The Angel in the Alley

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 9, 2013 by Justin S. Smith

This idea came from a brief text exchange with my brother after the Elf on the Shelf post. If you came here searching for an inspirational story of supernatural protection, you have made a grave error. Keep reading though, you may yet be inspired. – J.S.S.

I think I was clear about my opinions of the Elf on the Shelf. What if you agree with me but still want the fun of moving an inanimate object about your property convincing your children that it only moves when they’re not watching? Sure you could go full Toy Story on them, but isn’t that just another version of playing with dolls  like the Elf on the Shelf? Hasn’t the Doctor already given us the answer?

I offer you the Elf on the Shelf Whovian alternative: The Angel in the Alley (for those non-Whovians get some information here or here.)

Imagine, you send one of your children to take out the trash the day after Thanksgiving and when they open the back gate, an angel statue is standing in the alley. The next day they look out the window and see the angel in the yard blocking the gate. You can move it around a few times outside, maybe have a hand on the window to a child’s bedroom with the fanged mouth open and exposed.

Then you bring it in the house and place it in frightening locations for discovery: behind the shower curtain, right outside of a bedroom door, in the bedroom closet. Christmas morning the child awakes to find an angel by their bed reaching for them to toss them back in time. If you’re a real over achiever, maybe the angel is by the child’s bed on the morning of the 24th and they wake on Christmas to find the house altered to simulate that they have been sent back to a different era. Go as far as you want with it. The important things are to make sure they notice the changes and adjust to their emotional stability.

So, if instead of magic and whimsy you want to teach your children vigilance and fear of blinking; if you’d rather clean up the destruction made by an 8 year old trying to escape a statue than a mess you made yourself mimicking a mischievous elf;  if you want the fun of manipulating your children’s emotions but want to make sure that the fun is one sided (really, they’re already getting Christmas gifts, do they need a month of fun build up or do they need to really earn it?) I recommend the Angel in the Alley.

Any help lining up manufacturing, building a prototype or contacting BBC for permissions will be rewarded with a free set of angels (one per child) and/or equity in the business. – J.S.S.


Writing about Writing

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 5, 2013 by Justin S. Smith

A friend of mine has a site where he primarily writes about writing. For some reason, likely because he’d never read my blog before, he asked me if I’d like to fill a gap in his guest post schedule for today. He gave me a timetable on when he would like to see a first draft and said to just write something (around 500 words) about story telling.

It’s a little strange working with an editor; I’ve not been a fan in the past. I usually have gotten comments like “write it like this…” or “you should say this.” Essentially what I get is “I’m not going to put the effort into writing this, but I think it would be better said in my voice instead of yours so I’m going to tell you how to say it like I would.” Rarely among the amateur elite do you find someone who just gives you suggestions on improving without trying to mold you into a version of themselves.

I understand; it’s a tightrope. Having just taken over the duty of teaching writing to my 11 year old, I already know the effort it takes point someone towards better writing and telling them what to write.

My first draft was returned with 23  notes. Most quite useful (the guy really hates semi-colons for some reason,) some a simple request for rewording for clarity, and one referencing Dr. Who. All in all a good experience. We bounced drafts back and forth a couple of times, and he was overall pleased with the third version. I never felt like my voice was being trampled or that I had to fight against unnecessary changes (I even managed to retain a couple semi-colons in the final draft.)

Anyway, If you’re interested in reading my post Lying: a Folk Art, head over to In Brief look around while your there and tell Nathan you’d like to see more from me. If you got here from the link on my bio on that post, here’s a sample of the Historical Fiction I was talking about: 2800 miles/ 4 days (first of four parts) and here’s some prose I’m particularly fond of: A Song For Actors (first of three songs.) Feel free to look around and comment. Thanks for stopping by.

The Elf on the Shelf

Posted in Reflections with tags , , , , on December 4, 2013 by Justin S. Smith

I hate the Elf on the Shelf. I know some of you are saying “but, Justin, you’re not supposed to hate” or “it’s just a fun thing to do at Christmas with the kids.” To the first, I have no issue hating a piece of crap plastic and felt doll; to the second, fun is subjective and the elf is not fun for me. I hate him or her or it.

