A Writer’s Gratitude Tastes Like Pumpkin Pie

Photo Credit: djwtwo via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: djwtwo via Compfight cc

There’s a lot of good to say about gratitude. Even though gratitude can seem like an industry these days (books! blogs! speeches!), and that making a gratitude list at Thanksgiving time can seem as creative as Cool Whip, expressing gratitude is still one of those things that can lift your spirits.

Gratitude can let you realize that your lot in life is a lot, not a less. Gratitude can connect you to people and to yourself. It can even make you healthier. It’s great to be grateful.

This gratitude post has two voices: one is my writer’s voice, and one is my wise guy voice. They are both grateful, though their approaches are different. Not all of the items on my writer’s list are writerly, and not all of the items on my wise guy’s list are wise.

Writer:
I am deeply grateful that my mom has moved into assisted living and retained her warm spirit, and even increased her vitality since she had to leave my boyhood home. And grateful as well for the good health and spirit of my siblings and of my sweetheart, who are all doing pretty well.

Wise guy:
I’m grateful that my mom never found out about all of the illegal, dangerous and downright stupid things I did as a kid. (Though she thinks she does know them all; mom, you would call the cops even now.)

Writer:
I’m grateful for my own health, which though it’s tilted at a few windmills this year, it’s righted itself without collapsing altogether.

Wise guy:
I’m grateful that the antibiotics that recently saved me from the gut-clenching bacteria I brought back from Myanmar tasted like jellybeans. [Note: you can choose to believe wise guy remarks or not.]

Writer:
I’m grateful to have good old friends—some from more than 30 years back and even some more than 40 years back—whom I still see and talk to, though not often enough.

Wise guy:
I’m grateful that most of my old friends make more money than me, because I can make a tidy list of the borrowing I’m going to do in my later years. And I’m grateful that my newer friends don’t know about all those things I did as a kid. [See above]

Writer:
I’m grateful that I finished two books this year, one a novel yet to be published and one a self-published nonfiction work.

Wise guy:
I’m grateful that the writer guy above finished that novel too; it only took eight years.

Writer:
I’m grateful for books in general, and just for being able to read. Books have been the spur to my imagination for as long as I can remember.

Wise guy:
I’m grateful that with today’s memory, I’ve forgotten pretty much all the bad books I’ve ever read. And that I’ve forgotten that I’ve forgotten some of the good ones as well.

Writer:
I’m grateful for life itself, which I too often forget is an impossible gift.

Wise guy:
I’m grateful I can find shoes for my large feet. In fact, I’m grateful to have feet.

Writer:
Thank god for mashed potatoes. And bourbon.

Wise guy:
I’m glad we can agree on something.

Gratitude does change my attitude.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there!

A Writer’s Muddled Meditation on Gratitude

Oh, let those thanks go out to whoever’s listening (and whoever’s left over)

The other day I was walking with my girlfriend in the semi-rural area around my house. There’s a paved road, though it’s narrow, winding through some brushy, forested hills among which some houses are scattered. There’s a section of our walk that rolls up and down and into a small flat stretch that we call “the hollow.”

There aren’t any houses that look directly into the hollow, which is surrounded by trees and scrubby underbrush. That’s why it makes a great drop-off site for all the miserable trash—mattresses, chairs, even car transmissions—that miserable people toss there, probably when they find out that the landfill that’s a couple miles away charges money for their discards. We’re always trying to get the license number of the nimrods that do this littering so we can report them, but we’ve never caught anyone in the act.

Have at Thee, Varlets!
That’s why when we started down the hill into the hollow and spotted the two standing people, half-hidden by their truck, that I moved toward them. I wanted to catch them in the act of dumping their trash. Alice and I had both already started to memorize the truck’s license number, but we couldn’t quite see what the people were doing, because the vehicle was pulled into the dirt on the roadside, and they were behind the highest part of the truck’s cab.

It wasn’t until we moved almost behind the truck that I figured it out: no trash, no dumping, just an old guy holding a bucket, which he was going to use to rinse the heavily soaped head of his companion—his wife, his girlfriend, his sister?—who was obscured by the suds and a big draping towel. I had been moments from saying, “Hey, are you dumping crap in here?” to them, but realized that this was a spot they’d chosen to wash her hair. Because they had no shower. I glanced away, and glanced at the back of the truck, filled with some boxes, suitcases, a couple of big coolers.

