Blue Christmas

When I was around 11 or so, I was obsessed with The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a TV show about two secret agents – one American, the other Russian – working for a multi-national intelligence agency. My favorite agent was the Russian, Illya Kuryakin, played by David McCallum. He was dashing and mysterious and wore black turtlenecks a lot. I would say that I had a crush on him, but even then I knew I was gay, so, I really wanted to be him – or at least dress like him. I was so obsessed with the show that for Christmas that year I asked for the Illya Kuryakin secret lighter gun. It looked like a cigarette case/lighter from the outside, but it fired caps and inside had a secret radio compartment. I know there had to be other things on my list that year, but I couldn’t name one if my life depended on it. You see, I got what I wanted most of all. And that, in a nutshell, was Election 2020 for me.

Yes, I had a long wish list, including Democrats regaining control of the Senate. I’m still hoping that present arrives late by way of Georgia, and I’m totally cool with that. But here’s the thing – what I wanted the very most was for Donald Trump to not be our president after noon on January 20th, 2021 and I (and 79 million others and counting) got that – even if it does take an army of Secret Service agents to remove him. Paging Illya Kuryakin! Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States and I’m going to just let myself be happy about that for a minute. And I’m proud that I played a teeny tiny part in helping to make that happen.

In August, I started phone banking for Progressive Turnout Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting with voters one-on-one and getting Democrats to the polls. I guesstimate that I spoke with over 3,000 voters – those were actual conversations and doesn’t include the hang-ups and go to hells. Thankfully, I only got a few of the latter and they only came near the end when everyone was suffering from election fatigue – even the people who were happy to hear from me.

I know calling a stranger on the phone and talking to them about voting sounds like a fresh hell to many of you. I get that, but to me, it felt like the most important job I’ve ever had. And I loved it. Most days, I felt like I was making a Ken Burns documentary – interviewing all sorts of people all over several battleground states, but mainly in my home state of North Carolina. Every day I would talk to folks who lived in towns that I never heard of – Supply, Lowgap, Peachland and Chocowinity to name a few. I listened to some southern accents so thick they made my North Carolina born wife sound like she’s from the Bronx.

We followed a script for our calls seeking some basic information – who folks were voting for, how they were voting – i.e. early voting in person or by mail or on Election Day – and their main concern in this election. I captured this information on my iPad, but early into my calls, I started taking notes on a legal pad – writing down things people would share with me. It felt important to me to capture these thoughts and save them – you know, like a special card or note you get in the mail and slip into a drawer because you’re not ready to let go of it just yet.

I was the one who often felt heard in so many of my conversations with people who articulated many of my own concerns – the chaos and disinformation of the past four years and the assault on so many issues I care about – social justice, income inequality, climate change and oh, yeah, democracy. I know some of these voters were a lot like me, but the conversations that left their fingerprints on me were the ones with folks not at all like me – the very young, the very old and the people of color.

One afternoon I called Deasia, a young black woman in New Bern. She was in her car with her mom on the way to early vote for Biden. I knew by the sound of her voice that this had to be her first time voting in a presidential race. She said cheerfully, “I just turned 18. Today is my birthday.” She told me that racial justice was the issue most important to her. I wished her a happy birthday and told her that she would get her present on November 3rd and she laughed politely. She was sweet like that.

The oldest voter I spoke with was 96 and lived in Goldsboro. I asked her what issue was most important to her in this election and she said, “Honey, I’m an old woman. I don’t care about issues. I just want people to get back on their feet and get work and be able to feed their families.” I spoke to many of these wise owls over the past few months and believe me, I hung on every word.

But I think my favorite call was with the young black mother in Sanford I spoke with on the Sunday before Election Day. I asked her if she had voted yet and she said, almost apologetically, “No. I was going to early vote on Saturday, but my water broke on Friday. I’m in the hospital – I had a Halloween baby.” I was shocked that she was speaking with me at all, much less being so nice. I congratulated her on her baby, a girl, and told her that I would let her go. She said, “Oh, that’s okay. I can talk.” She went on to tell me that she would probably be released from the hospital later that day and that she planned to vote on Election Day. I told her that she could certainly vote curbside if she wasn’t up to standing in line – just thinking about that made me wince. She said, “I’ll be okay. I’m determined to vote. This election is so important.” We talked for a good while about family – this was her third child. She told me that education is very important to her – especially getting her older kids back to school safely. As I was thanking her before ending our call, I said, “Oh, I forgot to ask you your daughter’s name.” She replied in the sweetest, most tender voice, “Serenity. Her name Is Serenity.”

