Gratitude

At the beginning of November, I planned to take part in the trend of writing what I was thankful for each day for the entire month. I knew I would have to write my own version of that ritual. I only made it six days:

Friday November 1:  I am thankful that I did not run over the lady wearing all black walking on the side of the road as I was trying to get my kids to school. That would have made me feel like a real asshole.

Saturday November 2:  I am thankful that I did not end up cleaning out my daughter’s closet, even though it was the first thing on my to-do list. When I pulled back the sliding doors, I burst into tears and chose to go lie down in my bed and sob. That was a much better way to spend the afternoon.

Sunday November 3:  I am thankful that 6:30 is the new 7:30.

Monday November 4: I am thankful that my doctor’s office did not call today to say that my results are in and I have diabetes.  That would suck.

Tuesday November 5: I am thankful that I drove the entire way to work today without crying.

Wednesday November 6:  I am thankful that I made the decision a decade ago to never wear panty hose again.

By Thursday I decided to reevaluate my writing plan  . . . and my life.

Then before the Thanksgiving break, I gave my students a writing assignment asking them to make a list of the little things in their lives that make them thankful. They add up. I wrote with them:

A real attitude of gratitude  . . .

I am thankful for doughnuts. They always show up when you need them most.

I am thankful for peaceful lunches at my desk. Eating alone does not usually make the list of great life events, but I relish those moments sitting at my computer, searching the internet, writing, and devouring a giant salad.

I am thankful for sleep. My son calls bedtime his worst enemy. I battle staying awake.

I am thankful for long walks. Sometimes I don’t want to stop walking. I will walk past my house in circles, dreading going back to reality.

I am thankful for happy hour. The only solution for anything that can’t be solved on a walk.

I am thankful for my sisters. It is helpful during a crisis to get 48 new text messages while I am at the gym. Maybe I do matter.

I am thankful for coffee. It is why I get up in the morning.  Some days I wake up and question why I should even bother and then I remember coffee.

I am thankful for time spent driving in my car. I get to sit down and listen to music. My kids, by law, must be strapped into their seats.

I am thankful for the delete key. Sometimes the only solution is to keep moving the cursor backwards until I am at the top of an empty page.

I am thankful for my students. Without them I wouldn’t have a job. They keep me grounded and remind me about what is important (usually not great literature, in case anyone is wondering).

I am thankful for Louis CK. Maybe divorce is hilarious. And hard as hell. At the same time.

I am thankful for a long rainy drive in Thanksgiving traffic. I survived. Now, I can appreciate the ease of navigating through the sunshine.

I am thankful for the time I get to spend reading to my kids before bed. I am also thankful for the time after my kids have been put to bed.

I am thankful for phone calls. Talking, listening, connecting.

I am thankful for writing. When I write, I am in control. I make the rules. I create myself. I cannot be erased.

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Muse

A good friend recently asked me how I get inspired to write, and I said that I don’t get inspired. I just sit down and start typing. I say things like that because I am a narcissistic asshole.  Secretly there are all sorts of things I do to help me feel creative. For starters, I listen to ridiculously loud music every time I drive my car. My kids scream at me to turn it down. Sometimes they cry about it. Maybe when they start driving they will rebel by listening to light jazz at a barely audible level, like a boring old grandma, but for now they are forced to ride with me. Lately, I have also been really into songs that have the word “motherfucker” in the lyrics. Saying motherfucker is great, but singing it is truly inspiring.

The result is that I love going places. Maybe I can hear one song between my house and the grocery store, but it is enough to recharge me. By the time I hit the produce section I am feeling pretty great about myself. What a bad-ass motherfucker I am picking out this bunch of kale! When I get home and sit down to start typing I remember that feeling, and I get the insane idea that I am putting on some kind of show with my words, even if I am the only one in the audience. I love it when I make myself laugh or, even better, when I make myself uncomfortable. If I cringe, then I know it is good.

I also like to go for long walks, while listening to loud music. When I am on a walk with my headphones, I feel completely transported into the music and into my own imagination. It is an absolute miracle that I have never been hit by a car. Maybe I should start wearing a helmet. Sometimes I will get a great idea, maybe just a line or two, and I will type notes into my phone, while walking and blaring music. When I get back to the house I am all revved up (happy to still be alive), and I scroll through my notes and try to craft something from the scraps. Sometimes the notes are abstract, and I don’t know how they connect, for instance right now I have a note that reads, “I saw the Pieta in a moldy porch screen.” Then after that I have a longer reflection:

“You know when you walk through a spider web and then freak out, start swatting your hair, spinning in circles, stomping your feet and screaming, and then you fall to the ground and the spider eats you alive? That is what divorce feels like.”

There is a story there. I can see a thread between seeing something beautiful in an unlikely place and the discomfort and fear that comes with getting divorced. But I also have to make it funny. Fuck. Then I scroll down and under the spider web note I see a third entry that says, “I was disappointed there were no good looking guys in my mandatory divorce class.” Somehow the pieces start to pull themselves together like magnets. If I say that I just sit down and start typing—as if it is that easy—then it is only because every other minute, when I am not writing, I am preparing to write. That is the dirty secret that is too scary to say.