Not just a truck, a home.

My puffed-up righteousness deflated.

Complaining as Reflex
I complain a lot about a lot of things. Some things I can’t do a damn thing about, but I complain anyway. Some things I could do something about, but I’d rather complain. Sometimes I even complain about what I do, which is write on a broad variety of subjects, and often people pay me for that. I even get to write stories, and sometimes I even get paid for those, which seems a bit of a miracle.

But that guy, washing his sweetheart’s head, looked like he had some real things to complain about. Maybe he does. But that’s not my business. My business is to pull some perspective from that moment, and have a little gratitude for how good I actually have it. Being able to work out of my house, writing for a living, having people around who care for me. A few weeks ago, I got to house-sit for five weeks in Hawaii, only because I can freelance from anywhere. That’s pretty good. Damn good.

When we circled back for the second part of our walk, I was thinking I’d like to offer those guys some money, but I didn’t want to insult them with any presumption. But they were gone, and the truck with them. All that was left behind was some watery dirt and a tire track. No garbage, nothing, just a temporary whisper that they had been there.

Cat Vomit? No Problem
But I want to hold on to that reminder, of how good things really are, for a little bit. I want to consciously pull it up when I fling an oath because a client hasn’t understood my work, when the cat has vomited on the bed, when my dinner seems slightly too spicy. It is challenging to be grateful about cat vomit, but occasionally, I want to rise to the challenge.

Hope you’re able to find some flowers in your garden (and can step lightly over the stones).

Thanks. No Really, I Mean It

Picture a frosty gin and tonic here in about an hour and a half

If you’ve seen some recent posts of mine, you might suspect I’ve been having a peculiar time in the Bahamas. I have the unique skill set of being able to turn a stretch of time on this lovely island into a cage of sorts. Nonetheless, this image above shows where Alice and I went snorkeling this morning.

The water was sharply clear. We saw a lovely school of blue tang romping about a big chunk of coral. (They were tangy, indeed.) I appreciated the moments we were there, and that’s what I need to keep uppermost in mind. Appreciating the tangy moments. I’m still working on appreciating those with less tang, but there’s progress there too.

Thus, with gratitude, Happy Thanksgiving to all.

A Last Salute to the Sergeant

Robert Bentley, surrounded by his family, 1958


Writing is connection, whether with words that precede, or words that follow; writing can be framed with themes and directions only hinted at, only suggested with faint trails. Sentences are families of words, sometimes taut ropes of enduring bond, other times rambling things, of loose alliance, dim fellowship or tangled expression.

I just returned from a holiday week with my family. An interesting time: my father, who has been deep in Alzheimer’s grip for many years, and essentially bed-bound for the last couple, was notably alert. Always a warm man, he was visibly pleased to be in the company of all his kids. He delighted in eating, still feeding himself from a bedside tray, shaky and slow with the spoon, but still managing. One time I brought him his food, and he looked up and said, “What do I owe you?” He was a man quick with a joke all his life, but it was still a surprise when he would surface from the glazed, almost frozen state that marked the bulk of his day and venture out with some words, a connection, before returning to the quietude of his condition.

But in that condition, there was still a man in there, still pushing time. He remembered my name a couple of times during this visit, and amazed me when he had been sitting in his wheelchair (helped in and out by caretakers, for short periods a few days a week) and had been staring silently into his stillness for a while, but turned to me reading on the couch and said, “Hey, what book are you reading?” I was taken aback—and delighted—by his abrupt spark, and related the book’s title and contents, and then he smiled and returned to his cloistered musings.

Yesterday, he fell ill, and was taken to the emergency room. His big heart, repeatedly remarked upon by his doctors for its steady strength in his advanced age, was fluttering and weak. He fought through the night, but left this plane for the next, a bit after 6am this morning. Sarge Bentley, a good man, my father, gone this New Year’s Day at 93. A life—how can you sum it up, count and consider its gestures, its feelings, its words, its connections?

I loved him, and will miss him, as will all my family. I’m grateful for this Christmas, and for the long years we had him. I’m grateful for being able to tell him I loved him when I said goodbye to return home a few days ago, and grateful for the integrity of his life.