Monthly Archives: December 2016

My New Year’s Wish for You, 2017


Stand up. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your friends. Stand up for your neighbors. Stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.

When you get knocked down, stand up. The old aphorism is it doesn’t matter how many times we fall, as long as we get back up and keep striving after. And it’s true. But the thing we don’t always remember is, no one said you have to do it alone. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask for a hand when you’ve fallen. And when someone has fallen and needs a hand-up, don’t be afraid to reach out and help them. When we help someone else stand up, we’re helping ourselves.

Stand together. Stand beside your friends, neighbors, and the people who feel alone. Stand together against the cynicism and greed and hate which we all have to face from time to time. Stand together. Lean on each other if you have to, but the most important thing is to stand up together. We’re stronger together.

Because when the forces of bigotry, fear, greed, and ignorance gather together and try to overwhelm us with hopelessness and despair, our only defense is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and say, “We will not be divided. We will not retreat. We will not give in. This is where we make our stand. Together.”


It’s The End Of The Year As We Know It

© 2016 Jimmy Margulies, (Click to embiggen)
© 2016 Jimmy Margulies, (Click to embiggen)

It’s The End Of The Year As We Know It:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

A couple of days ago I saw a comment on Tumblr (but haven’t been able to find it again so I can credit the person who made it), espousing the theory that in a future season of Doctor Who, there would be an episode where it is revealed that 2016 was a sentient year that fed off of destroyed hopes. Which seems like a good way to sum up most people’s feelings about how this year has gone.

Okay, so I understand that a year is a completely arbitrary thing. Humans who use the Gregorian calendar refer to the 366 days which are just ending as a year, but not even everyone on the planet agrees to when years begin, end, or how long they are. It’s the 31st of December 2016 for me, but for people observing the Hebrew Calendar (which varies in length from 353 to 355 days plus some years have and extra month) it’s the 2nd of Tevet AM 5777, and the end of the year is still months away. And people who still follow the Revised Julian Calendar (members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, for instance) it’s the 19th of December 2016–they’re still looking forward to Christmas! And Chinese New Year isn’t tomorrow, it’s still four weeks away.

But humans organize the world and their lives by categorizing things. We give meaning to our experiences by creating narratives. So we categorize one collection of days as this year or last year or next year. And w assign some meaning to our lives during a particular collection of days as a good year or a bad year or some other simplification. And for a lot of us, a horror movie is the narrative that most sums up 2016:

2016: The Movie (Trailer):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Yesterday I mentioned specifically the election, and the sorts of laws Republicans are planning the pass now that they have someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about other people (let alone democracy) weilding the veto pen, and others have focused on the famous people who have died, the rise of hate-motivated crime, various refugee crises, political problems around the world, and new scary diseases. But there’s a lot more to it than that. From four deaths in our family this year, to changes in work situations and living arrangements, to family members explicitly telling me why they want to take some of my civil rights away (and getting angry at me when I take it personally)… it’s been a pretty unhappy year personally.

I am under no delusions that somehow the arbitrary turning of a calendar page is going to bring a better tomorrow. Or that somehow when that balls drops and I kiss my husband and we wish each other a Happy New Year that any of the unpleasantness we’ve been dealing with is going to end.

But I can still take a bit of solace is saying “Fuck you, 2016!” Because sometimes venting anger is all we can do.

Good-bye and good riddance, 2016. Source: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Good-bye and good riddance, 2016. Source: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Friday Links (good riddance to a bad year edition)

Good-bye and good riddance, 2016. Source: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Good-bye and good riddance, 2016. Source: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
It’s Friday! The last Friday in a truly awful year.

I had the whole week off, and though I have not been as miserable as some of my friends who came down with a cold for the holidays, I’ve been run down, achey, stuffed up, and completely unproductive all week long. Which seems extremely appropriate given how this year has gone. And I just want to say to the idiots on line who have been saying that those of us who think this was a bad year have no perspective? We elected a guy who has literally named white supremacists, anti-gay crusaders, anti-science activists, and worse as his choices to head of government agencies. We have put people in power who literally want to take the vote away from citizens based on the color of their skin and their gender. This is not just that we elected a narcissistic idiot, we’ve handing the nuclear codes to a man who can’t stop himself from angry tweeting for hours when a woman happens get quoted criticizing him. We have put in power people who have vowed to pass laws that will literally kill citizens by taking away health care insurance, and that will take away my civil rights.

c0n5lsixeaem2qqI’m allowed to say this is a bad year. And I am not the one who doesn’t have any perspective.