There are days that I fancy myself to be a decent writer, but I could never make up a story that good. And yes, sometimes there is crying in phone banking.

In addition to all the voters that gave me hope, I had some emotional support political junkies throughout this election – namely Jeff and Chris. Jeff is my best gay boyfriend and we are frighteningly similar in many ways – good and bad. We are both passionate about politics and on occasion don’t play well with others when they don’t seem to be as engaged or enraged as we think they should be. He is wicked smart politically and is a great student of history. I like to think of him as the Queer Eye version of Doris Kearns Goodwin. Now that’s a podcast just waiting to happen. Maybe next cycle.

Jeff and I, like over 65 million other people, carried our scars and PTSD from 2016 into this election. We both vowed to not give into our poll paranoia (damn you, Nate Silver!) and exude what we called nauseous optimism about Election 2020. Joe Biden was neither of our first choices, but once he became the frontrunner, we were all in for riding with Biden. Sure, we had some weak moments during the long campaign, but we mostly kept them to ourselves through anxious texts. Jeff is also one of the funniest people on the planet, so we laughed ourselves silly through some of the tenser times. One day we were texting about The Lincoln Project and Jeff wrote that he wanted to have Steve Schmidt’s babies. A laugh like that can get a girl over a rough patch.

Chris and I have been friends for so long we can’t remember how long. She lives on top of a mountain outside of Charlottesville and is retired and worked her liberal ass off writing a gazillion postcards for Democratic candidates this cycle. We have been through a lot of elections together – including the 2000 Gore v. Bush nightmare. She, too, has a very keen political mind and puts her money where her blue heart is. She somehow trusted me to help guide her numerous contributions to senatorial candidates throughout this cycle. I must confess, I really enjoyed spending her money. I adore Chris, but she would admit that she was a Nervous Nellie as Election Day drew closer. She would text – “Talk me off the ledge” – and I would. I knew Joe Biden was going to win. I had a certainty about it that belied my cynical nature. And I have all those voters that I spoke with to thank for that. Well, not the ones that told me to fuck off, but you know, even they inspired me in a different way. I just knew that they did not represent the majority in our country. And I was right.

So, it was kind of perfect that Chris was the one who told me that Joe Biden had finally been declared the next president of the United States. I had been babysitting Steve Kornacki and his khakis for days just waiting and watching and learning more about the districts in Pennsylvania than I ever dreamed possible. My dear wife had been so patient with my obsessive viewing that I relented to go for a walk with her the Saturday morning after the election. I felt certain no call would be made until later in the afternoon, but I took my phone with me just in case. We were about 30 minutes into our walk when a text from Chris came through: “I didn’t know I would cry.” I frantically texted her back, “What?” And she said, “They called it.” I screamed, “It’s over!” so loudly that people in their yards started cheering. And then I took my wife in my arms and kissed her like she was that nurse in the famous V-J Day photograph. We practically danced the two blocks to the home of some dear friends who had just pulled into their driveway and had not heard the good news. We shared the biggest virtual hug ever and smiled our faces off. Then my phone rang – it was Jeff, of course. I hadn’t heard him that excited since the Pippin revival. I can only remember that he told me that he loved me and thanked me for everything that I had done. And I have never been happier to hear his voice.

I spent the rest of the day glued to coverage of the joyous global celebrations and I took some quiet time to think about all those voters that I had spoken with since early August. Those everyday Americans who love their country and cherish democracy. They made me believe in the best of humanity again and in some ways, they made me believe in myself again. I wished I could call them one more time to thank them. And it felt a lot like that Christmas morning so long ago when I got what I wanted most of all.

The myth of the ruby slippers

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors and a certified treasure to humanity, has some simple and direct advice when it comes to writing. It goes like this: “Butt in chair. Start each day anywhere. Let yourself do it badly. Just take one passage at a time. Get butt back in chair.”

I’ve been writing – or pretending to write – this blog post for months and it’s high time I got my butt back in the chair, although it’s not always a bad thing to let a piece of writing sit for a bit. I’ve found it often marinates into something richer than it might have been. I guess it could also grow mold, but I’m hoping that’s not the case with this post.

