Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read:
Last Kiss® by John Lustig is not your usual web comic. And I didn’t find it the usual way. Two years ago at Geek Girl Con I was wandering the dealer’s den, and I saw what I thought was a poster of a kind of typical fifties comic book beauty, but her word balloon said, “OMG! I’m my evil twin!” So I had to check it out. The artist was selling tote bags, t-shirts, greeting cards,and other things festooned with vintage-looking romance comic art, but with hilarious (and more modern) dialog substituted. Among the other merchandise was a lot of coasters, two of which leapt out at me as things I had to own: “I can’t eat on an empty stomach! Let’s have a drink!” and “I’m so ready for a drink!” And I had to buy the two-sided tote that said “I didn’t do it! It was my evil twin!” while the other had the aforementioned “OMG! I’m my evil twin!”As he explained at the table (and on his web site), Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise. Among the Lustig’s previous jobs is comic book writer for Disney, Marvel, and Viz. Not only do I think his work is funny, but he seems to be a really nice guy. I had hoped to run into him at a convention again this year, because I’ve had a few friends comment specifically on my coasters and how much they like them. So I wanted to buy some of the coasters to give at part of their Christmas presents for the friends. We skipped most conventions this year, so that didn’t happen. And he didn’t have the coasters listed on his site as available to sell. So I sent an email explaining about the coasters. He answered right away, said that the coasters had been an experiment, but he still had a bunch in stock, and he’d sell them to me at the same price he’d had them at the con. When I sent him my shipping information, he replied that since he lived in North Seattle, if I didn’t want to pay for postage, we could meet up somewhere instead.
Anyway, I love his work. He’s got several e-books and other things available, as well!
Some of the comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that seem to have gone away entirely.
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.
“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.
The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.
The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.
Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.
“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!
Scurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.
And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.
Muddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.
Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.
The Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.
“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?
If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.
Oglaf, by Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne is a Not Safe For Work web comic about… well, it’s sort a generic “medieval” high fantasy universe, but with adult themes, often sexual. Jokes are based on fantasy story and movie clichés, gaming tropes, and the like. And let me repeat, since I got a startled message from someone in response to a previous posting of this recommendation: Oglaf is Not Safe For Work (NSFW)!
I’d really wanted to spend more of this month blogging about either fun holiday things or writing. Serious topics keep dominating, and while some of them have at least been holiday-related, it hasn’t exactly been Ho! Ho! Ho! time on this blog. That isn’t because I’m only thinking dark thinky thoughts, or even that I’ve been in a bad mood. Honestly, it’s mostly because I’m trying to get this year’s Christmas Ghost Story finished, as well as get everything else ready for the party, and finish Christmas shopping all while dealing with more than a few long days at work.
Which, admittedly, isn’t very different from any of the last 20-some Decembers.
This year’s Christmas Ghost Story had what I thought was a very straightforward plot. And it hasn’t been the plot that has been giving me trouble. But I keep writing dialog and then futzing with it because it’s wrong…
Why December is always bad in this way is because none of my usual methods of powering through a clogged story work. All of them are based on the philosophy that no matter how bad the first draft is, you can fix it in re-write. The Christmas Ghost Story is something that I will read to the attendees of our annual holiday party this Saturday. So I have to revise and fix as I go. At least, that’s how it feels.
Intellectually, I know that if I had just powered through and forced myself to write to the end two weekends ago, I would have had all this time to go through it and fix things. But that seldom works. I’m going to keep futzing until sometime Friday when the overwhelming knowled that I have to finish this now pushes me through to the end.
One thing that’s different this year than from previous: I didn’t make a new Ghost Story Playlist as the end of November. I know, I know, as if I need another playlist. I have so many (literally thousands).
I also haven’t been listening to as much of my usual Christmas music. Please note that I didn’t say as much Christmas music as usual, but rather as much OF my usual. Among my playlists are a bunch of holiday music lists that are usually my go-tos if I don’t have a craving to listen to a specific album. Playlists with names such as, A Caroling Caroling, A Class-ic Xmas, A Dame & Diva Christmas, Xmas Oddments, A Gay Yuletide, A Jazzy Christmas, A Quirk-y Christmas, A Silly Christmas, Last Bells for the Christmas Parade…
The problem when one has a Christmas collection as big as mine, is that it is easy to just listen to a few hundred favorites each year and ignore the 4500+ (I am not exaggerating) others. So, several years ago I made a Smart Playlist: all the songs tagged either Christmas or Holiday, and they have not been played in at least two years. I would listen to that list on shuffle for a while–usually only three or four days– and then start listening to other lists or specific albums most of the time. I would go back to the Smart List every now and then, usually when I couldn’t decide what I wanted to listen to.
