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:
(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.
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.
My 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.
George Michael – Outside:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
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.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.
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.)
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.
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?