Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I was taught that a typical scene between the players in the comedy called “The First Thanksgiving” would have gone something like this:
Indian: Welcome! Nice boat!
Pilgrim: Thanks! We’re going to live here and teach you farming and religion.
Indian: Gee wiz! For real?
Pilgrim: Sure! At the first harvest, we’ll invite you to a great feast. We’ll share our vegetables with you, and serve them in a huge horn shaped thing.
Indian: That’s swell! And we’ll give you a turkey and these cranberries we found in the forest.
Pilgrim: (with arm around Indian) You just wait and see Indian, things are going to change around here. There’s going to be amazing progress. Someday we’ll eat those cranberries jellied and shaped like a can.
And so on and so on…
But what my google search told me is that no one can really agree on what happened when the Pilgrims landed in the New World. Did they bring God or a smallpox epidemic? Did they bring glad tidings or deeds for land they had never seen and had no right to? Did they really put all their veggies in a cornucopia? Opinions are mixed. What the experts do agree on is that it’s darned unlikely that anyone ever ate pumpkin pie back then. That’s where things start to fall apart for me. That’s like saying there’s no Easter Beast. (Oh Reader, don’t defend a giant, pink, wild-eyed hare and call him a bunny. He’s a horror show and you know it.)
I didn’t know what to make of all this conflict, so I set off in search of truth. I went to find some real live children. They would know. Their public school curriculum was current. It didn’t take me long to find Jacob and Noah. I know it sounds like I had to dive into The Bible to find them, but they were really just across the street at the playground trying to push each other off the big kids’ slide. Jacob and Noah are in fourth grade and they were old hats at this Thanksgiving stuff, first having learned of it way back in first grade. I asked them to tell me everything they knew about the first Thanksgiving. Jacob said, “The first Thanksgiving was in Hawaii. They sat at a long table in the forest and had turkey dinner.” I asked who “they” were. “The Pilgrims and the Native Americans.” At this point an indignant Noah chimed in with “It wasn’t in Hawaii stupid! The Indians were in America.” (Uh oh, Noah had gone rogue saying “Indian” instead of “Native American.” I was fast losing control of the situation.) Jacob countered that it WAS in Hawaii because “that’s where Christopher Columbus landed.” I was getting nowhere with these idiots, so I thanked them, wished them a PC “Happy Holidays” and walked resignedly back to my house thinking what a fine thing an education was.
There seemed to be no consensus about what happened in the forests of Hawaii between the Pilgrims, Native Americans, and Christopher Columbus, so I began to ponder instead Thanksgiving’s place in our culture. There really isn’t a more American holiday. Even The Fourth of July doesn’t represent America the way Thanksgiving does. There’s binge eating, football, and a huge parade with a grand finale starring the Christmas Monster. (Oh, come on Reader! Don’t stick up for Santa Claus too. Always threatening children with that list of his, most kids scream bloody murder when they finally come face to face with him at the mall. Think about it, “he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake”? You know that’s not right.)
Thanksgiving used to be a stand-alone holiday like Halloween or Valentines Day until Christmas began its sparkly encroachment on the day after Halloween. Now it’s just a resting place between shopping and serious shopping represented by that holy day of obligation, Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving is devoted to getting as much as we can, as fast as we can, as cheaply as we can. Black Friday is for the strong. The weak do their shopping online and pay for shipping. Black Friday is for people fortified with energy, stamina, and wills of steel, so naturally it isn’t for me. I’d rather lie down in the crowd at a “Who” concert than be in line at Wal-Mart when it opens on Black Friday. It’s an unruly, “the sheriff done left town” calamity waiting to happen, and it’s how we mark the official start of Christmas.
All right, so maybe the passage of time has not served Thanksgiving particularly well either historically or culturally. It’s possible the Native Americans wanted no part of the Pilgrims’ happy feast and perhaps we do succumb to hedonism sponsored by Butterball and Macy’s. But shouldn’t we hang on to the antiquated notion of the holiday if for no other reason than the premise of setting aside a day to be grateful for whatever our blessings may be is still a pretty good idea? It’s good to be reminded that we often have more than we’ve lost.
I looked up the word pilgrim (lower case “p”) in the dictionary and read of “one who embarks on a quest for something conceived of as sacred." I surely don’t claim to know the minds of the Pilgrims when they came ashore their new home, but I bet if nothing else they had hope and that’s a lot. This year it would be easy to slip into the cynic’s skin, look back at the last twelve months, and say, “No Thanks.” Instead I choose to be a pilgrim. I’m going to continue the quest and be thankful for hope. If we’re really lucky, next year: jellied hope shaped like a can.