The beauty of this list is that it shrinks as you listen to it. Once a song has played, it drops out of the list, because its Last Played Date is now, right? When I fired up the list a few days before the end of November, I was happy to see that it only had about 1600 songs–about a third of the collection. So I did a better job listening to a wider variety of my library that last couple of season, because usually it’s closer to half the collection. I started listening to the list, as usual, but instead of only listening to it for a few days, it was the primary source of my listening for nearly two weeks. Yeah, from time to time I’ve decided to listen to a specific album, but it wasn’t until this week that I started choosing some of my usual go-to lists. The upshot of all this is that the smart list only has a bit over 600 songs left in it. And that’s kind of amazing.
I’ve also been plugging away at wrapping presents. I got most of the presents for the relatives I was hand-delivering to finished before I drove down to Mom’s last Friday, and now I have about two-thirds of the presents for other people we’re giving stuff to, finished.
Just before Thanksgiving my husband found a 4-roll pack at Costco in which (as he described it when he texted me at the time) “all purple or penguins.” And since on the roll of cartoon penguins, some of the penguins have purple scarves, all of the wrap is purple. And it’s really good paper. Now I understand why I have heard people talk about the Costco paper (we didn’t get any of the reversible rolls). The paper is heavy enough to be sturdy, and it has the grid printed on the back so even I can cut nearly straight lines.
Now this is the first year in a long time that we needed to buy new paper. Not that not needing paper stopped us before! But we both had this bad habit of buying cute wrapping paper when we saw it in stores, and winding up with more gift wrap than we wound up using. So our stash of wrapping paper kept growing and growing. During the move, I looked at the stash (only half of it would fit in the special plastic wrap-storage thingie that my late husband bought 22-23 years ago) and realized that there were still some rolls in my collection that were also 22-23 years old. One of them was a particular design that Ray had gushed about when he bought, and for all the years since he died, I only used any paper off of it a few times–specifically when wrapping a present for his mother. Other years I will pull it out, think about how much Ray liked it and then decide not to use it because then I wouldn’t have it any more.
This is, by the way, extreme packrat pathology. I recognize it.
But it gets worse!
The other roll that had been hung onto that long was a design that I thought was really ugly–but Ray had bought it and thought it was beautiful and therefore while I never wanted to use it, I also wouldn’t get rid of it.
Which is packrat sociopathy or something!
I decided the storage container was aiding and abetting our worst packrat tendencies. It’s also kind of difficult to store, because all of this parts are rounded, and it has handles that stick out awkwardly, and the lid for the section where you’re supposed to store tape would pop open if you sneezed near it. So the storage thing and every roll of wrapping paper (and bags of bows and so forth) were all taken to Value Village.
The hope is that maybe we’ll be less likely to hang onto excess wrapping paper now that we’ve learned our lesson. Wish us luck!
I need to get back to my story…
You fight it on the ground: register, remind people to vote, help them get to the polls, and be ready to challenge voter suppression
But later in the evening, I peeked at my main twitter feed. And then I went the FiveThirtyEight.com’s live coverage. I skimmed through their updates (and wonky math-y talk about polls and margins). When I reached the point when they were calling it for the Democrat, Doug Jones—calling it with a margin large enough to avoid a recount!—I started crying.
A lot of people are going to try to say that this is only because of Moore’s sexual scandal. And while it was a big factor, I think this win in a deeply red state with a well-documented history of suppressing the vote of African Americans and other demographics believed to favor Democrats is a sign. So, how did they do it?
Propelled by a backlash against Mr. Moore, an intensely polarizing former judge who was accused of sexually assaulting young girls, Mr. Jones overcame the state’s daunting demographics and deep cultural conservatism. His campaign targeted African-American voters with a sprawling, muscular turnout operation, and appealed to educated white voters to turn their backs on the Republican Party.
