Fingers & Thumbs

Here we are on a Tuesday morning with the time change coming and the weather shifting into big-time fall. Yesterday was simply beautiful outside; the sky that magnificent shade of cerulean I’ve never seen anywhere else (Italy has the most beautiful skies) and you can go for a walk without getting drenched in sweat. It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is right around the corner, with Christmas and New Year’s hot on its tail; and whatever Carnival is going to be is right behind.

Yes, it is that time of year again. HOLIDAYS.

Sigh.

I loved the holidays when I was a kid. Christmas meant presents and a tree and turkey and dressing and decorations and candy and no school for at least two weeks. Thanksgiving didn’t mean presents, but I always always loved that meal (we always had turkey and dressing for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and got to eat the leftovers for days after). As I got older the thrill of the holidays slowly began to wane. By the time I moved in with Paul I was almost completely over them. Almost six years with an airline–which meant working on the holidays if they fell on your scheduled day to work; the airport never closes and neither do the airlines–had kind of robbed the joy from them for me; I could only see family sometime around the holidays, depending on open seats on flights, which were scarce, and spending them with friends wasn’t quite the same thing. We stopped putting up Christmas decorations when we got Scooter–Skittle wasn’t an issue; he’d go knock a ball off the tree, lose interest and go away; Scooter saw Christmas tree and decorations and thought amusement park! And since he loves nothing more than chewing plastic–the first time I caught him trying to chew on a string of lights, that was it for the Christmas decorations. And every time I go up into the attic, I see the box of decorations and think, should I throw them away? We don’t use them, and even–God forbid, knock on wood–when the day comes that we no longer have Scooter with us, will we use them again?

Given our history, it’s very unlikely. And while the Lost Apartment isn’t as festive around the holidays as it could be, as we’ve gotten older it’s just not as important to either of us as it once was. Sure, we enjoy buying each other gifts, and sharing them–Paul always wins Christmas, no matter how hard I try to get him something absolutely perfect, he always gets me something that is so incredibly thoughtful I get teary-eyed–and we enjoy the new traditions that we have come up with together.

And really, the true gift of the holiday is spending it together, unplugging from the world, and just enjoying each other’s company.

But it’s after Halloween now, so the Christmas stuff is coming out in the stores, and the music will start playing everywhere (thank God I don’t listen to the radio anymore). The Christmas specials and movies will start airing again, every television series will have a Christmas episode of some kind (thank you, Ted Lasso, for doing it in the summer time), and advertising will have a distinctive green and red flavor to it. I will inevitably start grumping about the serious overkill–and I am also not looking forward to this year’s noxious and untrue revisitation of the right-wing “war on Christmas” narrative.

My latest Scotty book, Royal Street Reveillon, was an actual Christmas book, set in New Orleans during the Christmas season. One part of Christmas I never get tired of is the way New Orleans dresses herself up for the holiday–and seriously, if you are in town and can get a chance to go look at the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, it’s breathtakingly beautiful; which is why I had the book start with Scotty getting Taylor his first sazerac in the Sazerac Bar of the Roosevelt Hotel. I wanted to talk about how beautifully the hotel is decorated, how gorgeous the city is in its Christmas finery, and of course–I got to talk about a particularly New Orleans Christmas tradition–reveillon dinner. It’s funny, because I have tried to write about Christmas before–I do, at heart, love Christmas and everything it is supposed to stand for, even if I get Scrooge-like about the overkill in mid-December–but I’ve never really had much success with writing an actual Christmas story. I tried writing Christmas short stories before, but coming up with something original that is also sweet and about love and kindness is incredibly difficult; it’s like every possible idea has already had every bit of juice squeezed out of it already (how many versions of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life do we really need, anyway?). I wrote three first drafts of Christmas stories–“Silver Bells,” “Silent Night,” and “Reindeer on the Rooftop”–but the first two turned out incredibly sad and depressing and the latter so saccharine sweet it made my teeth ache. I’d always thought of doing a Scotty Christmas book, once I decided to keep the series going past the original three; the original idea of the first trilogy was the gay holidays–Decadence, Halloween, Carnival–and then I thought I would tie all future Scottys around holidays; when I revived the series with Book 4, Vieux Carré Voodoo, opened on Easter Sunday and the end of Lent–which seemed appropriate since the previous book was set during Carnival (I’d actually forgotten about that). Of course, I moved away from that with Who Dat Whodunnit (which was around the Saints Super Bowl win, but also included a Christmas scene with the other side of Scotty’s family, the Bradleys, now that I think about it) and Baton Rouge Bingo…so maybe actually doing a Halloween Scotty book might be in order (I have mentioned this before, of course) since Jackson Square Jazz was set the week before Halloween.