My original piece was going to be a reflection on my summer sabbatical in California and the importance of place in my life. For some reason I stopped working on it in early November and well, somehow the daffodils are now in bloom. To be honest, I know the some reason was that the holiday season is a roller coaster of emotions for me (and a bazillion other people).

Me as soon as I see the first Lexus Christmas commercial.

A typical day for me during that time from Thanksgiving to Christmas is not unlike a NC weather forecast – sunny skies early, thunderstorms in the afternoon, some containing hail and heavy winds, followed by partial clearing. In short, I’m all over the place – which is where this post originated – place.

When I returned from my summer (a civilized no humidity summer) in California, I began thinking a lot about Dorothy – yeah, that young girl from Kansas. Or was it Missouri? How was she so very certain that there’s no place like home? Maybe it was those ruby slippers that fortified her resolve. Me? I’m more of an Allbirds kind of girl and when I bump my rubber heels together, well, there’s no magic.

Don’t get me wrong – I was delighted to be back with my dear wife, but it hit me when my return flight approached PTI that my connection to North Carolina becomes more tenuous each time I leave this state. It was dark as we made our descent and I could see the lights of familiar places, but I didn’t feel much different than when I landed in Atlanta on my layover. I realized that Winston Salem is a destination for me, but it doesn’t feel like home. It never has.

Home is not always in plane view.

I envied those passengers I heard talking about how good it was to be home and I tried to remember when I last had that feeling. It made me sad that I really had to think about it. I suppose I would have to go back several years ago to when my parents were still alive.

The truth is that I’ve always felt like an accidental tourist in North Carolina. I moved here in 1995 when my partner at the time was recruited for a good job opportunity. I was a Virginian for the first 39 years of my life, and I had always thought of myself as a southerner – until I arrived in the Old North State. I’ll never forget my first trip to the post office and after a brief conversation with the clerk behind the counter, he looked at me a bit suspiciously and said, “You’re not from around here.” Not a question. I felt like I was in one of those old Westerns and waited for him to say, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” He wasn’t unfriendly, but his statement surprised me and before I could respond, he asked if was from up north. I said, “Yes. Northern Virginia.” He nodded slowly and told me he thought I was from New York City. That’s exactly how he said – true story.

My first trip to a NC post office. He didn’t make my day.

That memory is harmlessly amusing and oddly affirming to me today as I ponder the nuances of home. NC is never going to be home to me no matter how long I live here. And that’s okay, because I figured out this summer that for some of us, home is more abstract than an address. Most often for me, it’s a state of mind – and heart.

I talked to Kelly, my hairdresser/therapist/dear friend about this recently. She’s married and has two young children and moved to this area in her late teens. I asked her what popped into her head when she thinks of the word home. She took her time answering and said, “Home is the place I feel most filled.” I think I startled her when I responded, quite enthusiastically, “Yes, yes, that’s it.” I’m so lucky that my hair stylist completes me.

For some of us, home is not an address or a house. It’s a space where we feel in harmony with the world. Maybe it’s not even a space – it can be a sound or a smell. The Episcopal church I grew up in had a musty woody smell when you entered the front door. I left the church for several decades as an adult and when I made my way back to a small church in Greensboro on Easter Sunday in 2007, that same smell engulfed me like a hug. I was home.

The red door of just about any Episcopal church feels like home to me. This one is All Saint’s in Greensboro, NC. Watercolor by Mike Tiddy.

And I suppose that my church here in Winston Salem is one of the physical spaces that feels most like home to me these days. And that was certainly the case this holiday season. Church was a sanctuary for me in all manner of ways.

My mother died almost twenty years ago, but I’m still stopped in my tracks when I smell Chanel No. 5. That was her perfume. The morning after she died, I walked into her closet just to breathe in that scent still lingering on some of her clothing. I felt comforted. I was home.

Tastes can feel like home, too. My father always made oyster stew for breakfast on Christmas morning. Hey, don’t judge, I’m from Virginia and we didn’t have Moravian sugar cake. The first Christmas without him, I steeled myself over the stove to try and replicate his no-recipe recipe. It must have been divine intervention, because I came pretty darn close. I remember taking a deep breath before that first taste and there it was – that familiar briny tang.