“We’re trying to work all angles,” said Patricia Mokola, spokeswoman for the Alabama NAACP. “We’re trying to reach not only African Americans, we’re trying to reach millennials as well. They will be instrumental in this election … We’re not telling people who to vote for, but their vote is their power.
“We have got to find a way to come together, and we need leaders that are not going to divide us, and separate us, and cut us up, and dissect us, and stand in judgment over some, and lord over others,” [New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory] Booker said at a canvass kick-off in Birmingham on Sunday. “We need someone that is going to remind us of the calling of patriotism, the calling to love, and so this is the moment now. There are consequential moments in our American history, and this is one of them.
Jones’ victory is all the more remarkable in that it didn’t rely on many Republicans defecting to the Democratic side. Less than one in 10 Republicans crossed party lines to vote for Jones. But Democrats – who overwhelmingly favored Jones – came out in stronger numbers, trailing Republicans in vote share by just six percentage points. And Independents – who make up just one in five voters in this highly partisan race – also favored Jones by nine points: 52 percent to 43 percent.
They mounted a massive get-out-the-vote campaign and sustained it for months. They registered people to vote. They put out leaflets everywhere reminding people when election day was. They called. They went door-to-door. The campaign spent a lot less on TV ads and more putting up billboards in neighborhoods that had lower turnout in the 2016 general election. They funded programs to give people rides to their polling places. They put out information on social media, pamphlets, posters, and signs explaining what kind of ID you need to have to vote, and a phone number to call if a poll worker refused to let you vote. They had observers at polling places. They had teams and lawyers available to respond to those voter suppression issues at the polling places.
Exit polling showed that white voters overwhelming went for the pedophile, but they also showed that Trump’s approval rating even among them has gone way down, and their enthusiasm for the candidate they voted for was lukewarm. Meanwhile, the African American vote (especially women) overwhelming went to the Democrat. And because of the way that the state has reduced the number of polling places in Black communities, and reduced the number of voting machines at those few polling places, it means that those African American voters were more likely to have to stand in line for hours and hours just to vote—and they did!
The ground game—registering voters, reminding them when election day is, reminding them what they have to do to vote, offering them rides, and so on—is how we got results in leaning-blue Virginia, and it’s how we won in deeply-red Alabama. It’s the new strategy of the Democratic National Committee. It’s not the way they fought in 2016. One of the journalists I saw tweeting about this last night summed it up: less money on TV ads, more money to help people vote.
That’s a strategy that can turn the midterm elections.
We can do it! We can do it!
Now while these relatives all seem to genuinely love my husband7, that doesn’t mean that holidays with them are all happy and gay. There’s a pretty big double-standard we have been expected to swallow most years: they can babble about god, evil liberals, et cetera and ad nauseam but if we bring up any counterpoints, we’re the ones who are shoving our politics down their throats. I did manage to get a few to admit this was a double-standard and maybe we should all refrain, but, well, the Bible-thumping will happen, regardless.
Things got worse and worse during the Obama administration. All of them believe that Obama/Hilary are the anti-Christs and only
Trump can save the world for Christians. Or something.
So last year we did Thanksgiving, but we did the minimum: we drove down that day, and left the same day. No staying overnight at the hotel we usually rent a room at8. And then just before Christmas I drove down on one of my days off to drop off presents and quickly visit several of them.
Interestingly enough, when I drive down for the explicit purpose of just visiting and dropping off presents, no one seems to feel compelled to talk about their latest worry about the destruction of the world by those godless liberals. Clearly there’s something about it also being a holiday that fuels some of that.
So, we didn’t go down for Thanksgiving at all this year. And we aren’t going down for Christmas. I dropped presents off on Friday to mom, my sister’s family, my grown niece’s family, and one aunt. I fixed Mom’s computer and helped her with a couple of things one her iPhone. I helped my aunt with some problems on her computer. I took Mom to dinner.
And yes, it was pretty late when I got home, but it was infinitely less stressful than last Thanksgiving had been. Yeah, there was a little random god talk, but nothing like the pro-Trump cheering of last year.
