Have a little extra time on this snowy morning? Click on over to www.lotusandrabbit.com to read an update on my quest for a simple year.
Thanks for reading …
Humans have gone public with their gratitude.
People who, in the past, may have tucked gratitude journals into nightstand drawers or sent the occasional quirky thank you note can now post their blessings on social media.
Perhaps nowhere was this public expression of brazen thankfulness more evident than on Valentine’s Day, when the Internet flashed pink and red and downright mushy.
There were photos of date nights. E-cards. Photos of flowers. Photos of adorable sock monkeys tucked into heart-frosted coffee cups. There was even the occasional fretful post—I think he forgot, no wait, he does love me!
It’s not just Valentine’s Day, of course. Humans have become obsessed with thanking, congratulating, and complimenting one another online. (Don’t believe it? Try changing your Facebook profile page to a current photo of yourself and let the positive affirmations rain on your grumpy parade.)
So … here’s what I would like to know: What the heck is wrong with that?
Some say public expressions of “gratitude” are nothing more thinly veiled boastfulness. We don’t want to see the sunset from Bora Bora, they say, when our front yards are locked in layers of ice and snow. Don’t post a selfie of you and your dashing date while we are mucking our way through divorce. Be quiet about your child’s latest accomplishment, because ours didn’t get a part in that play.
Some people say we have forgotten how to express gratitude privately—how to celebrate without an audience.
But what if we’ve just forgotten how to be happy for one another? What if we are losing the fine art of applauding someone else’s good day?
It’s easy and safe to connect with our friends (and virtual friends) via the results of another online survey. (What Star Wars character are you? Queen Amidala!) It is considerably more challenging to connect with friends over more complex human trials and emotions.
One friend excels while another falters. One friend soaks in the sunrise as another struggles to get out of bed. Two friends uncover love, while two others resign themselves to love’s withering.
And, yes, much of this can now unfold in relative public. We have become, once again, the smallest of tribes, where everyone bears witness to your delights and sufferings. We have, many of us, become celebrities of sorts, pawning our privacy for a few spotlight moments and a Facebook anniversary video.
We can’t seem to help ourselves. Sometimes, we’ve just got to let our happy out.
And yet … there are quite a few of us left (at least around here) who grew up in real-life small towns. We always knew the world was never as anonymous as others expected it to be.
Humans were designed to celebrate—to feel joy and to share it. So go ahead. Be grateful. Count your blessings. Gratitude is contagious. There are a lot worse sentiments to be spreading online.
On Valentine’s Day, I found myself in the grocery store, surrounded by the giddy tsunami of flowers, balloons, and chocolates. The employees were handing out a variety of decadent samples, so my daughter and I decided to partake in the chocolate-covered strawberries.
Before I could choose from the bounty of confectionary wonders before me, the chef behind the counter presented me with a plain strawberry, deep red and gorgeous. He held it by its leafy green stem—a gift. Giving someone a strawberry is like giving someone a rose, he said. Beautiful.
Then he encouraged me to select a chocolate-dipped strawberry as well.
And so it goes. I was given two strawberries on Valentine’s Day, one sweet and adorned, one luscious and organic. To be clear, the chef wasn’t flirting. He was simply sharing the abundance and reminding me to appreciate it.
As I walked through the parking lot, I never worried that someone might mock or be threatened by my two-fisted indulgence. When life hands you strawberries, there’s no room for anything beyond sweetness.
I’m not boasting about my Valentine’s surprise. At least I’m not intending to. I share stories of gratitude because I can’t help being dumbstruck by the fullness of living. I expect others feel the same way.
Don’t make life smaller by being cautious in your awe of it.
Can we agree to forgive one another our momentary lapses into silly appreciation and our fawning over unexpected blessings?
Sure be conscious not to fall into boastfulness. But remain unapologetic about authentic gratitude. Did you fall in love today? With your family? Your dog? A song? A stranger? The best salad you ever ate?
Tell me all about it.
I’m happy for you.
Poet Jim Reese is one of my favorites, and he is also editor-in-chief of the literary journal PADDLEFISH. If you’ve got some top-notch poetry, consider sending it in according to the following rules:
2014 William Kloefkorn Prize for Excellence in Poetry
The 2014 William Kloefkorn Award for Excellence in Poetry
One winner receives $500 and publication in PADDLEFISH. Submission fee
$14 (for two poems). All poets submitting to the contest receive a copy
of the forthcoming journal. All submissions will also be considered for
the forthcoming issue ofPADDLEFISH. The contest is judged by PADDLEFISH editor-in-chief Jim Reese and associate editor Dana DeWitt. All contest entrants can submit up to two poems for consideration each year. Each poem should not exceed two pages single-spaced. NO previously published work. NO simultaneous submissions.
Send a $14 check payable to Mount Marty College. In the subject line
write Kloefkorn Award. On the submission envelope please write
Kloefkorn Award. Please include SASE for the winning announcement.
Submission period Nov. 1, 2013 - Feb. 28, 2014. The winner will be
announced no later than April 30, 2014.
*Don’t forget to include your email, phone number and mailing address
on the REVERSE side of each poetry submission
Send entries to:
Jim Reese, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English, Mount Marty College
1105 West Eight St.
Yankton, SD 57078
I am currently making my way through a self-published book, or, as these titles are increasingly called—an “Indie” title. The book is interesting, engaging, and refreshingly free of grammatical errors. In fact, I’d say it’s most likely strong enough to attract a number of traditional publishers. The author, however, declares within the pages of the work that he did not want to share any revenue from his book with anyone. He wrote it. He should reap the rewards.
