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We invite contributions of material for the following publication projects

primarily anthologies of both fiction and nonfiction but also lengthier standalone works

to be published within the next twelve months.

The descriptions below contain links you can explore (or ignore, if you prefer)

to learn more about the topic in question.

The usual rules apply. 

Email us a brief summary of your work and we’ll let you know if we’re interested in seeing more.

Include the topic number (Topic 0.1 and so forth) on the first page of your submission.

Please do not send us unsolicited manuscripts by mail or email.

You may, however, submit proposals for any sort of work that fits into our 22 main categories.


















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Perennial Projects


0.1 Jokes Weird Beard Press is currently collecting submissions for a compendium of jokes – whether old or new, cerebral or crude, clean, dirty, or ever-so-slightly sick.  Few jokes are truly original, but contributors have to be careful to avoid outright plagiarism.  The twist is that each joke, whose text can run anywhere from five words to 500, must be followed by a short essay describing the historical background, cultural significance, and/or psychosocial underpinnings of the narrative.  This commentary, which should fill at least a page or two but not more than five per joke, must exhibit wit, insight, and veracity without sounding like an excerpt from a scholarly disquisition.  A dash of erudition, however, is just what we’re looking for.  Why do many people, perhaps most, laugh at anecdotes about alcoholics, blondes, doctors, foreigners, lawyers, and minority groups while others, often the targets of said derision, find them tasteless or jejune?  Though the wording of the jokes may be vulgar at times, even crude, the essays that support them should demonstrate an appropriate degree of sensitivity toward the individuals and groups on the receiving end of ridicule.










         Yes, there is a companion volume, Jokes Every Woman Should Know.


0.2 Psychic Predictions – By the end of October 2022 we hope to publish a collection of forecasts for the coming year.  Depending on the tone of each bundle of prophecies, of which authors may submit up to twenty, each between 50 and 1,000 words in length, these may fall under the heading of Humor or of New Age.  We welcome both types of submission for this project, and the overall outlook can vary from optimistic to pessimistic to something in between.  The coming year will surely enrich some and impoverish others.  Feel free to base your predictions on astrology, the Bible code, conversations with the Divine, crystal gazing, the tarot, runes, oracles, dreams, tea leaves, the Kabbalah, the I Ching, channeling, the latest scientific projections, or even your own personal hunches, as long as they engage our readers’ interest.  Who will be elected president in 2024?  Will the country have come together by then or have drifted farther apart?  How will the nations of the world have changed by the end of the decade?  What technological breakthroughs will change our lives by 2050?  Will the country slip back into recession?  What natural disasters will strike and how will we deal with them?  Which celebrities will be involved in scandals?  (Note that’s it’s imprudent to predict the death of a prominent person.  They can remain “near death” indefinitely if necessary, and of course may just as easily recover and return to public prominence.).


0.3 Illegal Immigration – California Assembly Bill 60, known locally as AB 60, took effect at the beginning of 2015 and grants undocumented immigrants the right to apply for driver’s licenses throughout the state so that, according to the now-defunct Drive California website, they can now “go on with their daily lives.”  What’s your opinion on this controversial subject, which affects nations all over the world to one extent or another?  Do undocumented immigrants – to whom you may refer as illegal aliens if you wish as long as you propose only humane solutions to the problems their migration may pose – contribute to the welfare of the countries in which they make their new homes, or do they deplete it?  To what extent are they exploited by those who employ them? 

          Bearing in mind that many send part of their earnings back to their countries of origin, whose governments typically approve of the influx of funds, would you say they also improve economic conditions there?  Should these governments do more to provide economics opportunities to their own citizens so they wouldn’t feel the need to emigrate?  Is it the responsibility of wealthier countries to bail out their less fortunate neighbors or allies?  On the flip side of the issue, if crime becomes rampant in a country and its leaders are powerless to halt its spread, who is ultimately responsible for intervening to save lives and restore order?  Is illegal immigration a crime in itself, or is no person truly illegal, as many maintain?  What would you do if you were suddenly put in charge of immigration policy in your country?


0.4 Suicide – It’s been estimated that nearly a million people worldwide kill themselves every year; another ten million attempt suicide and fail.  The economic privations caused by the Great Recession, whose effects are still being felt in many parts of the world, drove these statistics higher.  Depression is citied as the primary cause, along with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, substance abuse, and terminal illness.  Most world religions condemn suicide, though most also exonerate saints, sages, or other luminaries who committed suicide as an act of self-sacrifice.  These medieval attitudes inform both public opinion and civil law to this day, though assisted suicide is now legal in some places and common in many more.  Are our contemporary attitudes toward suicide healthy?  If life is a gift from the Divine, as many maintain, and it becomes seriously deficient, can it be “returned” as it were before its natural expiration date?  Do we have predetermined lifespans?  As the world’s population increases and the influence of religion continues to wane, at least in the West, will suicide become more socially acceptable?  Will suicide kits be available in drugstores everywhere by 2100?  Will a new religion grow up around it?  We’re looking for fiction, nonfiction, and memoirs on the subject.


0.5 GLBTQIA+ Memoirs Weird Beard Press is interested in preserving the recent (and not-so-recent) histories of GLBTQIA+ individuals who have either directly or indirectly experienced dramatic changes in the way they’ve lived during the last half-century or so – from the periodic raids at gay and lesbian bars in the 1950s (which frequently ruined the lives of many otherwise reasonably well-adjusted and law-abiding Americans) forever, to the legalization of same-sex marriage brought about by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015.  It wasn’t long ago that gayness was criminalized, then pathologized, and occasionally demonized as something not only alien but detrimental to the social order if not the survival of the human race.  How have these changes impacted your life over the years?  What about the millions who struggled for equal rights but didn’t survive to see them implemented, even on a limited scale?  We also want to record their experiences for posterity.  We’re also interested in exploring the changes in GLBTQIA+ culture as it’s changed during the past century or so.  We’ve posted a list of topics for consideration on this page.  More will be added later.     


0.6 Literature in Esperanto – Developed by Polish ophthalmologist and linguist L.L. Zamenhof (1859-1917) and made public in 1887, Esperanto is now the most widely spoken constructed language in the world.  Derived from major living languages, Esperanto was designed to be grammatically regular, easy to learn, and politically neutral, and to serve as a medium of international communication.  After a period of decline in usage, during which most of the standard textbooks went out of print (at least in English-speaking countries), Esperanto found new life on the internet, where, having spawned a synthetic culture of diplomacy and shared values, it is now used extensively, though perhaps not as extensively as Zamenhof had envisioned.  Weird Beard Press publishes short pieces in Esperanto with either translations or original versions in English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese, typically in anthologies of parallel texts.  In time we hope to add Danish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, and Yiddish to the mix.  The following quotation from Ecclesiastes 12:1 in the Hebrew Bible will give non-speakers an idea of the language’s structure.


                        Kaj memoru vian Kreinton en la tagoj de via juneco,

                        Dum ankoraŭ ne venis la tagoj de malbono,

                        Kaj ne venis la jaroj, pri kiuj vi diros:

                        Mi ne havas plezuron de ili


                        Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,

                        While the evil days come not,

                        Nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say,

                        I have no pleasure in them…


We also publish phrase- and textbooks in any of the languages named above, among others.




0.7 The Covid-19 Pandemic – We are witnessing history unfold before us, a history that future generations may ignore and ultimately forget, in the form of a pandemic that stalks the earth like a medieval figure of death touching if not ending the lives of untold millions worldwide.  How has the pandemic affected your life, from the early days when many were understandably in denial about a plague whose scope few had ever encountered previously, to more recent months when the coronavirus’s variants keep rebounding?  How do you feel about vaccines, and on what verifiable facts are your opinions based?  Thousands who have ready access to vaccines don’t want them, and millions in developing countries who want them can’t get them, despite their obvious efficacy in slowing the spread of disease. 

          How do you feel about mask mandates?  How has the pandemic affected the economy?  What changes do you expect during the next two years?  What will the “new normal” look like?  How has the coronavirus changed society?  Many who previously tolerated inequality on various levels are now speaking out against it, and some have stopped working for and in a system that promotes it.  How long will their voices be heard, and will they be able to bring about positive and lasting change in the status quo?  What new concerns will arise once the present crisis has ended?      




0.8 Social Inequality – Income inequality was a serious social issue before the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan at the end of 2019.  The pandemic simply brought it into relief worldwide as different social groups responded to it in different ways.  How does social inequality affect you and those around you?  What do you see as its ultimate cause?  Can you envision a workable solution?  Children are taught the virtues of fair play and honest communication from a young age, but are also often told that life in general is far from fair and that intelligent adults simply have to accept a certain amount of inequity in terms of limits to the opportunities afforded to most people.  What kind of lesson does that teach ultimately?  That cheating is acceptable because everyone does it?  Is it really part of human nature to practice partiality?  If so, can we – should we – try to fight it?  Even if we live in the real world, can’t we aspire to the ideal? 

          The United States’ Declaration of Independence affirms, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…,” an idealistic proposition inspired in part by 18th-century French humanists Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Voltaire, but also by English poet John Milton (of Paradise Lost fame), who wrote in 1649, “No man who knows ought [that is, anything], can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were borne free, being the image and resemblance of God himself...born to command and not to obey: and that they liv'd so.”  The Declaration lists further self-evident truths, to wit “that they [men, and by extension all people] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…” 

          Weird Beard Press is not suggesting that a new American Revolution be started tomorrow, at least not on any physical battlefield where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or personal fulfillment) would be seriously impaired by the very act of war.  But we are proposing that an intellectual revolution is already underway and that more people should take up pens and/or keyboards and oppose the prevalent concept that profits are more important than personal liberties, or that the supposed “rights” of corporations outweigh those of the common people.  Inequality results from the exploitation of human capital, in effect demanding that human beings give up some of their access to equal opportunities to benefit the wealthy.  This theory may be explored from a number of angles, and contributors are free to disagree with it provided they can back up their conclusions with verifiable facts.  Individual authors may decide that the detrimental effects of inequality on society today are negligible.  Consider the changes in the availability and cost of education, healthcare, childcare, eldercare, housing, and debt relief (including bankruptcy) during the past thirty years.  Does it ever seem as though the rich were trying to punish the poor just for being poor?  Bear in mind how little most entry-level jobs pay relative to the cost of living these days, and how the population of prisons has soared while mental health facilities have closed.  Will the homeless given temporary accommodations during the pandemic be allowed to retain their homes once a majority is vaccinated?  Is it really possible for people to pull themselves up out of poverty and into financial security (if not actual wealth) by their own proverbial bootstraps?  Or are other factors typically involved, such as inherited wealth, covert connections, or sheer luck?  Is it true, as Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett theorize in his 2009 study The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, that the more level the playing field the more productive the populace?  Are the limitations to their theory worth considering?  We’re looking for a global perspective that Americans can appreciate and learn from. 


0.9 Disciplinary Deterrence Weird Beard Press is interested in memoirs of disciplinary action, primarily but not exclusively the kind directed at children and young adults.  How were you disciplined as a child?  How effective was the discipline you received at home, at school, in a religious institution, in the military, on the job, or in some sort confinement (including during an otherwise routine arrest)?  How did these experiences impact your life as a free adult?  Are you primarily grateful for the discipline you received, or fundamentally resentful of the power wielded against you when you were vulnerable?  Was the discipline to which you were subjected mostly constructive or destructive?  How did patterns of discipline change as you grew older?  Were they relaxed as you matured, or perhaps tightened as you started making decisions for yourself?  Did any forms of discipline continue into adulthood, as in the case parents who control their working children’s bank accounts?  Have you – or has anyone you know – been disciplined by a spouse, or by the family of a spouse, such as a mother-in-law who may have caught someone in a compromising position?  Has the childhood discipline you’ve experienced or witnessed, either directly or indirectly, served to deter counterproductive adult behavior?  Or have you found it more likely overall to trigger rebellion against authority?  What factors come into play in the lives of adults who experienced inordinate – too much or too little – or extreme discipline?  If you have children, are you careful to discipline them differently from the ways you were disciplined while growing up?  Or were the same basic patterns repeated?  How should children with special needs be disciplined?  When does discipline become abuse?  Do you believe in “tough love,” or is that just a euphemism for child abuse?  What about cultural differences?  Are some social groups more likely to resort to corporal punishment, for example, than others?  Is it true that the most popular book on childrearing, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, is responsible for the hippie movement of the 1960s and the illegal drug culture of the 1970s?  Stranger ideas have been suggested.  Does one sex, gender, age group, or type of child need more, or stricter, discipline than others?  Do parents sometimes exhibit an obvious (and potentially detrimental) preference among siblings?  Finally, can parents learn to communicate directly with their children with no need for physical punishment at all?  One size does not fit all, nor does a single method or approach.

          While dramatic and narratives stimulate reader interest, we ask you to be honest in your appraisal of your own behavior.  In the social context of your formative years, did you deserve the discipline you received?  What’s your opinion of permissive parenting?      





January (deadline 30 June)


1.1 New Year’s ResolutionsStudies show that nearly 40% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions (though not always in January) even though the practice is largely ridiculed in popular media as innately doomed to failure.  The most common resolution is to exercise more.  Thousands of Americans purchase gym memberships before the beginning of the year and actually embark on an initially sound fitness regimen that only a slight majority manages to maintain during the bulk of winter.  By the time spring rolls around in March, most express dissatisfaction with the results and quickly lose interest.  Many stop going to the gym completely, usually starting on the Ides of March, we’re told, but hang onto their memberships just in case they change their minds or, more commonly, find they have more free time to devote to a daily workout routine.  Only about 15% stick to their resolutions all year. 

          Do you set such resolutions for yourself, if not at the beginning of the year then on your birthday or another important day?  (Many propose resolutions after a bout with serious illness, such as a heart attack.) 

          Those who follow medical advice and consult their doctors before implementing a typically slow and gradual routine enjoy better success, at least in the short run.  Most of us eventually fall victim to the pressures of work and family care.  Do you follow through on your resolutions?  If so, for how long?  What specific strategies enable you to succeed where so many fail?  Do you discuss them with others?  If so, how do they respond?  Motivational stories with step-by-step plans for losing weight, building muscle, eating a healthier diet, getting along better with others, improving the quality of relationships, achieving more on the job and out of life in general, and overcoming any number of bad habits offer inspiration to others who struggle to reach and then maintain these same basic goals.  Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has remained on the bestseller list since it was published in 1989 even though it sets relatively high objectives that many have trouble putting into practice.  (Idealism plays a major role in motivational nonfiction.)  Will Jorden’s spoof (we hope) You're Worthless And You Know It: The World’s First Anti Self-help and De-motivational Book might prove more realistic for some.          


1.2 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day (17 January 2022 and 16 January 2023) – What does Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, birthday, an American federal holiday observed since 1986, mean to you?  How can Americans best commemorate the slain Civil Rights leader’s legacy of nonviolent activism?  Do you participate in the Martin Luther King Day of Service, during which volunteers gather across the country to serve their communities?  Do you consider Dr. King’s ideological successors, Reverend Jesse Jackson (1941-  ) and Reverend Al Sharpton, among others, worthy of his mantle?  Why or why not?  What about the controversies that surround Dr. King’s life and work?  As society becomes (it is hoped) more enlightened about civil rights issues and race relations, will Dr. King’s importance fade?  Feel free to speculate about what tasks Dr. King (1929-68) would have taken on had he survived to the present day.  Should the holiday’s name be changed to Civil Rights Day, as it has been known in some states?  In some states, Dr. King’s birthday is celebrated jointly with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday, which brings up its own set of issues depending to a certain extent on which side of the ideological Mason-Dixon Line you happen to live.  What’s your opinion?


1.3 National Codependency Awareness Month – Though still somewhat controversial, codependency is usually defined as emotional dependence on someone who exhibits some type of addictive behavior.  Arising from Alcoholics Anonymous and its twelve-step programs (which are popular and reasonably successful for many but not without their critics) in the 1980s, codependency theory originally focused on treating the adult children of alcoholics who found themselves repeating unhealthy patterns of psychological dependence learned in childhood, then expanded to address the psychological habits of those who support, defend, even cover up for addicts in their lives, in effect “enabling” their addiction to worsen.  Codependents typically exhibit low self-esteem, can’t bear to be alone, crave external validation, and often tolerate abusive relationships.  How does it differ from similar conditions?  Have you ever known anyone you would describe as codependent?  What facts or impressions led you to that conclusion, and how did you deal with it?  Did you seek professional help for yourself?  If so, was it effective?  Have you overcome codependency yourself?  Can it become a bonding factor in relationships?  In your opinion, what causes it?  How successfully can it be treated?  Be prepared to back up any conclusion that runs counter to prevailing psychological theories on the subject with verifiable facts.


1.4 Weight Loss Awareness Month – Every January, millions of people worldwide resolve to lose weight and begin a rigorous regimen of diet and exercise.  Most don’t ultimately succeed, in most cases because thoroughgoing lifestyle changes are usually needed to keep weight under control.  The issue can be approached from any number of angles.  Weird Beard Press focuses on changes in the quality of life.  What strategy, up to and including weight loss surgery, has worked for you?  How has your regimen affected your relationships with others.  Many people who succeed in slimming down and firming up find it easier to win and keep friends – until or unless the weight comes back.  What does this say about society’s perceptions and values?  If you’ve managed to keep the weight off, how do you help others do the same?  Do you feel uncomfortable working or living with overweight people?  Why or why not?  Is fat acceptance more a health issue or a civil rights issue?  The topic may dovetail into the Codependency project listed above.


1.5 PTSD Awareness Month – As troops began returning home from the prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public at large began talking seriously about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a psychological condition that results from exposure to potentially life-threatening trauma.  Why is it that politicians don’t take this issue into consideration before they decide to lead the nation into war?  How has PTSD affected you, your family, or your friends?  PTSD isn’t only induced by combat.  We can’t ignore its other causes, among them rape and various kinds of abuse.  If you suffer from PTSD, how do you function in everyday situations?  How has the condition affected your relationships?  Do people who know you understand your condition?  How do they deal with it?  Do you know anyone who’s in denial about it?  Does anyone ever recover completely?


1.6 Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (1 January) commemorates the circumcision of Jesus Christ on the eighth day after His (traditional) birth on 25 December (Luke 2:21), according to Jewish Law (Genesis 17:10-14; Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nedarim 31b).  According to the 14th-century Golden Legend, it marked the first time the blood of Christ was shed and thus symbolically begins His atoning work as Redeemer of Humanity.  The feast is currently celebrated on 14 January in the Julian calendar still used by the Eastern Orthodox Churches.  In the Roman Catholic Church it has been renamed Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (and the Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord), to emphasize Mary’s obedience to God (Luke 1:38).  Beginning about 800 CE if not earlier, it was rumored that Jesus’ foreskin, a relic of His humanity, had been preserved by His followers (though no such custom is attested in Jewish tradition).  Throughout the Middle Ages, a number of churches across Europe claimed to possess it, often simultaneously.  Other congregations claimed to have preserved Jesus’ umbilicus, which, like the so-called Holy Prepuce, was usually stored in a wooden box inlaid with jewels or precious metals.  Many of the alleged relics were later stolen so their containers could be sold, though a few continued to circulate into the 20th century.  Since relatively few Christians are circumcised worldwide (Galatians 5:6), the focus of the feast soon became the naming of Jesus (a variant of the Hebrew name Joshua meaning “the Lord saves”) instead of His actual circumcision.  Since 2000, the Church of England’s Common Worship has called the feast “The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.”  The Lutheran Book of Worship has proposed “the Name of Jesus.”

