In Gratitude to Those Who Come to the Garden

This month, the number of people following my blog topped 500. I’d like to express my gratitude to all of you — the people who visit, the people who follow, the people who take the time to comment, to click, and to share. Writing is about communication, not just self-expression — there’s no point in doing it if it’s not reaching anyone. Here’s a Pinterest board I created just for you.

Cranky List / Gratitude List

Things that make me cranky:

  • waking up feeling worse than when I went to bed
  • trading one set of medication side effects for another
  • feeling my body getting heavier and older
  • expecting to be able to exercise the way I used to when I was 25 and at the peak of training
  • days when the only thing I seem fit to do is putter around the house and take in a matinee
  • Boston’s schizophrenic spring weather
  • focusing on my own needs and the ways they’re not being met
  • getting away from support systems that help me feel connected
  • pollyanna-ish spiritual literature that tells me to just focus on the positive! and everything will be fine!
  • focusing on the things that make me cranky, especially when they’re things I can’t control

Things that make me happy:

  • posting cranky status updates on Facebook (and the one or two people who say they can identify)
  • comparing the treatments available today to what people used to endure 50-60 years ago
  • considering advances in genetic research that may make it easier for doctors to pinpoint which kinds of medication will be most effective for individuals with my illness
  • friends and mentors who can say the sorts of things that snap me out of negative thinking and help me focus on what will work
  • reconnecting with support systems that remind me I am part of beloved community
  • focusing on how I can be of service instead of on what I can get — or what I think I SHOULD be getting
  • remembering that work is a wonderful opportunity to be of service
  • making moderate progress while conserving energy — sometimes this is better than exhausting myself by FIXING ALL THE THINGS
  • identifying small, achievable tasks toward a larger goal — and checking them off a task list
  • putting stickers next to completed items on my task lists
  • remembering that all things pass — even the line in the Post Office on a Saturday afternoon
  • moderate exercise
  • intense exercise (in moderation)
  • dancing at weddings
  • professional massages
  • hot tubs and steam rooms
  • inexpensive (and free) self-care, like a spa day at home
  • vanilla-scented bubble bath
  • taking myself on an artist date
  • reading 101 artist date ideas
  • the unwinding feeling that comes with relaxation — in all kinds of ways, expected and unexpected. Sometimes in meditation, sometimes when I’m laying in a big bed all by myself, sometimes when I’m in a field of grass in warm weather, sometimes when I’m sitting with a cup of tea and looking at the trees as the sky fades from blue to darker blue.
  • the first time in 2014 that I smell rain on unfrozen soil

Gratitude List

  • warm floors in the morning (radiant heat on the second floor of our townhouse)
  • a cat who comes when called
  • a cat who’s always willing to purr for you
  • that most intimate of moments when you are half-asleep next to your partner of years while the dim winter morning light filters in through the window
  • the discomfort that comes from trying new things
  • friends to call when winter blues set in
  • austere winter landscapes, with bare tree branches and empty skies
  • winter sunlight
  • walking into a heated building from a wind so cold you have to take off your glasses

November: National Guilt Month

Fallen leaves against grass and asphalt
The colors of November always surprise me — fading glory, but still glorious.

November is many things: my least favorite month of the year, one long sugar hangover between Halloween and Thanksgiving, the void into which the long evenings of autumn light become the sudden dusk of winter nights. It’s Movember, when men, women, and cars sprout moustaches to remind us that men should have shower cards too. It’s National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for those of us too hip to pronounce entire words). It’s Grateful November. In 2010, it was my own NaPoWriMo for about four days.

All of these 30-day, month-long commitments, all of these mutually supported do-good movements are great. They’re wonderful. They’re a sign of the in-gathering that is winter in the northern hemisphere: after the expansive summer and the exhausting harvest, the drawing together of the tribe around the fire to tell stories and… tweet about how many words they’ve written.

