I have always been a very nostalgic person. Therefore, I love the holidays. The holidays are all about nostalgia. It’s the same songs every year, the same movies, the same beverages and foods. I do not get bored; I do it all over and over again every time.
Now, when I say “the holidays,” keep in mind that for me the holidays begin in early October. In some ways Halloween is my favorite because it’s all about the costumes. Sometimes I think I became a theater director so that I could always be doing dress up. Then there’s Thanksgiving, and everything is pumpkin flavored, and there’s cider, and hopefully a little nip in the air. Then there’s my birthday, which usually involves some kind of celebration involving food and friends and drink.
And then it’s Christmas. And it’s peppermint and chocolate and more family time and more food and more friends. And more drink.
When I was a kid we kept the Christmas decorations in the attic, and, curiously, we didn’t keep anything else in the attic. So the only time of year we went up there was to get the Christmas decorations. Even the opening of the attic, the pulling down of the ladder, the gazing up into the darkness–every moment was magical. Then there’s opening the boxes and rediscovering all of your favorites. In the years since, I have literally never let my mother throw away a single ornament. We still have ornaments that are those baked, glazed cookies that you make in pre-school. They’re all chipped so it’s impossible to tell if it’s a bell or a snowman or a reindeer or what. My parents still have them all.
Not surprisingly, over about fifteen years of my adult life, I amassed quite a collection of my own decorations. Some I bought in New York for my tiny little apartments in Hell’s Kitchen and Washington Heights. When I moved with my then-boyfriend soon-to-be-husband to a log cabin deep in the woods of Vermont, I started collecting decorations for all three holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. At Christmas I would decorate the tree, the windows, the kitchen, all four bedrooms, and the bathrooms. There was even a little fake tree in the basement where I worked out. We hosted several Christmases in that cabin– sometimes for my husband’s mother and my parents and his sister, sometimes just for us and my parents. We spent our first Christmas as a married couple there just the two of us. One time his sister, his mother, her sister and her husband, my parents, and my neighbors were all there for Christmas eve. There was snow and icicles and sleigh rides and wood stoves with blazing fires. It was pretty great.
When we moved to LA I brought all of the decorations–several boxes–and to put that in context, I only brought one box of kitchen things. That’s how important the decorations were to me (and how unimportant the kitchen is). Then two years ago, my husband spent Thanksgiving in China on a tour of a play about freedom of the press, which was pretty cool, but I missed him. So when he got back I started planning my birthday–I wanted to have his cast and my cast (I was directing a show that we were co-producing) over for a cocktail party. But five days before my birthday, I came home from rehearsal and he announced that he’d decided that it was unfair to him that he had had to help me out when I was hurt (I had fallen down a flight of stairs and broken my heel, was on crutches for five months, blah blah blah), and he said that I wasn’t making enough money, and he left.
I will spare you the details of that holiday and of the two years that followed. Suffice it to say that a lot has changed. When he moved out of the apartment we shared in Brentwood, I made him take the Christmas decorations. I knew that it would be impossibly sad to open those boxes the following year, but I couldn’t bear to throw them away myself. So I made him take them. They were the last thing he took the day he moved out. So that was that.
Then last Christmas I got a little sad that I didn’t have any decorations, and divorces are expensive, so I didn’t have any money either. As any modern person will do when faced with a problem, I turned to Facebook. I told friends if they had any stuff they weren’t going to use this year that I’d love some hand-me-downs. My new landlord responded, “I think I might have what you’re looking for.” Very mysterious, right? So, I went over to her house and she told me to go up into the attic.
I pulled down the ladder, and headed up, inhaling that familiar attic smell and feeling that familiar draft of cold air hit my face. Then there was that moment where it’s really dark and you have to find the light and balance on the ladder at the same time. But I managed it, and I discovered that the prior owners of that house had left two boxes of Christmas decorations in the attic. There were garlands, a stuffed snowman on a swing, an adorable penguin-box-thingy with a scarf. And of course, lights. And they were perfect.
One of the things I have always loved about Christmas is the fact that early Christians decided when to have Christmas based on the fact that most pagan societies celebrated the Winter Solstice with like a really big party. I can just imagine the church elders going, “So, how can we win people over to our new super-awesome religion?” And one guy’s like, “Well, they have this huge party every year around this time, and maybe we could like figure out a way to throw an even better party at the same time?” And the other guys were like, “Yeah, that oughtta work.”
So yes, for Christians like me, there’s a birth that we celebrate, a gift from God that, even though it probably happened in April, would forever change human history. But it’s not a coincidence that the story of this gift’s arrival is linked to the presence of a really bright light. In the midst of the darkest part of the year, we humans have always celebrated with a big, bright, blazing party full of light. And every year we are reminded, Christian or not, that there is good in the world. That even in our darkest moments, we can find reason to celebrate.
I have a lot to celebrate this year, and I’m super grateful for all of it.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Originally posted on Holly L. Derr:
Originally posted at Bitch
This is a dark summer for geek girls. Though superhero and comic book-based films are all the rage these days, it’s male crime-fighters who get all the attention: there are no films starring female superheroes on the horizon.