       Weird Beard Press is less interested in Christian relics – enough “Holy Prepuces” were “preserved” throughout the centuries to fill a small coffin – than in the so-called circumcision debate that rages on in the United States (and to a lesser extent in Canada, Australia, and the UK) to this day.  The Hebrew Bible describes male circumcision as the sign of God’s Covenant with the patriarch Abraham, and by extension with the Jewish people descended from him (Genesis 17:9-14).  Most Jews to this day are circumcised, though this is less true in certain parts of the world than others.  Gay porn entrepreneur Michael Lucas, for example, was born into a secular Jewish family Moscow and is famously (as a porn star) not circumcised.  Author Gary Shteyngart was born in what was then Leningrad and was circumcised when he was seven years old – Jewish tradition mandates that the ritual take place when a boy is eight days old – and the procedure was apparently botched.  Shteyngart describes it in excruciating detail in a New Yorker article from October 2021.  Curiously, as a “sign” of God’s Covenant with His people, a circumcised penis is something typically seen by only a handful of people in life – except in the case of the sexually promiscuous, nude models, or sex workers who make a living with their genitals.  Or is it true that straight men really are checking out each other’s junk in public gyms and at urinals, if only for the sake of comparison?  The custom didn’t originate with Jews.  The Egyptians were practicing a form of circumcision as early as 2400 BCE.  They may have borrowed it as a rite of passage from the warrior classes of certain tribes in sub-Saharan Africa.  An ethnic male Jew is still considered Jewish even if he isn’t circumcised (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Hullin 4b), although the community may exert considerable social pressure for him to undergo the ritual eventually.  Those who resist typically risked being shunned.  There is no requirement in Judaism for females to undergo ritual genital modification, popularly known as female circumcision, and most Jews find the idea repugnant.

       Medical science took a new interest in circumcision in the mid-19th century, when it was viewed as a deterrent to masturbation.  By scarring the penis enough to reduce some of the natural flexibility of the foreskin, it can make masturbation more difficult that it would be otherwise, but it doesn’t really acts as a deterrent.  In that regard it may keep the manufacturers of personal lubricants like K-Y Jelly and Astroglide in business for decades to come.  More recently, theoreticians have proposed that by keratinizing the skin of the glans penis, circumcision can prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including human papillomavirus (HPV), the most commonly contracted of these conditions.  It is argued that when left intact, the foreskin provides an environment conducive to pathogen survival within its folds of tissue.  Although both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) generally support these findings, particularly when applied to the spread of HIV in the Third World, they remain controversial in some circles.  Circumcision is supposed to prevent phimosis, an abnormal tightening of the foreskin that inhibits its retractability, that is, its flexibility to glide up and down the penile shaft.  It can also prevent the buildup of smegma, a sebaceous secretion that can accumulate beneath the foreskin if not washed away daily.  It’s largely for this reason that it’s widely considered a hygienic measure.  

       The bottom line persists: is circumcision, especially Routine Infant Circumcision (RIC), performed on an otherwise healthy baby at the parents’ discretion and without the child’s consent, fundamentally beneficial or harmful?  The procedure unquestionably scars the penis even though the overall look of the organ may be “prettied up” by skilled surgeons paid for their expertise.  Experts can often tell how much money a boy’s parents spent on the procedure by how little scar tissue is left hanging.  This tissue can sometimes “grow back” into the shaft of the penis creating a “skin bridge” of the type that Gary Shteyngart had to deal with later in life.  We accept reasoned arguments for and against what is now the most common surgical procedure performed in the United States, but we ask that you avoid ad hominem attacks on individuals.  Intactivists, that is activitists for intact genitals, lament the loss of what they consider a natural and vital part of their anatomy.  They advocate waiting until an individual is a fully informed adult to decide whether or not to undergo circumcision.  People have actually sued their parents for having their genitals modified without their consent.  Most of the cases are thrown out of court because parents are considered entitled to the right to have such procedures performed on their sons.  Female genital cutting, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), is officially outlawed in the United States, although it is still performed clandestinely by some communities.

       Foreskins can be restored, in that the penile skin can usually be stretched so that, after a few months or years, it covers the glans again and can bring back some of the sensitivity lost during the keratinization process that ensues after a full circumcision.  Restored foreskins usually can’t be reattached at the frenulum that connects the intact penis to the vernal mucosa.                     




February (deadline 31 July)


2.1 Black History Month Weird Beard Press celebrates Black History Month by addressing the controversies that arise in the various societies of the world surrounding race relations.  Is it better to refer to Black History as African American History, given the fact that not all Africans are black and that not all blacks trace their lineage to Africa?  What does it mean to be part of a minority group today?  Have race relations improved in the English-speaking world during the last twenty years, or have they deteriorated?  Is the American workforce truly diverse in the 21st century?  Is anyone truly color-blind?  It’s often a matter of perspective, so we’re especially interested in hearing from writers involved in racially mixed relationships or families.  Do today’s students and laborers of different races have truly equal opportunity?  What is the controversial concept of white privilege, anyway?  Are any social strata immune to it?  Will President Joe Biden’s proposal to provide free community college classes help the country as a whole?  If so, why are conservative politicians opposed to it?  Is it true that a higher percentage of blacks are prosperous today than at the beginning of the millennium?  If so, what about those who barely get by in the inner cities?  What if anything can they do to access the opportunities that are available to others now?  What does that mean for the country as a whole?  Has the United States ever in its history been “one nation, indivisible”?  Is it more or less so today that it was ten years ago?  Finally, to what extent do Spanish-speaking people constitute a new racial group in the United States, regardless of their skin color?  What about Blacks from other English-speaking countries?  The focus should be on psychology and sociology rather than politics as such.

          Black History Month is now observed in October in the United Kingdom.



2.2 Valentine’s Day (14 February) – This year’s Valentine’s Daylove theme” is sacrifice.  Have you ever sacrificed a job, a home, a lifestyle, your health, your freedom, your savings, or your family for someone you loved or for whom you felt responsible?  How did it affect your life?  Do you feel in any way stronger or richer for having made the sacrifice you did?  Was it ultimately worth the effort?  Were those who benefitted most from your sacrifice grateful to you afterwards?  Did anyone in your life set an example by making sacrifices for you when you were younger?  Did this person – or these persons – support your decision to sacrifice for someone else?  Do you consider your sacrifice to be selfless?  Even if you only have dreams – or nightmares – about making such sacrifices, we want to hear from you.  This project’s subtext should be the popular concept of undying love.  Is love as mortal as any living creature, reaching its peak at one stage in a relationship and then moving into gradual (or, in some cases, rapid) decline?


2.3 Atheists and Their Families – Whether you describe yourself as an agnostic, an antitheist, an atheist, a freethinker, a humanist, a skeptic, an unbeliever or a bright, how has your lack of belief in organized religion – and isn’t all religion by its definition organized in some way? – affected your relationship with your family?  Do you have relatives who won’t speak to you because you don’t believe in the same deity or deities they do?  Can you see them only if you avoid the topic of religion (or the lack thereof)?  If certain family members are more tolerant than others, what dynamics operate within the family?  Can you discuss the issue with your brother but not your sister?  Is your father a closet unbeliever who goes to church once in a while to placate the in-laws?  How do you react to such a ruse?  Is it you who shuns religious relatives?  What impact does the situation have on children?




March (deadline 31 August)


3.1 Women’s History Month – This year we’re most interested in fiction and nonfiction written from the point of view of adult children of single or married women who managed to balance a family (consisting of at least two children, including adopted children and stepchildren) with a demanding (but more or less successful) career.  What part did your grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and nannies play in your upbringing – particularly if any of these persons weren’t fluent in English (or the language of the majority in your country of origin) at the time?  How much time did you spend in daycare, and what do you (and perhaps your siblings) remember about it?  Are you repeating the same pattern in your own life today?  How has the socioeconomic situation changed since you were a child?

          We welcome all viewpoints on the subject.


3.2 Self-Injury Awareness Day or SIAD (1 March) – Have you ever deliberately harmed yourself or wanted to?  Has someone close to you attempted self-harm?  What triggers this kind of behavior, and how can those who feel compelled to injure themselves be stopped in a humane and dignified way?  Share your personal experiences of and ideas about this often misunderstood phenomenon.  Is it comparable to suicidal ideation, for instance, or something completely different?  If you choose to challenge the current medical consensus regarding self-injury, which many feel they have good reason to do, back up your assertions with as many verifiable facts as possible.


3.3 Pi Day (14 March) – Commemorating the irrational number pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and unofficially recognized by the United States House of Representatives in 2009, Pi Day (which coincidentally is also physicist Albert Einstein’s birthday) affords math and science nerds the opportunity to get together and celebrate their personal obsessions.  We’re interested in learning what love is like for such nerds (who are to be distinguished from the related species geeks, whom some would describe as nerds who have graduated from the proverbial school of hard knocks). 

          Are nerds more attracted to brains than to bodies?  Though reputedly shy and socially awkward, do nerds actually store up sexual energy until it explodes like a powder keg once its fuse is ignited?  If you’re popular and socially adept, have you ever fallen in love with a nerd?  What kind of relationship ensued?


3.4 Purim (16 March 2022) – This festive Jewish holiday commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from planned genocide during the Achaemenid Empire in ancient Persia (though the historical circumstances narrated in the Biblical Book of Esther better fit the early Maccabean period than the Achaemenid, suggesting that the stories underlying both Hanukkah and Purim are closely related).  Do you consider Queen Vashti a proto-feminist?  Are the events narrated in the Book of Esther, which include an irreversible royal decree and an ensuing bloodbath, to be considered morally uplifting?  What lessons can be learned about other historical attempts at genocide?  Is it a holiday that non-Jews should celebrate?  If you aren’t Jewish, do you eat Hamantaschen or kreplach on or around Purim?


3.5 St. Patrick’s Day (17 March) – We welcome poems, stories, and sketches on the Irish-American experience, particularly as told by those who don’t quite fit in to either society.  Specifically, how do recent immigrants from Ireland regard their own country, which experienced an economic boom in the 1990s and then suffered setbacks in recent years?  Are you more likely to return to Ireland as the economy improves or remain abroad?  Books about the Irish Gaelic language are also popular.


3.6 International Day of Happiness – In 2012 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution “recognizing…the need for a more inclusive, equitable, and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness, and the well-being of all peoples” and establishing 20 March as the International Day of Happiness.  While certainly a commendable proposal, how realistic is it to spread happiness on a worldwide scale?  How can we as a society go about it?  What do we do when we run into resistance?


3.7 The Spring Equinox – The return of spring in the Northern Hemisphere on 21 March inspires a wide variety of writing, from seasonal poetry to memories of lost youth to warnings against the ecological risks of fracking.  Unleash your imagination and tell us what spring (or autumn if you live in the Southern Hemisphere) means to you.





April (deadline 30 September)


4.1 National Poetry Month – The Academy of American Poets sponsors a month-long celebration to foster appreciation of this often underappreciated art form.  Weird Beard Press publishes poetry.  We prefer to intersperse short prose vignettes or essays between blocks of five to ten poems, in part to help readers focus.  The prose material may or may not provide a commentary on the poetry, and may be written by another author.  Since a poet’s intent is sometimes misunderstood, it can be helpful if the essays at least partially elucidate the subject of the poems.  The style may be classical or contemporary but should articulate the joys and the sorrows, the aspirations and the aspirations, of modern living.  As new resources for enjoying, studying, and writing poetry, we recommend the following titles: Introduction to Poetry: Forms and Elements Study Guide by Judy Cook, The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem by Shira Wolosky, A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver, The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings: Poems, Tales, Essays, and Reviews by Edgar Allan Poe edited by David Galloway, Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries by Helen Vendler, The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged edited by Edward Connery Lathem, The Collected Works by Kahlil Gibran, Jack Kerouac: Collected Poems edited by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell, and Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide by Jane Reichhold.


4.2 Confederate History Month – Six Southern states in the USA that were once part of the Confederate States of America still observe Confederate History Month in April.  Controversial because of the pivotal role played by the institution of slavery in the economy of the Confederacy, the commemoration developed from Confederate Memorial Day, originally observed on 26 April to honor those who died fighting for the Confederacy during the American Civil War (1861-5) and to preserve the history of that conflict.  Defenders compare the Civil War to the American Revolution as a morally justified rebellion against imperialism.  Some romanticize the war as a heroic fight for individual liberties in a loose confederation of independent states instead of strong central bureaucracy.  Do you agree?  Or do you side with the majority of Americans in viewing Confederate government as its own sort of tyranny?  Exactly which “rights” were the Confederate States fighting to secure?  Is it true, as many contend, that slavery wasn’t the real issue behind the conflict?  Is there an advantage in reenacting the events of the Civil War?  What lessons can be learned from this contentious part of American history?  How does the Confederate History, including but not limited to the Civil War, shape Southern society today?  How are African Americans, key participants in American society since its inception, supposed to regard Confederate History? Had the Confederacy won the war and kept its autonomy, how would the Civil Rights Movement have played out in it?  We’re also interested in speculative fiction on the subject. 


4.3 Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) – The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) sponsors this observance during the month of April to facilitate the prevention of all forms of unwanted sexual violence and coercion.   In an 2010 official White House proclamation, President Obama (1961-  ) “urge[d] all Americans to reach out to victims, learn more about this crime, and speak out against it” so we can “stop abuse before it starts.”  Women have been organizing “Take Back the Night” events for over forty years to put an end to sexual abuse, which includes stalking and taunting.  Recent events in India, to cite only one possible example, underscore the need for more widespread and thorough public education on the subject, which is fundamentally a human rights issue.  Attention is often focused on childhood sexual abuse.  That is unfortunately only one part of the egregious equation. 

          Have you had any experience with sexual assault or abuse, either directly or indirectly?  To what extent, if any, is sexual repression responsible for the attitudes that trigger it, and prompt others to excuse it?  Is pornography to blame – or is it only violent sexual imagery?  Don’t forget that it isn’t only men who sexually abuse women, even though that’s the most common scenario.


4.4 April Fools’ Day (1 April) – This informal annual celebration tests the public’s credulity by means of practical jokes and hoaxes, a few of which get out of hand from time to time.  Are you more likely to be the butt of an April Fools’ Day joke or the perpetrator?  What has your experience with April Fools’ pranks been?  Do you find them essentially fun, educational, or cruel?  What psychological and social purposes do jokes, pranks, and hoaxes of all kinds serve?  Have you ever found one particularly clever – or offensive?  We’re interested in both fiction and nonfiction on the subject.   


4.5 Easter (17 April 2022) and Passover (15-23 April 2022)Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as described (in slightly contradictory narratives) in the Christian New Testament.  The first Easter took place during the Jewish Passover, a full-moon festival that celebrates the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt as detailed in the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible (even though virtually no reliable historical evidence has been provided to substantiate the assertion that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt during the New Kingdom period or earlier).  Though still widely celebrated, both holidays have largely escaped the commercialization that has dominated Christmas and Hanukkah for several decades.  What do these holidays mean to you, particularly if you’re not otherwise observant?  Do you also observe Lent?  What is the significance of Easter bunnies, candy, eggs, and lilies?  Even if you aren’t Jewish, do you eat haroset, gefilte fish, matzo brei, or matzos during Passover?  Will both holidays become more about the sweets than their religious significance? 

          Easter is observed on different dates in the Eastern Orthodox churches – on 24 April 2022. 


4.6 World Semicolon Day (16 April 2022) serves two purposes.  The first is the preservation of the semicolon as a viable and productive punctuation mark, whose use is steadily declining.  The Times columnist Ben Macintyre, author of The Last Word: Tales from the Tip of the Mother Tongue, quipped in 2005, “[Ernest] Hemingway, [Raymond] Chandler and Stephen King wouldn't be seen dead in a ditch with a semi-colon (though Truman Capote might). Real men, goes the unwritten rule of American punctuation, don't use semi-colons.”  Journalist Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation and several cozy mysteries, begs to differ, arguing in favor of the sophistication and resiliency of the semicolon over, for example, the dash.

          Because a sentence continues after a semicolon, it has also become a symbol of suicide prevention.  Founded in 2013 by Amy Bleuel (1985-2017), Project Semicolon advocatespresenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury,” as its founder was during most of her short life.  Among its mottoes areYour Story Isn’t Over,” because “a semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”  Some members raise awareness of the importance of mental health by having semicolons tattooed on their bodies, usually on the wrist.           


4.7 Buddha’s Birthday (8 April, though the date varies from country to country) – Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini, in what is now Nepal, traditionally about 563 BCE (though contemporary scholarship points to a date closer to 400 BCE).  He attained Enlightenment, or bodhi, at the age of 35 and became the Buddha or “Awakened One.”  Buddha gathered a following as he preached a gospel of renunciation embodied in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path that ultimately became a major world religion.  Buddhism has long been popular on the West Coast and on college campuses across the country, in part because of its inclusive rationalism.  What’s your opinion?  What about Jews who embrace Buddhism, as either a religion or a philosophy?  Should Tibetan Buddhism be considered more authentic than other denominations, such as Zen?




May (deadline 31 October)


5.1 Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – The month of May commemorates the arrival of the first Japanese to the United States in 1843 and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (whose tracks were laid primarily by Chinese immigrants) in 1869.  It celebrates the culture of immigrants from Eastern Asia and the Pacific Islands stretching from Papua-New Guinea to Hawai`i.  The largest immigrant communities are those originating in the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Samoa.  We’re interested in the viewpoints of the immigrants themselves.  How easily does each group assimilate into the American mainstream?  Do they find the country more of a traditional melting pot (in which cultures coalesce into a new society) or a “me-generation” salad bowl (in which each element retains its distinct identity while mingling)?  How has each of these groups enriched American society – in spite of common stereotypes?  How have they cooperated among themselves after arriving in their new home?  What ties do they maintain with their home countries?  Both fiction and nonfiction are welcome.  In Canada, May is also South Asian Heritage Month, which recognizes the contributions of immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Indian communities in Fiji.


5.2 Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) – Signed into law in 2006, Jewish American Heritage Month recognizes the history of Jewish contributions to America society and culture.  According to the JAHM Coalition, it “also enables the exploration of the meaning of religious pluralism, cultural diversity, and participation in American civic culture.”  Jewish American heritage presents a quandary to some, since not everyone who practices Judaism is ethnically Jewish and not all ethnic Jews practice Judaism, leaving more than one “way” to be Jewish.  What’s your opinion of the roles played by Jews in the history of what many consider a Christian or post-Christian nation?  Do the media promulgate Jewish cultural values?  If so, how long has this been happening?  How influential are Jews in politics?  How do non-Jewish Americans regard Jews?  Jewish culture is about much more than matzo balls and movable holidays.  If you are Jewish (according to any shared definition), is your culture still distinct from mainstream American culture?  How do most Americans relate to it?  As usual both fiction and nonfiction are welcome. 