This weekend is real Christmas for us. We’re hosting the holiday party & writers’ night this year. I’ll get to see many friends, share this year’s ghost story, hear the things other folks have brought to read or perform, eat a lot of good food, chat, laugh, and otherwise have a great time. Then on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, we plan to just have a quiet Christmas at home, the two of us.
That will go a long way to getting rid of the stress.
It’s been a few years since I quoted Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, “I don’t need anything from anyone but love and respect. If you can’t give me that, you have no place in my life.”
This year, I’m saying it to myself. Giving myself permission to avoid the people who can’t give both.
1. One aunt sent me a 28-page handwritten letter listing all of the words and topics that I would not be able to mention in conversation if I visited her house. It also explained that if I brought my friend (the word was underlined every time she used it) we would not me allowed to call each other “honey” or “dear” or any other pet names or display any affection toward each other at all.<sup.2
2. In a follow-up conversation she angrily insisted she just wanted to treat us the same we she did her unmarried children when they brought people over. She didn’t appreciate it when I laughed loudly into the phone and reminded her of the time her middle song brought a young woman with him to Thanksgiving at here house and they kept kissing3 at the table! She asked him to cool it, at that point4, but didn’t say a word about the frequent more restrained kissings on the cheeks and lips and forehead that kept spontaneously happening for the rest of the dinner5.
3. Full tongue and nibbling on ears and such. It was like accidentally stumbling into a porn shoot.
4. I and his older sister were trying to decide if they were high or just drunk.
5. I’m also pretty sure that one of the times they vanished that afternoon that they had sex in the downstairs guest bathroom.
6. Some of the family did come around before Ray died, but barely two months before he did. Fortunately because Ray and I had gotten through that seven year struggle, things have been much better with Michael.
7. I am quite certain that several of them like him more than they like me, but I’m okay with that. It’s a lot better than what we had before.
8. The last few years as the rhetoric in general has heated up, it has been more and more galling on a personal level to pay for the privilege of biting our tongues all day long even during the occasional anti-gay rant of one relative…
We’d only been together for 14 years and 10 months. We weren’t one of the couples of silver-haired people who finally got to legally tie the knot after 50 or more years together. But it still deserved a non-ironic finally. And even though we had been together those years, and I had never doubted his love for me, and couldn’t fathom my life without him, there was something magical and wonderful and powerful about being able to finally call him husband legally.
I had been introducing him as my husband for years. It was a linguistic and political decision I had made before meeting him. Years before Ray died, we had had a commitment ceremony, signed some legal papers (medical power of attorney, wills, that sort of thing). And after that, I called him “my husband.” And now more than 20 years after his death, I still call him “my late husband.”I had tried some of the other words, such as boyfriend or partner. But boyfriend sounded far less serious and fleeting than what our relationship had become. And partner—well, let’s just say that one of the times I used it, an acquaintance literally asked about the business that they thought we were joint owners. So, I started saying husband. And while that sometimes evoked nervous stuttering replies, double-takes, and even the occasional angry comment, it was the word that most accurately described our relationship. And, as I had decided a couple years earlier with the word “queer,” there is power it seizing a word and wielding it like a weapon back in the face of both the actively homophobic and the more thoughtless forms of heterosexism.
I wasn’t surprised that I cried at the wedding (and cried while we were on our way downtown three days earlier, and when strangers handed us rosebuds as we exited the license office, and when a random stranger ran up to us as we were walking away from the courthouse still carrying our roses and gushed “Congratulations!” with tears in her eyes, and when two friends surprised us with a string duet at the ceremony, and… and… and…). There’s an old idiom “he cries at card tricks” to describe those of us who are easily overcome with emotion which most definitely applies to me. But what did surprise me was how, after the ceremony, I would have a little hitch in my voice and feel the surge of my eyes getting watery—not quite tears, but definitely tearing up—whenever I said “husband” for the next several months.
I’d been calling him that (and thinking of him as that) for years, but now it was different. Because for most of my life I had thought I would never be able to legally marry the man I loved. The thought was completely unimaginable! I still have vivid memories of a film they showed us in health class, back in the mid-seventies, during the week we studied “sexual deviancy,” and the film included a scene of two men in pastel tuxedoes walking hand-in-hand down an aisle in what seemed to be a church with the narrator talking about how sexual deviation was so normalized in places like California that people pretended to get married. And it was edited to make it look like they were skipping (you could see the jumps in the flow of the image) with some ridiculous music playing. Meanwhile an entire classroom of my peers were laughing and making gagging sounds all around me.
