Having taken everyone's suggestions to heart, I've decided to do something no one suggested. Get ready for 12 Strange Days of Christmas, people!

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Taking into account my friend Meagan's recommendation to just do seasonal winter music, I'm now brewing up a seasonal playlist of its own. But that's for January. And as for my friend Liz's thumbs up on going with sacred music for the holiday - despite my agnostic love for churchy Christmas music, I just couldn't invoke the sacred this season. Not this year. And barring a certain mangy old fox being smoked out of the henhouse, probably not next year or the year after.

It is in fact with the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times," in mind that I give my strange, interesting, wonderful friends a break from the more depressing aspects of our strange and interesting times. Starting Thursday, 12/7 and running through Friday, 12/22 (minus weekends) I give you my advent calendar of strange and interesting Christmas cheer. And to warm you up, here's a great list of 10 weird Christmas albums, none of which shall be drawn from here.

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AuthorJohn Proctor

And now, dear friends and readers, for the dreaded reader-response request. For the past three years I've indulged in some Christmas fun through perhaps my favorite part of Christmas: the music. The first two years I focused on my favorite variety, miserable. Last year, at my mother-in-law's request to lighten up, I dropped 12 days of unrepentantly happy Christmas songs. Ironically, doing that list only made me more depressed. (In the songs' defense, it turned out I was actually clinically depressed.) 

Anyway, feel free to catch up on the past three years, but I also need your help deciding what to do this year. The 12-day thing works, but I'm trying to find a unifier that's less polarized. I was thinking maybe my favorite novelty songs, or anti-Christmas songs, or even sacred Christmas music (which is a guilty pleasure).

What do you think? One of these? Something else entirely? Help a brother out, here in the comments or on my social media. 

And as thanks, here's a nice photo of me with Santa outside his trailer in the Eighties. Those were good times.

John with Santa.jpg
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AuthorJohn Proctor

Dinner conversation with my 8-year-old:

8YO: What if Voldemort and Donald Trump joined forces?

ME: They actually did. Voldemort now goes by the name of Vladimir Putin.

8YO: 

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Posted
AuthorJohn Proctor

When you’re teaching Baudrillard to freshmen, and you decide to take them outside and explain the precession of simulacra at the side of a pond dug by earthmovers decades ago with a fountain bubbling loudly from the middle of it while your class is gathered on a set of stones arranged in colosseum seating, and you ask them if they can think of any examples of representations that have denatured reality until they exist outside the reality they once reflected. “You mean, like a cliché?” one asks. “Example,” you say. “Being a cat on Halloween,” one says. “You mean if you’re a girl?” you ask. “Unless you’re a girl named Kat,” she says, looking over at the girl in your class named Kat, who apparently just dressed up as a cat for Halloween. And when one student starts texting and you ask what he just texted, and he says, “lol,” and you ask if that is his example of a simulacrum. “Maybe,” he replies, and you ask, “What if someone does something just for the lulz?” “You mean like if I’m playing an online RPG and go in and just kill someone?” “Exactly,” you say. “You were obviously just doing that for the lulz.” “Don’t say lulz, Professor,” another student says, then you ask if you all are in a simulacrum right now, a denatured symbol of the real, but before anyone can answer, another student or maybe two jump up from the stone they were sharing and speechlessly point under it. And you get down on hands and knees, thinking that you haven’t yet even explained how you brought them out into a simulacrum of nature to illustrate Baudrillard’s precession, and find yourself looking into the shiny eyes of a rat. “Class dismissed,” you say, and two students stay, wanting to talk to you about Black Mirror, but all you want to do is keep looking at the rat, this Barthesian punctum of the simulated narrative you’d been cultivating for these eighteen-year-olds, this small, frightened, feral little packet of the real, silently judging you.

What are the Sneaky Feels?

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AuthorJohn Proctor

When you’re at your daughters’ piano lessons and the instructor’s husband asks you if you were ever a boxer. It’s just that your face— he says, and you interrupt him to say it’s probably that your nose has been broken multiple times, and your older daughter interrupts her lesson to ask how you broke it. I’ll tell you later, you say, and on the walk home you tell her for the first time about the man who raised you, that he broke you—your nose and your will—and that she will probably meet him at her aunt’s wedding next year and he’ll probably call himself her grandfather but he’s not, and she looks at you like Don Draper’s daughter looks at him at the end of Season 6 of Mad Men, like she is reconciling the man she knows as her father with this man who happens to also be her father. And the next morning before school, when both of your daughters are trying to pet the dog and your younger daughter suddenly starts wailing on her sister, punching her on the shoulder and chest so intently that you hear the smacking sounds before the scene unfolds to your conscious mind, and that broken thing in you somehow breaks again, you rush up to your youngest daughter, grab her by both arms and yank her up so she can only look into your eyes in helpless terror, and you scream, WHY DID YOU DO THAT? YOU DON’T HIT YOUR SISTER! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? And she starts screaming, seeing the violence in your eyes, and you put her down and look away in shame as she runs to her room and barricades her door, and your older daughter is looking up at you from the couch while rubbing her arm with that look on her face again, wondering who this man is sharing a body with her father. And you go to the bathroom, blast the water, and weep.

