From Badittude to Gratitude

One of my early blog posts in 2011, which asked, Can you be grateful for what you don’t have? focused on a difficult time in my life – when I was stuck in the aftermath of a divorce, and struggling to see the good in my life. I wanted to turn my frown upside down, zap it away with intention, but I couldn’t. I had a badittude I couldn’t shake, even though I said that I could.

I’ve come a long way since then, but in order to arrive at a place of authentic thankfulness and gratitude, I had to start with its opposite. I had to confront the pain and hardships. The reality of the situation, rather than whitewashing it or pretending that I was fine or happy and grateful. Had I pretended, I would have robbed myself of finding the real thing. I wouldn’t recognize the positive things in my life – that life has given me along the way – with any kind of real appreciation. Some studies have shown that “choosing gratitude can bring out the best in us and those around us.” But I don’t know if I believe that flipping a mental switch – that professing ones gratitude aloud can actually cultivate it on the inside. I think that gratitude – and its resulting easing of anxiety, release of stress, and sometimes, a true feeling of happiness – appears as a slow and cumulative result of tiny little experiences, revelations, and achievements in your life. The achievements – the physical results of gratitude, sometimes come first, as tangible manifestions of the interior growth and hard work you’ve done.gratitude

For example, a few of the things I am grateful for:

  1. My husband.  This gratitude was hard won. Meeting him and marrying him was an outgrowth of years of whining and wallowing and work and therapy and badittudeness and revelations.
  2. My home. My grownup Manhattan apartment, replete with a dining room (in Manhattan!) comes after being a wandering Jew and moving ten times in a decade, without knowing what was to come next.
  3. My family. My parents. My two sisters. While I’ve always appreciated them, only recently have I unearthed an unshakeable love and gratitude, which is evident when we talk. When we make an effort to visit each other.  When I surprise my mother for a random brunch and she screams like I’m a celebrity just stepped off a plane. When we share old photographs of our dorky adolescent selves in braces and bowl cuts and laugh over a private joke. When we are struggling with something that no one else can understand, and a phone call, followed by “Do you have five minutes?” always seems to bring about a resolution.
  4. Work. My job, which with time, investment, and loyalty only gets better.
  5. Writing.  For having finally found my calling in writing. For writing because it sooths my soul, regardless of the outcome or accolades. For craving it instead of wrestling with it.
  6. Gemma. Last but certainly not least, that old bag of sweet bones who has been my sidekick for eleven years is alive and well, and sometimes even puppyish enough to throw her kong in the air and knock over my wine glass.

[Health and peace and security… the deep thanks I have for those, and the awareness of how fleeting they are, would take up another blog post. And I’m a bit superstitious too].

It’s been ten years since I lost my gratitude, and perhaps it has taken ten years to get it back.

Or redefine it.

I can’t wait until Thursday, when my husband and I get to host our first Thanksgiving ever (in my…Dining Room!). For my parents, my sister and her husband and their three children, and for my in-laws (cue gratitude item #7. I have in-laws!). I can’t wait to set the table and make things pretty and attempt to cook the dishes I Googled (Mom’s bringing the kosher turkey though). I can’t wait for my in-laws to arrive tomorrow night and offer them an actual guest room.

I can’t wait until we go around the table and say thank you, and thank God for bringing us together. And reflect on what we are each grateful for, now, in this moment, because you never know what next year may bring.
Wishing you all a joyful Thanksgiving.


Do we see what we want to see?

I’m guessing that only my mother noticed that I skipped last week’s post, but I have a good reason.
I’m in the middle of my second book, thanks to NanoWrimo, November book writing month, which forces you to write 50,000 words in 30 days (that’s about 170 pages double-spaced, fyi). As of an hour ago, I’m at 44,000 words, but with the work week coming back with a vengeance tomorrow after the bubble of a holiday, I’m hoping I will knock out another 6,000 before Thursday. I won’t be done with this draft though, but I’m on my way.
A few months ago I wrote a post, entitled “How do we know what we need?,” and this month, I knew I needed a solitary vacation in order to write my book. A friend of mine graciously offered me her house in the Hamptons, and instead of going away with friends to a sunny locale for my first week off in a year, I rented a car and took my dog to a writing vacation.
My dog grew up in LA. She loves the slippery leather of cars, and she loves the outdoors. If only she could have helped me with directions. I couldn’t find the house at first, and it was getting dark. I circled the poorly marked streets several times, only to discover that the house was at the end of a narrow dirt road, resembling a windy hiking trail.
It was beautiful, two stories, and all glass, the large yard encircled by a chicken wire fence (which my dog promptly slammed into, before taking a retarded skate across the covered pool). After taking my bags upstairs and turning on all the lights, I realized how silent it was; just the wind rustling the trees. My stomach sank, and I had a jolt of apprehension thinking of whether I would fall asleep that night. “This is the setting for a horror movie,” I thought. “Who does this? I’m weird.” My dog licked my face and grunted. She didn’t care that I was scared, but I was glad she was there anyway.
I woke up the following morning to shrieks. I sat up. “An animal is getting eaten right now!” was my first thought. When I looked out the window, my breath caught. A formation of twenty massive black birds, the size of chairs, were standing in the leave littered front yard. I’d post a picture of it but I couldn’t get the sliding doors open in time and my Blackberry got the flash of the glass door instead, just as the birds moved off. I tried googling “big black birds..Hamptons” afterwards, but I’m a bad googler, and later I wondered if I had imagined the whole thing. I’m guessing they were a “murder” (apropos?) of crows, but I preferred they be ravens, as my first book is littered with raven imagery. I wanted to believe this was a positive omen – supporting my writing.
The next three days proved to be heavenly. My dog and I went to the beach, and as she ran around like a psycho, eating random dried up wood and sand, I came up with the structure for my book. I wrote for four hours that afternoon, and then took a good book with me to a restaurant so I could read in peace at the bar. Silly me. Some twice divorced real estate guy in his fifties with OCD (he told me so) chewed my ear off instead of his steak, and an old man (a regular) ate my French Fries.  When I asked them why there was a painting of a crow (or a raven) on the wall next to me, whether that bird was common in the Hamptons, they looked at me like I was the crazy one. But they couldn’t convince me that it wasn’t another sign, of some kind.
So I meant to talk about this last Sunday, but I was busy living my life I guess. For Thanksgiving, I went to my sister’s house and as she was putting the turkey in the oven, I showed my father the shitty picture of the birds on the lawn, and asked him what he thought they were.
“They’re wild turkeys,” he said, matter of factly.
“No… are you sure they’re not ravens?” I asked, hopeful.
“Definitely turkeys,” he said, and patted me on the head.
Leave it to my practical father to burst my convenient little fantasy, I thought. But as I sat around the table with my parents, my sisters and their children shoveling turkey into their mouths, I was filled with gratitude. 
Just like I felt when twenty turkeys woke me on that beautiful fall morning with the promise of good things to come.