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That Attitude of Gratitude

I subscribe to Suleika Jaquad’s Isolation Journals (on Substack), which includes writing prompts each week, and this week the focus was on gratitude. An exceptionally talented writer, Suleika spent most of her twenties wrestling with leukemia and started journaling to deal with uncertainty. When the pandemic hit, she invited other writers to journal along with her rather than feel stuck in isolation.

Suleika’s cancer returned in 2021. She writes that as a sick person, she initially felt resistance to being grateful, “feeling pressure to put a positive spin on every single moment, all the damn time.” But after a rough year, she sees gratitude as a means of survival. She just celebrated her 36th birthday and writes how thankful she is for all the “tender, quietly beautiful moments” life brings her.

Of course, this makes me ponder what I am grateful for. Here are a few things:

Teaching. I’m a freelancer juggling many different assignments, but my staple has been teaching journalistic writing at the University of Groningen—and I loved it from the second I set foot in the classroom. I value curiosity, and working with the next generation of journalists keeps me on my toes. Young people have access to endless information, ideas, images, art and music, approaching 21st century life in a non-linear, interactive way. I laugh remembering back to my teen years, when I pumped my head full of useless lyrics watching MTV. There’s so much more available now. In class, as we investigate the world together, my students' questions encourage me to stay curious and adapt.

Heating. Europe’s energy crisis is in full swing and I’m grateful to live in a country where the winter temperatures don’t regularly dip below freezing. I can afford to modestly heat my apartment, though I have always opted for thick jumpers before turning up the heat. It upsets me reading about people struggling to keep warm, what is now being called the “New Fuel Poverty.” This makes me think of my 93-year-old father-in-law, who grew up in Amsterdam during WWII, and remembers stealing wooden beams from the railroad to keep warm. Others burned furniture or whatever they could find in their house, desperate to stay alive.

The Isolation Journals. It goes without saying, without good health, life sucks. When you’re fragile and suffering, your life focus shifts away from the frenetic external world to your internal one, where time seems to stop. And yet despite her cancer, Suleika still manages to write (and wonderfully), and has created a vibrant community of fellow writers who support her, but their communal efforts also invigorate the exploration of reflective writing. I find Suleika’s writing style warm, deep, poetic, and inviting, and am grateful to read whatever arises from her “deliciously inky pen.” It prompts me to think about life, my writing, and feel deep gratitude for my own good health.

David Bowie. Last weekend I saw Brett Morgan’s Moonage Daydream, an homage to David Bowie. It was like watching a long experimental music video explode on the screen, an incessant montage of images both exhausting and exhilarating. Morgan used archived footage from Bowie’s 50+ year career to drive home the singer’s philosophy. Bowie saw life as fragmented (so just flow with it), sought discomfort to trigger growth, and was compelled to follow his muse no matter what. Morgan said in an interview that you can’t define Bowie but you can experience him--exactly! (I was lucky enough to see Bowie on his 1983 Serious Moonlight tour and bought the t-shirt, wearing it for the next 4 years until it literally fell apart.) What you experience is an intelligent, gentle, wildly creative, and mysterious human being who thoroughly enjoyed what life had to offer. Watching Bowie has filled me full of awe, reminding me to embrace my joie de vivre and really live.

That's it for this week, peace out :)

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