Monday coffee: in which I give thanks and introduce cows

Artists at All City Coffee 25

In the U.S. the holiday of Thanksgiving is approaching. It’s a kind of odd holiday: people’s kids are in school plays where they dress in Pilgrim gear and worry about starvation, and later that week we have a huge dinner at which we usually overeat. Sometimes we do this while watching sports games on the largest screen we can find. And the very next day, we start a frenzy of Christmas or Chanukah shopping (in my case, both. So glad Diwali is already past!) that looks like sharks converging on an unfortunate school of gift wrapped fish – so scary that it’s even called Black Friday.

And yet, Thanksgiving simultaneous manages to have meaning to almost everyone here, even hard boiled cynics, that goes beyond the physical. It’s almost like the indulgence in the very material parts of our being (buying, eating) gives our hearts some unimpeded time to move towards others, their concerns, their needs, their lives.

Art tends that way too this time of year; the rain starts here in California, and the call from the artist world is expressive, connective. I love the idea of collaborative individuality in Laura Hegfield’s Gratitude Quilt. For a really, um, unusual physical piece of  gratitude artwork, one of my favorite art shows is featuring, this year, a Gratitude Cow (really!)* And for sheer gut-wrenching honesty, painter and poet Stuart Sheldon’s blog post, “Thank,” still  does it for me as it does every year since he wrote it.

I don’t tend to express gratitude publicly, including through writing. I’m too worried about people starving, and difficult court cases, and the Middle East situation, and my friends’ healthcare concerns, &c. You can imagine the sort of thing. But I am grateful for a lot of things, and when I was talking them over with my six-year-old, I was surprised to find that my typical top-10 list (my family, my lovely friends, my eyesight, etc) came up with an addition: this blog. It’s a pleasure taking part in its writing but even more of a pleasure connecting with my blogging partner and with the people who read and comment on and about this blog.

So, thank you, friends, for making this blogging thing such a joy.

*If you’ve never run across the Cow Parade, well, you’re in for a treat!CowParade Prague 2004 023 ALCHEMICOW

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A poll: how do you remain true?

Hello, dear readers. A knotty problem today, waiting for your thoughts.

A blog I follow has a post about a problem that many writers I know (and many more that I’ve only read about in biographies) seem to run into (in Western cultures particularly – some day we’ll have to talk about why there’s so much variation in attitude between cultures). The author describes the problem like this:

You see, friends, my immediate family simply doesn’t understand me.  They don’t know why I like to do what I do.  They don’t have any interest in things that I love.  They just barely fall short of making fun of me for doing what I am so passionate about..It’s all about being true to oneself, isn’t it?  Rarely an easy thing to do, but made even more difficult when those immediately around you will not lovingly accept it.

The trope of the Misunderstood Writer has a long and venerable history. But behind the trope is a truth that many writers live and struggle with every day. It’s a little annoying when The distrest poetyou’re confronted by a relative stranger at a party or a school meeting who comes out with:  “You’re a writer. How do you pay the bills?” or “I don’t remember hearing your name – are you any good?” But it’s just plain hard when this vibe comes from someone you care  about, or love and trust, or someone to whom you’ve devoted your own life.

I want to dispel a potential misunderstanding here: the author of the blog, Cooper Robbins*, is not a whiny wanna-be (“If I only had a supportive family, I’d be a best-seller, but no, I’m so beat by the end of the day I’d rather watch re-runs”); this is an author whose creative life includes a novel, a screenplay, and a fair amount of “&c,” on top of maintaining a home and taking care of young ones. Her post (and this post) aren’t about people who want to be writers but don’t write…this is about how we as writers keep writing in the face of resistance from those whose opinions we most value.

Nerr0795 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library

Camouflage, demonstrated by the Graceful Kelp Crab

Robbins does this in part by developing and participating in supportive writing communities – in a way, that’s what her blog is about.  Some people (and I include myself here) have a sort of damn-the-torpedoes approach, which generally involves shutting certain people out of the creative part of one’s life. Other people hermit (to hermit: to isolate one’s self, creating a shell, and then decorating it with camouflaging materials, such as PTA meetings or banker’s three-piece suits, as needed).

So here’s my question. What do you do? What advice would you give to Cooper Robbins about how to cope with being surrounded by people who are either baffled  or skeptics? NOTE: The poll should let you vote for as many choices as you want – if it doesn’t let you, tell me and I’ll go give it a strong talking to 🙂 [IOB: ina]

*unsurprisingly, this is a nom de plume – sometimes everyone needs a place to vent.  I happen to have a venting blog too, and no, I don’t link it to my name and, no, I haven’t and won’t link it to this blog. Which probably says something, don’t you think?