every year on the wednesday before Thanksgiving, I watch The Last Waltz. I’ve been doing it since I was around 19 or 20, when everyone at my college would go home and I’d be kind of drifting. The Last Waltz became this really important marker for my autumn… The Last Waltz is a thanksgiving movie because the concert took place on thanksgiving, but it’s also really (at least to me) a film about the difficulties of working through long-held frustrations with people you’ve been tied to for so long that a love exists. It fits the season.
Every year around this time, I try to watch The Last Waltz at least once, in the way that people watch A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life whenever mid-December rolls around. I’ve come to regard The Last Waltz — and I preface this by offering sincere apologies to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles — as the greatest Thanksgiving movie ever. That’s not simply because The Last Waltz takes place on the holiday, but also because this film embodies what’s wonderful, horrible, hilarious, and moving about one of this country’s most sacred annual traditions, and how many of us manage to survive it. Other films have used Thanksgiving as a backdrop. But to me, The Last Waltz is Thanksgiving.
Me, I usually watch Son-In-Law, but after re-watching The Last Waltz in the studio this afternoon, I’m going to give it the headlining spot. Besides, I always need more of Van Morrison’s high kick in my life.
“Turn it up!”
Weird times we’re living in, but there’s plenty to be thankful for. My son Owen and I made something for y’all that we hope you’ll share with your loved ones. Download and print it here [PDF]
Here’s what Henry David Thoreau said 160 years ago, 12/6/1856, in a letter to his friend, Harrison Blake:
I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite…. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague, indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.
Happy Thanksgiving. Hope it is perpetual.
Thanksgiving approaches. The supermarkets are jam packed with people who behave as if they have never shopped for groceries before, and Twitter is full of people who behave as if they’ve never had a meal with someone who doesn’t share their political views.
Regarding the meal, @poniewozik tweeted: “A thing I love about this country is it invented a holiday where millions of amateur cooks have to prepare a freakishly large bird. Like, the same country where people buy pre-made PBJ sandwiches, ONE TIME a year they have to figure out how to roast basically a dinosaur.”
Regarding the company, my friend @erika, the author of Just Enough Research, has it nailed: “Heading out to see your family this week? Don’t fight with them. Study them!” She suggests, if the conversation starts to head south, this magical phrase: “Tell me more about that.”
Say nothing else. Do not argue. Keep quietly sipping your beverage… All the research shows that facts are powerless in the face of contradictory beliefs. You will not win the argument. You have a better chance that Second Cousin Rick will talk himself out of his own theory if he talks long enough.
In the words of Oliver Sacks, pretend you’re an anthropologist on Mars.
Perhaps this perspective comes easiest for writers. (Czeslaw Milosz: “When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.”) In Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner write that the “anthropological perspective” is exactly what a good education is supposed to provide you. “[It] allows one to be part of his own culture and, at the same time, to be out of it. One views the activities of his own group as would an anthropologist, observing its tribal rituals, its fears, its conceits…”
But the anthropological perspective is not just for surviving Thanksgiving! It’s a way of surviving all sorts of situations involving people who are being assholes. Here’s a trick for cultivating the proper detachment the perspective requires, from Bob Sutton, author of The Asshole Survival Guide:
I’ve got this colleague who does this astounding thing: He pretends when he’s in a meeting and there’s a really nasty person, what he does to detach is he pretends he’s a Doctor of Assholeism. And he says to himself, instead of getting upset, “I’m so lucky to have this fabulous specimen! To be so close up! I just can’t believe it!”
Good luck, my fellow anthropologists! I’ll be at home in my pajamas.
One of my favorite pages in The Steal Like An Artist Journal was inspired by Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, a collection of assorted texts that the emperor wrote to himself as he was trying to figure things out and keep his life straight.
Book One is titled “Debts and Lessons.” It’s a list of people in Aurelius’s life and what he learned from them:
It’s interesting how a picture of Aurelius’s upbringing forms just from reading this simple list.
I encourage you to make your own list and give thanks to the people who have taught you something.