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A Note of Thanks

Saccharine clichés abound this time of year, and nauseate those who’d prefer to wrap themselves in a curmudgeonly cocoon and swill a vodka pom, musing all the while about the ridiculousness of the whole shebang. So maybe I’m projecting a bit. Or would if I actually felt like that this year.

The truth is that I have always had plenty for which I should be thankful, and have always been fortunate enough to have surrounding me a glut of good, kind-hearted people who want nothing more than to share with me this crazy adventure called life. Until my perception of the fluidity of experience finally crystallized in my mind–how life is porous, always absorbing and contorting more with every second’s passing–I hinged on the fact that, every year, I seemed to never change.

But when I cast a retrospective glance over my shoulder at five years of living in North Carolina, peruse my assortment of photographs–from my naïve UNC-CH grad school days to my shovel-bum years, from my Dahling-inspired Sanford porch sittings to Bragging it up paisley-style in a sea of camouflage, from initially awkward immersion in Raleigh life to full-fledged LGBTQ activist–experiences galore smack me across the face, waking me to the reality that I’m constantly changing. That I’m experience incarnate.

A sleep-deprived graduate student reeling from feelings of disenfranchisement became a jaded, disaffected shovel-bum during the height of the recession, who landed a heartier job that requires constantly navigating the irony of working with Big Brother. But somewhere in that welter of work-related nonsense, I realized that my life isn’t about any of it. Being someone who effects change has become the fulcrum around which everything else in my life operates: a friend, a son, a brother, an activist, a voice of reason, an apropos catty commentator, a smile-inducer, a willing listener. Someone of whom I can be proud in a given moment.

So, in this clarifying moment, I’ll cast aside the cynicism and chastise myself for being a brat. And instead thank each and every person who has been there through any part of my life’s journey, whose kindness, presence, or bullheadedness affected me, played even the tiniest role in molding me into this neurotic, dramatic, accessible person who’s comfortable being all of that.

Who’s always here to do or be just the same for you.

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I’ll say outright that my knowledge of the Occupy movement is still very much developing. For the most part, I’ve stayed quiet about the whole shebang. But the gamut of pro/con postings by friends have grated on me in unexpected ways. And while I almost wish there was a Dummy’s Guide to the Occupy Movement for me to read, two issues I feel passionately about revolve around the movement’s periphery like unacknowledged planets: respect and reflexivity.

I do my best to be a sponge for both sides’ arguments and later distill out the more insightful bits from hypocrisy–be as objective as possible. But whether it’s all the postmodern theory I’ve read, or that I acknowledge that humans are social creatures who assess everything through some sort of biased filter, I don’t believe there is such a thing as objectivity. So here’s my circuitous take through my barely middle class/gay male/dual degree-holding lens.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I would not be where I am today without the financial planning and judicious decisions made before I was born by my parents and grandparents. Like most people, I’ve navigated the tumultuous financial waters of adulthood and have barely made ends meet. Nearly a year after the markets tanked, the ripples of economic turmoil began lapping at my job’s doorstep. Furloughs were issued. Leans months ensued. And then, ultimately, layoffs started. By fortuitous circumstances, I was able to jump into another job. Others weren’t so fortunate.

It’s not until I faced the very real possibility of unemployment that I realized how drastically the socioeconomic field has changed, and how it will never be the same. My parents constantly express disbelief at how closely my sister and I have come to joining the unemployed, each of us with two degrees and capable heads on our shoulders. They cannot believe that there aren’t jobs out there–that nebulous place where some sort of job relevant to one’s expertise is waiting to be plucked and eaten like ripe fruit off a tree. I still have a job, but it’s not guaranteed. Nothing can be anymore (and never really was, anyway).

Until a car accident gifted me debt, I was able to make things work and stay in the black. But now I have a car payment, and debt in my foreseeable future. Was it fair that a driver with a suspended license made me total my car, gifting me with said debt? No. Is it fair that I have a job when so many others more qualified do not? No. Is it fair that older generations, having lost their 401(k)s and savings in the recession, cannot afford to retire and are working in positions that a multitude of qualified applicants from younger generations would love to have? No. Is it fair that one percent of the population has more wealth than the other ninety-nine percent? Hell no.

But who said life is fair? No one. The reality is just that: no one owes you a damn thing. You have to go out and try to make things work. But that doesn’t mean it’s right to castigate those who protest, who have tried to make it work, who are chronically un- or under-employed. Gross overgeneralizations equating laziness with unemployment are distasteful and fallacious, and often made by those being supported by mommies and daddies in the top one percent. For those of you who feel that the Occupy protestors are just a bunch of hippies who need to get jobs, look around when you say that. Take stock and envision how quickly your life can change because of corruption and greed higher up the employment food-chain. Think about going to work only to find a pink slip on your desk. For those of you partnered, think about that situation and multiple it by two. It’s not unthinkable. That chilling thought haunts my mind; like many of my generation, I don’t have a robust safety net–just very modest savings I squirrel away when I can, but nothing that can sustain me for an extended period. It’s not for lack of trying; it’s just that I can’t afford it. Most days, I feel as though I’m operating on borrowed time.

Always in the back of my mind is a mirror reflecting my leanest times, infusing the meatiest ones with a heavy dose of realism. If you feel entitled enough to eschew the possibilities that your leanest times couldn’t return instantaneously, I hope that you can at least acknowledge the fact that others (like me) aren’t fortunate enough to live in such a dream world. I hope that you can respect the fact that most members of the Occupy movement don’t want second and third helpings of the proverbial pie, just a sliver for basic sustenance.

We all require nourishment, and I’d like to think respect and reflexivity would collectively facilitate everyone being called to the proverbial table to break bread, whether it’s a loaf or a crusty leaving.