Bob has had a rough 2021 and, like most Americans this week, takes stock.
Normally, Bob’s columns are behind the subscriber paywall, but we’re making this week’s column free for everyone. With more content now than ever before, we are deeply grateful for your attention and hope that you’ll become a Booksmart Studios supporter. Happy Thanksgiving week!
As some of you know, this has been a difficult year for me. Getting fired from WNYC, whether or not you’d agree with me and my lawyers that it was actionably unjust, was catastrophic not just for my livelihood, but also for my reputation.
Probably forever, including long after I am gone.
Whereas if you’d Googled me eight months ago — when you might have come away thinking “quite a career,” or some such — now you’d come away at least wondering if I really am a workplace bully. It’s an amusing idea to my hundreds of colleagues at a dozen media organizations going back to 1977, but to me it is the horror I close my eyes to each night and awake to each morning.
So, yeah, that sucks. And while I remain quite productive, most of the production is in the form of cortisol.
The physical discomfort has been no fun, either. I have lived with psoriatic arthritis for 30 years, with aching that waxes and wanes on an hour-by-hour basis. But this year I had the added treat of a fully torn rotator cuff, which went from annoying to unendurable over a five-month span, followed by a surgery and all its post-op delights, followed by seven months of rehab (so far) and lingering daily shoulder pain. The sweet arthritis/surgery combo left me pretty helpless for two months and very much slowed down ever since. To follow me around the house is to hear a lot of off-putting noises.
I don’t know how many First Nations words there are for ice, but I can do 31 flavors of groan.
Not coincidentally, I’ve had some coping problems. Some days all I feel is despair. This is less over my personal woes than those of our planet and our democracy. Watching the facist depravity that so threatens us has for five years put me in such a state of anxiety and stomach-turning rage that I fear for my psychiatric equilibrium, never mind equanimity. A big part of that rage is a sense of betrayal — of the hollow belief, ingrained in me since childhood, that America was different. “It can’t happen here.” Lo and behold, it has. Fascism seems to reside in the nerve roots of the whole human race, with no advantage conferred by the American flag.
That’s why I say “betrayal.” I am not so sickened by the depredations, for instance, of Sudan or Uzbekistan. There we have always known what we were dealing with. Here we were played for fools by our own narrative, abandoned by an invulnerability myth of our own creation.
In short, much not to be thankful for. Therefore, please forgive me for declaring this: Come Thursday, I will bask in gratitude.
As I sit with my healthy, loving family, I will meditate on the many humans whose 2021 travails make my rough patch genuinely trivial — and I’ll be incalculably grateful that the three generations gathered in my daughter’s home were mainly spared the tragedies that shook the world. I will ponder the millions of unnecessary Covid deaths, and be grateful for life itself. I will contemplate the inequities of our society, and be grateful for my privilege. I will recall the iniquities of evil men, and be grateful for what the increasingly fragile rule of law still does to repudiate them. I will mourn the anti-democratic trajectory of American society, and be grateful that — so far, at least — I can lash out in full voice in opposition without fear of retribution. I will do a painful accounting of the heavy cost of my anger, and on the credit side be grateful that indignation — versus complacency and world-weariness — still survives. And, yes, I will wince at the humiliation dealt me in May, and my frustrated outbursts that nominally triggered it, yet be grateful beyond words both for the 44 journalistic years that preceded my expulsion, and the future we Bully Pulpiteers among us are forging.
That may be the most heartening development of all: I lost my job, but I have regained my voice, unadulterated by the ideology, timidity or, as a matter of fact, world-weariness of others. Freedom is something to cherish, and to fight for. Yeah — as I confide to basically everybody — my body hurts something awful, and my audience is vastly diminished, but here I stubbornly remain: bloodied nose to the grindstone, surgically-repaired shoulder to the wheel.
Not to sound all grandiose or anything. Lookit, Anna Politkovskaya I’m not. I think my biggest career scoop was blowing the cover off the Rice-a-Roni hoax. (“San Francisco Treat,” my ass. It’s made in Chicago.) There are journalists around the world doing great things at great risk. All I’m saying is, in my piddling little way, thanks in part to the misfortunes about which I groan, I will enter 2022 with a fully-formed sense of purpose. Now that is a gift, which I’m hoping to incrementally regift to you.
No need to thank me. Truly, the gratitude is all mine.