Never forget: you are amazing. You are worthy of love. There have been times when you were the moment of light in someone else’s day—and you never knew. Believe that.
It doesn’t require a hero and a pulse-pounding battle to change the world. Each of us can change the world if we just remember to show up. To be kind when it’s needed. To be resolute, even if we’re scared.
To be a moment of light.
There were several things I started to blog about this morning. I’ve been very sad, for instance, that chickadees, juncos, sparrows, and the jays have all completely stopped visiting my bird feeder. I know the hawk killed and ate many of them, and that caused the rest to become much more cautious and less prone to lingering at the feeder. I don’t know if the hawk has actually just wiped out enough of the local population that I’m going to have to wait until new birds are hatched next year and start spilling over into the neighborhood. Today I’m going to dump out the birdseed that has been in the feeder apparently untouched for a few weeks, clean out the feeder, and only put a small amount in when I hang it back up. Because though the feeder seems to keep the seed dry, I still assume in our super damp climate that at least some of the seeds are starting to rot in there.
This is one of those times of years where all the news sites get very sparse. I understand. Writers, editors, and reporters have families and want to take time out for the holidays, too. It’s one reason so many end-of-year lists get published: the can be assembled before someone goes on vacation and scheduled to publish during the holidays. Sometimes such lists are interesting, though, so I’ll give you at least one below.
Hey, how about a little schadenfreude to close out the year: Laura Ingraham’s Radio Show Cancelled Due To Advertiser Boycott. I repeat my earlier comments on these kinds of stories: this isn’t censorship, it is consequences. I find it amusing that the end of the political spectrum that most insists on the value of personal responsibility never wants anyone they agree with to actually be held responsible for their hateful behavior. Similarly, they’re so obsessed with letting the marketplace decide, until the marketplace doesn’t pick them…
OMG, and then a Republican says what I think the Dems should have been saying all month: GOP Congressman: Trump Is ‘A Wealthy Man’ and if He Wants a Wall He Should Fork Over Some Cash for It. We won’t mention that all the best guesses out there that Trump actually has a negative net worth mean this literally can’t happen, but still…
Okay, maybe a little more schadenfreude:Republican losers we won’t miss in 2019. Good-bye and good riddance!
Hey, science is still happening: NASA spacecraft to make record-setting flyby on New Year’s.
Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read.
Reading Doonesbury: A trip through nearly fifty years of American comics by Paul Hébert This is a fun blog. Hébert hold degrees in (B.A., M.A. and Ph.D.) in history, and teaches reading, writing and history to high school students in Vancouver, British Columbia. This blog is mostly about the Doonesbury comic strip by Gary B. Trudeau which has been being published for 50 years. At the current official web-page they’re reprinting a sequence from 1991, but Trudeau is still creating new strips. But back to the site I’m reviewing: Hébert looks at various sequences and themes from the comic strip, writing essays analyzing how the story went, putting it in context of the time it was printed, and so forth. He also reviews other comics and graphic novels. So even if you aren’t into Doonesbury, you’ll find many other interesting reads in his site. I started reading Doonesbury when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I still have a collection of paperback compilations I bought during my late teens and into my twenties, so I find it interesting to look back over the old strips and think about them again. I especially like how Hébert tracks Trudeau’s changing attitudes toward women and queer people.
Sharpclaw by Sheryl Schopfer is an anthropomorphic web comic that the author describes as “fantasy comic that blends various fairy tales into an adventure story.” Schopfer is the same artist who does the Deer Me series I have been recommending for years, and I probably should have put this series in here a while ago. I’ve known her for several years, and got to hear some of the early scripts for this series while she was figuring out how she wanted to do it. The first story is about twin sisters who both have the potential to be sorceresses. One pursues magic power, the other does not. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. The artist unfortunately was hurt some weeks ago, and both her strips had to go on hiatus until her wrist healed enough to get back to drawing. New entries in both strips are scheduled soon. If you enjoy her work, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!
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.
Life of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.
