My Facebook Gratitude Challenge

1.1 First, of course, I am grateful to my darling wife, for finding me and for choosing me and for grabbing me and for keeping me, for being uncharacteristically patient in waiting for me to come around, for giving me and for taking me and for teaching me and for loving me; for being all she is and for doing all she does, for making me laugh and smile and sing and eat and taste and try, for seeing some glimmer of potential after I had long ago written myself off as having gone from being the boy with all the potential in the world to being the guy who used to have all the potential in the world.

1.2 I am grateful to Mark Zuckerburg for the miracle of Facebook. Yeah, yeah…I know…“the miracle of Facebook” sounds so highfalutin’ and cheesy/corny/hokey that it probably comes across as sarcasm. Please believe that it is not!

Look…I don’t need Pokes and Likes and Shares. I don’t have a use for any of the “I bet most of you won’t share this but those of you who do are the only GOOD people in the world” crap or any of the “God is in the hizzy, share if you agree” junk. That’s not the miracle of Facebook. I don’t even care how brilliantly you performed in Lexulous or Candy Crush Saga. That’s not the miracle of Facebook either. The miracle of Facebook is that it has brought me back into contact with people who mean THE F--KING WORLD to me and who have for years and years and years meant the f--king world to me but with whom I had completely lost contact for far too many years and, had it not been for Facebook, probably would have never regained contact. In a couple of cases, there have been actual face-to-face reunions. In other cases, it’s just been wonderful to acknowledge each other’s presence, to say “I remember you” and “you matter to my life”—even if there hasn’t been anything quite so explicitly expressed. Hey, there you are. You’ve made it through some hard times [or you’ve had a wonderfully easy life or I really don’t have a clue what sort of things you’ve been dealing with in the intervening years] and here you still are! Me too! Hooray!

I don’t say “I love you” to those people a lot, if at all [even though it’s really quite a small number and I doubt any of them would truly be freaked out by it]. But I do love those people. Immensely! I’m not going to name any names here. If you think you may be one of them, that’s good enough. I love you! And I’m grateful to Mark Zuckerburg for making it possible for me to tell you in my own little way and to know that you’re still there. Just knowing that makes me happy.

1.3 I am grateful to President Dwight David Eisenhower for doing all he did to make the interstate highway system happen.

Ike is not my favorite! Not by a long shot. He seems to have not understood—or at least to have not embraced—the principle of separation of church and state. Did you think “under God” was always part of the Pledge of Allegiance, passed down from biblical times? Nope! That’s thanks to the Eisenhower administration. 1954. Did you think “In God we trust” was always the official motto of this country, always on all its money, ever since Little Baby Jesus sprung forth and declared (through his Perfect baby gurgling) America to be His chosen land? Nope. Eisenhower administration also! 1956. Some of you are old enough that you were alive before these abominations were institutionalized. Some of you might even be old enough to remember those days. It wasn’t really all that long ago. Nineteen fifty-six was just fifty-eight years ago. Nineteen fifty-four was just sixty years ago. Ike’s a villain in my book.

On the other hand, Ike’s a hero in my book. Sure, sure…war hero. Fighter for freedom and democracy, enemy of tyranny and all that jazz. But he’s a hero to me because of the interstate highway system. I’m happy to give him lots of credit for that and I’m happy to express my gratitude to him for it. I’ve lost count of the states I’ve ridden through on those roads, in historically extraordinary comfort, without fear, with a predictable route and predictable and not inconvenient speed. I have travelled entirely overland from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and from Florida to Maine. I have always taken the interstate highway system for granted. It’s always been there for me for as long as I’ve been here. But it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It is truly a marvel!

2.1 I am grateful to everyone who participated in making recorded music a thing. Everyone, actually, who made it possible for me to listen to Berlioz and Newsom and Hendrix and Pixies and Simone and Blast Off Country Style and Nirvana and Pink Floyd and Prokofiev and Cave and Yes and Johnson (and, for that matter, Johnson) and any number of other amazing composers (going back hundreds of years) and performers (going back now over more than a hundred years) at my leisure.

My gratitude for this starts with whoever first devised a system whereby musical notes can be written on a staff on paper and goes right on through Edison for devising his wax cylinder recording device and including all the inventors behind record players, audio tape (analog and digital), compact discs, etc., and even including Steve Jobs and his teams at Apple—who didn’t really do anything in terms of making recorded music a thing so much as they made it possible for me to carry a huge music library in my pocket. My gratitude here extends, as well, to all those composers who wrote their compositions down and all those musicians who sat or stood in front of microphones to let me and my kind hear them from afar and across the years. Technologists, technicians, electricians, recording engineers, record producers, songwriters, instrument makers, equipment short, EVERYONE who ever had anything to do with making recorded music a thing...I am grateful to you. Thank you all!

