I find it a little funny that a new Thanksgiving tradition seems to have come into being in which news outlets of varying degrees of quality and political bent tackle the red-hot anxiety-producing question of how to avoid those tricky holiday conversations with family.
Thing is — I just can’t understand how hard this is. If you don’t want to be trolled, don’t be trolled. If cousin Ed wants to pontificate on how “that Caitlin Jenner thing ain’t even a real woman, anyhow,” you need merely smile a withering Auntie Mame smile, say “You don’t say — ” and request that the person just aft of cousin Ed pass the Parker House rolls, please, then enjoy the buttery splendor of one of the world’s great baked goods while feeling exquisitely thankful that you escaped the tragic fate of being as stupid and uniformed as cousin Ed.
When fresh-from-college cousin Nell sits stewing over her very white and lifeless tofurkey, perpetually hurling out zingers about the foolishness of religion and how they ought to tax churches, you may take a moment to ensure that your posture best represents your freedom from black-and-white answers to complex social issues and ask her how the tofurkey loaf is this year, smiling with a well-concealed balanced sneer as she strains to celebrate eating a factory-made plastic atrocity instead of, say, a nice vegan bean salad coupled with a complement of gorgeously seasoned stewed greens.
The sports will boil up at the table, as is the custom when there are men present, and this is the moment when a truly committed socialite can hone the very best entendre. “I simply adore games played with balls,” you can say, waxing romantic in matters of the scrotum, and when you’re on your game, you can block every meaty swing of the low-hanging fruit of conversation, or steer it back to, say, your fanatical love of curling and the unconventional delivery style of Swiss Olympian curler, Miriam Ott. Steer everything back to Ott, time and time again, and eventually the conversation will become a sheet of slick, well-pebbled ice, ready for impact of your particularly heavy stones.
Talk cars, but only Hungarian microcars of the socialist 1950s. Talk politics, but only the politics of post-Soviet Lithuania. Talk religion, but linger lovingly on the rituals of Inuit beliefs, focusing a directed, but clearly innocent, eye on the worst elder offender at the table while celebrating the joyous celebration of life that happens when a village’s oldest citizens are returned to the great spirit on an ice floe. Hone your presenting skills by discussing the transition from the high wheel ordinary bicycle to the modern safety bicycle, and express a concern that the end of television static as snow represents the loss of opportunity for children to develop their innate pareidolia. Show off you Tuvan throat singing, and get the whole table to sing along.
Tangents are your friend. Take every exit offered on the highway to Fightsville, and pontificate, but on subjects in which it is guaranteed that everyone will disagree with you, so you can unite the table in horror at, say, your distaste for chocolate. You can be the lovable and cantankerous contrarian, and wrench the teeth out of more intractable fights, particularly if you lead the troops into battle over some completely meaningless argument only to surrender immediately, leaving everyone jangled and too confused to chase after some other outrage.
And better yet, remember that your family is made of the people who you love and who love you and biology means absolutely nothing aside from identifying potential organ transplants in a pinch. People who think of holidays as a political debate, when they can pin you down like a bully in school and jab at you until you give them the sign of weakness that weak people need to feel alive when life just won’t give them that feeling, aren’t worth your effort, and that’s when you can feel free to extract your little jeweled manicure scissors from the pocket of your apron and snip them out.
One of my favorite things my grandmother owned was an album of wedding photos of an uncle in which she’d carefully razor-bladed out the image of his ex-wife in amazing poses. Here’s my uncle cutting the cake…holding the knife with a bride-shaped hole. Here’s my uncle in front of his first house…with a wife-shaped hole. Here’s my uncle on vacation, in a canoe not sinking despite a rather large wife-shaped hole in the bottom. It’s easy — just make sure it’s a cut you want to make, reach out, and…snip.
Because, in the end, there are more than six billion people in the world, and you are special and important and worthy of love and respect and understanding, at least as much as you’re willing to contribute your share of those things, and in the end, the family you cultivate and the family you make is the family worth keeping and treasuring, even when they’re completely wrong on a few too many things, as long as they give you back at least some fraction of what you’re ready to give.
The trolls will troll, but you, my dear and lovely social animals, are of the selfsame species as Dorothy effing Parker, Noël Coward, Auntie Mame, Oscar Wilde, Julia Child, Fred Rogers, Ella Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, and all the legion number of the soldiers of wit, and you can be better, and sharper, and quicker, and ultimately more of a realist, and make the day you want.
So raise a glass and an eyebrow and begin.
© 2015 Joe Belknap Wall