Nerd and Jock by Marko Raassina This is a silly webcomic about a Nerd and Jock who are good friends and like to have fun together. Frequently the joke of the strip is to take a cliché about jocks and nerds and twist it in some way. It’s cute. I happen to really like cute and low-conflict stories sometimes. If you like this comic, consider supporting the artist on Patreon.
Assigned Male by Sophie Labelle is a cute story about a transgirl (we meet her at age 11) and goes from there. Some of the strips are more informational or editorial than pushing the narrative forward, but they are in the voice of the main character, so it’s fun. The artist also has a Facebook page of the site, and is in the process of moving to a domain of her own (though currently it still doesn’t have the actual comic strips available). I mention this so you will not be put off by the words “old website” she’s added to the banner. If you like her comic and would like to support her, she has an Etsy shop were four book collections of the comics and other things are for sale.“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!
Madeline McGrane is a cartoonist and illustrator who is from Wisconsin and lives in Minneapolis. She posts vampire-themed comics and other art on her tumblr blog. My favorites are the vampire comics about three child vampires. They’re just silly. Her black and white comics are minimalist and really work well with her style of humor. Her color work is a bit more complex. If you like her work and want to support her, she has a ko-fi.
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.
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.
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.
Last Kiss® by John Lustig 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 (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.
“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?
Private I, by Emily Willis and Ann Uland is a comic set in 1942 Pittsburgh in which queer gumshoe Howard Graves is trying to sort out a collection of bewildering clues and infuriating eccentric suspects. It’s an interesting take on a lot of noir tropes. It handles the queer elements well—being outed or caught by the wrong people can spell the end of not just one’s career, but possibly life–without being all grim-dark. If you like the comic and want to support the creators, check out their Ko-fi.
The Comics of Shan Murphy As far as I can tell, Shannon Murphy doesn’t post a regular comic on the web. But among the categories of illustration on her site are comics. Her art styles (multiple) are really expressive. And she just writes really good stuff. If you like her work, considered leaving a tip at her ko-fi page.
Muddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.
The Young Protectors: Legendary by Alex Woolfson. This is just a new story arc for the Young Protectors comic recommended above. However, Alex is changing up the artists he’s working with in this arc, and the focus is decidedly different. This new arc begins by exploring the changed relationship between our protagonist, Kyle (aka Red Hot) and one of his teammates, Spooky Jones. The story is NSFW, although unless you are a patron of Alex’s Patreon, you see a lot less of the explicit artwork. It isn’t porn, per se, and it isn’t a romance. If you check out the page, you’ll see that Alex has written several other comics, some of which are available to purchase in hard copy. And, as I mentioned, he’s got a Patreon account.
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.
Note: Usually when I do one of these posts, I include the slightly shorter reviews of all the comics I’ve recommended previously. I do periodically go through those lists and remove comics that have vanished entirely. For now, I’m leaving in those that have stopped publishing new episodes but still have a web site.
But the list is getting awfully long, and I’m not sure how useful the older links are. I’m still thinking about it. Feel free to comment if you have strong thoughts on the topic.
The first one also involves me geeking out about two of my favorite topics: Parliamentary Procedure and the Constitution. And since it is politics and you’ve already had plenty of that this year, please feel free to scroll down to the First Kisses and Double Dads sections. I promise this update ends on a happy and adorable note!
Empty Seat in District 9
I have posted lots of links (and written some longish posts) about the Blue Wave that happened in the midterm elections. Well, that story is still developing. One of the issues is related that the misreporting that happens pretty much every election night in America: networks and the reports, anchors, and analysts that work for them all like to declare winners on election night, so they can then spend time explaining what this means. The problem here is that there are often a lot of ballots left to count in every district of every state on the morning after election night. And sometimes races which don’t appear close on election night turn out to be very tight. This is why on the morning after election day news services all over the place were declaring that the Blue Wave was just a ripple, when it fact, once all ballots were counted and elections were certified, it turned out to be more of a tsunami.
