“Never Thought I’d Die Fighting Side By Side With An Elf.” -Gimli
“What About Side By Side With A Friend?” -Legolas
–The Return of the King
God, I don’t even know where to begin…
I haven’t written a blog since the uprisings last summer, and that feels like it was just yesterday.
As predicted, the people who didn’t care about racism before George Floyd’s murder, stopped caring about racism the moment it stopped trending on social media. They went back to fetishizing Black bodies, weaponizing white tears, and blocking out Black voices. They retreated into their excuses and pushup challenges, and the world went back to pretending that they would “hear” us, if only we told them they were killing us a little nicer.
Meanwhile, capitalism continues to ravage the world in the form of an unchecked viral pandemic. The global North is holding the global South hostage by refusing to share patents and hoarding vaccines and punishing scientists who do the right thing by sounding the alarm on new variants that likely originated in the countries that stole all their wealth to begin with–all but guaranteeing the prolongation of a pandemic that has only become another extension of how privilege operates on a macro-level.
Honestly, we all thought that vaccines would make it better. Right? I’m not the only one, am I? AM I?!
But, despite travel picking up again, and despite vaccines, and despite Trump being kicked out of the White House…the ennui has set in and called this dystopian reality a long-term home. And now, we all have to make peace with that. But let me go back for a minute. After all, it’s Christmas! And, hopefully, you’re all enjoying a much-deserved break. So, I want to kick off my first (and only) blog post of 2021 with a positive note, and offer a wholehearted and festive…
…to everyone (who isn’t immunocompromised) refusing to get vaccinated. And a particularly enthusiastic…
…to everyone comparing vaccine mandates to Nazi Germany. Especially the people living in or from Germany, like this absolute rocket scientist:
And I want to give a warm, wet, sticky, impassioned…
…to every anti-vaxxer who is sewing yellow Stars of David onto their clothing, because comparing your willful selfishness, anti-scientific narcissism, and social malice to a group of people who were almost entirely wiped out from this continent due to the anti-Semitism and ethnic cleansing that your side of the political spectrum would have actually supported behind (or in front of!) closed doors, makes me want to vomit.
And finally– a hot, tasty, pumpkin-spice flavored…
To the unvaccinated people who are clogging up ICUs in hospitals around the West (because, let’s be honest, this is a western phenomenon) after repeatedly insisting on the most vocal platforms available that COVID is a hoax, while taking sick beds away from people with cancer, heart disease, stroke, and medical emergencies that can’t be minimized or prevented with a simple shot. Whatever modicum of Christian decorum I had left from a childhood of indoctrination is gone. I will never forgive you for this.
Fuck you and your Rob Schneider logic to the grave–which is exactly where you’re headed if these variants have anything to say about it.
Now…that I have gotten that out of my system.
The holidays are a battle at the best of times, especially for people with strained familial relationships. My article on family estrangement goes viral approximately three times a year: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day–and Christmas, which is when I get the most emails from people responding (with extremely wholesome, kind, heartwarming) messages, saying that the holidays are especially stressful–not because they’re sad about being away from their families, but because they’re mourning the families they never had. I get that.
Personally, it’s the commercial messaging that gets to me the most. The pictures of loving, happy families all over department stores. The greeting cards. The tidal wave of movies that operate as an invisible guilt trip to “put aside differences” for the sake of an image of family that is very different from the one that actually exists. I’ve often wondered: Where are the Hallmark Christmas movies that interrogate that myth? That highlights the importance of creating your own traditions and your own festive moments as a practice of healing? Where are the movies that center friendship as the relationships that really carry us through life? At Christmas–it’s my friends who I miss the most, because they’re the ones who showed me the way the holidays can and should be. And when I look back on the best Christmas/Hanukkuh/Christmukkuh memories, it’s always been shared with them. That’s why I put a lot of effort into spending time with them every holiday season. Life is too short. And as Buddah taught us a long time ago, suffering is too big a part of it already. I wanted to do the same thing this year, and had hoped to reunite in London with all my homies, go a little ham baking Christmas cookies, kiss some brand new babies, and drink warm apple cider beneath their respective Christmas trees.
But, alas, Omicron had other ideas.
