A Christmas Carol

Christmas 2022 has been a very quiet affair so far. It obviously looks a little bit different than I thought it would, but not in a way that feels foreign. Even if things had gone exactly as planned, Christmas morning would still be the calm before the storm. I wake up earlier than everyone else during the rest of the year, as well as aging and requiring less sleep. Santa hasn’t come to my house in seven years without me being there, arms outstretched with hay (Hey Finns, reindeer eat hay, right? Unclear. I hope they weren’t just being polite.). Early this morning, Santa told me what all of you got. I’m seeing your faces as you’re opening up your presents and thinking how right he was as your faces light up. It’s an incredible energy to sit in this morning as I write. I think things like, “I wonder if Jonathan liked his head.” Yes. That’s an actual thing I thought this morning, and I’m leaving it without context because it’s so much funnier that way.

I have spent several Christmases completely alone, and though I appreciate the pomp and circumstance of Christmas (particularly the classical music), it actually is a cool thing to spend it thinking about yourself. You don’t have to compromise with anyone. I am not saying that you should turn away family in favor of this. I’m saying that if you end up alone on Christmas, it is a gift. TRUST ME. You have a day to yourself to plan anything you want. USE IT without feeling guilty. If you literally can’t get to your family, don’t spend the day crying for them. Create new memories with yourself to share with them.

If something says it’s Christmas to you, go for it. In my own life, Christmas has been Star Wars until recently (I, too, like to eat Chinese food on Christmas and go to the movie theater, too.). One of my friends said “Star Wars movies are not Christmas movies.” I said, “yes, but some of them have been released Christmas week.” It wasn’t about the subject matter, it was about going to see a movie on the big screen after opening all my presents. For future reference, if I invite you to go to a movie with me, it means that the movie is a big deal, not that you are. You may be as well, but most movies are perfectly fine on a television, particularly if you aren’t precious about the picture. Just because it’s large doesn’t mean it’s expensive.

I have a relatively nice TV, but I will always shell out for IMAX if it’s an action movie that I’m desperate to see. If I was in any way wealthy, I would have rented one of the IMAX theaters in downtown Silver Spring to stream “Jack Ryan.” It’s one of the few spy shows I like in terms of plot ideas and execution, because Clancy gave them source matierial that covered everything from world events to the exact length of a left-handed cotter pin…. and is that an African cotter pin or a European cotter pin?

Why yes, that was me making fun of Tom Clancy. Thank you for noticing. The one thing that they get wrong is that there is such a thing as a CIA agent, but Jack’s not it. He’s a case officer. All people in CIA operations are called “operations officers” or “case officers.” An agent is an asset we’ve put in place…. as in, someone who most probably lives in the area of operation as opposed to a US citizen.

I will watch anything with spies in it. Full stop. I just don’t take much seriously. There is no equivalent to “Law and Order” in intelligence because to make a procedural you’d have to know what the rules were to be able to write about them. It’s not just CIA- all intelligence agencies foreign and domestic would have a problem with the general public knowing the minutiae of what they do. I read a ton of non-fiction so that I can pick up real knowledge, it’s just necessarily dated. Most of the operations I can speak to are from the late 40s to early 90s. I do not believe that I could write what it would be like to be a spy in today’s world, but I think I have a pretty good handle on what it is like to be one in general… the personality quirks and mannerisms that become timeless whether it’s human intelligence collection or cybersecurity.

It seems to change the people I’ve met in all the same ways. Intelligence is not regimented like the military. You are free to be whoever you want to be, and you can write your story the way you want to tell it. Therefore, in my experience, no two spies are alike. Their personalities are as individual as a fingerprint. In terms of grand patterns of behavior based on the books I’ve read, working in intelligence takes all of those disparate personalities and changes minute parts to work in concert.