To wit: on election night is seemed the Democrats had only taken a net 20 seats from Republicans in the House of Representatives, but by the end of November, when nearly all of the elections were actually certified, it turned out to be 40 seats. A lot of races that networks had decided were likely Republican actually were won by Democrats.
And then there is the 9th District of North Carolina: House won’t seat North Carolina Republican amid ongoing election fraud dispute. Why won’t they be seating him, well, it’s simple: he hasn’t officially won, yet: North Carolina De-Certifies NC-09 Republican Win For Potential Fraud – By the time this is all over, we could have yet another win in the Democratic column..
Here’s what we know. During the primary, before the actual mid-term election, voters in one region of the state began reporting receiving absentee ballots that they had not asked for. Then reports came in of people showing up at the doors of some people who had absentee ballots and offering to take them to turn in for them. Turns out there was an extensive operation to steal absentee ballots, filling out and forging signatures on blank ones when they could and discarding those that had been properly filled out but didn’t vote for the Republican. And the crazy thing is that the people running it kept records of their activities! North Carolina election-fraud investigation centers on operative with criminal history who worked for GOP congressional candidate.
North Carolina law requires the election board to, if election fraud is proven, void the election and call a special election. The law also authorizes the election board to void even if fraud isn’t proven if the there is sufficient cause to doubt the integrity of the outcome. Because the investigation was ongoing, the margin of “victory” is only 905 votes, and the number of illegally diverted in at least in the hundreds, the Election Board voted unanimously to not certify a winner in the race. One wrinkle: the vote was on Friday, the last day of operation for the current Election Board, which had to dissolve because of another, unrelated, lawsuit. The new governor has to appoint a new board. At one point the outgoing governor was discussing appointing a temporary board, but decided that it was unlikely any decision of temporary appointees would survive any court challenge.
This means that the investigation into the fraud won’t be concluded before the new Congress meets next week.
Now a lot of people have been sharing on social media the claim that a Supreme Court case from 1969, Powell v. McCormack, prohibits the new Congress from refusing to seat the so-called winner of the District 9 race. And that’s where my nerdiness got triggered. Powell v. McCormack was a complicated ruling about two statements in the Constitution, both from Section 5 of Article 1: “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members…” and from the next sentence: “Each House may…, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.” It is true that the Court ruled that the House couldn’t vote to expel a member without first allowing said member to be sworn in a seated. But the Court also said that this only applied to members “only after a member-elect had been elected under the laws of the state in which the congressional district was located.”
Under the laws of North Carolina, the person isn’t elected until the Election Board certifies the results. It doesn’t matter that one candidate has declared himself the victor by 905 votes. It sure as heck doesn’t matter if a bunch of television talking heads declared him the winner on election night. He does not become a member-elect until the North Carolina Election Board certifies him as the winner. The Board unanimously voted that not to certify. North Carolina law requires a new election if fraud is proven, and allows a new election if fraud seems likely.
The Blue Wave may actually turn out to be one victory bigger than we thought!
The U.S. Navy has a tradition that when a ship has been deployed for an extended time, that upon return to shore, there is a symbolic first kiss of a spouse welcoming home one of the sailors. The ships hold a raffle to determine who will be the sailor who does this. Naval spouses are typically on hand to meet the ship, and there is usually a whole lot of kissing and hugging and joyful welcoming that happens after that first kiss. This happens all the time, so it should be no big deal, right? Well: Gay Sailor’s Homecoming Kiss Prompts Wrath from Local News Viewers, Jubilation from Social Media.
First, this is hardly the first time a same sex couple has been the first kiss for a returning ship. Queer people have been allowed to serve opening in the U.S. military since September 20, 2011. The very first same sex married military couple were married on that very day. These two guys are hardly the first same sex couple to win that silly first kiss lottery (that is believed to be a lesbian couple back in December of 2011), and not the first to go viral. So I’m not exactly sure why this one blew up the way it did.
