The good news: Brian and I got Covid together—just as we did at this exact time last year, although this time it’s not as severe. We didn’t have to quarantine away from each other, or sleep in separate beds.
Lucky as we are, I hereby declare to the Universe that we’re not interested in taking this up as an annual holiday tradition. Can we be two-and-done on this? It would be nice to spend time during this season celebrating with friends and family, not lying around like a lump on a log with a sore throat, a dry cough, and a head full of snot.
The bad news: Unless we recover quickly, this likely means we won’t be able to meet up with my family in the city or on Long Island this weekend, landing me squarely once again in Lonely-Jew-on-Christmas Land—a sad, old state of affairs I mistakenly assumed marrying goyim would put an end to.
Until I celebrated my first Christmas with Brian twenty years ago at 38 I was historically a basket case on the holiday. As a kid I felt painfully lonely on December 24th and 25th, and all the days leading up to then. I was mesmerized by The Andy Williams Christmas Special, longing to be magically transported to TV Land so I could join the kids in their red and green Christmas sweaters caroling around the tree.
For those of us not celebrating—especially in the 60s and 70s when there was no streaming cable or internet, and a dearth of other easily available distractions—the world shut down in a way that made it feel cold and desolate.
Other Jewish friends have assured me I wasn’t alone in my misery. For my own benefit and theirs, over a couple of Christmas Eves in the 90s I hosted evenings of arts and crafts for Jews at my apartment in the East Village. We’d order Chinese food from Mee Noodle on my corner (still the best) and babysit each other through the isolation together while drawing, painting, and collaging. (Tucked away in some box in our garage I still have some of our “artwork.”)
There was one guy, a neurotic novelist, who especially needed the company. From the minute he arrived, he’d start spinning out about how isolated and excluded he always felt on the holiday, and how he needed us to distract him. He was kind of a lot, but even his anxious monologue was a welcome diversion from the too-silent night.
Then Brian came into my life in 2003. The first thing we ever purchased together as a couple was a Christmas tree from one of the vendors lining Avenue A. I was overcome with joy when we carried it to his apartment, and he took out his box of gleaming ornaments and tinsel so we could decorate it together. The first night it was up I insisted we sleep by the light of it, on an air mattress on the living room floor.
That year, for the first time of many, I attended Brian’s sister’s Feast of the Seven Fishes in Saugerties, and then the family Christmas in Oneonta. It was a thrill to take part, to be included. In recent years, though, we haven’t celebrated with Brian’s family. His mother’s death in 2015, the pandemic, and several other factors have loosened family ties.
In place of that, in recent years we developed something of a tradition with my Mom and my sister and her family, where we all spend a couple of days and nights together while the world goes quiet and dark. I’ll be really sad if I’m still testing positive this weekend and need to skip that.
The coronavirus isn’t the only unwelcome presence in my life right now. There are also entirely too many Nazis.
I really didn’t want to wade into the current Nazi discourse that’s overtaken Notes, but I’m afraid it’s reached such a fever pitch, I can’t help myself. Brian has pointed out to me several times lately that I’ve been sighing and muttering to myself around the house.
“Lovey, what is it?” he wonders.
“Goddamned Nazis!” I grumble.
There’s Trump parroting the führer, but I’m more referring to indefensible monsters with Substack newsletters, whichreported on in his recent Atlantic article, “Substack Has a Nazi Problem.”
I hate that this needs to be said, but apparently it does, at least to the misguided fellows running this platform: Nazis, white nationalists, and white supremacists are objectively bad. They are dangerous bigots who should have no place here, or on your podcast.
And I’m sorry, but if you’re already moderating some content—aka banning sexual and pornographic material—you can’t couch upholding Nazi content as some kind of free speech absolutism.
Of course, I’m wasting my breath. These guys aren’t going to do anything about their Nazi problem, because they don’t see it as a problem. (UPDATE on 1/9/24: I’m happy to have been wrong. They did…something. It’s a start. See the latest from:)
I’m staying put, in any case. I’ve already moved once, to Buttondown, for six months in 2021, in solidarity with trans writers who were being harassed, without any moderation.
Publishing this newsletter on that platform was not a great experience, technologically speaking. After I saw queer and trans writers on social media announcing they were either returning to Substack, or refusing to be bullied off it, I returned to the platform to launch. Then I took over “Memoir Monday” from Lilly Dancyger and rebranded it as .
Running these two magazines full-time is now my primary source of income. I’m not getting rich, but my hard work is paying off, and I’m getting by. I’m grateful for Substack’s unique, winning formula of blogging-meets-crowdfunding-meets-social-media-virality, because without that, I’m an out-of-work aging writer/editor/teacher who has encountered enough age discrimination in the job market to know that no one is going to offer me any kind of stable employment ever again.
This place has been a lifeline, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to cede my ground and everything I’ve worked so hard to build here to a handful of bigots. (Well, at least not for now. Here’s hoping that eventually someone with a functioning conscience figures out how to replicate that winning formula elsewhere.)
It’s been disappointing to see the founders welcome, feature, and normalize white supremacists, which threatens so many of us on the platform—whom they’re essentially in business with, and profiting from. It’s been infuriating, insulting, sickening, and frankly heartbreaking, too. (Thus all the muttering and sighing.)
But, yeah, for now, I’m sticking, not kicking. I’m also adding my name and my voice to the growing chorus supporting the “Substackers Against Nazis” letter spearheaded byand signed and shared by more than 230 others who publish newsletters on this platform.
Thank you, Marisa and company, for speaking up.
As for the free speech counterargument offered in an alternate group letter, I’m afraid that when the company’s leadership features one of these guys on their podcast and in their social media posts, they are, if not deciding what you should read, definitely suggesting and maybe even endorsing.
This is not a good look. For my sake and yours, guys, I hope your misinterpretation of the right to free speech doesn’t destroy this platform the way your pal Elon’s destroyed Twitter. Because I need this.
And if you’re feeling Nazi-curious, come sit beside me one day and I’ll tell you all about my grandfather’s brother, Alberto DeBotton, who was among the Jewish men in Thessaloniki publicly humiliated and terrorized by Nazis on July 11th, 1942, then carted off to Auschwitz, Birkenau, Theresienstadt, and god knows where else before he, his wife, and his kids were all murdered. My family has never recovered from it.