And for a perfectionist like me, they can also be a huge set-up for over-commitment and failure. Historically, November has been the worst month for me to do just about anything but plod along and show up day by day. The body knows this very well, but the mind forgets on a regular basis.

So this November, I resolve to do everything imperfectly. I will get my ass out of bed on a daily basis — imperfectly. I will express gratitude imperfectly, sometimes with mere gestures and sometimes with more sincerity. I will write haiku and journal imperfectly. I will update this blog imperfectly–perhaps weekly, perhaps less. I will join in the Dverse Poets community when it’s reasonable for me to do so, not each and every week, no matter how many times my calendar reminds me to.

I will conduct the next two sessions of my writing workshop imperfectly, doing my best to inspire and be inspired, enjoying the unfolding relationships developing among us all– and feeling lucky to be teaching writing, something so near and so dear and so close to my heart.

Imperfectly, I will accept the blessings and the gifts each day has to give me. And I will forgive myself for my own imperfections, give myself as many breaks and second chances as I need, and relax about whether I’m doing my imperfect November as imperfectly as I would like.

Tiny Gratitudes

  • Sunflowers painted on the ceiling of an ultrasound exam room
  • Getting to an appointment 10 minutes early so I can sit in the car and stop rushing
  • Living in a place where the trees are taller than the buildings
  • Mentholated cough drops: bits of eucalyptus trees born thousands of miles away, soothing my throat and my lungs
  • A tiny white pill that keeps me from breaking into tears every 15 minutes
  • Miracle cures that ease cold symptoms, even if they do need to be taken again and again again
  • The rain washing down the windshield of the car, softening edges and smearing lights
  • The Fort Point Post Office, open 24/7/365, even at 7pm on the Sunday before Christmas
  • Working in an industry where skills matter as much as connections

Gratitude — and why do you hate Jesus?

I go in and out of the habit of posting gratitude lists on this blog. I usually include the word “gratitude practice” in the title of these posts, but I wonder if perhaps that sounds pretentious. People refer to a yoga practice, or a meditation practice. I think it’s important remind myself that order to retain certain skills I must practice them constantly. It’s one thing to know in theory how to align the parts of the body in order to achieve a particular asana (yoga pose). It’s another thing to experience the sensation of that alignment — and all the individual variations of mind and body over the course of days as I practice it again and again. Likewise with meditation practice. Likewise with physical exercise. I can’t keep being able to run a mile in 10 or 15 or 6 minutes unless I continue to do it every day.

And gratitude is the same thing. It’s a practice. It has benefits in the same way that aerobic exercise has benefits. If you practice gratitude yourself, perhaps you’d like to articulate those benefits in the comments below. For me, one of the major reasons I practice gratitude is so that I will refrain from behaviours that are harmful to myself or other people.

Someone — a woman I’d never met in person, but interacted with on the internet fairly regularly for a few months — once characterized my comments as “preachy.” I suppose the reason her words cut me so deeply were because I know that I often talk about spiritual matters and spiritual practice. But if you met me in person, you’d know that I do so because I’m a very earthy person. I sit with my legs open more than a ladylike lady-girl should. I wear a size 20. I like things like sex and food and digging in the dirt. And I have other tendencies that have gotten me into a lot of trouble in my life. So if I focus on spiritual practice in my posts on this blog, or on Facebook, or on GooglePlus, it’s because spiritual practice is something I need to remind myself about constantly.

Which brings me around to Jesus. In theory, Jesus and his teachings are quite wonderful. But whenever I hear or read someone describe themselves as a Christian, or as someone who trusts in Jesus, I can’t help but have a certain knee-jerk reaction to same. I don’t hate Jesus (despite what the title of this post might imply), but I have had many unpleasant interactions with many of his followers — including the Catholics who first taught me about things like God and souls and whatnot. Because of certain accidents of birth, I’ve also found myself at odds with the teachings of conservative, Evangelical Christians. When it comes to the culture wars threatening to tear this country in two, it’s pretty clear what side of the divide I belong on. In the 20-plus years since my Confirmation ceremony, I’ve come to terms with this negative-Jesus-association. But on some level, I think that words like “Jesus” and “the Lord” will always evoke a visceral response in me quite different than the one that might be intended by Good Christians(TM).

