Saturday, November 14, 2015

65 cures for 8 major holiday maladies

Christmas is supposed to be about joy and giving and family and fun and hope. That sometimes doesn't happen for us. Partly because we focus on the wrong things, partly because joy is a habit that must be practiced and learned. So, firstly... do you suffer from any of these eight classic holiday maladies?

  1. PETER PANIC: You mourn your carefree youth, symbolized by Christmas, since the holiday can serve as a metaphor for All Things Wonderful About Childhood. Christmas, therefore, makes you feel old and worn out. Symptoms: overindulgence in youthful activities (snowball fights, hot cocoa, mistletoe shenanigans) and/or a disturbingly fey insistence that you only be given "fun stuff" as gifts.
  2. GNOSHTALGIA: You believe that Christmas Joy can best be achieved through gustatory means; that is, by cooking and baking everything possible and feeding it to everyone possible as often as possible as much as possible. Symptoms: asking friends to borrow space in their fridge for cookie dough balls; giving treats to everyone who stops by your house no matter the reason (UPS man, census taker, bill collector); carrying fudge in your purse or glove compartment "just in case;' knowing more than one recipe for fruit cake by heart. "Gnoshstalgia" is often opposed by...
  3. YULEMIA: You are completely unable to enjoy any holiday food at all, ever. Can manifest as health or weight concerns ("These things are nothing but butter and sugar!"), or as a negative reaction to the extended holiday season food orgy ("You people have been feeding me candy and pie and cookies since Halloween!"), or as resentment of the idea that "food is love" and, therefore, if you don't eat someone's goodies, you don't like them ("OK! OK! I'll have another piece of fruitcake). Symptoms: carrying fudge (that you took but have no intention of eating) in your purse or glove compartment.
  4. GRINFERIORITY COMPLEX: You aren't as full of cheer as you once were (or as you recall having been), and you feel vaguely guilty about not being in the appropriate spirit. Which makes you feel worse, since feeling guilty is also bad. Symptoms: a spiraling, self-reinforcing chain of negativity eventually leads you to ignore Christmas as much as possible, which really doesn't make you feel any better, but at least doesn't remind you of how lousy you feel.
  5. POSTAL TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER: The compulsive need to mail or deliver all kinds of presents, cards, family update letters, cakes, cookies, pies, fruit baskets, mix tapes, recipe books, decorations and other holiday items. In some part your mind, you are "spreading holiday cheer," but in reality you are doing it to check things off against some cosmic list of "everything that needs to get done." Symptoms: you begin planning your holiday mailing schedule and collecting boxes in August, and you start shopping for next year before this Christmas has actually arrived.
  6. ANGORAPHOBIA: Fear of buying someone something they're allergic to, that doesn't fit, that's age inappropriate... i.e., "the wrong gift." Symptoms: all you ever get people are gift cards.
  7. BUY-POLAR DISORDER: You strictly measure the monetary value of gifts you receive and scrupulously attempt to return gifts of equal or slightly greater value. Symptoms: you visit Web sites to investigate the costs of gifts received.
  8. MALLUCINATIONS: You are preoccupied with finding bargains for gifts. You will turn away from the purchase of something on your list because you are sure you saw it somewhere else for less. Symptoms: you end up doing all your shopping last minute, buying things that make no sense (or gift cards), because you couldn't force yourself to pay "full price."

Obviously, I'm being tongue-in-cheek here. And I mean absolutely no disrespect to people with actual, clinical mental health problems. But, at the same time, there is often a grain of truth in satire. And I bet you see yourself in at least one of these diagnoses. I know I do.

So how do we get back to something more fun, more joyful, more about the heart and less about the wallet? I don't know. But I like to try. So here's my list of ways that sometimes help.

Merry Christmas.

