Thanks-giving (No. 17)

Some of you have complained that there hasn’t been one of these in awhile (the nerve). You’re right. I have been busy applying to graduate school. Actually, I am still doing that, but I have reached the hour of ultimate procrastination–I even vacuumed yesterday, which, as you might guess, means that I am far gone indeed. But enough of that.

The large burlap sack from which I get all my ideas is full to bursting–in fact, I can see the little devils squirming around in there, all trying to push each other out of the way and get out on top–presidential candidates, the World Trade Organization, the College of (Mis)Education, the constricted world of video games, even the passive voice is speaking up these days. But, since in my part of the cosmos, this is the season of forgiveness and reassessments and new beginnings, and since I am, as I mentioned, a most excellent procrastinator, I’m tossing the whole damn bag in the back of the closet, in the hopes that by the time I dig it out for spring cleaning a few of the suckers will have suffocated, although of course with my luck, they’ll probably breed. Spawn of Satan indeed. But not today: today I’d like to talk about thanks-giving.

Awhile ago I heard a commentator on NPR talking about how she hated that books these days came with pages of acknowledgements, and that instead of just offering a terse word or two to a spouse or an editor, people were thanking their hairdressers and their therapists and their ministers and, God forbid, their friends. Now I love acknowledgements, particularly when they’re long and drawn-out and overdone and thank everyone down to the garbage collectors, because, quite frankly, without them, it’d be a pretty ugly scene (smelly, too, but I’ll leave that to your imagination). Thankless work is given that name not just because it’s hard and frequently miserable, but also because it is taken for granted. We don’t generally thank the people who do the dirty work–that would require that we take the time to consider the dirty work at all which, frankly, I think we’d all rather not. Well, that sounds pretentious: I’ll amend. I don’t like to think about it, and I’m guessing that I’m not alone.

I would like, sometimes, to be one of those people who just goes out and buys clothes and food and books and stuff without giving much thought to it beyond, “Gosh, this looks nice” or “I deserve a break today” (yeesh, how many McDonald’s slogans ago was that one?). It would be pleasant, I think, not to spend any time thinking about sweat shops or migrant workers or environmental pollution or the local and global economy. On the other hand, I spend a lot of my time explaining to people why it’s important to pay attention and understand the words they use and how they use them, and I would be willing to bet that an economist (are there any of you out there?), even one opposed to all I believe, would say it is worthwhile to know about the processes which brought a product to your table.

But I’m getting off the subject again–I wanted to talk about thanks. Some years ago, when my hero Woody Guthrie was a young man writing songs, a plane deporting a bunch of Mexicans crashed. As the story goes, Guthrie read a newspaper story about the crash which gave the full names of the pilot, co-pilot, and all the crew, and, somewhere toward the bottom, mentioned that there were a bunch of aliens who’d died, too. Guthrie, incensed that these people almost didn’t get mentioned, much less named, wrote the song “Deportee,” telling their story, giving them names.

There are a lot of other stories I could tell–about the retreat in junior high where we were given rice and beans or bread and water for dinner one night and told that this is what most of the world’s children would be eating, which was all very well, except that then they had us throw out our bread, water, rice, beans, and styrafoam plates and cups and led us into the next room where we all dined on pizza and Coke–or about the first time I read George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (The Book That Changed My Life, or one of them)–and there are a lot of platitudes about counting blessings and such that I could offer you right now. Since, however, I’m not trying to bore you to death or make you gag, I’ll pass all that over. The leaves are all off the trees here in Iowa, and the cold air makes everything just a little more distinct, from the harvested fields to the homeless people downtown. It’s a good time to look at the world a little harder.

Thanks for reading.

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