Praise for libraries, clogs…the list goes on

It’s that blessing-counting time of year again. It’s good, right? To be reminded once a year (cuz we need reminding!) to count our blessings and to explain to our kid what thanksgiving means. After this year’s explanation of thanksgiving/Thanksgiving/gratitude, my daughter told me she was thankful for lollipops. I told her I was thankful for her and our family and a warm place to live. I asked her if she was thankful for anything like that, and she said, “No, just lollies.”

Right. Better luck next time.

Yes, I’m truly madly deeply grateful for my family and friends and my job and my home and theatre-making  and the multitude of amazing obvious-to-me blessings in my life. However, when making this year’s gratitude list, I decided to a take a step beyond the knee-jerk gratitude items that are always on the tip of my tongue. Once I started digging in, I was reminded that I’m grateful for so much. There’s so much.

Below, you’ll see the first ten (somewhat random and sometimes superficial) items I added to my gratitude list. I will tell you that my day got much better after brainstorming a gratitude list. Suddenly, I caught the gratitude virus, and I was thankful for LOTS and EVERYTHING. (I’m grateful for this tissue, so I can blow my nose. I’m grateful for this window, so I can see the sky. I’m grateful for this hot shower, because HOT SHOWERS ARE SO AWESOME. Only two things are more awesome than a hot shower. I’ll let you guess what those are.) Being grateful from moment to moment for LOTS and EVERYTHING feels really good.

Although I suspect this is true for many people, I know that I take much for granted in my life. This is unfortunate, not only because it decreases the pleasure I take from my life and the gifts of my life, but also because by taking so much for granted, I also make the assumption that everyone has what I have — which we know is not true — and I become complacent and complicit in perpetuating the inequality and inequity in this world. Many many people don’t have hot showers, or showers, or clean water to drink, let alone bathe in. [See The Water Project. See Half the Sky. See Save the Children. See Durham Rescue Mission. See Hidden Voices.]

A sampling of ten items from the long list of things for which I’m grateful:

  1. Libraries.  One of the first things I did after moving to Durham (that is, after finding a place to live and locating the Whole Foods) was get my library card. The library is a place where I feel safe and hopeful — answers are in the library, stories are in the library, knowledge is in the library, Storytime is in the library!– all available for free. My weekly visit to the public library gives me great joy. Public libraries are a beautiful gift to the community.
  2. Health Insurance. Listen, without health insurance, my family could be very broke, or very sick, or very anxious. It ain’t cheap, but it’s affordable and it’s comprehensive. That’s something everyone should have, don’t you think? Go, Obamacare.
  3. Smooth roads + good signage + our old GPS. Like many people, I spend a lot of time in my car. Unlike many people, I am directionally challenged. I never know where North is; I can’t call up a mental street map; I don’t have one of those smart phones with Google Maps. I am always .005 seconds away from being completely utterly lost. Good roadside signage plus a GPS are key to arriving on time (I was going to say “key to my survival” which feels true, but is not true). Also, both of our cars have passed the 10 year mark, so driving on a bumpy, pothole-pocked road is noisy, uncomfortable and could quickly result in a trip to the mechanic. Sure, there’s a ginormous cavernous pothole right outside the gas station near my house, but otherwise, we’re lucky to live in an area with roads in good repair. Me = grateful
  4. Music for children that doesn’t suck. Since we have to listen to the same songs and CDs five billion times in a row (Did I mention that I’m in the car too much? Did I mention that my child is the boss of me?), it’s nice to have children’s music that (mostly) doesn’t make me want to rip my face off. Thank you, Laurie Berkner Band. Thank you, various Putumayo CDs. Thank you, Elizabeth Mitchell.
  5. Clogs. Yes, I said clogs — don’t judge. Dansko, LL Bean, Target-brand, whatever. Easy  to slide on and off; comfy clogs make me two inches taller without hurting my feet. And they look dressy? Sort of? I only have two pairs, but if I could be the Imelda Marcos of clogs, then I would be.
  6. People who grow food in their own gardens and keep their own chickens. I love the idea of this. These people are super cool.  I aspire to be these people…sadly, I have a hysterical aversion to ticks, my daughter has an egg allergy, sometimes chickens frighten me with their cold, beady eyes, and I manage to kill all of my plants sooner or later. This is not my thing. Thank goodness people do this. Thank goodness they share with me. Wait, hold up….actually, I’m grateful for all farmers (of the small and large scale variety, and especially those who practice humane and environmentally-sensitive agriculture). That’s some damn hard work. Thank you, farmers, for feeding me.
  7. Doulas. Giving birth is rather, um, intense. A good doula rocks. (My doula literally rocked me.)
  8. Free-to-the-public places to be and stuff to see, such as public parks, playgrounds, nature trails, beaches, museums, public works of art. (I’m noticing a trend here with numbers 1, 2, 3, and 8.) Thank you to the folks who make and keep those free public spaces available (and keep them clean and safe and beautiful).
  9. Though-provoking and lightly snarky podcasts. (These are free too  – once you buy the MP3 player and computer, of course) Here are some of my favorites:  BBC casts (Women’s Hour, Forum — A World of Ideas), Inside Acting, Slate Magazine casts (Double X, Culture, Political, Lexicon Valley), Audio Dharma, American Theatre Wing, On Being with Krista Tippett, TED. My secret wish is to have my own podcast. Until then, I listen with pleasure to the podcasts of others. Let me know if you have favorites to suggest.
  10. Funny people.  Here’s the truth – if you make me laugh and keep me laughing (and laugh at my jokes too), then I will love you. I don’t even have to know you  — you could be a complete stranger to me on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me or SNL or just have something to do with creating the Planters Peanut ad that says “Spend this holiday with the nuts you love.” I love you for keeping my spirits up in this challenging world, in these challenging times.  Yes. Love.