My advice: Go ahead and share. The funny thing about editors is that they tend to give before they receive. They are the most amazing of creatures in this way, living to help you breathe new life into your own creative expression. Their names never get printed on the dust jackets, but you often see them on the dedication page, where authors grovel in print.
Think about that for a minute.
You, dear author, have no fewer than 25 pages of straight dialogue in chapter five of your book, and any editor worth their paycheck would have challenged you to rework that section into something less—ahem—exhausting for your readers. You also use the word malefic two times in as many pages. Drop a malefic, please. I get that you have an advanced vocabulary. Don’t push me.
Also, I feel compelled to point out that, in one description (so far) your sky is “cerebral.” A good editor would challenge you: What is cerebral about your sky? Because, as a reader, I’m wondering … is this sky you are describing thoughtful or is it worth thinking about. I’m confused, and my confusion has lifted me from your prose long enough to question your intentions.
You may be quick to point out that I am a writer and a book critic, but not an editor. True. I have, however, worked with editors and, at the risk of sucking up to them even more in print than I already do, I would be less of a writer without their challenges and guidance. Sometimes they simply email to ask me what I want to write next. Sometimes they demand clarity. Sometimes they nudge me in directions I never expected to go.
Editors are like that.
True, I have also been ignored by distant, faceless editors (many of whom have presumably assigned some intern lackey to mail me yet another rejection letter) and I suspect you have been bloodied by rejection as well. So, editors can be impatient, overworked, ignorant, and jaded.
That’s the biz, baby.
Allow me to interrupt myself here in order to interject my gratitude for the book designers of the world, none of whom work for the “Indie” presses, apparently. I know relatively nothing about how book designers work. But I do know this: Authors need them.
Readers need them even more.
Your book, dear author, has a spine that prohibits me from reading the first word in every line unless I crack it like dried bark, releasing the pages from their discount-glue binding. And please do not get me started on the too-shiny, too-slippery covers that seem to grace every one of these titles. I dropped your book—seriously, it slipped out of my hands. The first time I touched it, I left a fingerprint that has yet to smudge off. You need a book designer. Not a graphic designer. A book designer. Yes, that’s a job.
And now, for my final irony. This essay will be launched into the world with no editor to urge it into something better, smarter, clearer, more thought-provoking. That’s too bad, really. We all self-publish—in blogs, in letters, in emails. We all self-edit.
A book, however, is intended to rise above these other forms of writing, isn’t it? (Isn’t it?!?) A book is intended to be the pinnacle of a writer’s offering to the world. When you hold that final weight in your hand, you are supposed to know beyond knowing that what you hold is the absolute best you had to offer. It was a collaboration, sure, and you will have to share the credit accordingly. That doesn’t make you any less of an author.
It just makes you a human being.
— Anne Ursu
I hear the dogs whining
Black socks protect their paws
But their noses are cold
I can see the chill down their necks
Slowly, up the mountain
Slowly, through the blizzard
On this wooden sled
Snow is a white blanket
Snow is filled with dread
Will it ever stop?
House like white bark on soft sand
Fire crackles and burns
It’s warm and cozy inside
Dog’s soft, fluffy fur
Warmthens my body
I am blanketed by their wolflike smell
Leave the world of ice behind
For my furry bed
(This is the 301 class poem, and I think it’s as beautiful as the others. For this one, we closed our eyes. Joseph became the sound of the wind, and Alex whimpered like frozen sled dogs while we imagined ourselves on the side of a mountain, heading for the warmth of a house with a fire and a place for us to cuddle up with our dogs. Well, that’s where we ended up anyway. Not sure where we began. Poetry is like that sometimes. I added the last three lines, although the third graders had suggested the words wolflike and smell. Stojan created the word “warmthens” all by himself, which happens to be the best word I’ve never heard before. Thank you.)
Riding on My Magic Carpet
feels like magic pressing against my face
Pushing against my face
like a plate full of cakes
Flying into the wind,
up and out,
The breeze is smooth up here
I feel my hair, gliding in the air,
Feels like I’m shivering
Lie down and it feels like I am falling
I am flipping
No time to feel that fear
Wind feels like magic pressing against my face
The breeze is smooth up here
The breeze is smooth up here
I was jamming with third grade writers today on a collaborative poem. Writers are sharing possible lines, and I am jotting everything down as fast as my pencil will run. It takes a while to get them to understand that the poem does not have to rhyme. Indeed this poem will not rhyme, although there might be some internal rhyme dotting about.
And, seriously, they keep trying to rhyme. One word, at the end of the line … everything hangs on it. If they think of something that fits … wowza. If they don’t … struggle. Disappointment.
So I push. Make them call ideas faster. Make them forget about the rhyme. Whisper their names even if they haven’t raised their hands. These are creative thinkers for sure, so they almost always have something hovering inside there. More often than not, they whisper in return.
Let it out, poets. I want to know what words taste good to you. I want to know your pure thoughts. And, by the way, if I had written the line “feels like magic pressing against my face” I would be turning cartwheels. That’s good, Alice. That’s really good.
I did contribute, because I still get to play, even if I’m all grown up. In 302’s poem, I added: “indigo night … stars flicker, bright.” I’d like to think it works. Plus I like the word indigo. Also I was holding the pencil, and I really wanted to be a part of those poems.
Finally, I rearrange. I show them what they said, except in a different order. Here it is. A poem. We were loose and messy and raw and we wrote a poem. Slip the bonds of conventions, friends. It’s poetry, not a district writing test. There will be time for that. Fly free.
(I will share their poems in a different post, so the writers can read the work without my commentary on their awesomeness.)