{thanksful: 26 – going on}

Someone posted a cartoon recently that said, “Welcome to Hell,” and showed a little character choosing between two boxes: Keeping Informed With the News, and Protecting One’s Mental Health. Yep. Welcome to hell, because both of those are necessary, and neither is something we can afford to pass up.

I’ve been grateful before that our congregation has a community service arm which feeds about five hundred families a month, but I feel like I’ve always been too focused on me/mine in terms of community. Today, we are grateful to be able to send coveralls and gas masks to Standing Rock, to fund the Flint Water project, to donate to the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center. But, I’m now trying to think what I can do besides send small amounts of money.

The phrase “social justice” has been bandied about religious groups for years, but it wasn’t until we were involved with USF when Tech Boy was doing his first master’s degree that we really understood what it is to have a religious organization involved in protests and getting arrested. (The university president, at the time, was arrested. It was one of several times for him.) I’m grateful – in a roundabout way, because I would really rather that these last two months wouldn’t have gone the way they have – for the push that a lot of religious groups are getting, to coalesce what they believed were amorphous beliefs, and to put their actions where their mouths have always led them. I’m grateful for the painful, skeptical, horrible process of values formation and clarification that this is having on all of us.

{thanksful: 24 – left alone}

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Beautiful art in the neighborhood earlier this month.

Probably wrong of me to be filled with affection and grateful for my guests …after they’ve left. After hours of work last night and today, the house is again clean, and I. am. so. tired. Who knew a three-year-old and glitter would be so much work? (Answer: EVERYONE)

WARNING: Introvert crash.

One new thing I found was Cousin Mary Lee’s December lantern-light haiku project; that sounds worth doing. Though I may not be able to participate daily, it is such good practice. Lifting the light above our heads strengthens our arms, so we can push back strongly against the dark.

{thanksful: 23: a political act}

I have a list of things left to do: make the sausage bites, roast the beets, sauteé the shallots for the greens, move the kitchen table into the dining room, put in the dining room table leaf, set the table. The last line of my To-Do list is a reminder to put a POLITICS FREE ZONE! sign up on the front door. My mother is bringing guests whom we don’t know, otherwise, we wouldn’t bother. My family never, ever talks about politics.

I’ve always assumed that’s because we all believed alike. And, having said that, I have a friend whose parents proudly voted for the reality-TV candidate this year, and they were a bit caught off guard when all was said and done. I don’t envy them their dinnertime discussions this holiday.

When we don’t talk about our realities, when we assume a great deal, in families, we end up… surprised. I think my parents had a great many assumptions about me, growing up. None of who they thought I was is who I turned out to be. So, maybe I shouldn’t make assumptions.

And, maybe I should… take that sign off the door.

This year, I thought my biggest job would be trying to make things… normal. I know we’re very much NOT in normal times, but my mind was in making things as smooth and lovely as possible, because everything has been – and continues to be, round the clock, people – so. very. awful. Bake more pies! Make more pasta! Buy nicer napkin rings! Trowel that spackle on! Paper over the cracks!

…but, that’s not going to work, either in my family, nor in the national conversation. So, maybe this year, instead of standing at the head of the table and asking everyone what they’re thankful for, I should ask them what they’re going to do to pass the blessing on. No, we don’t “earn” our blessings, and grace is favor unmerited, but we’re not worth the carbon we’re made of, if we’re not passing them on.

Gratitude is a political act. And, I’m grateful to be able to use my hands and my heart to spread my privilege around.

{thanksful: 22 – stories in time}

“There are books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story… don’t be like the book-snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words–the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers who won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.”
― Stephen King

I’m sometimes a little frustrated that it takes me so long to read critically… I read like a child denied sugar eats butterscotch – I crunch down books in great mouthfuls and it’s occasionally disgraceful. But, I love reading…

I’m grateful for Summer in Orcus, which is a story about a girl seeking her heart’s desire, and going on a grand adventure to find what that might be — even though it’s not quite what she thinks she’s meant to be looking for.

I’m pretty fond of The Hero(ine)’s Journey in its various permutations; this story is even more fun because it’s serial, and because there are puns, and everyone hates them. This makes me laugh about as much as Terry Pratchett’s containing protest against mimes and accordion music.

After food and shelter, stories, says Philip Pullman, are the things we need the most in this world. Some of us run on the stories we tell ourselves. A story is the fire in our personal hearth, keeping our world safe and cozy. So – I’m off to my bed with a book, like I am every evening. I’m so grateful for the privilege.

