Acts of Reader Gratitude

Gratitude is one of those words that has become tainted and overused over the last few years. Gratitude journals ballooned into full-blown humble-bragging on social media, ad nauseum recitations of beautiful children or perfect autumn days or that special cup of coffee. I feel immense gratitude for the things and circumstances and people in my life, but also feel grateful that I can, for the most part, keep it to myself. The joy for me is not in the telling, rather in the being. But there is one form of gratitude that I prefer to share over all others. Saying thank you to others.

This week, I burrowed into my reading chair under a couple of blankets with the Virginia Quarterly Review. I read “Stepping Up” by Sylvia A. Harvey, who wrote about the children of imprisoned mothers and the grandmothers who raise their grandchildren. It was enlightening and painful and I sat for awhile after, my eyes welled up with tears. It made me think about the all the different perspectives – the children aching for mothers, the grandmothers struggling to do the right thing, the mothers, living claustrophobic lives of regret.

Empathy. I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am to writers who tell the difficult stories and help us see the world. Those who sit with strangers and coax the words out of them and arrange them in such a way as to touch me, hundreds of miles away in my cozy suburban life. To move me to tears, to want to do something, anything to right the ship of social and criminal justice. A single story as a way in to thinking about criminal and social justice reform. I have come into the practice of turning impotent frustration into action. One of my favorite organizations is The Women’s Prison Book Project, so I’m getting ready to send more books, but there is much more to be done.

canstockphoto1787242Criminal justice and social reform has been the fight of many social activists over the years. It’s true that so many things require our attention, our anger, our involvement. It can be overwhelming. But I’ve found that if I shut out the “shoulds” and focus on learning about one issue at a time, and pair action with that knowledge, I can be more useful as a citizen. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to know about voting rights and campaign finance reform. While I continue to work on those issues, I’ve found my attention captured by the prison system and incarceration rate in this country. Time to learn more.

This is the ultimate power of storytelling, fiction or nonfiction. It gives the reader a window into the lives of others. It gives us the opportunity to be better people. I remember many years ago that someone referred to the writer Anna Quindlen as a “monster of empathy”. It was meant to be an insult for the circumspect way she addressed social issues in her column for the New York Times. I think it’s okay to be a monster of empathy, as long as empathy is followed by an action, no matter how small.

canstockphoto6979194My other slight action was to tell the writer of that article, Sylvia Harvey, Thank you. One of the rare delights of Twitter is being able to contact writers and artists and musicians just to express gratitude. The unknowns, the knowns, it doesn’t matter. Saying thank you to people who touch you in some way, just to let them know that their work is appreciated. We’re so quick to critique and criticize, thinking everything we read and see needs our judgmental pronouncements. What about the work that takes us out of ourselves, teaches us empathy, gives us a new perspective, stops us, for just a moment, from being the self-centered, complacent creatures that we can be?

This is a practice I’ve decided to engage in as a regular thing. I’ve written notes, emails, and now Tweets to writers who have made my world a better place through their work. It’s not idol worship or fandom, it’s simple gratitude. This thing they did brought something to my life. Sometimes they write back and I squeal just a bit, so unaccustomed to all these direct methods of communication. Still, the simple act of saying thank you has added to my reading and writing experience – an act of solidarity with those who seek to translate the world into words.

What Writer or Artist are You Grateful for Today?

19 Comments on “Acts of Reader Gratitude

  1. There is certainly not a great deal of genuine gratitude in the world these days. People have forgotten the words “Thank-you”. How quick and vocal they become when they have something to complain about, or think some injustice has been done, or feel they have been insulted in some nebulous way – and how silent they are about the good things that happen to them. Great post!!! I realize I need to send out more gratitude to people I silently appreciate. Thank-you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like most things, I think the heart of the “gratitude movement” started with good intentions. But the inclination to publicize every thought or process can conflate genuine gratitude with self-aggrandizement.
      One of the things I’m finding useful is the idea of acting on good impulses. How often have I failed to give a compliment or said thank you, because I was so much in my own head? Or as you say, silently appreciated and said nothing. I’m trying to recognize the positive impulses in regards to others more. It’s a particular type of kindness that is transformative, even if only in small ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Betty Smith. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago where I mentioned “a tree grows in Brooklyn” and how much I loved it. One of my seat friends read it and loved it, so I guess I’m grateful for the power of her words and how 100 years later the book still makes sense

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Every Wednesday night I go to a local writers’ group, and this may sound strange but I’m grateful to every one of the writers who shares their work. It reassures me to know there are others writing and struggling to get a piece just right, to find a place to publish it. We’re doing similar things, but it’s also a diverse group, and I’m grateful for the perspectives of people whose experiences are so different from mine.
    For the same reason I now want to go get that issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review.

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    • Having just returned from my own writing group, I say “hear, hear”. I cancelled all my current event magazine subscriptions and switched them out for literary journals, the VQR being one of them. These lit magazines that are combos of poetry, fiction, journalism, and art have really been inspiring me lately in my own work.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It does make me pretty happy to have a reading experience and immediately be able to say thank you to the writer. Although I don’t know if that impacts how one takes things in, when the distance between the work and the author is so short. A curious part of modern life.

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  4. Grateful for you today, especially your observation about keeping gratitude to yourself, which made me laugh; I sometimes think that private, sincerely felt appreciation has become endangered. Also, thank you for making me aware of The Women’s Prison Book Project.

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    • Thanks, Cate – laughter is my favorite reader reaction. I know I have a tendency towards misanthropic thoughts, but somewhere along the way the idea of gratitude turned into something that had to expressed about one’s own life out loud. Hard to differentiate between bragging and acknowledgement.

      TWPBP is one of my favorite charities because I so strongly believe that books are transformative and that they are windows. The next step is to look at why so many people in this country need windows. I need to find the action to contribute to structural reform and justice.

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  5. I personally have found that the blogging community is a great place to practice this.
    So, thank you for this post and for so many others that make me think, and sometimes make me smart, as in ouch, and for the honest, direct, and often quite beautiful writing I enjoy here at The Green Study, Michelle.

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    • That’s kind of you to say, Ilona. I’ve been reading more offline than on lately, so quite behind on blog reading, but you’re right – the blogging community is a great place to practice gratitude.

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  6. Appreciation, gratitude, thankfulness. Thank you for pointing out this social ill, for pointing out the need to be grateful for people who help us to see and understand with their writing.

    Like

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