Category: Ordinary Thanks

Elizabeth Howard’s online Gratitude log

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Marlon, your mama and Jane Fonda and
The angels of babies with heart murmurs and
Baubo, humor’s goddess, have all gotten together
To decide how best to celebrate
You. Not with a feast. Not with
Dionysian debauchery, or some hallowed
String of days in which men carry wives or
Gas stoves in competition. Marlon, the women have
Gotten together not to carve your
Name in some rock or hard place. Instead
They have taken your laughter like
Stardust and sprinkled it on the
Soil. They have sown the crops into
Your perseverance and think to wait, wait,
Spinning the golden hay of summer in their
Dreams while the seed pods
Germinate. Marlon, the women press the
Clouds into service and wring from them their
Sweat. The mill stone wears itself out as miles of
Water tumbles away.
Then, rest. Under
Winter’s cover and
Time, slowly passing, Marlon, until some
Mythological morning breaks and
Eyes squint upon a jade and chartreuse
Landscape and you,
The season coming, later
Than expected, right at the
Hour due, and more perfectly
Than imagined.

Who is Marlon? Here he is.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="333"] Courtesy: Michael Corcoran[/caption]

If I never make it to Austin and, somehow, the
Longhorns and the old moviehouses get neglected, then
Let me remind you this isn’t
About the city I always wanted to see or the
Man I wanted to reminisce with.

This is about the day I stood in the
Middle of Tuesday in the place where
I now live on a patch of green weeds and it
Occured to me “I might never
See Paris again or eat Memphis barbeque or reach
Austin City Limits, or ever
Be relieved of virutal reality and halt the
Half-truth of Facebook Frances and
Sit with her again over an IKEA table
While our daughters play.”

Every live face I see
I take for granted.
Every touch is
Half-hidden inside a
Craving for more, for desire of what is
Yet to come. And yet,
For a moment, standing on my
Tuesday weeds, I saw the
Face of Facebook Him, of Mike,
Like an Icon, and He was
No one I knew or remembered.

I looked into the beautiful mystery.
The gulf between now and then.
The man who used to
Climb between the fresnels in that
Goatee and serape and
It occurred to me
I might
Just have to cruise it out
With the memories I have.

Advice from a (Former) Television Director

Back in my 20s I worked at the FOX station in Kansas City. Glamorous job of getting up early and helping to feed a major metropolitan area their fill of weather, traffic and morning news.

We had our share of “Breaking News” moments in those days: usually the more mundane water main breaks or apartment building fires. These were the salad days of pre-9/11 when the most wild thing that happened to Americans was a low-speed L.A. interstate chase, followed by the even more arduous “if-it-doesn’t-fit-you-must-acquit” OJ trial.

It should have been a dream job. I worked with lots of young people, my friends. It was prestigious and if I stayed on track and stayed ambitious, I could have gone on to work in news or sports at CNN, ESPN, NBC, or who knows where.

And I have friends who went on to do that. I am proud of their accomplishments and know how hard they worked to get where they are.

I didn’t. I absolutely despised the job. I left after a couple years.

Here’s why:

Turn off the TV and tune in.The news of Boston is not our news. It’s a fallacy. I am not speaking about the sloppiness of 24-hour TV news coverage in this case (or many others).

I am talking about the impact of the coverage of these events on our psyches.

The way news anchors talk to us: it is personal. They look into your eyes. They use pictures and words that frighten us and seem to belong only to ourselves.

But that feeling of personal-ness is a lie. What is personal is happening right now, this moment, in your immediate life.

This is why I left TV news. Because the fire across town wasn’t my fire. The accident on I-35 didn’t have any meaning to me.

It wasn’t my tragedy. And I realized with growing anxiety that most news media producers, editors, and news directors had no idea how to filter that information appropriately: they didn’t know how (or feel it was necessary) to tell the story differently to the people who were nearby, rather than to those who were faraway and completely distant and out of control.

Learning the bad and horrible news of a faraway place in such immediate and grisly detail changes us. It stops us in the middle of our own days and slaps us with horror: “Look at this. This is a possibility for you!” — even if the event has no context to our own lives.

It creates the fear that has stopped us from sending our children outside to play.

By and large, the event in Boston has almost no impact on the majority of Americans. Most of us did not know anyone injured in the blast. We do not know either of the bombers. We may not even know a single person living in the Boston area. We have no way of controlling whether this can and will happen again, closer to home.

All we can do is be afraid, anxious, and unhappy.

If we choose to turn away, what could we do instead? Give our attention to our own friends and families, our own communities right in front of us. To the things that really DO need our attention.

Small (yes this is very small) events like this get BLOWN UP and out of proportion on our TVs and computer screens — in every version of itself, from video, to articles, to photos, to banners on  Yankee stadium. When that happens, they become another injurious nail firing from the pressure cooker.

