Do You Believe?

For the 14th year in a row, my kids and I drove to Pentagon City Mall for a picture with Santa.

Now 15 and 11, they know the fat guy in the red suit is an echo of their childhood. Still there, and still nice, and still happiness-and-laughter inducing, but not the same as before the veil was lifted.

How could it be the same? Once you know, there’s no going back.

Maybe it wasn’t Santa for you, but maybe there was someone or something that you believed in so strongly, and then you got to Oz and realized the wizard was just Oscar Diggs from Omaha, Nebraska.

For my kids, Santa could really be a guy named Harold, who works at the tax office next to Pizza Hut the rest of the year.

We’d still show up because it’s tradition.

The kids don’t believe in Santa, but they believe in the experience.

It’s not even about Santa at this point. It’s about us and reliving the memories (and about pretzels at Aunt Annie’s on the way back to the car).

This year, though . . .

There was a long line. It didn’t move for a good half hour.

The camera broke.

The time for Santa to head back to Ms. Claus arrived and the line was still out and around the Santa display.

The teenager in charge asked each person still in line if he or she would come back the next morning. We all said no. Kids had school the next morning and we’d invested a few hours at that point.

He decided to pile on. “Santa’s been complaining about not getting out on time and we’re trying to close.” Little ears around him heard this. Santa complaining? Really?

When a parent asked if Santa would still see everyone in line, he replied, “I guess I could try to make the line move faster.”

After we made it through the picture line, his stellar salesmanship continued. I requested half a dozen frames and then he looked at my son and asked, “She your mom? If she was my mom I wouldn’t let her buy those frames. Why are you letting her buy all those frames?” My son smiled. Didn’t know what to say.

Yes the frames are overpriced. Same with the pictures.

Yet, I show up every year—and I spend a lot of money because those pictures and frames get sent to two sets of grandparents, a great-grandmother, a few other relatives, and I want one for myself, too. For them—and for me—those pictures are echos of our own childhoods, and the childhoods of their own kids and grandkids, and great-grandkids. They mean something. The same Harold has been Santa for the last 14 years. He stayed the same, but the kids went from babies to teenagers in their pictures with him—and I remember every single one of those pictures, picking their outfits, running combs through their hair, if it was raining or a clear drive. I hold tight to every day.

And the teenage salesman unknowingly tried to stop it.

He didn’t understand or believe in the experience he was selling.

It was a product not an experience—and it wasn’t a product he wanted himself.

That’s okay.

Santa isn’t everyone’s thing.

But if you don’t believe in Santa, or at least in the experience, you probably shouldn’t sign up to be one of Santa’s helpers.

I put a few hundred dollars down and he tried to get my son to stop me—even though I wanted to pay the money. Harold is worth every penny, and my hope has always been that some of that money gets put in his his wallet end of season. The more I buy the better he does, so yeah, I’m okay with spending more on this experience.

Years ago, one of my jobs included sales conference duty, at which books were pitched to the sales reps, who were then tasked with pitching the books to B&N and Borders and Books-A-Million and all the other now non-existent bookstores.

I hated going. I was never convinced that the sales reps believed. It was just their job. The books were products to be pushed or ignored. The reps got excited by co-op dollars and large advertising budgets, but the books alone? Many went unread by the reps. They didn’t understand the power of all the books. Yes, some of the books were real stinkers, but many were extraordinary – and they were more than words on pages with nice wrappers. They were experiences. Both fiction and nonfiction could transport the reader to different worlds and leave them better off for the experience. They just needed someone to believe in them.

That’s what Black Irish Books has always been about. Believing.

Believe in yourself.

Believe in your power to create.

Believe in your creation.

Earlier this month Black Irish Books launched a subscription series titled Black Irish Jabs, which are bite-sized books by Steve, delivered almost once a month for the next year, which pack a powerful punch..

The series feeds into the power of believing and creating—and we believe in its power ourselves.

You have to believe in what you’re selling to make a go in this world, to achieve any sort of success.

So, if you find yourself working a seasonal job as Santa’s helper, if you don’t believe in what’s being sold, find another job, or at least don’t ruin the experience for paying customers.

But, if you do believe . . . If you happen to see a lady with the oldest kids in line to see Santa, and she wants to put a few hundred down on overpriced frames and pictures, let her do it. Show her the best frame you’ve got and show her the picture snow globe too. She might not be one to spend money like that the rest of the year, but this means something to her family. Help her. Make the sale. She’s been at this for 14 years and will back again next year.

