I’d really wanted to spend more of this month blogging about either fun holiday things or writing. Serious topics keep dominating, and while some of them have at least been holiday-related, it hasn’t exactly been Ho! Ho! Ho! time on this blog. That isn’t because I’m only thinking dark thinky thoughts, or even that I’ve been in a bad mood. Honestly, it’s mostly because I’m trying to get this year’s Christmas Ghost Story finished, as well as get everything else ready for the party, and finish Christmas shopping all while dealing with more than a few long days at work.
Which, admittedly, isn’t very different from any of the last 20-some Decembers.
This year’s Christmas Ghost Story had what I thought was a very straightforward plot. And it hasn’t been the plot that has been giving me trouble. But I keep writing dialog and then futzing with it because it’s wrong…
Why December is always bad in this way is because none of my usual methods of powering through a clogged story work. All of them are based on the philosophy that no matter how bad the first draft is, you can fix it in re-write. The Christmas Ghost Story is something that I will read to the attendees of our annual holiday party this Saturday. So I have to revise and fix as I go. At least, that’s how it feels.
Intellectually, I know that if I had just powered through and forced myself to write to the end two weekends ago, I would have had all this time to go through it and fix things. But that seldom works. I’m going to keep futzing until sometime Friday when the overwhelming knowled that I have to finish this now pushes me through to the end.
One thing that’s different this year than from previous: I didn’t make a new Ghost Story Playlist as the end of November. I know, I know, as if I need another playlist. I have so many (literally thousands).
I also haven’t been listening to as much of my usual Christmas music. Please note that I didn’t say as much Christmas music as usual, but rather as much OF my usual. Among my playlists are a bunch of holiday music lists that are usually my go-tos if I don’t have a craving to listen to a specific album. Playlists with names such as, A Caroling Caroling, A Class-ic Xmas, A Dame & Diva Christmas, Xmas Oddments, A Gay Yuletide, A Jazzy Christmas, A Quirk-y Christmas, A Silly Christmas, Last Bells for the Christmas Parade…
The problem when one has a Christmas collection as big as mine, is that it is easy to just listen to a few hundred favorites each year and ignore the 4500+ (I am not exaggerating) others. So, several years ago I made a Smart Playlist: all the songs tagged either Christmas or Holiday, and they have not been played in at least two years. I would listen to that list on shuffle for a while–usually only three or four days– and then start listening to other lists or specific albums most of the time. I would go back to the Smart List every now and then, usually when I couldn’t decide what I wanted to listen to.
The beauty of this list is that it shrinks as you listen to it. Once a song has played, it drops out of the list, because its Last Played Date is now, right? When I fired up the list a few days before the end of November, I was happy to see that it only had about 1600 songs–about a third of the collection. So I did a better job listening to a wider variety of my library that last couple of season, because usually it’s closer to half the collection. I started listening to the list, as usual, but instead of only listening to it for a few days, it was the primary source of my listening for nearly two weeks. Yeah, from time to time I’ve decided to listen to a specific album, but it wasn’t until this week that I started choosing some of my usual go-to lists. The upshot of all this is that the smart list only has a bit over 600 songs left in it. And that’s kind of amazing.
I’ve also been plugging away at wrapping presents. I got most of the presents for the relatives I was hand-delivering to finished before I drove down to Mom’s last Friday, and now I have about two-thirds of the presents for other people we’re giving stuff to, finished.
Just before Thanksgiving my husband found a 4-roll pack at Costco in which (as he described it when he texted me at the time) “all purple or penguins.” And since on the roll of cartoon penguins, some of the penguins have purple scarves, all of the wrap is purple. And it’s really good paper. Now I understand why I have heard people talk about the Costco paper (we didn’t get any of the reversible rolls). The paper is heavy enough to be sturdy, and it has the grid printed on the back so even I can cut nearly straight lines.
Now this is the first year in a long time that we needed to buy new paper. Not that not needing paper stopped us before! But we both had this bad habit of buying cute wrapping paper when we saw it in stores, and winding up with more gift wrap than we wound up using. So our stash of wrapping paper kept growing and growing. During the move, I looked at the stash (only half of it would fit in the special plastic wrap-storage thingie that my late husband bought 22-23 years ago) and realized that there were still some rolls in my collection that were also 22-23 years old. One of them was a particular design that Ray had gushed about when he bought, and for all the years since he died, I only used any paper off of it a few times–specifically when wrapping a present for his mother. Other years I will pull it out, think about how much Ray liked it and then decide not to use it because then I wouldn’t have it any more.
This is, by the way, extreme packrat pathology. I recognize it.
But it gets worse!
The other roll that had been hung onto that long was a design that I thought was really ugly–but Ray had bought it and thought it was beautiful and therefore while I never wanted to use it, I also wouldn’t get rid of it.