Anyway, here are links to stories I found interesting, sorted by category. Because I’ve been run down and out of it all week, this may be the shortest list of Friday Links I’ve ever posted.

Link of the Week

In 2016, We Lived in Bubbles, and We Watched TV in Them, Too.

This week in awful people

Anti-Gay Right Wing Columnist Dies After Handgun Goes Off While Showing It To Teenage Boy. One of this man;s previous crowning moments was campaigning against a bill requiring gun owners to take a firearm safety course. Something this teen-ager clearly never took…

News for queers and our allies:

Fort Lauderdale Welcomes 2017 With Ads Featuring Transgender Models.

5 triumphs for the LGBTQ community in an otherwise terrible year.

ust Let Them Kiss: The Line Between Sexualizing and Sterilizing Same-Sex Romances in Media.


The Biggest Solved and Unsolved Mysteries of 2016.

Astronomers Detect Concentric Rings — Possible Sign Of Orbiting Protoplanets — In The Circumstellar Disk Of A Nearby Star.

A comet is zooming past Earth right now, and you should be able to see it with binoculars.

Team identifies genes that let pipefish dads get pregnant.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

‘Doctor Who’ Christmas Special Recap: The Return of Doctor Mysterio.

This week in Writing

Being Creative Today Will Make You Happier (Tomorrow).

This Week in Covering the News

Teen Vogue Writer Battles Tucker Carlson: ‘You’re Actually Being a Partisan Hack’.

Culture War and Hate Crimes

anaees_2016-dec-27In remembering George Michael, don’t forget the decades we spent shaming him.

Butcha Are, Blanche, Butcha Are*.

Red State Stupid; Red State Mean.

Democrats don’t really have a religion problem.

This week in Politics:

The Stolen Supreme Court Seat.


George Michael, Pop Superstar, Is Dead at 53.

In scandal, George Michael turned out to be completely, revealingly human.

George Michael remembered for quiet acts of charity.

George Michael was a defiant gay icon. His life must not be sanitised.

artists-pay-tribute-princess-leia-carrie-fisher-5-58637da90614b__700Carrie Fisher, Child of Hollywood and ‘Star Wars’ Royalty, Dies at 60.

Carrie Fisher: The galaxy’s princess.

Mere Smith: My brief, totally true Carrie Fisher story and how she change my life.

The Force is Forever with Carrie Fisher.

Drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.

Debbie Reynolds has died aged 84.

Hollywood Pays Tribute to “Legendary Entertainer” Debbie Reynolds.

Richard Adams, Author of Watership Down, Has Died at 96.

The Woman Who Convinced Us That Dark Matter Existed Was Never Awarded a Nobel Prize.

Things I wrote:

Rainbows and mistletoe.

Peace on Earth….

Let’s talk about writing tools.

Couldn’t we just make love instead.


George Michael in James Corden’s first Carpool Karaoke for Comic Relief – before Carpool Karaoke was famous, James Corden thought it would be funny to do a skit for the Comic Relief special where he was giving George Michael a ride home from jail; they decided to drop the explicit reference to Michael’s legal trouble and do this instead:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Carrie Fisher Roasts George Lucas at AFI Life Achievement Award:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

John Oliver Blows Up 2016 In Final Blistering Episode:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Kacey Musgraves – What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Couldn’t we just make love instead

George Michael and Carrie Fisher were each taken from us too soon.
George Michael and Carrie Fisher were each taken from us too soon. (Click to embiggen)
I didn’t become a George Michael fan until September, 1991. I had been aware of Wham, the pop band, but hadn’t been very impressed with their music. Admittedly, I had only heard those singles that became hits or were played as music videos on MTV (this was back when MTV played music videos all the time). There was a point at the end of the 80s when it was impossible to go to any gay bar that played dance music and not hear “I Want Your Sex,” one of the singles from George’s first solo album. And while I liked both that song and at least one other single from that era, I don’t believe I’d ever heard his first album all the way through.