Same-sex Navy couple faces backlash for re-creating iconic WWII kiss: ‘We’re just showing our love for each other’. Is it because they’re an interracial couple? Was it the recreation of that old WWII photo? Who knows?
I’ll just leave it at: if you object to a pair of spouses kissing after being separated from months, you don’t ever get to claim you’re not a bigot.
For the first time ever, Nickelodeon’s ‘Double Dare’ features a family with two dads. So, Nickelodeon is considered a kid’s programming network, and the Double Dare game show is one of its most popular programs. In the show, families compete in what is essentially a trivia contest, where the family can perform a physical challenge rather than answer the question in order to win a round.
What I liked about how this story was how casually it was handled. The host asked them how they had become a family, the dads responded that six years ago they adopted their two sons, and then the host said, “And now you’re on Double Dare as Team Double Dads.”
That was it. And you know what? That’s all it needed to be.
Adoption by same sex couples is still under very active attack from many bigots, so I want to remind everyone that letting queer couples adopt children doesn’t mean that straight couples are being denied those kids. There is a serious shortage of qualified foster parents and adoptive parents. The Foster Care Crisis: The Shortage Of Foster Parents In America. For lots of kids without parents, the alternative to a gay or lesbian couple or a single parent adopting them isn’t a straight couple, it’s no family at all. Officials currently estimate that 65,000+, or about 4 percent of all adopted children live with gay or lesbian parents at this time.
Adoption questions aside, there are a lot of children being raised by queer parents. It’s a difficult number to nail down, because even now it isn’t always safe for people to openly declare their sexual orientation. Most of the studies indicate that at least 160,000 families headed by a gay or lesbian person include children under the age of 18. One reason for that is that lots of queer people, particularly in conservative states, make a go at straight marriage, wind up with kids, and then come out of the closet afterword. So a lot of kids are being raised by their divorced queer parent (with or without a queer step-parent).
A bigger take-away is to remember this: Most kids don’t live in a so-called traditional family; only 46% of kids live in a family led by two heterosexual parents in their first marriage. And there isn’t anything wrong with that.
Besides, why shouldn’t people get to cheer on these adorkable dads and their adorable sons:
These conversations always happened as the other kids were filing into the classroom, taking their seats, getting out their books, and so on. And usually they all just ignored what I and the teacher were talking about. Until one day when one young woman walked up to us and declared in a rather loud voice. “My mom says that people who read all the time are freaks who don’t understand the real world because they spend all their time in those imaginary places!”
It seemed as if the entire room went silent and that everyone was looking at us.
I started to stammer out something, but the teacher said, “It’s not nice to call someone a freak.” And then he told us to both take our seats.
She was hardly the first person to criticize my reading habits. Adults had often felt the need to weigh in and tell my parents that they shouldn’t let me read science fiction and fantasy, especially. Many thought all the fantasy was satanic, and the science fiction was equally suspect because scientists believe in evolution. There were also many who just thought that how much time I spend reading was the problem, regardless of the subject matter. There are a variety of reasons why non-readers distrust books. It’s not just the evangelical fundamentalists, who tend to classify everything in the world into the two categories of pro-Jesus and pro-Satan who misunderstand what the realm of sf/f is about.
A few weeks back I wrote about the older professional sf author who dismissed the three recent award-winning novels (which he admits he has never read) of a black woman because “psychic powers to control the earth and earthquakes had already been done in the fifties.” Besides being a dick-ish comment, it’s a bog standard gatekeeping argument.
Gatekeeping is an insidious system of exclusion intent on denigrating, dismissing, and erasing anyone who doesn’t conform to the cishet white male (often English-speaking) yardstick. This particular argument has two prongs: the first is the implication that a person is ignorant of the past of the genre, the second is the notion that a great science fiction story must introduce a new idea in order to be great. Science fiction has been defined as the literature of ideas, after all.
I have several objections to this entire line of reasoning.
