Hello from Memphis Tennessee, where somehow it’s suddenly Christmas.

I have no idea how such a significant holiday managed to creep up on me, and yet here I am rushing from bookstore to BestBuy trying to find last minute gifts for Sarah’s family.

See also this blog post. Last week, thinking I (surely) had at least three weeks before the end of 2018, I promised to tell the story of how I learned to date sober. But that doesn’t seem quite the right topic for a Christmas issue, so I’ll save it for January.

Convention dictates that a christmas edition of any publication must feature one of three things: A round-up of the best books/music/films/things of the year, a list of new year’s resolutions or a comical guide to surviving the festive season.

My “best of” list is a non-starter. As listeners to my old NSFWLIVE show will testify, I have painfully but proudly uncool tastes. This year, I’ve been on a real golden age of detection kick – rereading a bunch of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers. You don’t need me to tell you the best Agatha Christies (And Then There Were None, Murder of Roger Ackroyd, ABC Murders, Curtain, A Murder Is Announced, Murder On The Orient Express, The Murder at the Vicarage) but if you’re curious why I prefer AC over NM, DS and pretty much everyone from the Golden Age, this essay by John Lanchester in the LRB sums it up perfectly. A long read, but worth it.

Let’s move on.

In terms of surviving the festive season, there’s no doubt Christmas and New Year can be tough to endure sober. Suddenly every store, every gym, every hair salon, every school parents’ event is transformed into a nightmare obstacle course of alcoholic eggnog and mulled wine. It’s funny how much harder/more awkward it feels to refuse alcohol in a shop than it is to just order a diet coke in a bar.  Especially at this time of year – you might as well shout “bah, humbug” and tear down the tinsel.

I’ve dealt with this dilemma twice this past week: Once in a San Francisco clothing store and once in a Memphis gym. At the former, the store owner took my simple “no thank you” in good grace and wished me a happy holiday, although I could tell she’d marked me down as a Scrooge. On the latter, surrounded by my fellow gym-goers proclaiming that “even after a workout, there’s no bad time for booze!”, I simply smiled my best festive smile and headed for the parking lot.

I wish I could offer a better suggestion for how to handle well-meaning festive alcohol offers, but “no thank you” / the Irish goodbye is the best I’ve been able to come up with in the past decade. The alternatives – explaining that you’re sober, and thus making the offeror feel like she/he has offended you, or actually getting into a conversation about how alcohol is not a “treat” for everyone – just seem unnecessarily dramatic at this time of year. In a future newsletter, I’ll write more about how I never want to make anyone else feel like I’m judging them for drinking. Alcohol is my problem, not theirs.

Ok, now the resolutions. Obviously, in 2019 I resolve to stay sober. But, as I wrote last week, with every passing year that resolution becomes less of a challenge. I also solemnly resolve to continue writing this newsletter every week – although, given the subscription fee, that’s really more of a contractual obligation.

To keep trying to get fitter and healthier? That’s a pretty decent, albeit cliched, idea for a resolution. I finally got around to trying out Orange Theory here in Memphis (another Sarah recommendation) and I will definitely continue the program back in San Francisco. According to the promotional blurb, I’m only eight workouts away from feeling like a completely new person. I wonder who it’ll be?

And yet. Given everything that’s happening in the world, there’s something jarring about resolving something inherently selfish, and egocentric. With the President having just shut down the federal government to appease his racist base, never mind the imminent slaughter of American allies in Syria and Afghanistan, this hardly seems like the time to stare at one’s navel.

For that reason, then, my resolution for 2019 is to do more for my fellow immigrants. Or, specifically, to do more for immigrants who lack all of the benefits and privileges I enjoyed when immigrating to the United States. I wrote a little about this after I got my green card earlier this year: How my own long, semi-traumatic struggle to gain lawful permanent residence made me realize how impossibly difficult it is for people less white and British than me to follow the same path. In other words, the lie of “joining the line.”

But, beyond buying Sarah a copy of Jose Vargas’ excellent book, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen (a book recommendation!), I haven’t yet taken any unselfish actions to further the cause of immigrants.

This, I suspect, is a common pattern amongst successful Green Card applicants: We spent so long in the trenches, fighting for our own status, that the last thing we want to do on receipt of the Lawful Permanent Residence is to spend another second thinking about USCIS. At least not until it comes time to apply for us to apply for citizenship. (Fun fact: We green card holders get to pay the same taxes as you natural born folks, but without any of the representation – either at a state or federal level. As a Brit, I am not unaware of the irony.)

In 2019, I’m determined to break my pattern of inaction. I’ve started researching immigration groups I can donate to and volunteer for. I’ve started asking around for practical things I can do to help the refugees at the border, or the DACA dreamers. And of course I’d love to hear any suggestions from you, dear blog reader.

In the meantime, here’s wishing you all a very happy holidays and a prosperous, sober new year.