2.2 I am grateful to my parents and to countless teachers (mine and otherwise) and generations of community members and lawmakers for every effort they made to ensure that I (and everyone I grew up with) were given an opportunity to get a fairly decent education, not because it was of any direct benefit to them or because it was especially convenient for them but because they understood and collectively agreed that it was the right thing to do. I am grateful that I got to gain some proficiency in the comprehension and use of the English language—both spoken and written. I am grateful that I was allowed to do a bit of computer programming when I was a kid. I am grateful that I got to learn something of how to understand and utilize mathematics. I am grateful that I got to learn something about various branches of science and to have a fairly firm basis for being able to understand and evaluate scientific progress and knowledge, without having to be an expert. I am grateful that I learned a bit about history and a bit about art and a bit about government and a bit about literature. I am grateful that I was given tools for thinking, for evaluating, for judging, for inventing, for comparing, for expressing, for arguing, for discussing. I am grateful for being presented with a world (or a small portion thereof) wherein (at least during a small window of opportunity that I happen to have been a beneficiary of) the acquisition of both knowledge about the universe and skills to comprehend it—in ways that almost nobody (statistically speaking) in the history of humankind has had the ability to do—were encouraged.

2.3 I am grateful to each of you for not having killed me (yet). It is only through your inaction on this front that I continue to experience, which for me is pretty good. Thanks.

3.1 I am grateful to everyone who participated in eliminating the draft in this country. A few years ago, Mike Gravel was running for President and he seemed to be claiming credit for this innovation. I never really looked into how it came about and whether he really was a driving force behind it or not. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and at least accept that he had something to do with it. I’m sure it wasn’t all his doing. Not nearly so. It’s the sort of thing that simply must have been accomplished not only through the efforts of one legislator, or even just a few legislators. I’m sure it was backed by and even advocated for by lots of legislators at the time. I’m sure it was also something that came from the zeitgeist, driven by the people. I’m sure it had quite a lot to do with the Vietnam conflict having left an extraordinarily bad taste in the mouths of millions of Americans. I am a beneficiary of that change in policy. I did not grow up living in fear that I was likely to be conscripted into fighting in overseas wars based on bad decision making [or even based on sound decision making that I happened to disagree with]. I was confident that if I was going to end up shipping off to kill or be killed on foreign ground, it was going to happen only if I decided that it should be so and not because my number happened to come up in a lottery. Did I end up joining the military? No. Did I consider it? Yes. Briefly, but sincerely. As it turns out, the timing was such that I probably could have gotten in and out without facing such horrendous consequences. On the other hand, if I had gone in and stayed in for a career, the timing was such that I might have been sent in for at least some portion of the unjustified and unjustifiable invasion, occupation, and devastation of Iraq. I likely would have considered my participation honorable and sensible if that had been my course in life. But my point here is that regardless of whether I were absolutely comfortable or deeply uncomfortable with my role in such a situation, it would have been my choice, not somebody else’s. I firmly believe that my growing up experience in America was vastly better than it would otherwise have been, simply because I got to grow up post-draft. I am grateful for that.

3.2 I am grateful for everyone who has participated in the ongoing battle for civil rights, equal rights, equal protection, social justice, all that jazz. There is still lots of improvement to be made, but at least we’re seeing serious progress on same sex marriage. I find it seriously impossible to imagine myself being at all comfortable with accepting racially segregated lunch counters or water fountains or bathrooms in my own country. That is such a foreign idea to my world view! But in my parents’ lifetimes, it was a reality. Not long before that, women’s voting rights were not guaranteed. Not long before that, voting rights could be legally denied based on skin color. [Of course, we’re currently seeing backsliding on this through sneaky means, which is despicable.] Not long before that, slavery in this country was legal. I’ve never been a victim of discrimination—at least not that I’m aware of. Still, it’s clear that I’m lucky to have a particular skin color and to be of a particular sex. I am likely in a position of privilege simply because of that. While I like to think that we’ve advanced beyond such things, I know that it’d be naïve of me to truly believe it. Heck, I might be at some societal advantage simply because my height is a bit above average rather than a bit below. [Do I think Robert Reich could stand a reasonable chance of being elected to the presidency if he were six feet tall? Yep. Do I think he can stand a reasonable chance of being elected given that he isn’t nearly? Nope.] My point here is not to point out how far we still have to go, but just to express my gratitude for how far we’ve come. So there it is. I am grateful to everyone who has done anything that has moved our country forward on this whole very broad class of issues having to do with judging people based on the content of their character and giving everyone a fair shake regardless of anything superficial.