5.3 Mental Health Awareness MonthLaunched in the medical community as far back as 1949, National Mental Health Month attempts to raise awareness about mental health issues in the United States.  It wasn’t long ago that many people felt ashamed to seek professional help with alcoholism, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, obsessive behavior, schizophrenia, stress, and suicidal thoughts, among other conditions, along with their effects on their relationships and personal ambitions.  Waves of misinformation still emanate from the internet and other media outlets specializing in “pop psychology” that ultimately do more harm than good.  How do we combat ignorance while respecting the privacy of others?  Whose business is it, for example, if a loved one, friend, or coworker seems to be losing control over his or her emotions, reactions, joie de vivre, or memory?  What would cause someone to withdraw from others?  How can we intervene successfully without intruding where we aren’t wanted?  We’re interested in fiction and nonfiction about people who muster the courage to overcome denial and manage to regain control over the course of their lives in spite of obstacles.  Above all, emphasize a healthy (but true-to-life) outcome that offers an alternative to current social trends.  As usual, be prepared to back up any conclusion that runs counter to prevailing theories on the subject with verifiable facts.   


5.4 National Bike Month – This month-long observance is lauded for its benefits to both the body and the environment.  Motorists for the most part have learned to share the road with bicyclists, who have petitioned their local governments to designate and maintain bike lanes in major cities to enable bicycle commuting.  We’re interested in the pros and cons of bicycling and naturally want to learn more about the attitudes and habits of bicyclists, including (for our Erotica publications) their sexual proclivities.  Does regular bicycling improve stamina, for instance, or does it bring cyclists closer to nature? 


5.5 National Masturbation Month – Originally designated by retailer Good Vibrations in 1995 after then-President Bill Clinton (1946-  ) fired Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders (1933-  ) for suggesting that masturbation could be taught as a safer alternative to more risky sexual behavior.  Though much maligned and often dismissed as a habit we outgrow, masturbation remains almost everyone’s dirty little secret.  While it’s true that there are people who for one reason or another never masturbate, there’s no reason they shouldn’t.  As author and former prostitute Xaviera Hollander once pointed out, it “beats pregnancy, rape, incest, and adultery.  And it’s legal” (at least as long as you don’t do it in public, which some can’t resist doing).  What has been your most satisfying masturbatory experience?  Do you consider group or mutual masturbation sex?  If a married man does it with someone other than his spouse, is he cheating?  We’re looking for imaginative fiction and nonfiction on the subject.


5.6 National Moving Month – The United States is a country on the move.  With soaring rents, underwater mortgages, housing shortages, and constant job restructuring, we’ve become a nation of nomads who struggle to maintain family ties and community connections.  Millions feel uprooted as a result, and a few are left homeless or, in the parlance of the 2010 and 2020s, unhoused.  We’re interested in fiction, nonfiction, and especially memoirs that describe how frequent relocation has changed the national and global landscape.  Some of us move around so much we don’t bother to unpack.  Can families really keep in touch entirely through the internet?  Have you ever had a long-distance relationship?  Is it ultimately more frustrating than fulfilling, or does the distance make the limited time you spend together more valuable?  Have you been able to prosper in spite of, or perhaps because of, frequent moves?  Does your line of work send you abroad?  Do you lead one type of life in one city or country and a different one elsewhere?


5.7 Beltane (30 April – 1 May) - This traditional Gaelic spring holiday has been revived in recent years by Neopagans (including Wiccans) who celebrate it with the May Bush, the Maypole, and bonfires, often as the Green Root of May Day.  Though largely ignored in the United States and most of Canada, Beltane was a day on which a May basket of flowers, herbs, sweets, or other dainties could be left on the doorstep of a person in whom one is interested as a romantic partner or friend.  If the recipient manages to catch the giver of such a gift, a kiss or (more commonly) a hug may be exchanged, all in a spirit of fun.  What does this celebration mean to you?  How do you observe it?  How do your non-pagan family members, friends, and coworkers regard your celebration of the age-old rituals?  If you live in the Southern hemisphere, do you celebrate Samhain on 1 May?   We’re looking for both fiction and nonfiction on the subject, particularly what might be called Neopagan inspirational literature.


5.8 May Day (1 May)International Workers’ Day is also commemorated on May Day, mostly outside the United States even though the event that inspired it, the Haymarket affair, took place in Chicago, Illinois, in 1886.  The so-called Red Root of May Day traditionally associated with anarchists, communists, leftists, socialists is celebrated as Labor Day in many nations worldwide.  It recognizes the rights of the working classes in general and of laborers in particular to organize labor unions to secure safe and equitable working conditions and fight income inequality.  The Occupy Movement and various immigrants’ rights groups stage events on May Day.  What is your opinion of the labor movement, which has long been controversial in the USA?  Why are the working classes, who build and maintain the nation’s infrastructure, held in low regard by members of the middle and upper classes?  Is social mobility, long touted as the American Way, still possible?  Or are we evolving into a two-tiered society of Eloi and Morlocks as H.G. Wells predicted at the end of the 19th century?  As usual we’re looking for an international perspective on the situation, detailed in both fiction and nonfiction.


5.9 Day of the Finnish Language (12 May) - The Republic of Finland has designated 12 May the official Day of the Finnish Language.  Finnish has a well-deserved reputation for being difficult for non-native speakers to master.  To cite just one example, the title of a popular novel, Nuorena nukkunut translates into “Fallen Asleep While Young.”  Efforts were made to suppress the language for centuries in spite of its rich literary history, which includes the national epic Kalevala.  Weird Beard Press is interested in phrasebooks and travel guides in any Scandinavian language – Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish (none of which are genetically related to Finnish) and Estonian and Lappish or Sami (which are).




June (deadline 30 November)


6.1 African American Music Appreciation Month - Begun in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter (1924-  ) as Black Music Month, this celebration of African American music was given its new name by then-President Barack Obama (1961-  ) in 2009 to recognize the “legacy of African-American composers, singers, songwriters, and musicians” who “have have enriched American music and captured the diversity of our Nation.”  Its “novel chord progressions, improvisation, and mood showcase individual musicians while also creating a cohesive musical unit,” which over the years gave rise to the spirituals, blues, ragtime, jazz, boogie woogie, rhythm and blues, doo-wop, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, funk, hip hop, house, and techno subgenres.   The best way to appreciate any type of music is to listen to it, preferably when it’s performed live.  Though distinctly African in origin in terms of its harmony and rhythmic structure, which includes blue notes, polyphony, swing notes, and syncopation, African American music has long spoken to the soul of humanity about oppression, misery, and triumph.  It eventually served as a means of bringing the races together.  Which examples of African American music – from Josephine Baker’s J’ai deux amours to Billie Holiday’s “Lady Sings the Blues” to Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” to Prince’s “When Doves Cry” to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” among many others – have made a difference in your life and why?  Which performances stand out from others?  Did Nat King Cole, for instance, better represent his era, musically or otherwise, than Tupac Shakur did his, or is the opposite true?  How has African American music enriched American culture in general over the years?


6.2 GLBTQIA+ Pride Month The first Gay Pride march was held in four cities across the country on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which took place in Greenwich Village during the early morning hours of 28 June 1969.  Patrons of one of Manhattan’s busiest and most diverse gay bars, the Stonewall Inn, resisted arrest and openly fought against police harassment, forcefully asserting that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender was not ipso facto a crime.  Their civil disobedience gave renewed strength to the theretofore largely non-confrontational Gay Liberation movement, which gained ground throughout the 1970s.  In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), finding that “homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities.” Though thwarted by the misunderstood AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, the movement conceded no ground to its critics as awareness and, later, acceptance gradually took root in society as a whole.  In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton declared June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. 

          In 2009 President Barack Obama (1961-  ) officially changed the name to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month to provide for full inclusion of all non-heterosexual communities.  GLBT pride unites all four groups, along with their supporters, to oppose bullying, discrimination, and violence and to secure dignity, equality, and diversity in the network of communities.  The movement is not without its critics, both inside and outside the community.  Some feel it adds to the social stigma that GLBT persons experience, others that it doesn’t fairly represent individuals’ interests. Gay Shame, for instance, a radical movement within the GLBT community, opposes “queer” assimilation into the mainstream, the commodification of non-heterosexual culture, and the commercialization of pride events.  What is your opinion of GLBT Pride and its history, both inside and outside the United States?  For better or worse, many GLBT persons have willingly moved into the mainstream.  Is getting married, buying a home, and starting a family a better alternative than periodically hooking up with near-strangers in bars?  Or does it boil down to a matter of personal choice, the values of the “majority” be damned?  What, in your opinion, does the future hold?           


6.3 Great Outdoors Month – June was proclaimed Great Outdoors Month by then-President Bill Clinton in 1998. “From breathtaking seascapes to the limitless stretch of the Great Plains,” the Proclamation states, “our natural surroundings animate the American spirit, fuel discovery and innovation, and offer unparalleled opportunities for recreation and learning. During Great Outdoors Month, we celebrate the land entrusted to us by our forebears and resolve to pass it on safely to future generations.”  During June, which is typically warm in most of the United States, Americans are encouraged to leave their homes and explore the great outdoors, whether in urban or rural settings.  Are the country’s once plentiful green spaces vanishing, or just becoming more crowded?  What are your favorite things to do outdoors, whether it’s in your back yard or a national park?  Have you ever spent time on a farm to see for yourself how food is prepared?  Are we making the best possible use of our natural resources?


6.4 Shavuot (6-7 Sivan 5782 and 4-6 June 2022) or the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22), counted seven weeks (or “a week of weeks” from Passover, celebrates the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel.  It also traditionally commemorates the revelation of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:3-8; Babylonian Talmud: Pesachim 68a).  Although it is also defined in the Torah as the “feast of harvest” and the “feast of ingathering” (Exodus 23:16), the only specific obligations attached to the observance were that, “males shall appear before the Lord God,” bringing “[t]he first of the firstfruits of thy land…into the house of the Lord thy God [the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem], and “not seeth[ing] a kid [goat] in his mother's milk” (Exodus 23:17 and 19).  Since the Temple is no longer standing, a wide variety of dairy products is now consumed during Shavuot, from cheese blintzes to sambusak (a kind of samosa), though always separately from meat dishes typically served at dinner.  The entire Book of Ruth, which takes place largely during the barley harvest, is read at the synagogue at this time.  The proselyte Ruth’s acceptance of God’s Covenant with Israel mirrors that of the Twelve Tribes as related in Exodus 19:8.  Both private homes and synagogues may be decorated with greenery and flowers at this time, which to some symbolize a marriage between God and His people contracted through the Torah.  In some communities it is customary to stay up all night studying the holy books, whether alone, with one or more study partners (chavrutha), or at late-night lectures (shiurim).  Special study guides have been published for this purpose.

          If you celebrate Shavuot, how do you go about it?  Has your observance changed over the years?  Do you have pleasant memories of past observances?  What is your general attitude toward the Torah and its role in the lives of everyday 21st-century believers?             


6.5 Pentecost (5 June 2022) – The Jewish holiday Shavuot was originally called Pentecost in Greek, where the word means “fiftieth.”  The Christian Pentecost, also known as Whitsunday or Whitsun, began on the Shavuot following Jesus’ Crucifixion, which took place during Passover.  A moveable feast in the Gregorian calendar, Pentecost falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter Sunday. 

          Though the two observances are different, both mark a type of theophany, or appearance or manifestation of God on earth.  On Shavuot, God appeared on Mount Sinai enshrouded in fire and smoke (Exodus 19:11 and 18) to deliver the Ten Commandments as a prelude to the Torah, which in full spelled out the terms of His Covenant with the Children of Israel.  On the Christian Pentecost, God appeared to the Apostles as “tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:3) to pour out His own Spirit onto humanity, as He had prophesied He would in Joel 2:28-32 (or 3:1-5 in the Hebrew version, which has been adopted in two major Roman Catholic versions).  The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity among Trinitarian Christians, then “filled” the Apostles (Acts 2:4) and gave them the Gift of Tongues, which allowed them to preach the Gospel in a variety of languages.  Whether the “tongues” in question were actual languages like Aramaic and Greek, or ecstatic utterances that symbolized the mind’s executive function surrendering to the “higher laws” of God, is a matter of faith.  The practice, referenced in  Mark 16:17, is called glossolalia.  How this miraculous gift, or charism, and those that followed it (healing, prophecy, exorcism, and the resurrection of the dead, among others) are – or were – supposed to function in the church is similarly a subject of debate among the many Christian denominations.  All agree that the earliest apostles practiced them (Acts 3:1-10; 10:9-22; 14:8-18; 16:18; and 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:9).  The Apostle Paul identified nine such gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.

          Although Pentecost and the following Monday, Whit Monday, are national holidays in most of Northern and Western Europe, including the UK, the observance is largely ignored in the United States, possibly because it’s a movable feast typically occurring between the more easily commercialized Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Churches may be decorated in red during the holiday to recall the freely moving fire of the Holy Spirit.  Rose petals may also be scattered because of their resemblance to tongues of fire.  Churches in Central Europe often use birch branches as symbols of church growth, and confirmation ceremonies are often held.

          Pentecostalism is an evangelical Protestant denomination whose doctrinal centerpiece is glossolalia, along with other charismata such as faith healing and the discernment of spirits, a form of psychometry.  Though ethnically and racially diverse, Pentecostalism has given rise to prosperity theology.  Not all Pentecostal congregations preach a prosperity gospel, which teaches that God rewards faith with wealth – to many it’s anathema, in fact – but this materialistic approach to success has bloomed in the fertile soil of the so-called word of faith.  Non-Trinitarian Pentecostals are called Oneness Pentecostals.

          What is your experience with Pentecost – and with Pentecostals?  Do you speak in tongues?  Most mainline churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, now have charismatic wings within them due to the influence of the Pentecostal churches, which include the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), among many others.  Famous members include Duane Chapman (Dog the Bounty Hunter), David Green (founder of Hobby Lobby), Ernie Isley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Donnie McClurkin, Stella Parton, Tavis Smiley, Jimmy Swaggart, Jaci Velasquez, Denzel Washington, and Michelle Williams.  Preachers of the Prosperity Gospel, who in the interest of reaching a wider audience, may not identify themselves strictly as Pentecostals, include Kenneth Copeland, John Hagee, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, and Rod ParsleyJim Bakker and Joyce Meyer describe themselves as Charismatic but not Pentecostal.  The Assemblies of God defrocked Bakker in 1987 over church scandals, and Swaggart in 1988.  Swaggart’s ministry is now officially nondenominational, though the doctrines remain fundamentally – no pun intended – the same.


6.6 Summer Solstice (21 June 2022) or Midsummer is the longest day of the year and is celebrated around the world, often in conjunction with St. John the Baptist’s Day on 24 June.  In Nordic countries it’s celebrated as a public holiday.  Within the Arctic circle the sun never sets during the summer solstice.  Swedes often end the celebration with nighttime skinny dipping.




July (deadline 31 December)


7.1 Christmas in July is largely a summer sales promotion inspired at least in part by Preston Sturges’s 1940 comedy of the same name.  Weird Beard Press is interested in fiction and nonfiction about such seemingly misplaced observations and their wider social implications.  If a sort of counter-Christmas is celebrated in July, what part would Jesus play in it?  Given his attitude toward the Jewish Temple, would he rejoice on Tisha B’Av?  Gay Jewish author Lev Raphael wrote a book of short stories called Dancing on Tisha B’Av. 

          Could the observance culminate with the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of Saint Mary according to the apocryphal Protevangelium of James, which since 1969 have been celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on 26 July?  The patron saints of grandparents and cabinetmakers, the saintly couple could be featured in effigy to promote the sale of fine furniture – or perhaps of walk-in tubs for the elderly.  Or would the holiday focus more on Santa Claus on vacation far from the North Pole, with or without Mrs. Claus by his side – a common theme in greeting cards?  A lot of light-hearted fiction focuses on Mrs. Claus, such as Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings: A Funny & Festive Christmas Cozy Mystery (2020) and The Future Mrs. Claus (2021).

          Or is it ultimately about the mighty dollar?  Is Christmas in July just another way to commercialize Christmas, to increase spending during the summer months?  Should a midsummer Christmas be called Santamas II, with Santa Claus delivering presents from the tropics? 


7.2 National Ice Cream Month celebrates the consumption of ice cream.  The observation originated in 1984 with the United States’ Congress’s Joint Resolution 298, which was sponsored by Kentucky Democratic Senator Walter “Dee” Huddleston (1926-2018). The resolution, which was signed into law by then-President   (1911-2004) with Presidential Proclamation 5219, designated July 1984 as National Ice Cream Month with the 15th being National Ice Cream Day.  Lovers and manufacturers of ice cream have celebrated the virtues of their favorite summertime consumable ever since.  July is also National Hot Dog Month, which culminates in various hot dog eating contests held across the USA.  The American Meat Institute holds an Annual Hot Dog Lunch on Capitol Hill.  National Hot Dog Day falls on 23 July. National Fried Chicken Day is observed on 6 July to celebrate the consumption of fried chicken, and World Chocolate Day on the 7th the consumption of chocolate.


7.3 International Free Hugs Month (2 July – 1 August 2022) was first observed in 2007 to commemorate the work of an Australian known only as “Juan Mann” in what he called the Free Hugs Campaign, an international social movement in which strangers are offered free hugs in public venues as random acts of kindness and an incentive toward world peace.  Participants, called huggers, usually carry a sign advertising free hugs to passersby, as advertised on a popular YouTube video.  Though recognized worldwide, the observance has been met with opposition in China, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia (where the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice arrested two huggers in 2013). 

          Do gratuitous hugs make a difference in the lives of ordinary people?  If so, why would anyone object to them?  How long does the soothing effect last?  Does it depend on who’s offering the hug?  Or on how the person is dressed?  Could they really facilitate world peace – or at the very least mutual understanding among persons from differing backgrounds?  Do the similarly themed Cuddle Parties that began in New York City about the same time and that are also known as Contact Comfort Gatherings, Cuddle Puddles, Puppy Pile Parties, and Snuggle Parties, really help people overcome shyness, grief, depression, and maybe the mistrust of others, particularly in the wake of a breakup?  Cuddle lifeguards are guaranteed to be on hand to intervene if cuddle buddies, as they are called, happen to cross personal boundaries, thus defeating the purpose of the events.  As usual the subject can be approached from all angles.  How many huggers, for instance, hide ulterior motives?  Would cuddling a coworker (consensually, of course) without telling one’s spouse constitute infidelity?


7.4 World UFO Day (2 July) commemorates the alleged crash of a UFO, widely believed to be an extraterrestrial spacecraft, in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. To raise awareness of "the undoubted existence of UFOs,” devotees begin gathering as early as 24 June, the date on which aviator Kenneth Arnold reported sighting what is generally considered first UFO seen in the USA during the Atomic Era, and scan the skies in search of similar objects while discussing the implications of contact with alien civilizations.  Some, obviously, take the observance more seriously than others, just as some claim to have had more intimate contact with extraterrestrials than others.

