It’s the time of year for all of the obligatory “thankful and grateful” posts, and I am usually on board with this general airing of public positivity. So much of the internet and social media is saturated with negativity, so what could be better than people taking a moment to share things that make them happy and grateful and generally feeling the warm and the fuzzy?! Sure there are people who think that these posts can get a little braggy (and sometimes they do), and people who love to throw around words like “problematic” multiple times a day love to jump in and remind us about all of the privilege we have for having something to be thankful for in the first place, but I think taking opportunities to focus on the good things that are happening in your life is usually a pretty positive thing.
But that’s not what I’m here for. I’m eschewing my own advice and focusing on the negative. Like I always say, “If you can’t be part of the solution, be part of the problem!”
Ok, so I’m being a little snarky here, but I feel like I’ve earned it. This year has been one of the most challenging years I’ve had since I started this little corner of the web six years ago. In January I turned 40 – and had a minor existential crisis in the process. I struggled with my depression more than usual this last year and had a couple of other health issues that I’m still trying to figure out how to write about – because I share everything, apparently. That propensity toward oversharing my life is also something I’ve been wrestling around with this year as I’ve begun work on a scary new project: my new podcast, Miss Jaye: The Renovation. I started with the naïve intention that I was going to buy a bunch of self help books and make snarky, funny comments about them, and just laugh it up without any consequences. But as the books started to arrive and I was looking at them, piling up and sitting there expectantly waiting for me to read them, I realized that I started this project because I was missing something in my life, and if it took a cheesy podcast idea to kick start my search for it, then so be it.
When the books arrived from my mom, including How To Forgive, When You Can’t, I knew that I was going to end up going deeper than I anticipated.
Forgiveness is something that I struggle with. Always have. Probably always will. What can I say? I’m a Capricorn, and no one can hold a grudge until we’re cold and dead in the ground like us hardcore Caps. I have a lot of things that even if I’ve “gotten over it,” I still think about from time to time, and the way I think about the people involved in hurtful situations is never the same again even after the drama subsides. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, and some of them might even make some sense to someone who studies psychology and human behavior, but for me it all goes back to “the first hurt,” the one that I never talk about, the one that I’m really going to have to dig around in and confront if I’m going to engage with that damn forgiveness book and make anything that’s even halfway worth listening to.
I’m not going to talk about what that is here; after all, if I did that how would I get you to come back for the podcast? There’s always an angle, amiright?!
But what I want to think about this Thanksgiving is about the challenges this year has brought, and I want to be thankful for them. Not in some cheery pop song, Kelly Clarkson singing, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” empowerment anthem kind of way. I mean on some really deep level where we get down into the dark place and it’s ugly and it’s scary and we’re not entirely sure we’re ever going to make it out again, and then when we do it’s like the world is somehow grittier, tarnished, less shiny and yet now we feel more connected and more honest in how we move in the world kind of way.
It makes me think of a night out drinking with friends at Whitey’s the year before I started grad school. There was someone there who was talking about some petty squabble between two of his family members, some breach of etiquette or something at a family function that was quickly devolving, and he was speaking about this like it was the most dramatic thing that could ever happen in a family. I remember my friend and I looking at each other, and when that mutual friend got up to use the bathroom we talked about how this was so clearly a person who didn’t know real and true dysfunction. This was someone who didn’t know struggle.
If I could, I would tap my 20-something self on the shoulder and say, “Diva, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”
That’s the thing about hard times and struggle: when we’re in them, it’s hard to see anything clearly, least of all ourselves, and once we get out of them the world is different than we remember it being. Less, somehow, but also richer. Trading beauty for wisdom, and not sure whether the trade off left us in the red or the black.
So this year I’m not thinking about all of the bright, shiny, wonderful good things, and there have definitely been some. It’s not that I’m not grateful for them, because I am. It still amazes me that I get to be in this world and create things that people want to engage with, and every day I’m thankful for the people who are part of this crazy journey with me. But this year, I want to honor the things that don’t get talked about, the things that don’t get appreciated because they are ugly and awful, and it’s far too easy to focus on the ways they diminish us (and they do), but without seeing the ways that they also enrich us. The things that break us down and make us feel like nothing help us define who we are, because when we are nothing we can feel what’s missing – what’s really and truly us. Not the social media us, or the smiling around the water cooler us, or the sending out the holiday “catch up letter” with all the family news us. The real us, the things that we are when the lights are off and no one is looking. The us that we are beneath what we portray ourselves to be. Breaking down into nothing helps us understand the something that’s there; maybe not what we want to be there, but what is actually there, and what’s the truest, realest thing we have to work with in trying to ourselves more like what we portray ourselves to be and what we want to be.
So this year…thanks for nothing.