Which is packrat sociopathy or something!
I decided the storage container was aiding and abetting our worst packrat tendencies. It’s also kind of difficult to store, because all of this parts are rounded, and it has handles that stick out awkwardly, and the lid for the section where you’re supposed to store tape would pop open if you sneezed near it. So the storage thing and every roll of wrapping paper (and bags of bows and so forth) were all taken to Value Village.
The hope is that maybe we’ll be less likely to hang onto excess wrapping paper now that we’ve learned our lesson. Wish us luck!
I need to get back to my story…
Now while these relatives all seem to genuinely love my husband7, that doesn’t mean that holidays with them are all happy and gay. There’s a pretty big double-standard we have been expected to swallow most years: they can babble about god, evil liberals, et cetera and ad nauseam but if we bring up any counterpoints, we’re the ones who are shoving our politics down their throats. I did manage to get a few to admit this was a double-standard and maybe we should all refrain, but, well, the Bible-thumping will happen, regardless.
Things got worse and worse during the Obama administration. All of them believe that Obama/Hilary are the anti-Christs and only
Trump can save the world for Christians. Or something.
So last year we did Thanksgiving, but we did the minimum: we drove down that day, and left the same day. No staying overnight at the hotel we usually rent a room at8. And then just before Christmas I drove down on one of my days off to drop off presents and quickly visit several of them.
Interestingly enough, when I drive down for the explicit purpose of just visiting and dropping off presents, no one seems to feel compelled to talk about their latest worry about the destruction of the world by those godless liberals. Clearly there’s something about it also being a holiday that fuels some of that.
So, we didn’t go down for Thanksgiving at all this year. And we aren’t going down for Christmas. I dropped presents off on Friday to mom, my sister’s family, my grown niece’s family, and one aunt. I fixed Mom’s computer and helped her with a couple of things one her iPhone. I helped my aunt with some problems on her computer. I took Mom to dinner.
And yes, it was pretty late when I got home, but it was infinitely less stressful than last Thanksgiving had been. Yeah, there was a little random god talk, but nothing like the pro-Trump cheering of last year.
This weekend is real Christmas for us. We’re hosting the holiday party & writers’ night this year. I’ll get to see many friends, share this year’s ghost story, hear the things other folks have brought to read or perform, eat a lot of good food, chat, laugh, and otherwise have a great time. Then on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, we plan to just have a quiet Christmas at home, the two of us.
That will go a long way to getting rid of the stress.
It’s been a few years since I quoted Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, “I don’t need anything from anyone but love and respect. If you can’t give me that, you have no place in my life.”
This year, I’m saying it to myself. Giving myself permission to avoid the people who can’t give both.
1. One aunt sent me a 28-page handwritten letter listing all of the words and topics that I would not be able to mention in conversation if I visited her house. It also explained that if I brought my friend (the word was underlined every time she used it) we would not me allowed to call each other “honey” or “dear” or any other pet names or display any affection toward each other at all.<sup.2
2. In a follow-up conversation she angrily insisted she just wanted to treat us the same we she did her unmarried children when they brought people over. She didn’t appreciate it when I laughed loudly into the phone and reminded her of the time her middle song brought a young woman with him to Thanksgiving at here house and they kept kissing3 at the table! She asked him to cool it, at that point4, but didn’t say a word about the frequent more restrained kissings on the cheeks and lips and forehead that kept spontaneously happening for the rest of the dinner5.
3. Full tongue and nibbling on ears and such. It was like accidentally stumbling into a porn shoot.
4. I and his older sister were trying to decide if they were high or just drunk.
5. I’m also pretty sure that one of the times they vanished that afternoon that they had sex in the downstairs guest bathroom.
6. Some of the family did come around before Ray died, but barely two months before he did. Fortunately because Ray and I had gotten through that seven year struggle, things have been much better with Michael.
7. I am quite certain that several of them like him more than they like me, but I’m okay with that. It’s a lot better than what we had before.
8. The last few years as the rhetoric in general has heated up, it has been more and more galling on a personal level to pay for the privilege of biting our tongues all day long even during the occasional anti-gay rant of one relative…
Really good article: Most Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong
So, here are things I’m thankful for:
- my smart, sweet, sexy, super capable, long-suffering husband
- the many cute birds that visit my bird feeder every day
- sci fi books that tell of wonderful futures
- people who help other people
- people who make art
- my crazy, sometimes infuriating relatives who probably find me even more bewildering than I ever do them
- not having to spend the holiday with (especially) the most infuriating relatives this year
- people who love
- radio and wireless technologies
- kittens and puppies and tigers and otters
- the many almost magical computing devices that I can now wear on my wrist, carry in my pocket, and otherwise bring a wealth of information and possibilities that was only barely imaginable when I was a kid
- all my wonderful friends—who are talented, kind, giving, and clearly the most patient people in the world, because they put up with me
Thank you, each and every one. And whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or not, I hope you have a wonderful day full of blessings, because you deserve it
America was inhabited already when Columbus blundered his way into the West Indies. They are called the West Indies, in case you didn’t know, because he thought he had sailed all the way around the world to Japan, China, and India. Seriously. He was convinced that San Salvador was Japan, and Cuba was China.