Let her have her experience.

Believe in what you do.

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15 Comments

  1. Mary Doyle on December 21, 2018 at 4:59 am

    Thanks for a wonderful holiday post Callie! We all need to be reminded to believe in ourselves. Happy Holidays to you and to everyone at Black Irish books!

  2. Scott Attenborough on December 21, 2018 at 7:56 am

    Very nice story Callie. Happy Holidays – I don’t always comment, but I always appreciate what you all do. It’s inspiring – and we all need some of that special magic to keep the engines chugging along.

  3. Mike R. on December 21, 2018 at 8:07 am

    I like to listen to both Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris. Earlier this year they had some recorded conversations where they delved into a similar concept.

    Believing (or behaving as though) a porcupine can throw its quills tends to lead to better outcomes for the people who believe (or behave) compared to those who don’t. Treating a gun as though it’s always loaded (even though you know it isn’t) tends to lead to better outcomes compared to those who don’t. While Peterson has taken to referring to these as “meta-truths”, I tend to agree with Harris that that is a poor label. In the age of post-modernist denial of all truth, we should be cautious about lending the label of “truth” to things that are empirically false.

    Regardless of what you call it though, there is value to knowingly believing in the process or experience of the falsehood. I don’t literally believe my guns are always loaded, just as Callie & her kids here don’t literally believe in Santa. But, I do believe in the process of always treating my guns as though they are loaded, just as Callie believes in the “Santa experience”.

    It isn’t “true”, but it is good. And it might even be “right”.

    • Brian S Nelson on December 21, 2018 at 5:43 pm

      Also a big fan of both Peterson & Harris. Two of the most important voices right now, and of course this blog.
      bsn

  4. Anonymous on December 21, 2018 at 8:24 am

    Thanks for Books and Hat. Love the hat.
    I appreciate your love and passion for teaching.
    Im in my 5 year plan to become a writer, proceeding some each day. Receding from my great profession that works well, but doesn’t satisfy like earlier.
    BE Well
    Chuck “Rascal” Root

  5. Jeff Meister on December 21, 2018 at 8:32 am

    Callie, that was brilliant! You rock!! And yes, I believe. Thank you and Merry Christmas…

  6. Ward Degler on December 21, 2018 at 9:35 am

    Enjoyed the Santa tale. Good counsel for any family.

    Worse than salesmen who don’t believe in their products are publishers who don’t believe in their authors and who look at them only as a source of profit. My “publisher” recently wanted me to invest about $1,000 to be part of a book fair in Las Vegas. For my investment I would get a whole half-hour to hawk my book at the venue. They didn’t understand why I turned it down.

    Not everybody believes. But I do, and I welcome reminders from others who do likewise.

    Ward Degler

  7. Joe Jansen on December 21, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Love this one. I like that the same Harold has been Santa for 14 years. When you think about it, that’s an unlikely continuity in today’s world. And cool that the kids would choose to continue engaging in the story.

    Something else, regarding “engagement in the experience of ‘visiting with Santa,’ despite having consciousness of a different reality” and “books [stories/narratives] transporting the reader into a different world.”

    This morning, I sent a note to a friend. I then came over to read your Friday morning ideas, and I felt some parallels. Give me a minute on this, okay? I promise this ties back around to “Do you believe the story in which you’ve chosen to enter?”

    My friend and I were discussing a third friend, who is deep in her grief. She lost her husband in an act of genuine heroism: he dove into a crashing surf to rescue his daughter, who’d been swept off the rocks and was being carried out to open water. He saved her 14-year-old life, but in the bargain sacrificed his own.

    In thinking about our friend’s grief (or her joy or suffering, or our own), would any of it be easier to endure if we believed this: “It is true that these lives are stories that we temporarily inhabit?” The proposition goes like this:

    If we are spirit-beings having a physical experience on this plane, would it be like us walking into a cinema multiplex? We stand in front of the marquee and look at our choices, tapping our chins in contemplation and asking ourselves, “Hmmm, what’ll it be this afternoon? A comedy? Action-adventure? Romance? A tragedy?”