I had lived through a small number of the most liberal cities in the country setting up domestic partnership registries that carried no actual legal rights, but gave some way to register the relationship so that an employer that decided they wanted to be magnanimous and hand out some benefits to their gay employees, there was a legal-looking paper to point to. And I’d lived through the grudging middle stages, fighting every step as the way, as we got some civil partnership or other half-assed quarter-measure acknowledgement in some states and so forth. I’d watched the bigots spend millions of dollars campaigning against civil unions, angrily insisting that it would destroy the fabric of society and so forth. I had watched, as we slowly won the hearts and minds of a growing percentage of the population, those same bigots suddenly switch to insisted the domestic/civil unions/partnerships were more than adequate and why can’t we live with that so that marriage can be reserved for something special?So intellectually I understand why those same two syllables felt so very different after marriage equality became the law of our home state. As I said after the election, a solid majority of my fellow citizens — a whole bunch of straight people — voted to include us. They staffed phone lines to urge people to vote in favor of equality. They donated money. They showed up and voted. And then hundreds (or more) of those straight people turned up at the courthouses and county offices and so forth on those first days we could get licenses to cheer for people they didn’t know. On the first day the ceremonies could happen, a huge crowd gathered outside city hall to cheer and clap and being the receiving line for a bunch of queer couples — strangers! — who had just been joined legally in matrimony. Knowing that made me cry then. And it makes me tear up long long after any time I’m reminded of it.
Which happens to be every time I refer to my husband…
So! Today is the five-year anniversary of the day we stood in front of many of our loved ones and exchanged vows. We were pronounced husband and husband and I cried. He’s the most wonderful man I know. I really, seriously can’t quite understand why he puts up with me, let alone loves me. But I’m eternally grateful that he does.
Happy Anniversary, Michael!
A note about the title of this post: I’ve been reading the Savage Love advice column for decades, through the years before Dan Savage met his husband, Terry, when they started dating, when they adopting a kid together, when they finally legally married (in Canada), and so forth. After the Canadian wedding, Dan started referring to Terry as his husband in a very exaggerated pronunciation: “mah huzzzzben!” And I always took it as his way of being proud and a bit shocked that marriage equality had arrived in at least some places within his life time. I always thought it was cute. In a recent blog post he answered a question from a reader who felt that the weird pronunciation was an insult to Terry, or something, and Dan explained:
I started calling Terry mah huzzzzben when we got married—more than a dozen years ago—because in all honesty it felt so weird to call him that. To be able to call him that. I never expected that marriage, legal marriage, would happen in our lifetimes. And while I didn’t have a problem calling him my boyfriend, calling him my husband took some getting used to. So I played up my… well, not quite my discomfort with the word. I played up my unfamiliarity with it. It felt strange to say it—the word “husband,” unlike my husband, felt awkward in my mouth—so I said the word in an awkward way. I did what I advise my readers/listeners to do: you gotta embrace awkwardness to get past it. And I am past it now. It no longer feels strange to call Terry my husband, and I’m capable of saying the word these days without hesitation. But you know what? I like calling him mah huzzzzben. It’s less “this is weird and new and feels awkward to say!” and more “this is my own affectionate pet name for him!” And I’m gonna keep saying it.
I still think it’s cute.
One of the things I’m still getting used to about the new place is how to manage light inside during the daytime. At the old place1 we had one large, unobstructed north-facing window in the living room, while all of the other windows were small and at least partially shaded be either trees, hedges, neighboring buildings, large overhanging eaves, or all of the above. We were also on the first floor. The big bedroom window was in a location where people were walking by inches from the window, so those curtains were always closed just so we wouldn’t flash the neighbors. The new place is a second floor apartment and all of the windows are either east-facing or west-facing. We have a large window and a sliding-glass door in the living room2. Two of the windows are shaded by trees, but all of the rest are unobstructed. And even the ones that are shading get a lot of direct light during the part of the morning when the sun is only a bit above the horizon.
Also, we have blinds, which even when closed allow more light than the thick, insulated curtains at the old place.