Until the night of my first date with my late husband, Ray. Ray was wearing a t-shirt from George’s Faith tour on the night of our first date. And during our conversation it had come out that I wasn’t a big George Michael fan. The end result of all of that is that the first time Ray and I made out, it was while Faith was playing. Call it Pavlovian if you want, but since that night, George’s voice has always made me think of sexy times.

George wasn’t out at that point. It wasn’t just that he wasn’t out publicly about his sexuality, he was still struggling with it himself. He famously fired the director of one music video which he felt had too much homoeroticism in it and re-edited it himself. Most gay guys I knew at the time assumed he was gay and closeted. I remember one epic rant a friend of mine went on one night about why George should come out and how it wouldn’t hurt his standing as a pop star because, “all the screaming girls will still think he’s cute!” Which I think says more about that friend’s view of pop music than anything else.

When George did come out, it wasn’t voluntary. He was arrested after a cop solicited him for sex at a notorious public cruising location. But once he was outed, rather than try to explain it away, or go into rehab or do a media tour seeking penance, he embraced it. He was tired of hiding his queerness, yes, but he was also tired of society’s really messed up attitudes about sex. When asked about the arrest in one of the first interviews, he talked about the double-standards of our laws. Why is it legal for a cop to wave his dick around and ask someone to have sex, but the person who takes the cop up on the offer is a criminal? Why is sex, particularly queer sex, criminalized and ostracized to the point that people wind up believing the only places they can engage in it are sketchy, dangerous situations?

And he wrote a song about it (video at the end of this post), “Outside.” The music video is especially a big F-you top the many double-standards about sexuality society still wallows in. “Outside” isn’t my favorite George Michael song (that honor goes to “Hard Day”), but his attitude and beliefs expressed at the time, and in numerous declarations later that he wasn’t ashamed of not just his orientation, but of sex period, and that no one else should be, are among the reasons that I’ve counted George one of my heroes since then.

carriebipolar1carriebipolar2My relationship with Carrie Fisher is very different. I was a very closeted queer teen-ager when the original Star Wars came out. I wasn’t just keeping it a secret, I was fervently trying to make it not true. Star Wars should have clued me in, because looking back it is painfully obvious that I had an enormous crush on Han Solo right from the get-go. And while I loved Princess Leia, it was because of her badass attitude (“Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.” “Into the garbage, flyboy!”) not because I wanted to date her. I wasn’t one of the guys drooling over her in the slave costume after The Empire Strikes Back came out, either.

I liked her in The Burbs, and then I absolutely loved her in Soapdish. But even more, I loved her outside of the acting. Whether it was the time she explained bipolar disorder to a little boy at question-and-answer session at San Diego ComiCon, or when she talked about Hollywood’s double standards for older women actors in many interviews, or dishing about the weirdness of growing up in Hollywood while struggling with drug and alcohol addiction (if you haven’t read her book, Wishful Drinking you really should; it covers serious topics while being hilarious; another of her books, The Best Awful, is an equally fun while still serious look at Bipolar Disorder).

And I was so happy to see her playing a Commanding General in The Force Awakens last year. I have been looking forward to what General Organa would do in the later films.

So, yeah, I’m not feeling at all festive this week. I’m really not enjoying saying good-bye to George or to Carrie. And it’s not just because they’re celebrities. Both of them were people who weren’t ashamed to be flawed humans, weren’t ashamed to be authentic, and weren’t willing to put up with nonsense.

Both heroes.

George Michael – Outside:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Let’s talk about writing tools

Sometimes I still write by hand...
Sometimes I still write by hand…
When I dropped off my phone to get the battery replaced, I thought I’d need to spend about an hour someplace, and figured it would probably be spent sitting at Starbucks with my iPad. But because there were a lot of repairs already queued up when I arrived, it was going to be a bit over two-and-a-half hours. So I set my watch for a half hour outdoor walk and intentionally meandered the long ways around the shopping area first, only heading to the coffee shop after. If I didn’t already know how addicted to my technology I am, the times I started to pull my phone out to take a picture of something cute or send off a message to my hubby drove the point home.