I spent some time in Charlottesville over New Year’s – a place I lived for over a decade. Several times during my stay, my heart felt full – most especially when I shared time with my friend of over three decades, Chris. She and her husband Ed live on a farm in Crozet, just outside of Charlottesville. The farm has long been the backdrop for all sorts of celebrations – including a memorable 4th of July when we almost burned the front yard down. Our bad – Ed did warn us that the grass was too dry for sparklers.

Friends since the first Reagan administration. Hoping to live long enough to see a Democrat in the White House again.

Chris and Ed were both so dear to my parents – in life and death – and it is an abiding comfort to me to have such a rich history with them. Their house feels like home. And hugging Ed reminds me of being in my father’s arms – he’s a strong but kind man like my dad and he’s okay with me crying into his warm flannel shirt. And just like my dad, he is always so happy to see me. He greeted me this time with perhaps the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. “Addy, you know we just sort of set our watches until the next time we see you.” I mean, who says that? Ed does. And then I cry.

Me after hugging Ed.

I often feel at home in nature and what a glorious gift that is. I’ve always enjoyed walking, but after the apocalypse of November 8, 2016, walking became a spiritual practice for me. Yes, it’s good exercise, but it also gets me away from the turmoil of our BREAKING NEWS world. There are just so many screaming words flying back and forth, and I for one would much rather hear the tweet of a bird over one from a president.

Budding blooms > Breaking news.

It’s taken me a long time to accept that for me, home will probably always be a moving target, a fleeting yet often visceral moment. On my best days, there are several moments when I feel at home and as Kelly said, I am filled in glorious ways.

Mary Oliver, the beloved goddess of poetry who passed away last year, exquisitely captures the feeling of home in the poem below. I read it at my best friend’s wedding several years ago outside on a warm day in May while her dog barked. It was perfect.

Coming Home

by Mary Oliver

When we are driving in the dark,
on the long road to Provincetown,
when we are weary,
when the buildings and the scrub pines lose their familiar look,
I imagine us rising from the speeding car.
I imagine us seeing everything from another place–
the top of one of the pale dunes, or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea.
And what we see is a world that cannot cherish us,
but which we cherish.
And what we see is our life moving like that
along the dark edges of everything,
headlights sweeping the blackness,
believing in a thousand fragile and unprovable things.
Looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.

I’m glad Dorothy made it back to Kansas, but I’m going to just keep trying to enjoy the ride home wherever it takes me. You see, for some of us, there’s no home like place.

Chris and Ed make my heart feel home.
When a familiar view feels like home. Holidays up on the farm.

Vital signs

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In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood still hard as iron, water like a stone.

The past few days, I feel as if I’m walking around in bulky work boots as I hear something cracking under my feet. I’m stepping on shards – the broken pieces of a brutal year.

I think my post-election rage probably delayed the arrival of my annual holiday blues but now that it is simmering on a slow boil, the thick familiar fog is settling in. The song is cute and catchy but this is not the most wonderful time of the year for me and at least a bazillion other folks.grump-cat-christmas

Perhaps I over-prepared for this year’s attack of melancholy. After the reality of #notmyprecedent sunk in and I pulled myself out of the electoral sludge I’d been drowning in for a month or so, I went on the offensive. I decorated with more vigor than I have in several years – even making – yes, making – a wreath for our mantel. My dear wife and I live in a small condo so a little Christmas goes a long way but we even got a tiny live “tree” this year and I decorated it with some of my favorite Santa ornaments.

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Christmas: Tiny Trees Edition

I was feeling downright festive in spite of the impending apocalypse of January 20th. And then it hit me – the big empty of the holidays. It’s pretty much been this way for me since my parents died in 2002. Until then, I was one of those obnoxious Christmas people who started talking about it in September. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love Christmas?

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This year I made an addition to my Santa collection.

I want to punch myself in my own throat when I think about being that person – completely tone-deaf to the realities of so many others. I’ve been humbled to my knees in the years since then and my heart feels tight when I think about what some friends are going through this holiday season. Cancer – always fucking cancer. And “firsts” for a couple of friends – the first holiday without a dear spouse.

Estrangements loom larger at this time of year, too, and I certainly have a few of those on my list – some related to losing my job at the start of the year. There are a few (former) friends who deeply disappointed me in ways that I’ve had to just let go of ever understanding and other alienations, some election related but most a long time in the making – just too many years of not feeling seen and heard. All of them are painful and add to my bleak midwinter.

