This is the second part of my list of 25 things for which I’m grateful, which I’ve written for my 25th birthday. The first part, comprised of my first twelve items, can be read here. You can also check out the piece that I wrote for my 24th, which covered 24 things I learned over the course of 24 years, here. Now to think of a theme for my 26th… In the meantime, here’s the rest of my list. Hope to return soon with more super serious topics.
I’ve never given my piano a name, but let’s call him Baldwin. Not very creative, as that just happens to be the name engraved above the keys. Baldwin has the quality that the best of friends have. No matter how long we spend apart, and regretfully I do let long stretches of time pass without spending time with him, it always feels like we were together only yesterday when we finally do meet again. No matter how much I might rough him up or how ungraceful I might be around him because of rust from being away, he always lets me move at my own pace and welcomes me with opened arms every time.
The music we make together might not be passable as music to some ears, but that’s what great friends are for. When you’re with a truly great friend, you speak your own language that makes sense only to yourselves while those listening in might think that you’re both insane. That’s Baldwin and I, though I do think we manage to make some beautiful music on occasion that serves as a force of calm, at least for me if for no one else who can hear it.
Not money, though that’s nice too. I’m talking about parks and forests, which are few and far between in the city. If you don’t have green space, you will go insane. If you don’t get up from your desk and go for a walk, you will go insane. The longer you spend sitting at your desk past the point of fatigue, the more your work will suck. If you don’t have green spaces, you can’t breathe, your water’s not clean, and your food won’t grow. We are not made to be sedentary creatures. Our nature is to move and use our bodies, which is in turn the best thing we can do for our minds. It’s really quite simple.
15. Kurt Vonnegut
Reading him for the first time in the ninth grade, I knew there was much about our world that was absurd. Vonnegut was the first author that I read who could be labelled as subversive and it was he who confirmed that our world was indeed run by people who were insane. He confirmed a great suspicion of mine, that those who expressed the radical idea that we be humane and kind to one another were deemed to be cynics or outright delusional. We were indeed, Mr. Vonnegut informed me, living in a world in which most believed in laughable rituals and the shedding of so much blood simply because we were told enough times that we should.
He taught me, most of all, to laugh at these things. They were what they were and if we could acknowledge them, the best we could do was to be hopelessly naive by believing in and practicing kindness though we risked being labelled insane for doing so.
“We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane“. – Kilgore Trout (Vonnegut’s alter-ego)
16. Free Expression
The importance of this freedom has been dealt with by the John Stuart Mill, John Milton, Thomas Jefferson, Noam Chomsky, and Christopher Hitchens, so I will in no way attempt to add to what they have said and risk making a fool of myself. All I can say is that it’s so easy to take for granted a freedom that we have always known, one that is still unknown in many parts of the world. It is so easy to forget the ideas and art and social movements that come because we have this right, just as it is so easy to forget that when we say something that invites only repudiation, we might be inviting death or imprisonment in another place or time. To live in a society where the right to not be offended is non-existent is a wonderful thing. To have our sensibilities and beliefs shocked into questioning and reassessment at every turn is a privilege.
Anyone who has a place to rest at the end of the day where they are comfortable and where all their basic needs and more are met is grateful for having that. It would be idiotic not to. It’s worth it, however, to remind oneself from time to time that when all else seems to be going wrong in life, having a place to rest comfortably at the end of the day gives us the strength to fight life’s great challenges. Many simply don’t have a place where they can eat, sleep, wash, and be safe. If your basic needs are not met, and I’m grateful that mine always have been, it’s hard to build to a life that’s truly fulfilling and satisfying.
Good teachers teach classes. Great teachers teach students, and I was a hard student to teach. Nonetheless, I seemed to have the luck of the draw in encountering teachers who, beyond all that might have been apparent upon first glance, drilled me into not just learning material, which was their job after all, but also pushed me into making myself whole as a person. They forced me to set goals, big and small, to know and pursue my interests, and to always maintain a questioning spirit. I’ll join their ranks one day.