Why do I hate it? Well, the reasons are manifold. It represents a perpetuation of a myth that we sell our children every year. It is an increase on that myth taking to the next level of Santa Claus having a mischievous spy in the house reporting on whether you’re good or bad. Commonly this myth is sold to children of religious people who should be telling them that the judgment  of their actions is from the Almighty God of Heaven instead of a fat man living on the North Pole. Further, many of these Christians are screaming about the cashier at Wal-Mart saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” while wholesale buying into this bit of commercialism and advertising it on Facebook. Which is the real reason I hate the freaking elf; the barrage of craptastically  cutesy Facebook posts that clog my newsfeed with vomit inducing sentimentality  throughout the month of December. For full disclosure, I have similar feelings about the thankful posts in November.

Maybe I should be more concerned about the myth and commercialization, but I’m not.  However you celebrate the holidays will not get much response from me. Have a tree or don’t; Tree topped with angel or star; ornaments with scripture verses or sports team logos or Mickey Mouse and Star Trek (shout out Jason and Shelly,) it really doesn’t phase me. Even if your clogging my newsfeed with the Elf on the Shelf, I’m not going to say anything about it…until you call me out.

Up until today, the most comment I’ve made about the Elf was a comment on a friend’s picture of a newly purchased one: “Ugh.” That was it. She knows me well and responded with a playful “Do you mean Bah humb”ugh”??? LOL.” I’ll take the jab that I may be becoming a grumpy old man prematurely. Then today this appears in my news feed (slightly clipped)

“I know some people don’t get into the Elf on the Shelf thing, but our Tinsel brings our house a lot of fun this time of year. I love creating memories for my children. If that makes me a bad mom, then I guess I ‘ll just continue to be a bad mom. Tinsel is here to stay. If you don’t enjoy seeing my posts, then do me a favor and unfriend me.“

My Response:

“I’m sure someone said something unwarranted to you to get such a rant, but unleashing it on the rest of us seems off the mark. I don’t like the EOTS. I usually skip over the posts because my opinion of your traditions at your house should be kept to myself, unless my opinion is called for a reason why I should cease being your friend. It seems if someone did say something negative about your elf, this response is equally bad.”

Maybe I should have just skipped it, but to me the tone says this Elf, this doll, is a sacred cow. It says “This elf that I will post pictures of for 25 days is more important to me than keeping a relationship with you.” Clearly it was because after my comment I was deleted as a friend. I’m still in mourning. It’s hard to type through the tears.

Look, if you want to play with dolls all month and post pictures, I’ll typically keep my comments to myself. If I have to approve of your hobby choice and enjoy seeing your pictures to be your friend, then it’s time we said goodbye and that’s one less person on my newsfeed posting Elf on the Shelf pics. Doesn’t it say something though about how social media has redefined friendship and how shallow we all are because of it?

But just to get in the spirit, here’s a few of my favorite elf pics:

Now you have some more ideas to keep it fresh.

Tomorrow I will have a guest post at Nathan Barra’s In Brief. More on that to come.


A Call to Inaction

Posted in Public Service Announcments, Reflections on September 27, 2012 by Justin S. Smith

This has been a year of protests and counter protests. On February 14th anti-gun activists scheduled a boycott of Starbucks because of the company’s refusal to post signs banning guns in their coffee bars. Then there was the Chik-fil-a boycott and the Chik-fil-a appreciation day. And of course the occupy movement. Recently we’ve seen violent uprisings in some countries over an anti-Islamic internet video followed by demonstrations by peaceful Muslims in the same country holding pro-American and anti-violence signs. From what I can tell, Blasphemy day, which has been “celebrated” by atheists since 2009 is getting a resurgence this year because of the violence.