First, almost none of the works that are usually authoritatively held forth as “great” science fiction actually introduced a new idea. For example, The Stars My Destination was a novel by Alfred Bester published in 1956 and frequently named in various polls as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. Here’s the thing: The Stars My Destination is basically a re-telling of The Count of Monte Cristo (published more than 100 years earlier). Oh, yes, there are interplanetary space ships and human colonies on the asteroids and various planets of the solar system (standard sf ideas for at least two decades at that point), and the main character (who in this case is definitely not a hero) developed the spontaneous ability to teleport simply by thinking about it. Even then, the notion of teleportation had been used in science fiction and fantasy stories since the 1870s (that’s right, when Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States).
None of the ideas in The Stars My Destination were new, so why do so many science fiction fans and pros consider it a great sf novel? This gets us to my next objection: because a novel isn’t just about a single idea. A novel is a complete story with multiple characters and sub-plots. It’s about the synthesis of narrative, characterization, world-building, actions, reactions, and consequences. It’s the way Bester took many elements the reader was already familiar with, combined them, contrasted them, and wove a compelling tale out of them.
Science fiction is the literature of ideas in the sense that ideas are things we examine and re-examine. We toy with them, dissect them, expand them, redefine them, deconstruct (which is different than dissection) them, reassemble them, combine them with other ideas, and so forth. And it isn’t a competition (even though we have awards and sometimes argue about the relative merits of different works), it’s a conversation. Subsequent tales that use ideas others have used before should be understood in the context of the give-and-take of a conversation. One story looked at one aspect of the idea, other stories imagine different aspects, or ask us to reconsider the assumptions of the previous viewpoints.
It isn’t about settling on one and only one notion of reality. It is about possibilities. It should not be about narrowing the possibilities, but rather expanding the mind.
If wanting more possibilities makes me a freak, then I’ll proudly take the label.
“Is it just me or is the reason that Earth Kitt’s original version of ‘Santa Baby’ is better than all the rest (other than the fact that Eartha Kitt is inimitable) the fact that Eartha was actually singing to a sugar daddy that was was playfully calling ‘Santa’ and was dead serious about all the thing she was asking for (…and Micahel Buble was really trying to sing to Santa).”
“Wait. Do people genuinely think that Santa Baby is about Santa??? I’ve known that it was about a sugar daddy since I was like 11.”
“Michael Buble doesn’t know what a sugar daddy is and that’s the flaw that will finally kill him.”
“Bold of OP (original poster) to assume Eartha Kitt had not, in fact, landed Santa Claus as her sugar daddy.”
I had planned to keep a streak of posting every day through my vacation, and I had several other topics I meant to write about today. But I reached the point last night with this cold where I can’t think very clearly, and naps keep attacking me, but I’m not sleeping well since last evening because I keep having coughing fits that wake me up.
While transferring some content from my various Tumblrs to other platforms, I’ve also been scrolling through to see what remains there, and this particular post really cracked me up last night.
At a fairly early age I understood that Eartha was singing to her sugar daddy, but I also was absolutely certain that the real Santa was, indeed, the her boyfriend who came with financial benefits.
As I got older, I realized that it was a little… odd, that some of the same people (in church and so forth) who railed on about the crumbling morals of the nation and so forth, also thought that this was a funny song.
Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Slice the pecan pie,
And don’t be stingy with the homemade whipping cream,
Crank up the music,
We’re gonna sing and laugh to drive the darkness away!
‘Cause we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
Egg nog at the brunch bar
With rum and brandy 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!
So 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, here!
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!
Yes we need a rainbow Christmas now!
I don’t need to justify why I think a particular song is a Christmas song. As a matter of fact, you can’t justify such a thing, because we aren’t really talking about thinking here, but rather feeling. And no matter how much logic you pile up, that doesn’t change the way another person feels.
