So many people I've talked to in the past couple weeks have echoed my desire to feel more involved in both politics and humanitarian outreach in the wake of, well, realizing how fucking scary things can get when we merely discuss our political beliefs instead of working beyond just election season to make sure they don't fall apart. Last year for Christmas, my family had the wonderful idea of giving to charity instead of giving gifts to each other. We each came up with a list of organizations and causes that we cared about and created a sort of an ungift-wish-list. Everyone chose something off that list to donate to in the name of everyone else, handmade some really lovely cards, and exchanged them on Christmas morning over coffee and baklawa. It was really nice, and all of our hearts grew three sizes that day. I'm not telling you how to do your holiday gift-giving season this year, but I'm also not NOT telling you that this is a great idea and feels so incredibly relevant right now.
I'm going to let you have look at some of my wish list for this year. Maybe it will inspire you to compile one of your own! And while I do encourage you to donate your holiday gift money towards causes that need your assistance, it also feels really great to give of your time. Participate in the democracy of our nation by volunteering to be a poll worker at local elections, help at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen in your community, invest in real journalism and support the free press by subscribing or gifting a subscription to a trusted paper or media source, donate used coats and clothing, call your local and state representatives and let your voice be heard. Get involved in an organization in your town that will help you find local ways to volunteer and causes you connect with (a great one here in NYC that I have written about before is The Uprising.)
KIND - in their own words: "“KIND staff and our pro bono attorney partners at law firms, corporations, and law schools nationwide represent unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children in their deportation proceedings. Together, we ensure that no child stands in court alone.”
The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) - in their own words: "People across the country are coming together to stand up for what they believe is right. Take your stand. Help us as we: defend free speech and the right to protest, fight relentless attacks on reproductive freedom, reform our racially-biased criminal justice system."
The Trevor Project - in their own words: "The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people ages 13-24."
Border Angels - in their own words: "Border Angels is an all volunteer, non profit organization that advocates for human rights, humane immigration reform, and social justice with a special focus on issues related to issues related to the US-Mexican border."
Flint Water Fund - in their own words: "The United Way of Genesee County has set up this fund for the purchase of filters, bottled water, emergency support services and prevention efforts. 100% of the fund is used for these projects and no Administrative Fee is assessed."
Habitat For Humanity - in their own words: "A decent and affordable place to live helps families by freeing them from such physical and mental hardships and placing them on a path of new opportunity and increased confidence and self-reliance. A family’s partnership with Habitat means they have a stable place to live and to spend time together."
The Southern Poverty Law Center - in their own words: "The SPLC fights hate groups and bigotry using education, litigation, and advocacy."
Running Start - in their own words: "By educating young women and girls about the importance of politics, and imbuing them with the skills they need to be leaders, we give women the running start they need to achieve greater political power. With an earlier start in politics, women will climb higher on the leadership ladder, allowing more women to share in the decision making power of this country."
Planned Parenthood - in their own words: "Planned Parenthood is a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world delivering vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide."
PEN America - in their own words: "PEN American Center is the U.S. branch of the world’s leading international literary and human rights organization. PEN International was founded in 1921 in direct response to the ethnic and national divisions that contributed to the First World War. PEN American Center works to protect free and open expression in the United States and across the world."
Hand In Hand For Syria - in their own words: "We’ve been at the forefront of humanitarian aid in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011. Many aid agencies and charities (even the biggest names) can’t work within Syria because of government restrictions or the risk to their workers. That means that most of what you hear about Syrians, or aid agencies supporting them, comes from refugee camps in neighboring countries. We have a network of people on the ground who take in life-giving support, or purchase it locally, to help sustain the most vulnerable people in the crisis: the ones still in Syria."
Prison Book Program - in their own words: "Prison Book Program mails books to people in prison to support their educational, vocational and personal development and to help them avoid returning to prison after their release. We also aim to provide a quality volunteer experience that introduces citizens to issues surrounding the American prison system and the role of education in reforming it."
The materialistic orgy of the holiday season began, as it does every year, on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. It seems this year that stories of camp-outs, riots, and stampedes aren't nearly as prevalent, so I suppose that's something to be thankful for. Yet, if my inbox full of marketing ads from stores large and small are to be believed, the discounts running through the weekend (Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday) are as pervasive as ever. The antidote to this comes today, the day known as Giving Tuesday, when we're encouraged to take a break from spending money on gifts (or ourselves) and give some money to non-profits and charities.
Alms...alms...for a miserable woman...
