The first few months of the pandemic were spent in suburb Maryland, away from my family and friends. I was surrounded by a world of people and events, which became a torrent of timelines. It seemed that everyone else was achieving new heights in baking and writing. The blank page was waiting for me cursor blinking. To escape the oppressive pressure, I tried to create a consistent writing routine. Get Productive.
My day became slurred. I used to sit down at a computer, and then I would walk the streets listening to audiobooks. The changing seasons were marked by the changing grasses. It seemed like there was nothing to hold me to. My family tested positive in New York and my partner tested positive in Moscow, and I was supposed to—somehow— go about my days.
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Being easily distracted and forgetful, lists have provided me with comfort. I have a list of things to do, emails to send, and books to read. Somewhere in my panic, I found the time to begin listing the various ways other people have helped me in my writing endeavors. It was my mother who, no matter what their finances were or how busy they were, would never deny me a Costco book or a visit to the library. My mentor from graduate school, who trusted me enough to pitch my ideas for an innovative new anthology. A local friend who doesn’t write, or buy many books, who came over with a bottle of wine, a marked-up copy of one of my recently published stories, and a list of questions about how it came together.
Whenever I think of someone who’s supported or invested in my writing, in a big or small way, I put them on the list. To my surprise, I’ve never run out of names. The work of logging acts of kindness reminds me of what’s gotten me this far, and of what’s possible to do for others. And while it’s a practice I established to keep me motivated as a writer, I believe it’s one that could be useful to anyone who needs a boost these days. This is to say, almost all of us.
Here’s how to do it: Write down the name of every Onea person who believes in you and has helped you when you needed it most. Folks who say your name when opportunities come up, strangers who hold open the door a few extra seconds when you’re struggling with groceries and everything in between. You can also write down any gestures that touched you that helped make your day better.
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It was many years ago that everything seemed to be falling apart as I raced, tired, late and hurriedly loaded my bag onto the scale at airport. The past week had been difficult. As I moved alone to Brazil, without any financial support, it felt overwhelming, unanchored and stressed. A woman at the check-in desk looked at my bag (which was over 10 pounds), and then she turned to me. She let me board quietly without charging an excess baggage fee. While I have no doubt this woman thought of me in the past, I still think about her and that time, which was filled with much-needed grace and generosity.
How many times have I forgotten such moments? The survival instinct drives us to look for potential dangers. It is therefore more important to recognize the positive than to focus on the negative. The most primitive instincts of our primal mind look out for indicators that something is wrong: our place within the pack may be in danger, a predator might be in our midst, or our food supply is low.
In unexpected ways, the past two-years have disorientated and disconnected us. It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that we’re not alone. We saw how fragile our most trusted infrastructures were and how tiny we all are when faced with unfathomable collective grief. It has been a year of comfort for me to think about the many ways we each help others find a path forward.
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Although the idea of gratitude is not something that I have created, it’s certainly not new. But that’s the point, really, to find sustenance in what has always been true. Nothing in this brief life is promised but this one miraculous, irrefutable truth: there are good people out there—some of them strangers, some of them not—who mean you well, and who show up in these moments of everyday kindness.
It is much easier to live and write when you remember this bounty. While I may write solo, the flame burns brighter when I consider all of those who helped and supported it.