Gratitude Shmatitude

After reading Louise’s heartfelt post yesterday about all the people who have helped her along the way, I’m tempted to go schmaltzy and do the same. But the thing is, that’s not me. I have a reputation among my friends of not being a terribly emotional person. I’m the kind of person you come to when you want a problem solved, not the person you turn to for a good cry and a hug. I will sympathize, I will empathize, and if you really need it, I will give you a hug. But it’ll be one of those awkward, pat-on-the-back, should-I-have-let-go-by-now? hugs.

Sunset
“Gratitude—the meanest and most sniveling attribute in the world.” —Dorothy Parker

About a year ago, a gratitude challenge was going around Facebook. One of my friends, Kate, challenged me to it, even though Kate knows better than most that public displays of, well, anything, are not my style. I save the emotion for the written page of my stories. Anyway, the idea was to post, for five days, three things for which you’re grateful. I accepted the challenge, but in true form, I may not have taken it seriously, and while my friends were gushing over loved ones and pets and trees with changing leaves and warms cups of coffee on cold days and beautiful fall sunsets, I came up with things like:

  • I am grateful my son has learned to make my morning latte without spilling (too much) milk and that my daughter knows the difference between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan.
  • I am grateful for my FitBit because it gives me a socially acceptable way to taunt and mock my friends.
  • I am grateful that Facebook allows to me socialize with people without my having to actually interact with them. No, that’s not a bourbon in my hand. No, I haven’t been wearing the same shirt for three days. No, I don’t know from where that empty bag of Oreos came. Stop judging me!
  • I am grateful that my husband was so grossed out when I said, “If you just buy more underwear, you won’t have to do laundry more than once a month,” and now I get clean clothes every Sunday!

Look, put me in a room with my kids and my husband, and I’m a total sap. My kids think I’m the mushiest thing ever, the way I chase them around to smooch them. My husband and I do have our romantic moments, but we are both in total agreement on keeping those moments between ourselves; you’ll never see us posting lovey dovey sentiments or kissy-faced photos (at least not with each other) on Facebook.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel gratitude. I recently wrote my book acknowledgments and I let all the folks I appreciate know how I feel. My agent is so smart and so supportive. My editor has an amazing eye. My writing group is da bomb. My fellow Debs are a total support group. My family has put up with so much. But gushing about them here isn’t my style. However, this is Thanksgiving week and the Debs have determiend that I’m supposed to be publicly grateful for something, so I’ll give it whirl.

What am I grateful for?
I’m grateful for books. I’m grateful that when the world seems to be falling down around me, as it seems to be doing every time I turn on the news, that I have books. I have books to escape into, books to strengthen me, books to teach me.

I’m grateful that I live in a family of readers, starting with my own parents who always had a book in hand and who made sure I learned to read young. My parents never censored my reading, and I’m grateful that when the librarian told my mother, “WIFEY is not an appropriate book for a ten year old,” my mother replied, “She can read whatever the hell she wants.” (For the record: I read it, but really didn’t understand it.)

Reading on the porch
My reader boy over the summer. I was NOT grateful when he cut off all that beautiful hair (but was grateful that he loved TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD).

I’m grateful I have two children who can’t stop reading and that I have to yell at them to stop reading and go to sleep or I’ll take away their books (note: I have never, not once, followed through on this threat, and I’m pretty sure they know I never will. Now the Xbox is a whole different story).

I’m grateful that I have the luxury to write. That I live in a place where I don’t have to worry about shelter or food or my personal safety. A lot of incredibly smart, incredibly talented people are out there who have lots to say but no way of saying it, and I won’t use this as a place to rant about immigrant quotas and how unless you’re of Native American descent, we were all once immigrants, and everyone deserves a chance, but I’m thinking it, and this is exactly when I turn off the news and retreat into a book.

I am grateful that my family will come to me for Thanksgiving and I don’t have to brave traffic. I am grateful that the biggest arguments my family gets into these days is whether to put marshmallows or meringue on our sweet potatoes. I am grateful that everyone encourages to me to see how much bourbon I can put in our dinner (In years past it’s gone into the turkey, the potatoes, the cranberry sauce, and the pecan pie, but I know there are more things I can cook with the stuff). I am grateful that we have a tradition of watching a silly movie after Thanksgiving dinner and I no longer have to put the kids to bed first (I’m voting to watch Trainwreck this year). I’m grateful that at the end of the night, I will curl up in my warm bed, full and a little boozy, and read a great book until I drift off to sleep.

All you people in life. My family. My running friends. My mom friends. My writing friends. My friends old and friends new. All the folks out there who read this blog and support us fledgling writers. You know I’m grateful for you. I may not always be the best at expressing it. But it’s there. And I’m grateful for that.

Read more posts at the Debutante Ball about gratitude.

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Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at www.jennifersbrown.com.

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This article has 12 Comments

  1. My parents were the same way — and I’m really grateful for that. There were movies they wouldn’t take me to, but no books were off limits, and I was always encouraged to read (not that I needed much encouragement).

    My perception is that this thing of books having a big list of acknowledgements is pretty new. I don’t remember ever seeing that in a novel from the 19th or early 20th century. Dedications, of course, but that’s about it. I wonder when that changed.

    “What am I grateful for? I’m grateful for books. ”

    Reminds me of the end of one of the Fast & Furious movies where the main characters, the “family,” are gathered around a table, about to eat, and one of them says grace, listing all the many things they’re grateful for, ending with “and, most of all, thank you for fast cars.” 🙂

    1. Ha!

      Anthony, you had me running to some of my older books, and you are right, there were no acknowledgments. It makes me wonder at the genesis of the trend. I wonder if it has to do with the commercialization of the process (I imagine there are many more people involved now). Part of me, skeptically, wonders if it has to do with the fact that there are more women writers. It might be interesting to compare the acknowledgments in books by male authors and female authors. (But I don’t want to start any gender-related debates here, thought that could be a fascinating article). Of course it could be as simple as a technology thing. In the days of yore, it was much harder to do thorough research (and I bet more nonfiction books had acknowledgments than fiction) and it wasn’t so easy to dash off a copy of your book to others to give feedback. Fewer people probably touched the manuscript before it went to publication.

      But then again, I could be talking out of my butt. I have no idea why the trend really started. 🙂

  2. I love your wit and humor! I occasionally break my tough-girl mold and go all sappy on our ever-growing family, and although our adult kids roll their eyes at my mushy gushing, I think everyone secretly likes to be appreciated. Of course, we don’t want to get too carried away! 😉
    And you are a runner with an empty bag of Oreos next to your keyboard? That is me too!

    1. Thanks, Jill! Yes, empty bag of Oreos, a drained bottle of bourbon, and my kvetching to my running buddies on Saturday mornings about how it doesn’t make sense that I’m so sluggish on my runs. I’m sure there’s no connection! 🙂

  3. Jennifer, you and I are like soul sisters or something. Running? Bourbon? Terrible huggers? Bad at schmaltz and verklempting? Check and quadruple check. I think my post tomorrow is going to say “go read Jennifer’s post.”

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