I’m not a morning person, and when I first wake up I like it dim. I’m just not ready to deal with harsh light for a bit. For as long as I can remember, I prefer even when I wake up in the middle of the night and have to run to the bathroom to leave the lights off.
During the summer, I didn’t have much control over how bright the living room/kitchen area was during the time I’d be getting ready for work. The blinds would have patches of very bright light with the shadows of the tree branches painted dramatically. It was still a mostly diffuse light, but it wasn’t very dim.
As the fall arrived, the intensity of that morning light lessened a bit. Also, it would arrive a little later each morning.
Work from home days were difficult. Once I was awake enough that I’d logged into work, I wanted at least a little more light in the room, but turning on any of the lamps in the room was more3 than I’d wanted. For a while I got part of the effect I wanted by draping a translucent scarf4 over one lamp that wasn’t too close to where I set up my computer. But it wasn’t quite right.
As the morning got darker, I finally gave in…
Back when we first moved to the new place and were setting up the furniture, Michael had suggested that I get a small clamp-on light for the little table that sits beside my end of the dual recliner. It thought that the lamps on the bookcases behind this area gave adequate light and had decided against it. But not before browsing some on-line sites until I found one small, purple goose-neck lamp that would fit on the table.
So when I realized that I wasn’t getting the light I wanted to work by on work-from-home mornings, I ordered the light.
And of course, now that it’s there, I find myself in many other situations where that is the only artificial light I have on in the living room. It makes the area right around where I’m usually sitting nicely illuminated, without being super bright, and without lighting up the rest of the room.
I’m not sure why at some times for some activities I want the entire room lit up with everything clearly visible, and other times I want most of the room to be a bit obscure and shadowed and out of mind.
But it did occur to me one night last week while I was sitting in the mostly dark room, typing furiously away on a story, with the little lamp illuminating my coffee mug, that I was almost like a cat that had found the perfect patch of sunlight to curl up in…
1. Where I lived for over 21 years.
2. And because of the big open floor plan of this place, light from the dining room window and even a bit from the kitchen window make it into the living room.
3. Or maybe just harsher, since a lot of the lamps and the overhead fixtures all have LED lights that tend toward the blue end of the spectrum.
4. A really cool, very long purple scarf that was my main winter scarf for several years, though it was beginning to wear thin, and I’d almost tossed it out since I was tended to wear some newer scarves friends gifted me more recently.
First, twenty-two years ago at a holiday potluck at work, the subject had somehow turned to shopping for parents, and I mentioned that I didn’t always know what big present to get my Mom, but there was a particular kind of candy that she loved and I had been buying her a box of it every year since I was a teen-ager, so there was always a point during the opening of the presents when my Mom would pick up the box and realize what it was and grin. A new co-worker expressed shock and disbelief, insisting that any mother she knew would be irritated to get the same thing every year. She further insisted that my Mom must be faking the enthusiasm for the candy.
Second, twenty years ago, I visited Mom for Christmas and drove her to Grandma’s for the big Christmas Eve shindig Grandma used to throw. At said shindig, Mom received a present from one of the other relatives that was an enormous (and ugly) knick-knack. It was taller than any table lamp that Mom owned. And Mom had just recently moved into a smaller place specifically because she was trying to get rid of stuff. Mom had said thank-you to the present, but the look in her eyes had clearly communicated to me, “What am I going to do with this?”
During the almost hour long drive back to her house, there was a point when Mom went really quiet for a moment, then asked, “Where am I going to put that thing? I mean, it’s so big!”
I made sympathetic noises, but otherwise didn’t have an answer.
She suddenly grabbed my arm and said, “Promise me you won’t get me things like that! Give me candy, or cookies, or candles—things I will use up! If you don’t know I need it or will use it, please don’t spend the money!”
Third, seventeen or eighteen years ago, Mom had mentioned needing a specific thing for the kitchen, and I had found it, but it was in a weird, truncated pyramid-ish shaped box. And while I was trying to decide how to wrap it, I noticed that the broad base of the box was almost exactly the size of the box of those candies I have been buying her for Christmas since I was a kid. So with some wadded up newspaper and a lot of tape, I turned the two things into a large, retangular package, then wrapped them together.
