The Gratitude Journal

Wind blows a cold edge
cutting and the rain splatters,
budding branches sway.

Bright flowers, scrumptious
dinners, chocolate dreams mean
nothing without you.

Through the dark or light,
a smile builds and reflects
a brightness within.

Hummingbird peers in.
There. The synchronicity
of the Universe.

Raven waits outside
and through my glass prison we
witness each other.


The Gratitude Journal

Writing to Meme by InkSpot's Blot
Writing to Meme, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

It’s been a little over a week since my last post. Some snotty little germ decided to trespass against my immune system and take me down. Since then I’ve had the dubious honor of taste testing no less than three different flavors of Nyquil. Green (most kindly described as absinthe-like), “cherry vanilla” (don’t bother waiting for the vanilla to hit you), and mixed berry. My favorite one? The one that knocks me out …

1. So in honor of bonding with my couch, bed, and local pharmacy, I am super grateful to be healthy. Having a cold is small beans compared to what other people have to face. I still bitch and complain about it. It is not pleasant when each swallow is like taking a cheese grater to the back of your throat. So, yay for health and healthy tissues.

2. Along the same strain, I am grateful for a deep, restorative, uninterrupted night of sleep. There’s nothing like spending a night in bed, shaking the walls with my cough of doom while I wonder if I’m keeping my neighbors up and if all cough drops are expediting an unfortunate path to dentures.

3. I’m grateful for Fire and Blood. What is this thing of which I speak? My YA fantasy fiction novel. It has been my friend and nemesis for years. Just recently I’ve started seeing it, and through it, myself, much differently. From spiky, alien plant with eyes in place of skin, it’s bloomed into fury color, dancing through the spectrum, equal measures of delicacy and strength. Vulnerability and courage.

4. I am grateful for the chance to learn. This weekend I went to my first SDSU Writers’ Conference. The conference design was precise, and delivered the perfect mix of opportunity and inspiration. The industry professionals there were honest, positive, and kind. I didn’t end the weekend with a book deal, but with something I feel is much more valuable. I feel energized to move forward in my quest. I am motivated. I am capable.

5. I’m grateful for birthdays. As my Mom says, the alternative rather sucks.

PS> This is an old photo from an amazing weekend in Switzerland.  Such a strange experience to writer with the aqua blue glacial water glinting in the distance, the mountains (real mountains) cradling us in their weathered palms, and the LOOSE cows getting curious about what this two-legged creature was doing on their neatly trimmed grass.

The Gratitude Journal

Sometimes gratitude doesn’t come easy. Especially when a little dark cloud is stalking you and trying to spit on your head. Even though my heart isn’t 100% in it, I’m still going to go for the weekly tradition of describing five things for which I am thankful. Maybe this dash of forced optimism will lighten the gloom, or force me to turn on the light.

1. I am grateful for the people who love me. I don’t always do the right things, and sometimes, loathe though I am to admit it, I’m not as strong as I pretend to be. And I need. This small group of dedicated souls accepts me as I am, offers me support when I need it, and cheers me on when I doubt myself. They give hugs, and pull out the truth, one splinter at a time. They know me, and don’t give up on me.

2. I am grateful for catharsis. Catharsis comes in many forms and may very well be underrated. There is physical activity: running, swimming, biking, hiking, whatever lets you release. There is singing, smashing, painting. There is talking and writing and dancing. There is crying. I’ve done three of these things today.

3. I am grateful for examples. This one is rather awkward and requires explanation. I was born with a certain set tools. Through my life experiences, I have modified those tools, and maybe added to them, or subtracted from them. However, my tool box is not necessarily adequate for the various things I must face. For example, I might do well at certain types of communication, and very poorly at others. Or I might not even think to communicate something because it’s simply outside my experience. Enter “the example”. This is when you see or hear about someone doing in a way that’s innovative to you. In a way you had never thought about before. And maybe these examples can be applied to my own life.


4. I’m grateful for This American Life. They produce amazing, thought-provoking, gripping shows. I learn a little a bit more about what it means to be human with each one. For better or worse.

5. I am grateful for 29th Street. It’s been my place to heal. To reflect. To make realizations, and hopefully make some progress towards something greater. I feel like it’s my cocoon through a long, painful chrysalis.

What are you grateful for?