Columbus wasn’t a great thinker. Contrary to what school teachers were still telling us when I was in grade school, Europeans had known for centuries that the world was round. And Pythagoras and Aristotle had both deduced that the Earth was a sphere because of the shape of the Earth’s shadow on the moon during Lunar eclipses. Eratosthenes calculated the size of the Earth pretty accurately based on shadows at different latitudes more than 200 years before the time of Christ (He also correctly deduced the tilt of the Earth’s axis a bit later).
Columbus thought that Eratosthenes was wrong, that the Earth was much smaller, and that it would take only a short time sailing west to reach Asia. He was very wrong. And not just because there were two continents Europe didn’t know about.
And then there was the abominable way the Columbus and the Europeans that followed treated the people who lived here. It was not, as some of my other teachers used to say, merely that the Europeans had more advanced technology. The Europeans were fond of making written agreements with the people who already lived here, and then when it suited them, ignore the agreements and take, kill, or pillage whatever they wanted.
So, yeah, even though I am a pasty-skinned, blue-eyeed white guy with ancestors from places like Ireland, England, and France, count me as one of the people who celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day.
The movement to replace Columbus Day with a holiday honoring Native Americans have been around for a long time. In 1989 the state of South Dakota abolished the state observance of Columbus Day and enacted a Native American Day to be observed on the same day as the Federal Observance fo Columbus Day.
Several other states: California, Nevada, and Tennessee all observe a Native American Day in September (the California holiday first called for by then-Governor Ronald Reagan in 1968, though not enacted into law until 1998).
Governors in Alaska and Vermont (and probably others, but I haven’t found them, yet) have issued proclamations to declare and Indigenous Peoples Day, but neither state’s legislature has enacted it into law, and such proclamation tend to be ceremonial, usually assumed only to apply to the year issued.
On the other hand, a rather huge number of cities and towns all over the country have adopted ordinances replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Maybe when more follow more states will join South Dakota.
In December 1991 Ray and I were spending our first Christmas living in our own place. It was a tiny studio apartment whose windows overlooked an alley behind a bar. I was in the middle of getting divorced. Ray had had a recent significant job change that was complicated by the involvement of one of his exes. So we were both broke and most of our personal property was at least temporarily in someone else’s custody.
His mom or his sister had given us a small artificial Christmas tree that had been boxed up in a garage for some time. Ray came up with a few old strings of Christmas lights somewhere. We had bought a single box of very cheap glass ball ornaments in multiple colors, and a similarly cheap tinsel star tree-topper with a cluster of lights. So we had the small tree perched on a chest of drawers. It’s the kind of first Christmas stories lots of couples tell. One of the things I really liked about that silly star treetopper is that it looked exactly like one my parents had bought when I was a baby, and had been my childhood treetopper until sometime in grade school when they replaced it with an angel.
One weekend a couple weeks before Christmas, we helped one of Ray’s friends, Miss Lee. She was an older woman that Ray had met when he had worked as a nursing aide a few years before. She had only recently moved from a nursing kind of facility to a sort of assisted living apartment. It was the first time in years that she had had more than a single room of her own, and she had recently gotten a bunch of her things that had been in storage at a relative’s house, including a box of Christmas ornaments. She had been told she could have a tree and that the maintenance staff would take care of disposing of cut trees after the holiday. So she needed someone with a car to take her to buy a tree, and then help her set it up.
Miss Lee lived in the south end of Seattle, not far from one location of the former Seattle institution known as Chubby and Tubby. Chubby and Tubby started as an army surplus store run out of a tin shed in the Rainier Valley neighborhood of Seattle by two friends after they came home from serving in WWII. They moved to a bigger location in Rainier Valley in the mid-50s, then opened at least two other stores (the one in north Seattle being the one I shopped at most often), before the owners passed away, then eventually their heirs sold the locations and closed down the stores in 2003. Chubby and Tubby was a strange store that’s really hard to describe. They sold blue jeans and tennis shoes and fishing poles and tools and gardening things and… well, just a whole lot of weird stuff. Always cheap.