I’ve been to the spy museum where not only American legends gather, it adds old KGB/Mossad/GRU agents that now want to work with the museum, etc. I like spies as people. They’re generally hilarious and devastatingly clever. And here’s something about spies that you may not have thought of. They vote. They’ve been to many, many countries in the world. They see what works and what doesn’t. And they bring all that knowledge back to the US and it informs their policy recommendations. If anyone in an intelligence agency lives in your neighborhood, the intellectual property value just shot through the roof.

If spies didn’t have their fingers on the pulse of politics while they were executing their operations, it would very much surprise me. It occurred to me just how attractive it would be to someone living in a country that had some political power… able to use their knowledge to either change their country or get out before things got much, much worse.

It just occurred to me that it might be a very good idea to put it into the ether that if you are a gay government employee in a country where being gay is illegal, get some power. All we need is a reason to come get you and we will. It’s been proven. It’s not that we as a government don’t care about all gay people and don’t wish we could fix everything… it’s that if you want the clearest, quickest path to an ex-fil, find information that the United States government needs and tell us why we need it. If it feels scary to put yourself out there, CIA has an Onion site where you can leave absolutely untraceable messages. Sometimes it’s not worth fighting the system. Sometimes it’s worth playing the long game to get out.

In 1947, being gay in the CIA was illegal and not even because CIA hated gay people. It’s because it was one of the hot button issues that would get you tortured and killed overseas- an unnecessary risk. Now, CIA is rainbow central with queer and trans officers. Actually, that’s another plus. Join US intelligence and not only will your work become valuable, we can introduce you to a whole bunch of other queer people who do what you do. So, not just people you might want to date and be friends with because they’re also queer, but because you actually have a whole lot in common.

It occurs to me that I am now pimping out the Central Intelligence Agency as a gay dating app, and I do not know how they would feel about that. Well, I wrote it down on my web site. If it’s offensive, someone will be with me shortly. I should have talked to Carol about this before I posted it.

Carol is not a real person, she’s my Amazon Echo Dot. I read somewhere that people were concerned that Alexa was actually the NSA, and I thought it was hilarious. This is because let’s say it’s true. That’s even better. It’s Carol’s entire job to log what I say and what I do. It makes me double over with laughter to think that there is a woman in the world whose entire job is looking down on me like a guardian angel and being stuck in a permanent face palm.

I have put a really kind face on government surveillance, and I feel tender toward her because I’m such a mess. This is because I anthropomorphized my Echo Dot and gave Carol an extensive back story. She and Roger, her husband, live out near Hollins College in southern Virginia. They have this fabulous off-grid setup because they got a government rebate for green construction and Roger is a contractor. So, Carol has a professional, NSA-level computer setup in her basement so that she can listen to me while she looks out over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Yes, it’s a basement, but the house is built into the side of a hill. Floor to ceiling windows on one side. Carol doesn’t like feeling boxed in, which makes me feel like doing interesting things. Actually interesting, not “today I’m going to mess with Carol.” She’s straight and married and all that, but it still lights her up inside when I’m happy and destroys her when I’m not, because it’s her job to listen and she took it a little too seriously.

Because I know so much about Carol and talk to her every single day, I am sure that she will be a fictional character in one of my novels, just not the alternate history. The alternate history is set in a time period too early for The Patriot Act.

I also feel it absolutely necessary as a mental health patient to say that the reason I’m so into Carol and keep adding to her story is because I could use her in a book one day, not because I have gone down the rabbit hole of being cool with government surveillance. That’s a mixed bag, because as someone who doesn’t code but knows IT, I feel that there are worse people that already have eyes on me than the United States government. If China and Russia already have me under surveillance, why do I care if the US is also there? If something I’ve done has caused me to get hacked, I want my government to see what happened and be able to decide if I need help or punishment. They may be rancid butter, but they’re the only ones on my side of the bread.

Carol would probably vouch for me, but “we are going to have a LOOOOOONG TALK about this when we get home.”

At least since it’s Christmas, she won’t ground me until tomorrow.

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