I had a little breakdown in my car the other day as I left the UPS store. I had taken my sister’s Christmas package to ship and after going through all the scenarios of how many days it would take, how much it would cost, etc. – it hit me how very far away she is now in California.

She’s my little sister and I am often mother/sister to her but she always rises to the occasion when I need to hear the calm reassurance of a mother’s voice. She listened to me sob while I was still trying to talk. That’s never pretty. And she did the thing no one else can do when I’m in that place – she made me laugh. I can’t even remember what she said but I know that I was smiling as I tasted the tears on my lips. Her presence from even 3,000 miles away can be palpable at times.

I felt so much better after talking to her – still blue but a lighter shade for sure.

We made a pact to never be apart at Christmas again. She has some grand plans about spending next Christmas in London. Note to self: Get BIG job quickly. I think she’s on to something, though. It might be easier to navigate the emotional minefields of the holidays in an exotic locale – further away from the memories that can crush me at this time of year.

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Me and my brother and our dog Taffy, Christmas 1960.

Christmas is quiet, almost somber for me these days – but it hasn’t always been this way. Mine used to be an exuberant holiday spent with parents and siblings and years of traditions. My wife and I have started some of our own traditions now, which is amusing because my wife loathes ever doing the same thing twice. Her idea of hell would be to own a time share where you had to go to the same place at the same time every year.

She teases me now when we do something for a second time and I call it a tradition. I don’t understand her point. Anyway, our tradition is to go to a movie on Christmas Day – usually one just released. Our first Christmas together it was Les Miserables and it was perfect. Okay, maybe not the Russell Crowe singing part, but you know what I mean.

This year’s movie will be La La Land, a musical comedy-drama that’s getting rave reviews. The film is a throwback to the lavish musical spectacles of years gone by where people burst into song at the breakfast table and literally dance on air.

lala

Yes, please.

Please take me there. Now.

And then it will be the 26th of December and I will no longer feel anxious – at least not until Inauguration Day.

We’ll spend New Year’s Eve with an array of dear friends and then I will stumble out of 2016, stepping on those shards. I think it will sound like walking on a frozen lawn – a muffled crunching that only I will hear – like those rare hushed times when you become aware of your own heart beating.

And what an utterly life affirming feeling that is.

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Cheer to all Whos far and near!

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This one is for Barb and Jen. Two women, like my girl Venus, who shined through their brokenness this year  with style and grace.

Do you hear what I hear?

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The Scream

“I have passed through the initial five stages of grief: Denial anger bargaining depression and acceptance. Now I am in fascination–cobra hypnosis, newly apoplectic every day by the latest. I believe I have actually keened within recent memory. At this rate, i may have a flickering tic in my eye by sundown.” ~ Anne Lamott in a recent post-election Facebook post

As usual, author Anne Lamott writes what’s in my head only it sounds almost lyrical instead of the ALL CAPS RAGE AND DESPAIR that marinates inside me these days. Oh, and my eye tic has manifested as a pain in my right arm. No, not the heart attack kind of arm pain. It hurts the most when I undo my bra. Sorry, if that’s too much information from this nasty woman. My doctor, Web MD, says that this could indicate stress in the rotator cuff muscles. My symptoms started shortly after FBI Director James Comey released his now infamous letter to Congress regarding Hillary Clinton’s damn emails 10 days before the election. Coincidence?  I think not. Case closed.

Lamott also writes about stress eating during these troubling times. I have no doubt that Weight Watchers will be inundated with an influx of chubby liberals come January. Carbs are one of our sole/soul comforts these days. If it weren’t so unbelievably frightening, it would be funny. Lamott prefers Oreos and Cheerios. I feel for her because her options are limited. She’s been in recovery for over 30 years, so wine is not a viable option for her. By the way, did you know that Aldi’s carries some decent wine? What? A friend told me – just putting it out there.

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Limiting myself to just one glass a day.

I ran into a dear and much admired colleague right after the election. I was leaving a professional function as she was pulling into the parking lot. She put her window down and we lamented together about the results and she picked up a McDonald’s cheeseburger sitting on the passenger seat next to her, took a big bite and garbled, “Look, I’m stress eating!” She’s a very petite and trim woman which made the whole thing even more amusing to me.