  1. Make a family calendar. What I mean is a yearly calendar. One with the days of the week across the top and a different page for each month. You know. You've got one on your kitchen wall or in your cube at work. You can get them at bookstores in about a million styles and themes. Horses, cars, pin-up girls, trains, Civil War battles, cartoons, food. You name it, there's a calendar. Don't buy one! Make one for your family. Then fill it in with all the important family dates; birthdays, anniversaries, etc. If you like, go to the library and ask to see a copy of "Chase's Book of Annual Events" and add birthdays of famous people you admire. Or the dates of stupid holidays like (I'm not kidding), "Answer Your Cat's Questions Day" (January 22) or "Yell 'Fudge' at the Cobras in North America Day" (June 2). When you give this to someone, they'll think of you every day. Or make it for your own house with the help of family and friends. Either way, it's a way to insert Christmas thoughts and joy into every day of the year.
  2. Create your own ornaments. Why is your Christmas tree covered with random, generic, glittery balls? You just went and bought a tree... and put it in your house. How fun is that? That's excellent weirdness, isn't it? I mean, we all do it and it's such an embedded part of our Christmas culture... but, come on! Once a year, for a couple weeks, you put a tree in your living room. Step outside the moment for a moment and realize that in this age of technology and cleanliness and logic... well, that's just pretty odd. In a great, special, odd, different way. So... celebrate the uniqueness of your Christmas tree! Celebrate the oddity of having a big ol' spruce or balsam soaking up sugar water in your family room. Celebrate the strange and beautiful by decorating it in strange and beautiful ways. My favorite, as a kid, was to take a styrofoam shape (bell, star, even a simple ball), and stick a bajillion sequins to it with pins. If you make it with fun and love, it will increase the Christmas joy. And that's shiner than any sparkly bauble you can get at Walmart.
  3. Lego nativity scene. Really, that should be all I need to say for this one. If I have to explain it to you, you're thinking too hard. C'mon. Lego nativity scene.
  4. Toys from tots. There are many organizations that gather up toys for kids who don’t have them. And that’s fantastic. But kids also love to make and give stuff around the holiday season, and may not have the resources. Organize an effort to provide a crafty sort of event where all the necessary parts and instructions for making neat holiday stuff are available to a group of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have access. My bet is that if you or your organization provided the stuff and the supervision, your local public library could help you find a place to do it. Or have your church sponsor the event for another organization that works with kids who need a hand. You can combine this one with a visit to a nursing home, too. Bring along whatever great stuff the kids make and have them decorate the home. For bonus points, give each kid a box or bag with enough of the craft bits to make another one or two of whatever you're making. That way they can do it again for someone they care about, or to decorate their own space. Or they can teach a friend or sibling. Do not award prizes. Try not to be too preachy, either. Nothing spoils a good, crafty experience like paying for it by sitting through a sermon. Give everybody a print-out of the Christmas story to read later, or have a nice (short) prayer at the beginning. But don't turn your religion into a "pause from our sponsor." That's not the message you want to send. Cookies are nice, too. Don't forget the cookies.
  5. Make a truly edible gingerbread house. I don't know about you, but gingerbread houses make me nuts! Why? Because they're made of food -- beautiful, delicious cookies and candy -- and you can never, EVER, **EVER** EAT ONE!!! How spiteful is that? I mean, if you want to make a pretty house that you can't eat, make it out of colored glass or sharp, shiny stones or... I don't know... colored pencils. That would be fine. I'd never look at a Crayon House and think, "Why won't they let me eat it?" But, nooooo.... Every gob-smacked gingerbread house I’ve ever seen has been “hands off” (and more importantly, “teeth off”). Feh! Where’s the fun? I mean… C’mon! How cool would it be to make one of these things, and then take the gloves off? Cry, "Havoc!" and let slip the toddlers of war! Release the viscous children! Attack, children! Attack! Devour the house! Bwa-ha-ha! I don’t care if you stick six graham crackers together with peanut butter and put one gum-drop on top for a chimney. Do it, and then let the kids get all Godzilla on it. Or chomp down yerself. You know you want to.
  6. Decorate somebody else’s space. Carefully. Tastefully. Always within the bounds of office rules/etiquette and the law/fire-code. But how nice would it be to enter your office (cube…) and find a wee, unexpected holiday trinket? Totally anonymous. Or to come home and have a strange, lovely wreath hanging on your lamp-post? Put a small, stuffed penguin with a Santa hat on someone’s dashboard today.
  7. Group shoebox calendar. Warning: takes planning. Everybody in your gang (family, office, church-group, etc.) brings in enough shoeboxes to make 25. Everybody puts something in them to help decorate the common space. Wrap them (and keep the innards secret), then randomly assign numbers 1-25 to them. Or more or less if you’re doing a non-religious thing. Do 31 and make it a “New Year’s Calendar.” Whatever. Then, on each day, get together as a group, open the appropriate box (take turns, now) and use it to brighten the day and make the place niftier.
  8. Bad Mojo Wreath Voodo. OK… this one will probably not go down well for many church youth groups… but it’s meant with a sense of humor, so chill out. Have everyone in your gang (family, group) write something that bugs them on a piece of colored paper that matches (or not) the cheapest, driest, most flamable wreath you can find. Decorate the wreath with the slips of nastiness. On the day of celebration, burn (or otherwise destroy in a more work-friendly manner) the Wreath of Spite. Celebrate the destruction and release of the things that bug you.
  9. Holiday bird-feeder. I like bird-feeders. So do my squirrels. Oh, well… But mostly they either look like weird plastic contraptions or little A-frame tenements. Help a bird out. Decorate a special bird-house/feeder for the holidays.
  10. Odd snow sculpture. We all make the snowmen. Yes, yes. Lovely snowmen. Do it up different this year. Make a snow carving of your company’s logo. Never mind. Don’t do that. How about a UF-SNOW? Unidentified Freezing Snowcraft? Or a guy climbing up your front tree? Or a giant hand? Don’t be overly critical of your work… just get some friends together and get stupid with the snow.
  11. Tissue paper wreath. This is an easy project, dredged up from my days as a summer camp arts & crafts director. It’s simple, quiet and can keep little hands busy for hours. Take a coat-hanger and bend it out so that the triangle part is round. Keep the hook the way it is, please. Now, cut colored tissue paper (or white, if you’re a freak) into strips about 2″ wide and 10-12″ long. Fold each strip around the now-round part of the hanger, and twist the ends together like a, well… a twist tie. That makes the paper cling to the hanger, eh? Do that about a thousand more times. It looks cruddy until you start really filling it out, then it looks fun and festive. Please do not use electric lights with wreaths made from paper.
  12. Crayondles. Make some candles out of old crayons. How? I don't know. Ask Google.
  13. Advent destructo-calendar. Rather than pop little toys/charms out of an advent calendar every day in December before Christmas, instead build a model or print a picture of something you’d like to be done with. Kind of a pre-New-Year’s-resolution game. Then divide the thing up into 25 (or 31 if you want to do the New Year gig), and on every day in December, pull that sucker down!
  14. Holiday spaz origami. People get so bent out of shape (ha) about making perfect, tasteful little origami things. That’s way to obsessive for holiday time. Get some colorful paper and start folding, cutting and pasting things together. Make a mess… but make it a glittery, shiny mess. Find order in the chaos. Or not. Enjoy the 2D-becomes-3D magic. Discover what shapes lurk in a crumpled up ball of tinfoil. Make little birds out of the covers of old magazines and spray paint them gold and put ‘em on the tree. Don’t overthink it. You’ll discover more shapes and more new models if you just, well… get spazzy.
  15. Lights on other stuff. People always put lights on their house. Now, I love that, and I don’t want to discourage it. But one year, back when we were living with my folks in Boston, we put lights around our lamp post. Got more compliments on that. You got a mailbox? Light ‘er up! Koi pond? Let it glow! Heck, why not just try a new pattern of lights. Like, just hang them all randomly out an attic window so it looks like your house is puking lights. Maybe not. Then again, what the heck.
  16. Rewrite “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Let’s face it, hollering, “Fiiiiive gooolden riiings!” is way fun. Way, way fun. You can not resist, so don’t hold back. But what’s even more fun, is hollering your own family version that only you and the clan know. Because, really… doesn’t singing about how your true love gave to you… “eight maids a milking” make you a bit… uncomfortable? I mean… dude gives people for Christmas? That ain’t right. Bob and Doug McKenzie not withstanding, your own version will be more fun. My son, just this morning, was singing, “Fiiiiive gooolden delicious!” Hilarious.
  17. Indoor snow-ball fights. We spent two years of my childhood in California, after having lived in Boston, and with parents who grew up in New York. Snow ball fights are a required element of winter joy. Indoor? Substitute aluminum foil balls, rolled-up socks, styrofoam (messy), newspaper wads, etc. instead of snow. The point is to throw things. Banzai!
