Christmas 2020

Our Christmas was a less lonely one than some of our other friends and family had. Both my parents and my husband Jordan’s parents live in town, and we quarantined with extra care for the couple weeks leading up to Christmas so that we could see them. We did Christmas Eve dinner with my parents–a prime rib roast that Jordan made following an Alton Brown recipe–and we checked in on Zoom with some of my siblings. My mom’s losing her hearing and my two children were running wild. Two things which added to the already inherent chaos of a group video chat, but it was nice to see the faces and hear the voices of everyone who tuned in. My mom is also on medicine that makes her tired and appears to mess with her memory, so that every time she talks about the call she seems to entirely forget the presence on it of one of my sisters. I haven’t had a chance to tease my sister about it yet, but she should be aware that teasing is definitely coming.

Christmas morning, we follow a tradition of my family’s from when I was a kid. We line up in our upstairs hallway, the kids each hold one of our sets of jingle bells and shake them as we sing a carol and make our way downstairs to our living room where the presents await.

(Two children in Christmas-themed pajamas hug each other and laugh. One child holds a menagerie of stuffed animals.)

After opening presents and leisurely getting ourselves ready for the day, we went to my husband’s parents’ house for more presents and food. My son’s favorite presents seem to be his several LEGO sets and his video games. He was not impressed by the books he received, but he does love reading and being read to, so I anticipate he’ll enjoy them more as the year goes on. Our youngest–nearing two years old–still wasn’t old enough to entirely understand what was going on, but she picked up on the concept of presents almost immediately and was excited and entertained by everything she was gifted.

(Two books. On the left, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls in black and pink and green. On the right, Circe, in black and gold.)

Unlike my son, I was incredibly pleased with the books I received. Circe and The Gallery of Unfinished Girls from my husband, and How to Read a Suit from my in-laws. This last one will come in handy in research for both my writing and my sewing. I also got some games I used to play with my family when I was a kid, and I’m excited to play them with my own family now. We already tried out Labyrinth, and it was as fun as I remembered. Next will be Rummikub. A classic.

(A hand holds a copy of the book How to Read a Suit: A Guide to Men’s Fashions from the 17th to the 20th Century. Its a brownish maroon with an image of a man’s figure wearing a mustard-colored suit from the 17th century.)

Christmas is my favorite holiday, but I think I’ve always loved the build-up more than the actual day itself. At least, the come-down from the high of the season tends to start toward the end of Christmas Day and always leaves me feeling a bit of melancholy. This year it waited to hit until the morning after. Partly, probably, due to the help of the show Bridgerton, which I binged in less than 24 hours and which I… almost loved? (Maybe I’ll write more on that later, but my qualms lie in the presence of a sexual assault scene–why???!!!–for which the character never seems to feel remorse, and which the show seems to want us to feel is justified?) Aaaanyway, it’s hard to fully give into melancholy when I’m immersed in a sweeping period romance, but once the melancholy did hit, I let myself indulge in it for a couple days, and now I’m ready to start doing real life again. Which is good, because tomorrow is Monday and real life is coming whether I want it or not.

Super Communication With the Help of Superheroes

When Jordan started watching the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series on Netflix, I thought it was so endearing that he was watching kid shows. I’d hear some of the over the top action-y music or some of the cheesyish lines and giggle in an “isn’t he adorable” sort of way.

But—serves me right—pretty soon I was sucked in too. The thing is that the series actually have some pretty compelling plot lines and they deal with subjects that are way more complicated than what you’d expect in a cartoon. Plus I fell in love with so many of the characters. Batman (I connect better with cartoon Batman than with movie Batman for some reason, though I do like both), Green Arrow, Black Canary, Vigilante… (I like Justice League Unlimited best because of the variety of great characters in it.)

This week I’ve been tutoring a Korean boy in English while he’s here visiting his aunt. We’ll call him “Cool Guy” since that is a phrase he likes a lot and since he is a cool guy and since I don’t want to give his real name. Mostly my job is to get him talking and teach him more English in the course of the conversation. I tutored him last year and I knew he loved super heroes (What 7 year old doesn’t?) so this year that has been our focus.

He has a book all about Superman through the ages. It highlights some other characters too, like the core heroes from Justice League Unlimited and I couldn’t help feeling ridiculously proud of myself for knowing so much about all of it.

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We talked about who they all are and what their special powers are. Then I pulled out the free copy of part 1 of the “All Star Superman” story that we got when we went to Las Vegas Comic Con. The first day it was a combination of telling the story as I showed Cool Guy the pictures and asking him questions about what he saw on the page.

“Who is that?”
“Superman.”
“What is he flying into?”
“The sun.”

Today I made him show me the pictures and tell me the story all by himself. He did a really good job.

“This is Superman. Superman is sick. That is a doctor.”

Since Cool Guy’s English is basic and my Korean is limited, we had to rely on “work arounds” in our communication. Ways of describing things that aren’t always accurate but mean about the same thing.

Cool Guy trying to explain how Lex Luther is remotely controlling another man that he’s basically turned into a monster: “That is Lex Luther. That is a Lex Luther robot.”

Other than the fact that Cool Guy is pretty much a tiny little genius (and hilarious to boot) what struck me was the power of a few pictures to tell a story. And even more than that, the power of a story to transcend, at least somewhat, barriers between language and culture.

It was also a reminder of how our experiences surrounding a story influence how we feel about it. Sitting down and talking Superman with Cool Guy has created very specific memories that will probably keep coming to mind when I see a Superman movie or read a Superman comic. I will remember how in our “Draw and Explain” segment today Cool Guy very meticulously drew every part of Superman’s costume, even the little curl of hair at his forehead, and I will smile about it and I will like Superman a little more because of the memory.

Life Aquatic and the Subtle Amidst the Loud

This was my laptop desktop image during my year in the MFA. Jordan put it on my computer, and it reminded me 1) that I have a cool husband and 2) to keep dreaming big.

This was my laptop desktop image during my year in the MFA. Jordan put it on my computer, and it reminded me 1) that I have a cool husband and 2) to keep dreaming big.

Watched Life Aquatic again, years after watching it for the first time. First, I have to say — I forgot how SAD it was. When we hit play, I did not expect to have my face drenched in tears before it ended. Somehow I’d completely blocked the sad part out of my memory and it came as a pretty big shock.

But the sad part is really not what I wanted to talk about. When I think about Wes Anderson as a director, what stands out the most are his exaggerated characters, his eye-popping production design, his picture-book-like cinematography. It’s all so noticeable and loud (and always so pleasing to the eye on so many levels), but watching Life Aquatic this time reminded me where Wes’ genius really lies:

Even though his characters are always so bigger-than-life and so odd, the relationships between characters—what’s going on between them—is handled more subtlely. It’s not that you can’t see the filmmaker’s hand there too. Just like everything you see on screen, just about every word feels like it’s there for a purpose. It’s definitely scripted.

The genius of it though, I think, is that to understand what the story is really about, you have to look past all the oh-so-satisfying “noise” of the production and examine the story being told in the tension between sentences, in the direction of someone’s gaze, in what’s not being said.

That’s one reason that several days after watching what might come across to some people as a silly, weird little movie, I am still thinking about the equally silly and weird characters and contemplating what it is that they’ve taught me about life and myself.