Christmas Eve was at my Aunt’s that year, and Michael and I drove Mom to it. During the gift opening, one of the kids of one of my cousins had distributed everyone’s presents as piles beside each of us, and it had turned into a bit of a torn paper frenzy. I had watched Mom getting quieter and more sad looking as the evening progressed. She hadn’t been feeling well that morning and had almost decided to stay home for Christmas Eve, so I thought that she was feeling worse. I quietly asked a few times if she needed something.
There was only one present left beside her chair—my two-in-one box. Everyone else was finished, and one of the kids asked Mom if she was going to open her last one. She sighed and said something that sounded quite a bit less than enthusiastic. She picked it up into her lap. She turned it around looking for an edge to the wrapping. And when she did, the candy jiggled inside its box—making a distinctive sound she recognized.
Mom’s eyes lit up like search lights. She turned the box again and looked at the tag to see it was from me. She grinned at me. “I know what this is! I know what this is!” And then she tore the paper off like a tornado of ninjas attacking a castle. She liberated the box of candy from the rest of the present and exclaimed, “You didn’t forget my candy! My son didn’t forget my candy!”
Michael had to point out that there was another part of the gift she might want to look at. She was glad that I’d gotten her the kitchen thing, but she was clearly more happy about the candy. And she was enthusiastic the rest of the night.
So, my Mom really does like it when I give her that candy every year1.
Fourth, as long as I can remember, Mom has loved hot tea. She loves nothing more than to curl up with a new book and a cup of hot tea and spend the day reading. For various health reasons, she can’t do caffeine any more. So the tea needs to be herbal. Unfortunately, when most of the rest of the people in Mom’s life think “herbal tea” the go for camomile3. Mom doesn’t dislike camomile, but she gets tired of it after awhile.
So every years I look for interesting herbal teas for Mom other than camomile. Last week I found two boxes that looked interesting while I was out shopping. I went to a rather large number of stores that day. When I got home, there was a lot of stuff to put away. And when I was finished, I couldn’t find the two boxes of tea.
I searched all the shopping bags. I looked around the house. I looked in the pantry with my teas. I looked everywhere. I confirmed on the printed receipt that I had paid for the tea. I decided that when I and the person at the store were bagging my groceries, one of us had accidentally pushed the boxes aside.
The next day I headed out shopping again with a list of people I needed to get gifts for. At the first store I went to the back of the car to get a shopping bag. And there was a shopping bag from the day before with four things in it. Two of which were Mom’s tea. Fortunately, nothing in the bag was perishable, so I didn’t waste anything by forgetting some groceries in the car overnight.
So there will be several presents under Mom’s tree from me this year. And now you know what three of them are. And I’m pretty sure as soon as Mom picks them up, she’ll know what they are, two. Ever since that one Christmas, I have made sure that the box of candy was wrapped by itself, so it would be no surprise to Mom what was inside.
But that isn’t the point of this particular present.
1. One time when I told this story, a friend who is also a mother and grandmother told me that there was a type of salt-water taffy she liked, and anyone who bought her some of that for Christmas was a winner in her book.2
2. Another person (who also happens to be a mom and grandmother) pointed out that while it is undoubtedly true that Mom likes this favorite candy of hers, by the time I was an adult and I still gave her a box of the candy every Christmas, the candy had become a symbol. “I have absolutely no doubt that every Christmas when she opens that box, she looks up at you and she doesn’t see you as the grown man you are. She sees her little boy—how you looked as a small child. That isn’t a box of candy, to her, it’s a box of memories of her baby.” I suspect she’s right.
3. One time my Aunt found a big boxed set of “herbal teas” in the gift box aisle at Walmart. Except they weren’t herbal. When you read the small print on the box, the teas were all regular black tea2 with artificial flavoring. So the “camomile” was regular black tea with some kind of camomile flavoring. And the “hibiscus” was black tea with hibiscus flavoring. And the “elderberry” was black tea with flavoring and so on.3
4. Loaded with caffeine.
5. The set included I think it was 8 little tins, each of which had the name of the herb in question, and then behind each tin in the box was a little foil packet with three of the skankiest looking oily tea bags. And they all smelled absolutely awful.4
6. Mom begged me to take it home. Michael and I had a lot of fun throwing it away.