Reviving the Gratitude Project

Gratitude, Life, Musings

The other day, I was talking to my mom on the phone. I won’t repeat most of the conversation — it was convoluted and angst-ridden — but the general feeling was, “I don’t know what I want to DO with my LIFE and it’s TERRIBLE”

“Maybe you’re overthinking things,” she responded. “Noooooooo way,” I said. “I never overthink things.” And then we both laughed because I’ve been doing just that since I was 16.

I’ve had a lot of time to think, lately. In between job hunting, freelancing and day-to-day chores, I’ve been thinking about the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and why. The narrative we build out of events and relationships is powerful, and I’m trying to stay aware of how I talk to myself. There’s a big difference, for example, between thinking, “I’m an unemployed slob who stays in her pjs until noon every day and I’ll never find another good job,” and, “I’ve always worked hard and now I’m patiently waiting for the right opportunity.” Some days I feel like my 19 year old self, searching for her sense of self worth in straight As, only now good grades have been replaced with “money and a good job.” But I’m not 100 percent sure what that even means, because no one hands out grades on how well you’re doing adulthood. This terrifies me a little, but it’s also liberating, isn’t it? It makes me think of Anne Lamott’s observation, “I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to stop staring at my feet so much.

Which means that now seems like a good time to revive my gratitude goals. Remember those? For those of you who are catching up, I was inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s assertion that sometimes you have to act the way you want to feel. In a similar vein to her Happiness Project,  I embarked on a series of monthly challenges aimed at cultivating awareness, gratitude, and contentment. This month, I want to talk about food. Not in a “get healthy” way (been there, done that), but as a way of exploring how our favorite recipes can make any place feel like home, something I’ve been meditating on ever since I read this piece on NPR. So, this month, I’ll be sharing and reflecting on my best loved recipes and I’d love to hear about yours, too.

Joshua Tree

Gratitude, Life

Earlier this month I flew to California to see an old friend in San Diego. We took a few days and drove out to Joshua Tree. Conclusion? The desert is my new spiritual home. It was magical and alien and inspiring all at the same time. I want a vacation home there so I can spend all my winters in the high desert. In the meantime, these pictures will have to do.

Thanksgiving

Community, Food, Gratitude, Musings

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.

Pumpkin Pie Slice

(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.

Spontaneity and Middlemarch

Gratitude, Life, Musings

So far, this month has been the anti-goals month. Or rather, it’s been a more spontaneous month.

I did spend an hour drawing this week. The drawing turned out … okay, but I enjoyed myself. Did I hit my goal of three to four sketches? No, I did not. But I did start reading Middlemarch by George Eliot, a sweeping, substantial Victorian novel often praised as one of the great masterpieces of English fiction. I spontaneously decided to undertake this epic reading project thanks to The Toast, which is hosting a virtual Middlemarch book club. And, you guys, I am SO excited to read this book and talk about it online because I never did finish it during my undergrad Brit Lit survey (the shame).

So, I forgive myself for reading this book instead of sketching more. Just like how I forgive myself for not writing in my journal some mornings because staying in bed and cuddling with my husband for those precious 20 minutes before we absolutely have to get up seems worth it. I’m still learning to balance things. And I’m also learning not to fight my natural whims. I set a good goal, but it wasn’t “filling the well” the way I thought it would, and so I’ve let myself take down time and start other projects. And it’s okay,  because this month I really do feel grateful to have time to relax before the holiday whirlwind, to have time to tackle this book, and to have time to spend baking and chatting with my new friend. I need these antidotes to work stress and the last few (completely insane) weeks of my husband’s graduate program. So, I suppose I’ll try to make time to draw again this week — but maybe I’ll just read instead.

Today I’m grateful for: this amazing marbled pumpkin gingersnap tart recipe from my Smitten Kitchen cookbook. I know what I’m making for Thanksgiving.

Holy smokes. It’s November.

Gratitude, Musings

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My blogging output declined this month in proportion to my other writing. But that actually means I stuck to my goal pretty well this month. After a rocky beginning, I started getting up half an hour earlier every morning so that I could write three pages in my journal every day. (This means I’ve actually started getting up before 7 a.m. every morning, which really makes me feel like an adult.)

I write mostly about day-to-day things. Work. Weather. Things That Irritate Me. But in the middle of a whirlwind month, I’ve been grateful to have a few quiet moments to myself every morning. I’m attached now to my ritual of getting up, making a cup of coffee, and writing.