  18. Mall caroling. It’s hard to find places to carol. Outside can get very cold. And, with kids in tow… well, it’s tough. Check with a couple local malls and arrange for a time to invite anyone who’d like to participate to meet, get song books, and walk around the mall singing. See if you can arrange for an accordion player. Seriously. It adds to the cheer. If you want to charge a couple bucks to participate and also collect donations from listeners and then give the money to a local toys-for-tots charity, that makes the whole deal more righteous, and more palatable to certain civic types.
  19. Grown-up PJ party. Notice I did not say “adult.” This is not a chance to play spin-the-bottle. This is about getting back to childishness. Come in PJs, bathrobes, bunny-slippers, blankets, etc. Bring your favorite (hopefully holiday related) bed-time story to read aloud to the group. Drink cocoa w/ tiny marshmallows (yes, and some brandy or JD) and have candy canes and graham crackers for snacks. Sit on the floor around the fireplace. Watch all the old Rankin-Bass claymation holiday specials on VHS. Sing a few carols. Play…
  20. Insane White Elephant. The basic principles of a White Elephant gift exchange apply, but anyone who has their gift taken can keep stealing from anyone who hasn’t yet had their gift stolen that turn. The more people playing, the more fun. No “deceased” gifts in this version, either. Until you’ve had a gift stolen on any given turn, it’s in play.
  21. Make-a-wreath party. We used to do this at the church I grew up going to. You show up with the basics of an advent wreath (styrofoam torus and a bunch of evergreen branches), and the host provides all kinds of add-ons; candles and holders, bells, ribbon, holly, berries, etc. Good times, and a wreath to take home, too.
  22. Semi-formal holiday martini party. In the old days (the 1950’s), people dressed up to go to holiday parties. And while this may still hold true for some work-sponsored events, more and more often, work holiday parties are tired, dull affairs. Most of the ones I’ve been to are, anyways. So, on your own, get some friends together and dress all high-class, and drink funky, fun martinis. No reason grown-ups can’t have grown-up fun around the holidays, too.
  23. Remembrance time. Around the table, have family members or friends recount their best (or most interesting) holiday memories. Yes, it’s corny. But corny is good during this time of the year. Embrace the corn.
  24. Tell your faith’s holiday story with sock puppets. You never real own a story until you tell it. I know this, because I played King Nebuchannezzar in a 4th grade production of, “Cool in the Furnace.” I now own The Firey Furnace. Be that as it may… You can hear the Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice, etc. stories again and again. But until you write out a script, make your own sock puppets for the players, fashion a stage from a major appliance crate and put on a show for the grown-ups… do you really grok the holiday’s true meaning? I think not.
  25. Mix-up the classics. Get the book versions of classic holiday tales like Rudolph, Santa, Frosty, Night Before Christmas, A Christmas Carol, etc. Get some index cards. Write character names, major attributes (”nose glows,” “miser,” “made of snow,” “elf,”) and plot points (”comes down the chimney,” “ridiculed by reindeer,” “just settled down for a long winter’s nape”) on them and keep the categories separate. Now go back and read one of the originals, but when someone (usually a child or me) yells “stop!,” insert a random card from the appropriate face-down pile. So you end up with something like: “Rudolph didn’t like all the other reindeer calling him names, so he…”“Stop!”“… gave Bob Cratchit money to help with Tiny Tim’s legs.” You can keep going with the original story, substituting other zaniness, or switch over to the one from the card. Whichever seems like more fun to you.
  26. Personalize “A Christmas Carol.” Rewrite (or just re-think) the Dickens’ classic and perform it. Text available here for free. The characters and story really lend themselves to satire and revision, and you can do a very short version and people will still get it, because we all know it so well. Film it and put it on YouTube, please, too.
  27. Christmas kids parade. If you’ll have a passel (any more than 2) of kids around at some point, give them all a cheap musical instrument, or a home-made one. Put on some classic holiday music, real loud, and have the kids march around the house banging, blowing, slapping, stomping, etc. Please note that adults and dogs should be encouraged to join the band. This is a good way to blow off steam and sugar after the whelps get their second wind on Christmas morning.
  28. Red and green food party. If your last name begins with A-J, bring red food. If it begins with K-T, bring green food. U-Z? Silver or gold. OK… maybe not.
  29. Poetry party. Get some nice paper and pretty pens. And yellow legal pads for first drafts. Put holiday words on scraps of paper and put ‘em in a hat. “Joy,” “Presents,” “Egg Nog,” “Sledding,” etc. Everybody gets a word and writes a poem, which somebody else gets to take home.
  30. Host starving artists/musicians. Find a local artist (or two) or musician (or three) and invite them to your office, church, Rotary, etc. holiday party. Ask them to play or bring their art for sale, and introduce them around. Art/music are tough businesses. Artists/musicians make cool guests. Extend them a happy holiday hand, and give your friends the gift of culture.
  31. Make your own envelopes. A dear friend of mine (Hi, Susan!) once sent me letters every few months in hand-made envelopes. Hers were made from interesting magazine ads. How cool is that? If you want to get fancy, do a search on the Internet for “make envelopes” and such. But the easiest way is to get the envelopes that go with whatever cards you’re mailing, carefully bust ‘em apart, trace them on funky paper (magazine pictures, wallpaper, wrapping paper…) and then cut, fold and glue (or double-sticky clear tape) them together. People may expect hand-made cards. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Or hand-made envelopes. Festivisimus!
  32. Photoshop your kid(s) into other (classic) pics. I first saw this done to Raphael’s “The Sistine Madonna, Detail of the Angles” painting. The point is to have fun and take a picture folks will recognize and include people they will recognize. It doesn’t have to be a serious pic, either. I would think that your kid climbing the Empire State Building to put a star on top would be hysterical. Use this instead of a regular picture-of-your-kids card because… well… because it’s goofy.
  33. Gift cards for chores, favors, hugs, etc. These were a big item when I was growing up. Don’t know if other people did them. The idea was to make gift-certificates or gift cards that “entitled the bearer to (1) one doing of the dishes upon presentation of this card.” You can make these intimate for your honey (I won’t get into those variations here, thank you), or appropriate for work. For example, I once gave my boss ten “Andy will now pipe down” certificates. Upon presentation, I was obligated to shut my pie hole. She only ever handed me two. I believe she traded the rest in for some magic beans. Or they may be floating around on eBay… Hmmm….
  34. "Puzzle Party” cards. Take, buy or make a nice picture and turn it into a jigsaw, either yourself or at Kinkos. Mail one piece to each person you’re inviting to the party. When they come, they add their piece. Depending on how corn-ball you are, you can hold forth on how we’re all a part of the holiday panorama of joy, etc. etc. It also serves to increase the guilt factor that motivates people to come to your party, since if they don’t… their piece will be missing. Ha!
  35. “Family News” cards from the future. I love this one. Lots of families I know write a very nice update about what’s been going on over the last year. It’s nice to hear, but… mostly it ends up being, “Dad’s still working and maybe going a bit more stir crazy. Same for mom. The kids are in school and are a year older.” Yawn… I like the idea of fast-forwarding a bit and writing your “Holiday Family News from 2035.” Keep it just as straight-faced and boring, but mention which dimension Mary got lost in on the way to work this time. Talk about how the Martian embassy lost your passport on your 2nd honeymoon cruise, etc. etc. Much more fun. Cloning humor goes over big in this one, too.
  36. Mystery cards. Send a really nice holiday card, maybe include a gift certificate, but with no indication of whom it’s from; no names, no return address, etc. Why? To bug the crap out of somebody you love. And isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?
  37. Return-reply cards. Send people a card with a self-addressed, stamped envelope or postcard inside to send back to you. Put questions on it you’d like answered, like… what do you want for Christmas next year? How the heck are ya? Which holiday movies did you see and like or hate? People love to be interactive. Give the gift that gives something back to you.
  38. Custom mouse pad card. They will throw away the picture of your kids. But if you put that picture on a custom mouse pad… it’s a keepsake.
  39. Origami cards. Do your regular card, but include a piece (or more, if necessary) of origami paper and instructions for making an ornament, decoration, etc. Your local library has holiday origami books, I bet. Again… the point is to do something different… with a little extra un-Grincy flavor.
  40. Library cards. Yes, it’s a pun. Things, for many of us, may be tighter this year. Do a friend a favor and get the instructions on where their nearest, local library is. Put that in a card along with 10 or so recommendations of books to read or movies to watch that you know the library has. For book/video gifts, it’s often the thought or idea that really does count. Use your library’s resources to give the thought without the expense. This is also a very “green” gift, so… that’s good, too!
  41. MadLibs card. Create a card but leave spots for verbs, nouns, place names, etc. Put the spots for them to write those in on the front, with directions not to open the card until they do, and then to read the card with the answers put in. Hilarious hijinx will ensue.
  42. Color-it-Themselves-Cards. Get some card stock for your ink jet printer. It works fine, really. I do it all the time. Create a line drawing, or scan in a picture and then trace the edges. Whatever. What you want, when you’re done, is a card with pictures that look like they’re from a coloring book. Outside, inside, both… go nuts. Then mail it along with a pack of 3-5 tiny colored pencils. When it arrives, your friends/family will have a neat little activity to share with their kids.