    We make our choice, we buy our ticket, and we walk in and take our seat. The lights go down and we forget the world we came from. For two hours (ie, a lifetime), we are now immersed in THIS world, in THIS narrative. For two hours or 90 years…

    We laugh real laughs. We recoil in genuine fear. We might even cry as we share the grief of the characters on screen, who if well-sculpted, become real to us. Yet even as we feel all those REAL emotions, we can endure them. We can avoid becoming attached to them — because we remember (subconsciously) that we’re here on a temporary pass and our home is elsewhere.

    An Awareness (capital A) sits behind it all, watching. Our soul or daimon? It knows that whatever is happening on-screen, we ultimately cannot be harmed by the villain, will not be eaten by the shark, will not retain the riches we’ve stumbled upon nor the love that consumes us, will not be crushed by the grief we feel at losing a love. All of that is just part of this one story.

    At the end of the story, the credits roll and the lights come up and we dust the popcorn off our laps and we walk out into the sunlight (the spirit returning home to its true nature). And if we want, we can choose to experience another film on another day.

    If there’s anything about this scenario that may be true, perhaps mythology and all forms of storytelling are so central to our human experience NOT because it’s something to entertain us and to fend off ennui, but because *Story itself* is a metaphor for the true nature of our existence.

    So, do we *believe* in the experience of Santa? Do we believe in the power of “both fiction and nonfiction to transport the reader to different worlds and leave them better off for the experience”?

    If we believe (even a little) in this cinema/multiplex proposition, and believe that WE ARE the story, does it make it easier to believe in our ability to create? If nothing else, believing it removes a couple layers of middlemen.

    • Joe Jansen on December 21, 2018 at 11:08 am

      Long again. Sorry.

      • Maureen Anderson on December 21, 2018 at 12:49 pm

        I got caught up in it, Joe! It reminded me of Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul.

        Callie, this is sweet: “I remember every single one of those pictures, picking their outfits, running combs through their hair, if it was raining or a clear drive. I hold tight to every day.” That’s why I keep a journal — to hold tight to every day. It’s my way of saving my life (so to speak).

        Happy Holidays to everyone at Black Irish…and thanks for the inspiration, all year.

        • Joe Jansen on December 21, 2018 at 9:03 pm

          Thanks for pointing out “The Untethered Soul,” Maureen. I wasn’t familiar with it, so I went looking. A couple things reverberated.

          I see that the Singer book was co-published with the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and I AM familiar with that organization. What a fascinating origin story: astronaut Edgar Mitchell returning to Earth on Apollo 14 after having walked on the moon. Having a consciousness-altering epiphany, viewing Earth from space. Coming back to found IONS.

          Two, seeing discussion in that book of the concept of “cognitive diffusion” as a method to STEP BACK AND GAIN DISTANCE from that chattering voice of the ego (through meditation, yoga, prayer, among other methods). What’s funny there is that I was just an hour ago trading notes with a friend (jeez, she just buzzed me now as I typed “friend”) — having a discussion with her about “humor.” Apparently, an education PhD friend of hers was “horrified by SpongeBob” because of the “violence” in the cartoon. I was pitching her ideas about the benign violation theory and the concept of “PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTANCE” (see the TED Talk on “What Makes Things Funny”).

          So, the concept of “psychological distance” comes up twice within the course of an hour. I find it fascinating when those little coincidences occur. Thanks for pointing out the Singer book. On my list now!

  8. Regina Holt on December 23, 2018 at 10:30 am

    -Fires up the NORDAC to track Santa- I’m not about the photos…but when he hits a new continent in his 24/hour whirlwind annual trek, I’m watching! Merry Christmas everyone!

  9. Mike Chung on December 25, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    Callie, this is a wonderful post.

    I feel experiences and continuity are important these days, especially with the changes in the world happening so quickly. I find it keeps our feet on the ground, stable.

    I appreciate that experience and continuity, like that DJ who still plays the requests at a bar I went to. The lady who took my order at McDonald’s with a smile for years. It does make the purchase more satisfying.

  10. sandra on December 25, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    Callie, I appreciate this post more than you know, especially since it includes your children. I’m a grandmother, so children are my favorite people in the world. I smiled when I read how your “… kids don’t believe in Santa, but they believe in the experience….and reliving the memories.” Beautiful. It’s a reminder to let nothing dampen the spirit. Your final words were meant for me: “Believe in what you do.” Thank you, Callie. I needed that.

    “You have to believe. Otherwise, it will never happen.”
    ― Neil Gaiman

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