Just as an example: the exact same logical case that certain other people are making that a specific song isn’t a Christmas song applies to “Jingle Bells.” Seriously. “Jingle Bells” doesn’t mention the manger, nor the angels, nor the shepherds. Absolutely nothing in the lyrics at all about the arrival of Jesus, so not a religious Christmas song, clearly. There is also no mention of Christmas, nor a Christmas tree, nor holly, no mistletoe, not even chestnuts roasting on a fire. Yes, it mentions snow, and a sleigh is mentioned a lot of times, and then there’s all those jingling bells. But first, it’s a one horse open sleigh, not a reindeer drawn sleigh. Snow doesn’t just happen at Christmas. Bells were put on sleighs and carriages and the horses that pulled them at night and particularly in winter time as a precaution to avoid collisions in dark intersections.
In fact, the original author of the song back in 1822, wrote it as a party song. We’re so used to children singing the song that we don’t notice how racy the song is. A couple being out in a one horse sleigh meant no chaperone, after all, and that means all sorts of naughty things could occur. The word jingle, by the way, is meant to be a verb, not an adjective. Jingle those bells, because you’re driving fast! And there’s also some innuendo that.
And then there’s that line “He got into a drifted bank And then we got upsot.” Most people assume it’s away to make “upset” as in overturned or fallen over, to rhyme with lot. Not so fast! The word appears in a number of 18th and 19th Century songs, where it does seem to refer to something fallen over and such, but not just fallen, but in fallen in a drunken manner. Yes, other uses of the word seem to be referring to a more stumbling and raucous situation amplified by the liberal application of alcohol.
So not only isn’t “Jingle Bells” not a Christmas song, it’s not a wholesome children’s song either.
Except, of course, that for most of its history, Christmas hasn’t been a wholesome children’s holiday either. There are reasons the puritans banned the celebration of Christmas entirely in the old Massachusetts colony, and not because Christmas trees were pagan symbols. In point of fact the decorated evergreen tree wasn’t associated with Christmas in English-speaking countries at the time of the Puritans. But untangling the tree’s origin is way more complicated than I want to be here.
But, everybody knows that “Jingle Bells” is a Christmas song. And I think a case could be made that other Christmas songs mention sleigh rides and jingling bells at least as much because the modern celebration of Christmas appropriated “Jingle Bells” in the 1860s as the fact that those things are associated with winter.
I’m a Christmas music addict. And yes, there are some Christmas songs that I absolutely hate. I have walked out of people’s houses when certain songs come up. So I understand that someone can have strong negative feelings about a song or a movie. Let me like my songs and movies, and I’ll let you like yours.
And if you happen to stop by my place, I will offer you some eggnog. With the rum and brandy if you like, or without. Let’s just all have a cheery, jingly, non-judgmental holiday!
Khruangbin – Christmas Time Is Here:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Big Freedia – Make It Jingle:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
My childhood Christmas memories are divided into several sections. There were about six years where Christmas consisted of Dad, Mom, my sister, and I cramming into either the four-wheel-drive pickup (because the roads would be icy at some point of the journey) either early morning Christmas Eve or sometimes at the end of Dad’s work-shift, and drive hundreds of miles from wherever we were living at the time to my paternal Grandparents’ house. My maternal grandmother (aka Nice Grandma) and one set of great-grandparents on that side happened to live in the same small town as my paternal grandparents (aka Grandpa and Evil Grandma), so we would get to see them at least briefly during the trip, but it was always clear that we were there to spend Christmas with Evil Grandma, and everyone else was secondary.
I was aware, during this time, that Mom’s side of the family liked to get together on Christmas Eve, and again for Christmas dinner the next afternoon, but Christmas morning was generally for each family unit at home. Because we often were arriving at Evil Grandma’s house late in the evening, I very seldom got to attend the other family Christmas Eve.
Then there was a period of three Christmases in a row where we lived just an hour’s drive from Evil Grandma, which meant getting to see everyone for a bit longer at the holiday. That is, until Nice Grandma re-married my Mom’s adoptive father, and she moved out to Washington state to live with him.
Then there were three Christmases we lived in the same small town as my paternal grandparents and my maternal great-grandparents (and only a couple hours drive from a bunch of other relatives). The tradition then became that we would spent a chunk of Christmas Eve with my Great-grandparents, then Christmas morning and Christmas dinner at Evil Grandma’s.