I suppose I'm writing this to muse on the fact that I'm terrible at asking people for money. For anything, really - even myself. This is a common problem in both the theater and freelance communities. Many of us are so desperate for work that we're willing to settle for rates and fees far below our worth. In my case, if I'm trying to raise money for a project or a worthy charity - something I've thankfully only had to do a few times - I find myself cringing at the prospect of doing a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo video and begging friends and family to support my endeavors.
And yet, in the wake of the disastrous election, I'm thrilled to see so many liberal friends willingly donating to causes that need it the most right now: the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Lamda Legal, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the like. Similarly, we should all be renewing or signing up for subscriptions to legitimate media sources like The New York Times and The Washington Post - all the "liberal media" sources that the President elect is whining about not representing him fairly simply by reporting verbatim the things he says. These are excellent ways to give and protect our democracy from this unhinged madman we've somehow elected.
And yet, of course, there's an ulterior motive in this post. Last year, my father and some of my mother's friends started a foundation in my mother's name, the sole purpose of which is to raise money for female law students. So, if you're reading this and are looking to throw some end-of-year donations away, please consider donating to The Jean Perwin Memorial Fund. All instructions are in the link. There, now that wasn't so bad was it?
Guys. CATS is Awesome. By Owen Panettieri (playwright, lyricist)
Ladies and G's, your attention please. You've heard of CATS, right? The iconic 80's musical that's back on Broadway? Well, it's awesome. You should go see it. It's great.
"Owen," you ask, "I don't know anything about the theater, nor its marvelous history of musical productions. Explain to me: What is this CATS you're raving about? A revival? Tell me more!" Well, let me tell you. Composed by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot (I know you've never read it, it's fine), this fantastic musical was originally directed for Broadway by Trevor Nunn with choreography by Gillian Lynne, It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won 7 including the Tony Award for Best Musical (obvs, it's amazing). and 2 for TS Eliot - who'd already been dead for 28 years! You hear that, writers? There's hope you'll get yours eventually, even if you're already dead for decades! Never stop writing!
So CATS continued to play on Broadway for an astounding eighteen years. Even more astounding is the fact that my parents never took me to see the musical during its entire original run from 1982 until 2000. Oh, how I begged and pleaded with them in my youth to see this incredible theatrical production! The answer was always NO. The reasoning behind their refusal was never fully explained to me, although I came up with few theories over the years. First, my parents grew up in Brooklyn but were pretty big cityphobes by the time the 80's rolled around. I can't entirely blame them. It's not like Times Square in '85 was the height of safety for a family evening out. Second, our family was on a very tight budget in the 80's and Broadway tickets were not a luxury we could afford. Third, and perhaps most importantly, I think the main reason I was not allowed to see the musical CATS as a child was because I really loved cats and I think my parents (rightfully) feared that if I saw the show, my insistence on getting a cat as a pet would have been undeniable. And they did NOT want a cat (years later, they caved and got me a dog, when I honestly still wanted a cat, but whatever - a pet! hooray!). So I never saw the original show.
A short story about going home for the holidays. by Liz Richards (writer)
It had been a full year since I’d been back. Home is always the same, but for the first time, I could the slipping away of time, like I has missed a joke or a shadow had passed behind my eye.O’Lacy’s was a small structure, shaped like an Irish country cottage with gold shingles and wooden doors, a pale brown stucco on its façade.
My mother and I hopped out of her hybrid car – a behemoth too large for the two of us, stunted in height by our Sicilian blood. We hobbled through the town center parking lot – my first dance studio across the street, still there, my first eye doctor next door to that, now vacant.
Candi was already inside, she had texted that she was one beer deep and we’d better catch up. I wrapped my arms around her, seated at the corner of the bar. She had already made a pass at the young stud across the way – she knew him a bit because he worked maintenance for the county. His thirty-six made her forty-one officially a cougar, as my mother pointed out.
Right behind us walked in Carol and Rich, a famous couple in my eyes. Carol and Rich were what Italians call spitting cousins. When my mom was a kid, they had rented the apartment in my grandparent’s duplex house on Swan Street, right next to Sacred Heart, the Polish church in town. Since then the two families had shared every holiday, family milestone, and achievement. Since my grandparents passed away we’d seen them a lot less frequently, but every time we did was like a family reunion.
They insisted on buying a round of beers for us and everyone they knew who walked in the bar. That was always how they were. We spent the next few hours belly laughing about the good old days on the South Side. To me, the 60s and 70s might have been another world. We still rode our bikes and played cops and robbers, but there’s no way our parents would have let us stay out until the street lights came on. Besides, I had grown up in a broken down farm house about four miles outside of town. Even if my father had let me have friends over, there would have been nowhere for us to go, nothing for us to do but watch TV.