So, we’re stuck on different sides of borders, some are in quarantine, some are sick with COVID, some are pregnant and (understandably) being cautious. Once again, there are patchwork rules and restrictions to replace actual leadership, and many of us have to improvise for the holidays–myself included. For the past few weeks, I’ve been sulking because of cancelled plans. It’s been difficult to let go of things I had invested so much hope in following through with. God, I really needed this trip. I felt a part of myself ball up when I had to cancel it. This year has been exhausting for too many reasons to list here, and I haven’t been my normal self. Even writing this blog took multiple attempts and headaches to see through to completion. Everything is harder. Making plans, keeping them, finding the mental and emotional energy to respond to messages. I want to. But–I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to even risk it. I don’t want to badger people for their vaccinations and for tests. I don’t want to have a heart attack every time my contact tracing apps send me an alert that sends me to a testing center. I just wanna rub some Robutussin in this massive wound of a year (which is to say, the beginning of this entire decade) and walk it off on my own, and slap a raincheck on all of my plans until we an congregate safely again. And being inaccessible is just my way of holding onto the last threads of sanity I have to guide me through whatever 2022 has in store for us next.
But I miss everyone. I miss the life I had. Fuck, I actually miss 2020. At least back then, people pretended to care about each other enough to stay the fuck home.
There are so many people in Germany, the UK, Australia, and the US I haven’t gotten to see, hug, kiss, cuddle, and cook for because of this pandemic–and I’ve accepted that. And while Christmas pandemic hits different, I won’t go so quietly into 2022 without first reminding myself (and you) that–IF SOMEONE WITH LITERAL KILLER BREATH CAN LITERALLY KILL YOU THEN YOU NEED TO PRIORITIZE THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER IN YOUR LIFE WHILE YOU CAN. If you are one of those people who is dreading spending the holidays with your family, and you have an option to spend it with people you actually like, there is another way. And, after a some reflection, I’ve realized that there IS the perfect Christmas movie to illustrate the importance of friendship in addressing emotional baggage forced on us by familial obligations to remind of you of that. In fact, there are three…
There’s a beautiful moment at the end of the film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo tries to leave Sam behind as he decides to embark on his quest to destroy Sauron’s evil ring in Mordor all by himself. But Sam refuses to be left behind, nearly drowning himself as he chases his friend who is paddling away from the shores of the River Anduin (yes, I know the name of the river from the books). Despite how emphatically Frodo repeatedly said that the ring was his burden to carry alone, his friend disagreed and was even willing to put his life in jeopardy, not for the first or last time, to ensure Frodo’s safe passage to a horrific place to which no one would ever willingly want to venture.
I saw the film twice. Once by myself; the second time was with a friend of mine who, since he was a catastrophic nerd, spoke Elvish throughout the duration of the three-hour movie. Though I had gone back and purchased a new copy of The Lord of the Rings books, I put it aside for a time, opting for a movie-going experience that evoked the countless hours I spent as a child mulling over the densely written pages that described Middle Earth, watching and rewatching the 1977 animated film, The Hobbit–and feeling a deep appreciation for the attention to detail that Peter Jackson had incorporated throughout the entire trilogy, where the minutiae and visual particulars in costumes, computer-generated banquet halls, and sword engravings transformed into a shot of nostalgia that went straight to my heart.
The final product was something that spoke to the reverence and respect that one man, let alone an entire team of artists, has for telling a story that places friendship–not family–at the center of a narrative where the protagonist literally spent more than ten hours of running time trying to dispose of an immense burden he didn’t ask to carry but that was nonetheless passed onto him by a relative. As entertaining and visually lush as the film series is, one whose quality remains fleckless even twenty years later, the essence of the adventure lies in terms of how we choose to absorb, or let go of, the hardships passed onto us by people to whom we never chose to be bound. And how friends help us through that process. Though human relationships are often reduced to a binary that only centers romantic love and family, friendship is the tool that recrafts an equilibrium when challenges arise from both of those dynamics. And despite the horrific one-dimensional dynamics presented in shows like Sex and the City, I CAN’T HELP BUT WONDER…
…if Carrie “My TV Husband is a sexual predator” Bradshaw was on to something–to be clear, just one thing, and exactly nothing else: What if our friends are our real soulmates?
That, above all things, is worth celebrating at any time of year. But it’s an especially poignant message to remember during the holidays–which was when all three films in the trilogy were released from 2001 until 2003. The messages I’m getting right now are from people who feel pressure to spend time with their families to recreate a moment that only exists on Christmas cards, and rarely in living rooms or on telephone conversations. Some of us will spend years trying to shake off that expectation. Or, in Frodo’s case, approximately one thousand pages.