What are the Sneaky Feels?

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AuthorJohn Proctor
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MY 8-YEAR-OLD: Today we got kindergarten reading buddies.

ME: [airheaded in my thoughts]

8YO: You’re not listening to a word I’m saying.

ME: Today you got kindergarten reading buttons. Is yours in your backpack?

8YO: [laughing] I can’t fit a kid in my backpack!

ME: Ahh, kindergarten reading buddies.

8YO: [laughs] … I don’t think I got the joke.

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AuthorJohn Proctor
  1. It felt a lot like going to see a Fleetwood Mac cover band (which I've also been known to do) - I enjoy the show immensely, and it's kind of fun seeing how they do the same stuff in a little bit different ways, but I feel a little bit weird wondering if this counts as a real show.
  2. Did anyone else notice that the TV miniseries was made in 1990 and it's now 2017? 27 years. That's Pennywise's dormancy span, man.
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AuthorJohn Proctor

When you’re waiting at the bus stop with your children and you see a guy with a familiar face, and you realize you went to high school with him almost three decades ago and half a country away, and you instinctively say his name despite having barely known him in high school—he looks at you without recognition so you say, “John Proctor. We went to high school together,” and he fakes it, smiling wide and saying “Um” and “Ahhh, yes,” and you know he has no idea who you are, but that’s alright, you tell yourself, you weren’t that memorable in high school. You know from common friends that he went to Harvard and now also lives in Brooklyn, that he’s married to a man and they have what mutual friends have described as a precocious child, and this doesn’t surprise you since he was a precocious child and now has a prominent career in city planning and public policy, and as your bus arrives and your children start pulling your arms toward it you remember the one thing that has stayed with you through three decades between youth and middle age: His dominant hand, twirling a pencil on his knuckle with his thumb over and over in humanities class while your teacher talked about Bruce Springsteen and the Romantic poets, and how you spent the remaining years of high school imitating and perfecting this twirl with your own hand in the hopes of approximating this young man’s intelligence and appropriating the respect everyone gave him as a very intelligent young man. And when you get on the bus and think on him more as your daughters don’t ask who he was, you hope he still twirls his pencil on his knuckle, that you share this intellectual property with him, in this city and this neighborhood within which you’ve both nested.

What are the Sneaky Feels?

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AuthorJohn Proctor

When you’re reading Mrs. Dalloway on the train home from teaching at Rikers and you remember a conversation you had at the beginning of the summer with your therapist, when the two of you established the room as a metaphor for your life—you go to your room (which can be anywhere really) to be alone, to reflect, to create, but if you spend too much time in the room you forget about all the other voices outside of your own head. And you marvel at Woolf’s internal dialectic of finding a room of her own while remaining open to every voice she hears on the streets, in the shops, in the government facilities, at parties, at funerals and wakes, on the trains and omnibuses, all pulsing and pressing against her—you feel those voices too, and you wonder at the voices of the inmates you teach, and who teach you, voices informed only by the monotonous day-to-day of waiting for the freedom you are enjoying at this very moment. You feel those voices within you, and recoil at the sneering use of the term “social justice warrior” to belittle the impulse to serve and share space with people who don’t share your privilege on the assumption that this feeling of well-being, of expanded consciousness at serving friends you might never make if you didn’t seek them out when they were at their weakest, is somehow an ulterior motive for the service. Remember, duty is also an ulterior motive, as is the desire for a pleasant afterlife, as is any moral authority you may presume. There’s nothing so pure as the kindness of an atheist, a simple act of unselfishness that never asks to be repaid. Catherine Ann Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean sang this, but Virginia Woolf could have written it. The voice is the same.

What are the Sneaky Feels?

Posted
AuthorJohn Proctor

FIRST OFF, OUR FAKE PRESIDENT IS A PIECE OF STEAMING ORANGE SHIT WHO IS DUMB AS A ROCK AND HAS THE EMPATHY AND INSTINCTS OF WYATT'S OLDER BROTHER CHET FROM WEIRD SCIENCE. THAT'S NO SURPRISE. HE IS WHO HE IS. IT'S NO SURPRISE HE'S TRYING HIS HARDEST TO ESTABLISH A MYTHICAL "ALT-LEFT" THAT SOMEHOW IS THE EQUAL AND OPPOSITE EVIL TO THE RACIST ALT-RIGHT HE EMBRACES AND REPRESENTS. THE CLOSEST APPROXIMATION TO HIS IMAGINED ENEMY IS PERHAPS ANTIFA, BUT THEY WOULDN'T EXIST WITHOUT WANNABE FASCISTS LIKE HIM AND WHITE NATIONALISTS LIKE TRUMP'S FRIENDS WHO MARCHED ON CHARLOTTESVILLE WITH TORCHES. THE WORST YOU CAN SAY ABOUT ANTIFA IS THAT THEY REJECT THE PRINCIPLES OF NON-VIOLENT RESISTANCE, FOR WHICH I CAN HARDLY BLAME THEM CONSIDERING CONSERVATIVES' KNEE-JERK TENDENCY TO CHARACTERIZE ANY PROTEST AS VIOLENT, AND ALL POLICE VIOLENCE AS JUSTIFIED.