The Gratitude Journal

Color and Cloud by InkSpot's Blot
Color and Cloud, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

1. I am grateful for sunsets. And sunrises, too. Sure, there are the stunning colors that breathe fire into the sky. Sometimes you can see the whole spectrum reaching into or up from the horizon. Violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and a flirtation of red. Aside from the amazing sight, aside from the sense of time, there is the sense of movement. Of going from one state to another. Transformation. Transmogrification. As much as things can be explained, how much more or less are they when they are also felt?

2. I am grateful for openness—of the body, mind and heart. Coming to the mat in yoga, after being away from it for a while, I can feel the restriction in my knees and hamstrings, hips and shoulders. The beginning of a class/session starts out so awkward, constrained and refusing to release. Slowly, the binding loosens; the body becomes more fluid.

An open mind is even more of a challenge. It seems we spend our entire lives building the tract to which we fasten our minds. There is a certain way of doing, seeing, being. A singular fixed point that strains against any challenge to it. Refusing. But openness here, flexibility of sight enables a more thorough examination of the human condition. Creates the opportunity for understanding, which is not the same thing as agreeing, cowing, etc. It merely allows more data points for building a more accurate or better model. It helps us grow, develop, change and become.

3. I am grateful for endorphins. How else is it possible to feel so good after a punishing workout? Or to get so cranky that you haven’t had one in a few days? The body’s natural medicine cabinet. Endogenously produced opiates. You don’t need elicit substances. Just a well-lived life.

4. To follow on the last one, I am grateful for my running gear. My new tights are awesome and make the early morning runs bearable (it can be 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which I just can’t handle on bare uninsulated skin). The new jacket is equally awesome, and provides some VERY efficient insulation. The shoes have been great (admittedly they’ve seen better days). Having the right gear makes this activity as comfortable as it can be.

5. I am grateful for the chance to be a better person each day, each hour, with each choice I make.

What’s in your gratitude journal?

The Gratitude Journal

love by InkSpot's Blot
love, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

1. I’m grateful for creativity. Here’s the catch, in this instance I’m not grateful for my own, but that of others. Like the sculptor who made the exquisite statue in the picture. Like the Apollon Musagete Quartet for their passionate music. Or the craftsmen who crafted the desk on which I’m working right now. No modern affair, it’s a Mission-style library table. The creativity of others is inspirational. It sparks, and catalyze, which is a gift beyond words.

2. I’m grateful for the kindness of others. [as long as it isn’t a creepy leer] The smile of a stranger can do strange things. A post-it note reminder that even when life sucks, someone, somewhere out there cares. That we can choose to be happy. That we can smile, and inevitably someone will smile with us. Years ago I was going through a rough spot. Events had me dragging and drooping everywhere. I was on the trolley and a homeless guy (at least he looked like one) came up to me. My alarms were jingling jangling like crazy, but I was humbled when he gave me an origami rose. It happened almost 15 years ago, but that moment, that kindness is fresh in my mind.

3. The randomness of the human experience. This one doesn’t always pan out. I could use the same example as above, but there is something more immediate and amusing: their are people randomly roaming the streets around my house tonight. They bear drums and bells and holiday cheer, singing [screaming actually, but that only adds to the charm] “I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas”. Huh? Yeah. That’s cool.

4. I’m grateful for “sometimes solitude”. I like being around people, even if I’m not all the apt at it. I love to do. To travel, to have projects, chores and errands (and yes, I like to complain about them, too), outings with friends and dinners. As much as I like those things, A moment to breath, to stretch. A moment to sit silent and alone. These spaces in between are just sweet.

5. The last thing. I am very grateful for hugs. I’m talking about hugs you give to and get from friends and family. Okay, or a romantic partner, but I’d argue during a platonic moment. A good hug must not be underrated or underestimated. Solid contact, closeness, decent duration (not indecent), and good force. When you hug, you should mean it. It’s a show of affection. A demonstration that we, you and I, are connected.

The Gratitude Journal

After the storm by InkSpot's Blot
After the storm, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

Five things.

1. I’m grateful for cookbooks. I have a certain degree of creativity in the kitchen, but I have never been the type of person to experiment heavily. Experimentation can bring success, but it can also bring failure. And in this case that means crappy tasting food. My fixation on predictable outcomes and efficiency makes this unacceptable for me. Enter the cookbook. It gives a starting point and suggests a precise route to the finish, should one chose to follow it. Otherwise it’s an awesome frame on which to build. Cookbooks = demystifying the kitchen and dietary independence.