Once I got my coffee and found an empty seat (outside, the inside of the coffee shop was packed, and so loud!) I went to dig out the pocket notebook that usually hangs out in my iPad bag. I had expected to find a mechanical pencil there, because I tend to have writing implements tucked away in just about every bag, pack, jacket, and coat I own. I hadn’t expected to find my favorite mechanical pencil!

My friend, David, has a business making pens, pencils, and other things out of wood–often fancy and exotic wood. I’ve bought more than a few from him, but my fave, hands down, is a thick pencil made of tiger wood, with pewter-colored metal bits, and it holds a 2.0mm lead. Your typical mechanical pencil holds only a 0.5mm. I use those when I have to, but I constantly, and I mean at least once a paragraph, break such thin leads when I write. The next standard size up, 0.7mm, is slightly better. For years I collected pencils that required a 0.9mm lead because I didn’t break those very often.

I apparently press really, really hard when I’m writing, especially if an idea has seized me and I’m trying to get it down. Or if I’m writing a scene with lots of dialogue. My theory is that, since I learned to type at age 10 and routinely type at over 100 words a minute on computer keyboards (and even then, when the muse is on, it feels like my fingers just can’t keep up with my brain), that my hands are simply trying to make the pencil put words out as fast as a keyboard can, so the fingers get a little frantic.

Another friend once theorized it’s because I used to play bassoon, saxophone, and similar instruments (at one point in school I was in two orchestras and four bands at the same time), and my fingers are like mini athletes or something.

But my money is on the impatience.

My favorite tiger wood mechanical pencil was in the some pocket as my high tech Apple Pencil, which I found amusing.
My favorite tiger wood mechanical pencil was in the some pocket as my high tech Apple Pencil, which I found amusing.
I’ve argued many times that the fundamental tool of a storyteller is the sentence, rather than the word. But other tools are important. Most of my life I’ve carried pencils, pens, and notebooks everywhere, because I never know when an idea, or a scrap of dialogue, or something else I need to get down before I lose with will occur to me. Now that I’ve gotten used to always having my iPhone with me (and for several years before that an iPod Touch), the need to always have paper and a writing utensil is less urgent. A lot of scenes for my stories have been tapped out on either the iPod or iPhone. For many years in an app called WriteRoom. WriteRoom of iOS was my fave because it was simple but also had its own online shared repository years before Dropbox existed. Unfortunately, the developer came to the sad conclusion that he couldn’t make enough money selling that iOS app to cover his living expenses while fixing bugs and making updates, so he retired the software to concentrate on Mac products.

Even though I can now run full versions of my favorite combination word processor and writing project manager, Scrivener, on my iPad and iPhone as well as the Mac (and PC if I really wanted), sometimes I still like to be able to pull out a physical pad of paper and scribble some thoughts down. I don’t know if it’s the feel on the pencil in my hand, or what, but my brain seems to work from a slightly different perspective when doing that. I dove done some brainstorming on the iPad with the Apple Pencil, now that I have that. It isn’t quite the same, but that may be a matter of my finding an app that matches the way I think.

Writing tools are very personal. I have favorite dictionaries, as well as favorites in software, paper, and pencils (pens are an entirely different conversation). And yes, sometimes my inner procrastinator fixates on one of the tools as a why to avoid working right now. In truth, all of those things are simple a means to get the ideas transferred from my imagination into a format that other people can read and (if I’ve done it right), evoke similar ideas in their imaginations. It’s important to remember that the story is the goal, not the package it comes in, or the means by which it gets to the audience.

Rainbows and mistletoe

db1a7f72996dddab87c646b6e857cea3We need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
Egg nog at the brunch bar
With lots of bourbon in it!

Yes we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
My lyrics may be getting slurry,
But Santa dear, we’re in a hurry!

Fling ’round the glitter!
Put up more twinkling lights than the whole Vegas strip!
No need for fruitcake,
We’ve got a great big table of deliciousness,

Cause we’ve grown a little rounder,
Grown a little bolder,
Grown a little prouder,
Grown a little wiser,

And I need a toasty lover,
Snuggling by the fire,
I need a rainbow Christmas now!