Hey hld6 friends and followers! I’m now publishing on my non-anonymous blog, http://hollyderr.com. Hope to see you over there!
Originally posted on Holly L. Derr:
The reason the sky is bigger here is because there aren’t any trees. The reason folks here eat grits is because they ain’t got no taste. Cowboys mostly stink and it’s hot, oh God, is it hot…. Texas is a mosaic of cultures, which overlap in several parts of the state, with the darker layers on the bottom. The cultures are black, Chicano, Southern, freak, suburban and shitkicker. (Shitkicker is dominant.) They are all rotten for women. — Molly Ivins
I have a ghost in my computer. This poltergeist spontaneously shuts my laptop down whenever there’s anything important happening. On Tuesday I finally broke down and took it into the shop for an exorcism, so as Wendy Davis filibustered SB5 in the Texas Senate, I could only follow what was happening via the Twitter app on my phone.
Refresh refresh refresh refresh.
Originally posted on Holly L. Derr:
In the midst of a dark summer for geek girls (sorry USA Today, one lady per movie does not constitute a good summer for women), a ray of light has finally broken through. MGM has announced it plans to reboot The Tomb Raider film franchise, and they’ve hired a female screenwriter: none other than Marti Noxon of Buffy the Vampire fame.
The Tomb Raider game–one of the few with a female protagonist–was rebooted earlier this year, and its new incarnation garnered it’s share of criticism as well as praise. Before it came out, executive producer Ron Rosenberg announced that Croft would be a victim of rape and encouraged players to protect her. Amidst backlash, the development company, Crystal Dynamics, walked back the statement. But when the game was released earlier this year, the controversy flared again. The violence that Lara Croft suffers at the beginning of the game is intense and distinctly sexual.
Violence against women has been a part of video games since Grand Theft Auto allowed players to pay prostitutes for sex and then murder them and take their money back. in 2009, a Japanese video game called RapeLay went so far as to make sexual assault the point of the game, including the rape of a 10-year-old girl who stammers, “I want to die” while tears roll down her cheeks. In fact the trope has become so common and gamers so comfortable with it, that a Microsoft employee at last week’s now notorious E3 convention made a rape joke while demonstrating a game with a female colleague.
I cannot pinpoint a first memory of my Aunt Bettie and Uncle Gene Campbell because they didn’t come into my life, they were always there. Bettie and Gene were my parents’ friends before I was born; in fact they were the only non-blood relations at my parents’ wedding. Mom and Dad chose to do something small, in the chapel of our church instead of the sanctuary, and only their parents and my dad’s brother’s family were invited. Bettie and Gene, it seems, would not be kept away and they crashed the ceremony. I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t mind.
As a little girl, the nights that the Campbells came over to our house were always special. We got dressed up, we had hors d’oeuvres and special drinks, we ate in the fancy dining room. I got to drink sparkling apple juice out of a tiny wine glass. Gene and my Dad would drink Scotch, and to this day the smell of it reminds me of those nights. The women smelled wonderful, too–these were nights for perfume and fancy makeup and staying up late.
My parents traveled with the Campbells, so many of these nights consisted of after dinner slide shows, complete with portable screen and an old school carousel projector. Though I didn’t sit through the slideshows, I used the time when the lights were out and no one was looking to flit from room to room, absorbed in fantastical adventures inspired by the castles of Scotland on the screen.
Going to dinner at the Campbell’s house was even more magical. I think it was the gold flecks painted into the ceiling in their den that made the place sparkle in my little girl’s eyes. I remember at least once classical music playing on the stereo inspired me to dance from room to room, using the architecture of the sunken den to execute a number of fancy leaps, while the grownups sat and talked. The back room contained a number of treasures close to my heart and every visit involved a rediscovery of them: a music box that played “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” A wooden duck that could be pulled on a string. Book after book of Peanuts comics. Over successive visits I read them all.
When most of my Christmas and birthday presents were still toys, the Campbells started giving me books. The What Katy Did series filled my desire for more Little House books (eight is not enough!). They gave me Pride and Prejudice long before I knew who Jane Austen was. Bettie also has a knack for picking the perfect piece of jewelry for me. When I moved to New York they visited me there. When I started my own theater company, they donated to it. When I got married Bettie and Gene throw a brunch for the wedding party. When I got divorced they took me out for Mexican food. (What can I say, they know what I like.)
As I write these words, I realize these things sound so quotidian. But the smells, the light, and the words of those books take me back to those nights in body and spirit–in everything but actual time–in a way that assures me the memories are important. I think that because of Bettie and Gene, it is written on my brain that having friends with whom one shares an entire lifetime is a good thing, an important thing, a thing defined not so much by what you celebrate, but that you celebrate together. It’s a thing to get dressed up for. For lifetime friends, you get out the fancy glasses.
The wonderful family that survives my Uncle Gene is a testament to the fact that he lived a wonderful life. Today I call myself aunt to a number of children who are not my biological relatives. If I can ever be anything like as important to them as Bettie and Gene have been to me, I’d consider myself to have done alright.
Thanks so much Uncle Gene for all the books and all the magic and all the love.