Reprinted and edited from a comment I left at The Belle Jar.

Every December, G. plays a part in the Mummers' Play, at the Flying Cloud Yuletide Celebration. So far, he's been the Doctor's Horse, the Fiery Dragon* (there never is a fiery dragon in the play, but the fiery dragon who isn't in the play is always the youngest child), Charles Darwin (in cotton-ball beard with a sea-turtle backpack on his back), and, this year, John Barleycorn, who brought in the evil triumvirate of Stephen Harpercorn, Dalton McGuintish, and Rob Barleyford. Every year, after the candle-light chorus sings, and the first story is read, we hear a jingling, and John the Master of Ceremonies announces the arrival of those practitioners of what he calls "socially sanctioned extortion," the Mummers.

The mummers come once a year, in the dark of winter. They don’t exist any other time. The rest of the year, they’re children and teens. They go to school. They do homework. They practice the piano or guitar. They play soccer and Minecraft. They don’t see each other, much, because their parents all live in different places.

Once a year, in the dark of winter, they tell a story. Adorned with the same costumes they wore last winter, they each act a part, familiar to us all from years of watching these same costumes, these same characters, this same story told with different words by children who know the story because they told it last year. Everyone quiets down when the mummers come into the room. We have a role to play, too. We have lines.

Here’s Old Bette. Her chin has sprouted whispers since last year; the actor who plays her no longer quite fits into the ancient bridesmaid’s dress. Old Bette threatens to kiss the men, and tells us all the story has begun. A gangly teenaged boy in an old bridesmaid’s dress, she lets us know that this is an upside down time, a time of misrule, a liminal time.

And now the story begins. Here’s St. George, brave and bold, her sword held high, bringing light to the darkness and hope to despair. We cheer for her bravery, and for her youth.

But you can’t have a hero without a challenge. In comes the fiery dragon!

There ain’t no fiery dragon in this play! choruses the audience, and the very young fiery dragon subsides, making room for a more serious threat.

In the muddled mythology of our play (which is like, yet unlike, any Mummers’ Play anywhere else in the world), St. George must face the threats of darkness, cynicism, and despair in the guise of a current known evildoer. One year it was Stephen Harpercorn. Another it was Rob Barleyford. The name doesn’t matter, so much. What matters is that this force of cold, darkness, meanness, and death will fight our brave Saint George and will not rest until St. George is vanquished. Also, he cheats.

And by treachery, St. George is slain.

Terrible horrible, see what you’ve done? You’ve killed our own beloved one!

All is not lost. A series of characters are summoned to try to revive St. George: Charles Darwin, an old man who wears the bottom of his trousers rolled cannot revive him. A wizard who pulls a rabbit from a hat cannot raise him. A series of singers fail to breath the breath of life into him. Pickled Herring (I don’t know, it’s *Tradition*) cannot entice him back to life. Finally, the Doctor comes, on his horse (the second smallest child plays the Doctor’s Horse.) The Doctor gives St. George some of his magic elixir, and St. George springs back to life, six times as strong as before. He kills the evil knight, and informs the ever-hopeful fiery dragon that there really is no fiery dragon in this play.

It’s the same story, every year. It has to be the same story every year: St. George must be brought down, be mourned, and be revived: Youth, warmth, life, and hope must fall before darkness, cold, cruelty, and cynicism, and be revived by the concerted efforts of, well, everyone. It’s John Barleycorn, Jesus of Nazareth, Orpheus, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, and it’s a story that we need to tell and to remember in the darkest days.

The mummers have gone to their pot-luck feast now, well compensated both with praise and with treats for their annual effort. The fiery dragon, who is three and a half this year, is asleep under the desserts table. St. George has put down her sword and is enjoying a half-pint of beer under her mom’s supervision. The Doctor and his Horse have gone home, bundled onto the subway by their tired parents. And we know that just as St. George rose again, so to will the sun, and that we need to wait, and hope, and hold and share the memory of warmth against the cold, light against the darkness, hope against fear, and community against the loneliness they can bring.

We tell this story every year because it’s a story that must be told, to remind us that spring comes from winter, that life comes from death, and, above all that life isn’t a tidy narrative. Most stories we encounter are: they have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and by the end the lesson is learned, the problem resolved, the loose ends woven in or cut off. The Mummer’s play is not that kind of story. It’s the story of the year: summer and harvest cut off by winter, then born again, and we wind up back where we started, except a year older. The year itself isn’t a unit, separated from previous years by a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, it is, but that’s just convention: the earth, the weather, and we ourselves don’t observe these arbitrary demarcations. So open the door for the Mummers:

A merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
A pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer,
A penny in our palms won’t do us any harm,
May your days be merry and your homes be warm
ALL THROUGH THE YEAR.”

