Programming Note: Due to the influx of new readers that resulted from a couple of Drudge Report hits last week, along with plugs from the equally great Jonathan V. Last’s and Jim Swift’s newsletters over at The Bulwark (both of which you really ought to be reading), I thought it might be wise to take this occasion to reintroduce myself to the uninitiated. I’m Andrew Sullivan, and welcome to The Weekly Dish. If you still need a guide, there’s more here. Now that that’s settled, as old readers will recall – i.e. people who were with me five columns ago – I promised/threatened to sporadically bring back an Ask Matt column that I formerly wrote at a couple different shops. By “sporadically,” I mean when the spirit moves, since I hate getting pinned down by schedules. And by “Matt” I mean Labash. If you want to ask Matt Yglesias, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
For future Ask Matt purposes, if you have any questions that can only be answered by yours truly, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org along with your alias of choice if you don’t want me to use your real name. As I’ve stated before, all questions cannot be used – a few due to obscenity reasons. Some of you are dirty birdies. But all questions are prayerfully considered and banked for potential future use. They also might be edited for clarity or length. (Some people write essay questions, as in questions that are actually essays, which is supposed to be my job.)
And now, let’s ask me:
Should you ever tell children there is no such thing as Santa Claus?
That’s really great, Angie. Thanks for blowing the shot, screwing the pooch, breaking kayfabe. For dashing the dreams of millions of children who will now have nothing to live for. At least not until Easter, when an overgrown bunny will drop molar-rotting confections in their baskets. My own children read your question, and just ran into the room, their hearts snapped in half, their eyes red-rimmed, a little sadder and wiser than when they woke up this morning, back when they still harbored hope. “Pa, say it ain’t so!” they cried in unison. (They watch a lot of Little House on the Prairie.) I affirmed that indeed, it was so. But they’re 22 and 19, respectively. It was probably time.
I will answer your question, however, since I’m assuming the bulk of American children aren’t reading this. Being American children, they’re probably off doing something more constructive and wholesome, like playing mass-murder video games or watching Internet porn. I still remember the woman who broke the Santa news to me. Her name was Mrs. Brewer – you always remember the name of the person who shatters your illusions. She was my junior-church teacher when I was seven.
She was telling the Christmas story with her flannelgraph board. And there were all the players with Velcro on their backs – the shepherds, the wise men, Mary and Joseph and Baby J. Some smartass asked where Santa was. Mrs. Brewer cruelly and casually announced that there was no Santa, not in the Bible, or anywhere else. I don’t recall her mentioning that Santa was an anagram for Satan, but wouldn’t put it past her. She socked the wind right out of me. It was like some doctor matter-of-factly announcing, “Oh, and by the way, you have an inoperable brain tumor,” when you’d just gone in to get a mole checked. My mom, upon finding out, was ready for violence. But what are you gonna do? Beat up the junior-church teacher out behind the parsonage? It’s not a good look. (My mom could’ve taken her, though.)
I probably should’ve put two-and-two together, beforehand. In early December, when I’d spy on presents already purchased, stashed in my parents’ closet, and they later turned up under the tree “from Santa,” not from them, well…..what can I say? I wasn’t the paragon of foolproof logic and deductive reasoning that I am today (thanks, Prevagen!).
But why take a child’s innocence? The world will do that all on its own. If they don’t find out from their filthy little friends - the same ones who are probably teaching them about sex, since you’re likely putting off that conversation - they’ll find out from Google, which answers/ruins all mysteries. And which is kind of a shame, since blissful ignorance is part of what helps get us through.
The winter solstice is approaching. On that day - the shortest day of the year- what should I do with less time?
Here’s a not-very-well-guarded secret, winter solstice or otherwise: we all have less time, every moment that we’re here. Yes, that is the shortest day of the year, daylight-wise. But our lives are continuously growing shorter. You will never be as young again as you were a second ago when you started reading this sentence.
That said, who cares? We didn’t make the rules, and we can’t change them, we just play by them. And you’re not gonna get any of that rah-rah seize-the-day business from me, as you would from many others. If you haven’t noticed, the name of this publication is Slack Tide, not Flood Tide. For too many, the answer to anything is more of everything. They always want to consume or experience or ingest more, more, more. But when you try to stuff everything down your gullet at once, you can’t taste or savor any of it. It’s your life. Not a hot-dog-eating contest.
So let the winter slow you down a little. It’s as good for us as it is for nature. That’s why we have seasons. And on the shortest day of the year, I suggest doing one thing you like during daylight, and one thing after the sun takes early retirement. Maybe walk your dog through the woods – that always works for me, and my dog. Then at night, pour yourself something strong in front of a fire. And don’t worry too hard about packing that day with frantic activity. It might be the darkest day of the year. And as John McCain used to say, “It’s always darkest before it goes completely black.” But not in this case. Every day afterwards, the calendar gives us back a little more light.
Christmas trees – real or fake?
Real trees. Always real – never compromise. Like currency, news, and breasts, the real version forever beats the fake alternative.
You seem to drop music in at the end of many of your columns. Some of it listenable. Are you a frustrated musician? Do you play anything?
Besides playing the skin flute with some regularity since I was about 12, no, I do not play any instruments. My wife bought me a mandolin several Christmases ago, because I’ve always liked the sound of mandolin, and in my grandiose moments, when the meds aren’t working, I could really see myself knocking out the mandolin solo in “Maggie May” (starts at the 3:50 mark), or becoming the next Chris Thile. Yet in reality, my mandolin sits in my closet, unused, just like my spats and plastic explosives. It’s easy to talk big. Harder to be big. Which is why smallness suits most of us just fine.
Like Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, the Bobs (Dylan and Weir), Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page, Paul Simon, Kanye West, Frank Sinatra, and Aretha Franklin, I cannot read music. So I’m in good company. Unlike every single one of the aforementioned, I also happen not to have a lick of musical talent. So that’s a real drawback, musical-genius-wise. Though I am a genuine appreciator, which has its place.
Super-producer Rick Rubin (who has produced everyone from the Beastie Boys to Jay-Z to The Avett Brothers to Johnny Cash), and who also can’t read music or play an instrument, made a whole career out of it. His ear is making millions. Mine is not. (Though you, dear reader, can change all that when you subscribe here!) Rubin is famous for stripping down arrangements and helping an artist capture the essence of what they’re about. But as Sensei Rubin has implied – even if he hasn’t said so explicitly – sometimes hearing the true music in any endeavor comes from eliminating the noise. Or as he did say outright: “I never decide if an idea is good or bad until I try it. So much of what gets in the way of things being good is thinking what we know. And the more that we can remove any baggage we’re carrying with us, and just be in the moment, use our ears, and pay attention to what’s happening, and just listen to the inner voice that directs us, the better.” In other words, stay open. Music surrounds us. It’s just waiting to be heard.
Bonus track: Here’s a song Rubin produced, although obviously not this wonderful live version. This is The Avett Brothers doing “Morning Song,” sounding a helluva lot like The Band, which is never a bad thing in my book. Helpful hint: the bass player and Asian cello player aren’t actually related to the Avetts.
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