          Have you ever seen a UFO?  If so, did it land anywhere near you?  Have you ever had contact with what you perceived to be extraterrestrial beings?  Were you abducted by them?  Subjected to unusual probes or tests?  Perhaps implanted with an alien device or even impregnated by one of them?  Are these beings trying to tell us something?  Tell us the whole story as realistically as possible.


7.5 Independence Day (4 July) is the United States’ National Holiday commemorating the day in 1776 on which the Second Continental Congress of what had been the Thirteen Colonies approved their Declaration of Independence from Great Britain and the establishment of the United States of America as a sovereign country, at least according to official records.  The actual date is disputed by historians, in part because the Revolutionary War that won the new country its independence continued until 1783. 

          The summertime holiday is observed with daytime parades and nighttime fireworks, along with a variety of outdoor activities such as concerts, picnics, and tours of national landmarks.  Politicians typically make speeches to assembled crowds extoling the virtues of the American way of life.  Americans traditionally gather to listen to patriotic songs like “America the Beautiful,” “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem – and sometimes to discuss what they mean to people today.  In recent years, many Americans have become cynical about the purported promise of the so-called American dream.  If they celebrate Independence Day at all, they do so with little or no fanfare.  What does Independence Day mean to you?  Is the United States truly independent, politically, culturally, or otherwise?  It’s certainly not isolationist any longer, though many Americans seem to wish it were.


7.6 X-Day (5 July) is observed by members of the Church of the SubGenius to commemorate the day in 1998 when the world as we know it was originally scheduled to be invaded by X-ists (aliens from Planet X), and the Subgenii (members of the church) were to be “ruptured” into space – provided they’re current in paying their tithes, that is.  Allegedly founded by salesman-cum-prophet J.R. “Bob” Dobbs in 1953 and revived by Reverend Ivan Stang (also known as Douglass St. Clair Smith) and Dr. Philo Drummond in 1979, the church is a path of paradox that advocates irreverent devotion to Jehovah 1 and his spouse Eris, who is worshipped as the Goddess of Chaos in Discordianism.  It teaches the virtues of Slack, which may be loosely defined as a life of 1950s-style ease, especially as seen on TV in family sitcoms like Father Knows Best (1954-60), Leave It to Beaver (1957-63), and Make Room for Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show (1957-64).  The church has evolved a web of conspiracy theories, its specialty, to explain the aliens’ failure to fulfill the prophecy.  Some critics describe the church as a parody religion.  Members claim their beliefs are just as sincerely held as those of more mainstream faiths, whose leaders may not actually believe all the prophecies they formulate. 

          Although the Church of the SubGenius may be an exclusive franchise of the Reverend Stang, author of The Book of the SubGenius and its sequels (some of which have become collectors’ items), Weird Beard Press is interested in all aspects of Discordian theory and practice.  Exclusive or not, Slack is a cultural phenomenon waiting to be revived for a new generation.


7.7 Nikola Tesla Day (10 July) celebrates the birthday of Serbian-American physicist of the same name, interest in whose achievements, among them the design of the modern alternating current system that supports the electrical grid, has been growing since the turn of the millennium.  A 19th- and 20th-century Renaissance man known more for his idiosyncrasies than his many accomplishments, Tesla is directly or indirectly responsible for much modern technology, even though his contributions went largely unrecognized during his lifetime. 


7.8 World Population Day (11 July) raises awareness of global population issues, including the ways in which overpopulation is harming the environment by depleting natural resources.  Established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989, World Population Day encourages efforts to stabilize the population at least at its current levels worldwide.  It reached five billion on 11 July 1987 and has now surpassed seven billion.  Weird Beard Press is interested in both fiction and nonfiction about overpopulation, which in our opinion poses a threat to the security and welfare of nations worldwide. At this point in human history, is mere stabilization enough?  Should we be doing more to reduce the population?


7.9 Malala Day (12 July) celebrates the birthday of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai (1997-  ), winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize and other official commendations for her work in securing educational opportunities for women in her native Pakistan and worldwide.  The Taliban controlled most of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan and had forbidden the education of girls and women until Malala used social media to draw attention to the plight of her people under authoritarian rule.  She was dubbed “the most famous teenager in the world” by Deutsche Welle after surviving a gunshot to the head in 2012.  The following year she spoke at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, unofficially proclaimed Malala Day in the press.  Millions in Pakistan and Afghanistan still oppose her mission, convinced that a woman’s place is in the home and that Malala’s values have been “corrupted” by Western ideals.   


7.10 Bastille Day (14 July) commemorates the storming of the Bastille, a medieval fortress in Paris used by the monarchy to confine political prisoners, in 1789, this initiating the French Revolution, which continued for a decade.  Called la Fête nationale in France, the celebration is not unlike the USA’s Independence Day, with military parades and fireworks displays.  Businesses tend to close in France on le 14 juillet and there is often a mass exodus of traffic from the cities to the countryside, where it is customary to have picnics featuring cold meats and fresh fruits and vegetables.  What lessons can Americans (and citizens of other nations) learn from the French Revolution, which many other countries tried to mirror in later years, with varying degrees of success?


7.11 International Drag Day (16 July) celebrates the contributions of drag performers – both queens and kings and other members of the “court” – to the cause of GLBTQIA+ rights.  Though a relatively small contingent within the queer community, drag performers of all sexes and genders have been at the forefront of queer liberation since the Stonewall Riots of 1969, in which thy played a key part.  Even before that, drag queens were widely known as activists unafraid to take on social taboos.  What has your experience with drag culture been?  Do you take part in it?  How has its role in history changed during your lifetime?


7.12 National Parents' Day (24 July 2022) is held on the fourth Sunday of July.  Introduced by Republican Senator Trent Lott (1941-  ) of Mississippi and signed into law by President Bill Clinton (1946-  ) in 1994 for the purpose of “recognizing, uplifting, and supporting the role of parents in the rearing of children,” the Federal observance serves as a sort of unisex combination of Father’s Day and Mother’s Day.  It is overseen by the National Parents’ Day Coalition.  The concept may have originated, at least in part, with the controversial Unification Church, which celebrates its True Parents’ Day in March, members being spiritually adopted into the Reverend Moon’s family.  Is this something the country needs? If so, should it replace traditional Father’s Day and Mother’s Day?


7.13 Māori (or Maori) Language Week (27 July-2 August) –  Established in 1975 in New Zealand (also known as Aotearoa), this celebration recognizes the importance of Māori, the indigenous Polynesian language of New Zealand, which is related to Hawai’ian, Samoan, and even Tagalog, among other Pacific Island languages.  Various government agencies participate by working with the Ministry of Māori Development and the Māori Language Commission. The minority Māori community has traditionally faced isolation within the New Zealand mainstream society, a situation not incomparable to the situation of Native Americans in the USA.  Though only about a fifth of the Māori speak the language, extensive efforts have been made to preserve it from extinction.  Weird Beard Press is interested in publishing works on all Polynesian languages, from Tahitian to Malagasy.     


7.14 National Thai Language Day (29 July) celebrates the Thai language, once considered a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family (which includes Burmese and all dialects of Chinese) but now classed as a member of the newly identified Tai-Kadai family, which includes Lao, the primary language of Laos.  Chinese linguists still group the various Tai languages (including the Shan language spoken in Burma, now known as Myanmar) with Chinese.  With much of its vocabulary borrowed from Pali, Sanskrit, or Old Khmer, this official language of the Kingdom of Thailand is a tonal language that typically expresses much with few words.  It is what is described as an analytical language, which means that the grammatical relationships among words are expressed more through syntax than through inflection.  Over seventy languages are spoken in Thailand, and a few are covered in Lonely Planet’s Hill Tribes Phrasebook.     


7.15 International Friendship Day (30 July) was originally proposed by American businesswoman Joyce Hall (1891-1982), the founder of Hallmark Cards, in 1930 to celebrate the bonds of friendship.  The obvious marketing ploy never really caught on in the United States, but eventually took hold in Asia and South America.  The first official World Friendship Day was proposed for 30 July 1958 by the World Friendship Crusade founded by Dr. Ramón Artemio Bracho (1924-2021) in Paraguay.  Anonymous gift giving characterizes the observance in Paraguay and other South American countries.  The General Assembly of the United Nations declared the date International Friendship Day in 2011.  Friendship bracelets may also be exchanged and worn by participants.





August (deadline 31 January)


8.1 Happiness Happens Month The Secret Society of Happy People (SOHP) was founded in 1998 (originally as Admit You’re Happy Day) by Pamela Gail Johnson, author of The Secret Society of Happy People’s 31 Types of Happiness Guide, which was republished as Don’t Even Think of Raining on My Parade: Adventures of the Secret Society of Happy People.  Her blog, Ask Pamela Gail: Where Happiness Meets Reality, encourages people to make the most of their happy experiences and to resist the negative influence of naysayers and pessimists.  Whether she still follows her own advice isn’t completely clear; the blog hasn’t been updated for several years now – although a new book, Practical Happiness: Four Principles to Improve Your Life, is scheduled for publication at the beginning of 2022.  In 1999 the Society declared 8 August to be Admit You’re Happy Day.  It’s now known as Happiness Happens Day.  HappyThon is celebrated on online social media that day to promote happiness by discussing events that make people happy.  How realistic are the Society’s objectives?  How are its members supposed to respond to life’s disappointments and tragedies?  Surely not by denying them or resisting their causes (for example, cancer, climate change, overeating, and terrorism), no? 

          For a contrary view, read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America.  Your responses, whichever side you may take in the discussion, should be similarly nuanced.


8.2 Audio Appreciation Month celebrates the faculty of hearing while working to prevent the loss of the valuable sensory mechanism that enables it.  Started by San Francisco Bay Area journalist Laurence Scott, author of The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World, it fosters an appreciation of the sounds that enrich our lives and of the technology that brings them to us. 


8.3 National Back-to-School Month is another largely commercial enterprise geared to sell school supplies, including personal computers and fall fashions, to and for people of virtually all ages who are returning to classes at the end of the month.  The United States Department of Agriculture emphasizes the importance of child nutrition during this period, a social cause that may be neglected during the summer months.   The media in general stress the importance of free and universal education while advertising products and services that give typically wealthier students a competitive edge in the classroom.  As if to counterbalance the message they’re sending to families today, they bemoan the plight of inner-city students who are routinely denied access to the opportunities their wealthier peers take for granted. 

          Is this issue more racial or economic?  Is it true that schools in certain parts of the country perform more poorly than others regardless of their racial makeup?  What about military schools on US bases abroad?  Does desegregation really make a difference in society as a whole?  What’s your opinion of the state of education today, not only in the United States but worldwide?  Some take a humorous approach to the subject, recalling the rigors of education with fond nostalgia.  For preschoolers, August is also Get Ready for Kindergarten Month.  It’s important to start those sales strategies early!

          Weird Beard Press also looks at the topic of discipline during August: specifically, how are students disciplined in school and how should they be, if at all?  We are especially interested in how teachers, principals, and sometimes counselors – some of whom may be clergypersons as well - lose their temper in class, shame students, play favorites, have teachers’ pets, empower bullies, abuse their authority or knowledge, and mete out punishment (or correction) for wrongdoing.   Did the punishment fit the offense?  Did teachers send students on long guilt trips?  Did your parents mostly approve?  How has that situation changed?  Be honest with yourself: were you a problem child who perhaps warranted more special attention than others in your peer group?


8.4 Win with Civility Month was instituted by Italian-American professor P.M. Forni (1952-  ), co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project and author of the bestseller Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct.  Dr. Forni advocates thoughtful behavior and common decency as the cures for many of the ills that plague our society today, including anxiety, depression, and overall poor health.  These evils may be avoided by means of mutual respect, kindness, and consideration.  He authored a blog, now defunct, called Seeds of Civility, and has sponsored several Civility Initiatives across the country.  While no one can doubt that a little civility would make the world a more harmonious place in which to live, does Dr. Forni’s background in Italian literature and philosophy give him the necessary qualifications to propose solutions to fundamental problems in psychology and sociology?  Or should his books, including The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude and The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction, be classified more as self-help than serious science?  The blog Embrace Hostility humorously raises some valid objections.  Which approach do you find more practical?


8.5 National Ignorance Month – Because not everyone is interested in pursuing education as summer draws to a close (or, in some cases, at any other time) August has also been designated National Ignorance Month, specifically for those who either think they know enough to get by already or don’t care to expand their knowledge into potentially dangerous territory.  This sentiment is nothing new.  It resurfaces right before every major technological breakthrough.  Even the Bible says, “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth [amasses] knowledge increaseth sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18).  British academic Thomas Gray (1716-71), momentarily – and ironically – wearied by the responsibilities brought on by knowledge, expressed the idea succinctly in his 1747 work “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College," whose last lines are well-known to English speakers:


                                                         Since sorrow never comes too late,

                                                                 And happiness too swiftly flies?

                                                         Thought would destroy their Paradise.

                                                                 No more; where ignorance is bliss,

                                                                ’Tis folly to be wise.


Gray was not trying to imply that ignorance naturally results in bliss, but that by insulating us from reality it allows us to continue in apparent “blissful ignorance” of facts beyond our collective knowledge.  Ignorance can buffer our inevitable collision with reality.  In many persons, this “learning fatigue,” as it were, prompts an even greater curiosity and spurs scientific inquiry and technological innovation.  Others, however, are overwhelmed by the amount of learning it can take to get out of the house and on the road in the morning.  Think of security codes, keyless entry, two-factor authentication, ride-sharing apps, GPS, Life Alert systems, iris recognition, predictive algorithms, robotics, tracking devices, Alexa, Shazam, cookies (including supercookies and zombie cookies) and the much-maligned microchip.  To those who have just mastered the function of the remote control, more advanced technology can be daunting.  Is “engagement” another word for exploitation?  It’s nothing new.  Does anybody have a right to privacy anymore?  Did we ever?  Do we sell these and other supposed rights for the convenience of point-and-click commerce and finance?  Add to that the mountain range of misinformation that separates most of us from authentic information, not to mention the prohibitive cost of continued education in the USA, and we’re left with a large technophobic element in society.

          How much of a social problem would you say ignorance is in the world today? How can the general public keep pace with ever-expanding technology?  Does our concept of public education, now largely focused on teaching to the test, need a complete overhaul?                 


8.6 Tisha B’Av (6 August 2022), the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, is a 25-hour fast commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem after prolonged sieges some six and a half centuries apart, back in Biblical times. It also marks the expulsion of Jews from various countries worldwide throughout history at about the same time of year.  Traditionally a solemn day or mourning, the holiday is nowadays largely ignored by Jews outside Israel, in part because rabbinical Judaism is seen as having survived, and in some senses outgrown, the Temple cultus that sustained it during its early history.  Do you think the Temple will be – or should be – rebuilt?  If so, should the ancient regimen of sacrifices resume there?  Or has Judaism progressed beyond the need for such ancient rituals?  Should Tisha B’Av be celebrated in the future not as a day of mourning but as a day of liberation not unlike Passover or of growth not unlike Shavuot?


8.7 International Lefthanders Day (13 August) Long stigmatized by societies worldwide, and still actively discouraged in China (where it is widely thought to mar the quality of handwritten characters), left-handedness is now celebrated in most of the world as a valuable personality trait.  Exhibited by roughly 10% of the population, left-handedness is associated with higher-than-normal intelligence, creativity, and (for better or worse) emotional sensitivity.  Lefthanders still face difficulties in a world the bulk of whose technology has been designed for use by right-handers. Given proper training, accommodation, and encouragement, however, they have been shown to be able to achieve the same or even greater manual dexterity as their right-handed counterparts, possibly because of the pressures exerted on them to adapt to a challenging environment.  Studies have linked left-handedness to an interest in unusual sexual activities.  Weird Beard Press is interested in memoirs and stories about the attitudes and other challenges that lefthanders face and how they can overcome them.  


8.8 Women’s Equality Day (26 August) commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920 granting women the right to vote nationwide.  The official observance was passed by a joint resolution of Congress in 1971. Have women achieved full equality in all aspects of society?  Why or why not?  What part does childbearing and the need for parental leave play in workplace inequality between the sexes?


8.9 International Go Topless Day (29 August 2022) – Observed on the Sunday closest to Women’s Equality Day on 26 August, the event supports the right of women to go topless – or top-free – in public that men (at least in most parts of the world) already enjoy with impunity.  To celebrate, women actually go topless, typically in groups, in public venues where female toplessness is not usually allowed.  Men may join in the protest against gender inequality by wearing bras or bikinis to cover their bare chests.  GoTopless was established in 2007 by Claude Vorilhon (1946-  ), known to his followers as Raël, founder of the Raelian Movement, a UFO religion based in Switzerland.  Coincidentally, the week of 1-7 August is World Breastfeeding Week, inaugurated in 1992 by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and now observed in 120 countries.






September (deadline 28 February)


9.1 Labor Day (5 September 2022) is observed on the first Monday in September to honor achievements of the American labor movement, and particularly the labor unions, to protect the rights of workers since the end of the Civil War.  The United States Congress unanimously voted to make Labor Day a national holiday.  Then-President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) signed it into law following the end of the Pullman Strike of June 1894.  Unions traditionally engaged in collective bargaining for wages, benefits, and improved working conditions while representing their members in legal disputes against their employers.  Membership has declined steadily during the past thirty years, leading directly or indirectly to an increase in income inequality and the shrinking of the middle class. 

          The history of Labor Day has been largely forgotten due to the holiday’s association with the end of summer vacation, the back-to-school period that now takes up much of the month of August.  As a result, Labor Day weekend has recently become a major retail holiday, which means that more people are now working on the “holiday” than at any time during the last half-century.  How is income inequality affecting society?  Are managers’ and CEOs’ salaries really out of control – or is their success really just the result of hard work and dedication?  Can current trends be reversed?  If they can, should they?  How has the workplace changed during your lifetime?  Is it better or worse than it used to be – and specifically for whom?


9.2 National Preparedness Month – Established in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, National Preparedness Month (NPM) was sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to encourage Americans to prepare for emergencies whenever and wherever they may occur.  Preparedness as such encompasses prevention, protection, response, and recovery efforts to address all types of hazard, from natural disasters to acts of war.  Citizens are encouraged to devise a household emergency plan that includes stocking reserves of food, water, blankets, backup power sources for cell phones and radios, and first aid supplies – and to be familiar with the steps to take in the event of each kind of emergency, from automobile accidents to wildfires.  Weird Beard Press welcomes self-help books on the subject – and also nonfiction on the psychological and sociological aspects of the need for preparedness.


9.3 National Yoga Month – Designated in 2008 by the Department of Health and Human Services as an awareness campaign to educate the public about the health benefits of yoga, National Yoga Month hopes to inspire healthier living among increasingly obese Americans who are chained to their chairs most of the day at work and often addicted to a diet of unhealthful processed foods.  When practiced regularly, yoga, an ancient Indian discipline balancing mind, body, and spirit by means of various (mostly) physical practices, has been shown in clinical tests to reduce stress, lift mood, and increase mindfulness, leading to improved overall wellness.  Weird Beard Press welcomes writing about yoga from both Psychology and New Age perspectives.