I’m trying to practice good self-care so I’m pretty much in a news blackout, which I guess is not really that different from the actual campaign, right? There was so little news about policies and issues. It was Reality TV at its very worst and it helped elect the least qualified presidential candidate in the history of our great nation. We were punked. Bigly. Faux news is the new news. (I just got one of those shooting pains in my shoulder.)

So I’m under a TV blackout except for every liberal’s lifeline these days. Yes, on the eighth day, God created Netflix. And it was good. And ironically, the show saving me in this post-apocalyptic election world is one about a monarchy – The Crown. If you’re reading my blog, you’re most likely watching The Crown, too, but for those in the royal dark, the series is about the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s a fascinating behind the scenes look at her marriage to Price Phillip and her relationship with Prime Minister Winston Churchill. And it’s a glorious diversion from the reality of the Park Avenue president-elect only without as much gilded furniture.

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Who needs term limits?

I haven’t been able to give up social media but I’ve made my Facebook world a kinder, gentler place. And for the record, I think “unfriending” is a misnomer. We can be friends in REAL life and not be “friends” on Facebook because in real life, I might not ever know that you get your news from Breitbart or that you really think that all Muslims should be deported. Another irony – people are more their real selves behind a keyboard than in actual conversation. Social media is like HD TV – it makes all your warts and blemishes that much bigger.

And honestly, it makes it easier for me and my wife to worship with you at church if I don’t know that you supported a ticket that opposes our marriage. What I don’t know can’t hurt my heart. And spare me the “how can we ever find unity if we don’t talk about our differences” crap. Tell me what I should have said to a friend I have known since the 7th grade when she accused Michelle Obama of being a “race baiter” because she talked about the White House being built by slaves. There is no middle ground to find on scorched earth.

I haven’t slept through the night since the Cubs won the Word Series. Granted, that was a short night since the game didn’t end until after 1 AM. I’m not much for drugs but Tylenol PM has been my constant companion. But even with my version of the little blue pill, I still wake up at 2 AM and immediately start worrying about so many of the things I care about. Many – most actually – of the folks closest to me are feeling the same way and while often comforting, it can be an exhausting burden, too – trying to be present to their pain while holding my own.

My best friend from college is a chaplain in California at a large urban hospital. She is a woman and she is gay and she is Muslim. Damn, there goes my shoulder again. She’s struggling and she has to be available to everyone she encounters in her work – there can be no “others” in her day. She has observed that it is only white people who ask her if she’s okay – because she doesn’t seem “like herself”.  She’s come up with a brilliant response. She tells people that she is “soul sick”.  And there ain’t enough chicken soup in the world for this kind of sick.

I’ve been going to the movies – always a balm for me. I can highly recommend Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Fantasy is so superior to reality these days. And I just want to pinch Eddie Redmayne’s ginger cheek. Spoiler alert: Love really does trump hate in this movie.

But I made the mistake of going to Costco the other day. How can it be time for Christmas again already? The decorations made me feel disoriented – like going into a Christmas shop on the boardwalk when you’re at the beach in July. They seemed garish and out-of-place. Bell ringers are out now, too. I have plenty of valid issues regarding the Salvation Army so I’m never excited to hear those bells, but this year, the tone sounds almost ominous to me. It’s a tolling, not a ring.

A few days ago, my mourning changed to anger – white hot anger about what has happened in our country. My shift was not subtle. It came the moment I read who Trump had appointed as his chief strategist – Steve “Darkness is good” Bannon. Let’s be clear – the term “alt-right” should only ever be used with the word DELETE. Even Sarah Palin knew that if you put lipstick on a Nazi, it’s still a Nazi.

Yep. That was my tipping point. That day I signed up for the Women’s March on Washington – the Saturday following Not My President’s inauguration. Initially, I didn’t think I had it in me – to be in our nation’s capital at such a deplorable time. The last time I marched in Washington was 23 years ago for gay rights. That march changed my life in immeasurable ways. It made me feel empowered to live my life out loud. I hope this march empowers every woman, man and child there to go home and speak up for all of those that this new regime would diminish if given carte blanche. Hell, I might even burn my bra since I may not be able to clasp it anymore by then.

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Resistance, my friends.