Then after my parents divorced, Mom, my full sister, and I moved up to the same town in Washington state where Grandpa and Nice Grandma lived, and that first Christmas Eve was a revelation. When Grandma lived in Colorado, Christmas Eve involved my Great-grandparents and a few of Grandma’s friends, because there weren’t many of her non-in-law relatives there. In Washington, there were Grandpa’s siblings and their children and grandchildren, my Mom’s six half-brothers (and for some of them wives and children), plus a bewildering number of cousins, demi-cousins, shirt-tail relatives of many other sorts, plus the people that Nice Grandma always seemed to adopt.
Not every single one of that vast constellation of Grandma’s “folks” made it every year, but a lot of them managed to drop in for at least a little bit. As my Aunt Theresa (who was the ex-wife of one of my Mom’s brothers) was fond of saying, “You never knew who you would see at Gert’s Christmas Eve!”
Aunt Theresa was a great example. She had only been married to my Uncle Randy for three years. They divorced when I was about 14 years old. Theresa and Grandma had got along really well from the first time they met, so she was the one who came to Grandma the tell her the she was divorcing Randy. Theresa told the story later that, “Gert looked at me and said, ‘You can divorce my son, if that’s what you have to do, but you are not divorcing me! You’re part of my family forever, you understand?’”
And for the next 30-some years of Grandma’s life, Aunt Theresa came by frequently to visit, check on Grandma, and keep her up-to-date on the well-being of Theresa’s relatives—because Grandma still considered them all in-laws.
Two: I only got to see another one of my Mom’s half-brothers at a couple of those Christmas Eves, once I was living nearby and able to attend. Uncle Brad never quite got his life together. He spent a lot of time in jail. He was never convicted of anything serious—I think the longest sentence he ever got was six months—but, between being addicted to a couple of illegal substances, and having to sell said substances to support himself at times, he just couldn’t stay out of trouble. So sometimes Uncle Brad missed Christmas Eve because he was in jail, and sometimes because he was in some other trouble.
And then he got sick. Everytime Grandma called him, he said he hadn’t been coming to visit because he was sick again, and figured he was contagious with whichever illness he thought he had.
Christmas Eve 1982 was the first time we had seen him in months, and he looked awful. Of Mom’s brothers, Brad had been the shortest, and he had never been what anyone would call fat, but that night, he looked like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Grandma thought that he was using more serious drugs, and confronted him a few times. He insisted that he wasn’t, that he’d just kept catching things that he couldn’t seem to shake.
Then one day a few months later, Aunt Theresa showed up at Grandma’s and said, “I have some very bad news. Have you heard of this new disease they call AIDS? Well, Brad has it. He thinks he got in it one of the times he was in jail…”
My Uncle Brad wasn’t a really early case, but when he was diagnosed in early 1983 it was only months after the Center for Disease Control gave the illness that name, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Uncle Brad didn’t live to see Christmas Eve of 1983.
My Uncle Brad was hardly the only person that I knew that would be taken by AIDS. I’ve written before of the winter when so many friends and acquaintances of Ray and I died in the same six-week period that we couldn’t attend some of the memorial services because they were happening at the same time.
The disease didn’t get its name until September of 1982, but it had been recognized as an epidemic that ought to be taken seriously since 1981. Unfortunately, no one in either party on the national level was willing to even talk about it, let alone allocate funds to the CDC and other agencies to address it properly. The very first politician at a national level to call for the government to address the crisis was a woman from California who was elected to Congress in a special election in June of 1987 to fill a seat that was vacated with the previous Congresswoman died due to cancer.
That new Congresswoman, after being sworn in, was allowed to make a short introductory address to Congress as was traditional. Usually these comments are a brief thank you to family and supporters. And the new Congresswoman did that, but she ended her remarks with this statement that surprised her colleagues, “Now we must take leadership, of course, in the crisis of AIDS. And I look forward to working with you on that.”