Remember when we said, after 9-11, that we wouldn’t let it change us? That we wouldn’t let the terrorists win, or take away our freedoms?

Well, we all know that they did. We now live in a completely terror-obsessed society, in which the media — and the NEW media, ourselves on Facebook and Twitter — spend every second of our day poring over the details of events, sharing photos of suspects, sending condolences, stating our private prayers in public.

We are that frightened child going into a dark room, banging and making loud noises, to make sure all the imaginary monsters have gone away.

Having worked for many years in a business of feeding you sensationalized bad news in order to up our ratings, I have some advice to share. Here it is:

Shut up. Just be quiet. Try it, really. Sit still and look out the window. Feel free to observe the news if you need to, but stop talking about.

After all, that’s the advice we give to mothers, right? If a child falls and cries out, we tell a mother “don’t react.” The mother looks at the child in a heap underneath the monkey bars and she holds all her terrors inside, still and smiling but watchful. It’s the hardest choice but it is necessary. Because there is child, watching.

No reaction and up the child jumps, and off to something else.

Let’s stop reacting. With each reaction — from the media, from Twitter, from our ridiculous wasted time on Facebook — we heighten the power of those violent people who started out very small. We make them big with our noises.

So be quiet. Send your donations anonymously. Say your prayers in private. If prayers can be heard, they are heard without your shouting them onto Twitter.

And meanwhile, turn off the TV and RSS feed.

Have a good look out the window. It’s spring; the first robin has visited, your friends love you, the buds on the trees are ready to burst, and all the death of winter is behind us.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons and Feed My Starving Children

I am hungry, but I’ve noticed this:
I’m not starving. I haven’t had to
Eat grass or dirt today or
Give the last bit of
Rice I have to my child which I’ve
Carried on a 10 mile walk from my
Hut to the malnutrition ward
Of Kathmandu Hospital.

All the hyberbole in the
World won’t stop the poorest souls in
Narrow and narrowing lives from failing to
Be yet more invisible. I don’t
Need a drink. I am confused
Again by words and their
Meaning. All the
Misstatement in the world won’t
Fill an empty well.


My mind was a grocery list last night
Running through the pantry of
Missing items. Of those staples
Of self I do not have. If I
Take a job offered me (why bother)
I’ll just be the spoiled apple
In the crowd.
I put “good attitude” on the list.
I wanted to join the child of my
Own club, but uh oh.
Put eggs on the list.
Then there are those
Skinny jeans that need
Filling. One-by-one I try
Erasing a bad habit or
Two from the list, the
Late-night snacks, the
One cocktail that goes down like a
Sigh of relief, and then
Reluctantly I add in all awful
Caps EXERCISE, which smells odd and
Tastes plasticy and so it rots
On the shelf every time
I buy it.

After I finished the
List and slumped in
A chair, weeping, I went to put on
My pajamas. Colin, I said, it’s
Not that I hate myself. I don’t.
It’s just that to make the list
Of what I am missing,
Doing wrong, need to fix or
Do better,
I lose the will to see inside
The pantry to all that I already have.
I know what you mean, he said.


The choir moved like
Cattle from the pews to their
The risers, Easter morning.
Two arms raised and one intake of breath.

That morning however

A soprano stood alone at her
Bathroom mirror, pushing her
Fingers through still-warm
Grey strands. Hot plastic
Beast on the counter top
Lay slowly cooling down
Waiting to be put away. The
Woman tugged her green
Jacket lapel, touched the golden hoop earring
And gazed at the jagged and
Ever-unfamiliar face surrounding
The shock of green eyes
Pooling with memory.

A tenor himself listening to
The Beatles on the way to service
Strokes and strokes his beard again
Like totem. He’s not singing a
Hard days night in this Camry but in a
Beetle that burned out 28 summers ago
And left him stranded on a New Hampshire
Highway, so that he had to walk into
The town with his guitar and his
Duffle found himself in bed that night with the
Stranger who stopped and offered
Him a ride.

The alto shakes. She prefers to think she
Vibrates, but the hand she once used for
Simple tasks — drying a wineglass, sewing skin —
Has broken away from her body’s grasp and gone on out
Its own. She won’t answer you if you ask.
She has not consulted anyone. She
Cares not to know why. She wears
Deep purple today, remembering
Mary Magdalene and her set aside grief.

The bass forgot his reading glasses today. He is
Singing from memory, and seeing the glasses on his
Bedside table, on top of his iPad, next to his
Empty beer bottle. He walks back through the
Room and sees he forgot, too, to make
The bed. The phone rang while he was
Tying the pink tie his dead partner gave him
Three years ago. His mother calling to
Say hello and make sure he is
OK. Yes mom. Love you. Call you later. Click.
He finished tying the tie and lost in
Memory,
Walked out.

Two arms circle. The choir finishes the breath in
G. In steady stream they leave the
Risers, Easter morning undone,
Each gone to find one seat again.