9.4 International Literacy Day (8 September) – First celebrated in 1966 after being inaugurated by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the observance emphasizes the importance of literacy as a deterrent to poverty, crime, unemployment and inequality worldwide.  Even in the Information Age, literacy is still a problem even in much of the First World, though, thanks to the internet, not as much as it was during the last century.  What can be done about it?  Would increased literacy lead to more global disaffectedness and spawn more unrest, oppression, and terrorism?          


9.5 International Talk Like a Pirate Day (ITLAPD) (19 September) is a parodic observance created in 1995 by John Baur (Ol’ Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap’n Slappy), of Albany, Oregon.  The holiday and its observance derive from a romanticized view of the Golden Age of Piracy, the days of Captain Kidd (ca. 1654-1701) and Blackbeard the Pirate (ca. 1680-1735).  British actor Robert Newton (1905-56) is hailed as the patron of Talk Like a Pirate Day because of the cinematic portrayals of pirates in which he used his native West Country accent, which is now widely viewed as prototypical piratespeak throughout the English-speaking world.  Parrots, peg legs, and treasure maps popularized in Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel Treasure Island and its many screen adaptations, have come to define parody pirate culture which Pastafarians, members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, have spread the “holiday” worldwide.  Now even Russians celebrate what they term Myezhdunarodnyï Piratskiï Dyen’.


9.6 Autumnal Equinox (23 September 2022) – On this day the sun appears to rise directly in the east and to set directly in the east, with day and night roughly equal in length while linked to the astrological sign Libra, the balance or scales.  An early harvest period, it emphasizes not only balance but sharing in a wider social sense.  In the USA the annual TV season begins about this time, coinciding with the back-to-school, back-to-the-books, back-to-tradition mentalities that prevail during the autumn.  The French Revolutionary Calendar began at the autumn equinox on 22 September 1792.


9.7 Rosh Hashanah (1 Tishri 5783 or 25 September 2022) – The first of the Jewish High Holy Days (Leviticus 23:23-25), traditionally the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:26-27; cf. Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Rosh Hashanah 11a), on which the shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown at intervals to wake hearers from the “slumber” of everyday routine so they may “examine their ways, remember their Creator, and repent” (MaimonidesMishneh Torah: Laws of Repentance 3:4).  It was originally a harvest festival centered on one or more days of reckoning. In the Talmud, God is envisioned reviewing the deeds of humanity and sealing their fates for the coming year (Mishnah: Rosh Hashanah 1:2).  The theme of repentance and rededication continue for ten days, the so-called Days of Awe, culminating on the tenth day with the daylong fast on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur.  Though solemn in tone, Rosh Hashanah remains a festive and joyous occasion characterized by hope for a brighter future for everyone.  Those who celebrate Rosh Hashanah typically feast on pomegranates, apples dipped in honey, black-eyed peas, leeks, and whole fish served with the head (to symbolize a new beginning after the end of the old year).  Specialties include gefilte fish and honey cake or lekach, for which there are a number of tasty recipes.    

          Do you celebrate Rosh Hashanah?  If so, what does it mean to you?  Is there a way to do so in a secular form?  If there is, does that violate the spirit or original intent of the holiday, which may be defined as personal renewal?  How is the holiday celebrated in an interfaith household?  What pleasant memories do you have of the holiday?  Have you been able to replicate them for future generations?




October (deadline 31 March)


10.1 Halloween is annually celebrated on 31 October with what may be described as a dark revelry whose overall purpose, at least in theory, is to minimize our fear of mortality. Just as life goes on beyond the autumn harvest when nights begin earlier and last longer, the soul is imagined to continue beyond the need for a physical body. Some, according to legend, may seek to take possession of or even inhabit the bodies of others.  The modern age’s mostly jovial dance with death, Halloween with its ghosts, ghouls, skeletons, vampires, and zombies gently mocks the fate that ultimately awaits us all, as if to promise that death is not truly the end of existence. Some regard it as the Devil’s Night Out, when the forces of evil are at their strongest in the realm of the living, blurring the line between life and death and allowing interaction between the two otherwise disparate realms. Others take a more scientific approach, fearing that extraterrestrials will soon overwhelm us with their superior technology – or perhaps save us from self-destruction, as in the 1951 science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.

          Weird Beard Press publishes fiction and nonfiction about Halloween and the tropes associated with it under the categories of Erotica, Horror, Humor, Mysteries, New Age, (abnormal) Psychology, and Sociology. What does Halloween mean to you?  Is it as scary now as it used to be?  If so, how or why?  What is your take on the weird tale, often associated with the holiday, and its literary significance?


10.2 Columbus Day (10 October 2022) is observed in most of the United States on the second Monday in October to commemorate the arrival of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in the Western Hemisphere on 12 October 1492. Though this now controversial event unquestionably bridged a gap between European and Native American civilizations, it quickly proved immensely beneficial to the former and hugely detrimental to the latter.  It is remembered today, even celebrated in some places, because for better or worse it literally changed the world as it was then known.  History has come to view the era of discovery and exploration that Columbus epitomizes as a dark age of conquest and exploitation in which the cultures of indigenous peoples were dismissed as inferior and consequently subjugated, in some cases even eradicated, as a result of what many would now call culture warsSo even though Columbus opened up a New World of economic opportunity and ultimate expansion, he brought with him the worst of the Old World’s avarice and prejudice.  It strikes many as odd that he took credit for bringing Christianity to hell-bound pagans.”  Nowadays even those who celebrate Columbus Day do so with some reservation.  In much of Latin America it is observed as Día de la Raza, Day of the [Indigenous] Race. 

          There is a movement in the United States to change the name to Indigenous Peoples’ Day or possibly Native American Day, in part because the Taíno people whom Columbus first encountered in what is now the Bahamas received his expedition hospitably.  Within a matter of days the Spaniards with their superior weaponry proceeded to imprison many of the native men and rape many of the women, starting a trend that over the next few centuries drove many indigenous peoples, including the original Taíno, to extinction.  Typically deprived of their native culture, only the mestizo children of Spanish fathers and Taíno mothers survived, as did many words in their language, which were adopted into Spanish and then made their way into English and other European languages.  Among them are barbecue, cannibal, canoe, hammock, hurricane, iguana, maize, papaya, potato, and tobacco.

          Executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute Michael Berliner once famously asserted that Western civilization brought “reason, science, self-reliance, individualism, ambition, and productive achievement” to a land that was “sparsely inhabited, unused, and underdeveloped” and whose people whose culture was mired in “primitivism, mysticism, and collectivism.” His attitude strikes many today as the very definition of “primitive.”  The Italians and the Spanish remain proud of Columbus’s achievements (and there were a few, in spite of all the bad press he’s received in recent years), as do many Americans, who seem to admire what they see as his frontier mentality.  Others paint him as one of the great villains of history, among such power-hungry poseurs as Maximilien Robespierre, Adolf Eichmann, and Jean-Claude DuvalierWhat is your opinion? Most importantly, what should we teach children about Columbus and his obviously mixed legacy?


10.3 National Coming Out Day (NCOD) has been observed since on 11 October since 1988, first to commemorate the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, and then to give members of the GLBTQIA+ (or LGBTQIA+) community an opportunity to come out,” that is, to disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to others.  Many decide to come out to close friends or family members first while remaining “in the closet” at school, at work, or to more distant relatives and acquaintances, until they have had a chance to gauge others’ reactions.  It’s also possible to come out only to oneself, which involves acknowledging one’s sexual identity after a period of doubt, uncertainty, or denial. 

       While most people’s experience with coming out is surprisingly positive – with responses like “I’ve know that for years, and I’m fine with it” being common across most segments of society nowadays – acceptance is still far from universal.  It’s been estimated that at least a third of homeless people under thirty living on the West Coast came out to their parents or caregivers and were either forced to leave home or otherwise disowned or disinherited by their families.  Many no doubt hoped to be employed in some capacity or other by a benefactor in the community, but few ever realize this dream. Many adults still face workplace discrimination when they come out publicly, sometimes depending on the nature of their job, and some lose their status in their community as a result.  Until the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, it was still possible to be fired for being GLBTQIA+ in 22 states.  Wisconsin offered protections for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, but not for transgender persons.  Arkansas and Tennessee actually ban protection laws from being enacted even at local levels in matters of Housing and Public Accommodation.  We can only speculate about the numbers of clergypersons of all genders who don’t come out for fear of losing the only livelihood and support system they have known. 

       Co-founded by Rob Eichberg, a psychologist and founder of a personal growth workshop called the Experience, and Jean O'Leary, then head of the now-defunct National Gay Rights Advocates in Los Angeles in 1988, NCOD raises awareness that, as Eichberg pointed out in 1993, “Most people think they don't know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.”   The Human Rights Campaign sponsors NCOD events under the auspices of their National Coming Out Project, which offers resources to GLBTQIA+ individuals, couples, parents, and children as well as their straight friends and relatives to promote awareness of GLBTQIA+ families living honest and open lives.

       Members of other misunderstood minority groups may also take advantage of the opportunity afforded by NCOD to step into the light as well.  Witches, to cite one example, have been coming out of the “broom closet” for years themselves to shatter age-old prejudices held against them.  Atheists and neuroatypical individuals have joined them in seeking wider acceptance in mainstream society.

       Weird Beard Press publishes coming out stories in most of its 22 categories, including EroticaAll the usual rules apply.


10.4 Breast Cancer Awareness Month (or National Breast Cancer Awareness Month [NBCAM]) was inaugurated in 1985 to increase awareness of breast cancer in both men and women, and to raise funds to cover the costs of research into the causes, prevention, early detection, demographics, treatment, and cure of the disease.  Breast cancer affects roughly 15% of the population, and it tends to impact Black women more severely than it does members of other races, in part because it is often detected, diagnosed, and treated at later stages.  Actress Roxie Roker (1929-95) and journalist Gwen Ifill (1955-2016) both succumbed in their sixties at the peak of their careers. 

          Emphasizing self-examination and regular mammograms to identify the symptoms, NBCAM has generated controversy because it is mostly funded by Big Pharma, specifically AstraZeneca, which has been accused of profiting from the treatment of this and other diseases.  Many companies engage in a form of cause marketing to signal their support for health crises and other social concerns like HIV/AIDS, whose red ribbon became a symbol of solidarity for those living with that condition after its release in 1991.  About this same time, breast cancer survivor Charlotte Hayley (1922-2014) started her own grassroots campaign by mailing out cards tied with peach-colored ribbons that announced, “The National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is $1.8 billion, and only 5% of that goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and Americans by wearing this ribbon.” Her small but vocal network came to be known as the Peach Corps.  It soon attracted the attention of the women’s magazine Self, specializing in “health, beauty, and style,” and the cosmetics conglomerate Estée Lauder, who, working with NBCAM, approached Hayley with an offer for the rights to her design for their own awareness campaign.  Unwilling to work with corporate demands, she declined.  Later, Estée Lauder changed the color from peach to pink and used the ribbons in product logos, featuring them on Aveda Moisturizing Creme (with ShampureTM Aroma) and the Michael Kors Gorgeous! fragrance

          While it does no harm to spread awareness of breast cancer to the general public, including information about early intervention and affordable treatment options, critics like Breast Cancer Action (BCA) aren’t so sure this is what the campaign is really about to begin with.  It’s dismissed the widespread use of the pink ribbons as pinkwashing, a promotional strategy intended to sell products that may actually increase risk of the disease, with precious little of the revenue collected funding real research.  In 2018, Vox Media reported, “Activists have pointed out that the money trail of allocated funds to cancer research is nearly impossible to track, and survivors have spoken out about how they feel their disease is being exploited in the name of profit. Medical experts also fear that breast cancer awareness products do just that — bring ‘awareness,’ without offering any tangible information about the disease to help educate the public.”  Even the otherwise highly regarded Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, now known simply as Susan G. Komen, has come under fire not only for pinkwashing but also for its often exclusive corporate partnerships.  As Bitch Media pointed out in 2010, fast food giant KFC donated over $4.2 million to Komen, the largest single contribution in the organization’s history, for the exclusive rights to serve its products in specially branded pink buckets – even though the fatty fried foods for which KFC is famous may actually cause colorectal, pancreatic, and even breast cancer.  They certainly do nothing to prevent it.         

          What do you think about this obviously complex issue, and others like it?  Isn’t a mercenary interest in “raising awareness” of any cause better than none at all?  In America we expect some to have to foot the bill for every type of service on offer.  Even most casual vloggers need a corporate sponsor now.  What would you change about the situation if you could?  How has awareness affected your life?  Hasn’t advertising always sent mixed messages, among them “This product is exactly what you need – even though it may ultimately kill you”?

          Less controversially, Europa Donna, the European Breast Cancer Coalition, has designated 15 October Breast Health Day.

          October is also Health Literacy Month.


10.5 National Arts and Humanities Month (NAHM) generates interest in, and support of, the arts and humanities, specifically those involving human thought and culture, from doodling dramatic performance art to documentary filmmaking.  It emphasizes not only admiring and consuming art (including culinary creations) but also the personal development of artistic talent in environments that foster collaboration and competition without cruelty.  Its four goals are focusing (by means of the media), encouraging (participation in the arts), allowing (by funding when and where needed), and raising (awareness of the role the arts play in everyday life).



10.6 National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NSCAM) was started in 2004 by the National Cyber Security Division of the Department of Homeland Security, along with the nonprofit educational foundation the National Cybersecurity Alliance, to promote awareness of and protection against worldwide cyber-threats.  Malware poses a serious risk to both public and private entities all over the world.  As responsible citizens and netizens of an increasingly interconnected world, we should be equipped with the wherewithal to resist and fight such threats.  When teenager hackers can hold entire hospitals and towns hostage with ransomware, we know we have to go on the offensive to protect our basic interests.  But is a direct approach the best solution?  Can we – and if so should we – give internet terrorists a taste of their own medicine?  What repercussions will we face if we do?  The subject can be explored in a fictional or nonfictional context.


10.7 National Bullying Prevention Month Bullying is a form of peer abuse fueled by an imbalance of social power in which the perpetrator, or bully, applies social pressure to the target, or victim, verbally, physically, emotionally, and/or psychologically, and either directly or indirectly, using coercion, domination, intimidation, name-calling, mockery, ridicule, and threats, among other tactics, to keep the quarry in some form of subjugation.  Cyberbullying, characterized by both real and implied threats made online, often without the participants even knowing each other, has become a major social problem in the 21st century.  Many institutions, including families, neighborhoods, religious communities, sports teams, workplaces, prisons, and particularly schools, foster a culture of bullying that in the past might have been downplayed or ignored as an unavoidable phase of natural childhood or young-adult development

          Members of minority groups are particularly susceptible.  Many are driven out of communities, typically by means of intimidation, in which they might otherwise have enjoyed a rightful and even productive position.  When practiced by groups, bullying is known as mobbing.  It can do lasting psychological harm to society at large.  Victims of bullying themselves often resort to bullying once they reach a certain age, physical condition, income level, or social status, thus perpetuating a culture of fear, violence, and vengeance that poisons groups of almost all descriptions, including government agencies, in which political nonconformists are routinely bullied.  

          As figures of power, or community alphas, bullies tend to attract accomplices, or lieutenants, who may join in the practice of bullying so as not to be victimized themselves.  Others, often labeled bystanders, are afraid to take sides in the conflict, which may further empower a bully.  The phenomenon of slut-shaming, the bitter fruit of a double standard whose seeds are usually the flimsiest of innuendos, is a form of sexual bullying.

          Putting an end to bullying begins with gaining awareness into the ways it affects its victims.  Do the bullies expect their targets to modify their behavior (such as by wearing trendier clothing), change their outward identity (such as by adopting a new political ideology), or simply disappear?  Even the bullies aren’t sure what practical results they’re trying to achieve; most act on impulse.  It’s the intimidation, or fearmongering, that drives their behavior.  So they must learn to cultivate a genuine respect for their fellow human beings regardless of their differences.

          In 2012, the United Nations declared 4 May its Anti-Bullying Day, or Pink Shirt Day, following a Canadian model instituted in 2007 in which ninth-graders in Nova Scotia wore pink shirts to show their support for a fellow student who had been bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school.  In Canada the observance has been moved to the last Wednesday in February.  Having condemned bullying, cyberbullying, racism, hatred, LGBTQIA+ discrimination, and homophobia as symptoms of a mental-health “epidemic,” STOMP Out Bullying™ describes itself as “the leading national nonprofit dedicated to changing the culture for all students.  It is largely responsible for the October observance in the USA, in which participants #BlueUp by wearing limited-edition blue t-shirts.


10.8 National Domestic Violence Prevention Month – The United States Congress, with the assistance of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (or NCADV), designated October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 1989, its stated purpose to “to create a culture where domestic violence is not tolerated and where society empowers victims and survivors while holding abusers accountable.”  Domestic violence is abuse that takes place among family members and typically within the home.  It most commonly takes the form of intimate partner abuse, or spousal abuse, but can extend to children, parents, in-laws, the elderly, former partners, and relatives living outside the home, often perpetuating itself from one household (and one generation) to another.  It affects both opposite-sex and same-sex couples, and may include emotional, financial, verbal, physical, psychological (such as gaslighting), religious (or, to some, spiritual, such as shunning) and/or sexual violence taking the form of deprivation, intimidation, mistreatment, or neglect.  It can extend to marital rape (a topic of debate for many decades: it is really rape if a wife’s body “belongs” to her husband and vice versa?), disfigurement, mutilation, or even murder.  Forced marriages, particularly those involving underage individuals, fall under this general heading as well.

          As usual, the topic may be approached from a number of angles.     


10.9 Dwarfism and Little People Awareness Month was first recognized in 2009 by the Little People of America (LPA) to raise positive awareness of dwarfs by addressing common misconceptions of the physical condition and by increasing opportunities for people with dwarfism all over the country.  A dwarf, technically, is a person whose adult height falls below 147 cm (or 4 feet, 10 inches).  About 70% of dwarfs are affected by the genetic distinction – which we prefer not to label a disorder – achondroplasia, that is, arrested development of cartilage at the ends of the long bones in the arms and legs that leaves the torso of relatively normal length while the head appears enlarged and the forehead prominent.  Growth-hormone deficiency is another common cause, and it can delay or impair sexual development as well.  In some cases the torso may be short and the limbs of more or less normal length.  Both are examples of disproportionate dwarfism.  In proportionate dwarfism, both the limbs and the torso are shorter than the norm.      

          Dwarfs may need special accommodations to access an infrastructure designed for a taller population.  Many face discrimination, including infantilization, even though their mental faculties are rarely impaired by their condition.  Some suffer from low self-esteem from living in a world that often seems to exclude them on the basis of size or strength.  Many have fought back to secure a place in mainstream society. 