It’s helped me process some big events, such as my husband’s 26th birthday (him moving beyond 25 seems significant somehow, partly because it finally forced us to get our own health insurance), and a dear friend and coworker preparing to move back to California to be near her family (so bittersweet). I also made some new friends this month, and hosted more successful book club meetings. I struggled to make it to the gym. I had an epic Halloween that involved dressing up as Sonny Bono along with my boss who did her best Cher impersonation. We sang “I Got You, Babe” in front of the entire company.

Now it’s November, my favorite and least favorite time of the year. I love the transitional feeling of fall, but it makes me melancholy. I love the holidays, but they also stress me out. Time keeps slipping through my fingers, and I keep falling back on poetic cliches to describe how I feel. My heart is heavy. I’m a little jealous my friend who’s driving across the country next week. She is brave enough to uproot herself so that she can orient her life according to the things that matter to her: being near her family and finding work that she’s truly passionate about. I want to be like her.

I’ll keep up my new writing routine, but I’ve found that it doesn’t feel like a creative outlet so much as just a dumping ground. Putting my tangled, anxious thoughts on paper grounds me, but it’s pretty mundane stuff. In high school, I loved to draw, but dropped it in college. So, this month I’m going to dust off my art supplies and challenge myself to do at least three or four sketches a week. I’m also going to try and hunt down Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and work on some of those exercises as well. If they aren’t too horrible, maybe I’ll post some here.

Happy November.

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Today I’m grateful for: the leaves finally bursting into color. The trees outside our window fill our living room with golden light.

Writing and Wisdom

Gratitude, Musings, Writing

No time for a long post today, but I do want to share some words of wisdom from Barbara, an amazing writer and long-distance friend. She just wrote a blog post about finding our passions and writing and editing as a metaphor for life. Well-timed for my own writing challenge this month, but meaningful for non-writers too:

“there i was, red pen in hand, poring over pages that are typed-out vessels from my heart. more like prayer cards, each and every one. it’s called editing, but really it’s distilling. distilling to the essence, paring away excess. cutting to the bone. it happens to be essential to the craft of writing, but really it’s essential in this odyssey called life.”

Read the whole thing — you won’t regret it. I’ll be carrying her words with me as I try to stick with my goals, which are (now that I think about it) an attempt to find out what’s essential to my life.

Today I’m grateful for: the wise women in my life, including my mom who I am visiting this weekend.

Gratitude and “Having It All”

Gratitude, Musings

Coffee & Cupcake

Lately, the writing well has been dry. I’m not sure why. I’ve been in an antisocial mood, alternately longing to curl up in bed alone with a book or to travel somewhere new where I don’t know anything and no one knows me. I go through these moods sometimes and it’s tough because relief only ever comes in a daydream. Meanwhile I go to work and act sociable, and then I go to the gym, and then I eat dinner with my husband, and then maybe I’ll try to check a few things off my to do list, and then I do it all over again. Gratitude is not at the top of my mind.

But today I read an essay by Delia Ephron, published in the New York Time op ed section this past weekend, and a little light bulb went off. My frustration with trend pieces about women “having it all” has reached a peak lately, mostly because these articles are annoying and narrowly focused, but also because they make me nervous and I hate that. I do not need any more anxiety in my life. Which is why this essay sparked something in me. After discussing the statistical impossibility of having it all in the first place, Ephron writes, “To me, having it all — if one wants to define it at all — is the magical time when what you want and what you have match up.”

“Well now,” I thought to myself, “Isn’t that gratitude?” I’m still exploring all the nuances of gratitude, but I think this is one of them. After all, gratitude means that you don’t want things to be any different than they are, and in that shining moment you feel lucky or even blessed to be so content. Ephron describes a few of these times:

It might be a fleeting moment — drinking a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning when the light is especially bright. It might also be a few undisturbed hours with a novel I’m in love with, a three-hour lunch with my best friend, reading “Goodnight Moon” to a child, watching a Nadal-Federer match. Having it all definitely involves an ability to seize the moment, especially when it comes to sports.

It’s all the encouragement I need to drink a cup of coffee in bed this weekend (or go buy a piece of cake from my favorite bakery) and know that I really do have it all, at least for a little while.

[Image via Flickr user StephenLukeEdD]