I went through a brief period of atheism in my early teens, but soon after I was introduced to the notion of a God of my own understanding. It was an incredibly freeing notion, and after much soul-searching I realized that almost none of the things the Catholic Church had to say about God had much to do with my own understanding of the Divine. The God of my understanding today is infinitely vast, infinitely complex and unknowable. In spite of God’s, vastness, I have a relationship with it. And I have directly experienced God’s infinite love for me, personally. I believe that God cares about me and my own well-being. And I don’t care if that belief is true or correct in some objective sense, because my spiritual beliefs and practice are fundamentally pragmatic.

I do and believe what I do because it makes me a better person in the world. It makes me more useful to my fellow human beings. And that is one of the reasons why I practice gratitude. Because a grateful heart is a generous heart. When I pay attention to the things I do have — gifts that were given to me regardless of whether or not I earned them — I’m more likely to find room in my heart to be of service to others. Sometimes being of service just means showing up to work on time and doing my job, or listening to someone who needs to talk. But it’s always easier to do these things when I feel replete. Feeling and being useful is something I’ve been focusing on lately, when I pray to the God/dess of my own understanding.

Weekly gratitude practice: strawberries, kleenex, cold air, cold baths, sweet smells, someone else does it

  1. First CSA delivery. Are the strawberries sweeter because I know where they’re from? Or are they just sweeter?
  2. Hugs and kleenex.
  3. Free air conditioning.
  4. Cold baths and LUSH products.
  5. The health care and home health aid industries — imperfect is still better than absent.

Weekly gratitude practice: if it's not one thing it's your mother

I started this post last week but never finished it. Which pretty much describes my mental state for the past seven days or so. Posting it now, almost in time for this week’s. Sigh. Time to stop trying to play catch-up with my past imperfections.
  1. Doing things differently. Mom is very sick right now, and she’s a two-hour drive away from me. In the past, I would have charged down there and tried to save the world, exhausting myself in the process, crashing, and actually not contributing much to her health or well-being. This time, I listened to some feedback from trusted friends and gave love and support through the miracle of telephony. I was also able to help with some practical matters, like finding a pharmacy that she can reach by bus. Her health has deteriorated to the point where it’s not necessarily a good idea for her to leave home without assistance, but — miracle of miracles! — there’s a little something called the Home Health Aid industry that was created to remedy exactly the situation she and I are both in. I would much rather be down there in person enjoying her company — or even being annoyed by it, because, really, if it’s not one thing it’s your mother — but I’m especially grateful for my ability to listen to suggestions and to break out of old patterns of behavior that have outlived their usefulness.
  2. Mom herself is a pretty wonderful gift. Like most folks, I have a complicated relationship with my Mom, but overall our relationship is a source of strength and support for both of us. When I was a fresh-faced little babydyke with a tiny hickey on my neck from Yoolia Lanina, the Russian vixen from the Bronx with the Sinead-O’Connor haircut, my Mom turned to me and said, “I love you and support you just as you are, and I will no matter who you bring home.” I spent the next 15 years or so bringing home folks with an assortment of gender expressions, skin tones, and native languages, and she never reneged on that promise. When I was suffering so badly from my chronic illness that I couldn’t safely care for myself in my one-bedroom apartment, she took a few weeks off of work to stay with me and be my Mom. And when I called her bright and early on Wednesday and discussed the situation with her, she was chipper and positive and grateful in spite of the debilitating physical symptoms she’s been suffering from. I love that woman to no end, and I want her to be well and healthy and a part of my life for as long as possible.
  3. Telephony. It allows me to do so much with my life.
  4. A steady job. Having lived without one, it makes me especially grateful to have one now.
  5. Decent health insurance coverage. Ditto above.