We need a rainbow Christmas now!

And if you’d like something a big less sassy:

Pet Shop Boys – It Doesn’t Often Snow At Xmas (Live 2000)

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

(I know the resolution on that isn’t great, but I love the live performance with the live boys’ choir. If you want to see a more glossy production with dancing Christmas trees, click here.)

Happy Holidays!

Friday Links (favorite ho-ho-ho edition)

Holiday to-do list (click to embiggen)
Holiday to-do list (click to embiggen)
It’s Friday! It’s the day before the day before the night before Christmas! Or the fourth Friday in December if you don’t observe Christmas. I want to point out that I’m taoist, my husband is pagan, and our Christmas tree theme this year is Up In The Air, featuring all of our Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments, plus many different Santas and flying reindeer, pegasi from My Little Pony, birds of many kinds, Marvin the Martian in various space craft, and a big steampunk-ish zeppelin. So when I say Christmas I mean shiny lights, silly ornaments, presents, and time spend with friends.

Thursday was my last working day of the year. And as sometimes happens during these times, my department was up against a ridiculous deadline, so I worked very late. But I’m free for at least a while!

Anyway, here are links to stories I found interesting, sorted by category.

Links of the Week

Tell a different story about Santa this holiday season.

Black Santa And Me – The Rest Is History


This Week in Holidays

c0bmmrquaaae0gd-jpg-largeNeil Gaiman: Hanukkah with bells on.

How Christmas Songs Help Us Fake It Through the Despair Times.

Fuck The Nutcracker: Why You Should Go See Every Ballet But This One. (Written by the daughter of a Russian Jewish ballet instructor…)

Christmas Ghost Stories: The Ghost of Christmas Past Goes Further Back Than You Might Realize.

News for queers and our allies:

Holiday Self-Care Package By LGBTQ For LGBTQ Encourages Self-Love For The Season.

A Conservative Defense of Transgender Rights.

Drawn to Comics: Queer and Trans Women and Nonbinary Creators To Support This Holigay Season.

Homeless Charities Warn Of ‘Dramatic Rise’ In Number Of LGBT Youth Being Thrown Out Of Home.

Transgender woman shares graphic videos of her facial feminisation surgery.

What Does Lesbian Mean in 2016?

Welcome to The New Queer.


5 Scientific Myths You Probably Believe About The Universe.

The 10 Weirdest Animal Stories of 2016.

An accelerating river of molten iron has been discovered under Alaska and Siberia.

Physicists have observed the light spectrum of antimatter for first time.

Why don’t we teach Einstein’s theories in school?

‘Blue-eyed Humans’ do not ‘Have A Single, Common Ancestor.

Dwarf planet Ceres is a really icy place, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows.

Thundersnow with ‘continuous’ lightning hit Hawaii on Sunday.

Spinning black hole swallows star – And, in the process, surpasses every supernova ever seen in terms of brightness.

How Science Is Helping Us Understand Gender.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem.

Sci-Fi Tried to Warn Us About Leaders Who Want to ‘Make America Great Again’.

Give Us Back Our Fucking Gods.

‘Rogue One’ had a huge box office opening, which must be really awkward for the alt-right.

A quick rewrite which totally fixes the film Passengers.

Star Wars, In One Chart.

This week in Writing

Q & A with Peter Stampfel, Submissions Editor of DAW Books. “…As a rule, the unso­licited man­u­scripts tend to be of a higher qual­ity, by-​and-​large, than the ones com­ing from agents.”

Five Archetypes That Can Steal the Hero’s Spotlight.

How to Not Waste Your Words: The Secret to Writing a Crappy but Usable First Draft.

First Idea, Best Idea?

You keep using “Write what you know”.

This week in Words

The Dictionary Folk at Merriam-Webster Sum Up 2016: Surreal.

This Week in History

The History You Know Is Wrong – our collective understanding of what happened during the so-called “July Crisis” of 1914 that started WWI is basically wrong.