  43. Surrogate shopping party. So many of us have someone or several someones on our lists that are impossible to shop for or that we just have a mental block on. Fine. Get together for dinner and share an equal number of those folks with each other, along with a few details and a dollar ceiling per gift. Then release yourselves into a mall with a time limit. Then get back together and share the swag. I guar-ohn-tee that your friends will find stuff for your hard-to-getters that you’d never have thought of. If it ain’t right? Well, ’tis the season to return stuff.
  44. Thought gifts. They say, “It’s the thought that counts.” OK. So, this year, only give thoughts for the holidays. Make this the year that you and yours agree to take whatever your budget for gifts was and either give it to a charity or stick it in a savings vehicle; your call, I’m not preaching here. But for yourselves… take the time to actually say the things you haven’t said. Give “the thought” behind the gift. If you’re a spiritual person, pray or meditate on the subject for a bit. Do it in a card if you like, or via email. Don’t make the logistics as much of a pain as shopping/wrapping/etc. That’s not the point. But all the major religions that are celebrating this time of year have gift-giving as a central notion not as a potlatch per se, but as a metaphor for love, friendship, community, etc.
  45. Gifts for the future of the group. Have everybody get everybody something that will only really “work” when you get back together. Pick a group-y activity like a picnic or game night, and have everyone get/give gifts that will be brought together again each time you do that thing.
  46. Recommendations or reviews. I get lots of gift certificates. And that’s cool. But it still means I need to figure out what I want to get with the thing. If you give someone a gift certificate (especially to a book or music store/site), provide a list of 5 or 10 ideas that you think they’d like. Write little mini-reviews of books you’ve read, movies you’ve seen, etc. that made you think of the person. Make the list fun, funny or serious… but it will add personality and thought to what can seem like a somewhat generic offering.
  47. Make part of the gift yourself. Homemade gifts are special, when they come from adults as well as kids. I recently received a CD from a friend, and it was wrapped in a handkerchief that he’d tie-dyed himself. How cool is that?! If you give someone a coffee machine, create a custom mug for them, too.
  48. Gifts with a story. Write a fictional story about how the gift you’re giving came into your hands. Make it funny, sweet, odd, implausible… whatever. It will make the present more memorable.
  49. Don’t overthink. We spend so much time (well, I don’t, but “we” do) trying to figure out the “perfect gift” for people. Unless you’re sweetie is waiting for a ring, or your 8-year-old will DIE without a particular Lego set… there ain’t no such thing. Part of the fun of gifts is getting something you wouldn’t ever have bought for yourself. If it wasn’t, we’d just give each other money. Bleh. So give something odd and unexpected.
  50. Share kids. Childhood is a big part of the holidays; both our own and our kids’. If you don’t have kids and are friends with someone who does, offer to babysit so that they can go out and shop, and then do one of the craft things above. If you do have kids, and know folks that don’t, invite them over for an event where the kids will play a part. Holidays go better with runts.
  51. Gift from your past. Find something that was highly meaningful to you as a child, or in the past, and give it to someone along with the story. Could be a book or movie or a type of clothing. Could be the board game, “Risk,” if you’re a giant geek like me.
  52. Start a bizarre, personal holiday tradition. I heard somewhere (can’t find it online, sorry… it may be apocryphal) that Amy Grant’s family explodes their Christmas tree after New Year’s Day with fireworks. I’m neither hot nor cold on Ms. Grant, but… that’s flippin’ awesome!!! So many of our holiday traditions are either copped from cultures that really aren’t our own anymore, or have been entirely kidnapped by the media/mercantile world. Why not invent a new ritual that’s just for you and your family? Stuff a sock with toys by the fireplace? Why? I sure as heck don’t know. How about, instead, everybody in your family writes one line of a nativity poem. Or fight some gingerbread man wars. Or make advent candles from last year’s used crayons. At my house, we’ve now been playing street hockey the day after Christmas for several years with all the in-laws. Why? Bob wanted to one year. After three years… It’s a tradition!
  53. Overtip, ridiculously, at least once. Food service is tough work. And around the holidays, it’s even worse. People are out-and-about, running like mad, full o’ holiday spirit, and, often, not very nice to the wait staff. And because we’re spending more than we should on various baubles, bangles and beads… we’re often a bit penurious when it comes to the everyday stuff. Which hurts the folks whose livelihood depends on our largess. So. At least once, between Thanksgiving and New Year, when you get good service and a nice smile with your meal… leave a $20 tip on a $13 lunch meal. Or, what the heck… leave $50 to cover a $22 dinner. Or $100 for a cup o’ joe. Seriously. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Do it, as the scriptures say, “In the dark.” But do it. You’ll make somebody’s whole season.
  54. Start a yearly journal. Very few people keep a journal. I’m a professional writer, and I don’t. I’m supposed to, but I write at work, and I blog, and I write poetry and fiction and, and, and… So I’ve never had a daily journal. But what I do have is a notebook that I take out about once a year. Often around the holidays. And, in my case, I write in it the names of people — everyone I can remember — that I’ve met during the last year or so. And, of course, I go back and read the earlier entries and reflect on how lucky I’ve been to have known so many wonderful people. The names are my “touchstones” to the past. The names are bookmarks in my memory, because people anchor the most important events in my life, I think. Anyway… that’s what’s in my “annual journal” for the most part. Yours, of course, can be anything you want.
  55. Share a resolution. We don’t keep our New Year’s resolutions, for the most part, because we are not really accountable to ourselves. We cheat and look the other way. So share a resolution with a friend or family member; let them hold you accountable, and vice versa.
  56. Share a resolution. No, this is not a repeat. In this case, I mean make a resolution that includes another person. For example, resolve to have a game-night once a week with your family, or to go for a walk 3 days a week with your spouse. Resolve to send an email back-and-forth at least twice a month with a friend you don’t see much anymore. Resolve to cook healthy for me, and I’ll cook healthy for you twice a week. Resolve to help your boss with his annoying habit of not taking minutes/notes at meetings, and he can help you with your attempts at better process management. So many things that we want to accomplish are impossible alone. Resolve to be better together.
  57. Visit someone else’s ceremony. When I was in confirmation class as a young Methodist lad, our pastor took us to a Passover Seder service at one of the nearby Jewish temples. It was a great way to learn about the similarities and differences between my faith and that of my Jewish friends, and to drink wine as a 15-year-old. Find out what and how others are celebrating around this time of the year. You’ll end up experiencing your own traditions more deeply, I guarantee.
  58. Random, pleasant social comments. Pick a number higher than 10. Probably safer if you also keep it under 500. Leave that number of random, lovely Facebook comments, Twitter replies or blog comments. Combat the shrill trollery and nastiness with a touch of good humor and friendliness. No need for it to explicitly say "Happy Holidays." Just be nice to someone online.
  59. Give to a charity you don’t normally connect with. Stretch a bit. If you mostly give at church, find a secular charity that does something you agree with. If you tend towards issues of hunger, try education. I’m not saying don’t do the stuff you usually do… but find out about a new one. When our giving becomes rote, we lose something of the original reason we were moved to give. Get out of your comfort zone and find a new way to share.
  60. Invite someone different to a holiday dinner. Single people or folks that can’t leave a college campus, newly married couples just moved to a new city… there are lots of people who don’t have a nice, large, rowdy chunk of kin to celebrate the holidays with. Bring ‘em along for the ride. You’ll be surprised at home much they enjoy many of the things about your holiday mess that tend to irritate or frustrate you. And that will give you new perspective on your own joy.
  61. The 12 Days of Compliments. Start on any dang day you please, and compliment or thank one person in a way you wouldn’t normally. Really try to think of something specific, honest and meaningful. On the next day, hand out two of these compliments. By day 12, it will have become almost second nature, and that’s a gift for *you* to enjoy all year long.
  62. Share a booth/table with strangers. At least once during the holiday season you will be seated to eat at a restaurant where there’s a line behind you. People still waiting to eat. And if you’re two people, and you are going to be seated at a table for four, turn to the next couple in line and say, “Hey… why don’t we share a table. Not the bill or anything. But we can eat together. Save you a little time, and we all get to meet somebody new.” Use your own words.
  63. Pay the toll for the car behind you. Between December 1 and January 1, every time you go through a toll-booth, use the lane with the guy in the booth, rather than the correct change lane. When you pull up, hand the guy enough money for two tolls and say, “I’m paying for my friend behind me. Wish him a Merry Christmas when he comes through, ok?”
  64. Sing carols (or any songs, really) while doing chores: I sing while I do the dishes. It’s a rule. I have to, or it’s no fun for me. You’ll find, after awhile, that you don’t mind the chores as much.

