You Have to Remember
This isn't your land
Boozhoo, indinawemaaganidog! Aaniin! That is to say hello, all of my relatives! Welcome to another edition of An Irritable Métis. I am writing this morning on Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., where most of you are living. I hope you have good days planned since it is one of those rare holidays where almost everyone gets it off … and if you don’t, I’m sorry. My dad was a blue collar guy who spent 40+ years in the trenches of industry with a schedule dictated by grueling, rotating shift work. Many of our holiday plans orbited around when or if he would have to work or, depending on the shift, when he would be sleeping. Did all those years of changing sleep patterns and stuff take years off his life? Maybe … but so did other things. I do know that some shifts made him way crabbier than others (*cough* graveyard shift *cough*). I swear my shocking level of stealthiness1 is a result of tiptoing around the house for my entire childhood because the risk of waking dad up was a grievous one….
You might be here wondering if I am going to be delivering some anti-Thanksgiving screed because it is a holiday whose roots are sunk deep in colonial, white supremist2 bullshit. As I type this intro it is not my intention to do that, but when I paddle out into the current of Substack, the view is often clouded in mist, and I never know where I might end up….
Meanwhile, poised as we are to find out together here in the next couple moments, if you are feeling generous, or have any gratitude about what you find here in these missives, whether we capsize of not, feel free to loosen up a little spare change to “end up” in my paltry bank account. I’ve been saying no to stuff lately – and its accompanying income – that I don’t really want to do, so every little bit helps. You might think that, like some other newsletters, I’m going to do some bullshit “black friday” sale on memberships or whatever. I’m not going to do that either. I have too much respect for you, and for myself, to buy into that. If things are tight and you can’t afford the full price, just contact me and I will hook you up with a paid subscription for free, as there are a couple more “for paid only” posts coming in the near future….
When I go into a class full of kids to talk about poetry, right out of the gate I often ask them about their most recent Halloween. Or Christmas, or their birthday, or even Thanksgiving. It gets them excited and talking to me. I get a lot of answers and it is easy to quickly identify which kids are chatty and which are not. Then I’ll ask them about the day before, or last Thursday, or March 22nd. I get a lot of blank looks. The point I am setting out to make with them, one that will be the theme for our entire span of time together, is paying attention. Paying attention. We pay special attention to these “special” days because they have some meaning that we have collectively agreed to assign to them. There is a greasiness at some level with almost all of our national holidays3, especially in the modern era where pretty much everything has been commercialized. The truly notable moments in the year – the equinoxes and the solstices – have been celebrated harder and longer by every human culture in history all over the world for thousands and thousands of years, and they barely get a mention. After all, how do you market a toy sunrise, or put a bonfire in a happy meal, right?
Ultimately I try and get them to consider the blessed, holy importance of every single day. That every day is just as important as whatever holiday because it is the only “that day” they are ever going to have. That today, even if it is just another dismal Wednesday in February, something so momentous could occur that it will be part of their life forever, and if they aren’t paying attention they might miss it. And when I say teaching 4th graders or 5th graders is an excellent training ground for workshops with adults this is exactly why: we grown-ups need to be reminded of this too. Every day, every day, is holy and blessed and exploding with cosmic magnificence. All too often we spend all our seconds-to-minutes-to-hours merely ploughing away in misery in hopes that a good day is just over the horizon if we can just check off one more meaningless task. But, my relatives, today is that good day. I’m trying to convince myself as much as I am you. Today, this 24th of November in my 56th year, is slipping away and is never coming back. As I write there are less than six hours remaining of it. And in the hourglass of my life, there is far more sand in the bottom than there is in the top, and it is so, so easy to just watch it drain away and wish it would just get it over with. That is no way to live. Not for me, not for you, and not for those kids we institutionalize at a young age and spend the next chunk of their lives trying to hammer them into a cultural mold that a few hundred years of trying has proved is far less fulfilling than the thousands and thousands of years preceding them.
Which brings me to Thanksgiving. It is exhausting. I am more traumatized by organizations – Indigenous and non – and other people – Indigenous and non – going so hard all day long to remind everyone how fucked-up the idea of Thanksgiving is, what a gaslighting it is, all of it.4 I wonder if at this point we are going to change anyone’s mind about the banality of even talking about Thanksgiving? Just take the fucking day off if it is offered to you and do something that will bring you joy. That is what I try to do, with varying degrees of success. I do not want to spend a day when pretty much my entire family has the day off being in opposition to it. Today at my mom’s we didn’t mention pilgrims or genocide or any of that one single time. We just feasted and had a few laughs. I got to see my son, and I never get to see him on Thursdays. My mom’s cooking is so good even if my belches now taste like some unnameable casserole. But the whole day all this grossness over the baggage of the day still weighed me down. It is inescapable.
The thing is, I am in opposition to everything every single day. Probably to an unhealthy extent. This horrible country. This soulless economic system. This culture that doesn’t take care of its own. This horrible drama that unfolds every day and proves how U.S. citizens are likely the most propagandized people on the planet. I thought of that a couple weeks ago watching a ridiculous commercial for the Marines, of all people, that played during the trailers at the movie theater and was just gross and obvious. Then I sat through the new Black Panther movie and remembered the joy among my Black relatives to see a nation like Wakanda onscreen, even if a fictitious one. I longed for that too. I longed for a powerful hero to see onscreen, ridiculous as that desire is, and I ached for an unimpeachable Indigenous nation full of proud, mighty people that has never been colonized, even a fictitious one, because there isn’t a real one on earth and if there was the United States would be leading the charge to topple its government anyway. There has been progress in presenting Indians to the world but there is also more to being an Indian than Reservation Dogs, just like there’s more to Indigenous characters than the “Magical Indian” trope. But I also believe that there are things in the universe that Indigenous people were once attuned to far more that we are now, magical things even, and it’s all still there waiting for our return. I’m not anti-science but all too often science is just a white person who won’t shut the fuck up.
I could go on but this is exhausting too. Some days I just want a break from it all. I’m not going to feel shitty for finding it at the Thanksgiving table, and I’m not going to justify it by hanging some different meme-ready name on the holiday. Scrap all names. Let’s just take time off to gather and break bread with our loved ones. That’s all I want sometimes. Today I just wanted to eat and be happy. And here I am, still brooding.
I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking for anything, really. But if you are compelled to comment, share something beautiful. Share something that made you happy recently. Share something that made you think, if only for a moment, that life is beautiful. Because it is. Truly.
I’ve largely decided to stop reading white dude poets or writers or anything because they get so much attention and I’m sick of them sucking up all the air, all the time … with some few exceptions. Philip Levine is one of them. I have a couple of his books I haven’t read and they are not going in the “Hmmm, maybe some other day….” box. This poem crossed my radar this morning thanks to Ada Limón and her sunsetting residency at “The Slowdown”:
Miigwech, my comrades. A glorious, happy life to all of you, to all of your mountains, to all of your oceans.
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Just kidding. I’m about as stealthy as a buffalo, and tend to breathe like one too.
Is it supremist or supremacist here? I’m too terrible at grammar and stuff to be a copy editor….
I mean, Presidents Day? 🤢
And if you are one of these indignant persons or organizations who then turns around tomorrow and starts offering or capitalizing on any kind of Black Friday bullshit to sell or buy your garbage – and you know as well as I do that there are a BUNCH of you! – then you are so deeply mired in hypocracy and cluelessness that I don’t know what can be done for you.