Your 2020 Gift Guide — From My Friends!

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If you need to buy gifts this holiday season, but aren’t sure where to turn in a pandemic, may I suggest you look to my many talented friends? There are all different kinds of art to choose from here — books, comics, prints, albums. I left this post a bit late, my apologies, so keep in mind that Christmas shipping cut-off dates might have passed for some of these, but don’t let that deter you; I’m sure whatever you’re buying will be a great New Year’s gift. Shop local, shop small business, support your artists!

“The Lice” by Miranda Featherstone, in A World Out of Reach

Look, you may think reading more about the pandemic is the last thing you want to do, but what if the writing was really good? Miranda has been developing a clear, drily funny, and insistently honest style since at least the creative writing class we took together in high school. She’s written an essay about the worry and care we have for our children and the sickening fear and awareness of the frustrating limits of our own efforts that a novel coronavirus (or lice infestation) can induce.

The other essays in this book, selected by poet and memoirist Meghan O’Rourke, are sure to be as thoughtful and interesting.

Horned Warrior Friends and photos by Jez Kemp

Jez’s mind is a wonder, coming up with wonderfully smart and silly ideas at an astonishing speed. He writes and performs his own music, he’s perfecting the sunset timelapse photo, and he’s got a whole universe of characters that he draws and writes about. You can check out Horned Warrior Friends on their dedicated site, and if you go to the Redbubble site you can put the comics on just about anything (phone case, t-shirt, greeting card). You can also buy his photography and other artwork there (I am really partial to the sunset ones, but there are a lot of great pieces).

Quantum Leopard comedy by James Ross and many others

One of my favorite nights out in London, back when we had nights out, was the Quantum Leopard comedy night, run by the mustachioed Victorian waistcoat himself, James Ross. It’s a pay-what-you-can night with an explicit “no kicking down” policy, which means I can split myself laughing for three straight hours, without worrying that someone on stage is suddenly going to throw in something transphobic or go on a rant about fat people. And the quality of comedy is just top-notch. James was able to record one of the few shows he was able to put on in the midst of the ever-changing government rules this year, and you can buy it on the Patreon page.

Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West

Cathy and I worked together when I lived in Chicago. She helped train me, and we bonded over being from the same part of the southside. She’s written steadily for years, and I’m thrilled to see her debut novel — about faith, friendship, and family — make as big a splash as it has. It’s been featured in USA Today, it’s won the #SheReads Best book of the Year award, it’s been given 5 stars by Terry McMillan! Seriously, it’s one of the big books of the year, and for good reason — it’s powerful and impossible to put down. And lucky for us, Cathy’s got new books coming out in 2021 and 2022!

Now I Understand by Mikael Järvelin

I’ve spent many happy hours singing along with Mikke, and listening to him at open mics and my salons. He plays with delicate precision and writes introspective lyrics to match the mood. Think Elliott Smith via The Beatles, but Finnish. He’s released his first solo full-length as a digital album, and I highly recommend it (and I’m not just saying that because I appear on the track “Space”!).

Kit: A Bar Supply Store in Chicago by Lindsey Miller and Rachel Miller

Opening a brick-and-mortar specialty store in 2020? In this economy? Yes! Lindsey and Rachel, twins and Chicago natives, have jumped into this project, and I’m so proud and inspired by them. Rachel is an expert bartender (she literally gives classes on making cocktails — online! you can join!) and Lindsey is the project manager of your dreams. They’ve opened a store in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago, where pros and amateurs alike can pick up beautiful, useful bar kit. If you’re in the greater Chicago area, stop by to say hi!

Can We Talk About Consent? by Justin Hancock

Justin is an extremely knowledgeable and approachable sex educator. He runs BISH, a place for young people especially (but anyone, really) to get accurate, judgment-free sex advice (it’s like the UK’s version of Scarleteen). With Dr. Meg-John Barker, he runs a podcast and has co-authored a book. And now he’s got more! Can We Talk About Consent? is for anyone 14 and up, so if you’ve got teens in your life, I highly recommend you get this guide to talking about how we can build healthy relationships for life — that includes sex but also everything from how we make choices to how we can make respect for ourselves and others a foundation for everything we do. Pre-order so you have it by its early January release.

Mother of Orphans by Dedria Humphries Barker

Dedria has dug deep into her own family history to uncover the, as she puts it, “true and curious story of Irish Alice,” a white woman who married a black man in 19th century Ohio. When he died, Alice had to make the agonizing decision to put her children in an orphanage because she couldn’t afford to raise them. Dedria shares the voices of five women in her family, from Alice on down to herself, and the result is poignant and moving.

Anchorless Prints by Alithea O’Dell

Alithea’s studied the craft of letterpress and she uses a Chandler and Price machine, powered by foot treadle, to painstakingly make each item by hand (and foot, I guess!). She’s got stationery, greeting cards, stickers, and more. You can even request a bespoke commission via her contact page (not for Christmas this year, it is too late for that, but for the future). I think each print is just gorgeous.

Taking and Making: January 3

Today, I took in:

Susan Cooper’s novel The Dark is Rising (a classic YA fantasy I’d somehow never even heard of, let alone read, and perfect for this time of year as it’s set between Midwinter and Twelfth Night — so far I’m really enjoying it)

James Blake’s album The Colour in Anything (some good tracks but overall uneven)

Julie Byrne’s album Not Even Happiness (lovely songs sung in a lovely voice)

Ernest Hemingway’s “My Old Man” in 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories

The Doctor Who Christmas special (byeeeee Mark Gatiss and Stephan Moffat, you’ve definitely overstayed your welcome)

An episode of Godless (not inclined to watch any more of that)

 

I made:

some headway practicing 10 minutes of Spanish on Duolingo

the start of a poem (not a good one, but my first in nearly a year and therefore a good start)

 

 

How to Sing “Fairytale of New York” at Karaoke without Sounding Like a Jerk

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York” is obviously one of the best Christmas songs of all time. It’s a lively tune with a melancholy final verse (oh god that verse), the story of a couple that wonders if they have any good times left, a bittersweet look at the present compared to Christmases past. I sing along every time it comes on, even if that means I’m belting it out in a busy store, and it makes an excellent karaoke duet. But although it’s a perfectly crafted song, not all the words are winners. My mom came up with some alternate lyrics to one line so that you can sing without cringing, and I will now share them with you, my gift to you for this festive season.

Instead of “you scumbag, you maggot,  you cheap lousy f*ggot,” sing “you scumbag, you fungus, you cheapskate among us.” It scans, it keeps the idea of cheapness and vermin, and you cut out the slur. So go ahead, belt it out and Happy Christmas (your arse).

RIP Prince, One Year On

“It’s really hard to watch other musicians, because you tend to — you know, it’s like a painting you want to make straight or whatever. You just hear music like you hear it. It doesn’t mean that what they’re doing isn’t of merit. I just hear music different, that’s all.”
— Prince, on The Arsenio Hall Show, March 5, 2014

And lucky us, we got to eavesdrop on a little bit of how Prince heard music, in the form of all the amazing songs and performances he gave us.

After Prince’s death last year, a whole host of homages sprung up all over the place. In addition to the inevitable concerts and articles and murals, people showed their love in more unusual ways as well. A couple that I came across were based in the Midwest from which Prince came.

prince crop art

Prince crop art at the Minnesota State Fair, 2016

 

prince christmas lights park ridge

Prince homage in a Christmas lights display in Park Ridge, Illinois

Prince is dead. Long live Prince.