This Week in Tech

Barnes & Noble’s New $50 Nook Tablet Ships with Bonus Malware. Not just any malware: “the most complete rootkit/malware/spyware packages on the planet”

We’re Getting Rid of Comments on

Culture War and Hate Crimes

Black Santa Claus Is A Hit At Mall Of America, But Faces An Online Backlash

Jewish family leaves Lancaster County in fear after being blamed for cancellation of Hempfield elementary Christmas play.

Sex Shop Owner Receives Threats After Putting “Dildo Nativity Scene” in Window.

Did Southern Baptist and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminaries Replicate a Hotel California at Heritage? Bible Chapel in Princeton, MA?

After One Woman’s Parents Voted for Donald Trump, She’s Holding Their Pastor Accountable.

Anti-LGBT activists are boycotting 58 different retailers for being gay-inclusive.

Texas Just Topped Itself With Pure Misogynistic, Transphobic Insanity.

This week in Difficult to Classify


The movie that doesn’t exist and the Redditors who think it does.

This Week in Fighting Back in the Culture War:

The Most Useful Guide to Resisting Donald Trump: It’s the Tea Party playbook, minus the nooses.

This week in Politics:

Obama adds to historic number of federal prisoners granted clemency.

It’s official: Clinton swamps Trump in popular vote.

The Stolen Election: Hillary Clinton should be president; why isn’t she?

First Amendment Defense Act Would Be ‘Devastating’ for LGBTQ Americans.

This Week in Racists, White Nationalists, and the deplorables

Can American Fascism Be Stopped?

Trolling in the name of “free speech”: How Milo Yiannopoulos built an empire off violent harassment.

O’Reilly: Left wants ‘power taken away from the white establishment’. You can’t claim it isn’t racist while literally saying you are defending the white establishment.

GOP lawmaker’s Obamacare alternative: Make kids sleep on broken arms to avoid costly ER visits.

Trump’s Pick For OMB Director Has Vowed To ‘End Medicare As We Know It’.

Six Times Bill O’Reilly Defended The “White Establishment” Against “The Left”.

Trump denies Gingrich claim that he’s dropping ‘drain the swamp’.

Trump Insists He’ll ‘Drain the Swamp’ as Gingrich Walks Back ‘Boo Boo’.

This Week in Delusion

Catholic Exorcist: Here’s How I Know the Difference Between Mental Illness and Demon Possession.


Excerpt from an interview with Ms. Gabor. Don't believe the folks that say she was vapid and only famous for being famous (click to embiggen)
Excerpt from an interview with Ms. Gabor. Don’t believe the folks that say she was vapid and only famous for being famous (click to embiggen)
Zsa Zsa Gabor dead at 99 after reportedly suffering heart attack.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update: gunman stopped without a gun and other news.

Everyone’s heard of Rudolph, everyone knows his story….

Yuletide, gay and otherwise.

It’s the most wonderful production number.

’Zat you, Santa Claus?


Hand Jive Jingle, Christmas 2016, Gay Men’s Chorus San Diego:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby (1954):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

The Little Drummer Boy – Pink Martini (a friend who used to detest this song told me that this won him over; and it’s a very different and fun version):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Kay Thompson’s Jingle Bells – The Williams Brothers (a jazzy alternative):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Sleigh Ride – Christmas Charity Single – Out of the Blue:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

’Zat you, Santa Claus?

What's wrong with a black Santa?
What’s wrong with a black Santa?
Once again, some butt-hurt white guys are calling for a boycott and otherwise losing their minds because someone has hired an African-American man to play Santa at a mall. I could re-iterate the fact that the historical Saint Nicholas wasn’t a white guy. Or I could go on a rant about people who claim that queers, women, and people of color are the ones who are too sensitive being the ones getting up in arms, but I’d rather talk about Santa.

The real Santa.

I’ve made an extensive study of the topic. Part of this is because for more than 20 years I’ve been writing at least one new Ghost Story to read at our Holiday party. And I’m the sort of obsessive writer who has to run down every rabbit hole of information even slightly related to any project I’m working on. So if you want to get an earful of information on St. Nicholas, various countries’ folklore surrounding Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Ded Moroz/Grandfather Frost, Pere Noel, La Befana, Tomte, the Hogfather, or all 13 of the Jolasveinar, I’m your guy.