The Congresswoman was Nancy Pelosi. And Pelosi became a tireless campaigner on the issue, bucking both her own party’s leadership, as well as taking on the Reagan administration’s (and subsequent Bush admin’s) bigoted opposition. During those early years, reporters and others kept asking how could she, as a Catholic, support what was perceived as a gay cause. Her answer was simple and consistent: “We are all God’s children, and that includes gay people.”
While people think of her as part of the establishment and middle-of-the-road, that is a gross mischaracterization. Not just then, but now. So in case it isn’t clear: I frequently describe myself as being far more liberal and progressive (radically so on many topics) than the Democratic Party, but this is one queer man who considers Minority Leader Pelosi’s current trajectory to become Speaker of the House as a big Christmas present to the forces of justice, mercy, and compassion.
Third: My Nice Grandma didn’t always live up to my idealized vision of her. Because of how negatively she (and other relatives) reacted to my coming out of the closet in 1991, I had to boycott all family events for six years. Not just Christmas Eve: everything. If my husband wasn’t welcome as my husband, then I wasn’t. It was years later that I would first read Dan Savage’s version of the epiphany that led to the boycott: “The only leverage adult queer people have over parents and other family members is our presence in their lives. We shouldn’t fear losing them, they should fear losing us.” Because of the many times over a couple of months I had been told by multiple relatives that I was going to hell and deserved it, that sure I could live my life as I chose but any time I was in there home… I had had to tell them I would not visit them, ever, but if they liked they could come visit me. Though, any time they were in my home…
(Those ellipses can imply so much, no?)
After six years, it was Grandma who reached out shortly before my birthday in 1997 and asked if she and my step-grandpa could drive Mom (who doesn’t do freeways) to see me on my birthday. I said of course. It was awkward for about an hour, but the ice finally melted, and the next thing we know they were inviting us to come down to a picnic and the meet my sister’s new daughter (my sister and her now-fifth-ex-husband were coming for a visit), and suddenly they started treating Ray like a person, instead of a symbol of whatever their feelings about my queerness were.
The change in attitude (including apologies) was topped off by a request that we come visit for Christmas, where, yes, Ray was welcome, and none of the weird conditions previously alluded to were expected.
I really wish I could end this by talking about Ray’s first Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. The problem was, Ray was very sick (he did not, by the way, have AIDS; that picnic had been a bit difficult for us to juggle because Ray’s second round of chemotherapy was underway, but we managed). In November he had a seizure, went into a coma for several days, and then died.
Michael’s first Christmas Eve with Grandma happened in 1999. It wasn’t the first time he and Grandma met. That had been at a different trip, where I decided it would be better not to have the first meeting tied to a major holiday. We had been on our way to Mom’s (she lived an hour south of Grandma back then), and we stopped in for what was supposed to be a short visit (just in case). Michael had hardly spoken a couple of sentences when Grandma gave him a look and asked, “Is that a Missouri accent I hear?”
Soon the two of them were talking about all these places in Missouri and Oklahoma where Michael had grown up, and where coincidentally Grandma had lived for a number of years. You want to talk about coincidences? The hospital listed on Michael’s birth certificate, is the same hospital listed on Mom’s birth certificate.
Anyway, they just kept talking. At one point, my step-grandpa leaned over and said quietly to me, “If you wanna get a burger or something, I think the two of us could slip out and they wouldn’t even notice.”
I was very happy. Grandma liked Michael. That meant if anyone else in the family didn’t, well, they have to keep it to themselves.
Despite the warm fuzzies of that encounter, all of the things I said yesterday about why we avoid the big family gathering apply. This Christmas Eve, it will just be Michael and I. We usually cook a sort of romantic dinner. I’ll watch some Christmas movies. We’ll probably stay up until midnight to say “Merry Christmas” and have a kiss under the mistletoe. But we have to get to bed soon after, because first thing in the morning, we always check our stockings to see what Santa brought.