And every December, each Chubby and Tubby store offered Christmas trees for sale, cheaper than you could find them anywhere else. In the 80s and 90s the price was alway $5 a tree, no matter what size. I’ve talked to people who remembered during the 70s when Chubby and Tubby trees were only $3. The owners sold the trees at a loss. They said they wanted to make sure that people who couldn’t afford a Christmas tree could have one. The trees were usually Douglas Firs, and they were… well, they were never very symmetrical. They were never as scraggly as the proverbial Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but they were always unique. I had purchased at least a couple of Chubby and Tubby trees in the years before this particular December. We hadn’t bought one ourselves that year in part because I didn’t think we’d be able to dispose of it easily afterward. Also, the loaned artificial tree was even cheaper.
Anyway, Miss Lee wanted a Chubby and Tubby tree, in part because she had fond memories of getting trees from Chubby and Tubby when she was younger, but also because you can’t beat the price. Before we’d gone to the store, we had untangled her strings of very old lights and determined that at least one of them was probably a fire hazard and shouldn’t be used. So she also hoped to find a cheap string of lights or two at Chubby and Tubby as well.
It was less than two weeks until Christmas, and Chubby and Tubby was absolutely packed. It took Miss Lee a while to pick out her tree, mostly because she wanted one small enough to fit in the spot she’d chosen in her living room. And then there were strings of lights and ornaments to look at. There was one particular string of Christmas lights that Ray was very taken with. A string of a couple dozen lights with plastic teddy bears wearing Santa hats. It was at Chubby and Tubby, so it was cheap, but even cheap was out of our own budget at the time. Miss Lee wanted something simpler, with multicolored lights for her own tree. She offered to buy Ray the string of Teddy Bears, but he told her very firmly no.
At each check-out line they had a bucket of odd little brass keys. There was a contest. Every customer could pick a key out of the bucket, and then try the key on this Treasure Chest at the front of the store. If the key opened the chest, you’d get a gift certificate good for certain items in the store. Miss Lee told Ray to pick a key and give it a try. The key he picked unlocked the chest. Ray asked her what she wanted to use the gift certificate for, and Miss Lee said, “It yours.”And yes, the string of Teddy Bear lights was one of the things he could redeem the gift certificate for. So we took home the string of teddy bear lights.
We got the tree back to her place, got it set up, helped her put her lights on the tree and hang her ornaments. She told us little stories about each ornament as she unwrapped them. It was a fun day.
When we got home that night, Ray hung up the teddy bear lights in the window over our bed. That silly string of teddy bear lights hung either in windows or on our tree every Christmas for the rest of Ray’s life. Ray died mid-November of 1997, not quite six years after that first Christmas living together.
For Christmas 1997 I barely did any decorating. Ray had only been dead a few weeks at the time we would normally start pulling decorations from the basement. I knew if I started unpacking our ornaments and such I’d break down sobbing and I wasn’t sure I would stop. I barely felt brave enough to open the storage closet in the basement to pull out one of the smaller artificial trees that I knew I could get to without opening other boxes. I decorated using some ornaments and a string of lights Ray had purchased on sale somewhere a week or so before he died, thus they were already upstairs and they didn’t have a history of Christmases with him.
In 1998, as I unpacked boxes of ornaments, I broke down crying several times. Ray had loved Christmas so much, and so many of the ornaments evoked memories of when he had found that particular decoration and showed it to me in the store. Or times he had fussed with where to hang it to best show it off, et cetera.
Yes, one of the times I broke down was when I pulled the teddy bear santa lights from one of the boxes. I hung them in the bedroom window that year. The next several years I put the teddy bear lights up. At least once on the tree, but usually in one of the windows. The last few years I’ve gotten them out and looked at them, debating whether I should put them up. They’re more than 20 years old. At some point old electronics, even something as simple as strings of mini lights, break down and/or become fire hazards. So I would plug them in, look them over, and some years I’d decide to put them back in the box. But most years I have still hung them up.
Our building, which was the last home Ray lived in and has been my home for a bit over 20 years, has been sold and the new owners want to do major renovations. They’ve given us advance notice that everyone’s going to be evicted sometime before 2017 year is over. So this was my last Christmas in the place that was Ray’s last home. I’ve been… moodier than usual this holiday.
I put the teddy bear lights in the kitchen window. Every evening they turned on and shown their silly light until the wee hours of the morning. I checked them frequently, but they never showed signs of problems.
But when I took them down out of the window, I noticed that several stretches of the wire are stiffer than other sections. The plastic doesn’t actually crack when you bend it in those locations, but clearly 20-some years of use is taking its toll.
While we were packing things and taking the tree down, I was looking at all of our decorations with a critical eye. If we have to move, it would be silly to move old ornaments and lights we know we’re never going to use again. I now have a couple of big boxes of old light strings and the like to recycle, and a big pile of other decorations that I think are in good enough shape to donate, if I can find a place that will take them.
And those teddy bear lights (or at least the string itself) shouldn’t be used again. No one wants the lights to start a fire some December in the future. So its time to says good-bye to Ray’s teddy bear lights. 25 Christmases later, they’ve earned a rest.
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.)