Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
We had a little to-do at the house this week. Nothing big. I bought a lot of champagne but it turns out people don't go in for champagne like that. I don't really know what I was imagining. Some glitzy, Gatsby situation, I guess. But, like, then you're Jay Gatsby and what then, babe? Bad news.
Anyway, we have a lot of leftover champagne so congratulations to everyone who invites us over for dinner for the next three months--you will be getting a bottle of bubbles.
When people walked in, they found name tags on our entry table and a sign that invited them to write down one thing that they should be celebrated for this year. They didn't have to write their names, but most people did. Low-key, this was my intention anyway based on a prior experience. Last year, we had a little gathering with maybe 10 couples (all queer, all in the same general age range; my Rupaulogies to the straight community) after which each of the couples said "I've never met any of those people before!" This was a shock to me because I think that everyone knows everyone else, especially in smaller sub-communities (that community being People Who Went to the Jessie Ware Concert) and I secretly suspect that everyone is hanging out without me. The names helped with the former if not the latter.
But the real purpose was that I abhor small talk and I really like to know what people value. If I could have gotten away with it, I would have made the brag-tag prompt at this week's party "What's the most vivid example of love you've experienced in your life?" But they probably would have performed a citizen's arrest on me on charges of extreme vulnerability and I would have had to hire Esther Perel to be my lawyer and I don't have the money for that because I spent it all on champagne that no one wanted!
I loved these tags, though! People did, frequently, accuse me of sending them into existential spirals having to think about what they accomplished. But I always countered that that wasn't the intention. It can be about work or, I dunno, hiking Everest, but it can also be something ephemeral or internal or soft or slight. But I would say this to people standing in my own living room, not wearing a name tag. Because as much as I believed it, I didn't know what I felt comfortable celebrating for myself.
The tags were an idea that David and I came up with in the spring as I dragged my feet around the idea of having a party to celebrate the publication of my book. It was very hard getting this book into the world (the frogs threatened to sue) and I was very proud of it. I believe in the importance of celebrating the good and I was encouraged down this path by Felicia, one of the booksellers at The Bookshelf Thomasville, while I was there for their fantastic Readers Retreat weekend. So, I begrudgingly said I throw a party but only if it was also about congratulating other people for whatever good things were going on in their lives too.
But then I didn't throw the party. I get uncomfy with a lot of adulation; I used to take my birthdate off of Facebook so that people wouldn't send me messages about it. It's a real crock of kooky. I don't want a lot of attention (and I know, you're thinking, "Now, sis, I am reading this newsletter you write whenever you feel like it about your thoughts and feelings and frequently encourage people to buy one of your two memoirs and the Young Adult novel that people mistakenly think is about you even though the character you are most like is the grandfather." But I don't want a room full of people clapping at me unless I'm on stage behind a microphone. Because that's business. I understand performance, I understand transaction. But if you're coming into my house and politely declining my champagne, I want the chance to be me sans performance, and to hear you be you, and it's harder to do that over the din of applause.)
I love hearing other people's good news. I love hearing about what you're trying to do. I love hearing about what was hard and what you're going to do about it and what you're letting go, because that's worth celebrating, too. I went around the party taking pictures of people's tags because I wanted so badly to remember them, to remember this place in our lives, to remember that people showed up in our house and said "Hey, this thing happened in this year and let's celebrate it." I got halfway through grad school with a 4.0; I moved in with the love of my life; I joined a Klezmer band; I built an IKEA shelf; I got a new pet; I came back; I didn't quit.
Looking back through my photos, I realize I didn't take a picture of my own tag. (Which is why I had to write a whole newsletter about it, obviously.) But what I wrote, eventually, was "I learned how to swim." Some people were surprised. "Didn't you meet Ann Patchett?? And a puppet?!" I did. And it was wonderful. But every Tuesday afternoon for a year, I met an instructor at a pool. The other lanes had students who were available at that time because they were under five-years-old. I was, at the beginning, 41. I was frequently mistaken for a parent even though I was sitting there shirtless in a bathing suit, scrolling on my phone so as to appear casual and confident and capable of learning the breaststroke. I did not master the breaststroke. But every Tuesday for half an hour, I learned how to not drown. And that's what I want to celebrate this year.
If you want to share something that you should be celebrated for in the comments, I would absolutely love that. (The site may make you sign in to do that, but you don't have to pay anything or whatever.) But either way, I hope that you're celebrating yourself for being here, for getting here, for staying here. Happy New Year!
People Who Went to the Jessie Ware Concert,