4.1 I am grateful to Braque and Bosch and Dalí and Miró (Miró!) And Picasso and Klee and Monet and Duchamp and Mondrian and Brancusi and Moore and Calder and Modigliani and Giacometti and Degas and Chagall and El Greco and Warhol (yes, even Warhol) and van Gogh and Seurat and H. Rousseau and Grandma Moses and Ryder and I’m sure a whole bunch of other folks who aren’t coming to mind at the moment. Here’s why: Before I got here, these folks managed to make sure that a little weirdness in fine art was already an established and accepted thing. Yes, I think it would have been a truly exciting and invigorating thing to have been a witness to the rise to prominence of Picasso and Dalí. But my world, the world I came into, was a world in which their battles had already been fought and won. So I missed the revolution, but I inherited a much wider vista than I would have inherited if I had been born before their time.

Here’s the troublesome analogy: I am just old enough that by the time rap (and let’s say the whole world of hip hop) came to prominence, I had already come quite a long way towards having established my “understanding” of music. With some exceptions [Run DMC’s version of Walk This Way comes to mind], I was too unreceptive early on to this new music. I was a guy who believed in copyright protection, giving credit where credit was due, and the musicianship and discipline involved in playing a musical instrument well. To my young mind, sampling was an affront to all of these things. It was musical theft, as far as I was concerned. I liked scratching from the start and beatboxing was a joy to behold. But it took me far too long to come to any appreciation for sampling, which is a real shame! [I am, by the way, happy to report that my appreciation has actually grown an enormous amount—it just came more slowly than it ought to have done.]

Back to the main point:

My introduction to the world of visual arts was an introduction to a world in which the acceptable was in no way limited to the naturalistic. As much as I love Frederick Edwin Church (I do a lot!) and Michelangelo (ditto) and lots of other painters and sculptors who worked in the established tradition—even while elevating it to new heights, I think the world would be a much poorer place if the folks I mentioned above hadn’t made their contributions and if the boundaries of “fine art” were limited to the naturalists and related types. I don’t even necessarily love the work of the artists this gratitude is aimed at. I can’t, for example, think of a single thing Duchamp did that I like much. But I am grateful to him just as much as to the others. He and they changed the world for the better.

4.2 As you may know, in the fall of 02012, I ran a Kickstarter campaign so that I could get some of my drawings framed for a gallery show in the spring of 02013 and, secondarily, to get professional scans done of a bunch of drawings. As far as I know, I never promised anyone my undying gratitude in exchange for backing the project. I may have done so and forgotten that I did. Regardless of whether it was promised or not, my backers and all the people who were kind enough to spread the word of the campaign even if they weren’t able to back the project themselves have it. I am grateful to every one of the folks who contributed to the success of that Kickstarter project.

4.3 I am grateful to everyone who has participated in the ongoing development of the English language. It is an incredibly versatile toolbox that provides me with endless opportunity for play. It is deep and wide and beautiful and redundant [in such good ways!] and robust and adaptable and useful.

Here’s a true story: At about 7.45 p.m. today, I was mowing the lawn. I was nearly finished with all the mowing I intended to do today and I suddenly started feeling sharp pains in my lower legs. I immediately thought I must have somehow kicked up some pebbles with the mower but then I realized what was actually happening. It seems I must have run over the wrong patch of lawn and gotten some wasps angry. As far as I know, wasps don’t use bites as a prelude to stinging. So I assume that what they did to me [in at least three spots, though I think it’s more like 5] was sting. There I was, hopping about and running around to get away, swatting and flicking to get the hangers on off, and freaking out a little more than was absolutely necessary. You see, my sister almost died from a bee sting when she was young and my darling wife is reportedly allergic as well. I, not being in the habit of being stung and therefore unaware of my allergic status, was concerned that I might end up dying from an anaphylactic episode. As soon as I was fairly confident that I had gotten everyone off me, I got into the house, put the dogs outside [so any barking would be minimized], and grabbed the phone and my health insurance card in hopes that I could get in touch with a nurse’s help line to find out how long it would be before I knew whether I was in danger of bad things happening or whether I was likely in the clear—and thinking that if I were on the line with someone, if things started to go south he/she could tell me what to do and likely contact any necessary emergency responders on my behalf. Now, the end of the story is anticlimactic. No nurse’s help line, but no anaphylaxis. I let the dogs back in, locked them up and hopped into the car and drove towards Claremont [so I’d be close to a hospital in case I started feeling strange], where—having realized any danger was imaginary—I did some shopping at the supermarket.

Why do I mention this in today’s gratitude statement, which is about the English language? Because it provides me with an opportunity to point something out. You may or may not have noticed that as I’ve been doing this Gratitude Challenge, with each entry I have been expressing my gratitude TO some sentient being(s) FOR some decision or action or the like. I have not used the Gratitude Challenge as an opportunity to say what I consider myself LUCKY for or for what I am merely GLAD about. I don’t have imaginary friends. I don’t attribute my turning out to not have a violent allergy to wasp stings to the will of any god. So I don’t say “I’m grateful for not getting killed by wasps today”. I didn’t get killed by wasps today. Good for me. There’s nobody involved to be grateful to! It’s not attributable to any sentient being. Through whatever genetic and environmental randomness has resulted in my biological system responding to wasp venom in a way that is different from the way my sister’s system responded to bee venom, I didn’t draw the short straw. [Likewise, I wasn’t spared by the grace of some benevolent overlord.] Good for me. That’s me being lucky. I’m glad. But to say that I’m grateful would be disingenuous. This is part of the magic of the English language. I get to use it in ways that are meaningful to me and you get to use it in ways that are meaningful to you. And we can disagree about what the words really mean. And, simultaneously, we can each understand what the other is saying. That’s great! It’s largely an accident. The English language is an organically developing thing. It wasn’t “designed” to allow for all its various uses. It just developed the way it developed, and—it turns out—it developed pretty spectacularly to allow for all kinds of possibilities. Lucky me. I get to be grateful to millions upon millions of people for keeping it alive and letting it thrive.

I will take this opportunity to say that I am particularly grateful to the lexicographers out there. I think the work they do is a spectacularly beneficial thing for me and for society.


Note: If you want, you can consider this post to be a bit of a challenge to you. If I tag you at the end of my Gratitude Challenge, or if I don’t—and whether or not you have participated or will participate in a Gratitude Challenge of your own, I hope you will consider the possibility of looking at the word “gratitude” the way I look at it. Try to think of actual sentient beings who have made actual decisions or taken actual actions or exhibited actual characteristics that give you real reason to be grateful to them for that instead of merely phrasing “I feel lucky because” as “I am grateful for”. That substitution reads, to me at least, as crediting your imaginary friends with playing favorites.

5.1 I am grateful to everyone who has ever said anything extra-nice or complimentary about or towards me. I have been privileged enough to hear and read some things over the years that I am utterly certain are far kinder than anything I could possibly have earned. I like to think that I’m a fairly decent person. As far as I can tell, there are people out there who think that I somehow manage to go far beyond even that lofty standard. Hearing such things makes me feel like I may be respected, that I may be liked, that I may be loved, and that some people may consider the world a better place for having me in it. That sort of feeling always manages to bring me some happiness.

I hope that you will remember me as kindly after I’ve died as you have thought of me while I’m alive. Still, I hope you will keep in mind the following bit of ancient American wisdom* which is a pretty good counterpoint to the modern American advice to not speak ill of the dead:

“Say what you will of the dead. They won’t mind.”

5.2 I am grateful to everyone who has ever been willing to engage with me in spirited discussion (or “pointed debate” or “contentious argument” or whatever you prefer to call it). I treasure that sort of thing and I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. Very often these things end in a stalemate, which may not be a particularly satisfying outcome for either party. That’s absolutely fine. For me, at least, an unsatisfying outcome is not enough to cancel out the pleasure of the process.

5.3 I am grateful to many authors for doing what authors do. I guess the list starts with Stephen King, not because I think he’s the greatest writer but because he wrote Pet Sematary, which is the book that got me interested in reading after years of being what they call a “reluctant reader”. In case you’re interested in getting a sense of what sort of reading I like to do, I’m going to give you a short list of some of my all time favorites. It is not, by any stretch, an exhaustive list of the authors to whom I am grateful or of the books for which I am grateful. You’ll probably notice that I’m a big fan of fiction and a big fan of books that have been translated into English rather than written in it. [I’ve only read the English version of any of these.] That makes me quirky, right? If you’re interested in reading something terrific, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of this*; but taste is taste, right?:

Crockett Johnson for Harold and the Purple Crayon
Dr. Seuss for…you know…
Milorad Pavić for Dictionary of the Khazars
Herbert Rosendorfer for The Architect of Ruins
Heinrich Böll for his body of work
Bohumil Hrabal for The Little Town Where Time Stood Still
Milan Kundera for Immortality
David Eagleman for Sum
Alan Lightman for Einstein’s Dreams
Kobo Abe for Kangaroo Notebook
Nick Cave for And the Ass Saw the Angel
Sigurd Hoel for The Road to the World’s End
Bernardo Atxaga for Obabakoak
Amy Krouse Rosenthal for Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
Luigi Pirandello for One, No One and One Hundred Thousand
Jean-Paul Sartre for The Reprieve
Hunter S. Thompson for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
August Strindberg for A Witch

*Some of these titles may be difficult to track down.

3.3 [making up for missing one on Thursday] I am grateful to everybody who does calculus so I don’t have to. If I become a vampire or otherwise gain immortality, truly learning that discipline will jump to very high on my list of things to do. As it is, I’m sure I’m never going to find the time to figure that business out. Math is my friend but calculus is my enemy. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the folks who keep it busy, I am very successful at evading it so we don’t have to engage in battle. I am grateful.


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