What I’m thinking about but not writing about:
- The war in Ukraine
- The stealing of rights across America (I did write briefly about this)
- The related collapsing of democracy in America
- The terrible violence across the world
- The ongoing destruction humans insist on doing to this planet (Oh yeah, I did touch on this one recently, too)
- All the people who are cold, hungry, tired, existing without any semblance of safety
- My own people who are suffering in ways I cannot solve alone
Most of those topics already have authors tackling them with eloquence and urgency. As for the last one, much as my life may be intertwined and despite the not-wholly-inaccurate cliché of writers viewing people as material, I cannot tell someone else’s story. Instead, just as I set up recurring donations to various nonprofits fighting for good and striving to save what we can, I repeat the same actions to find what peace of mind might exist.
Of course, being the person I am, the days I fail to get the exercise, do the meditation, pour gratitude into the journal transmit exactly as that: a fail. Once upon a time, before wellness trends infused all aspects of American culture, the only tool I counted on to keep my mental state relatively intact was getting outside, preferably in the ocean, but even a walk would do. Now I must remember not only to exercise, but to meditate, to journal, to engage in creative activities, to spend time gardening, to wear something I love every single day. Don’t even get me started on the obsession with sleep. I was happier when I viewed my chronic insomnia as an inconvenience or even an opportunity to write instead of a nightly march toward deterioration.
Of course, sleep is important! All of it is important! Meditation is great! I should wear something that makes me feel fabulous every single day! (Current outfit: Rip Curl sweats with that retro-California vibe I’m a sucker for, a long-sleeved berry-colored T-shirt picked up at a Tractor Supply in Kentucky.) What perturbs me is the ever-lengthening of the to-do list, the added stress of adding the anti-stress tasks to everything else demanding to be done.
Yesterday, returning down the street from the mailbox, I noticed a profusion of red and purple coloring the backyard foliage visible over the fence. The plum tree had decided to produce this year. I tucked the assortment of junk mail and inevitable New Yorker magazine into my left hand, reached over the weathered planks with my right and snagged a plum. Some years, the fruits have lacked sweetness, so I bit into this one expecting disappointment.
Instead, the plum offered up delight, ripe enough that juice trickled down my chin, sweet enough that I wanted to go around into the backyard to collect more. Back inside, I tossed the mail – sans the New Yorker – into the paper recycling bin and googled plum recipes. (The New Yorker went into the pile of New Yorkers indicating a certain optimism that someday I will stretch out on the couch and read these magazines.)
More would happen before I could go out and pile plums into a bowl. My phone would light up with people needing this or that, I’d find myself collecting the horrible anti-Semitic flyers some asshole had littered down my street, a household shortage of lemons would require a Co-op run. The San Francisco Giants would surprise me by winning a game. But around 7pm, I remembered the plum tree.
Did you know “gratitude fatigue” is a thing? I was not surprised. Let me try anyway. The trick, experts say, is to stretch your brain into appreciating what you haven’t before.
Thing to be grateful for #1: That a plum tree lives in my backyard. Because plums appeared like magic and also what a delight, to have a backyard, a garden to walk around, a home I love.
Thing to be grateful for #2: A springform pan. I often think about the years I worked for paychecks that didn’t cover the bills needing to be paid, how buying something as trivial as a piece of bakeware or extra ingredients for a cake would have wrecked the budget, caused me to fall short on the electric bill, the water bill, having enough gas money to get through the week. Nowadays, I’m safely above the poverty line I spent so long living under, able to keep the house stocked with baking staples and better kitchen ware, able to meet at least some opportunities, some crises without being financially undone.
Thing to be grateful for #3: The cake itself, half of which I devoured while reclined in an oversized, supremely comfortable chair in front of two episodes of the latest season of Peaky Blinders. The chair is one of matched pair I purchased from a friend, along with the rest of the furniture from her well-appointed office when the COVID pandemic eliminated her need to maintain the space. She gave me a sweet deal and in return I spared her from having to sell the pieces individually on Craigslist. For years, our living room furniture consisted of a friend’s mom’s old couches, strategically draped with throw blankets to hide the cat scratches and stains. While I still long for a slick rectangular dining table to complete the great room, most everything else finally looks like the home of people succeeding in life – a superficial observation, maybe, but presentation matters to me. I want the people who come into my home to feel warmth, comfort, peace, light, beauty.
Including my people whose suffering I can not wholly ease and for whom a comfortable chair and plum cake would be scant comfort. These are the sorts of things I have to offer, though, simple physical manifestations of my heart. My heart itself, they already own.