Evolve or Disappear

from the archives: an evolution of gratitude

“Greatful” List, age 7. My mother was a fan of lists and taught me to be grateful at an early age. Spelling skills came later. Here’s one she framed: dogs and cats and family and friends. It still hangs in the living room of my childhood home.

Medium: Pencil on a sheet torn from her sketchpad.

Gratitude Journal, age 35. After two decades of a hard-driving life, when the only thing in my life remotely related to gratitude was a Grateful Dead show, I finally stopped running away from myself. A page from Year One:

Dear Universe:
Thank you for keeping me sober, one day at a time.
Yours truly,
Me

Medium: Leatherbound journal, purple gel pen.

Gratitude Blog Posts, age 50. So, this happened: I quit the insurance career I never planned on to take care of my mother and somehow became what I always wanted to be: a writer. I started this flash blog to sort things out. Dementia. Family. Caregiving. Recovery. Dogs and cats. Running. Depression. Writing. From the depths of despair, writing brought a sliver of hope. And yeah, I wrote a few posts about gratitude.

Medium: keyboard and website. Cyberspace.

Gratitude DadTexts, Pandemic edition. Shortly before the pandemic, my father moved from his beloved old island cottage to an assisted living community. Before he’d had time to make friends, the place went on lockdown. Lonely and a little sad, he was stuck in a tiny apartment with his aging cat, Gilbert. Like my mother had done all those years ago, I revived the Grateful List and every day for three months we exchanged lists via text.

Medium: iPhone.

100 Days of Gratitude Sketches, 2022. Last month, I stumbled onto Suleika Jaouad’s 100-Day Project, with the simple guidelines to “create one beautiful thing each day.” Daily now, I leave the comfort of my word world to orbit a new galaxy of art: a tiny sketch of one thing I’m grateful for each day. The artwork isn’t pretty and clearly, I did not inherit my mother’s artistic talents, but the challenge is unexpectedly exhilarating.

Medium: sketchbook, colored pencils and markers.

My gratitude journey goes on and on, it never stops. My seven-year-old self knew it all along.

amazon packages, paint tube, a bird’s egg and the lifeguard hat: these are a few of my favorite things

Underthinking

I’m over it

A million years ago in the days of resumes and job interviews, I considered being detail-oriented my biggest strength.

Analyzing every angle, stripping the layers of a project bare, problem solving any potential flaw—that’s how I roll even now, long after the career ended.

In the next chapter of my working life—family caregiver, petsitter, writer—attention to detail is still critical, but more often, crippling. The octopus tentacles of overthought options often overwhelm. Funding for my dad’s lifespan. A new furnace for island house. Multiple revisions to a manuscript. Another road trip back East.

Overthinking: I suppose it lies somewhere between impulsive and ponderous on the life balance chart. And, yeah, I suck at moderation.

If overthinking is the spawn of perfectionism, it should come as no surprise that I’m a recovering perfectionist. In sobriety, I’ve gradually learned to accept progress over perfection—which, as Lyle McKeany writes, is easier said than done. And if it’s true that the devil’s in the details, I can either drive myself mad with them or chill.

So. Why not take a vacation from overthinking, both literally and figuratively? As I press the “book tickets” button on my screen—my spontaneous experiment in underthinking a Mexican vacation—I’m a bit giddy. Did I spend days trying to coordinate frequent flyer miles and seating arrangements? No. Did I obsess over the weather forecast and repack my suitcase six times? No. Did I research the best restaurants and plan snorkeling and kayaking adventures? Again, no. I honestly have no idea where to find the freshest yellowfin tuna, if there’s a beach near the hotel or the peso-dollar conversion rate.

Overthinking. Just for today, I’m over it.

Humble Truth

It’s a safe bet that everything I’ve written over the years—the unfinished novels, the journals and sketches, the essays and poems and stories, published or not—will never be showcased in an academic library.

And although I am compelled to preserve decades of writing—necessary proof that, yes, I am a writer—I’m at a loss. Four generations of writers in the family and the legacy ends with me. Who am I doing this for? Why do I write? And how do I smash the selfish quest for recognition? How do I balance humility with purpose?

After a couple of sober decades, I’ve learned a little about humility and ego. These days, I’d much rather write under the radar than promote my work. Write as if I’m the only one reading it. Write for the enjoyment of putting words on a page.

And even when it feels as if writing futures are inked in cyberspace and the persistent pivot to new platforms is a prerequisite to a writer’s evolution, I write. For myself. For hope. For strength. I write because every person, every place, every moment holds a story and I am simply the storytelling conduit.

So I continue to create artifacts for a future era, borne from an endless stream of joy and agony—digital archives and notebooks in a dusty attic hope chest along with my mother’s sketchbooks. My grandmother’s onionskin manuscripts. The drawings for a Hemingway novel my father’s father illustrated. My words, the offspring of an otherwise barren womb, perpetuate the family writing legacy. Giving meaning to life. Giving life meaning.

And if my words help another writer questioning their own purpose, then for me, humble writing is the purpose.