If you looked at the link, you would see that International blasphemy day is every year on September 30th. Somehow, I’ve been blessed to be blissfully unaware of this. The date was selected to coincide with the anniversary of  the publication of satirical cartoons of Mohammed in a Denmark newspaper. To me, that sounds like protest not celebration and the resurgence this year in light of religious unrest smacks even more of protest, but I’m not writing to try to convince Atheists against protesting or celebrating their “holiday” (the word holiday is incorrectly used on the wikipedia link above, it does not appear on any Blasphemy Day pages I’ve seen; I use it for ironic humor based on the etymology of the word.)

My real reason for writing is for my religious friends. On September 30th, if you have atheist friends on Facebook or other social media, they will probably be posting stuff that you and I both find offensive. Whereas Justin Trottier (quoted in the link) states “We’re not seeking to offend, but if in the course of dialogue and debate, people become offended, that’s not an issue for us. There is no human right not to be offended.”  one of my atheist friends sees it differently: “I believe the only way to end violent responses to supposed offenses to Islam is to shower the religion with blasphemy – numb those who align themselves with violence to the blasphemy so they no longer have the energy to threaten the world.” Though the original intent and this years resurgence both have to do with Islamic extremist responses, don’t think the rest of the religions are safe: (from the same conversation with my friend) “Doing this for all religions and spiritual beliefs is just being fair.”

So what should we do on International Blasphemy Day? Well, if your a Christian, you should go to church (it is a Sunday) and you should pray specifically for atheists that you know.  Secondly you should remember that expecting an atheist to behave in a Christian manner is like asking a toddler to act like an adult. Not because I’m calling atheists childish, but because as hard as it is for Christians to act Christian, expecting a non-Christian to do so is foolishness. I think this actually goes to the core of the issue for Atheists as shown in the picture below that was the post that started the conversation with my friend.

My biggest issue with Blasphemy Day is not Atheists acting like Atheists, I expect that. My issue is, I don’t think dedicating a day to offending people adds value to the conversation about free speech. I think it’s irrational and I tried to express that to my friend. *note below

As for avoiding this offense, if you can’t tolerate Atheists behaving like Atheists, you probably don’t have any on your Facebook friends list, but if you do either don’t go on Facebook that day or temporarily block your atheist friends that day but don’t rage against their blasphemy. Adding your reactionary anger to their reactionary “holiday” will not help. That’s my call to inaction. If you can’t stomach it without reacting, find a way to avoid it. Do not fuel it.

As for my Atheist friends, Facebook is a party and I know who I’m at the party with. You expressing yourself will not get any response from me unless you bring it to my house (wall.) If you take the time to go to my wall to post blasphemy as an expression of your free speech, it will be no more tolerated than if you came into my house to do so. I will consider it personal at that point.

That’s it on this topic for now. Don’t forget to post questions for my previous post. You know you want to.

– J.S.S.

*Through undercover research I have found that one of the most popular discussion groups at Atheist Summer Camp is “When your friend who has an imaginary friend tries to convince you to behave rationally.

Interview Proposal

Posted in Old Friends and Ghosts on September 25, 2012 by Justin S. Smith

One of the things that always bothered me in literature classes was the teacher explaining layered symbolism in the story. I’m not saying the teacher was just making stuff up, but I always thought it would be nice to ask the author “is that what you were trying to show?” or “did you consciously think about the symbolism while writing this description?”

I bring it up because I had thought about doing a companion piece to the three “songs”  For Old Friends and Ghosts of Friends that I would write up as a mock interview while I was still working out the verse forms. I have talked to a couple of people about the pieces and was going to insert some of those conversations, but I thought it might be fun to get some questions from my readers.

Ground rules:

I will not answer “who” any of the addressed are. If you are wondering “is this me?” ask me in an email or a private message. But even by private message, I won’t answer about somebody other than the asker.

I have a pretty limited reader base, so ask as many questions as you want including follow-ups on potential answers.

To avoid duplicate questions, post in the comments section of this post (this will also give anyone interested a little preview )

That’s it for guidelines. Inspiration, symbols, ask about it all. I’m going to write the interview anyway, but I think it would be fun if you help out. At the very least, answering your questions instead of mine will feel less like delusional self-importance and anytime I can delude myself to believe that I’m not delusional is good.

If you haven’t read them yet, Here they are:

For Actors

For Singers

For Brothers

I’m hoping to have a little fun with audience participation, so please participate.

