Thursday, November 24, 2011


I like to slip out and go on a long run on Thanksgiving, to spend some time reflecting on the good things for which I am grateful. Today I was jogging past this little Thai restaurant right around the corner from my Mom’s house in Atlanta. On the sidewalk right outside their front door, there was a plate with several small portions of cilantro, tomatoes, diced onions and other foods. Two candles were anchored and burning on the plate, too, their tiny flames seemingly out of place in the bright, cloudless morning around them.

When I spotted that plate, carefully placed on the concrete and off to the side of pedestrian traffic, I thought about those fairy tales I read when I was a kid that always seemed to include families who left food on the edge of a forest for the spirits who lived there, to keep them happy. My mind also wandered to the idea of memorials, and whether someone was honoring a person who died and leaving a light behind for them so they were always remembered and their soul nourished. Maybe a restaurant employee was simply showing the world a small token of gratitude, with food, simplicity and warmth.

I hope that every day, not just today, we light a candle or two and enjoy a moment of gratitude for that place within all of us that’s persistently strong and full of hope, a place that’s been with us from the beginning. Maybe we’ve had several beginnings and started over a couple of times, or are just now coming to terms with truths that are changing how we understand ourselves and the world we live in.

In less complicated and universal terms, here are a few things that come to my mind, as I give thanks for what I have, what I know and what I hope for:

  • I’m thankful, not just today, but every day, for the good friends my husband and I have in our lives. When I talk about the people I care about, I always stumble over the distinction of friends and family, because our friends have been our family for a long time, particularly as we’ve moved farther and farther away from our hometowns over the years.
  • Feeling thankful for old-fashioned things that don’t require electricity, like knick-knacky junk and abandoned clothing in thrift stores that lend old-school irony to my home d├ęcor and the way I dress, handwritten thank-you notes, sour-smelling library books with crackly, plastic covers, and my hours-long culinary adventures in the kitchen, like caramelized onions and slow-cooked soups that make savoring a moment deliciously necessary. These tactile objects anchor me and open all my senses to what’s happening right in front of me; they're tried-and-true timeless experiences that keep me real and wide awake.
  • Equally thankful, though, for all things digital, because these places online where we chatter, post and share make creativity instantaneous and awesome. I love wandering through a city, snapping  a picture of something arresting and beautiful and uploading it immediately, so that thought, that idea, is safely stored away in my inventory of imagination. Making a video of my giggling niece and nephew that they can watch over and over again, once I’m on a plane and far away from them and we all need to remember how much fun we had during my last visit. And reading and learning from people everywhere, letting their ideas inform my own, so we’re all growing together.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Generation X + Y = ... I don't know, you do the math

Generation Catalano all the way, baby!
The past few days have been packed with news stories obsessing over numbers. Our planet’s population reached seven billion people. Kim Kardashian’s marriage lasted 72 days. Today’s 11/1/11, which, according to the Huffington Post is a binary day, something that won’t come around again until January 1, 2100.

Everyone wants to categorize their time, somehow, some way. Clinging to a generational identity is one of the easiest ways to do this. Noreen Malone in New York Magazine, Doree Shafrir in Slate and The Washington Post’s Monica Hesse have all been talking ‘bout their generations--and others--as we add up our marriages' shelf lives, our place in the world’s population, the Haley’s Comet math of a day’s unique date. Indeed, our endless search for our personal and cultural chronology through claiming our generations has also dominated the media’s liveliest discussions over the past couple of days, as well.

Like lots of people who read that news story about the seven billionth baby, I plugged my birthday into the UN Population Fund’s calculator, to find out my place in time. I thought about sharing it on this blog post but then I remembered that on Facebook, I don’t reveal the year I was born for fear that it will somehow jeopardize the security of my online identity.

Ironically, my online identity is already at risk, I suppose, as it is suspended in a shape-shifting state of past, present and future ... a weird cultural/generational/puzzle-piece limbo of old high school friends, college folks, former and current colleagues, mentors, grandparents. Facebook has strung us all neatly together like beads on a necklace, hop scotching time and space and circumstance. Sometimes it seems so comfortably, chummily nostalgic, like too many of us are forgetting our transgressions and betrayals, reinventing relationships and rewriting histories. And it goes beyond social media stuff to the real-time world at large: there is no longer a golden age number for retirement in this uncertain economy, college grads are crashing out at their parents' houses for years on end, your 30s are your new 20s, particularly if you succumb to the bad luck of a "starter marriage."

I think tonight, I will simply hold on to the first thought I had when I realized today’s date was five ones, lined up together in a neat, numerical, symmetrical row: Do we get to make a wish? And dance it out to "What Is Love" by revisiting the "World Happiness Dance" episode on My So-Called Life, via YouTube.