Rich was the silent partner, always had been. Carol was such a boisterous, lively spirit that she filled any room like rays from the sunshine. Rich sat across from her good natured, smiling and laughing along to everything she said, still in awe after more than forty years. The pints and the stories were flowing that Friday afternoon at O’Lacy’s. Aunt Jojo strolled through the front door, unlike her, and sat down at the bar. She ordered a beer and an order of chips, which was very much like her – It’s just snack, she would always say. Carol led on, and we laughed right along because we knew all of the players and the world of her stories so well that it was almost like we were back in my grandparents’ kitchen, the smell of black coffee permeating the space and a yellow Cornell bowl of Jello with fruit in the center of the old brown table, walls yellowed with tobacco and steam from the kitchen stove.
Carol recounted the story of her youngest son Michael, always a little troublemaker. One day, Carol couldn’t find him anywhere in the house. My grandma wasn’t home, so she searched frantically in every room. She even checked the basement, which the two homes shared. No Michael. Turns out he had snuck into my grandparents’ house through the crawlspace in the attic and had tiptoed his way downstairs. By the time Carol finally found him, he was curled up on the couch asleep with my grandpa. That was my Papa, my Vito. I must have heard that story twenty or thirty times, and my mom and Aunt Jojo even more. But somehow, this felt like the first time. We all folded over in humor, shaking with the kind of laughter that rocks your insides, melts your heart and makes you feel more drunk than you actually are. That was how my family always made me feel. After being away a year, their presence hit me that much more strongly.
She told another story, the only time she said she ever regretted drinking. It was nine o’clock in the morning on New Years’ Day when she and Rich rolled out of the bar and snuck back home. They found my mother, her best friends, all her kids, and their friends asleep on the living room floor. Of course, Michael was an altar server and New Years’ mass was all but over. She made sure that Father Acquavia knew that my mother, Rosie LaFornara, was babysitting that day. Again we rolled with belly laughs and ordered another round. That’s the thing about Batavia. You never know who you’ll bump into but when you do, you’re always in for a warming drink and good laugh.
How an unconventional Thanksgiving became one of my favorites thus far. by Alex Syiek (Writer/Performer)
I'm writing currently thanks to the free WiFi at Charles de Gaulle Airport in France. As I await my flight back to the States, I reflect on what a wonderful Thanksgiving week I had as an American in Paris. Thanks to my wonderful host and sister, Joanna Syiek, I was able to experience the city in style.
I had an international Friendsgiving...
Pictured: Two Americans and a German.
I explored some bomb-diggity Christmas markets...
Hot wine. Yum.
Made a new friend. He was surprised.
And another new friend. He surprised me.
Took in a revival of one of my favorite French musicals...
Il est venu le temps des cathedrales.
And an American one at that!
Tap dancing might be the best creation of everything.
And, of course, absorbed tons of art...and champagne.
So, all in all, my French Thanksgiving was killer. However, I am excited to get back to the New York subway. Paris Metro is confusing as hell, yo.
...or "Black Friday Week", or even "Black Friday WeekEND", as it's called here. By Kat Flynn (Actor)
I was never really the kind of person to partake in Black Friday, even when I lived in the U.S. It just wasn't my thing. I did, however, really enjoy "Small Business Saturday" and "Cyber Monday". I was a fan of independent shops who only sold online. In fact, I still am. Since living here, Black Friday wasn't really a thing. I first noticed the promotion 3 years ago, with ASDA, a grocery store here owned by Wal-Mart. Yeah, I wasn't surprised either.
Anyway, last year was the first year that Black Friday was becoming a big..ish thing. There were even news about how people were "busting through the doors", just like you'd hear in the U.S. So, what did Britain do? Turned Black Friday into a week offer. Most shops, both online and in-store, have made it into a weekend thing. Which is kind of awesome for me, because I don't have the guilt of looking at the sales on Thanksgiving Day as it doesn't exist here! Haha.
So, on Friday, I decided to drive into the shopping centre and have a browse. Yep, a browse of the sales. Just like the people in this 1983 video. The parking lot was even busy, just like the video! But no "pushing" or "shoving" required. IT. WAS. AWESOME. I really hope the Brits never disappoint, they love a queue (line) and order. And I love them for it. Seriously, have you ever been to Spain? It's like, "Where's the queue?? Just we all just bunch up here and guess who's next?!" What a nightmare.
Hope you're finding some nice things for your friends & family this year!
CHRISTMAS IS COMING!!
PS. All of these "Black Friday", "Black Weekend", "Small Business Saturday" and "Cyber Monday" emails got me like...