A Hearing Trumpet for The Whispering Muse Pt. 1

LeadSkyAs we trickled into the room our yoga teacher commented on the cold. “Yes, it’s freezing,” said the woman from the Parks Department, “and it’s so dark. It’s like the sun never even rose today.” Leaden skies are commonplace in Seattle, and December can be forgiven for freezing temperatures, but her words, like the echo of a prophesy, filled me with foreboding. What if the earth’s magnetic poles really had begun to shift, triggering a new ice age and plunging the world into darkness?

How did I, scientifically trained product of a Jesuit education, come to harbor such dark fantasies?

It wasn’t just the sheep heads mysteriously scattered in my neighborhood the night before. No, the root of my unease stretched much deeper. It all started, as such things do, at the Nordic Heritage Museum.

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Generation X-mas


Twas the night before Christmas. The children were nestled all snug in their beds, under threat of holiday cancellation if they ventured downstairs. I in my hoody and daddy in his knit cap had just settled down for a long winter’s wrap.

Buried in paper and tape, fortifying ourselves with Benromach single malt, we watched Northern Exposure on the basement TV. Serendipitously, it was the Yom Kippur episode where Fleischman is visited by a manifestation of Rabbi Alan Shulman representing the spirits of Yom Kippur Past, Yom Kippur Present, and Yom Kippur Future. It was such a delight for a show’s holiday episode to be about somebody else’s holiday.

This holiday season my Facebook feed lit up with discussion of the old liberal/conservative holiday greeting joke. Without any fundamental disagreement, we all got pretty heated about the biases inherent in mainstream cultural holiday traditions. Most of us laughed at the joke in an “I resemble that remark” kind of way (terms like “patriarchal hegemony” were used). at the same time that we defended the caveats. While the rest of the culture pondered Santa’s racial identity, and even, inexplicably, Jesus’ (seems like that one is pretty well documented), the liberal greeting seemed like an awkward necessity.

When my daughter marvels at Santa’s ability to visit every house in the world in one night, my first thought is, “Actually, he only visits the houses of relatively stable families in Europe and America, where Northern European mythological traditions dominate.”  I marvel that her innocent little heart overlooks the fact that she had never heard of Santa or Christmas before her adoption at the age of three.

But I don’t say these things to her because I believe in the grandmother’s wisdom from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

Teach them about Santa and read them Shakespeare. Then, when they grow up and life gets hard, they can draw strength from their memories of magic and beauty.

Santa Claus may be problematic, but he provides a service more important than presents under the tree – cultivating a spirit of hope and generosity against the odds. Plus, I think the process of figuring out the truth about Santa is inoculation against gullibility later in life. Gen X has always been cynical about the traditions we’ve inherited, even if we haven’t got any better ideas.

I’ve scoured the internet for the Berkeley Breathed comic strip in which the little girl Ronald Ann says something like, “Let me get this straight, an old white man who spies on his client-base owns a non-union factory with a racially pure workforce etc. etc. Yep, Santa Claus has got to go.” I can’t find the strip (it’s always a shock to me something doesn’t exist online), but it makes a good point. Santa is white because he evolved from a Northern European mythological tradition. He will either continue to evolve to better reflect the needs of our culture, or be replaced by a symbol that does the job better.

So for now we welcome Santa. We give the kids multicultural storybooks and the kids give daddy video games. We burn incense on Christmas morning and eat Japanese curry for lunch while the ham cooks for dinner. We watch Elf and Miracle on 34th St. for their mix Christmas spirit and snark. And our kids play air guitar to Bad Religion’s Christmas album.

It ain’t Ozzie and Harriet. But it’s good.


Retreat! (Iceland Writers Retreat, That Is)

I don’t remember who posted the tweet about Iceland Writers Retreat. But I remember the arrow to the heart feeling when I saw it; that breathless half second like the moment between striking a match and seeing the flame.

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Not Too Shabby

HappinessProjectCoverOne of the lessons that resonated with me most in Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project was her rule to “Be Gretchen.” Rubin found that she wasted a lot of energy wishing she was the sort of person who appreciated jazz, who took advantage of more of the cultural opportunities in her city, who did all sorts of things that weren’t really her style, but that she thought should be. She realized you can’t play to your strengths if you aren’t honest about who you really are. Like Anne Rice’s vampires who wake up each evening with the same haircut they had when they died, whatever you think you’ve fixed about yourself just reverts to old habits with the sunrise.

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Icelandic Bands to Watch Meta-List

The main reason people visit this site.

Asgeir: The main reason people visit this site.

Right now everyone is caught up in year-end listmania, but a while back, there was a spate of “Ten Icelandic Bands to Watch.” They caught my eye because of my fascination with Iceland, but they stayed on my mind because there was so little overlap between them. It all started with a Pigeons and Planes feature “Icelandic Bands That You Need to Hear.”

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Statistically Speaking

magnifyingglassI usually don’t pay much attention to statistics on this blog, but today I spent a little time trying to see what they could tell me about myself. It turns out that digital feedback can be as uncomfortable as personal feedback. But at least there is humor in it, too. The only thing more amazing than what people search for on the internet is the fact that their search led them here.

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