And then there are the companions or anti-Clauses: Krampus, La Pere Fouettard, and Black Peter. And allied mythical creatures such as Julesvenn, Julenisse, and Santa’s elves.

But all of those things are simply the means by which people have sought to encode into folklore the truth about Santa Claus. Fortunately, a version of the truth is being shared around and turned up on my Tumblr feed this week, so rather than paraphrase that, I’m just going to quote Charity Hutchinson:

In our family, we have a special way of transitioning the kids from receiving from Santa, to becoming a Santa. This way, the Santa construct is not a lie that gets discovered, but an unfolding series of good deeds and Christmas spirit.

When they are 6 or 7, whenever you see that dawning suspicion that Santa may not be a material being, that means the child is ready.

I take them out “for coffee” at the local wherever. We get a booth, order our drinks, and the following pronouncement is made:

“You sure have grown an awful lot this year. Not only are you taller, but I can see that your heart has grown, too. [ Point out 2-3 examples of empathetic behavior, consideration of people’s feelings, good deeds etc, the kid has done in the past year]. In fact, your heart has grown so much that I think you are ready to become a Santa Claus.

You probably have noticed that most of the Santas you see are people dressed up like him. Some of your friends might have even told you that there is no Santa. A lot of children think that, because they aren’t ready to BE a Santa yet, but YOU ARE. Tell me the best things about Santa. What does Santa get for all of his trouble? [lead the kid from “cookies” to the good feeling of having done something for someone else]. Well, now YOU are ready to do your first job as a Santa!”

Make sure you maintain the proper conspiratorial tone.

We then have the child choose someone they know–a neighbor, usually. The child’s mission is to secretly, deviously, find out something that the person needs, and then provide it, wrap it, deliver it–and never reveal to the target where it came from. Being a Santa isn’t about getting credit, you see. It’s unselfish giving.

My oldest chose the “witch lady” on the corner. She really was horrible–had a fence around the house and would never let the kids go in and get a stray ball or Frisbee. She’d yell at them to play quieter, etc–a real pill. He noticed when we drove to school that she came out every morning to get her paper in bare feet, so he decided she needed slippers. So then he had to go spy and decide how big her feet were. He hid in the bushes one Saturday, and decided she was a medium. We went to Kmart and bought warm slippers. He wrapped them up, and tagged it “merry Christmas from Santa.” After dinner one evening, he slipped down to her house, and slid the package under her driveway gate. The next morning, we watched her waddle out to get the paper, pick up the present, and go inside. My son was all excited, and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. The next morning, as we drove off, there she was, out getting her paper–wearing the slippers. He was ecstatic. I had to remind him that NO ONE could ever know what he did, or he wouldn’t be a Santa.

Over the years, he chose a good number of targets, always coming up with a unique present just for them. One year, he polished up his bike, put a new seat on it, and gave it to one of our friend’s daughters. These people were and are very poor. We did ask the dad if it was ok. The look on her face, when she saw the bike on the patio with a big bow on it, was almost as good as the look on my son’s face.

When it came time for Son #2 to join the ranks, my oldest came along, and helped with the induction speech. They are both excellent gifters, by the way, and never felt that they had been lied to–because they were let in on the Secret of Being a Santa.

So, yeah, Santa is sometimes black, sometimes asian, sometimes young, sometimes old, sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes genderfluid. Santa is sometimes pagan, sometimes Buddhist, sometimes atheist, sometimes Jewish. When I’m fulfilling the duties of Santa, then you better believe that Santa Claus is as queer as a clutchpurse full of canaries.

Some people think that nothing can exist that is not comprehensible to their little minds (to quote the late Francis Pharcellus Church in his famous New York Sun editorial responding to a question from a little girl named Virginia). They think admitting those things exist somehow takes something away from them. That somehow kindness shown to some people must always cost someone else. And that’s just wrong. Any heart where love, generosity, and kindness abounds is the heart of Santa. And when you share kindness, you don’t lose it, you gain more.

And that’s the only thing that matters.