    And the last one is something hard... but giving gifts isn't always supposed to be easy...
  65. Forgiveness. One of the worst barriers to experiencing spiritual, holiday joy is the sense that we are not worthy. Whether directly or indirectly, too much gift giving is often a substitute for the resolution of actual issues. And one of the issues that really can weigh us down this time of the year is a grudge. Whether you’re holding one against someone else, or they’re mad at you about something… take care of it. If it’s so far in the past that the person is dead, moved on, out-of-touch,etc., then talk to a friend, therapist or confessor of some kind. Get rid of it. I don’t care what your religion is or if you have none. The burden of unforgiveness is a strain on the holidays for us all. That loss will be a great gift to yourself.
I hope you enjoyed reading the list. If you do one or more of them, let me know in the comments. Or not. I enjoyed writing it.

Merry Christmas. And Happy Holidays. Be ye kind, one and all, to each other and to yourself. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Effect, Meet Cause -- What Everyone Gets Wrong About Advertising

This is a very good article and makes some great points about the media, online content, privacy, IoT and robots. You should go read the whole thing. But, like almost all media analysts and tech experts, Maciej Cegłowski gets the advertising cause/effect backwards. He writes:

In the beginning, there was advertising. It was a simple trinity of publisher, viewer, and advertiser. Publishers wrote what they wanted and left empty white rectangles for ads to fill. Advertisers bought the right to put things in those rectangles. Viewers occasionally looked at the rectangles by accident and bought the products and services they saw pictured there. Life was simple. There were ad agencies to help match publishers with advertisers, figure out what should go in the rectangles, and attempt to measure how well the ads were working. But this primitive form of advertising remained more art than science.
The old chestnut had it that half of advertising money was wasted, but no one could tell which half. 
Emphasis mine.

The mistake is a common one, because it looks at advertising from the perspective of the consumer of media and advertising; the audience. That's how we perceive the bargain. There is content out there we are interested in; newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, etc. Someone wrote or recorded something I'm interested in -- sports, movies, guns, cooking, music, whatevs -- and as I go and read, watch, listen, I will put up with some advertising in order to enjoy the content.


The advertising (or the intent to advertise) came first. Some nice people with nice products wanted you to know about them. They had money that they could spend on making that happen. There was no media. So they got together with content creators and said, "Hey, this is what I want to sell. These are the people I want to sell to. You make some content and we'll pay for it with this advertising."

