It’s Leftover-Turkey Day, and I’m still thinking about things I’m grateful for, not the least of which is leftover turkey. I did some thinking about gratitude yesterday, of course. I made a mental list of things I’m grateful for, and the list got quite long. Primarily I feel dumbfounded by how lucky I am to be loved by the people I love. Most of yesterday, in fact, I thought I would write about that today – the mutual admiration society that reigns supreme in my family – for my Books Around the Table post. I wanted to look at how strange it is that some writers write from the discontent brought on by a lack of love, and other writers (the lucky ones) write from the safety and joy of an abundance of it.
Whether longing for love or nurtured by it, writers often create characters searching for some kind of love and acceptance. That longing is “the desire line” of a story. The need for love makes the world go round, and it’s certainly the engine of the carousel that literature spins around on. So love – withheld or generously given – was on my mind yesterday and lingers there today. And there’s no doubt those mirrored generative forces are an acceptable topic for a blog about writing and (tangentially) about where creativity comes from.
But I also spent a lot of time this last week thinking about Eleanor Roosevelt.
She’s been on my mind since the election – what an active, bright, caring, conscientious woman she was – and since seeing Ken Burn’s thought-provoking new documentary on PBS about the Dust Bowl. Even before watching that, I had been turning over and over in my mind what Maria Popova quoted over at Brain Pickings from the book Roosevelt wrote titled You Learn by Living: 11 Keys for a More Fulfilling Life. I especially like the line from Don Quixote which was a favorite of Roosevelt’s (“Until death it is all life”) and the long passage Popova quoted in which Roosevelt expresses her thoughts about happiness:
Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: ‘A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.’
But there is another basic requirement, and I can’t understand now how I forgot it at the time: that is the feeling that you are, in some way, useful. Usefulness, whatever form it may take, is the price we should pay for the air we breathe and the food we eat and the privilege of being alive. And it is its own reward, as well, for it is the beginning of happiness, just as self-pity and withdrawal from the battle are the beginning of misery.
The problem is, I can’t quite figure out how to tie that in to writing, which is what this blog is all about, except to say that I believe everything we ponder makes us better writers. We are, after all, writers in the world. It is just as valuable to ponder honesty (well, actually, honesty makes us better writers) as it is to ponder point of view. It’s valuable to thinki about doing our best (yes, again, better writers) and about loving people (isn’t that what empathy is about? and doesn’t empathy make us better writers?) and a sense of usefulness (which gets us out of our heads, sends us out into the world, and makes us better people, which makes us better writers.)
Am I’m stretching to make a connection? Maybe I just wanted to write about Eleanor Roosevelt, no matter what. I tend to like adding a lot of ingredients into every soup I make. I do know, on this day after Thanksgiving, that I’m still revising my what-I’m-grateful-for list, making it just a bit longer. Today, I’m adding Eleanor Roosevelt, Ken Burns, Don Quixote, and Maria Popova to the list. I’m grateful to be list-inclined. I’ll add that to the list. I’m grateful I’m a writer – well, that was on my list already. And not to bring the tone down, I hope, I will say I’m grateful there is both leftover gravy and leftover stuffing – yumm. And when I eat my leftover-turkey-on-leftover-dinner-roll sandwich later today (and leftover turkey soup for weeks to come) I’ll probably still be adding to my list. I’ll have come up with a few more leftover things to be grateful about. Thanksgiving is just as much about leftovers as it is about the main course, because Thanksgiving is all about abundance, whether it’s food, or food for thought.