It’s the most wonderful production number

To get this on vinyl when it was released in 1965, you had to purchase it at either a tire store or a gas station.
To get this on vinyl when it was released in 1965, you had to purchase it at either a tire store or a gas station.
My childhood Christmases were propelled by an eclectic soundtrack of vinyl albums. Dad would have probably been fine with Elvis’ Christmas album, Johnny Cash’s The Christmas Spirit, and The Dean Martin Christmas Album. Mom had much more wide-ranging tastes, so gospel albums of Christmas hymns sat on the shelf next to Christmas albums by Loretta Lynn, the Chipmunks, Brenda Lee, Glenn Campbell, or the Philidelphia Orchestra. There were lots of compilations, such as the 1965 Goodyear’s Great Songs of Christmas (there’s a whole blog devoted to these albums which could only be purchased in tire stores Or at gas stations) or one of the Firestone Your Christmas Favorites albums, and then there were the (usually all instrumental) albums where none of the musicians were identified.

William's first Christmas album was released in 1963. He released four more over the next three decades.
William’s first Christmas album was released in 1963. He released four more over the next three decades.
Among my favorites were two different Andy Williams’ Christmas albums. For the longest time I thought the older album with the red cover had been recorded in the 1950s, because I couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t in the family collection of records. But also because I couldn’t remember a Christmas where we hadn’t watched Andy Williams and the Williams Brothers (and other guests) perform christmas music along with comedic sketches a couple of weeks or so before the holiday itself.

I don’t think I realized that Williams was the host of a weekly musical variety show until he changed networks in the late sixties. As far as I know, our family never watched his show except for the one Christmas-themed episode each year. There were a lot of variety shows on network TV back then, and there were several that we watched faithfully every week. I’m not sure why Andy’s wasn’t one.

And the Andy Williams Christmas shows were hardly the only Christmas-themed specials and musical programs we watched every year. I know I loved watching all of them. When I was about 10 or so one of my cousins went on a bit of a rant of what a freak I was because I liked watching specials—why would anyone want to watch people sing, for instance? But I realize the Andy William’s specials stuck out in my head precisely because we had the albums, which included some of his own original songs (“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “A Song and the Christmas Tree”), so I could listen to them until I’d learned the lyrics, but also learned a lot of the harmony and counter-melodies and other vocal flourishes. So when those particular production numbers came up on screen, I could follow along.

I understand, now, why the cousin (and other relatives) thought I was a freak. I was the kind of boy who danced and sang along with the big theatrical production numbers in movies and on variety shows. I thought nothing of behaving that way in front of the family television. Which was quite entertaining for my adult relatives when I was a cute four-year-old, but much more disturbing as I got older.

When I got my own record player so I could listen to music in my bedroom, the Christmas season was when I’d close the door and imagine that I was the star of my own musical variety show, with the elaborate sets and costumes and the large groups of dancers and singers backing me up. I was worse than that. With careful use of a portable cassette recorder, the big stereo in the living room (when I was home alone), and some of those studio musician instrumental-only Christmas albums, I recorded my own Christmas shows. Not just me singing along with the instrumental albums, but then playing that recording over the stereo then with the recorder and a second (and third, and sometimes fourth) tape, recording myself singing the harmony parts along with myself.

Freak might have been putting it mildly.

I watched Williams’ faithfully into my teens. Even the really disastrously bad one that involved the cast (along with special guests Captain Kangaroo and Gomez Addams) are transported to Rock Land and Doll Land and I don’t remember where all else in a strange attempt at an original Christmas fable that made no sense…

When Williams’ weekly series ended, he signed a deal with the network to produce three or four seasonal specials a year, and one of those each year was a Christmas special.

Williams’ work weren’t the only Christmas albums I sang along with. And they aren’t the only old albums of that vintage that I’ve since tracked down and added to the insane amount of Christmas music that resides on my computers and phone. But even now when I find newer recordings by modern singers and bands that I like, I find myself imagining those songs performed on a stage in the style of one of the Williams’ Christmas episodes, with the costumes, sets, fake snow, and multi-camera coverage.

And sometimes, especially if I’m listening during the long walk home each night from the office, you may still catch me at least doing jazz hands while I sing along. Might as well make a production out if it, right?

Make the Yuletide Gay.
Make the Yuletide Gay.