The first thing you need to know about me is that I am a late bloomer. It has taken me a half century of practicing to really find my voice and know what I want to do. I have been an artist my entire life. I have been writing sporadically since my late twenties, turned that into a daily writing practice in 2002, and have been writing daily without fail since then. I started teaching art as a volunteer in 1993, have been a full-time public school teacher since 2006, have taught graduate and undergraduate courses part-time and off-and-on since 2009, and started teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL-TESOL) online to Chinese children in Shanghai and Beijing in 2019. I have a LOT of art, writing, and teaching experience.
But I also have a lot of what some people might call the wrong kind of life experience. I am the adult child of an alcoholic, had a baby when I was eighteen (she’s now a middle-aged adult with children of her own), and I come from an extended family with a strong identity that does not allow for individual creativity or expression. When I was in my last year of college I was under a lot of stress; so I went to the student counseling services office and, after a forty-five minute talk session, was told that I was the Adult Child of an Alcoholic, given a book by the same name, and told to read it and come back in a week. It was revelatory, and made sense of so many struggles I had endured my entire life that I had just assumed were all my fault. That counseling session changed my life by setting me on a path to consciousness that I had never experienced before.
I have never looked back since then, only forward. Well, that’s not quite true. We all look back to certain degree, and I certainly did while I was learning to face forward (I still sometimes do; can’t be helped, really). No one achieves enlightenment overnight (and honestly, no one achieves enlightenment until we leave this life, in my opinion–when you know all you need to know and have done all you need to do, I believe that is when we have achieved our purpose and we “move on”).
It is my firm belief that I am the sum total of all of my collective experiences. Coming to that understanding did not happen overnight, either. One realization led to another, to another, and so on… I learned a lot, but I didn’t feel grateful for it until I was in my early forties.
In 2010 I was teaching in inner city Baltimore, Maryland. I was as stressed out as I have ever been in my life, and depressed that my “dream come true” of teaching high school art was not as advertised in my teacher education program back in Montana.
One day I was at the public library looking for an audible book to listen to in order to redeem the time on my daily commute to work and back (anywhere from thirty five to ninety minutes, depending on traffic–the distance was seventeen miles), and I found Ekhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.
That book changed my life.
He didn’t teach about gratitude. He didn’t teach about Zen. But both of those things were infused into every page of the book as a foundational support for what he was teaching: present moment awareness.
I began that day to say “Life is good and I am grateful” every time I found myself complaining about or chafing against something that I didn’t like or that caused me pain or discomfort. By bringing myself into the present moment, and finding something to be grateful for in that moment, I began to emerge from my situational depression and find other things to be grateful for in any and every situation.
The gratitude part came from a United Methodist pastor named Dave McConnell, who I had known for six years prior to reading The Power of Now. He preached about gratitude almost as much as he talked about baseball and Abraham Lincoln (which was a LOT–if you ever attended Bozeman United Methodist Church while Dave was pastor there, you knew to expect a lot of baseball and Abraham Lincoln….and GRATITUDE).
Part of my process was to write everything I was thinking down in a journal every morning. In the words of Joan Didion, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” I learned that process from Julia Cameron while working The Artist’s Way starting in 2002 (I am still working The Artist’s Way). Then I started putting little snippets of insight from those journals on my Facebook feed and found that many of my Facebook friends came to look forward to them, and some even depend on them. I have recommended a core collection of books that I repeatedly turn to for help and reminders when I need them. I have created a library on this website so I can make those recommendations more formally.
All these years later, it has become automatic for me to practice gratitude. That practice has led me to many other paths of understanding and insight. I gladly share them with you here on this blog.
If you haven’t done so already, allow me to help you connect the dots, here: every experience in my life led me to another and another and another….that brought me new information and insights about myself, my family, my community, the world, the universe, and helped me to better understand my place in it. This blog will explain what I’ve learned, but the most important part is that all those experiences not only taught me new things, but also to be grateful as well as why to be grateful. They also taught me to be very reflective, and how to be a better learner as well as a better person who knows how to have better experiences.
Gratitude is the doorway to better things. You might be thinking that should be the other way around; that better things are the doorway to gratitude. No, that’s not it. Gratitude comes first. Gratitude is the doorway to better things. As Dave McConnell used to say, feeling follows behavior. If you want to feel better you first have to do better. If you want to have things to be grateful for, you must first be grateful for what you have.
There are a lot of people out in Internetland saying this these days. But there are not a lot of people out there telling you how hard it is to get to grateful, how bad it feels when you are as low as you can go and trying to get to grateful. There are a lot of white-washed stories of sweetness and light, happiness and sunshine, out there that don’t tell you how unhappy they were before they got to the happy part.
Don’t worry–this blog is not a downer! On the contrary. However, I won’t leave out the hard parts. I know as well as anyone out there how hard it can be to move toward happiness and gratitude when the people telling you how to do it leave out the less attractive parts of their stories. You’ll get mine, warts and all…because I’m grateful for the warts! Without those bad experiences I wouldn’t have been dissatisfied enough in my circumstances to try to improve them and move toward the things in life that I want. I’m sure you know people who are miserable in their current circumstances, but like the old Hee Haw song, “If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all,” so they would rather hang onto their bad luck and miserable circumstances than risk moving through their familiar pain to get to the other side and experience some joy.
I’m not that kind of person. Don’t you settle for being that kind of person, either. Change is hard, but it is worth it.
Life is good and I am grateful.