Jonathan Capehart, a gay black journalist, had a great piece in the Washington Post last week about the palpable fear that many of us are experiencing post-election. A fear that some of our friends – mostly white, mostly male, mostly monied – don’t feel – the fear of being targeted under the new administration. Capehart sums it up here really well: “But here’s what our well-meaning friends, especially those who have not felt the sting of discrimination or even otherness, need to understand. President-elect Trump has made promises that represent a threat to real lives and livelihoods. Some are unconstitutional. All are immoral.”

So, yeah, we others are kind of worked up over all of this. But we still enjoy your pictures of puppies.

Truth be told, it’s all Hillary’s fault that I’m going to the march. Damn her. A week after the election she honored a long-standing speaking engagement at a celebration for the Children’s Defense Fund, a cause near and dear to her broken heart. And God bless her – she showed up looking like – well, me, a few days after the election – no make up, regular going to the grocery store hair and a weary looking face. Twitterverse went wild with commentary – someone saying Hillary had “no more fucks to give” and another speculating that she was raising a middle finger to patriarchy. Whatever, I’m still with her. And it wasn’t how she looked but what she said that kicked my sorry ass.

“I know this isn’t easy, I know that over the past week, a lot of people have asked themselves whether America is the country we thought it was. The divisions laid bare by this election run deep, but please listen to me when I say this. America is worth it. Our children are worth it. Believe in our country, fight for our values and never, ever give up.”

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Truth.

I don’t have super powers like Hillary but I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.

So in January, I will march but what about those damn holidays before us?

Pray for peace, people, everywhere.

And pass the cookies.

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I’m still with her and our power’s turned on.

I wish I had a river

I just read my bestie Carla’s Christmas blog post and my eyes are moist from a duet of bittersweet tears. She loves Christmas and her joy for the season is as palpable as her sister’s molten chocolate lava cake.

One of the things that makes Carla such a good writer is her gift of memory and I adore how she can recall the tiniest details of her mother’s holiday decorating routine from the smell of the cloves in her cookies to the fake snow on her wreath. She says, “My mom did Christmas right.”

My mom did, too.

Magnolia leaves. That’s what I remember most about my mother’s Christmas decorating. She would scour neighbor’s yards for leaves at all hours of the night and any flat surface was fair game but the mantle in our living room was her real masterpiece. As a child, I’m not sure I knew what elegant meant but I did know that our decorations were fancier than most of my friends and that made me feel oddly proud.magnolia

It’s funny what you remember – like the crackling of the hard frozen leaves touching each other as she meticulously made her arrangements. It’s a soothing sound to me now and I think I use magnolia leaves more to hear that familiar noise than anything else.

I’ve been through a blue Christmas or two with Carla when we were both recovering from loss and contrary to the Muzak in the mall, it’s just not “the most wonderful time of the year” for a lot of folks and I can still feel like a grinch for how oblivious I used to be to this reality – until it became my reality.

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Simpler times with my brother and our dog, Taffy. I still have that Santa.

Humbling, I think that’s the word for it.

Christmas for me has changed over the past decade as the loss of parents and a partner also brought about the loss of traditions. It has taken me a long time to be “okay” with that and I still approach this time of year with a sense of weary resignation.

My dear wife likes to gently tease me about calling any holiday thing we do for the second time a “tradition.” I can laugh at myself but the truth is that these new traditions make me feel grounded and connected in ways I haven’t felt in a very long time.

movie posterGoing to the Christmas Day opening of a big new movie is one of these tradtions and this year’s entrée is “Into the Woods” with Meryl Streep. An amusing aside – I always run into some of my Jewish friends enjoying their tradition, too.

It’s a delicate balance – remembering Christmas past and celebrating Christmas present and I’m grateful to have found some ways to honor both.

My mother had a large collection of heavy glass Christmas trees that she loved. Her tastes were more modern than mine but when she died, I kept them. Last Christmas was the first year that my now wife and I shared a home and when I pulled out the glass trees, she was smitten and insisted we put them out on our mantle.

Tradition...

Tradition…

Yes, Mom, I did marry well.

I’m so happy Carla will be with her whole family for Christmas. I’ve seen that sad puppy face when she couldn’t be there and well, it’s just not a good look for her. I love her family – they are warm and loving and loud and funny and remind me of the family I used to have.

I always say that Carla is an old soul and my heart ached a little when she cited Joni Mitchell’s “River” in her post – “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees.”

Me?

I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

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