Our Mummers' Play is written anew every year, always using the same cast of characters and structure, but with political content relevant to the past year. Here's a database of historical mummers' play scripts, for your interest

* This was the year I learned that we'd lost the Fiery Dragon costume at 9:00 p.m. the night before the play. I won some sort of good parental-adjunct prize, coming up with a tail and a toothy hood out of red scraps. I was not gratified to hear a voice from the audience complain "But the fiery dragon is supposed to be green!" If I'd known before the fabric stores closed, we might have had a green dragon. Folkies can be such traditionalists.
I realize that this may come as news to you, so I shall break it gently.

There are volumes other than floor-shakingly loud.

Really.

Look at the volume control on your music player. It has options for louder and for softer. You can play your awful music at a volume that I can't hear through the shared wall.

Now turn your attention to the television, and examine the volume control on it. You will notice the same options. I recommend trying the less-loud versions. You will still find yourself able to hear the dialogue, honest. But I won't.

And when you speak—when, for example, you tell your yappy dog to STFU, or when you express your anger and displeasure as you so often do at 10h00 while I am getting down to work—you can do it without raising your voice, and sharing the details of your discussions with me, through the aforementioned shared wall.

Amazingly enough, this also applies to closing doors–it is possible to go into and out of rooms without informing your neighbours that you are doing so. And to walking!

I am sharing this information with you, because it seems clear to me that nobody ever has before. It cannot possibly be that you really have failed to consider that your neighbours might not appreciate your taste in music, television, movies, and that we might prefer not to hear your discussions. I believe that you must feel deeply torn, every time you want to listen to music or watch a movie, knowing that you are inflicting your taste on your neighbours. It is entirely likely that you fervently hope that we are not home, so that you can indulge in your preferred entertainment without disturbing us.

I know that if I had not known about this marvelous ability of modern technology to replay music at less than wall-shaking volume, it would be much more difficult for me to enjoy my love of fine opera.

But now, with this new information that I am sharing with you, you no longer need to worry about us! You can simply turn the volume down, lower your voices, and close the doors instead of slamming them.

I do hope this makes it possible for you to get through your days in a more pleasant, less stressful fashion.

Best regards,
Your neighbour, who works from home.



One of the consistent arguments against progressive legislation, from both some conservatives and some radicals is that you can't legislate changes in attitude, and that changes in attitude will drive better, more equitable practices and policies. Policy alone fails to address inequity, and can create a backlash when it seems to require accommodations or changes that some people perceive to be unnecessary or that threaten people's status or ideas.

I don't get why attitude/policy is an "or" question. I believe that you can both create (and enforce) policies, such as equitable hiring policies, that address injustice and educate and communicate to change attitudes. Furthermore, if you really want anything to change, you need to do both, at the same time. You need to craft policies, such as accessibility policies, or diversity policies, or harassment-free workplace policies, that address inequities. You need to enforce these policies. But you also need to provide the people responsible for enforcement with the training and support they need to understand what the policies are supposed to accomplish and the issues that drove the creation of the policies. In addition, and most importantly, institutional support for the policies and the philosophies driving them needs to come from the top. If the powers in charge of an organization do not fully and intelligently support a policy, then the people responsible for implementing it will, at best, not have access to the resources they need, and at worst, wittingly or unwittingly undermine it. The problem is not whether you should use policy or education to change the status quo. It's how you should use each to reinforce and promote the other. You have to do both.

Over at FWD/Forward, Abby Jean succinctly and intelligently explains why it's not enough to make policies that encode principles based in social justice:

For an easy example, imagine a company with a policy that required that all newly hired employees be informed about their right to workplace accommodations for mental or physical disabilities. The company works with disability rights groups to create a pamphlet outlining who is eligible for accommodations, what potential accommodations may be available, and the procedure for requesting accommodations and documenting a need for them. The disability rights groups make sure all the information is correct, that the pamphlet is available in alternative formats so it’s accessible, and that it emphasizes that accommodations are an employee’s right, rather than a bonus provided by the company. It is, in short, the perfect pamphlet.

Now imagine how much depends on the person who hands that pamphlet to the new employee. Take one scenario: the employee goes through a complete orientation and then is asked to wait in the lobby. When the employee asks why, the receptionist sighs “oh, it’s some stupid thing required by company policy. Just wait.” After 15 minutes, the designated human resources staffer comes out and thrusts the pamphlet at the employee, saying “Here, take this. It’s something I have to give you for policy. You have to sign here to show that I gave it to you.” When the employee asks what the pamphlet is about, the staffer replies “Oh something we have to do for disability, or whatever. Nobody is ever stupid enough to ask for any of these things, believe me.”

 

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