Friday, November 20, 2009
The girl lay folded up on the stage of our college theater and, focusing on no one in particular, wistfully recalled getting “so wasted” last night she spent the small hours of the morning journaling. “Do you ever do that?” she asked, turning her attention to me.
Never, drunk or sober, not even as a child have I had the discipline to keep a journal. I’ve owned many a pink vinyl diary, but I always lost the little silver key and had to jimmy it open with a bobby pin just so the vacant pages could remind me that I didn’t have the stuff for the job. These love affairs between writing and remembrance surely aren’t uncommon or even unpleasant for the lovers. It was the invitation to invade that intimacy in her follow up question that stunned me speechless: “You wanna read it?”
I really don’t. Unless you’re dead, madly talented, or kind of crazy, and someone has found the yellowed remnants of your ramblings under the floorboards of a spider-polluted attic somewhere; I don’t want to read your journal. It’s a moral absolute that your deepest feelings and embarrassing limitations are not for my eyes. Those thoughts are private, sacred, and for television shows on MTV and other basic cable stations.
As you can imagine, the first time the concept of blogging came to my attention I thought of our journaling heroine and had a good laugh trashing the very self indulgent arrogance of it. What paint by number sets are to painting, blogs would be to writing. Anybody could opine about any old crap and by hitting the “you wanna read it?” key, Shazam! the girl on the floor was an author. Never would I have a blog. In fact, the word itself terrorized me a little with its disturbing imagery.
It's like this. Big time blogging floated up to the public consciousness at roughly the same time as the word-blending movement that has stubbornly refused to land. I remember a staycation due to stagflation, where I first read of the Bennifer sexcapade in a fanzine linked to the infotainment site eonline. I wondered about this telegenic twosome who had suddenly become a onesome, while I watched romcoms and docudramas at the multiplex by day, and at night slurped alcopops and swapped emoticons with the object of my email flirtationship that never quite made it beyond evites, instamessaging, and unreasonable textpectations. You see? That's what one little pop culture trend can do to my mind. I was quickly conditioned to take every expression, split it like an atom and fuse it like an idiot. “Blog” instantly led me to: baby…clog. Oh no! The baby! The baby’s stuck in the drain! Suddenly, a bald moppet half in and half out of the sink was not an emergency. It was a blog. And it was creepy.
I’ve always lived on the dark side of the technological moon. I don’t say that as a proud, hi-tech hating Luddite. They’re cozy with the awareness that should that whole 2012 thing turn out to be more than CGI and John Cusack, they’ll be plump and warm with their butter churns and spinning wheels long after the lights go out for good. No, I’ve missed the boat to the future and ended up in the drink many times because I’ve failed to see the budding possibilities in the next big thing.
Behold the computer. The first time I used one to write a school essay I panicked because I couldn’t see the actual paper emerging from the machine fully worded and punctuated. “Where is it? Is it stuck?” I asked, smacking the computer on the side a few times. When my then boyfriend (Let’s keep this impersonal and call him “big fat cheater” or to use the aforesaid tendency, “bateater”.) assured me the paper would come out of yet a different appliance, I about passed out. That mass of plastic and glass whirred, tweeted, and taunted me like that lunatic robot on Lost in Space. “Danger! Danger! I’m going to eat your essay and take over the world!” You know what? It did. And born to its great great grand child was the blog.
I’ve lived through several generations of technology since then, one flowing seamlessly into the next, but creating life’s next generation has gotten complicated. All the technology in the world hasn’t given me what I most want. I’ve sought answers and prayed for guidance, and when I wasn’t looking I began to read blogs. Interestingly enough, not everyone living in the blogosphere is a 22 year old drunk college student self-publishing her journal. Huh.
There’s a neighborhood of professional life livers out there helping amateurs like me get through the day and night. Whether they realize it or not, they empathize, encourage, and often instruct just by sharing a bit of who they are and what they know. This community knows how to do real things and isn’t afraid to share the wealth. There’s the financial specialist whose expertise is another’s valued counsel. Hello, to the mother of the autistic child navigating uncharted waters so other parents have a course to follow. It’s good to see the senior citizen marathon runner who gets the hip replacement patient to walk a few steps today. I welcome a laugh each morning from the less pointed blogs that simply exist to distract and entertain. And so long, farewell to the woman with the five miscarriages who was brave enough to chronicle it all. She can’t blog at the moment because she’s feeding her baby.
Sure the paint by numbers set exists, for whom blogging is instant authorship without much art or effort involved. For them, 1 is still red, 2 blue, 3 green, and 4 yellow, but how I enjoy the rest of you who provide the shading, texture, tints, and hues unique to life. You’re all fellow babies, not clogging the drain, but living deliberately between this world and that. I’m happy to be among you, you deliberate livers…. You delibervers… deliberatvers…diliaters….Oh, never mind.