Gratitude and Fear in a Violent Year

I am not good at gratitude. I am also not all that good at holidays—mine is not a light and joyous heart, but one trained to grudges and to revenge at the hand of family now gone. I’m even worse at thankfulness when compelled. “We have so much to be thankful for,” someone said to me yesterday, and of course I thought of everything wrong in the world, but since I was at work, I also pasted on a smile and thought of collection development instead. Go be thankful on your own damn time, I wanted to say. Thankful for what? The fact that nobody’s sent tanks to Chicago yet? Excuse me while I sit over here and go over all my worst-case scenarios, most of which (except for this past election) seem to have come true. Even if I were better at gratitude—and less prone to counting off the wrongs of a hundred years ago, or carefully maintaining battle lines set into the earth eighty years ago (by my grandmother)—it would be hard to feel thankful for much of anything after yet another violent man took yet another gun and shot down yet more of my city’s best and brightest, yet another dark mark in this violent, frightening year. But, you know, in the spirit of my non-gratitude, and because I hate being told to be thankful, even if perhaps I should be, I’m going to steal an idea from the brilliant Kristen Arnett and her amazing piece “For the Virtues I Have Acquired As a Librarian, I Am Truly Thankful,” written (of course) for LitHub, and go over a few of those things for which I am, truly, thankful.
via Giphy

Now, like Arnett, I am a librarian, and, like Arnett, I am definitely aware that working in a public service position makes me an infinitely better writer. I am, as is she, grateful for all those people who pass in and out of my life, who allow me to serve them…and who toss me tidbits of humanity, a second here, an instant there, for use later, in some other world. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to attend Northwestern University’s Summer Writer’s Conference this past August: I got a hell of a chance to observe (and snark, because Slytherin, mwahahaha) while I was there, and I picked up little bits, here and there along the way. Oh, and I am so very grateful to my friend S, who dragged me out of my preferred after-work enclosure (a small dark room, usually) to attend a book launch, which in its turn gave me ideas, and maybe even a tiny bit of courage. God knows I could use that, when it comes to my creative work.

via Giphy.
Even as my country continues to experiment with variations on a theme of trashfire, I am truly grateful to live in an era when every single book written is no longer exclusively by, and about, white folks writing about able-bodied white folks, and to have at my fingertips a range of incredible literature from authors who are inching closer to representative of our country than they’ve probably ever been before. (And of course, the sad thing is the stats on publishing are still pretty damn bad—but they’re a little better.) I have found dyslexics like me in the pages of books, and it is something really amazing, to find yourself in a place where you’ve never been. As someone who, despite being a white woman, fits into these ignored sidelines of people, I find it deeply disheartening every time someone (such as this guy for The Atlantic) dismissed inclusive literature. As Erinn Salge writes for LitHub, such dismissals also dismiss us, those of us who don’t fit neatly into whatever boxes Angry White Author fits, and which Angry White Author considers appropriate. And so, you see, I am immensely grateful, in the face of challenges and of Angry Authors, for books that show a world a little bit closer to the one in which we really live. (Similarly, I’m grateful to live in an era in which old myths—such as the myth of our First Thanksgiving—are finally being challenged, and inaccurate narratives being rewritten.)
Party time.
So this Thanksgiving, as I spend it with family—and am I grateful for them? I suppose I am, although it seems too pale a word for the strange and intense and integral feeling of family—I won’t be swinging my Gratefulness from tree to tree, because, of course, I can’t climb trees to save my hide, but also because thankfulness is annoying. And probably nobody wants to hear a lecture on the state of the publishing industry in 2018, either. But if you’re looking for a great way to celebrate the diversity and the culture that helps make our city—and our country—great, well, go to the wreathing of the lions at the Art Institute on Friday for some good wreathes, some good ballet, and some good mariachi. Because there’s not a hell of a lot more American than that.