“Make a gratitude list.” Huh? “Write a gratitude list.” What?
I do not remember if the first time I heard those words they were directed to me specifically or said to an audience in general. It was a long time ago. I was in the early stages of being brainwashed – that is, having my brain washed because Lord knows it needed it. I was working hard to try and keep an open mind about things in those days, most things, not like Red Sox and Yankees things, but most things. It was a new experience for me, keeping my mind open against the whatever, talk to the hand, no thank you attitude I had honed and owned over the years. “Try this.” No thanks. “This will help you.” No it won’t. “This might be good for you.” No, only I know what’s good for me. That was the attitude trying to loosen it’s grip on certainty, and open up a little, just a smidge, to suggestions from others. Those were the ears hearing “Write a gratitude list.”
It was explained to me that I had two choices. I could stay miserable, feel sorry for myself, go ahead and get the word “unfair” tattoed on my forehead. In other words, keep on keepin’ on with the woe that was my life. Or I could change the way I looked at things. And try – Oh Great Powhatan, is it really true – being grateful. Instead. As a way of life. I can see this or I can see that. I can focus on this or I can focus on that. I can moan about this, whine away, or I can choose something else. I can be grateful.
Now this may sound obvious and elementary and barely worth even taking the time to write about, never mind read in an artist blog. But I am here to tell you the difference between seeing the glass half empty and seeing it half full is nearly all the difference there is. Really. Truly. I ain’t kidding.
Let me give you an example. I was hired through serendipity and any number of fortunate circumstances to serve as the Director of Adolescent Services for Walden House in San Francisco. At a very high salary, way more than I had ever earned. I was given the chance for brand new experiences in my life. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the job done, could not meet some primary agency goals, and after about eight months I was told that a position was being created above me, to supervise me, and that I would be having a sizable reduction in salary. Wicked bummer, right? But, here’s the thing. I had been banging my east coast head against some people and systems in place and it wasn’t fun. I was living in California, working in San Francisco, the city by the Bay, making a ton of money, and I wasn’t having fun. Then my new boss came in and he needed my help where I was at my best (how do you work with teenagers) and didn’t need me where I was struggling (how do you fire these 11 people) and he was a great guy and we became wonderful friends. And the job became way more fun. And I was still making good money. And to this day, seven years later, Gavin remains my good friend. He has been a role model for courage. I have spent time living briefly with him here and there when I was on short-term Bay area adventures. My black car has some red paint on the right rear quarter from when I took some of the adolescent program with me driving out of the parking lot one afternoon, and when I happen to see it I don’t think of struggling at that job but of Gavin and lots of laughs and lots of good work.
I’m grateful I couldn’t get the job done. I’m grateful I needed extra supervision. So I can put that on my gratitude list. Oh, you know what else is there? It’s sunny in Portland when I write this. I’m typing on this neat business level computer that I paid next to nothing for because someone hooked me up with some guy – it was legal. I’m joyously married, sitting in this room in this house in Portland in which I can look around and see three guitars I can hardly play, all kinds of paint supplies and paintings I have painted and drawings I have drawn, and my fingers are still working, not with the kind of arthritis my mom had at this age, and I am wearing work boots I have had about 10 years now, and I can see my car out there that I have owned for 10 years and it’s the greatest car ever, and my eyes still work to see it and the guitars and the paintings and drawings, and I have a library card that opens up the doors of a magical kingdom any time I want to go in, and a black t-shirt that a co-worker gave me that says “To be is to do – Socrates, To do is to be – Sartre, Do be do be do – Sinatra”, and a Red Sox calendar I got for Christmas, and my two best ever friends in the world have died and I am still here, and I got to know them and love them and be loved by them, and my ears are allowing me to hear someone across the street playing “Electric Avenue”, and my legs took me on a walk through the woods by the river today, where a bald eagle swooped down right over my head, and I only had six dollars in my wallet but that’s more than I’ve had lots of other days in my life, and probably more than the guy I saw, with my eyes that still work, out the window from this room pushing a cart and collecting bottles yesterday, and I put a blog on my own Facebook art page today – I have an art page – that tried to express hope and inspiration and determination and dreaming because I have kicked around long enough for my heart to move into those places, and I talked with my good friend in Waltham, Mass. and another in Oakland, CA and my son Spenser in Florida and my daughter-in-law Alison in Alaska while I was walking on my legs that still work and seeing an eagle with my eyes that still see and driving to a coffee shop because I was in fact quite wealthy there with my six dollars, and read a Stephen King book about writing, and he probably would have nightmares, even him, over this unending sentence, and then came home – home – to write these words about do I want to piss and moan about this or that or do I want to, choose to, keep an ongoing and almost always expanding list in my head of the things for which I am indeed grateful.
You think this is my gratitude list? I haven’t even begun. I’ll just end by saying I’m grateful for the list.