          Dwarfs have rejected the term midget, which literally means a tiny fly.  Many prefer to be called little people, LP, or persons of short stature

          Dwarfs often appear in Erotica, and shouldn’t be demeaned or infantilized there, but instead treated as the responsible, consenting adults the genre demands.


10.10 World Menopause Awareness Month was established in 2009 by the International Menopause Society (IMS), a UK-based charity, to raise awareness of the menopause, that is, the period during which a woman’s menstrual cycle normally ceases, typically between the ages of 45 and 55, and to provide support options for improving women’s overall health during and after this time.  Caused by a decrease in hormone production by the ovaries, menopause may be characterized by fatigue, hot flashes, insomnia, irritability, mood swings, osteoporosis, vaginal dryness, and a decreased interest in sexual activity.  Symptoms vary considerably between women, and may continue for years.  Hormone Replacement Therapy, known as HRT, was once widely prescribed to treat it, but is now recommended only when symptoms prove particularly severe, because of the side effects it triggers.  World Menopause Day is observed annually on 18 October.

          IMS publishes Climacteric: the Journal of Adult Women's Health and Medicine to address various women’s health issues, funding research into a number of them over the years.  

          A parallel condition in men has been identified, somewhat controversially, as andropause.  It has a narrower range of symptoms than menopause, and seems to affect fewer men.


10.11 Yom Kippur (1 Tishri 5783 and 4 October 2022) – The Jewish Day of Atonement, the culmination of the Days of Awe, and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a day devoted to fasting for a 25-hour period, repentance, and prayer, usually in the synagogue.  Many Jews attend services only on Yom Kippur.  These typically begin with the recitation of the (mostly) Aramaic Kol Nidre prayer, which symbolically nullifies all vows, and continue with a long series of penitential prayers and poems.  Attendees often dress in white to symbolize their being cleansed by the rituals.  In Orthodox synagogues, nostalgic reference is made to the sacrificial rituals conducted at the Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.  The entire book of Jonah is read aloud.  In Reform temples the rabbi’s sermon on the need for spiritual renewal often serves as the centerpiece of the service, which ends with the Ne’ila service in which the fate of penitents is thought to be sealed by God for the coming year.

          What does Yom Kippur mean to you?  Do you observe a complete fast, or only avoid eating certain foods? Has the significance changed for you as you’ve grown older? What does it mean to young people?  How long does the sense of atonement last for you?


10.12 Freethought Day (12 October) commemorates the day in 1692 when William Phips (1651-95), first governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, proclaimed an end to the Salem Witch Trials, which nonetheless continued through the following April, though with no further executions.  Reason had finally prevailed over mass hysteria.  Freethinkers of all descriptions, including agnostics and atheists, take this time to demonstrate to the world at large that they are just as fundamentally good-natured, tolerant, and family-friendly as any believer, if not more so.   Freethought Day and Freethought Month perpetuate the fragile hegemony of reason in the modern world by staging festivals that “encourage freedom of speech and thought, civic engagement…and the continued separation of church and state.” 


10.13 National Herpes Awareness Day (13 October) increases awareness of the causes, symptoms, risks, and treatment of different types of herpes infections, particularly genital herpes.  Herpes simplex is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) that is characterized by the eruption of small blisters on the skin or mucous membranes.  The virus is transmitted by direct contact with the body fluids (including saliva, vaginal fluid, and the fluid inside a herpes blister, which may break open and form an ulcer or lesion) of an infected person.  Even microscopic abrasions on the mucous membranes can give the virus access to the body.  Most people who have it (and transmit it when they’re releasing or “shedding” viral progeny) don’t know it, often because they present no symptoms at all, or have lesions inside the anus, foreskin, mouth, or vagina that are not correctly diagnosed.  Initial infection may be accompanied by flulike symptoms and the eruption of what are commonly called cold sores or fever blisters.  Those affecting the anogenital area may be more difficult to identify.  After infection, the virus moves along the sensory neurons to the bodies of the nerve cells, where they reside for the life of the infected person.  They may remain latent indefinitely, or may trigger further outbreaks, periodic or occasional.  Symptoms can be treated, but there is currently no medically approved cure or vaccine against infection. 

       Pathologists have identified two primary types of herpes: herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1), which commonly triggers lesions in or around the mouth, and herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2), which commonly triggers lesions on or around the genitals and the anus – though either virus may infect virtually any part of the body.  Genital herpes is classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or, in older parlance, a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or a venereal disease (VD).  HSV-1 is not considered an STI and may be spread by kissing, skin-to-skin contact, or even touching an infected surface. In rare cases, a herpes infection can cause serious damage to the hands, eyes, and brain.  It can be transmitted from mother to child during delivery, especially in the mother contracts the virus during the third trimester of the pregnancy.  Caesarean section is recommended to minimize risks to the child.

       Roughly 60% of the general population are infected with HSV-1, particularly in the lower socioeconomic strata.  About 15% are infected with HSV-2, which seems to affect women disproportionally, possibly because of the overall surface area of the mucous membranes vulnerable to infection.  Even so, a genital herpes infection is highly stigmatized in the United States, its sufferers being widely regarded as sexually promiscuous, careless, irresponsible, “trashy,” “diseased,” or simply “dirty.”  Support groups and even dating services have formed around the country to ease the pain of rejection that many sufferers face.

       National Herpes Awareness Day, and by extension National Herpes Awareness Month, are largely sponsored by Femiclear, manufacturers of an over-the-counter antiviral drug that may help women reduce the severity of herpes outbreaks.  Their motto: “We believe your V (vulva and vagina) should be a source of joy and love. It’s your center. The foundation of pleasure.” 

       As usual, Weird Beard Press is interested in both fiction and nonfiction on the subject, from personal experiences of surviving herpes and the stigma attached to it to erotic stories of herpes acceptance and affirmation.                                   


10.14 Boss’s Day – While working for her father as a secretary at the State Farm Insurance Company in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1958, Patricia Bays Haroski (1920-2005) registered National Boss’ Day with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to show the appreciation she felt that bosses like hers deserved.  She chose his birthday, 16 October.  The date was later set on the third Monday in October (17 October 2022), though it may be observed on the working day closest to 16 October.  Haroski hoped to improve relations between managers and their employees during a short recession period in 1958, playing up the “hard work and dedication” their supervisors reputedly put into their work and the special “challenges” they faced as leaders

          Hallmark Cards released its first Boss’s Day card in 1979, and increased its selection in 1987.

          Mostly because bosses already hold the upper hand in workplace relations, typically by assigning tasks, reviewing performance, and setting rates of pay for work done and then for increases in productivity and efficiency, critics have questioned the appropriateness of the observance, which has apparently become de rigueur in some companies.  Should employees be expected to give their bosses special consideration just for being bosses? Surely it’s the responsibility of the boss’s superiors, or the board of directors in large corporations, to recognize outstanding achievement, not the employees’.  In some workplaces the practice has evolved into a popularity contest that can pit one team’s boss against another, often with an emphasis on how much each team player is willing to sacrifice for the overall success of the company.  In settings in which observance is not mandatory, it sometimes devolves into the province of so-called brown-nosers who seek to influence their boss’s decisions with flattery instead of dedication and hard work.  As we all know, some employees offer their bosses a lot more than greeting cards or cupcakes on Boss’s Day, and as a result some bosses demand more. There is a movement to abolish bosses altogether.  Many companies are “top-heavy” in this regard anyway.     

          We are interested in all aspects of workplace dynamics and office politics from the highly lucrative down to the unabashedly abusive.




November (deadline 30 April)


11.1 Native American Heritage Month – Signed into law by then-President George H.W. Bush in 1990 as National American Indian Heritage Month, this month-long observance gives Native Americans – a widely diverse network of ethnolinguistic groups represented in all fifty states but making up less than 2% of the general population today – the opportunity to preserve and share all aspects of their cultural identity with the mainstream, thus facilitating integration into American society without requiring assimilation.  The migration of hunter-gatherers from the North Asian Mammoth steppe to what is now known as North America began perhaps as long as 40,000 years ago and continued in at least two and probably three major waves until roughly 13,000 years ago.  Some groups may have arrived by boat as late as 8000 BCE.  Migrants followed herds of the herbivores they hunted, many of which became extinct in subsequent centuries, and spread throughout both North and South America and the Caribbean.  In what is now the United States, agriculture developed slowly, beginning about 5300 BCE in the Wabash River valley in what is now Illinois.  Maize, or “Indian” corn, was introduced about 200 BCE from Mexico, where it had been domesticated in one form or another since roughly 6700 BCE.  It quickly became the main food staple along with squash and beans. The largely matrilineal Iroquois had formed a confederacy of tribes, or nations, as far back as 1450 CE, before Columbus arrived in the New World.  Its democratic principles may have influenced the political thinking of American colonists who fought for independence from Britain in 1776. 

          Native American populations experienced a steep decline in the 16th century, chiefly through the spread of diseases brought to the New World by European settlers and against which indigenous people had no natural immunity.  Smallpox is thought to have been the major culprit, though leptospirosis probably played a part in decimating the population as well.  A vaccination program was finally introduced in 1832.  That same decade saw the beginnings of Indian removal, a government policy that allowed Native Americans to be driven from their ancestral homelands into typically less desirable territory.  Thousands died along the so-called Trail of Tears.  As the political doctrine of manifest destiny gained ground, conflict with Native Americans increased.  Ultimately as many as 100,000 were driven west, many unwillingly settled on reservations.  

          Though now a subject of shame, this part of American history became the stuff of legend, with popular Western-themed books, films, and TV shows dominating popular tastes until the mid-1970s.  Such narratives often emphasized the open frontier and severely marginalized its indigenous inhabitants, if they appeared on the scene at all.  Native Americans were typically cast as primitive intransigents who opposed all social progress, if not civilization itself, with such stereotypes as the bloodthirsty brave, the hapless alcoholic “addicted to firewater,” the medicine man, the shrewd trickster, and the princess willing to betray her tribe.  So-called “good Indians” recognized the superiority of (mostly) white settlers and prospered by accommodating the latter’s ambitions.  Children were encouraged to play “cowboys and Indians,” with the expected loyalties clear to both sides: as they matured they were expected to behave more like cowboys than Indians.  TV westerns projected 1950s America and its social norms into the Old West, stressing the idea that postwar American democratic ideals were at least a century old and as such universally applicable. 

          It is interesting to witness how popular opinion changed toward Native Americans over the decades.  Changes may be seen most readily in series like Bonanza (which ran for fourteen seasons between 1959 and 1973) and The High Chaparral, in spite of both shows’ many anachronisms.  Despite their racist overtones, films like John Ford’s classic The Searchers (1956) present Native American characters more humanely than they are likely to have been treated in the corresponding real-life situations.  Then, as now, of course, Americans’ opinions were divided, and enlightened thinking could be found by those who made the effort to seek it out.

          How much have you learned about Native American history and culture?  How did you learn about indigenous peoples?  Does it bother you that the Hopi language, with its distinctive expressions of time, tense, and transformation is nearly extinct?  What can be done to preserve and enrich Native American identity?


11.2 Thanksgiving Day (25 November 2021 and 24 November 2022) has been officially celebrated in the United States on the fourth Sunday in November since 1942.  It literally took an act of Congress – or more properly a joint resolution – to fix the date, which was signed into law by then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in December 1941, a few weeks after the United States entered World War II.  The holiday had been celebrated on the last Thursday of November since 1863 when, at the height of the Civil War, then-President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed what had been a largely regional observance without a fixed date a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”  He had done so in response to an article written by Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) in her magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book urging the president to mark the day as a “National and fixed Union Festival.”  Roosevelt’s changes were intended to stimulate the economy by lengthening the holiday shopping season.  Texas resisted them until 1957. 

       The observance commemorates a three-day harvest festival celebrated by the fifty-three surviving Pilgrims of the Mayflower expedition and ninety of their Wampamoag guests at the Plymouth Plantation in 1621, probably as early as the end of September. The colony’s governor William Bradford memoirs mention his having dined on wild turkeys, venison, and Indian corn (which by that time had been cultivated by Native Americans for centuries) but don’t otherwise describe the event as an occasion of thanksgiving.  The first civil observance of a thanksgiving holiday occurred on 30 July 1623, after a fast prompted by a devastating drought.  The Puritan Christians of the Massachusetts Bay Colony founded in 1628 first observed a thanksgiving holiday in 1630.  Though both groups were Calvinists, the Pilgrims favored secession from the Church of England, while the Puritans hoped to reform (or “purify”) the institution, specifically of all Roman Catholic influences.  Notably, neither group celebrated Christmas.  The actual cultural and historical links between the “first” Thanksgiving and later observances remains in dispute.  Spanish settlers, for instance, celebrated their own version of Thanksgiving as far back as 1585.   

       Roast turkey stuffed with a mixture of croutons, diced onions, celery, spices like sage or summer savory, and occasionally giblets, is usually the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving dinner, which is served along with mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, cranberry sauce, squash (particularly butternut squash), sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.  Green bean casserole was introduced in 1955 by the Campbell Soup Company and became another holiday staple.  Vegetarian or even vegan meals may also be served as families gather from far and wide to take part in the celebration.

         The poor and homeless are typically provided with food (and sometimes shelter, depending on local weather) on Thanksgiving Day as an act of charity.  (Many if not most are summarily turned back onto the streets no later than the following Monday, and often on Friday morning.)  Though it is now a primarily secular holiday widely celebrated by adherents of virtually all religions and none, President George Washington famously combines religion and politics in his proclamation designating 26 November 1789 as the first official national observance of the holiday:


“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”


       Parades and football games also characterize the holiday, and a few Americans attend church or engage in other religious activities during the long weekend.   

       In recent years an increasing number of retailers have kicked off their lucrative holiday sales season by opening on Thanksgiving Day, traditionally a national holiday in which most commercial establishments, even most restaurants, were closed to allow their employees to celebrate at home with their families.  DICK’S Sporting Goods, Kmart, Kohl’s, Old Navy, Sears, Target, and Walmart were all open on Thanksgiving Day, now called Black Thursday, for a few years, wherever local law allowed them to be.  (They’re closed on Thanksgiving now mostly because of the pandemic.)  As a result, front-line employees found themselves having to work longer hours and to handle unruly crowds who had camped out in the cold for 24 hours or more waiting for the deepest discounts of the year.  In response to the (over)commercialization of the post-Thanksgiving shopping season, GivingTuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, was inaugurated in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation to establish a national day of charitable giving to those less fortunate.  It offsets Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Monday after Thanksgiving and traditionally the biggest retail shopping day of the year, and Cyber Monday, the biggest online spending day of the year.

       Some see traditional Thanksgiving celebrations as disrespectful to Native Americans, whose cultures were often depicted as “primitive” or even “savage” in many traditional Thanksgiving narratives – even though the current consensus is that Native American actually taught the early settlers how to survive in an unfamiliar environment.  Unthanksgiving Day, also known as The Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony, is an event held at dawn every Thanksgiving Day since 1975 on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to promote the rights of indigenous peoples, and to keep alive the memory of the disenfranchisement and democide of many Native Americans that followed in the wake of European colonization of the Americas.  It coincides with a similar protest, the National Day of Mourning, held near Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.

       What is your take on Thanksgiving?  Do you have pleasant memories of traditional family get-togethers – or not so pleasant recollections of family quarrels that broke out over religious, ideological, or political differences among family members?  Are you cut off from your family for one reason or another and thus unable to celebrate with them?  If so, why?  Have current economic conditions made such celebrations at best impractical?  What if anything would you change about the holiday – and about Black Friday and Cyber Monday?  Is something that seems good for the economy always good for the country as a whole, or for its diverse types of family?  To whom are you thankful, and why?  How do you express that thanks, not only at Thanksgiving but on other occasions?  Should Thanksgiving be more religious, or less?  Should it be more Christian or less?  Should presidents and other politicians offer public thanks to God, Jesus, Allah, and/or other deities on the holiday?  What is your opinion of the controversial history of Thanksgiving?  Does it ignore the plights both past and present of Native Americans?  Should retail stores open on Thanksgiving?  Or should they take steps to spread the busier shopping days throughout the year?   

            Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October, or on 10 October 2022Weird Beard Press also welcomes discussions of that observance within its own cultural and historical context.


11.3 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) encourages beginning authors (or Wrimos) to write a 50,000-word manuscript entirely during the month of November.  It may then be submitted for editing and publication.  Established authors provide advice and guidance to participants in the program, which is now sponsored by a non-profit organization, the Office of Letters and Light, which provides a nationwide network of forums and events geared to help develop their fiction writing skills.  With its focus on quantity over quality, the group attracts an increasing number of participants every year.  A few of the novels, like Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’s Persistence of Memory and Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Vary, are eventually published by mainstream houses.  Founder Chris Baty published his own how-to guide, No Plot? No Problem! Revised and Expanded Edition: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, which outlines the program’s ground rules.

       The author’s approach isn’t going to work for everyone, especially since November can be one of the busiest months of the year for a lot of people.  Would it be easier for you to churn out 50,000 in May or June?  Or would it take you at least two months if not more?  Professional authors can spend up to a year writing that much material, and that doesn’t include the time they spend on editing the first drafts.  We all need a little kick start once in a while, especially when writer’s block impedes our progress, but we should always be left free to consider other approaches besides the quantity-over-quantity model.


11.4 Movember seeks to “change the face of men’s health” by spreading awareness of prostate and testicular cancers along with issues of men’s mental health, stress, and suicide.  Women are more likely to contemplate suicide than men, but men are more likely than women to succeed in committing suicide, in part because they tend to use more lethal methods.  So-called “Mo Bros” support the Movember Foundation’s aims by growing mustaches, or allowing short mustaches to grow long, wherever feasible – facial hair being prohibited in some institutions – to raise money for the cause, in short, “whatever will help a bro.”  Whether or not we consider ourselves our brothers’ (or our sisters’) keepers, it is in society’s best interest for all of us, regardless of sex or gender, to learn when and how to intervene successfully – or at least speak up – to save an endangered life.  Have you had any experiences along those lines?  If so, what if anything would you change if you could do it all over again?


11.5 National Adoption Month culminates on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (20 November 2021 and 19 November 2022), National Adoption Day, the day on which adoptions from foster care are traditional finalized in the courts, at least in many jurisdictions.  A broad coalition of national partners established the observance in 2000.  It stages events all over the country to remind prospective parents that upwards of 75,000 children currently in the foster care system are waiting to be adopted.  Adoption as a social contract brings up its own set of questions.  Who can adopt?  Who should adopt?  Who shouldn’t?  Who should be adopted?  How conducive to normal childhood development is foster care

          Infertility is still the driving force behind most adoptions.  Prospective parents who can’t have children of their own are the most likely to seek to adopt a child.  Relatively few couples adopt children to stem the tide of overpopulation or income inequality.  Furthermore, eligibility requirements look tough on paper, though they aren’t consistently enforced in actual practice.  Adopted children who don’t “fit in” for a variety of reasons are sometimes returned to orphanages, as if they were articles of clothing that didn’t fit.  Most parents want to adopt infants.  Older children often have difficulty bonding with even the most conscientious of new parents.

