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My first time having COVID
Had to be Thanksgiving week, didn’t it
I’m sitting propped up in my bed with wet hair, computer in my lap, Gilmore Girls season one on pause. It’s been six days since I felt a little tickle in my throat, and four days since I entered my room and my daily steps plummeted to 200. (I feel basically fine: My cough is gone, though a general malaise remains. I know, amazing that COVID took this long to find me.)
In this newsletter, I generally turn a sea of scattered thoughts into something that makes some sense, or I try to. After thinking about an issue for a few days, I sit down for an hour or two or sometimes four (book recs always take awhile), and by the time I’ve written “xoxo G” at the bottom, I’ve come to a place of closure or perspective or understanding. I’ve processed.
With my current muddled brain and somewhat punchy, salty attitude, I’m not expecting anything processed or neat to come out of this newsletter. I have a lot of thoughts competing for attention, and I’m inviting you to wade through the mess with me.
Why am I even bothering to write when I have COVID? Well, I’m pausing Gilmore Girls and writing you this letter because tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am the “thank you note lady,” as the kids’ beloved babysitter has called me. I feel compelled to send my monthly newsletter out in advance of our country’s annual gratitude explosion.
I mean, good lord, last year I produced a full MONTH OF GRATITUDE on social! The least I can do this year is give you, dear reader, a few thankful thoughts to take with you. And I do, generally, have a lot to say on the topic.
I’m thinking right now about how tough it is to foster gratitude in tough times. Having COVID on Thanksgiving is obviously a bummer. I mean, yes, there have been times when it’s felt like a delicious treat (a number of people forwarded me that SNL commercial), being forced to skip all childcare and household duties.
But even for someone whose batteries charge in solitude (me), enough is enough. A) Jake and I had to miss the opening of my brother-in-law’s Broadway directorial debut. B) Our usual Thanksgiving is so wonderful! My in-laws live on the Macy’s Day parade route, so the day starts so magically, with my head stuck out of a Central Park West window, taking in all the floats and balloons. And that’s not even the best part. The best part is when 20-30 people sit down to the most glorious, lovely, warm, fun dinner. My in-laws have been producing this two-party extravaganza for 40-plus years, and it’s so warm and wonderful. (Cold comfort: The whole thing is off because my father-in-law also has COVID–no relation to mine.)
Shown above: me, not this year.
Our contingency plan: Jake is cooking like 20 pounds of turkey for the four of us, plus mashed potatoes and stuffing and green bean casserole. I pre-ordered a sweet potato pie with marshmallow topping through Caviar (my new employer–job’s going well, thanks for asking!) I think tomorrow I can be around the family, but masked? So I’ll be eating this feast in my bedroom. Maybe there will be FaceTime?
And listen, so many people have it worse than me! As my reliably hilarious friend Grace might point out. She recently had a major surgery and wrote up this tough-love list of top ten things to be grateful for (from the perspective of a chronically ill person).
She quotes my book in her post:
My friend Gina wrote a whole book on gratitude called, I Want To Thank You, and said this of the word/concept, “Gratitude is strong medicine. It helps us see what’s there instead of pining for what’s missing.” The problem for cancery folk like me is that what is there includes literal and theoretical pain & loss. What is missing is health and perhaps that gadget fromMen in Black that erases memories. I know of course that she means to focus on the good of what is there, and in news that will surprise no one, I could be better at that. What I think I can work on is sitting in the sadness of what is there and finding a tranquility within it that neither negates the existence of the trauma nor wastes my time wishing it away.
Another newsletter I found myself nodding along to this week was Suleika Jaouad’s.
I love holidays as much as the next person, but this time of year, I also find myself chafing against what can feel like knee-jerk performances of gratitude. I’ve written before about my resistance to toxic positivity, to the pressure of seeking silver linings, even to the ubiquity of gratitude lists. I don’t want to sound like a grinch, but as a sick person, you can begin to feel a deep spiritual weariness from having to seem grateful, from feeling pressure to put a positive spin on every single moment, all the damn time.
