I love Thanksgiving. Yes, it can be stressful. Yes, I think the Black Friday hoo-ha is awful. Yes, that whole spiel about pilgrims and Indians seems kinda icky and colonialist when you actually learn some more U.S. history. But I still love it. I love the cozy feeling of cooking and eating and relaxing with loved ones — ideally, for me, Thanksgiving hits pause for a few days during all the craziness of this time of the year. I also love pie and Thanksgiving is the ultimate pie holiday.
(Click for source.)
This year, I have a great deal to be thankful for. I’ve been fretting about money a lot lately (health insurance and student loan payments are both really expensive), but this morning I sat down and wrote about all the things I do have, instead of the things I don’t. It feels so cheesy and forced to try and work yourself into a state of gratitude, and sometimes that applies to Thanksgiving as well. But I’ve learned that cultivating gratitude takes work, and even when it feels cheesy, it’s worth it.
One of the reasons I started this blog is because my mom was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and that has a way of turning all your priorities upside down. She just finished her treatment this week. After a long, hard year, she’s on the road to being well. In fact, she will be just fine. Better than fine. Words cannot begin to convey how thankful I am to have her in my life. I can’t wait to celebrate with her and the rest of my family. Really, I say this without sanctimoniousness, but what is a tight budget compared to that? I have a home, a job that gives me time off for the holiday, a wonderful husband, and a loving family. I am thankful.
I hope you all have safe, warm, happy Thanksgivings.
The problem with writing about a new set of goals every month is that life doesn’t fit neatly into that timeline. I could write about community — how we cultivate it, how much we need it, but also how frustrating and messy it is — for months. I’m just scratching the surface right now. Book club seems to be gaining steam. I participated in my first committee meeting at church. I wrote another letter. I won’t stop doing any of these things, and I also probably won’t stop writing about them. But before I move on to (or just add, really) new goals, I have a few more thoughts.
Putting myself out there, organizing events, and getting involved wasn’t easy for me. I have worshiped solitude for a long time. I’m a natural introvert. Being alone makes me feel peaceful and content. And truth be told, that will never change. Too much socialization makes me feel thin, like “butter scraped over too much bread” as Bilbo Baggins would say. On the other hand, when I don’t feel rooted in place, connected to my family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, I’m miserable and lonely. I’ve realized that this connectedness is about more than just gratitude — it’s about grace, and patience, and love, and letting go. There is so much more I want to articulate, so if y’all are okay with me coloring outside the lines, I’ll keep writing about that as the spirit moves me. Also, while we are talking about past goals, I am really getting on board with this whole eating more veggies and fewer animal products diet. I went on a business trip last week and I ate so much meat and eggs. Having a veggie burger for lunch today felt so good.
But it’s also time to add something new. October crept up on me and I’m feeling a little scattered, so I have one one goal for this month: write three pages every day. Doesn’t matter what it is but I have to write for myself and not for work. I will also use this as an excuse to do some creative writing prompts and maybe even buy some new art supplies for doodling/painting as well. I’m generally terrible at writing every day, so I’ll let you know how this project goes.
Today I’m grateful for: my new knitting project and Netflix (always Netflix).
[Image via Sean McGrath]
September has humbled me. This month’s goals have not turned out as I expected logistically, emotionally, or spiritually. At one point, I wished I hadn’t set them. Now I’m glad I stuck with it for another month rather than just glossing over them and moving on to something else — something more within my control. I was tempted to do that: Set new goals that were just about me and my personal development, rather than goals that involved actually inviting people into my home. But I didn’t, partly because I knew that this was an important project, but mostly because I had a glamorous picture of how this book club would go. A big group of my most bookish, intelligent friends gathered in my tiny (but spotlessly clean) apartment, laughing and drinking and sharing brilliant observations.
Instead, I cleaned all afternoon but was dismayed that my furniture still looked slightly ratty and lumpy. I baked a cake that didn’t set all the way through and I had to dump it in the trash. Many people that I thought were coming didn’t come. I worried about whether I picked a good story and if I was being a good discussion leader. My friends, of course, were brilliant and helped me see the reading in new ways. But after it was all over I sat on the couch and cried because it’s hard to invite people into your home when you are mostly focused on your own vanity. Does my apartment look nice? Am I a good host? Is everyone having fun? Why didn’t more people come?
I fretted over all these things for a while before I realized that I was a) judging the enterprise based on the first meeting and b) getting upset because I wanted this group to meet my needs and my expectations. Or what I thought my needs were. Hospitality isn’t all about the host, though, is it? Genuine hospitality is about the guest. And so I decided that I would continue to open my home to my friends, but this time with no agenda. Just some great stories and baked goods. If it fizzled, well, at least I tried.
And on the second meeting, everything was brilliant. Again, just a few folks came, but it felt like just the right number. We ate. We talked. We laughed. This time I was left with a feeling of contentment because I wasn’t putting as much pressure on myself or my guests. And I’ve extended the invitation to some new people, people that I don’t know as well. I’m not going to lie — that makes me nervous. What if we get too many people? What if someone shows up and dominates the conversation? Etc. etc. and so on. But I’m working on it. I’m working on being more open and acknowledging that I’m not in control of any given situation. And that if I want real community, it’s up to me to set the stage. It’s exhausting and challenging sometimes, but it’s better than unintentionally turning into a hermit.