          Should GLBTQIA+ couples be allowed to adopt children?  The practice is still prohibited in about half the states.  Does it matter if one of the adoptive parents is related to the child?  What about interracial (or “transracial”) adoptions?  Does it matter if the child’s race matches at least one parent’s?  As an institution it is more likely to enrich or erode cultural identity?  Both these kinds of “controversial” adoptions will no doubt become more common in the future.  How will this situation affect society in general?  What about transnational adoption?  How do you regard prospective parents in Western countries who only want to adopt a child from, say, Africa or Russia, especially when there are deserving children in foster care closer to home?  What about the thriving black market that has grown up around international adoptions, or the phenomenon of child laundering, in which children may be purchased or even kidnapped in effect to “sell” to adoptive parents?  Should single persons be allowed to adopt?  Does it really take a village to bring up a child (which originated as an African proverb)?  If so, is it the Global Village in which we all live somewhere or other?

          Adoptions may be open, which allows identifying information to be exchanged between adoptive and biological parents, or closed, which legally seals most of the identifying information, in effect falsifying the information normally entered on a birth certificate.  Though seldom the norm, the number of these closed adoptions, also called secret or confidential adoptions, seems to be on the rise in the 21st century, in some cases because unwanted newborn children may now be abandoned at hospitals, churches, and police stations to prevent both lawful and unlawful abortions. 

          Adopted children often wonder why their parents wouldn’t or couldn’t rear them responsibly.  For a few, the desire to know becomes an obsession whose gravity persons who haven’t been adopted may not fully appreciate. We all want to know who we are “inside.”  New York housewife and adopted child Florence Fisher founded the Adoptees' Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) in 1971, branding sealed adoption records as “an affront to human dignity.”  As a result, biological parents’ medical history (including psychological profiles and criminal records) or religious background might be unsealed even if their names and locations remain undisclosed.  Interfaith adoptions are discouraged by most adoption agencies, unless they want to use adoption as a means of conversion, which used to be fairly common.  Interdenominational adoptions are more common, but Catholics might express reservations at the prospect of adopting Protestant children, and vice versa. Interfaith marriage presents a serious enough issue for most people, wherever Cupid’s arrow may strike.  A Hindu family may not want to rear a child with a Muslim background, for instance – and the practice is actually illegal in some countries.  How common is it for a family to bring up an adopted child with a religion or culture different from their own?  In 1979, TV’s beloved bigot Archie Bunker grumblingly joined Temple Beth Shalom so his wife’s informally adopted nine-year-old cousin Stephanie could have a proper Jewish upbringing.  The child’s late mother was Jewish, and Judaism was the only religion she had ever known.  These two religions have a lot in common.  How likely is it that a Seventh-day Adventist would make full accommodations for a Sikh adoptee?  Would an observant Roman Catholic couple adopt a child from a family of Wiccans and allow the child to cast spells in the name of Diana or Isis?  Nowadays it’s probably more likely that the family would retreat into secularism and allow the child to make decisions about religion upon reaching majority.  Curiously, though, boys adopted by American families are still more likely to be circumcised whether or not they’re Jewish – a trend that is slowly decreasing.      

          Adoptive parents don’t typically welcome questions about their children’s identities, such as “Did you get to meet the biological parents?” and “Will they be allowed to speak their native language?”  Some adoptive parents behave as though their adopted children were born to them.  Some would argue that’s their right considering that they’re taking on full responsibility for bringing up the children.  But is that attitude fair to children who may bring distinct cultural, ethnic, and even racial identities into a now-diverse family?  Surely they can’t be expected to leave their heritage, to which they may no longer be connected directly, outside the home – or to abandon it altogether.  It may resurface later in unexpected ways.

          The process of adoption may be traumatic for both parents and children.  Parents who put their children up for adoption, which they often do under duress or hardship, may later (re)gain social standing and seek a relationship with the children separated from them.  Adoptive parents often resist the idea and may respond with jealousy, and the courts typically rule in their favor.  Are they right to try to restrict adopted children’s access to their biological parents and their culture?  Adoption healing has become an issue in recent years for all parties involved.

          As always, consider the institution from multiple angles.


11.6 National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month – The cause of roughly 70% of all cases of pre-senile dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or AD, is a neurodegenerative disease initially characterized by short-term memory loss that progresses into confusion, disorientation, impaired speech, mood swings, personality changes, misdirected aggression, isolation, and self-neglect.  A decreasing recognition of persons, events, and previously familiar objects around them leads to withdrawal from most interactions with others.  Most sufferers become completely dependent on caregivers during the disease’s later stages.  Eventually, basic bodily functions are impaired and death results from bedsores, dehydration, infections, injuries from falls, malnutrition, or (most commonly) aspiration pneumonia. 

          The cause is widely believed to be an accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain that, aided by tau proteins in the brain cells, interfere with the neurons’ connectivity.  Internal brain can’t be examined until the patient dies.  Smoking also seems to be a risk factor.  A number of other hypotheses have been proposed over the years, but so far none has led to a cure.  Psychosocial interventions that stimulate memory, along with renewed or programmed interpersonal interaction, can sometimes slow the progress of the disease.

          Witnessing a loved one’s cognitive faculties deteriorate over the course of a few years likewise takes its toll on those who have to undergo it.  Couples who have lived together for decades sometimes have to separate because the afflicted spouse may ultimately require round-the-clock care that no individual can provide.  Many patients no longer recognize family members as the condition progresses.

          What has your experience of Alzheimer’s disease been?  Have you had to care for someone suffering from it?  How did it affect your life?  What strategies did you use to cope with the situation?  How did it affect your own mental and physical health?  What, in your opinion, are the ethics of Alzheimer’s caregiving?  At what point, if at all, should Alzheimer’s patients be institutionalized?  What about those who are homeless, or who have no families or significant others to take care of them?  Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can prove devastating to the strongest among us – physically, mentally, and financially.  What about those who simply can’t cope, that is, who avoid friends, family members, and neighbors suffering from the condition?  Can they be excused for trying to preserve their own psychosocial stability?  Or would you consider such negligence inexcusable?


11.7 National Blog Posting Month – A blog, of course, short for weblog, that is, a sequential logbook published on the World Wide Web, the most popular examples today being Gizmodo, Live Strong, Social Media Examiner, TechCrunch, and Yoga Journal.  Diary-style entries, or posts, are displayed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent appearing at the top of the web page.  Most blogs today feature both photos and text, though most favor one over the other, along with links to other websites.  Many now provide video content as well, a video log popularly being called a vlog.   Audio blogs without video content are usually called podcasts, the most popular being The Daily, Crime Junkie, The Joe Rogan Experience, This American Life, and Stuff You Should Know.  Most blogs invite their readers to leave publicly viewable comments on the posts to facilitate discussion.  This informal interchange of ideas frequently becomes heated and often has to be moderated by the blog’s admins.  The earliest blogs had single authors and often functioned like a perzine or personal zine containing one author’s artwork, essays, observations, and opinions printed on paper (and often Xeroxed at the local copy shop).  Now most are multi-author blogs or MABs.

       Blogs are hosted on a number of platforms that each provide a distinct format that bloggers may adjust to suit their individual needs.  Twitter is the most popular of these but it allows only microblogging, that is, short posts (currently limited to 280 characters in languages that don’t already use ideographic characters, such as Chinese), single photos, or brief links to other pages.  The most popular platform without character limits is Blogger, followed by Tumblr, and then by WordPress.  Blogs typically focus on a special interest.  Gizmodo’s, for instance, is technology, along with science fact, science fiction, and current events, while Yoga Journal’s is yoga as a key to health and fitness.

       One problem with blogs is that they can reinforce the bubble effect that keeps people culturally and ideologically isolated from those with whom they may disagree.  The algorithms built into search engines find the blogs people want to read, but with the commitment to impartiality that informs traditional journalism, superficial though that may be at times, blogs offer little in the way of alternative approaches to any issue.  So bloggers fight their battles online and gain influence based on the number of followers they can attract and not necessarily on the relative merits of its particular points of view. Thus social media has the effect of compartmentalizing or even polarizing an otherwise diverse society – or network of societies – to the detriment of social compromise and cohesion.  A blog’s popularity is often driven more by its appeal to the emotions than its commitment to factuality.  This situation leaves many blog readers uncertain if not actually confused about how the economic and political forces discussed in their favorite blogs, often in a lighthearted or jocular fashion, actually drive personal action in the world today.  Blogging thrives on niche markets, and in some cases these may be pushing people into silos. 

       Blogs have revolutionized journalism, especially since the 2004 Rathergate scandal in which documents that cast doubt on then-President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1970s were identified as forgeries.  Even though most bloggers are not typically professional journalists, their work quickly became a force to be reckoned with in the media generally.  If administered judiciously and with an open mind, blogs can facilitate sincere educational and ultimately productive communication between disparate groups and individuals.  As such they can actually enrich the fabric of humanity by opening up the free exchange of ideas on an equal playing ground.  Blogs specializing in education of this and other sorts are known as edublogs, like Edutopia, LearnOutLive, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, and TEFLtastic.

       Do you maintain a blog?  What subjects do you cover in it?  Or is it more of a free-ranging diary that ebbs and flows as life itself does?  How often do you update it?  What information should we share on blogs?  How factual – or impartial – do you think they should be?  Or are they more like works of metafiction in which the imagination co-opts reality to serve its psychological needs?  Have you connected with any interesting people through a blog?  Or has one driven you apart from a person or group that was once important to you?   Weird Beard Press explores the blog as a social medium with a literary intent.


11.8 National Entrepreneurship Month Entrepreneurs, from the French for “those who undertake an enterprise,” found and manage their own businesses, traditionally assuming the considerable risks involved in such a venture, such as automation, changing market trends, competition, and (most commonly) a lack of funding.  Entrepreneurs may also innovate within established businesses, developing new products and services that generate revenue for the company.  This kind of innovator is sometimes called an intrapreneur.  Many simply identify a business opportunity – or a presumed “need” for a new product or service intended to enhance the lives or experience of target consumers – and raise the necessary capital, including human capital or labor (typically including highly specialized technicians) to exploit it so as to overcome risk and earn a profit.  When entrepreneurs succeed past the startup phase – and historically most do not – the economic resources involved result in increased productivity and a higher overall yield.

       To achieve success in business, entrepreneurs typically look to cut costs wherever possible without compromising the value of the product or service sold to the public.  Entrepreneurship therefore creates value, at least theoretically, though it sometimes targets only niche markets, such as locals (“think globally, act locally”), pet owners (or guardians, as they are increasingly called), vegans, and video gamers, to name only a few, to do so.  Royal jelly, for example, was once marketed as a health and beauty aid.  Because it’s costly to produce and store, it never caught on with the general public the same way lip gloss or eye liner has, and is now sold, as a “dietary supplement,” only to what is called a micro niche market or micro-market.  Markets in general may grow, shrink, split, or otherwise diversify as years go by, depending on variable market forces, such as an aging population increasingly affected by climate change.  An emerging market is that of conscious consumers, who consider the environmental impact of any goods and services they purchase or support (such as by voting to allow factories to be built in certain areas) and presumably shop accordingly.  In response, a small but growing contingent of ecopreneurs has risen to fill this social need.  How much of the environment they’re actually saving is open to question.  Entrepreneurs nevertheless have to keep a close watch on such trends (or hire a team of experts to do it for them), to anticipating new developments as soon as they present themselves in the marketplace.  They may occasionally have to wear an eco-friendly hat as they fly around the world in their private jet.  Trends usually begin as tiny ripples along the fringes of the market, but once they get started they can cascade quickly and completely upset the status quo in any number of interrelated industries.  The introduction of the VCR, cell phone, and personal computer took the world by storm.  Many entrepreneurs try to “disrupt” the current business paradigms to allow innovations to take hold in their industries.  The idea was originally publicized by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), who, drawing on the theories of both Karl Marx (1818-83) and Charles Darwin (1809-82), called it “creative destruction.”  Business magnate Elon Musk (1971-  ) has succeeded in this endeavor, though with their sticker prices beginning at US$50,000, his Tesla automobiles still appeal to a niche market.

       Variously viewed as blessed, smart, lucky, shrewd, thrifty, and/or perspicacious, the most successful entrepreneurs have attained celebrity status in the USA and elsewhere.  The media report on their every move, and members of the general public envy their achievements and influence.  It is sometimes asked whether people who wield such power truly have humanity’s – and the planet’s – best interests in mind.  Does anyone reach the highest rungs of the ladder of success without stepping on a few toes, and perhaps by pushing a few underachieves out of the way in the process?  If this is really a dog-eat-dog world where only the strongest survive (a misquote of Darwin’s findings, by the way), what does it matter who crushes whom in the race to the top?  Should unsuccessful entrepreneurs be protected from failure?  Should successful businesses be bailed out of economic collapses?  Do entrepreneurs have to amass capital to create value for consumers – or to save the planet?  Is it equally feasible to have a network of local entrepreneurs who can tap into a region’s resources without depleting them – and who can sell their wares in a mass market setting?  How will the institution of entrepreneurship change now that the contributions of women and minorities, minimalized in the past, have been widely recognized if not yet fully implemented in corporate culture?  Should conglomerates like Microsoft be allowed to form a monopoly if consumers seem to support them willingly?  When the public’s choice is limited, how can economists – or politicians tasked with protecting the public’s interest – be sure consumers are voting with their pocketbooks?

       What experiences have you had with entrepreneurship, for better or worse?  We’re particularly interested in both fiction and nonfiction about overcoming business failure.  What happens when you lose all your savings?  How do you start over?  If on the other hand your entrepreneurship has succeeded and your business is still growing, how do you deal with competition?  How diverse and inclusive is your company?  How much do those values matter to you, and why?  What about family-owned businesses?  What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an entrepreneur?  Are you cynical about the whole concept of entrepreneurship that’s so popular today in the USA where self-reliance and self-determination are key personal and societal values, as they are not in other parts of the world?  It’s not the only way to manage capital, after all.  Ideas that can’t be applied to real-life examples can be explored in science fiction, such as Charles Stross’s Accelerando, Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and Dani and Eytan Kollin’s Unincorporated Man.


11.9 National Diabetes Month Diabetes mellitus a group of metabolic diseases characterized by prolonged high blood sugar levels caused by impaired processing of insulin, a hormone secreted in the pancreas that regulates the conversion of glucose, the principal circulating sugar in the blood, to glycogen, a carbohydrate (or starch) stored in the liver and muscles until needed to energize the body.  Glycogen is converted back into glucose to supply the body with the fuel it needs to perform all its major functions.  The most common symptoms are increased appetite and thirst, which lead to frequent urination, and unintended weight loss.  If untreated, it can seriously damage the eyes, feet, kidneys, nerves, and the whole cardiovascular system, sometimes resulting in stroke or death.  There are three major types of diabetes.  In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin due to loss of beta cells.  In Type 2 diabetes, the body can’t respond to insulin properly, triggering insulin resistance.  In time the production of insulin may also decrease.  This most common type of diabetes is usually caused by obesity and a lack of exercise.  Finally, in gestational diabetes, a woman’s blood sugar levels increase while she is pregnant even though she has no history of diabetes.

       Diabetes affects roughly 9% of the total population, making it the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. Type 2 diabetes, accounting for roughly 90% of cases, is linked to obesity (a body mass index or BMI above 30), which in turn may be caused by lack of physical activity, a diet high in saturated and trans fats (found in bacon, butter, cheese, red meat, and sausage), consumption of sugary drinks, and the stresses of everyday urban living (which can limit movement).  Child neglect also seems to be a contributing factor, as does tobacco smoking.  It seems to affect certain ethnic groups disproportionally, with Native Americans topping the list at almost 15% of their population being affected.

       Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by lifestyle changes including eating a diet rich in fiber, whole grains, and polyunsaturated fats (found in most vegetable oils, nuts, and fish), engaging in regular and prolonged physical activity (ideally more than an hour’s worth every day), maintaining a healthy body weight, and avoiding stress and worry as much as possible.  Most diabetics have to check their blood glucose levels at least once a day, and sometimes more often, typically by pricking a finger with a sterile lancet and placing a drop of blood on a disposable test strip that is read by a glucose meter or glucometer to measure the concentration of glucose in the blood.  The Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) was first introduced in 1999 and has been refined since then.  A small electrode placed under the skin reads the electric current generated by glucose molecules in the body’s tissue fluid and transmits it to a sensor that displays it on a screen and can record increases and decreases in the level of sugar.  The model approved in the USA may be worn up to ninety days before having to be replaced.

       Diabetes is managed by keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible without allowing them to drop below a glycolated hemoglobin or HbA1C level of 7-8%.  Type 1 diabetics have to inject insulin throughout their lives to maintain this level.  In addition to changes in changes in diet, type 2 diabetics may also have to take hypoglycemic medications, usually by mouth, to control their blood sugar.  There are five or six different groups depending on the biochemical action the body needs, such as reducing glucose output from the liver.

       Rates of diabetes have increased steadily since the turn of the century, especially in low-income Black and Latinx communities labeled “food deserts” by nutritionists.  With their cramped corner markets, liquor stores, and smoke shops, food deserts offer limited access to nutritious foods, selling mostly processed products high in cholesterol, fats, salt, and sugar – like Doritos, doughnuts, and Dr. Pepper.  A unique food culture has sprung up in these communities, whose residents are often doing the best they can with the resources available to them.          Diabetes is still a constant companion, and is now an epidemic.

       What has your experience been with diabetes?  If you have it, how easy it for you to control it?  Do you have friends or loved ones with diabetes?  Have you ever cared for someone with the condition?  Have you ever worried you might develop symptoms yourself?  Have you – or has someone you know – even been “pre-diabetic”?  If so, how did that play out?  How can the spread of diabetes be arrested?



Robert H. Lustig, MD



11.10 National Homelessness Awareness and Prevention Month began in 2007 as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month to focus attention on the condition of young people (under 21 in most jurisdictions) experiencing – we prefer the word survivinghomelessness, that is, the lack of stable, sustainable, and reasonably safe housing that offers adequate shelter from the elements.  Society is already sufficiently aware of homelessness – and of the many homeless people of all ages who are struggling through it day by day - in most large cities they can’t be missed – but society as a whole is barely involved in the remediation and prevention of the issue, which affects an estimated 0.17% of the population.  Because many if not most homeless people are on the move during most of the day, their numbers can only be estimated.  Many are chased out of places where they find temporary shelter.  Their population fluctuates constantly because many do find temporary accommodations – though often no more than a bed for the night during a severe winter chill – while others are institutionalized, again usually temporarily (unless they’ve committed serious crimes), or die on the streets.  Not all so-called street people – or street children – are ipso facto homeless.  Many work on the streets or in public places such as parking lots, typically engaged in illegal trades like drug dealing and prostitution, and have at least temporary homes elsewhere.  Some sell handicrafts, stolen goods, or reclaimed refuse to get by, while the majority beg for handouts – or panhandle – to survive.

