable of feeding and clothing ourselves, and entirely reliant on women to help us navigate life. It’s a funny trope, largely because it’s not true and it enables us to deflect attention away from what we’re really doing, which is running most of civilized society. Women like to imagine us as perennially helpless and yet somehow also defiantly oppressive. We don’t know how to do anything correctly, and yet somehow maintain control, presumably through sheer, brute strength. As if all life is just one big king of the mountain contest and we’ve just been face palming everyone, pushing them back down the hill. It’s hard to reconcile this idea that men are dumb but maintain control merely through our ability to bench press twice our weight. Men are stupid but invented the bulk of technology we use today, wrote much of the literature, music and scholarly work. 

Fine, it’s true we largely kept women from doing anything for centuries, didn’t educate them or let them hold jobs of any importance, and we continue to pay them less, but none of that is because men are stupid. Cruel perhaps, but not dumb. 

Teach Your Children Well

The big problem I have with the elf on your shelf is that it is a blatant attempt to teach children to be good, when I think the central message of Christianity is, and therefore the message of Christmas should be, to be kind. Be kind. That’s the message of love that Christianity proclaims it instills, and not the idea of being beholden to the Law.

The Old Testament and the Judaic tradition of living under the law, was supposedly altered permanently with the birth and death of Jesus Christ, the Messiah that they Jews had been promised, and had spent thousands of years waiting for. Forget the fact that they’re still waiting, or that Christians never really believed they’d been relieved of their duties under the law. Neither camp believes what they’ve been told. 

The Elf on the Shelf is a uniquely ironic perversion of the Christmas story, from the birth of a savior, to a spy sent by his secular imposter. The fact that so many Christians feel that their faith tradition is in danger of being diluted by liberalism, completely ignores the fact that they are entirely complicity in the commercialization of their own salvation story. The miracle of Jesus was the idea that you were not longer subject to the law but saved by Grace. Unconditionally loved as you were, and despite the fact that you’d done nothing to deserve it. You couldn’t earn it, you just had to accept it. We humans find this extremely difficult, which is pretty ironic. 

The Elf teaches kids to be good, not that they are loved. It teaches them to follow the rules, not to practice kindness, because the reward is for the individual. Santa doesn’t bring gifts for kids who are kind, but for kids who are good. 

And so when they grow up, they learn that if you make the rules, you will always be on the side of good, and kindness is for suckers. 

Writing

I think of writing as a kind of magic. A bag of charms I’ve been developing, that one day I’ll be able to use to cast real spells, and not just the backyard shows for the neighbor kids. 

Old Movies

As a young man in college, my movie knowledge was actually really limited because we had not been allowed to see a lot of the big movies of the day. Definitely no R rated movies. I remember my sister got into trouble for seeing Grease at a drive-in. Grease. 

Consequently, I had this idea that all old movies were happy go lucky saccharine tales with snappy dialogue and cheesy romance. I knew that the modern movies from the 70’s were different but I still hadn’t seen many because we didn’t have cable and I couldn’t exactly rent Scarface and watch it in the living room. 

I started trying to catch up and watched a lot of classics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Twelve Angry Men and realized I’d missed a lot. Then I watched Gone With The Wind and hated it because I was expecting a happy ending, something along the lines of a Shirley Temple movie. Casablanca was also a bummer. I learned that a lot of those movies were pretty dark and twisted and not just Bible school movies. 

I still haven’t seen Citizen Cane. 

About the author

David Todd McCarty

David Todd McCarty is a writer, director, photographer and cinematographer. He writes fiction and nonfiction essays as well as journalism. You can see his commercial work at http://www.hoppingfrogstudios.com

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