Giving As Well As You Get
I used to have a little tradition around these parts — by which I mean this blog, which I’ve been maintaining in some form or another for a good fifteen years or more — where every Thanksgiving, I’d talk about the things I was thankful for. It’s not an original idea, or even a particularly interesting one, but as someone who often sees the glass not as half full, but dropped on the floor, shattered into shards, and ready to slash open the feet of anyone who dares walk forward, I figured it was a nice bit of human decency in a sea of cynicism and despair.
Last year, I broke that tradition for the first time. In a year when there was, for the first time in my life, the slightest hint that a candidate for president with genuine socialist ideals might actually win the election, the country chose instead a neoliberal Democrat with a dismal record of governance and a billionaire Republican real estate fraud with the moral sensibility of a mosquito; and we even managed to get that wrong. It didn’t seem like a good time to give thanks for anything, no matter how good things happened to be for me personally.
But that was a mistake. Giving thanks for what’s happening in your life, no matter how bleak might seem on a grander scale, is pretty much the whole point of this holiday, and I lost sight of that in a way that now seems a bit petty and small. After all, I lived through the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes; I saw a stupid, pointless war started by my own country plunge half the world into a nightmare spiral; I lived through two different periods of nuclear paranoia and Red-bashing hysteria. I know better than to give up on the good things in life just because a small minority of Americans pulled the lever for a bad joke.
So today, as we head into the holiday weekend, I’m going to return to one of the only traditions that I’ve ever had that’s worth a damn: expressing gratitude for some of the fine things in my life that I’m lucky as hell to have. It’s gonna be a long decade; hell, it might be a long century. We got some hard times to come, and things are probably coming that will make us wish for the good fortune we have now; so let’s get started on it early.
First, foremost, and always, I am thankful for my amazing partner, Anna Forsher. She is far and away the best thing that has ever happened to me, and the best person I know by a country mile. She is the best friend, best partner, best comrade, and best companion I could ever hope for, and seeing her face every morning is a reminder to me that nothing is ever over, no defeat is ever total, no bad news is ever the end of the world, and no chapter ever closes a book for good. She is my hope and my world, and I will never, ever stop being grateful to her for letting me be a part of her life.
The city of Chicago, where I live, has a lot of problems. It’s big and sprawling with all the problems that implies; it’s heavily segregated, rapidly gentrifying, deeply subjugated by a corrupt and racist police department, and run by a cabal of unprincipled millionaires who are rapidly dismantling its social services and selling out its poorest and most helpless citizens to pad their already fat bank accounts. It’s also the most amazing place I have ever lived, full of beauty both natural and man-made; it’s a world-class city in every sense of the word, overflowing with old and new cultures that are forever eager to commingle and cross-pollinate to create infinite possibilities; its cuisine and architecture are unparalleled in a country this young; and the people I have met here are brilliant, resilient, determined, kind, and friendly in a way that can be matched by no other place.
In recent weeks, we’ve lost a lot of artistic heroes to their own uncontrolled venality and cruelty. Some have been men I admired, and some have been men I despised. The greatest loss are the careers cut short by their abuse and intimidation, the women and men who are victims of talent rewarded by unanswerable power. But through it all, I have never once lost my awe at the miracle of human creativity or the transformative power of art. We could shed our artistic heroes in the millions and it would never once detract from how humans are born with a fluke of the mind that lets them both know the tragically temporary nature of their own lives and their ability to create new and better worlds that will live for centuries after they die. That we are capable of taking the base stuff from which life is made and spin it into infinite possibility with nothing more than our words and hands and thoughts is the preeminent miracle of the universe, and I will never stop being amazed by that.
Recently, I have had the huge honor and responsibility of helping to organize and guide the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. It hasn’t always been easy, especially in the political atmosphere of the Trump administration, where every day brings a new humiliation. But I could not ask for finer comrades. Some of the best people I know are people I met through the DSA, and so many of them absolutely shock me with their determination to keep working for a better world when it seems so certain that we are sliding into a worse one. Socialism alone has looked at the degraded state of humanity and decided that it is beautiful, that it is salvageable, and that it can be made wonderful — not just for ourselves, but for people we have never met, for people we will never know, for people who we won’t live long enough to see. My DSA comrades are a diverse and rowdy lot, but they are united around the idea that there is enough in this world for a decent life for all, and that it is achievable through solidarity.
Happy Thanksgiving to my friends, to my family, to my fellow Chicagoans, to my DSA comrades, and to everyone everywhere. A better world is possible; let’s go get it.