All things considered, objectively and subjectively, 2011 hasn’t been the best of years for me and my family, and I have it on good authority that many on this planet might be feeling the same. Humanity has been flushed of a couple of fairly significant faces on the international terrorism scene-- for that we should all be thankful, even though their deaths are far from comforting simply because the hydra has many heads. And it wouldn’t be wrong to hold out hope for some kind of economic recovery even as the shape and function of the world changes faster than a desert sandscape, but a cursory glance at the spiteful deadlock of the two-party system and the Republican presidential campaign so far doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence in the health of independent political thought on the grand stage in this country.
Those things being said, I still find myself heartened by the things in my life I have to be thankful for on this day, which is dedicated to the expression of such sentiments and, of course, rampant overeating. If I may, in the short amount of time I have before the turkey carving and before the general post-meal torpor takes away any ambition toward writing and tucks it away until tomorrow, I’d like to just mention a few of the things that have made life worth living for me this year. Beyond number one, there is no ranking order, just unbridled appreciation.
1) My immediate family, including my parents and parents-in-law. But most especially my daughters, who are growing so fast that I can barely stand to look at pictures of them when they were smaller, much more like babies than growing girls and, in Emma’s case, a young woman. I marvel at their beauty, at their humor and their resilience, and the way they challenge me to look at the world not necessarily through their eyes but with eyes that can accommodate their own visions. And I live for the unexpected hug or kiss or touch of the hand that seems directed by a very acute interior knowledge of just when Dad needs it. My wife is the source of that beauty, and it is humbling to see just how much of herself she gives to these children and to me every day. I often don’t appreciate that sacrifice the way I should, and my greatest understanding of her interior struggles comes when I recognize that I can’t really understand them at all. I can only offer my shoulder and my heart, and she does in return, and that’s all we can really hope or ask from each other. I’m so thankful to have her to lean on, and it should go without saying, but I’ll say anyway that I love them all beyond reason. I can only hope to be the man they need and deserve in their lives.
2) My life as a would-be teacher. Two years after I completed my graduate program, I’m still holding out hope that somewhere, hopefully in Oregon, and sometime soon there will a teaching job for me. I still substitute teach here in Glendale, and each time I do I come home exhausted. But the connection the kids and I have made since I started subbing five years ago is strong, and it gets renewed every time I see them make a connection in class or burst out laughing, and there’s nothing like seeing a group of them streak across the playground just to say hi or give me a hug.
3) The movies. In any shape or form, truth be told, but especially being in the dark with a house full of like-minded souls who come not to show off their own knowledge or superiority to what’s on screen but to revel in the special love between an eager audience and a movie rich with treasures ready to be reaped. To my mind, there is still no better place to experience a movie at than a theater, but especially at the New Beverly Cinema, where so many wonderful moments in my movie world have happened. I’ve been there far less frequently this year thanks to the many tangles of everyday life, but I still treasure the little corner of heaven Michael Torgan and company have reserved for us all like no other place in Los Angeles.
4) Getting older. It’s a very underrated experience, even given the practical realities of diminished health and increasing irrelevance in a youth-oriented society. But I wouldn’t trade the wisdom I’ve gained over time (such as it is) for a clean slate and 30 years wiped off the clock under any circumstances.
5) The rain. (Thanks, Lauren Kessler.)
6) My DVR. I finally got one this year, and it’s been a real joy, especially since it’s been more difficult for me to afford going out to the movies in 2011. Hand in hand with the gratitude for the DVR goes an equal appreciation for the bounty with which I fill its hard drive, plundered from the wondrous vaults of Turner Class Movies, of course (The only essential TV channel), and also the MLB Network and the various high-definition movie channels provided by my satellite subscription. As Slim Pickens said in Blazing Saddles, I am impressed!
7) My bike.
8) The Oregon Coast (and several points eastward too).
9) Good beer. And just about the time in my life when I probably shouldn’t be drinking it too much.
10) All the people I’ve met exclusively on the Internet, with whom I interact largely through e-mails or on those modern marvels of social networking, Facebook and Twitter. Writers, thinkers, lovers of life and all genuinely smart as a closet full of whips (Shh!), you have filled my life with so many new perspectives and joined me in confirmation of some many shared interests, and I look forward to (and am perhaps addicted to) touching base with you every day. I genuinely feel as though you have all expanded my world in the best possible way.
11) The Scrabble app on my new Android phone.
12) The ability to read and to write, and also the precious little time I have to actually indulge in either or both. This year productivity on the blog has taken a real hit, but I am heartened by my small sliver of readership and their apparent acceptance of this decline as not a signal of my lessening desire to write but instead of my lessening desire to write about things I don’t feel a strong compulsion to write about. Not that I ever much felt the need to crank out stuff that I didn’t feel strongly about, but these days when you see something on SLIFR, whether you like the piece or not, you can at least be assured that it’s meant something to me to write it, to grapple with it, to get it out there. Such are, I suppose, the joys and the latitude of writing with only your own editorial guidance, and with no monetary compensation. I’m eternally grateful that when I do write what I want, there seems to be some few readers out there, my kind of readers, who are there to appreciate it.
I’m also grateful for having had the opportunity this past summer to read Vincent Bugliosi’s book Divinity of Doubt. It’s a book that I can fairly say has changed my life, helped lift a very heavy, lingering shroud of Catholic and fundamentalist Christian-inspired guilt from over my hunched shoulders, guided me to see through the many fallacies inspired by extremist thought on the part of believers and nonbelievers, helped me embrace agnosticism and, strangely enough, made me less fearful of the possible truth of the abyss. If you’re interested at all in examining the history and belief system of religion in general, Christianity in particular, from a logical perspective, I recommend this book without reservation.
13) Being part of the Horror Dads, the Muriels Association and the SLIFR Tree House.
14) The loyalty and love of my best friend and those friends closest to me… You know who you are. Your creative energies, boundless enthusiasm, intelligence and capacity for love and understanding and generosity boggle my tiny little mind every day. I shudder to think where I’d be without you all.
15) …and for the recent reconnecting (via Facebook, usually) with several old friends and classmates who I never knew as well as I could have/should have in the past. We are getting the chance to get to know each other again, as adults, not dumb, clique-bound kids, and the experience has been a real blast.
For all these things and so much more, I am sincerely grateful. On those days when I’m trudging through the valley it’s easy to feel defeated. But during those low times whenever I conjure thoughts of any of the above I am heartened and lifted up. Who could complain of such a life?