Here in America, it is the week of Thanksgiving.
If you happen to be American and Jewish, it is the week of Thanksgivukkah which I won’t even touch because 1. I’m not Jewish and 2. I’m overwhelmed enough over one holiday and spending even a second contemplating a double-holiday portnanteau may push me into a coma.
If you are neither American nor Jewish, you are likely facing a more standard week, but you should probably go call your mother in an act of solidarity with those of us who are staring down the barrel of a holiday. Go. Call your mother.
Okay. Anyway. Thanksgiving is a day where we are traditionally supposed to gather together with family and loved ones and eat food – specifically a giant stuffed turkey – then maybe play some Scrabble, watch football and bask in the warmth of each other’s blood-is-thicker-than-water love.
For the purpose of this post, we will call that the Norman Rockwell version of Thanksgiving.
Next, is the one we’ll call the Blue Velvet Thanksgiving. This one can fall anywhere on a wide spectrum of weird. The middle part of that spectrum looks like, you, secretly referring to the day as Dysfunctional Family Day. You dread the way you’ll have to navigate conversations around your tattoos, failed relationships, your political beliefs, or your unconventional job choice. The way that the things you think are the coolest things about yourself will be held up to the harsh light of the people who still see you as eight years old. And while they might want the best for you, or in some cases they don’t even want that because they are straight up assholes, the bottom line is that their idea of what that is will never, ever, be who you are.
You leave feeling hollow and exactly like you are only eight years old.
Another, more extreme spectrum, version of this scenario is that everyone gets drunk on Pabst Blue Ribbon and high on nitrous oxide and your ruffle-tuxedo clad cousin starts randomly singing Candy Colored Clown into an old-timey mic.
Um. If that last thing happens at your house, I sort of want to be invited. Sort of. Just once.
A third scenario, is the Edward Hopper Portrait of Thanksgiving where you aren’t going anywhere at all and plan to curl up at home, alone, with a book. This course of events starts weeks ahead when you are thinking (and telling anyone who will listen) that you will be JUST FINE BECAUSE YOU DON’T NEED TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS MEDIA FRENZY INDUCED FAKERY. And then, when the day finally comes, the streets get all quiet and everything closes except the Circle K and the Adult Theater.** The only activity, the occasional groups of people carrying pie-shaped plates and wine bags into houses on your block and despite everything you know about Dysfunctional Family Day, they look like they are having the Best Time Ever and lonely gets even lonlier and you can’t believe you turned down even the most awkward of orphan potluck invitations but it’s too late because you didn’t cook anything and you don’t want to show up with six bags of snack sized Doritos from the convenience store.
(The Orphan Potluck Thanksgiving is another incarnation of this holiday. It can be like a really awkward party, but also can be a sweet compromise. Though, can we stop saying “Orphan”?)
Obviously gratitude is awesome. But forced gratitude is pretentious. And mandatory merriment is an oxymoron.
Even the history of this holiday is precarious. Smallpox comes to mind.
It’s possible that I’m particularly jaded to the holidays. I’m one of the jillion people that doesn’t have a picture perfect family structure. Being single, and states away from anyone I’m related to, means there is no set scenario or traditions in place and I can vacillate between avoidance and overwhelm.
I also happen to have a lot of practice with the above scenarios (except the freaky clown song one. invite me!) and can tell you with the upmost confidence that the only real problem with any of them is your own set of outsized expectations.
What if you stopped trying to do it all perfectly or avoiding it all completely? What if you just took a few deep breaths, quit making assumptions and comparisons, stopped projecting your angst and expecting your dad to ever understand what “location independent business” means and instead of arguing or trying to prove yourself, you just smiled and passed the cool whip?
The most important moments of life are the moments in-between the sanctioned ones anyway.
Holidays aren’t singular points of repreive or mastery over the warm fuzzies. They also aren’t really all that memorable. You never hear of dying people reminiscing about cornbread dressing. They remember the other things.
