Tag Archives: Writing

Post Election: The Search for Gratitude

Sun-splayed tree, 2016

Sun-splashed tree, 2016

There are times, like this past week, when the subject of gratitude comes hard, sticks in my throat. Hillary, her face gray and drawn, her hair lacking its coiffured fluff and luster, spoke out. “It’s up to each and every one of us to keep working to make America better and stronger and fairer,” she implored. Obama, overseas, in Germany, gathered crowds, put his best face forward, gave the message that our democracy will carry on and survive.

Yet, as I listen to Hillary and Obama, I mourn, feel regret. I am fearful and believe it is essential to adhere to values and action to assure civility and safety for all. But in the meanwhile, I must answer my own questions.

Who is Trump? How will he lead? Does he have perspective beyond the immediacy of his own lens or is he easily led, swayed by men such as Steve Bannon with his uncanny ability to pinpoint language, switch Trump’s moderate considerations into rhetoric of power with impunity.

Eleven days out, how do I live? How do I make sense of the onslaught of bad news— men who have spoken out against diversity, my core beliefs— being chosen to lead? What day-to-day action do I take? How will I use my time and resources to manage what is now becoming a stream of alien options difficult to digest?

My gratitude blog is my window to the world, a once a week deadline where I show up, rain or shine, to explore what has become the challenge to find and experience gratitude. I began this blog a year ago. Post election, I considered shifting to an every other week schedule. Now, I feel the imperative to continue, to write, to stay the course.

Yesterday, as my neighborhood mechanic was sealing a slow leak in my tire, I took a walk. The sky was energetic with dark clouds swirling, the air brisk with erratic winds as I combed a familiar street on foot to explore a major bridge, shut down, in repair, straight ahead. For weeks, this route has been re-routed, adding up to over a 20-minute encircling to what had been a 10-minute trip. On the ground, close to the site, I understood— they were rebuilding the bridge from the bottom up; rebuilding takes devoted attention and time.

In the afternoon, grateful and refreshed at the image of the bridge, I continued to meander and found another— smaller, simpler in its wooden structure, across from the Wellesley public library. I was in soul-tracking mode, the low sun highlighting tree after tree, some a century and a half old, their limbs stretched, each one perfect in its way. Beyond the trees, I found the bridge, weathered, a flexible, wooden arch, sheltering a spring, grey and gritty from lack of rain, but still running.

With gratitude, I felt the sun on my back as I clicked away on trees. Sometimes, what we need is pause, the time to dig deep, to grasp what is essential before we can find the image, the words to move back into the stream.

 

 

 

I Will Continue to be Grateful, Regardless

Kousa Dogwood, Fall, 2016

Kousa Dogwood,
Fall, 2016

Five days before the presidential election of 2016, I am anxious, eager for closure, a resolution to the intense, verbal barrage of words—all framed to influence my vote.

I am a Hillary supporter—have been, hope to continue, long after November 8th. I am grateful for her spunk, her dogged effort to pursue her aspiration, her fortitude and persistence. If she wins, I will be ever-so-much-more grateful for all her effort and the efforts of all who have worked to support her. And, if she does not, I hope to continue to seek, focus on and attain a sense of gratitude.

I have found that gratitude can be accessed and noted every day. Gratitude is present if one pays attention. In this media based society, so focused on the input of news and opinion making, it is challenging but necessary to step back, shut out the media/Facebook/tweeting and shift into the quest for quiet and paced reflection.

There are so many levels of gratitude, the choice evoked by attentiveness to an immediate resonance— a heartfelt memory, a meaningful encounter, the promise of satisfying effort. I learned to slow down while collecting limpet shells on the Maine shoreline. Nowadays, I slow down to collect moments of gratitude in my garden, in my everyday encounters, in my reflections as I shower.

At a recent women’s group meeting, I heard anxiety in the discussion of my close peers. How alike we are in our anxiety over the fate of our nation and especially with regard to our children and grandchildren’s future. Yet, in spite of the worrisome undercurrents in our circle, because we zeroed in and narrowed our range of concern and interest, each of us was able to focus on aspects of gratitude in our lives.

I spoke of my gratitude for my writing practice, the opportunity to pursue multiple options, the struggle to attend to one or two pieces and bring them to completion. In a month, I will have published 52 gratitude posts on my blog.

But what of November 9th? If my candidate loses, will I be able to focus and seek the kinetic attachment, pen to paper, articulate the gratitude experience at a gut/visceral experience, find the words to seek the balance basic to my mantra: Gratitude is as Gratitude Does?

The answer is as always—onward. On the drive home from the meeting in Lowell, there were four of us. Claudine, an artist, commented on how, in her urban environment, she had thought the fall colors had waned but that on the highway, she noticed an abundance of orange/yellow trees in full array. I was grateful for her observing eye: the many shapes and designs, the glorious display, which heightened my sense of being.

I offer this as metaphor— for all of us in the aftermath of November 8th, to notice the ever-changing landscape, to seek what attracts and resonates, to articulate what makes you grateful, to express thankfulness in word or deed.

 

Alan & Arlene Alda: An Original Couple

Alan & Arlene Alda M. Snider Photo

Alan & Arlene Alda
M. Snider Photo

“Where will your imagination take you,” Arlene Alda asked, as she and her “Hawkeye” husband of sixty years shared the stage @ Chautauqua’s Creative Expression week with Roger Rosenblatt, a close friend. I was grateful to be front and center, writing away, grabbing the trio’s spirited nuggets and wellspring of stories.

Grateful to have come from a first generation where education was key, Alan’s voice bubbled. “How glad I am I can still be a kid,” commenting on his ability to take risks and follow his curiosity. “When I notice, I feel alive in the present.”

Now eighty, Alan began with a discussion of his book, Never get Your Dog Stuffed and Other Things I’ve Learned. He philosophized, “We are all going to die. We need a lot of laughs before we die…” At age eight, Alan’s beloved dog died suddenly. Sobbing, Alan and his dad carried the beloved pet across a field, intending to bury him. But as Alan was digging, he could not stop sobbing. In reaction, his dad suggested it might be better to stuff the dog so that Alan could always keep him. Stuffing seemed better than burying. The decision was made.

Weeks later, recovered from the loss, Alan was faced with a dog fresh back from the taxidermist. Sitting on blue velvet in the living room, the once lively pet had a horrifying expression in his glass eyes. Alan’s memory was irrevocably altered. “You can’t hang onto something that goes. We can’t hold onto the people who die. We have to let successes go. We have to let failures go and move on. If you hang onto it, it becomes a stuffed dog. It only becomes a pale charade of what it was when it was alive,” he reflected.

Arlene elaborated on how being in the present, following the imaginative trigger of her images, is a gift. A classical clarinetist, she evolved as a writer through photography. As a musician, she interpreted the composer’s art. In contrast, writing required a leap of imagination and courage. She likened it to Doctorow’s metaphor of how a car’s headlights in a fog illuminates slowly, bit by bit.

Author of sixteen children’s books and four adult books Arlene said of her recent, Just Kids from the Bronx, “What I tried to do was chronologically pick out from each person’s conversation that story which was not only personal to them, but which we could all identify with, be amused by, be saddened by.”

I was totally identified with and grateful to resonate with the creative and spontaneous aspects of the Alder’s lives. Mindful curiosity in action, I thought.

“If there weren’t originality, everything would be the same,” Arlene pondered. “The voice one finds in writing is a distinct voice, and the voices that one finds in writing are distinct so in that sense there is that core of originality and the possibility of the original.

“The themes remain the same. It’s how we interpret them,” Alan elaborated. Amen!

Be Alive To Everything

May Sarton, circa 1977

May Sarton, circa 1977

I don’t remember when I first read May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude—perhaps, in my early sixties, working full time as a psychotherapist, teacher and consultant— with little awareness that solitude was an elixir, a drink to quell the thirst for my creativity and voice.

The well of Sarton’s spirit, her unhappiness, her loneliness, her ability and willingness to chronicle her deepest sensibilities was compelling to read. I marveled and envied her bravery to write about her humanity as a woman seeking balance, her need for connection to family and friends as well as her need for solitude as a writer.

In contrast, I wrote poems and journal entries in secret, a lifelong habit influenced by my Jewish/Yankee dad who often said, “It’s nobody’s business.” As a professional social worker, I was the keeper of my client’s secrets. I wrote after each session, chronicled my client’s stories in longhand, just as I write this blog, grateful for the perspective that comes from pen in hand.

At sixty-five, I was searching for a way to transition into writing more fully. I read Sarton for courage, for a close-in experience of a woman thoroughly committed and engaged with the writing life. A lesbian, she did not marry but wrote ardently of her need for intimacy. She did not hold back self-criticism, her struggles with discontent, the parts of myself I can barely face in private, never mind in public.

I resonate with her struggle to both heed and ignore the call of the every day. She experienced gratitude for solitude, the opportunity to reflect. She writes,

I feel cluttered when there is no time to analyze experience. That is the silt—unexplored experience that literally chokes the mind. Too much comes into this house—books I am asked to read and comment on, manuscripts, letters, an old friend who wants my opinion…and so on.

I have my own list of clutter. This is my silt—the unexplored experience that chokes both mind and heart, robbing time for reflection, the option to pause and consider. Too much comes into my house through snail mail, e-mail, Facebook— piles of unwanted catalogues, sales pitches for the home, the mind, the appetite, the body beautiful, politicians plea for money, the thrum of capitalism.

After posting my last blog about Mom and me, I felt at sea. Without thinking, I picked up Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude. I read, I scanned; I searched for what I knew not until the call of memory, like a compass, lead me back to her words. I am grateful to the poets, novelists and essayists who write reflectively. They inspire my aspirations. Now older than Sarton at the time of her Journal writing, I feel a kinship. How discerning is this Sarton quote:

For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.