Thankful Thursday: Ordinary Life

Because awareness begets gratitude and gratitude grows joy, it's Thankful Thursday. Please join me in a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things and more. 


drew myron photo

Daffodils with Lunchbox

This is my Grandma's lunchbox, recently unearthed from deep in a crawl space. Grandma Lucy — we called her Lu — lived to the age of 97 and passed in 2006. Last week we found this metal box in which she had scratched her name and the year, 1930. In that same box, my father tucked his own object of time, this glass bottle from Arvada Gibson. Because I like connections, I see a theme: name your place, mark your days, save a token of ordinary life.   


mather schneider photo

A Bag of Hands
A chapbook of poems on love and immigration by Mather Schneider. Tough, tender and telling. This slim volume is included with a subscription to Rattle, my favorite literary journal (another gratitude) and available here


andrew wyeth by usps
Andrew Wyeth stamps
I'm writing letters and sending notes just so I can use these stamps


jenny loughmiller photo
Hundred Hearts Project
Jenny Loughmiller is making gratitude tangible, creating 100 paintings for all the women who have impacted her life. 


drew myron photo
Words of place
sage, scrabble, scrub, lonesome, vast



What's on your list? What are you thankful for today? 




Love this line! 

We write about the dead to make sense

of our losses, to become less haunted,

to turn ghosts into words, to transform

an absence into language.

— Edwidge Danticat
The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story 


Writing about death, it turns out, is difficult. Emotionally, it is easy because grief is both wrenching and cleansing, and feels urgent and necessary. But such writing tends toward maudlin. How to write heartfully but without cliche? How to feel, but with measure? And why write about death, the most personal and moving of all actions, anyway? 

I've been writing about death a lot. No surprise, really, it's been a season of loss and I write with a pall that comes naturally. Sunny is not my default. And yet, writing about sadness helps me to carry the weight, helps me get to sunny. Or something. This is why I write. To make sense, to get through.

Edwidge gets it, do you? 




Get a Gimmick

A friend introduced me to these little gems, Haikubes, and I was giddy and willing. "I thought you might think them too gimmicky," she muttered. 

Are you kidding? Gimmicks get me to the page and keep me going. I've long advocated for writing exercises. In my early days I pledged allegiance to Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, then Julia Cameron's Morning Pages. Years later, I still rely on writing prompts to keep my mind open and my hand moving. 

From magnetic poetry to cross-out creations, every good gimmick tricks the mind. The best writing exercises stir the brain, but not too much. They provide structure, but loosely. Once the foundation is set, you let it flow. You don't try too hard. You don't worry about grammar or spelling. You don't edit. You keep the hand moving. It's all warm-up, this writing, this life. 

"If you find yourself caught in a bigger rut, what you really need is a new idea," writes Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit, "and the way to get it is by giving yourself an aggressive quota for ideas." 

This, I think, speaks directly to writing exercises. They are timed, structured, and demand delivery of goods. 

"A lot of interesting things happen when you set an aggressive quota, even with ideas," she continues. "People's competitive juices are stirred. Instead of panicking they focus, and with that comes an increased fluency and agility of mind." 


My recent go-to gimmick is from The Writer's Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long: 

Go to a cafe. Or go to a park. Or go to a library. Or go down to the river. Write for fifteen minutes at a steady pace without stopping. Describe what's in front of you. You can describe the whole scene, or just one object.

Don't write about anything except what you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Don't write your feelings, opinions, or reflections. Wite color and shape. Write sound. No feelings. No opinions. No thoughts.

These writings connect you to the world, to where you are. The more you do them, the more aware you become. They are pure training in sensory observation.

Will these exercises produce strong stories or keeper poems? Maybe, but not likely. But they will provide a warming and a stretch. For every dance, there are the first tentative steps. For every song, the initial wobbled notes. Writing exercises and "gimmicks" are the first clearing in a brambled hike. They help start the walk that will expand your view. 

What gets you writing? What's your gimmick? 



Thankful Thursday: I Don't Know

Already, the sky has turned. Blue gray canvas. Even the trees appear darker, thicker, a bit menacing. This is February, the uncertain season.

I was born into uncertainty, carrying a certain sadness. Everyone has something —  freckles, large ears, a slump —  that thing they can’t shake.


No more choking on tears, no more choking back, folding in half. No more sorrys, no more loss. I don't want to count the weeks that turn to months. No anniversaries. No more landmarks of what is now history, the past. 

We will hold it in and read and sleep and eat too much and drink just enough to soften and blur, and wake too tired to carry on. We will keep calm. We will wear clothes that button and shoes that pinch, feel wounded by those who don't ask how we are and tender toward those who do. 

We will stop counting, and stop looking for photos because we have searched and found just two, and only one in focus, and we will cry because we didn't love you enough to take more.


And now I’m doing just what everyone says: remember the good times. The mind races, as you undoubtedly know, trying to make sense, make good, make better.


I'm partial to sun, blue sky, summer. But yesterday I shoveled snow and felt a sort of vigor, a thankfulness that I was able to lift and twist, that I could breathe in and full. I felt the heft of weather as something other than burden.


Don't fall in love with your sadness, holding brokenness like a baby cradled. 

And yet, how to live authentic, real, full. How to feel without making a scene?


There is, of course, a beauty in sadness. Uncertainty turned inside out. A clarity through tears. 


At the nursing home, a small voice is asking questions I can’t answer: How long will I be here? What happens next? 

Her eyes plead, lost and scared. I soothe with small talk, small words, soft voice. I make hot chocolate and hold her hand.  I don’t know, I am saying without saying. I don’t know, I don’t know.


Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things and more. When we see, we see more. When we express, we feel. When we feel, we see more. When we see, we are thankful.

What are you thankful for today? 




This will happen to you, too

The world is full of sickness and death. Or, maybe just my world — though I suspect if you live long and love deeply this will happen in your world too. 

In times of sadness and uncertainty, I turn to books. And so, for the last few years as sickness set in and death hovered, I considered what makes a good life, and a good death, and how do we get there? So you don't have to wade through the muck (death/dying/grief is a saturated market!), let me share the books that have helped me through: 

Being Mortal:
Medicine and What Matters in the End

Knocking on Heaven’s Door:
The Path to a Better Way of Death


God’s Hotel:
A Doctor, A Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Bettyville: A Memoir 

All the Dancing Birds

These books provided insight, perspective, and sometimes solace. But really, after all the research and study, the best information came from two unexpected sources: a movie and a friend. 

The Meyerowitz Stories is not a great movie but sometimes the right sentiment hits you in the right place at the right time. In this movie (available on Netflix) three adult children are dealing with their difficult, declining father. They are told the five things to say to him before he dies:

I love you.

Forgive me.

I forgive you.

Thank you. 


These short sentences are powerful. And, it turns out they are adapted from a book — of course! —  The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living, by Dr. Ira Byock, a leader in palliative care.

Years ago, before I started walking my own family and friends to the end, a friend in the throes of her own loss tendered these wise words:

Death is not a crisis

Death has the power to make us reel, ache and fold in half. And it may feel like an emergency, all adrenaline and fog. But death, like birth, is nature, not crisis.