But in the last year, I’ve noticed a shift in my thoughts on gratitude—away from seeing it as a truism, rote and saccharine, toward seeing it as a means of survival. Because things are so hard, I have to move through my days and weeks not just noting the things that inspire gratitude, but seeking them out. If I’m going to put myself through these treatments, and navigate these disabilities, there have to be moments, be they epic or tender or quietly beautiful, that remind me it’s worth it. That despite the challenges, I have so much to be grateful for—
Suleika then quotes from a poem by Ross Gay, “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.” It truly is a beautiful poem that captures a lot of what I am trying to say here, that gratitude isn’t just this simpering, silly thing; that it often comes paired with despair. That when you’re in despair is when you need gratitude most. Here’s a part of the poem I loved.
and thank you, too, this knuckleheaded heart, this pelican heart,
this gap-toothed heart flinging open its gaudy maw
to the sky, oh clumsy, oh bumblefucked,
oh giddy, oh dumbstruck,
oh rickshaw, oh goat twisting
its head at me from my peach tree’s highest branch,
balanced impossibly gobbling the last fruit,
its tongue working like an engine,
a lone sweet drop tumbling by some miracle
into my mouth like the smell of someone I’ve loved
…but because it comes at it from a place of skepticism. Here’s what the critic says.
I began reading “Inciting Joy” in a profound state of doubt.
From gratitude to delight to joy … had becoming a best-selling author turned this man’s beautiful mind into a brand? It happens all the time, and who can blame those who succumb to the allure of the market, given the inhospitable academic settings in which many writers earn their living as teaching faculty?”
She then goes on to wholeheartedly recommend the book. But her place of skepticism, that is the place from which I approached gratitude. This is from the first chapter of my book.
This would be my—drum roll, please—Thank You Year.
I avoided the word gratitude because it had always struck me as hopelessly earnest. “Gratitude” rhymes with “platitude.” Gratitude was a platitude, only more grating.
By the final chapter/end of my Thank You Year, I had come around:
The word “gratitude” once grated on me—I avoided it when naming this project. Now I’ve fully embraced the word, as I have so much else that’s vulnerable and embarrassing and uncool.
But that old allergy to “gratitude” rears its head around this time of year. I mean, we are squarely in Gratitude Month™, drowning in meaningless thank you emails, with every brand checking off that gratitude content box, monetizing the concept.
A friend of mine who hadn’t read my book (which is okay!) once referred to it as a book about “graciousness.” (Categorically a worse word than “gratitude.”) I hate that people who haven’t read my book, even people who know me, might assume it’s flowery and wide-eyed and maybe a little stupid. Because that’s how gratitude can seem to the cynical, which we all are sometimes.
And I guess what I am saying is, gratitude isn't flowery and wide-eyed and stupid. It’s the best tool we have to feel better about things, to feel happier, to see what’s really there—which is especially handy on days when we’re feeling frustrated or fat or salty or sick.
Gratitude can help you/me see a setback, like having COVID on Thanksgiving, as a chance to step out of the life routine, the carefully choreographed, the to-do lists. It’s a chance to shake yourself off and look around. To breathe deeply. To feel grateful that you have the ability to breathe deeply.
I jotted down a COVID AWARDS list yesterday, filled with items and people that have been making my time upstairs in bed easier. This newsletter is already too long to get into all of it here. But the most important one is Jake. Oh man, he’s been doing it all. Give him a round of applause, please, and buy the man a beer. This is his favorite. I love him so.
I’m going to end with another tidbit from the Ross Gay poem. Know that I am directing this squarely at you—especially if you’re having maybe not the best Thanksgiving of your life.
I want so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude
over every last thing, including you, which, yes, awkward,
the suds in your ear and armpit, the little sparkling gems
slipping into your eye.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Load up on seconds. Hope you enjoyed the most unhinged email I’ve ever sent!