It is a fact that on your death bed, you will remember his look or her smile, how you found love, or lost it, the morning that you woke up and vowed to do something differently, and then did. You will remember how hot your neck burned when you realized that your favorite sweater from your favorite thrift store was how everyone could tell you were poor. You will remember the moment you knew without question that you could change the world with your words. You will remember the way your son used to do that hilarious little laugh while he talked non-stop in the backseat of the car. That non-stop talking used to drive you crazy and made it hard to drive, but then one day you realized that he doesn’t do that little laugh anymore it gets seared into your brain for eternity and becomes the placeholder of all things sweet and sacrosanct about your life, as well as the placeholder of regret and grief.
All of that. Over any Thanksgiving ever.
Even joy is complicated.
This Thanksgiving, like all the days, you don’t get a day off from being human. You get another day to bask in humanity. The beautiful, sweaty mess of it all.
And every human moment, all of the moments of connection are pregnant with possibility and the potential to invoke feelings. And feelings are not to be avoided because they are the way our brains and bodies and souls process and turn stimulus into stories. And stories, stories, stories, are how we create moments of connection.
So it matters a lot, and really, it doesn’t matter that much at all.
You can just show up to this Thanksgiving – whatever scenario is yours, Rockwell, Velvet, Hopper or Friends – with your famous slow roasted parsnips that have been passed down through the generations, or your store bought pie, or your Scrabble board, or your six snack sized bags of Doritos and your tears. Just show up. Hang out with a few other humans who are having similar and different anxieties as you. Cultivate compassion and ease. Have an extra drink, or piece of pie. Shoot for levity above all things, and even if you can only think of one thing to be grateful for this year, name it and carry on.
Before you know it, the day will be over and it will be time to set up your tent outside of Best Buy.
Just kidding. Please don’t do that.
This year I’m going to a “Thanksfornothinggiving” where a bunch of friends plan to laugh really hard at the way life is crazy, we will burn sage and tokens of our failures in the fireplace, we might discuss Stanley Kubric and the underlying themes of Native American genocide in The Shining because I happened to just watch it so I’m totally going to bring it up – a conversation that will web wildly into art and probably include someone doing a Louis CK bit, definitely mulitple inappropriate sex jokes while the children play hide and seek and Terraria in the basement playroom. I know for a fact two of the guest will end up doing a Neil Diamond duet at some point. One of the hosts is threatening/promising to make a dessert called General Custard and we will rally around wine and food and love, and despite the fun we are making of it… will have so much gratitude.
Humor will reign and wicked good fun will be had at our party. Because, who cares. Why not. We have finally decided to throw in the towel on perfection and expectations. They are the enemy of fun.
And when I name the things I am grateful for, you are at the top of the list. I’m incredibly, ridiculously, unbelievabley fucking grateful that you let me put my words into your inbox, and into your good busy brains and your sweet broken and mended and broken hearts. I am so grateful for the emails you send me, and your comments – the way you trust me with your brave stories, your support and your love. You are how I get to do this lovely thing for a living. Knowing you, or just knowing you are there, means the world to me. I’m serious. So thank you. Thank you so very much.
Until next time, I am wishing you all a hardy, hilarious and happily human Thanksgiving.
*I almost called this “A Breakdance of Thanksgiving”. Because, random association. Also someone throwing down cardboard and doing Air Flares at your party would be dope. (invite me!)
**There is such a theater down the street from my house and I have to admire the way it is stalwartly resisting the gentrification around it. And when I pass by, I read the sign that says “Mature Adults Only” and I wonder, What does that even mean? Do you have to have an AARP card to enter? Or an incredibly high level of emotional intelligence? Based on the age range of the people I see going in, I assume AARP, but either way, they must show some really smart films in there! Hitchcockian jokes forever!
Gratitude is awesome. But forced gratitude is pretentious. And mandatory merriment is an oxymoron. [tweet]
The most important moments of life are the moments in-between the sanctioned ones anyway. [tweet]
You never hear of dying people reminiscing about cornbread dressing. [tweet]
Shoot for levity above all things. [tweet]
Stories, stories, stories, are how we create moments of connection. [tweet]
image is a movie still from Blue Velvet