19. Jeff Buckley’s Grace
If you ask me what my favourite film or book is, the answer to both will change from day to day. Since I was sixteen, however, I have never hesitated for a second when asked what my favourite album is. It is without doubt Jeff Buckley’s timeless Grace. It finds you where you are. At sixteen, it’s the ecstasy of raw vocal talent, songs sung as if the singer truly felt them, though you don’t quite understand them yourself.
A few years later, you dig a little deeper and hear the laments of having lost a love that at nineteen you already swear you’ll never know again. At twenty-five, you hear the truth of how simple our needs are as humans and how easily we shatter when they’re not met. The fact is, however, you’re still listening to these songs so many years later, so you must’ve put yourself back together along the way. You’ll listen to them again and they’ll still sound wonderful, whether you do so in beautiful or bad times.
It’s good for you. I could delve into more navel gazing and wax poetic about sharing a pint with friends and how beer is poetry in motion and when you drink a pint you are drinking an entire history and culture and all the care that went into making and pouring that pint blahblahblah yadayadayda. I just love a pint of Guinness and it tastes really fucking good.
“Yay, sleep! That’s where I”m a viking,” said the great Ralph Wiggum. Daydreaming and engaging our imagination is something we get little time for in our daily lives. I don’t mean to sound like a Luddite, because that’s not what I am, but constant stimulation will dull your mind and hinder your creative faculties. Our minds and bodies are tools that we use, but overuse will do them no good.
I spent five years of university completely deprived of sleep, watching my weight skyrocket and my mind reduced to a barely functional state. Now that I’ve made it a real priority, I don’t view sleep as a luxury, but crucial to anything else I might do. Running, writing, working, and socializing are all best when I’m well rested.
22. The Internets
Proof that I am not a Luddite! I will admit that there’s a lot of garbage populating the web, and that it’s given us a whole new way to be vicious to one another, but for me it’s all a small price to pay for the fact that so many barriers have come crashing down thanks to the web.
Nearly every creative voice has a forum to express and share that creativity. When I want to know what’s happening on the ground in a foreign war or disaster zone, I can actually hear from people on the ground in foreign war or disaster zones. The web has placed an entire media and historical archive at my fingertips, one which I can access without having to put on pants and leave my house. Like the printing press before it, it’s one of those great intellectual equalizers that has made our lives richer.
I suppose everyone collects something, stamps, baseball cards, paintings, teacups, etc. I collect stories and characters. Obviously, being someone who devotes their life to the written word, every little encounter or conversation could very well spark an idea that I’ll put on the page in some form or another. Add to this the fact that being a writer naturally came out of a passion for reading, so I’ve therefore always found a good story nourishing. Whether it’s one told to a huge audience at a formal event, a story that happens to come up in an accidental encounter, or one that you get the sense you probably weren’t supposed to hear, a story could simply amuse you for a moment or expand your sensibilities and perspective in a way you never expected. Everyone has one and most of them are pretty great I find. If stories are accompanied by good tea, even better.
I’ve never been in a position where I’ve had to provide a service as part of my job, but I only have to observe those who do to know just how difficult it is. I’m speaking specifically about those who fetch our coffee, cash our groceries, make our lunch, take our orders, and fix the things that are broken in our lives.
Certainly, lawyers, doctors, and bankers can be said to provide services, but usually not on a daily basis and in a way that we so consistently rely on them. What also separates those “prestige professions” from the barista and waiter is that when it comes to the latter, those of us who are being served are often guilty of assuming a moral superiority and then taking this as license to treat others like crap. Nonetheless, the service is still provided in most cases and deep down we know that our lives would spiral into hell without the person behind the counter at Starbucks or the bus driver.
We seem to only ever hear about these people when something goes wrong, but if we ever kept track, I think we’d find that things mostly go right. We get our coffee, we get to our destination, and our appliance gets fixed and we carry on with our lives thanks to someone who did us a service.
Love is a many splendored thing. Loves lifts us up where we belong. Love is all you need. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. I believe your love keeps lifting me higher. Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom. Love is in the air. Love is a battlefield. Love hurts. You can’t hurry love. We must love one another or die.