Don't believe me? Look up the history of soap operas. The originators of them were advertising agencies. There was nothing on the radio that appealed to the women they wanted to sell homemaking products to. So they invented radio dramas modeled, loosely, after the serial romance stories found in women's magazines.

Which were started by advertisers. To sell things to the same group of people. But radio was more immediate and newer and interesting and could pump out shows every day without the cost of printing or mailing.

There is, of course, content that you pay for directly. Books, movies, music, etc. Sure. And that looks (to you) a lot like the other content. Because you consume it similarly. But from a production and pricing standpoint, it's very different.

There are historic entertainments that didn't start out with advertising (some sports being a good example). It got added over time. And so that's closer to the model Cegłowski suggests. But, remember... that content had been paid for earlier by tickets or patrons. So... why did we add advertising? To pay for them? But they were already paid for?

It's a subtle distinction, but important. In any content relationship involving advertising... advertising comes first. Nobody (much) builds a magazine or radio show or TV program around an idea and then hopes for ad revenue. They build in order to sell ads.

Our enjoyment is secondary. That's not immoral. It's just not always comfy.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Peeved Medium. A review of "Mad Max: Fury Road"

So the title of the post isn't really a pun. I'm not sure what it is. It's there because I can't summon the energy to be clever or interesting about a film which was neither.


If you're disappointed in that gag, rest assured you're not as disappointed as I was in the film itself.

Here's where a reviewer has to make sure that you understand that s/he's not a film snob. Because if you don't like an actiony-packed-edy movie like this, that's the first reason people might think. Establishing my b-movie bona fides should only take one sentence for y'all:

I've seen all the "The Fast and the Furious" movies.

Now that that's out of the way...

I wanted to like this movie. I wanted to love it, actually. I'd heard from a couple people online that it was an amazing, action-packed ride through a post-apocalyptic hellscape. I read one review snippet that said it was "ballsy," one said it would leave you "speechless." One called it "surprisingly tender." As I look on Metacritic, I see that it has an average score of 89/100 and only one neutral review opposed to 42 positive ones.

Which might lead someone to think... did you miss it, Andy? Did you miss the allegories? The metaphor? The deep layers of meaning? The artistic flourishes? The various homages? The culture war references? The mash-ups?

This is where most reviewers won't, but I will, remind you that I'm a poet and have a degree in English Lit.

I didn't miss that stuff. It's just that it's all thrown in so randomly and heavy-handedly that I can't tell if it's meant to be a tapestry of chaos or just chaos. It's energy and craft masquerading as art. It's volume masquerading as depth. It's verbs masquerading as action.

There are a lot of verbs, to be sure. So booms. Very stunts. And much of the film is beautiful and haunting in terms of the cinematography.There is *artistry* in there aplenty, from the stunts to the backdrops to the costume and make-up design. Lots of individual parts where I thought, "That's very nicely done."

But a movie is supposed to have a story. At least one. And characters you care about. Again... at least one. We have no idea why Max is where he is now. I get it, I know. Right. He's the Wanderer. Right. So... We care about him why? He gave up on... what? He has these weird flashbacks to little girls whom he let down and... nothin'. Same for Charlize's character. I get it. She's saving some few of the people whom the bad guy is being Very Bad to.

Even the action, after awhile, stopped being interesting. Because it was, essentially, the same. Car/truck/cycle with spikes goes fast, shoots things, blows up. The first 15 minutes of that was spectacular. The 2nd 15 minutes of that was interesting. Minutes 31-90 of that were... not. 

The audio? There is nothing like dialogue in this movie. The few times there are lines that aren't there for exposition it is almost impossible to hear what they're saying over the ambient booms, bangs and roars and the score, which I found very heavy handed.

I read a lot of sci-fi. I read a lot of weird fiction. I've written some weird fiction and some very weird poetry. I like weird. I like it a lot. And I wanted this to be some kind of super-action-flick-meets-high-art-extravaganza. The trailer gave me goose-bumps.

The movie itself didn't.

I'm sorry. Again... I wanted to love this movie. But while spectacular visuals and action can enhance a good story and decent characters and make an otherwise decent film incredible, they can't fill the void left by no story and flat characters.

Gotta give this one a D+

Because if you go to all that effort on the frosting, the lack of cake seems even more appalling. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A most joyful, terrifying dream

As the son of a shrink, I grew up talking about dreams. I'd come downstairs on a Saturday -- the day I got to sleep long enough to make it through a dream before waking -- and sit with my Dad in his study. He'd stop working on billing or bills and we'd talk about my dream. He was good at providing both a Freudian analysis and "an accurate one," as he'd call it. That is, let's look at the symbolism, but let's also just think about what you're going through. Helpful, insightful and often fun times.

I have had lots of very weird dreams. Years ago my subconscious stopped trying to torture me with monsters and last-minute tests or work assignment and went to unsolvable or a-logical puzzles. Like, "You must arrange these names in numeric order and lay them out in the shape of grass." I'd wake up both stressed out and pissed off that my brain had been able to trick me, again, into getting all worked up.

But I hadn't had a real nightmare in many years. Until a few months ago.

I watch "Mad Men" and love it. I think it's the closest thing to poetry that TV has generated. And because it's about marketing, my field, the metaphors used often apply to my life directly, even if the substance doesn't.

One thing that became clear to me as I watched the first few years of the show was that, on some level, I wanted to be Don Draper. He is a philandering, shallow, self-centered, self-denying, chain-smoking, alcoholic, inveterate liar whose choices have made him deeply unhappy, probably unlovable and, I fear, eventually doomed.

But lawd a' mighty, what a very fine looking man. With a job that is, basically, the dream of anybody in Old School Marketing Town -- the Idea Guy. The guy who is paid to simply Think the New Thing.

And he's good at that. He's not telling tales when it comes to his job... which is thinking of new tales to tell. So, yeah... Of course he's an advertising genius. He's been spinning and branding his life forever. It's deep doo-doo and I love it and, some days, I fear it.

But still... Yeah. Don. Jeez. On some level, I would've loved to have been him.

Until my nightmare.

I often dream exceptionally realistic scenes and people. I've had dreams whose scenery and players I remember with more detail than my entire sophomore year at high school. Really crisp, colorful, highly exacting scenes.

This was one of those.

