One of my friends writes a gratitude post on Facebook every day. Sometimes she’s grateful for a banana, sometimes it’s more profound, like a clear medical test or the fact that she has a roof over her head. Her posts are simple, short sentences that begin, “Today I am grateful for…” It’s the simplicity of those statements and the fact that she shares them with a wide audience that fascinates me. It’s not enough for her to think these things; she discloses them publicly, with modest, declarative statements.
This friend’s public declarations of gratitude remind me of one my favorite books, Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. Over the course of a year, Gay (a poet) set out to write daily flash essays about things that delight him. He’s collected 102 of these in one of the loveliest books I know, which came to me at a time when I really needed more delight. Basically, these are essays about gratitude, and he’s written on a variety of topics, large and small: inefficiency, writing by hand, high fives from strangers, the song “Stay” by Lisa Loeb, kombucha (in a mid-century glass), babies, a pawpaw grove, and even scat (the biological not musical). This little book makes me happier than I should be these days, and so I’ve shared it with a number of people, including my mother, who reads one essay like a meditation each evening before she turns out the light—a delightful ritual that I think of often.
Gratitude makes us feel happy, even in the face of envy and jealousy. I’m jealous of Ross Gay’s words, how they so easily roll across the page, seeming effortless, but even someone else’s gratitude, his expressions of delight, is infectious in a good way—like a laugh or a smile. The research on the effects of gratitude is still slight, but there is growing evidence that gratitude helps us to feel happy and stay that way. I think that’s because gratitude—when expressed appropriately, when not used to cover up or make invisible real pain that should be expressed, too—is a little like hope. We need all of these good feelings, especially when we’re facing really difficult experiences.
When people ask me how I like being ASJA president, I usually respond with two answers: It’s hard work, and it’s a lot of fun. I honestly mean both. Having a birds-eye view of the organization is exciting. Working with other ASJA leaders on programming feels good. And all of that takes a lot of time and energy. I am grateful for both the fun and the hard work. And it’s time to get specific about my gratitude list. So, I’m going to borrow and adapt the practices of my Facebook friend and Ross Gay with an end-of-2020 gratitude list.
- I am grateful to be a writer, especially an independent writer.
- I am grateful for the trust and encouragement that ASJA members offer to me and others in our organization.
- I am grateful for our staff members, Holly, James, and James, who manage the day-to-day of ASJA programming. (In particular, I’m grateful that they were able to get the website back up after a nasty malware attack!)
- I am grateful that Emily Paulsen, ASJA’s vice president, is so level-headed and positive.
- I am grateful to have learned from such different and successful past presidents as Milt Toby, Sherry Beck Paprocki, and Randy Dotinga.
- I am grateful that Milt Toby suggested we stand in line at the Supreme Court days before the 2019 ASJA Regional Conference in Washington, D.C., so that we could see Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the bench during oral arguments of a case.
- I am grateful for the dozens of volunteers who have said “yes,” when asked to give of their time and expertise. I am also grateful for those who said, “not right now,” or “not for this volunteer job.”
- I am grateful for my under-the-desk treadmill that I walk on while I’m answering ASJA emails every day.
- I am grateful for email and for Zoom.
- I am grateful for Lottie Joiner’s impromptu videos of Washington D.C. during her morning walks/runs.
- I am grateful for my iPhone’s timer, which tells me when it’s time to switch from ASJA work to my writing.
- I am grateful for the countless ASJA members who showed me how to be a freelance writer.
- I am grateful for my voice (both literal and figurative).
- I am grateful for Wendell Berry and Carson McCullers and Annie Dillard and Eula Biss and Maggie Nelson and all of the other essayists and memoirists who have shown me how to write and be a writer.
- I am grateful for the long days that stretch out in front of me, with deadlines and false starts and pitches and submissions – even when they go nowhere. I am grateful for the nos and the crickets. I am grateful for the stories I wrote that fed my soul and for the ones that paid the bills. I am grateful for the times when I could write for hours and the days when I was happy to produce 50 bad words.
- I am grateful to have this independent life, for as long as I possibly can.
Here’s to a happy and healthy end of year for all of you. I hope you feel genuinely grateful for something—anything—big or small.