– J.S.S.

A Song for Brothers

Posted in Old Friends and Ghosts on September 24, 2012 by Justin S. Smith

This is the last of the three songs “For Old Friends and Ghosts of Friends” . The previous  two can be found by following the links:

For Actors

For Singers

I hope you have enjoyed these. I might post a companion piece to these before the verse versions are complete, but I might not.


For Brothers

We were brothers, not long ago. Joined by common cause and love, if not by blood. We laughed and played, we drank and danced and fought. We fought but we always came back together and laughed all the louder at our foolish squabbles as we raised a glass to each other. It seemed then that this brotherhood was forever, that we should never leave each other’s side. But as we reached that time where all men must make their own way, you had to walk your path and I mine. We shook hands and slapped shoulders. We would be together again.


As I walked my path, I often thought of you; how I would like to break bread or raise a glass again; how you would support me when the path was overgrown and rough as you had before. To have you, my brother, at my side again would make the road seem easier; we could face the challenges together as we had faced so many before. You had your own path to walk, but I had the ghost of you walking beside me, and I heard your voice and laughter. I would tell you of this when we were together again. We would be together again; we were brothers.


But when our paths met again, it was not as I had seen. We shook hands and slapped shoulders, but with time spent on separate ground, our common ground was lost. The common causes that joined us were gone and our new causes were at odds. New brothers had filled the gaps and there was no place at your side for me. In your place by me stood your ghost’, who had shared the road with me. He is not you; you are not him. He is you had you walked my path with me, but you did not; you walked your own.


We were brothers, but how can that be true? brothers once but brothers no longer. Once together, supporting, now opposing, I wonder if had our paths stayed closer would we still be on different sides. Can we be at crossed purposes without crossing swords? I hope one day we can find that common ground again. But I want you to know, though the common cause is gone, the love is not. I would like to shake your hand and slap your shoulder and tell you that if we were brothers once, then we are brothers still. Then walk away, your ghost still at my side.

A Song For Singers

Posted in Old Friends and Ghosts, Reflections on September 14, 2012 by Justin S. Smith

This is the second song in the series “For Old Friends and Ghosts of Friends”. The first song “For Actors” can be found here. The Third song “For Brothers” will be forthcoming  in the next week.


For Singers

We were singers once in a great choir, blending parts through songs of love and sorrow and of God. Through sweeping crescendos our voices swelled in harmonies and dissonance. We passed the melody between parts, always supporting the lead; always supporting each other. We knew by the tune the end of our concert was coming, but we smiled through it and gave all we could to our song until, at last, the conductor, with a flip of the baton, gave his final cut off. The last note faded in the hall, and our concert was done. We bowed to the applause, hugged and said “well done” and “goodbye.”


I had thought then, as we went our separate ways that, should we meet again, we would greet each other with the old songs and harmonize again or perhaps sing in unison new songs we had learned since. But, as I have met some of you,  it seems we cannot find the notes or remember the lyric. We have not learned the same new songs and our voices no longer blend. (Has your voice changed, or mine, or both?) We try to find the tune, correct and compensate, but there is too much wrong with the performance and not enough time. So, in sad disappointment, voices spent from trying to reclaim it, we talk, only talk, about the old concert knowing it will not be again.


With others, our voices, mellowed by years, blend much better than before. We sing through the old songs and into the new, teaching each other as we go. Taking turns serenading and being serenaded we sing a new concert of our own. No, it’s not the same as the old concert, but it is right for our time and for our age, and we recapture that spirit of camaraderie. We dance with the ghosts, but also with the living and the tune and the waltz are beautiful still, as they once were, but different.


No, that concert can never be again. Some of us can no longer sing our parts and some sing no more. For those of you with whom I still sing, I cherish every note, even when your voice, or mine, falls flat. For the rest, it does not matter which voice or voices have changed; we should not struggle to sing those harmonies we have lost. I think only of you in how we once sounded, for that concert, that moment was glorious in my mind, and the ghost of you lives in that glorious recording because you sang it with me.