November 28, 2019
Happy Colonial Holiday, everyone. That should tell you what kind of a mood I'm in. Well, not really, but I was trying to write one of those gratitude lists because it is the Appointed Day On Which We Should All Be Thankful. And my id was just Not Having It. I started it twice, after "accidentally" erasing the first one, then gave up. I've learned to listen to the noise of my Freudian lingerie flapping in the breeze, so I headed over here to ponder it instead.
It's not that I'm not grateful for oh so many things and people; I'm not that big an asshole. I can tell you right now one of the things I'm resisting is showing how grateful I am on this particular day by doing that particular thing. I'm really bad at that kind of conformity. I get very sneery about it because I don't trust it. I don't trust it because it's not of the moment. I cherish most the spontaneous expression of emotions, when they come bursting out of us because they must. Even anger. If you've had to build that up, I'm gonna be mad at you that you didn't say something sooner. Maybe it's just me, but I can't tell you how often I feel like Cordelia and the rest of the world is Lear:
KING LEARTell me, my daughters,—
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,—
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
CORDELIA[Aside] What shall Cordelia do?
Love, and be silent.
Ugh Ugh Ugh. Pernicious, manipulative, selfish old man. This is what the enforced gratitude of Thanksgiving feels like to me. It's performative, to use one of my new favorite words. And it's not that we don't need a bit of performative grease to make the wheels of social interaction run more smoothly. Of course we do. The performative is not always false and insincere, but that's exactly how having a special day of gratitude feels to me: false and insincere. It also, like church on Sundays and confession, too often lets people off the hook for the rest of the time. Like, I said I was grateful for you all at Thanksgiving. What more do you want?
Then there's the public nature of it. One of the lessons from years of Bible study that formed an integral part of my ethical foundation is Matthew 6:5. "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full." Public prayer is performative as well, or can be, even when you are standing in representation for the people around you. It's a tool televangelists use all the time to manipulate their audiences and signal their holiness and how blessed by god they are. Public gratitude always strikes me this way too; there's an element of bragging in it. Look how lucky (rich) I am to have all these things to be grateful for! That's the part that makes me really uncomfortable, the similarity to bragging.
Granted, not everybody is like this. I read some really beautiful, thoughtful, and heartfelt expressions of gratitude today on Facebook. All of them were from people I'm friendly with and hope someday to meet in the flesh and call them Friend. They were from people I admire, who do good work, who are themselves thoughtful in their expressions and compassionate in their responses and lives, as far as I can tell. They're the people who are going to make leaving FB hard, the folks I'm going to have to work at staying in touch with. They seem genuine to me. And I'm grateful for the opportunity of "knowing" them, even virtually.
And here's the thing, finally: I'm grateful every goddamn day, more so, the older I get. Grateful to wake up, grateful to be alive, grateful for the people who demonstrably (and otherwise) love me, for my job, for my apartment, for #JillybeanCalico, for being born where I was (though that one's getting a little dicey now), for good English Breakfast tea, for the hit of cold brew heroin caffeine in the mornings, for the steak I'm going to grill tonight, and the pumpkin pie that's in the oven. I'm grateful for everything, too much to list, that makes my life not just bearable survival, but actually good: music, art, conversation, books, Scotch, beer, good food, my education, my former students, a body that still works pretty well, the City of New York.
Life is goddamn wonder. How can I not be grateful with every breath? Even when I'm bitching. I'm grateful I can bitch.
And while I'm bitching, can I bitch about the bullshit story of Thanksgiving we teach our kids? Frankly, I much prefer Heather Cox Richardson's story of the origins of Thanksgiving to the one we're taught in school. The positively turning tide of a war against slavery seems like a great reason to be thankful. I don't know how this got tangled with the the Pilgrims (Anybody? Bueller?), who were not the kindest or most compassionate people in the world. It could do with a good untangling because the real story of our colonialism on this land is nothing to be thankful for. If you're going to be grateful, you should thank the people whose land we stole, that they don't murder us in our beds as they have every right to do.
Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your pie.
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