Why share my thanks?

I grapple with making the expression of my gratefulness palatable. It is too dulcet to say trees are pretty, or I’m all full of glowy stuff, or whatever. I think what such effusions lack is empathy. People who gush without context freak me out a little and I want to ignore them.Thanks drawing

Still, to not be grateful is to dismiss the privileges of my life. I give myself permission to feel joy, solemn appreciation, and contentment, not despite of a cruel, hard world, but because in the face of a cruel, hard, world, not recognizing that I am lucky means I am blind. It is a strange vow of hedonism — a bargain that taking pleasure is compassionate.

And I am imperfect. I am too afraid to join conversations when I imagine a response that will overwhelm me (Ferguson). I fantasized about posting a “cheat sheet” today for avoiding cultural appropriation, with cute drawings, timely for Thanksgiving, and posturing as if I have a clue. I am not an expert, but I am a writer with some talent for understanding and some bravery for thinking my thoughts merit sharing (or really, that I am at all able to organize words in a helpful way for others). I have to believe that is enough. But, for this subject, I can’t just create something that I know will get me Google search hits.

Thanksgiving represents cognitive dissonance for me. I cringe at its public celebration, but find peace in my private participation. I think, it is similar to how I feel about the words:  “Merry Christmas.” I have no problem with people celebrating Christmas in their homes (except the occasional worry that they’re raising their children to be toy-obsessed, which is none of my business until they are 18 and obsessed consumers). It is when they say, “Merry Christmas,” in a way that they show their badge of assumption — that they project their rituals onto us all because they assume their holiday is everyone’s holiday — that I taste bile.

There is knowledge I do not yet have about the inappropriateness of Thanksgiving. I am not familiar with how different people of Native American decent feel about Thanksgiving. I am not aware enough of the historical nuances. I sense it is problematic, and I sense it is a colonizing holiday designed with colonizing intentions, to protect colonizing behavior (read: to overtake and destroy other cultures). I know I have research to do, history talks to have with those better educated, moments of listening to those with less privilege than me.

Yet, my political dissatisfaction does not move me to boycott the occasion. Perhaps my lack of disillusionment is a failing after all, but I think I might be doing okay. The way my family does the whole turkey-feast-football thing is still special to me. My grandfather is the grandchild of Swedish immigrants. There’s a lot of stereotypically Swedish non-spiritual, non-showy, non-sacred handling of Thanksgiving. We make a feast, with traditional things like cranberry relish and whatever, but also with our own weird food staples (some sort of jello monstrosity made with cubes of cream cheese, chopped-celery, and a can of coke). We gather, we eat, we don’t all go around and say our thanks. I think, what makes this holiday so peaceful is that my family leaves my gratefulness up to me. We all know we are reflecting on the subject, and it comes out in our words, ever so slightly, but it is private and real.

I don’t want to say, “Shut up about giving thanks.” Perhaps, at least sometimes, “thanks” begets “thanks.” I know it comforts me to read about gratefulness in the face of great trauma. But in this culture of defensive and duplicitous over-sharing, I want to ask, what are you really doing when you publicly/semi-publicly give thanks? And what do you ignore?

That is what I think matters: you must own your own gratefulness. You cannot pressure others to “say thanks,” — you don’t know them and you don’t know what they are suffering. You cannot expect them to inspire you, to give you a hint about how to feel, to lead you. You cannot feel good about patting yourself on the back when you do “thanks” right and others do “thanks” wrong. You cannot judge those who are not thankful, because you don’t know how much hell they are taking while all the while being told to be “grateful” for it. Similarly, you cannot boast gratefulness and expect reward. You cannot thrive on those “likes” and you cannot feel brave for simply saying the trees are pretty, or you’re glowy and stuff or whatever. Gratefulness is an intimate expression, perhaps better offered to yourself, your family, and to those who deserve your trust and whose trust you have earned.

Why do you share your thankfulness? Do you?

Why you got SO ANGRY when people were offended by Dr. Matt Taylor’s shirt

You are tired of little things being blown out of proportion. So what, he wore a shirt. The man put a spacecraft on a COMET. Go ESA!

