Le seul moyen d’affronter un monde sans liberté est de devenir si absolument libre qu’on fasse de sa propre existence un acte de révolte.* Albert Camus.
I wake. The struggle to be myself begins. Doesn’t it sound silly to write that — like some kind of trite after-school special about stranger danger or gang-related marijuana use? Who the hell wakes up and decides to be themselves? I am always myself, even if that self is duplicitous, maladroit and an all-around jerk. You are always yourself too, for that matter.
Of course I don’t hit salient thought until somewhere in the early evening, so I decide to be myself somewhere around then. Therefore, I spend the rest of the day wondering if anyone else has this struggle. Do you struggle to define yourself everyday? Do you try on different definitions, seeing which one fits best, which one accentuates your curves or vertical v of your back? I’ll bet that you do, especially on a day like today.
And it came to pass in these days that there went out a decree from Abraham Lincoln that all the country should return to their ancestral homelands and to the domiciles of their youth and eat sinful amounts of food and nap during gladiatorial games and ignore that aunt with the extreme, well, ummm, opinions (“I’m telling you, he’s a Kenyan Socialist!”) and avoid queries about current relationship statuses (“But Karen was such a nice girl!”) and, ultimately, try not to commit suicide in some tragicomedic way right there in front of the mashed potatoes and grandma. Yes, my friends, it’s Thanksgiving.
And on this day, do you not choose a definition when you go to greet the extended family? Do you not dry your tears with one hand and carry a casserole in the other? Do you not feign a smile and pretend that, maybe — just maybe! — all will be well this year, as you sneak drinks from the flask in your pocket? Do you not tell that smug second-cousin that, yes, everything’s been just great with the promotions and the piano lessons and the soccer trophies? On Thanksgiving, don’t you grasp for the highest, most noble definition of yourself, regardless of the quietly crumbling desperation of reality within?
For you this might only happen on Thanksgiving. For me, I spend every day of my life in search of a definition, a school of thought, and an explanation. Or, a home (if you’d really like to water it down to some kind of Garrison Keillor Woebegonian phrase). I have lived my life grasping after that highest, most best presentablest self. Just as you are not that oh-gee-golly-we’re-just-great person, I was not who I was. And, yet, we all went to give thanks, every one into their own city.
After going though my “directional change” (such a pleasant euphemism!), a friend said to me that she thought my gifts were bigger than the path I was on. That shocked me because maybe these definitions, these paths, these ways-of-understanding-myself are not too big, but they are too small. My aspired-to best self was too small and your Thanksgiving self is too small. I don’t think y’all apprehend quite how difficult it is for a Midwestern boy to say that he is bigger than what everyone else wants him or expects him to be. I was raised to be pleasant. Nice. To mind the fence.
Then, I consider Bach. Or Wagner. Or David Foster Wallace. Or Dostoevsky and Gogol. And the Saints, too. Were they great because they tried to be great? Or, were they great because they were themselves, letting others define them? Maybe none of these set out to be revolutionary, but were revolutionary only in being themselves — completely and wholly themselves everyday. Of course, there is skill involved with their brilliance with all those scales and arpeggios and short stories and patience and ten-thousand hours of practice and so on. Of course.
But beyond all technical bullshit everyone is taught in school, maybe what made Bach great wasn’t his fugues — although, damn, they blow my mind — what made Bach great was that Bach was Bach. In his fugues, in his cantatas and suites, all of it was just Bach being Bach. Mind you, he was not being: “Bach, Johann Sebastian [1685-1750]: considered by many to have been the greatest composer in the history of western music.” Perhaps he didn’t grasp after this highest so-to-speak Thanksgiving self (the self of the critics) in all that music. Perhaps he was just Bach being Bach.
I am not brilliant; I am not Bach. I have to work at what little pittance of intelligence I have through sweating and bleeding. I bleed a lot, actually. But, I keep wondering: am I a mystic? Am I an atheist? Am I a writer? An existentialist? Absurdist? Blogger? A graffiti artist with punctuation? A revolutionary? A loser, a psycho and a madman? Am I an ENFJ? Which definition do I prepare to meet the in-laws on Thanksgiving? Who the hell am I? Where the hell do I fit?
Ain’t I something? Am I nothing? Yes, and more. I am all of these things, but I cannot make myself be them. I can only be Andy — horny Andy, sickeningly pious Andy, annoying Andy, pretentious Andy, so on and so forth. Yes, all these and more. But I am bigger than all these; I am Andy. Everyone else can do the defining, the explaining, even the people around the Thanksgiving table. But, I must be me. And you, my friend, you must be you.
Let Andy be Andy.** That’s where I am. That’s where I want to be. That’s what I say to myself when I wake up on this Thanksgiving morn and whenever daylight breaks over the mountains. I am not anything but myself. And on this day of Thanksgiving, for this I give thanks to God.
*: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
**: Apologies to Aaron Sorkin.