So, what are your less-obvious gratitude items? I’m curious.

You can learn about yourself, and learn about other people by sharing your gratitude lists. See, now you have a fun, revealing, inspiring and free(!) party game!

Counting my blessings. Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

I’ll be back on Dec. 3.

My heart is haunted: silent, spoken, sung

I’ve been haunted by a story all week.

The story sits in the room with me, trails behind me as I walk, hovers over my spooned-in oatmeal, perches on my nightstand as I sleep. When I wake in the night I see it gazing at me hazy and shimmering. Waiting. My neck-hair prickles. My fingers feel numb. It’s wonderful. Wonder-full.

This is a true story, heard on a recent NPR podcast, Krista Tippett’s On Being. Tippett interviewed Terry Tempest Williams, an author of creative nonfiction, activist and naturalist. Before this week, I’d never heard of Terry Tempest Williams. Now I am obsessively reading her book, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice. Me, caught up in her writing and her stories, the way I was caught up in Jeanette Winterson’s Written on The Body (oh, so many years ago). I feel feverish, tasting words as I read like blood in my mouth or ash or tears.

In When Women Were Birds, Williams explores the gift of her mother’s journals. Here’s an excerpt of the podcast transcript from On Being:

Ms. Williams: When my mother was dying, I was in bed with her, rubbing her back and she said, “Terry, I’m leaving you my journals.” And I didn’t know she kept them. And she said, “But you must promise me one thing: that you won’t look at them until after I’m gone.” And I gave her my word. She passed. A month went by. My father was gone, my brothers were out of the house. I was cleaning and I thought, “Today. Today’s a good day to find my mother’s journals.” And I found them exactly where she had said they would be, hidden in the closet. Three shelves filled with journals, each one handpicked, each one bound in cloth, gingham, denim, flowered, so on and so forth. And I took a deep breath — my mother was such a private person — and I thought, “Finally, I will be able to know what she was thinking, where she was.” And I opened the first journal and it was blank. I opened the second journal; it was blank. As was the third. All of my mother’s journals were empty.

Ms. Tippett: How do you understand that?

Ms. Williams: I don’t. And that’s the mystery, that’s the, you know, I don’t know. And that’s what’s got me thinking about voice. You know, what is it? How do we find it? How do we keep it? How do we use it?

Does that blow your mind or what? Does that make you feel faint? Your imagination is off running and spinning in all directions, struggling to make meaning? Me too! Oh, me too! Less than half-way thru Williams’ slim book (on variation twenty-four), I already find her journey into voice to be broad and deep enough for diving, and refreshingly, without answers. We are left only with questions like the ones she mentioned in the transcript above. She doesn’t know the meaning behind her mother’s gift. No one living ever will. The beauty, the gift, is in the struggle to make meaning, to understand, to frame the concepts of voice and legacy and relationship – to find the meaning we make for ourselves and to position ourselves in relation to that.

We know her mother gave her a gift. The way you explain that can tell you a lot about yourself.

I think often about my voice in relation to my daughter — how I express myself to her and in her presence, how I define myself as her mother, as a woman, a person, an artist. What am I saying, why, and how? What do I share and what do I keep private? Do I need to document my life in order to make it real, to be remembered, or I can trust my friends and family to remember me as they will? How do I encourage, stifle, ‘manage’ my daughter’s own voice? What is she learning about speaking and about keeping silent? How do I make myself known to her — is that something I even need to do? Can I let my child make her own decisions about who I am? What legacy of self-expression am I leaving behind? Is this all-consuming effort to nail down and declare who we are really a worthwhile endeavor? Maybe the worthwhile endeavor is looking out rather than looking in – spending time in relationship and letting others define the edges of ourselves, and what’s ‘inside’ is simply a mystery? I don’t know. I really don’t know.

The not knowing feels heart-breaking and beautiful.

This book makes me dream of a series of short performance pieces – variations on voice – inspired by When Women Were Birds. Perhaps drawn from multiple performance mediums – visual art, dance, film, theatre, music. Perhaps as a result of collaborations between multiple artists. Perhaps framed as a festival. Perhaps an opportunity for a community to come together to explore voice and silence, legacy and relationship.  I’m dreaming about all of this accompanied by the haunting of Williams’ story. What does it mean? What will it mean?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions…