It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t something I usually mention, let alone ponder, in early August. (At least wait ’til the department stores start putting up their Christmas stuff, in late August.)
My view of Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart’s 1946 masterpiece (and you have to give Stewart co-billing here, because, like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it wouldn’t have have resonated this long and loudly without him) is colored by how I’m feeling about life that particular holiday season. If I’m happy and perhaps prosperous — and maybe, on those rare occasions, even in love — then I sit there and soak in the glow of a tale of a man who has done great deeds, none of which have seemed to have gone unpunished, pushed to the brink of suicide on Christmas Eve, dragged back by a bedraggled guardian angel second-class who died in the 18th century, shown what the world would be like had he never been born, and ultimately rewarded in a most wonderful way.
But as often as not — and especially last Christmas, living in a miserable, passive-aggressively hostile rental situation, the hours of my on-call copy-editing about to be slashed to nothing just 3 1/2 months after I returned to the work world after 2 1/2 years out of work — I felt more like this:
Years like last, I avoid the film, grumbling about how much of a crock of shit it is — how George Bailey is only a fictitious character, and that this shit doesn’t happen in real life.
(In fact, last year, I watched not one Christmas special, and Jeff Day and I didn’t even do our annual radio run-through of Rudolph on WPKN. And my back was turned to the TVs in the newsroom as I worked the copy desk Christmas Eve night, as one showed It’s a Wonderful Life and the other showed A Christmas Story. And on Christmas Day proper, I sat in my miserable room at the Happy House watching a documentary on a renowned and brilliant atheist — American: The Bill Hicks Story.)
It’s been a month now since I discovered that my work hours at The Fresno Bee were going bye-bye — and unlike the previous two occurrences this year (after Christmas and Easter), when I regained some hours eventually, this felt permanent. (And that was hammered home two evenings ago, Aug. 7, when I learned two more of my ex-colleagues, one on the copy desk, were laid off.).
When Kris, my boss, told me the news, I just knew it was time. A brief moment of “Not yet — I can’t afford this!” followed by a huge sense of calm. I had reached the end. It was time to go home. This time, the voice of reason wasn’t the loud whisper that told me, “Okay — it’s Fresno” the day the Bee’s then-features editor emailed me in October 2003, asking if I’d be interested in the assistant features editor position. Or the out-of-body experience I felt at the moment of my gender epiphany in January 2008, the voice asking me quite clearly from someplace to my left, “Can you do this?” This was a slight sag of the shoulders, the slow letting-out of air, and me saying, out loud to Kris, “It’s time.”
But how was I gonna do this?
I wasn’t ready for what followed. It’s been one part It’s a Wonderful Life, one part learning experience. Kind of having to learn to redefine the concepts of success and failure.