2. My couch is pretty high on my list today. It’s been my trusty companion in recovering from a party last night. It doesn’t judge me when I lounge on it and watch a movie when I should be writing. Aside from being an inanimate object on which I can project, it represents something more. It was the first piece of furniture I bought after being on my own again. I picked it out, chose the fabric, negotiated the deal. Maybe a perfectly mundane act for most, but for me it was a moment of decisiveness propelled by my own will.

3. That simple acts can bring someone happiness. Yesterday I made my grandmother’s recipe for fruitcake. I just had to buy the stuff and put the time in. It wasn’t like twelve cupcakes and two mini-loaves was a monumental effort.

Meme lives in a board and care now, and hasn’t been able to cook for herself in years. She has this blue notebook in which she wrote some of her favorite recipes (this being one of them). They came from a time when she was a wife and a mother, and then a woman living on her own. She takes a lot of pride in them. When I visited this morning, a sheepish smile crossed her face and her eyes lit up. I usually talk about the problems I had with the recipe so she can help me troubleshoot it. Again, small act, but she’s happy to have something to help with.

4. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect. Each year I look back, review my goals and my behavior. How close did I come to living my ideals. How, how often, and why did I veer off course from being the person I know I can be, that kind of stuff. There is always a choice, a way to improve life, to be a better person. I am constantly tinkering, tweaking, reshaping myself and hopefully evolving.

5. I am grateful for light. For the magic it can bring. And the beauty.

The Gratitude Journal

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin base ‘gratus’. This root signifies thankful / pleasing, and also gives us the word ‘grace’. To traverse the rabbit hole a bit, from antiquity we have the Three Graces, the Charites, whose virtues were those of beauty, charm and creativity. This odd reflection on gratitude is only partially stimulated by the recent celebration of gluttony, also known as Thanksgiving. The New York Times ran an article called “A Serving of Gratitude Brings Healthy Dividends”, by John Tierney.

In it, Tierney summarizes the findings of various researchers. Basically, being grateful makes you a better person. The following are associated with a spirit of thankfulness: less depression and anxiety, being kinder and more understanding (especially in established, close, personal relationships), better health, better sleep.

Huh? Simply being grateful does all that for you? Being somewhat of a health nut, I’m thoroughly attracted to this idea. Being strange, I imagine bitterness and discontent changing us on some basic, cellular level. Like a darkness spreading inside and choking out beneficial interactions, slowing things down, making them more difficult and monumental. Still, how does it work? Does the neurochemistry of positivity cascade through other signaling channels, impact cellular machinery is some sublime way?

However it works, I’m intrigued by this notion, and its implications. Factor in the findings of the “gratitude journal” experiment. Participants were asked to write down five things for which they were grateful once a week. They did this for two months. At the end of the experiment, they reported sleeping better, feeling more optimistic, working out more and being happier. Interesting.

Thus begins my own personal Gratitude Journal.

1. Starting off with something small and stupid, I am grateful for my heater. The pilot’s been out since February (about 10 months). In San Diego, a heater is not all that necessary for most of the year. There are, however, ~3-4 months during which it’s a nice thing to have. After huddling under a mountain of blankets for a month and a half, I was very excited to not see my breath on Saturday morning, after SDGE coming out to light the pilot on Friday. Yay!

2. My mom found a sweet dog yesterday. She’d been dogless for two years (since Sammie passed away). My own dog passed away recently, so there’s a bit of a furry void. It’s not the right time for me, but it was the right time for her. The adoption event was full of wagging tails, loving volunteers, and people searching for new four-legged family members. I think Mom and Satin are a good match.

3. I’m grateful for my story, my history. It’s been a strange journey with unexpected twists and turns, and uncomfortable discoveries. It’s taken me inside and out. Still unfolding. Uncovering. Illuminating. Driving me ever forward.

4. Music. Because it makes my soul vibrate. Because it gives me hope that we aren’t just animals. That there is the capacity for more.

5. For out there. Out there is waiting to be discovered, with all its twist and turns. All its beauties and blights. The richer our experience, the greater our capacity for understanding, graciousness, appreciation, and hope. Right now I am open to and welcome out there. I feel the hunger to go further. To seek it out.

What’s in your gratitude journal?