{thanksful: 18 – purpose-full}

Sooo, Thursday started with a lurch, as previously noted. The hives are a fresh hell – thanks, 2016! – but the panic attacks have unfortunately been with me since fresher days in college… they come, they go. Still, I just was feeling so cruddy, because my second favorite pair of jeans is fitting weirdly — more evidence that attempting Death By Fork, even for only a couple weeks, has consequences — and my revision is dragging, and I haven’t been sleeping, and the world is blerg — and I was feeling underwhelmed with myself and the world. Mainly myself, because don’t we always turn the worst of our emotions inward? (And why is that? Why is our inner critic so… critical? Is this a girl thing?? Talk amongst yourselves…)

And then I got a note from an intermittent correspondent, J, who is the coordinator of The Elizabeth Kates Foundation, working with the Virginia Correctional Center for Women. She wrote, as she does, to tell me how the Kates Readers club had enjoyed MARE’S WAR. It made me smile that they had the same concerns for Mare that the last group of offenders had; that Mare said she regretted having kids. They actually asked her to write me and explain. I love that so much. Readers and thinkers engaging with a work. Being read critically – and by these ladies in their GED book club program is — a gift. There’s not a lot of funding out there for literacy for felons, but this tiny nonprofit has raised money and given the women in Virginia state prisons college courses, yoga classes, art instruction, horticulture classes, and a means to feel like they’re more than just little pieces of nothing ground between a rock and a hard place. I am honored to be a small supporter of their organization, because I believe a woman who reads will raise reading children. A woman who thinks will raise thinkers.

Years ago, there was a book big in evangelical circles called 40 Days of Purpose. Still not sure what it was exactly, except you were supposed to focus on your raison d’etre for a little over a month – kinda like Lent, actually. I’m grateful today that you don’t always have to spend forty days to be reminded why you’re here… not just to give people books to read, but books to make them think and to engage more deeply with the world. I wanted to hug J and every one of her readers, but settled instead for offering them another box of books.

It’s what I’m here for.

{thanksful: 11 – my little blue coupe}

Okay, so it’s not actually a coupe.

My first Coke can of a Toyota was a sparkly sky blue, and had no shocks. Well, practically none. It was a stick shift. I was more than a little peeved when that car got T-boned. This is the second blue car I’ve had, and it’s kind of posh, actually. It has three cameras in it – one to make sure and record accidents, and the other two for backing up. It has two sets of wipers. I feel fancy riding in it.

Skyway Drive 369

I didn’t want to actually care about cars, at all. When we lived in Scotland, we didn’t have a car for five whole years. In the life of an American, of a country of people seemingly obsessed with their vehicular independence, that seemed huge. We got used to it. We enjoyed it. I’m rather a fan of taking cabs, and wearing gloves so I don’t pick up germs on public transportation. Bonus: it gives you an excuse to wear a hat. Because, you’re already wearing gloves, right?

So, we came back to the States, and bought a car via Costco, which who knew you could do. Basically we picked out what we wanted, they locked in the price, we went to pick it up. There wasn’t the “thrill of the chase,” the annoyance of the hard sale – nothing. It was like grocery shopping with fewer choices. We didn’t want to care about brand or color or details, so that way worked perfectly. And, that car worked out perfectly, too – until it blew up three spark plugs and dropped a fuel injector and lost power going onto the freeway. Oh, and it drank six liters of oil for two months running. Tech Boy – whose fuse is fairly long until it’s not anymore – went to work one May morning in one car, and came home that evening in another. He’d had it and that was that.

I’m still peeved that we’d almost paid off the last car and it flippin’ broke before we were done with it, but this one seems like it’s going to last a bit. And it has four-wheel drive, even, so if I ever come into contact with snow again, I won’t freak out like I did with the other car. (Yes. California driver, horrified by a slight rime of frost on the road, that’s me.) I’m grateful for my fancy little ride, and that I can fit the nephews and the cousin and my sibs in there, all at once, if I wanted to. My sibs can take the bus, though.

{thanksful: 8 – socially}

Because I do not always play well with others, I have both loved and loathed social media in extremes. At its best, Facebook felt like being in a shared living room. I recall watching the streaming 2008 inauguration – from Glasgow – with friends in both Ireland and America, and how that experience made my heart ache with a baffled love of country I don’t remember experiencing prior to then. At its worst, Facebook was like sharing a house with bad roommates who drank loudly, screamed a lot, ignored me, and occasionally threw buckets of blood, Carrie-style, on the walls… I also remember abruptly and tragically finding out from a stray comment someone made that back in America, my Uncle P. had succumbed to his cancer. That was the day I quit Facebook. Years later, my agent made a lot of noises about me absolutely needing to have an online presence, and a year ago, I grudgingly joined Twitter… and found out that it wasn’t so bad, if I took a month off every other month or so. It’s still like sharing a room with a lot of other more gregarious people, but using Tweetdeck, it’s more spread out and less overwhelming for some reason. Additionally, I can mute by word or by person, and I can also just look at pictures of weird sea slugs and rate dogs, if I need to take a breather.

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Sometimes we’re tweeting. Other times we’re just hiding in the tree.

Today, I haven’t been able to bear being online much, but it’s been an odd sort of comfort to check in briefly, and experience my other friends getting absolutely NOTHING done, worrying, rage-eating Halloween candy, kvetching, kibitzing, and kvelling. (Question: why are all the best words Yiddish, and why do they all start with K? Talk amongst yourselves.)

No matter what happens tomorrow, the quips and tweets will carry on. Even though I can’t hack being with them too often, it warms me a bit to know that my tribe is out there.

{thanksful: 7 – discomfited}

by Kerry Johanssen

Black People & White People Were Said

to disappear if we looked at
each other too long
especially the young ones —
especially growing boys & girls
the length of a gaze was
watched sidewise
as a king snake
eyeing a copperhead while hands
of mothers and fathers gently
tugged their children close
white people & black people were said to
disappear if but nobody ever said it
loud nobody said it
at all & nobody ever
talked about where
the ones who didn’t listen

There are some things we just hate to talk about.

Maybe in the name of being “peaceful,” maybe in the name of policing the tones of others, sometimes the overwhelming urge is for everyone go get along and be “nice.” But, racism, unfortunately, isn’t nice. And it’s hard to dismantle a system of oppression if no one ever talks about it.

One of Tech Boy’s favorite phrases in college – as he debated professors to frustrated frothing – was that he was on hand to ‘disturb the comforted, and comfort the disturbed.’ Mind you, I sat as far away from him as I could whilst he cut his swath through our humanities department, but I’ll admit that though he gave me hives, he was right about a lot of things. Not all of us are able to speak up when necessary, but as always, especially this year, I’m grateful for those who are articulate and incisive; who take no prisoners and who suffer no fools. Blessed are the uncomfortable; may we, in discomfort, grow.

{thanksful: 6 – healthy as a…}

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.
And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” — Maya Angelou

Is it rude to be grateful that Tech Boy got a really bad cold, and I didn’t?

In a word, yes… but, I’m grateful anyway, since, by measure of intensity, everything I get is at least twice as bad as what he gets. I was expecting a bout with the ‘flu, to be honest. It hasn’t shown up yet, and it’s been a couple weeks. I’m going to count my blessings and call it good.

*knocks sharply on wooden desk*

It’s just that it feels like I spent my thirties sick – as in ICU stays sick – and it was the most deflating thing ever, to have my body just up and go, “Nah, actually working right is for chumps.” I was so confused and betrayed. It took me a long time to forgive my body for making me feel elderly at twenty-nine, for infuriatingly punking out at thirty. It took a long time to remember things like wearing lipstick and perfume, and caring that I owned jewelry and nice clothes. Only later did I understand that my body did the best that it could for a long time, getting sicker all the while. It actually did me a solid, holding out until my first Christmas break during grad school. I went to ICU for 8 days and missed O classes. My body did well by me – and it only fell mostly apart. I mean, I could have just, you know, died. So, there’s that.

Occasionally gratitude is about perspective.

So, I’m going to go eat an ice lolly – low sugar and fruit juice sweetened – because okay, I didn’t get sick, and it’s time to treat my bod a little kinder.

{thanksful – 5: like no one is watching

“Gratitude is the music of the heart, when its chords are swept by the breeze of kindness.” – Unknown

ALA 2010 020

Party with a big hatted cat.

One of the Glasgow-iest moments of our five years in Scotland occurred one morning in the University gym. Clyde 1, a popular radio station, was playing over the loudspeakers in the weight room, as we sweated away on Nautilus machines and free weights. I don’t even remember what song it was – something by Pink, probably – but abruptly everyone in the entire weight room was belting it out at the top of their lungs. It didn’t matter if they were any good, it didn’t matter if they were perfectly on pitch or not — it was a good song, yeah? And when it’s your jam, you sing. You dance.

I wanted to hug every single sweaty person in the room. I loved them all. I was raised to be pretty… serious. Not that my parents never laughed, but I think my perfectionist personality, together being corrected a lot, led me to try harder and harder to be conscious of how I looked, how I acted. The world, I was taught, was serious, and nearly everything had Eternal Consequences. Oddly joyless way to live, which is why you can imagine this un-self-conscious joy was so inviting. That’s just one of my favorite Glasgow memories.

Today is the combined birthday celebration for the Filipino kids next door, and I can hear the karaoke band playing – and the aunties and uncles belting out 80’s ballads like there’s no tomorrow. In an hour or so, a mob of kids is going to come over with massive plates of spaghetti and hotdogs, loads of pancit, and wedges of cake. We’re going to wish them happy, as we do every year, and they’re going to giddily go reeling back for more music and sugar. I’m so grateful that in this mad and occasionally bad world, there are little pockets of joy, where people are raised believing it’s just dandy to dance and sing like the grasshopper in the fable… time enough to be serious ants tomorrow.