1. the recipe
When I was a kid and Thanksgivings were usually spent eating precooked turkey loaf around our motorhome’s formica table (seriously, my mom did an amazing job in that tiniest of kitchenettes, and the precooked turkey loaf was always moist and delicious), someone started the awkward tradition of going around the table and saying what we were thankful for.
Saying “family and friends” or “good health” is predictable. Saying “my expensive new car” is materialistic and braggy. But as a sixth grader who was painfully self-conscious around everyone but my family, none of this worried me.
I just answered honestly: “I’m thankful that I’m pretty, smart and nice.”
Well, sort of honestly. I had frizzy hair and a nose that had recently enjoyed a growth spurt; I got good grades but came up short in the emotional intelligence department; and I think my answer speaks for itself regarding my thoughtfulness towards others.
But I had recently decided that these three traits were the recipe for popularity, which I sought relentlessly between the ages of 11 and 12. Although most of my behavior—from saving up for Guess jeans to incessantly asking my best friend Bonnie if she was mad at me—would indicate that I had very little confidence in my looks, intelligence or social graces, the idea of actually admitting to myself that I lacked these traits was too painful to entertain.
It was as if I were an early practitioner of The Secret, trying to will my wishes into reality. And actually, if there’s anything that pure confidence can create, it’s probably popularity. But that confidence has to be real, and mine was just the audacity of hope for stupid things.
2. charmed life
I was thinking, this year, of compiling a silly little post about all the small and shallow things I’m thankful for (Charm School comes to mind), but I realized I was far too superstitious. What if God was like, You got it, my child. Charm School stays on the air, but I will be removing all your loved ones from the earth faster than you can say “February sweeps”?
I don’t think God is quite so literal, but…I like to hedge my bets.
So I’ll just say that, besides the family, friends, felines and blog readers that I am so, so thankful for, I’m glad to be living at this moment in history. Right now I’m reading The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts, and being reminded that a few short decades ago, being gay meant being constantly harassed by police and more or less being denied family, friends and blog readers. You could probably still have a cat.
I don’t mean, exactly, that it’s always preferable to live in an easy time than in a hard one. There’s a lot to be gained from struggle on a personal as well as a community level. As unlucky as Harvey Milk and his contemporaries were to be persecuted, they were lucky to have the courage and opportunity to change the world. I’m excited to see Gus Van Sant’s movie version of his life tonight and to hopefully take a cue from Milk. At the very least I expect I’ll come away with a lot of gratitude.