In it, I was older than the 48 I am now. It seemed maybe... late 50's. Maybe early 60's. I had thinning hair. Yeah, for those who know me, no... That wasn't the nightmare. I was wearing an expensive three-piece suit and sitting in an opulent, sky-high office. Big office. Great view of some urban metropolis... Maybe NYC, maybe Chicago or Boston. Didn't matter. But it was gorgeous. Floor-to-ceiling windows. Thick, dark red carpet. Huge oak desk.

One wall was covered with pictures of me with famous people in various settings. Clients, friends, vacation buddies, etc. It also had various degrees and awards displayed. And the shelves were likewise filled with trophies and awards and mementos of a very successful career.

In the dream, I knew who I was. The head creative guy at one of the largest advertising agencies in the world. Don Draper + 20 years. I had more money than the Catholic Church. I had entire offices full of people working for me. I had power and influence. I was The Guy You Called When You Needed The Idea That Will Save You.

I was not a bad man. I was not evil. I was not hated by my employees. I was just very, very dedicated to doing my job.

And I knew, in the dream, that that had had (fun to say three times fast) some personal costs. I was in the process of a third divorce. I had pictures of kids from all three marriages on my desk. And I was looking at them when the phone rang.

It was my second wife, with whom I knew I had eventually come to be quite cordial. Her name came up on the Caller ID, and I answered expecting to hear about some event that she wanted me to attend or someone who needed a job or an introduction. We were socially close.

No. She had called to tell us our daughter, who was 22, had killed herself with a drug overdose.

I have never, in any dream, felt the kind of sheer and complete terror/horror and pain as I did at that moment. I felt responsible for her death and my wife's completely numb grief. I couldn't breathe. I looked at the pictures of my kids on the desk and felt like the entire world should end so that I didn't have to feel that way anymore.

I prayed to God that I could go back in time and change something. Whatever that might be. Something that would keep this horrible, painful, shattering thing from happening. Prayed that I could take The Other Path. That I could choose differently and do things differently and be another man that wasn't the man who was about to vomit on the nice, dark red rug.

And then I woke up.

And for about half a second, I thought that my real life was, in fact, the second chance. That I had been that man... that slightly balding, rich, successful, powerful man. And that I had been sent back to do it again. To live a different life. To be... me. Instead of him.

What an awesome dream. What an awesome, awesome dream.

Now I watch "Mad Men" with a lot less angst. Because I know that, no matter how much I might envy Don his chiseled good looks, I will never, ever again envy his fate.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Film review of "Ex Machina:" soft core Pornocchio

Note: there will be no spoilers in this that aren't in the trailer. Other than to say, if anything in the movie surprises you, you haven't ever read, seen or considered anything about AI. 

There is a certain genre of film that seems to want to replace ideas, dialogue, action or plot with any/all of the following:
  • Long, slow pans of empty rooms
  • Long, slow pans of empty landscapes
  • Long, slow shots of the actors sitting, thinking
  • Long, slow shots of the actors sleeping
  • Long, slow shots of the actors walking through empty rooms
  • Long, slow...
You get the picture. There's usually either creepy electronica of some kind in the background or vaguely classical compositions that feel both eerie and elusive. There's a sense that you are being given time to digest the depth and purpose of the sparse dialogue. You're being invited to soak in the ambiance in order to pick up on the subtle double and/or hidden meanings. You're allowed to peer inside an editorial process by which, like Proust, the film maker explicitly makes known the structure of the internal by exposing the art of the external.

Or whatever.

I often like these movies. As a change of pace, especially, from stuff like the "Variously Fast and Furiouser" or the upcoming "Mad Max: Fury Road" shenanigans that should, it seems, come with a warning that it might cause epilepsy or a micro stroke. It's nice to go slow, enjoy the dialogue and have some pretty things to watch and listen to.

Up to a point. And then it's just boring and you realize that, maybe, the director and script writer didn't have that much to say after all and are filling 45 minutes of the film with long, slow pans of [for x = 1-?, next x].

There are lots of interesting discussions and observations and plots to pull out of the subject of "strong" artificial intelligence. That is, some kind of man-made program that goes beyond calculation into the real of cognition. "Ex Machina" is, explicitly, a long form exploration of a Turing Test, by which a reclusive, kinda douchey billionaire means to use one of his employees to determine if his artificial intelligence is truly intelligent.

We know, having seen the trailing and going into the movie, that the answer has to be "Yes." Because of the 4th Law of Robotics: hot chick robots are totally alive. Again... if you're six years old and the concept is new to you, there may be some interesting bits (ahem) in here... but for the rest of us, it's a foregone conclusion that she must be alive, because she's cute, petite, has somber dark eyes and looks directly at the camera in a wistful sort of longing way.

It's soft core Pornocchio.

I know, that was in the title of the review, but I'm inordinately pleased with myself over that one.

The two male leads do a decent acting job. The females aren't really allowed to, because if they were too emotional that would seem... I don't know. Non-robotic? Out of character in a film that is overly serious? I would have enjoyed seeing Ava, the robot girl, laugh or do a jig or anything besides seem properly grim and fey.

Anyway... I enjoyed it more than this review might indicate. There are a few interesting moments. There are some really dumb technology things that I won't complain about because it would be tedious for you and me. Except for one, which I'll leave as a question for anyone else who has seen the film:

Key cards? Srsly?

Anyway. I'd give the film a solid "C." Nice CGI, lots of pretty cinematography and enough little, "Oh, that was a nice little bit," to keep it from being super boring. The discussion around a Jackson Pollock painting is one of those saving graces.

I would have been much more interested if the robot looked like me.


Unrelated to the film... Something to keep in mind when thinking about or discussing strong AI... When (if) it comes, it may have an intelligence that we do not recognize at all. Or it may not recognize us as intelligent. Or we, humans and AI, might completely miss each other. Like a sea creature and a mountain butterfly. Same world, different worlds. The idea that we'll design something enough like us to love, hate, talk to, fuck or frighten us is a kind of anthropomorphism in and of itself.

That might make an interesting movie, too.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Kingsman" review: like the Piranha Bros., cheery but violent

In the Monty Python sketch, "The Piranha Brothers," the eponymous siblings are described as, "A cheery lot. Cheery... but violent." I can't think of a better description of the overall tone of "The Kingsman" than that.

For a movie whose action starts relatively slowly, there ends up being a lot of cheery violence. I mean... a lot a lot. If you are disturbed by the gratuitous deaths of hundreds of bystanders and generally innocent (or at least non-main-villainous) crowds of fellow humans... think twice. If, however, you can take your bloodbaths with a handful of salt, you'll find yourself doing that thing where you laugh and go, "Awww... Garrrg... Blaaahhhh..." at the same time. A kind of laugh-groan-yuck noise where you laugh because it's well done and, frankly, pretty funny but groan because, well... lots of death. And then you feel bad because you're laughing at people getting their blanks blanked off or blanked up or blanked in... and then you feel bad for feeling bad because, really... did you go to this movie thinking it would be a serious treatment of... er... anything.

