Plastic Christmas

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This year, my family finally relented: we bought a plastic Christmas tree.

When I say “my family,” of course, I really mean “my grandparents.” My immediate family, due to the fact that my mother is Jewish, has never had a Christmas tree. (We also used to celebrate Hanukkah at Thanksgiving. I had a religiously confusing childhood.) So every year that I can remember up until now, we have gone to my grandparents’ house and decorated the shedding fir tree in which between one and three cats have nested.

The whole week around Christmas is the most heavily-ritualized time of the year for me. The tree is the kick-off. Later on there’s a family viewing of the lights in the town square, then a singalong on Christmas Eve before we do presents Christmas morning. In between, there is ongoing gossip about people my dad went to high school with. We eat divinity and fudge. (Divinity is like fudge if you abandoned all pretense and just made it out of corn syrup. On a related note, my grandmother is from Alabama.) There are obligatory references to state and local Democratic politics, and there is a three-Clinton-reference quota.

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Big Rock Sadness Mountain

While grabbing lunch with a friend a few weeks ago, I managed to move a conversation from lunch food to the overwhelming terror of family illness within the span of about ten minutes. She took up the conversational reins and–despite her best efforts–we moved from talking about finals to discussing the prospect of unemployment and destitution post-grad.

Clearly we needed cheering up in the form of obnoxiously-sized, frosted cookies. Cookies procured, we tried to find something nice to talk about. A few sentences later, we were talking about general ennui.

At this point we burst out laughing, because clearly we are broken in the sort of way that turns cookie cake into self-examination.

My friend drew a comparison to a mountain. No matter where our conversation started, we tumbled down the side of Mount Conversation–ricocheting off mountain goats (perhaps listening to the Mountain Goats) and rocky outcrops–and landed in the river of sadness.

In the four or five times I’ve seen her since this realization, we haven’t been able to escape it. It got to the point that a few nights ago I was joking about doing this family coat of arms craft with a crest composed of a mountain, with 40 of cheap malt liquor being poured out, down the mountain, into the river of tears. Perhaps with, “Where I go, sadness follows,” in Latin (for class!). Perhaps a tiny violin could be floating down the river.

At some point, we made the decision to give up trying to avoid our clearly melancholy inclinations.  Continue reading

Christmas Carols in November

Today we’re going to talk about Christmas music. Specifically, we’re going to talk about why I have had the first CD of Sufjan Steven’s box set on loop in my car for the past week.

So, for those of you who don’t already know this, this will require a bit of backstory. My mother was raised Jewish. My father was raised as nothing in particular, but a nothing stemming from the Methodist and Baptist traditions. This means that I have a Hebrew name and, when I lived in Tulsa, my sister and I were the only two Jews at school. We got to explain Hanukkah to our classmates. This was made weirder by the fact that, in my family, Hanukkah was celebrated at the same time as Thanksgiving.

There is some longwinded family scheduling lore behind this, but the basic facts were this: Thanksgiving and Hanukkah happened at the same time for child-me, and they were followed by Christmas with my dad’s family. This worked pretty well.

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I Went to Crystal Bridges (and I Didn’t Totally Hate It)

A picture of Walmart

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I spend a week each winter in the Ozarks. Along with moving me back into Pepsi country, my family’s location near Fayetteville, Arkansas gives me front row seats to the strangeness that is Walmart money. Though the company is sort of fundamentally evil (and, unlike Coke, doesn’t fund my university*), the Waltons are present in some legitimately cool places in town. It’s hard to throw a stone and find a building that doesn’t have the Walton name painted somewhere on the front. Their money built the Fayetteville arts center, for example, and it’s hard for me to hate an arts center.

More recently, Alice Walton (daughter of Sam, the Walmart founder) decided to build an arts museum in Bentonville**. It’s entirely an American art museum, it’s funded seemingly entirely by companies that my hippie self is obligated to hate***, and it has the somewhat revolting name of Crystal Bridges. This year, my family got together and visited.

As much as I wanted to dislike the museum, I found it difficult to. It’s funded entirely by awful companies, but it’s also a completely free museum in the midwest. And—in part because of who made the museum—the collection is large and interesting. And when my family went, we didn’t just see the same folks you see at the High Museum here in Atlanta, who—in part due to the fact that it is really expensive—tend to share an outward class demeanor.

Based on the conversations I overheard, the people who were around us came from a variety of economic backgrounds. Most of them were not comparing the collection to other museums, leading me to assume that for reasons of money or distance this is probably the first reasonably accessible major museum most of them have been to in some time (or they’re just less judgey than the people I know, which is always an option).

I want to be annoyed by a museum that has Walton money all over it and a stupid name, but it is also so cool to me that they are using their money to at least make people recognize the midwest as a feasible destination for arts tourism—particularly when the American focus of the museum also encourages a consideration of Native American history and culture (albeit as portrayed by Euro-Americans, primarily) as a valid focus of cultural activity. The anthropologist in me approves of that.

The museum isn’t without its share of worrisome income streams. But, it also doesn’t suck. For those who are in Arkansas for one reason or another, the collection is definitely worth a look. If nothing else, there are two portraits of George Washington, and that’s pretty darn Ameri-tastic.

* Go Eagles!

** A town previously distinguished by having a neat toy shop and being the home of Walmart.

*** Goldman Sachs, Walmart, Tyson, and GE all feature prominently on an entryway wall.

Global Warming FTW!

Screenshot from Weather.com showing that it was 46 degrees in Tulsa, OK today.

This is freaking me out.

On Saturday, the family and I ventured up to Winslow, AR to stay with my grandparents for Christmas. After the 14-hour drive (complete with our very own simple dog) to my grandparents’ my family loaded back up into the car for the 2 1/2 hour drive to Tulsa, OK that we make every year in order to placate my sister and me. It may have been 8 years ago, but dammit, we are still bitter about being uprooted.

In Tulsa I got to see a few of my friends who were in town and eat some Mexican fusion, so it was good times all around. We spent part of the day wandering around Utica Square, in December, in Tulsa, without jackets. You guys, this is freaking me out. The first year we went back to Tulsa, my friends and I hung out at the zoo because we were 12 and what the hell else were we going to do. We had to cower inside the rain forest exhibit to restore feeling to our extremities. This weather is unseasonably nice, is what I’m saying.

Because I am from the Midwest, this mostly makes me idly wonder what God is going to do in order to even the karmic scales. I’m thinking a hail storm, tomorrow. Given that my grandparents’ power just went out (they live on a mountain in a town with 399 people), this may, in fact, be the route that He has chosen to go. Still not worse than a tornado! Continue reading