Today I’m grateful for: my friends.
The anxious fluttering of the hostess has set in. Book club starts this week and I keep thinking about it. What discussion questions? What to do drink? Should I bake a cake? (Okay, that last one is kind of obvious because of course I’m going to bake a cake. Probably blueberry.) Mostly, though, I am so grateful to have something mentally stimulating to look forward to. Right now I am writing, writing, writing for work about a topic that I just don’t care much about at all. It’s challenging and exhausting, but not necessarily very rewarding. I want to write creative, brilliant things on this blog, but I’m tapped out at the end of the day. I come home and stare at my laptop screen, willing myself to write, but mostly I end up just staring and eventually my eyes glaze over.
So I wrote about that. It’s all I got right now. But we are reading The Semplica-Girl Diaries by George Saunders this week for book club (short fiction club? I need a better name) and you should too. Enjoy.
Today I’m grateful for: this amazing recipe that I ate for dinner tonight. So good.
I’m feeling scattered. Ironically, I’ve been acting like a hermit this week. I’ve feeling under the weather and slightly overwhelmed. Transitions, money, writing, life in general are all on my mind, but I can’t express anything coherently today, so let’s just revisit this month’s goals, shall we? I’ll move on to blog about some new challenges next week, but the ones I’ve set in motion this month are still taking shape. So, this is more of an update than a reflection this time around.
1. Start a short-fiction book club. Biggest step accomplished: I’ve roped in some friends. Now comes the fun part of picking reading material and organizing our first meeting.
2. Write letters. Mailed one today! And I plan to buy some pretty new cards with my next paycheck.
3. Find a way to get more involved at church. Not sure where this one is going, but I volunteered to help out. I’m sure something will evolve from this …
Have these goals made me more grateful? Let’s see. They have made me feel overwhelmed and a tad resentful at times. Especially on nights when I’d rather kick back with a beer on the couch, I think, “Why am I doing this? I’m too tired/busy. No one reads my dumb blog anyway, so what does it matter?” But then out of guilt I do the thing I’d said I’d do and I actually feel good. I’m really excited for this book club, and grateful that I have friends who want to give it a go. So, I’m actually quite grateful for this blog and accountability.
Today I’m grateful for: Holiday weekend! I’m going to visit my family and every iota of my being is aching for Friday afternoon to get here already.
I’m not good at putting myself out there. At least, not in social situations. Public speaking? Not really a problem for me. Small talk? So, so hard.
I struggle to take the lead. I often wait for others to make overtures by striking up conversation or putting out an invitation. It’s a good way to avoid rejection, but not a good way to make and build friendships. In college, socializing was practically automatic, but not anymore. That’s why I’ve been challenging myself to step it up more often and make plans. Often, my friends and acquaintances seem really pleased that I asked them to coffee/lunch/a movie/a party and I realize that they’re not avoiding me. They are just really busy, like I am. Most nights, I just want to come home from work, don my pajamas, and zone out with TV. And I think that’s true for a lot of us. But when I do make an effort, it can leave me feeling energized, happy, and grateful to have such cool friends.
That’s why I finally took the first step and invited some folks to join my short fiction book club. I’m kinda nervous that it will never get off the ground (and that they will all think it’s totally lame) but I know that if I never put out the invitation then it definitely won’t happen.
Sometimes you just have to cannonball into the deep end of the pool, right?
Today I’m grateful for: my emergency savings fund. Better than putting unexpected expenses a credit card, right?
My progress report this week is … fair, I suppose. In terms of meeting my goals, I expressed interest in helping out at my church (that’s big!). But I didn’t write a single letter, and have yet to take any steps towards the book club besides compiling a list of all the short fiction I want to read.
Instead of being productive, I spent most of my evenings laying on the couch after I pulled a back muscle my back at kickboxing class. This makes me sound like a wuss, but it hurt. So, while icing down my throbbing back, I started watching the first season New Girl on Netflix and pondered a very important question: How can I get my hair to look like Zooey Deschanel’s? (Or at least the shorter version of her hair.)
Today I’m grateful for: Netflix. And ice packs. And this really lovely blog post.
Today I Googled “How to start a book club” (because that’s the first step of anything these days, right?) and I got some interesting advice.
Click for source.
Things you should do:
Pick a time and place (my apartment, I suppose).
Decide what kind of books you’ll read (short fiction and essays).
Figure out you’ll develop discussion questions (maybe everyone brings one thing they want to discuss?).
Decide on whether there will be food (to which I say, duh there will be food).
What you shouldn’t do: Read members favorites because it might lead to hurt feelings “like inviting people into your living room to critique your decor. Ouch. Best to stay on neutral territory.”
What? Is this really something to worry about? I thought a book club sounded like a great way learn about your friends by reading stuff they love. Sorry, Internet, I might not take all your advice on this one.
What do you think? Also, please share any good, short reads.