Warning... mild spoilers coming about some character attributes, but nothing that will spoil the plot. I promise. Because if you don't know the plot, you've never seen a tongue-in-cheek spy movie.

Colin is great. Love seeing him playing, essentially, a classier version of Bond. The ass kickings he hands (foots?) out are the main joy of the film. The main character hunk (don't know him, don't care) did a fine job of jogging through almost every "lower class kid surprises his 'betters' and makes good" trope in the book. Samuel L. Jackson (with an inexplicable lisp) is... just odd. Don't understand the casting, didn't understand his character's motivation (not surprising: it was given 11 seconds), don't understand the reasoning behind his Grand Evil Scheme. He serves his purpose only barely, which is a shame, as I generally love SLJ. His henchman (henchwoman?), Gazelle, played by Sofia Boutella has prosthetics similar to the "Flex-Foot Cheetah" legs but, of course, with blades in them. And while that makes for a neat henchwoman gimmick, it could have been much more interestingly used. Yes, there are a couple good fights where she bounced around on them, weaving a ballet of death. But it seemed like whomever was in charge of Colin's fights got the good writers/choreographers, and she got the 2nd stringers. Similarly, the spy gizmos were somewhat disappointing and all, essentially, warmed-over Bondage items.

The tone is, really, what saves this movie from being average. It doesn't take itself seriously, doesn't expect you to, and -- having given itself (and us) that kind permission -- goes off in its chosen direction with willful abandon. The couple major surprises that are popped on us (that's a pun; come back after you've seen the picture) are fun and inventive and the filming is joyously over-the-top music-video-meets-sam-peckinpah. While there is not a lot of meat on this bone, there is also no fat. Which means... I guess... It's just a bone. Which, as dogs will tell you, makes a fine toy.

I give it a B+ and encourage anyone who can enjoy casual, almost glib and merry buckets of colorful violence to check it out. As said of Douglas Piranha, "When he was young, he was keen on boxing. But when he learned to walk, he took up putting a boot in the groin."

If that sentence makes you smile at all, you'll like "The Kingsman."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Risk for two: mad mods for classic board game

A Facebook discussion about the various versions of Risk (LOTR, Star Wars, etc.) and different rulesets about reinforcements reminded me of the insanely modded version of the game I played when I was a kid with my friend, Derek. We did a lot of camping in those days, even in the cold months at either end of the season, and that often meant a few hours inside a camper or tent if it was particularly nasty out. Derek was a couple years older than me and introduced me to both Risk itself, and to the idea that you can play whatever rules you want, as long as everyone agrees ahead of time. I was around 12 or 13, and my brother wasn't quite old enough to enjoy more complex games yet, so Derek and I ended up modding the hell out of Risk, since playing standard rules with two players is both boring and infuriating.

Any of the following rules/mods can be taken alone, or lumped together. Or, of course, altered until unrecognizable from the original.

1. City States

Probably the most important for making two-player play a bit less unbalanced. After picking your colors, take a third color (we always used black) and assign at least one random territory in each continent as an independent city state. We generally put one each in Australia and S. America, two in N. America, Africa and Europe and three in Asia. Each city state gets 10 units. They are not reinforced unless attacked; after any attack on a city state that doesn't wipe it out, add one unit of partisans. After a player attacks a city state for the first time, it will then get a one die standard attack roll against all adjacent territories in which you have units. If that roll wipes out the last player unit, the territory becomes annexed to the city state with 5 units.

The city state rules make it hard to both attack the human opponent, defend against him/her and try to wipe out a whole continent. When combined with the alternate reinforcement rules below, it makes the game take a LOT LONGER, but allows for some very different strategic planning. Including deliberate pestering of city states near your opponents main areas and deliberately losing to them in order to create new annexes. Heh.

2. Alternate Reinforcements

We dumped the regular reinforcement rules even in 3+ person play. Way too much swinging back-and-forth with huge swings based on the cards. Three main changes:
  • Regular reinforcements = territories owned divided by two when it's your turn and divided by three when it's anybody else's. Yes, you get reinforcements when it's not your turn. Attacker deploys reinforcements first. Again, this makes for a longer and more defensive game.
  • Continents' value adjusted up by +3 for each. This has the effect of making the smaller continents more valuable relatively. 
  • Cards reinforcements: turn over a random card each turn. That territory gets +3 reinforcements. If playing with City States, they don't get them. We basically hated how important random card matching and hording became in later game stages.

3. Navies

This is a weird one, but we had fun with it. At the beginning of the game, take a 2nd color for your navies. You use the big (x10) pieces as carrier groups and get 3 of them. You use the little ones as destroyers and get 10. They can start on the coast of any territory you have. You can move them once per turn to the coast of an adjacent territory. Carrier groups can transport up to 10 troops each and  can shell adjacent territories based on two-times the number of troops carried. Carrier groups defend, however, as only one unit, plus any destroyers in the same "sea territory." Carrier groups cannot attack other sea units. So while they are powerful, they are vulnerable. You can't have more than 3 carrier groups and 10 destroyers (we defended this idea based on fuel availability, but we were pre-teens, so whatever) at any time, but if they are destroyed, you can trade regular units in any territory adjacent to sea at the rate of 3 units per destroyer and 10 per carrier group. This makes your original carrier groups relatively valuable and encourages irrational expansionism that often comes up short. You're welcome.

4. Nukes

At any time you can trade 20 units in one territory for a nuclear missile with defensive strength of zero. There is a three turn count-down, during which if the nuke is destroyed, it goes away. On the third turn after it was created, it can be used to either: a) wipe out all enemy (or city state) units in one territory, anywhere in the world (or all sea units in one sea territory), or; b) halt all enemy reinforcements (offensive and defensive), worldwide, for the next two attacking turns. This was the "EMP" version of the attack, and we thought ourselves very clever.

- - - - -

We tried some rules for air units (fighters and bombers) similar to the navy rule, but that got too complicated... At some point, you can just hang up Risk and play Tactics II or Panzer Blitz or something. We also tried some rules that prevented massive, multi-turn build ups of forces based on the idea that the populace would eventually not like huge standing armies hanging out for multiple years. But that required turn counters and... bleh.

Anyway. I just realized today that I had never chronicled these most excellent mods, and the Internet is where I'm supposed to put this stuff so that the group mind can benefit.