And thinking of the kind of trouble Scotty could get into over Halloween puts a little smile on my face.

I need to buckle down and get to work on my book. It’s due in January and time is slipping into the future…so on that note, dear Constant Reader, I am going to finish this and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday!

All I Want for Christmas

Joan Didion once wrote “we tell ourselves stories in order to live” in her title essay in the collection The White Album. 

I have grown to love and appreciate Didion’s work over the last couple of years, but I’ve always puzzled over that particular quote. The full quote is “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

Often that first sentence is taken from its original context and used as a stand-alone quote; my first thought on seeing it somewhere (without having read Didion) was, yes, this is true. This is why our memories of the same event are all different; we interpret and remember that event through the prism of our personal experience and therefore it is colored by who we are as a people; we are all unreliable narrators of our own lives.

This is one of many reasons I am hesitant to even attempt to write personal essays or a memoir; my memory lies to me all the time. It was only recently that I realized, for example, that my recollection of when we moved from Chicago to the suburbs was in 1969; I’ve always believed that, but recently remembered wait, I was ten when we moved; I turned ten in 1971 and sure enough, looking at the dates on some old pictures, yup, it was December 1971 when we left the city for the burbs…so writing personal essays, or a memoir, would require me to research and fact check my own life.

Which would be bizarre, to say the least.

So, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. Christmas is sort of like that, isn’t it? All of these Christmas stories, all these myths…all these stories and traditions that have absolutely nothing to do with what the actual holiday means and was originally intended to be; it’s also kind of amusing to me that something that theoretically began as a Christian religious holiday has been so thoroughly secularized; and at the very least, the majority of Christmas “traditions” are heavily Catholic; so much so that in the early days of the Reformation Protestants didn’t celebrate Christmas (or Easter); some still don’t to this very day. Santa Claus is derived from St. Nicholas; so evangelical children who are taught about Santa Claus are actually celebrating Catholicism–which is why I am always amused by the bumper stickers and billboards stating “Keep the Christ in Christmas.”

Um, there’s no Rudolph or Frosty or Santa Claus or reindeer in the New Testament, so telling your children those stories, or letting them watch the specials or movies, or making that a part of their Christmas isn’t keeping the Christ in Christmas; if anything, it’s helping take the Christ out of Christmas. (And Christmas is a contraction of Christ Mass, so again, Catholic in the first place.) What do lights and a Christmas tree or any of that have to do with the birth of Jesus?

NOTHING

Most Christmas stories–novels or film or television–inevitably are predicated on a belief in Christianity; the stories always boil down to having faith in the unseen and having that faith reaffirmed, or developing that faith. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol probably did the most in popularizing and secularizing Christmas; it’s a morality tale which everyone knows by heart–how many fucking adaptations of that classic story have their been? (I think the first one I saw was with Mr. Magoo.) But it’s a ghost story–ghost stories have always been a part of Christmas, for some reason; the Holy Ghost, perhaps?–and it’s a classic story, even if repetition has made it cliche and tired. It’s also a compelling psychological breakdown of a desperately unhappy man, who takes out his misery on everyone else around him and doesn’t celebrate, or enjoy, Christmas; the ghosts of his past Christmases show him how he became the man he is today–and his future. It has been adapted so many times–even It’s A Wonderful Life is a variation on the story–that is, as I said, the hoariest of all the Christmas cliches; I think the vast majority of sitcoms when I was a child would always, inevitably, do a take on the story for a Christmas episode, to the point that I would cringe when it opened. I read the actual story about twenty years ago, and I was quite surprised to see the changes that were made to it in order to film it…changes that were incorporated into every version filmed ever since. (Bob Cratchit wasn’t Scrooge’s family in the original story; just an employee. Scrooge’s nephew is never in the story, except at the end when Scrooge joins his nephew’s family, not the Cratchits, for the holiday feast.)

But none of these traditional stories, as I’ve mentioned, center queer people–or even include them. A queer version of A Christmas Carol has probably been done by someone–I don’t keep up with queer publishing outside of mysteries the way I used to–but it would be incredibly difficult to do it well; making Scrooge a gay man wouldn’t be enough of a change to make it fresh and new…although the nineteenth century trope of the “broken hearted man who vowed to never love again and thus died a confirmed bachelor” has always read as code for “big old homo” to me (hello, James Buchanan?) because it is incredibly difficult for me to believe that a man of any time would go his entire life without having any sexual experience; although I suppose they wouldn’t have recorded “So instead of a loving marriage, Buchanan spent the rest of his life using prostitutes for his needs.”

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

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