Gratitude can help us sleep better, make us happier and inspire us to exercise. Studies suggest we ought to be writing letters to people who changed our lives and reading the letters aloud to them. Yet, so often we don’t take the time to really feel or acknowledge our gratitude, or maybe it seems kind of cheesy to do something like list what we’re grateful for. And yet, if we keep a gratitude journal, we may literally feel less physical pain in our lives. When I stop to think about it at all, I’m insanely grateful for every single step I’m able to take, for my kneecaps, and my feet, and the sidewalk. For every single second. Every sensation. Every person I love. We forget sometimes to make space for this gratitude, to put it into words. Sure, we feel it vaguely. If someone asked, we’d say we’re grateful. But for what? There’s a power and intentionality behind saying who or what those things are, in pausing to actually consider the meaning of our specific gratitude. Whether we write it down or say it out loud or just think it inside our heads in complete sentences, it matters.
My gratitude list would have to encompass both the profound and ridiculous, and everything in between. I’d be here all day listing everything from the cellular to the celestial. So instead, for now, I’ve compiled some pop(ish) culture people and their creations for my gratitude list.
I’m grateful for the humor, revelation, wisdom, scariness, beauty, strangeness, uncertainty and longing within the words, images, and music that people make.
I’m grateful for poetry, something I love lately with a renewed fervor, in a way I haven’t since I was an emo teenager. I’m grateful for Emily Kendal Frey who writes, “you sit in your body, quietly making blood/wild blood/bird of the world.” I’m grateful for Mary Ruefle who writes, “I could see that the course of history had changed/even if you knew that you might not know there are moments seized with tenderness/this was one of them.” I’m grateful for Lisa Ciccarello, who writes, “When I touched my wrist to my chest, it was shorthand for love.” I’m grateful for CA Conrad who writes, “part of the dream is that you accept your waking life as part of the dream.”
I’m grateful for language, ways we put language into forms and shapes and then attempt to explain our lives. I’m grateful there are people who try to do so. I’m grateful for everything I haven’t read yet, for every line that moves me or confuses me or crystallizes something. I’m grateful for fiction and non-fiction. For the object of the book, for its weight, pages and fonts. I’m grateful for books found buried in thrift store bins, books I’ve loaned and given away so many times that I must buy them over and over (I’m looking at you, Jesus’ Son). I’m grateful for unfinished and forgotten books. I imagine the lucky person who picked up my 5 cent copy of Doris Lessing’s The Summer Before The Dark from the seat back pocket on the Jet Blue flight from Boston. I’m grateful for Doris Lessing. I’m grateful Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize and for her sad, elegant, structurally incomparable short stories. I’m grateful for small presses and literary magazines, even the ones I don’t have time to read piling on my end table. I’m grateful that I could read forever starting now and never get to it all. I’m grateful for everything I’ve ever read, for the jolt of each discovery, for The Count of Monte Cristo in 5th grade and The Flamethrowers last week, and everything in between.
I’m grateful for drama and melodrama. For example, I’m guiltily grateful for the glittery, inexplicable perfection of Nashville and the country stars whose soap operas unfold within. I’m grateful for how weirdly addictive it is, for how fraught and sexy every duet seems. I’m grateful for fraught and sexy scenes in general. I’m grateful for the fact that I cannot stream Nashville and so I must just watch it episode by episode, old school, the cliff hangers actually able to work their car crash/explosion/fade to darkness magic. I’m grateful for guilty pleasures of all sorts, for our eclecticism that allows us to encompass all we’re attracted to — the trashy, entertaining and sublime.
I’m grateful I somehow missed out on watching Breaking Bad for years, even though it was a cultural phenomenon, and now I get to start from the very beginning, while for many people it’s already over. I’m grateful for suspense and anticipation, for the million delights, pleasures and surprises of narrative. For Scandal and Homeland, for quadruple agents, spies, and love affairs with the president, for juicy plots of all varieties.
I’m so grateful Tempers finally has a new song. I’m grateful for music, for how it’s inextricably linked with our personal history, identity and memory. I’m grateful for the moment in the bar when I hear The Lemonheads and get all nostalgic, remembering some ephemeral fragment of being 13. I’m grateful for how it feels to listen to music while I get ready to go out, while I cook, while I work. I’m grateful for how, so often, a song says something sweeping and visceral and blood-level, that can be said in no other way.
I’m grateful for Spotify and Shazam, for record players and juke boxes. I’m grateful for concerts, for standing in the dark, shoulder to shoulder. I’m grateful for how what we love and discover musically helps us understand and be who we are. I’m grateful there is always something new to hear. I’m grateful for Skin Town and Hunters, two bands I randomly read about today and have been listening to for the past hour. I’m grateful for the countless moods that can be evoked, transcended, and relished, with the right song as the soundtrack. I’m grateful for the music I listened to as a teenager. I’m grateful for the music my parents listened to while I was growing up. I’m grateful for the music my teenage students tell me is cool now. I’m grateful for mixed tapes from boys. For dancing. I’m so grateful for dancing.
I’m grateful for movies and movie theaters. I’m grateful for Michael Fassbender and his handsome face and how he chooses to mostly play such brutal, unattractive men. I’m grateful for artsy movies and action movies. I’m grateful that the Embarcadero Center Cinema re-opened, and that you can drink wine at the Kabuki. I’m grateful for Sunday afternoons that feel the exact sort of cozy way that makes going to the movies the exact right thing to do. I’m grateful for Antonio Campos, Brit Marling and Todd Haynes, to name just three of thousands. I’m grateful for previews. I love previews. I’m grateful for really great cinematic scenes, the scene where conflicting expressions pass over the character’s face while he dances and we understand something horrible and new and illuminating. I’m grateful for B movies starring Paul Walker. I’m grateful for the ways we absentmindedly, casually touch each other while watching movies in the dark, a hand to an arm or knee or forearm. I’m grateful for popcorn. For 16mm. For boring movies that drag on too long. For the obscure movies I studied in college. For the romantic movies I watch alone and keep secret. For the movies that have shaped my ideas about no less than love, beauty and life.
This might seem dramatic but I sometimes think about human creation in all of its countless incarnations, about artifacts and art from thousands of years ago, about VHS tapes, about canvases hanging on museum walls, about music videos and high school collages, about the songs we dance to, and the instruments we play, the emulsion on the film, the magic of our newfound technologies. And I think about how someday, in a long time, all of it, and all of us, will be gone. And that is at the core of gratitude perhaps, knowing how transient everything is, and feeling very lucky we’re here to appreciate whatever ephemeral goodness there is in this very moment.