       Many homeless people form makeshift communities in tent cities across the country.  Though the tents are often supplied by churches and other charitable organizations, along with everyday necessities like blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, and toothbrushes, these items are often confiscated by the police once the encampment reaches a size that locals find threatening.  The authorities seem to expect the homeless to find their way into jobs that somehow cover the costs of basic housing and sustenance without these staples.  Needless to say, poverty is the leading cause of homelessness in the United States.  Coupled with an increasing lack of affordable housing due in part to gentrification, sudden poverty and random evictions drive more people into the streets than mental illness, which is popularly believed to be the major cause of homelessness.  Natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, floods, and storms also play a role in displacing people from their homes, as do war and terrorism in some parts of the world.  Both unemployment and underemployment contribute to the problem of poverty.  Disability in general is a common cause of homelessness.  Many homeless individuals have faced both housing and job discrimination due to medical conditions of all types.  If they act in a manner that seems uncivilized, it’s likely they feel excluded from civilization.  About a third of the homeless suffer from psychiatric disorders, which are typically made worse by the experience of homelessness, and can’t afford effective treatment.  Many understandably turn to substance abuse to ease the pain, shame, guilt, and isolation the condition brings.      

       A surprising number of homeless people have jobs or go to school – or both – and many not only drive cars, trucks, or vans but actually live in them. Many just don’t earn enough money in today’s economy to afford stable housing.  Most homeless people are men, possibly because women are more likely to remain in abusive relationships than risk living on the streets.  GLBTQIA+ youth are particularly vulnerable to homelessness because their parents, guardians, and sometimes spouses may expel them from their homes, families, churches, communities, and other support networks because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and related conditions, such as asexuality.  Women who love their husbands but derive no pleasure from sexual intercourse or childbearing, or who for whatever reason don’t want to be part of a polygynous marriage, are prone to this kind of neglect.

       What’s your opinion of homelessness – and the homeless?  Barring some sort of intervention, they’re not likely to find homes on their own.  What is the solution?  Should the nations of the world provide homes to all their citizens?  A lot of remedial housing comes with a bundle of conditions: residents may not smoke, drink, take illegal drugs (including medicinal marijuana in some places), play music, invite friends over, play cards, have sex, leave crumbs on the floor, or stay up past ten.  We think it’s fair to say most people would quickly grow impatient with that kind of arrangement.  That said, is anyone really homeless by choice?  The idea is often proposed, mostly by those who believe they pay their fair share of taxes already and that any help due the homeless should come from that fund (or from charities like the United Way to which contributions are voluntary).


11.11 Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos, 1-2 November) is a mostly Mexican observance that bridges the Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day (1 November) and All Souls’ Day (2 November) with the support of pre-Christian Aztec tradition.  These solemn Catholic ceremonies honor first the saints in heaven and then the souls in purgatory undergoing a temporary period of purification, traditionally by fire, before their entry into heaven.  According to Catholic teaching, the living may shorten the stay of these “holy souls” in purgatory by praying for them, in effect keeping their faith and good works on earth in the public consciousness as their souls atone for their venial sins in purifying flame.  The Day of the Dead offers a more light-hearted, reassuring reminder that, although we are all destined to die, a fact brought into focus by the ubiquitous images of skulls (calaveras), bones, skeletons, and tombstones associated with the holiday, the dead nevertheless retain their family connections with the living.  Calaveras literárias (literally “literary skulls”), jovial epitaphs and even short eulogies, are typically composed and shared to commemorate the unique habits of both the living and the dead.  Gravesites are commonly visited, and small altars or ofrendas are often set up in private homes, schools, and sometimes public places with photos and mementos of the dead along with their favorite food and drink and the occasional personal possession.  The spirits of the dead are invited to rejoin the living and enjoy their favorite foods as pleasant, largely humorous, but uplifting memories are related by all.

       The 2017 Disney Pixar film Coco popularized the observance worldwide.


11.12 Cliché Day (3 November) – Use a tired, trite expression to show you really care.  Clichés can find new life and currency in new generations.  Some even take on renewed meaning.  This is a good day to discuss what they mean to people today and whether they should be retired, revamped, or retained for future generations.


11.13 National Men-Make-Dinner Day (3 November 2022) is observed on the first Thursday in November to put men who don’t normally cook in charge of the kitchen for one afternoon and/or evening so they can learn to create appetizing dishes on their own and give their partners a much-deserved break.  For a few families it becomes a monthly or even weekly routine.  Wearing an apron in the kitchen is optional, but men should also shop for all the necessary ingredients – the rules require a minimum of four – and must use at least one utensil other than a fork to prepare the meal.  Once the meal is eaten, the man is responsible for washing, drying, and putting away all the dishes used and for leaving the kitchen completely clean.  Cooking must be done completely in the kitchen, preferably with natural ingredients, and not on a barbecue grill.  The concept originated in 2001 with Canadian radio personality Sandy Sharkey, who expects men to go beyond the basics as they learn how the various pots, pans, bowls, plates, and other utensils in the kitchen are supposed to function.  Support is available for clueless men who think they can’t boil water.


11.14 Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends on 6 November 2022, provoking a week or two of grumbling about the early nightfall that seems to be soon forgotten.  The resultant Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) presents a real problem for some, but big business loves Daylight Saving Time, so it’s most likely here to stay.  It has its fair share of critics, however.  How do you stand on the issue?   How much do the time changes disrupt your routine?  How much do you love or hate DST?  How much would you be willing to fight to get rid of it? 


11.15 Veterans Day (11 November) honors military veterans, living or dead, who served in the armed forces and were discharged under “conditions other than dishonorable.”  Unlike Memorial Day, which honors servicepersons who died in the line of duty, Veterans Day commemorates the Armistice or formal cessation of hostilities between the Allied Powers and the Central Powers at the end of World War I, described by British author H.G. Wells (1866-1946), and later US President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), as “the war to end all wars.”  It was celebrated as Armistice Day from 1938, when it was declared a legal holiday, until 1954, when it was given its current name.  Government agencies, including post offices and many schools, close for the holiday, as do most banks, but businesses in general largely ignore it, except perhaps as a sales gimmick.

       It thus calls to mind both the end of war and the presumed need for it to defend the nation.  As such it can send mixed messages to the public at large.  On the one hand, why doesn’t the country honor its diplomats and peacemakers the same way it does its soldiers?  And on the other, without an expertly trained military, not to mention the superior technology to support it, would we be able to enjoy many of the freedoms we virtually take for granted?  What is your opinion of Veterans Day, of veterans in particular, and of war in general?  Should we pay more attention to Veterans Day?  Or has it largely outlasted its usefulness?  Are veterans given the benefits they deserve?  What about those less than honorably discharged?  Will the great wars of the future by waged in the technological realm, even in cyberspace, or on a traditional battlefield in which those loyal to their country still will be called to serve?


11.16 National Pomegranate Month honors the fruit of a widely cultivated shrub (Punica granatum) originating in Asia.  Its tough reddish rind contains numerous seeds surrounded by a tart red pulp produced from the ovary of a single flower.  Valued in many regions for its tasty juice, the pomegranate may be used in all sorts of cooking.  Its seeds are used to make amardana, a spice used in Iranian and Pakistani cuisines.  The First Thursday in November (3 November 2022) is National Eating Healthy Day12 November is National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day16 November is National Fast Food Day19 November is Carbonated Beverage with Caffeine Day29 November is National Chocolates Day.






December (deadline 31 May)


12.1 Christmas Stories and MemoirsWeird Beard Press is always looking for original Christmas poems, stories, novels, and memoirs, and by original we mean distinctive from classics like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” and Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, the basis of the 1983 film adaptation A Christmas Story.  We try to publish these at the end of October.  How does Christmas affect non-Christians?  What do agnostics, atheists, and Jews who celebrate a more or less secular Christmas derive from the experience?  How do non-Americans, whether religious or secular, celebrate Christmas (both in America and abroad)?  We’re also interested in narratives of any length about Hanukkah (18-26 December 2022) and Kwanzaa (25 December - 1 January).  What do these holidays mean to you?  Can they be observed in a purely secular fashion?  If so, does that ever create conflict with those who view them as expressions of faith?  Because the public at large may not appreciate exactly what they entail, the narratives should enlighten without being didactic.


12.2 No Gender December – Gender neutrality is the concept that social constructs such as clothing, hairstyles, demeanor, aptitude, even language should be free of gender-bias, that is, they should avoid assigning social roles based on an individual’s actual or perceived genderGender, of course, is society’s perception or understanding of an individual’s sexual identity and is based on a number of mostly external observations.  Since most of us don’t relate to the general public in a specifically sexual or sex-linked manner, it is thought to be immaterial whether most people are male, female, a little of both, or effectively neither.  In other words, unless we are involved in (or are perhaps seeking) a consensual sexual relationship with someone, it shouldn’t matter to us whether that person has a functioning penis, vagina, both, or neither.  (Even if you are pursuing sexual relations with someone, there are those who would say it’s the person and not necessarily the genitals per se you want to get to know – though it is widely accepted that the largely separate issue of sexual orientation comes into play here.)   

       The gender roles assigned by each culture to the different groups – traditionally including only male and female, though occasional exceptions occur – are thus considered largely arbitrary and therefore potentially discriminatory to those who don’t or can’t follow them – or “grow into” them during the processes of socialization and/or maturation.  These roles vary somewhat from culture to culture, with more advanced societies generally allowing for greater overlap than more primitive ones.  Gay men and lesbians have blurred traditional gender roles for centuries, often unintentionally, sometimes unwittingly.  Woman moreover, regardless of sexual orientation, have joined the work force – or its functional equivalent, such as an army – whenever a serious need for their services arose.  Think of Joan of Arc (ca. 1412-31), Molly Pitcher (if she’s identified with Margaret Corbin, 1751-1800), Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), Sarah Edmonds (1841-98), Jane Addams (1860-1935), Marie Curie (1867-1934), Amelia Earhart (1897-1937?), and Rosie the Riveter (if she’s identified with Rose Will Monroe, 1920-97).  Civic leaders are often quick to push such pioneering women back into more “traditional” social roles of helpmate, wife, and mother in spite of their successes in what is still thought of as a “man’s world.”

       Canadian-born Australian politician Larissa Waters (1977-  ) seeks to end gender bias in the clothing, games, and toys that adults purchase for children, particularly during the holiday season.  Many stores have heeded the call and no longer segregate toys traditionally designed for boys, such as footballs, robots, and trucks, from those traditionally targeted at girls, such as dolls, makeup tables, and tea sets.  GLBTQ children have often been trendsetters in this regard, with boys asking mall Santas for toy ovens and girls asking for erector sets every holiday season.  How many children of yesteryear unwittingly “came out” to a temporary Santa Claus by asking for the toy – or gadget – we really wanted?  How often did Santa respond without making a scene or telling your parents you were possibly a little “queer” in more ways than one?  Nowadays, most parents support their children’s choices, though as little as twenty years ago that wasn’t the case.  Children were often sent off to child psychologists for wanting to play with what were once thought to be “gender-inappropriate” toys.  Hasbro is planning to market an “ungendered” Potato Head toy along with its “traditional” Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head figures.  The campaign hasn’t been as successful with children’s clothes, though there are now several unisex labels.

       What are your feelings about gender bias?  Experts maintain that we can’t know how many children are affected until they’re given free rein to choose for themselves.  Do you agree?  Have you ever heard a child express a desire for gender-nonconforming gifts of any sort?  How did you react?  What would you tell a child if you were a mall Santa (or Mrs. Claus)?  Would your answer matter if the parents were standing within earshot?



12.3 National Fruit Cake Month – A dessert cake made with dried or candied fruit, nuts, and spices, and often served at Christmastime and at weddings saturated with liqueurs or brandy and powdered sugar.  Many are mass-produced without added spirits and sold as fundraisers.  The high content of nuts, typically walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and occasionally macadamia nuts gave rise to the expression “nuttier than a fruitcake.”  Fruitcakes doused in alcohol, which inhibits the growth of mold, can remain edible for years.  The more common mass-produced variety tend to dry out more quickly.  Urban legend has it that many are given as gifts, left uneaten (and typically unopened), and then either recycled or “regifted” year after year, making the desserts (especially those with questionable shelf lives that may be served dense and chewy) the butt of many jokes.  Many a tooth has reportedly been lost in a years-old fruitcake that’s made the rounds.  When freshly baked, however, they often become family favorites associated with the holidays.  Author Truman Capote’s cousin Marie Rudisill (1911-2006), whom he affectionately called Sook, published a collection of recipes that demonstrates the variety of styles in which the cakes may be prepared.  Known as “the Fruitcake Lady,” Rudisill appeared on late-night TV near the end of her life giving advice from her long life about food, childrearing, and relationships, the best tidbits of which are collected in Ask the Fruitcake Lady: Everything You Would Already Know If You Had Any Sense.


12.4 Saturnalia (17-23 December in the Julian calendar and 30 December – 5 January in the Gregorian calendar) was an ancient Roman festival held in honor of the god Saturn, who presided over agriculture, wealth, liberation, and revelry, and who had ruled over a Golden Age in ancient times before being usurped by his son Jupiter.  Popular throughout the Roman Empire, Saturnalia either directly or indirectly influenced a number of midwinter Christian observances, including Christmas (25 December), the Feast of the Holy Innocents (most commonly observed on 28 December), and Epiphany (6 January).  Saturnalia was characterized by gift exchanges (particularly on Sigillaria on 19 December), general merriment, and most notably role reversal.  Slaves were invited to banquets where they could eat and drink their fill and actually insult their masters with impunity, at least for the duration of the festival.  They often dined on suckling pig.  Some slaves doffed the hats that slaves customarily wore and wore masks to conceal their identities.  Role-playing, mockery, and even gambling (though typically for low stakes) were encouraged.  The social classes put aside the conventions that governed their behavior throughout most of the year. Cross-dressing was allowed in certain quarters, and the sexes mixed more freely than usual.

       Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 56-ca. 120) reports that during the Imperial period spurious “ruler of Saturnalia” or Saturnalicius princeps was chosen by lot to act as master of ceremonies by giving absurd orders to prominent individuals.  The custom continued throughout the Middle Ages with the role of the Lord of Misrule at the Feast of Fools.  French author Victor Hugo (1802-85) describes an instance of this celebration in his famous novel Notre Dame de Paris, better known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, published in 1831.  Charles Dickens (1812-70) later revived some of the more benign aspects of the celebration, which in its time also featured bloody gladiatorial events as well – comparable in some ways to the annual football season.  Wealthy patrons or business owners were encouraged to provide gratuities or sigillaricia to less affluent clients and family members to help them buy gifts, especially for children.  Although many of the gifts exchanged publicly were gags gifts of relatively low value, most commonly wax figurines called sigillaria, the custom of giving more valuable gifts was not unknown.

       Some Neopagans have tried to revive Saturnalia, though without the success they’ve had with the Winter Solstice or Yule.  What’s your opinion of the holiday?  Does it live on in observances like SantaCon, for instance, or in improv or stand-up comedy in which public figures may be lambasted in good humor?  Since we now at least traditionally treasure the freedom that was only allowed to reign for a brief season in Ancient Rome, could we derive as much joy from Saturnalia as the Romans did?  Should we bring back the tradition of the Feast of Fools?


12.5 Winter Solstice (21 December 2022) or Midwinter is the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Because the days begin to lengthen gradually after the solstice, it has come to symbolize rebirth and the reversal of fortune.  The rebirth of the Roman god Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, who was identified with the ancient Syrian deity Shamash, was celebrated on 25 December during the reign of the Roman Emperor Aurelian (who reigned from 270 to 275 CE).  The choice of this date, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti to the Romans, as that of the birth of Jesus Christ, might have been influenced by the emperor’s decision, though this is not entirely certain.  The Germanic Yule was celebrated around this same time, and lent its Yule log, Yule boar, Yule goat (a decoration), and Yule singing, along with the use of holly, ivy, and mistletoe.     


12.6 Festivus (23 December) began as a secular parody holiday on a December 1997 episode of TV’s Seinfeld originally conceived by author Daniel O’Keefe (1928-2012) “for the rest of us” and reportedly celebrated by his family since 1966, coincidentally the year that Kwanzaa was first officially observed.  In mild protest of both the “commercial and religious aspects of Christmas,” celebrants of the holiday typically begin by erecting a Festivus pole, an otherwise unadorned aluminum pole about six feet (183 cm) high by two inches (5 cm) wide with a simple base.  An ordinary flag pole or fence post will usually suffice, though a few hardware stores still advertise Festivus poles specifically designed (or at least labeled) for the purpose.  A placard or – less commonly – a star may be attached to the top of the pole wishing visitors a “Happy Festivus” and presumably to keep the decoration from being mistaken for (or used as) a hat stand (unless perhaps that’s the host’s intent).  The poles may be leaned against a wall or another piece of furniture – or temporarily planted outdoors.  In keeping with the secularity of the observance, however, the pole should never be erected before, or even on, Thanksgiving, and should be removed from sight no later than New Year’s Day.

       The centerpiece of the event is the Festivus dinner, which can consist of any meal the family agrees to share (or any food the host wants to serve for convenience’ sake, such as a leftover casserole followed by last year’s fruitcake).  The original episode featured meatloaf on a bed of lettuce – nothing fancy or over the top.  During the meal, the Airing of Grievances begins.  The character Frank Costanza (played by comedian Jerry Stiller [1927-2020]) begins, “I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about it!”  Attendees – family and friends for the most part, although “newcomers” are also welcome – take turns describing how they’ve been “disappointed” during the past year, both directly and indirectly, by others in the assembled group.  These may be based strictly on hearsay but should nonetheless be discussed to the point of resolution, if that’s feasible.  Once all the grievances have been aired, the host – or head of household – challenges any of the remaining guests to a demonstration of Feats of Strength.   Frank Costanza challenged his son George (played by Jason Alexander [1959-  ] to a wrestling match.  Festivus couldn’t end until Frank was pinned.  Obviously George’s least favorite part of a holiday he hates, the actual match isn’t shown.  Other, less physical, less confrontational, feats have been proposed for other groups – such as simple card or board games.  Throughout the holiday season, seeming coincidences are hailed as Festivus miracles.  Surely Festivus should be nothing if not festive.

       A related subplot involves George’s contributing money to the fake charity The Human Fund (which, George claims, raises “Money for People”) in lieu of giving holiday gifts to coworkers.  A real (and unrelated) charity with that name was founded in 2005 to “nurture creativity in Cleveland youth.”

       TV writer Dan O’Keefe (1968-  ), son of Daniel, co-wrote the teleplay for this episode, titled “The Strike,” with Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer (1970-  ), the latter of whom introduced the idea of the Festivus pole.  Originally the O’Keefes marked the holiday by placing a clock in a bag and nailing it to a wall, a gesture whose significance was never explained to the family.  The original observance was described as a “floating holiday” not originally (or exclusively) connected with the Christmas season.  Schaffer is also responsible for the idea behind the Human Fund.  In 2001 Ben & Jerry’s debuted a flavor of ice cream called Festivus containing gingerbread cookie chunks with a ginger caramel swirl.  Though a holiday favorite, it was later renamed and ultimately discontinued.

       Have you ever celebrated Festivus, even as a joke?  If so, what was the outcome?  How have you adapted Festivus to your family holiday celebration? 







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