WORSE, THOUGH NO LESS SURPRISING, ARE MAINLINE CONSERVATIVE ATTEMPTS AT THE EXACT SAME THING TRUMP IS DOING. TEA PARTY DUDE ERICK-WOODS ERICKSON, IN HIS HEAD-SCRATCHINGLY SELF-CONTRADICTORY NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE SUNDAY, SOMEHOW EQUATES WHITE SUPREMACISTS WITH "SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIORS"*, CALLING THEM "TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN." THIS CONVENIENTLY REPRESSES THAT THE PEJORATIVE USE OF THE TERM "SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR" (OR SJW'S, AS THE CONSERVABROS LIKE TO CALL THEM) IS LESS THAN A DECADE OLD, WHILE WHITE SUPREMACY IS A NOTION ENTANGLED IN OUR FLAWED NATION'S ENTIRE HISTORY AND SUPPORTED UNTIL A HALF-CENTURY AGO BY THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HE NOW CALLS UPON TO SHEPHERD US THROUGH THE MESS THEY'VE HAD A HAND IN CREATING. THE MEASURED ACADEMIC IN ME WANTS TO CALL HIS ARGUMENT INTELLECTUALLY DISHONEST, BUT I'M CAPS LOCKED AND LOADED SO I'LL JUST GO AHEAD AND SAY IT: ERICK ERICKSON, WITH OR WITHOUT THE WOODS AND THE HYPHEN, IS AT LEAST AS RACIST AS DONALD TRUMP. AS THE NATION CONTINUES TO BE SOMEHOW SURPRISED THAT OUR FAKE PRESIDENT CAN'T BRING HIMSELF TO UNILATERALLY CONDEMN HIS BASE OF WHITE NATIONALISTS, CONSERVATIVES FLOODED SOCIAL MEDIA WITH SHARES OF ERICKSON'S EQUALLY UGLY ATTEMPTS TO DEFLECT BLAME AND PUT IT ON PEOPLE WHO, LIKE HIM, USE MEDIA TO EXPRESS OUTRAGE BUT WHO, UNLIKE HIM, ACKNOWLEDGE THE COMPLICATED AND SOMETIMES UGLY HISTORY WE ARE STILL LIVING.

* QUOTES IMPLY THE SEETHING IRONY OF THE ALT-RIGHT FROM WHOM ERICKSON CAN'T BRING HIMSELF TO PUBLICLY ADMIT HE STEALS HIS MOST CREATIVE IDEAS.

TL;DR: IF YOU REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE SYSTEMIC RACISM IN U.S HISTORY AND OUR PRESENT CULTURE, YOU ARE BEING RACIST. IF, LIKE ERICKSON, YOU INSIST ON MAKING IT A SIMPLE PARTISAN ISSUE, YOU ARE BEING RACIST AND STUPID.

 

Posted
AuthorJohn Proctor

MY 8YO: So how many books have you written?
ME: Well, if you count published ones...None.

Kids really know how to hit you where it hurts.

8YO: Can I read your unpublished ones?

Kids really know how to hit you where it feels good.

Posted
AuthorJohn Proctor

When you take your kids out to New Jersey for a two-week swim day camp, dropping them off early in the morning, getting some work done at the Starbucks, and picking them up around noon, and you find the two-week Jersey-Mom structure entrancing—waking up at 6:30, working out, having breakfast with your kids, loading them in the car, navigating the same traffic patterns every day, trying a different prefab Starbucks breakfast sandwich each day of the first week and then repeating each sandwich the next week, letting the barista take your name down as George the first day, then Joan the second day, until by the second week they don’t even have to ask your name, asking the swim instructors the same questions every day (“How was the day?” What did they learn today?” “Anything we can do at home?”), going back to your in-laws' house where you’re staying and having lunch, then going to the beach for the afternoon with your kids and a book and alternating between reading ten pages and getting in the water with them, leaving the beach at five and making dinner with your kids, your wife, your in-laws, and/or any cousins who happen to be there, putting the kids to bed, watching baseball, and having two beers. This procession should feel repetitive and artificial, because it is. But it feels good for two weeks.

What are the Sneaky Feels?

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AuthorJohn Proctor

8YO: There are these two boys in my class that are identical twins. I can never tell them apart.

5YO: Can you tell me what they look like?

8YO: It's hard to explain what people look like.

5YO: Can you tell me what one of them looks like? 

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AuthorJohn Proctor