And some never will…
Literary critic Richard C. West described Tolkien’s epic adventure as a “reversed quest,” since the protagonist–Frodo–is not seeking adventure the way his cousin (referred to as “uncle”) Bilbo did when he first stumbled upon the Ring to begin with. Rather, Frodo is seeking to destroy an important trinket instead. He isn’t interested in treasures, fame, or glory, but simply attempting to rid himself of a hardship so that he can return to a life that was suddenly stripped from him. If that isn’t the most perfect metaphor for family-related trauma, and the process of overcoming it, I don’t know what is.
There is a complexity to this story that often gets overlooked, even though it mirrors the intricate, interwoven narrative structure of the books. Referred to as “interlacing,” a hallmark of medieval literature, West argues that Tolkien’s books pull together overlapping narratives to create heightened feelings of suspense, bewilderment, mystery, and intrigue. But it achieves something else as well. This approach speaks to the complexity of interpersonal dynamics, and how relationships aren’t static entities that remain in a constant state of health, but rather living, breathing ties that fluctuate as we grow, change, progress, and struggle to overcome individual challenges and hardships. And therein lies the problem with familial obligations: while individual relatives can and do change, the institution of family in and of itself has resisted adapting to any new definition that would incorporate friendship as the center (or at least one of the centers) of human life.
And in the year of our lord, 2021, the concept of the nuclear family is as regressive as anti-vaxxers who are using the term “my body, my choice.”
When people try to guilt me with the same “blood is thicker than water” logic, I’m reminded (that 1. That’s not what that Bible verse means, and two) that I deserve people who will walk through the fires of Mount Doom with me. And I am under no obligation to spend my holidays with people who made me set off on that journey to begin with. I tell the people who write to me that they aren’t either. Nobody is. Love the people who love you the way you need to be loved. Period. That doesn’t mean that friendships are perfect, and it doesn’t mean you would do anything for that other person. We all have challenges and boundaries in our relationships that need to be acknowledged and addressed. Frodo and Sam went through it. Man, did they go through it…
Their friendship is the core of the series, but it experiences multiple challenges along the way: As Frodo battles the ring’s evil spiritual influence, and then when Gollum threatens to tear their friendship asunder…We catch this in glimpses in both the books and the movies, while moving in and out of other subplots that focus on the other members of the Fellowship–all of whom have the same goal in mind, though there are different obstacles in place.
It’s important to remember that our relationships don’t just exist when we are physically present within them, sharing the same meal or space–but that they can be and are influenced by/in our absence too. While we are busy learning new things or unlearning the things we left behind, our relationships are immediately impacted by how we grow and change as well, regardless of our proximity to them in those moments. There is nothing linear about an individual life, let alone a relationship. While I’m sitting here and typing this, the family I come from is telling itself a different narrative about who I am and about who they are. And even though these narratives are no longer compatible with each other, we are still, nonetheless, connected–ironically, bound by the trauma that drove us apart.
There is no greater headfuck than that.
Personally, friendship has transformed the ways in which I experience and internalize my relationship with love into one of self-determination. I have chosen some of the best people in the world around me to be my friends, and thank goodness, they have chosen me back. And through that bond, we are supporting each other to realize that we are all deserving of the love we want and need, instead of the whatever it was that was offered to us.
There are a lot of movies that talk about the power of friendship. But how many of them position it as something that helps us heal that? Really. How many?
The Lord of the Rings does. I don’t care how nerdy it sounds. I don’t care what people think. And in lieu of being able to physically share Christmas with my loved ones this year, I’ll settle for enjoying this epic masterpiece once again, with renewed satisfaction at knowing that all the sulking I’ve been doing, is because I am mourning time I could’ve spent with people I actually can’t wait to see again. And there is a comfort in that, even if it’s small.
So, to anyone who feels pressured to fold and hang out with cousins who voted for Trump, or uncles who think the election was stolen, or aunties who think they’re being persecuted by government officials, or abusive parents or siblings, when all you want to do is snatch up a bottle of wine for that Orphan’s Christmas being held by your liberal, queer friends who donate a portion of their salaries to Planned Parenthood every year–you are your own person. You deserve peace. They don’t have to like it, and they can try to make you feel bad about your decision to be somewhere else…
Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. I’m sending love to anyone who needs it.
Unless you’re an anti-vaxxer. In which case–