Still, these people have to assault his character and professional credibility. They string up their offense like a banner and expect everyone to just bow down. They use the tiniest little details as an excuse to write raging blog articles about feminism, because they know they’ll get a ton of views. It’s contrived, stupid, and it’s not real activism.


I hear you. I have feels for Dr. Matt Taylor. When he cried, I wanted to cry.

But, perhaps, not for the same reasons as the rhetorical “you” described above.

I imagine a different story, a bigger story. This man is intelligent. He is creative and believes in expressing himself. I can see by his tattoos he probably never expected to be a ‘role-model.’ I imagine that he even chose to wear that shirt, a gift made by a friend, because he knows and believes that “alternative” looking people can be successful in science, and he wants kids out there to know this too. Fuck the man, I’m going to look the way I want to look, and be proud of myself.


Then, he heard about the first article. He read it. He looked for another article (this science-loving evidence sleuth). He read that. He read all of the articles on the internet he could find. He read the hate-spewing comments. And what happened?


He got past defensiveness (if there was any). He got past indignation, or anger. He, instead, felt mortified. He felt defeated. He realized that he tried to be himself, to express himself, and in so doing, may have made women and little girls feel insecure about their place in science. His innocence was stained. He realized he was part of the problem. He was truly, authentically remorseful, and he expressed it with tears. It was a beautiful, heart-breaking thing to witness, and I wanted to cry with him.


This is what happens when an intelligent man is faced with his mistakes. He feels them more truly than those too defensive to see clearly. He sees the thousands of implications of his tiny, tiny, oh-not-so-tiny mistake. He is not just crying for himself, but for the massive oppressions beyond himself that he cannot control, and that he inadvertently added to the weight with a seemingly harmless decision. That is the story I see.

I have explained all this so you know my sympathy for him, and so you are prepared for my explanation of why you were so angry.

I am angry because I am tired of the little things adding up to my breaking point. “So what, it’s not a big deal,” I often hear. This hurts me! I want to scream.

Still, these tiny things assault me even when I think I am shielding myself against them, even when I do not want them to. The way women are drawn in cartoons I try to enjoy. The way writers depict my gender. Thinking I’ve made a new friend, then he says some offhand thing about women being crazy, as if I’m supposed to empathize, as if I’m somehow exempt because I’m awesome and not because I’m in the majority. God, I shouldn’t have this reaction, but I’m annoyed/crying/angry because I had to witness all of these little things and I know I will continue to witness all of these little things and know their implications. Misogynists claim “reason” as their banner and call me insane, over-reacting, say I’m bitching and whining, and expect me to shut up when I try to tell them all the weight of all the ants in the world is as monumental as our own: that these tiny things are not oh-so-tiny.

So I use a popular public topic as an excuse to write a blog article about feminism because I know I’ll get a ton of views. Sometimes it feels useless, pointless, like it’s not real activism. But it’s something I can do against the endless assault, and often people say, “Thank you.”

You and I, we are so angry when the tiny things explode. Neither of us want to have to pay them any attention. For the same reason you are irritated at yet another interruption in your enjoyment of a popular event, I am irritated at yet another interruption in my enjoyment of a popular event. It’s a never-ending onslaught.

We are in frustration-inspiring times. Some of the more obvious issues have been addressed, or at least they seem obvious in hindsight. Bras have been (mythically) burned, women vote, everyone knows women are supposed to be equal to men. Why does everything have to be so “offensive” all the time? Can’t we give it a rest?

No, unfortunately no. Awareness still matters, and awareness is annoying in its methods. We are tasked with the arduous work of “nit-picking” and “micro-analyzing” and “bringing to attention.” The invisible trespasses against the oppressed will not be revealed in a grand curtain fall. They will be drawn out in little bursts. Yes, we have to capitalize on the obsessions of public attention to make a point, and it feels (and reads) like a Trojan Horse. It is wearying to have to read about so much offense. It is exhausting to feel expected to react to each one.

You are tired. I am tired. Yet, I will keep trying until you know me well enough to see how even an image on a t-shirt can hurt me and I know you well enough to see I am invited and safe in your world.