I have two older sisters, both of whom I love dearly. I mention my sister Gail in the Author’s Note for “Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight,” because in her seventh decade of life, Gail is pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. Her knowledge of Catullus’ poetry figured significantly in Louisa and Joseph’s story. Growing up to be just like Gail would be a significant step closer to canonization for me.
Gail is also the person who happened be with me one terrible, horrible, awful, very bad day when I was ranting about some minor calamity or mommy-fail that felt absolutely overwhelmingly, irreparable—and probably undeserved. My life, according to me, honked raspberries. Do. Not. Try. To. Cheer. Me. Up.
Gail lit this candle of wisdom in the midst of my Stygian emotion gloom: Think of the smallest thing you can be genuinely grateful for—the ability to breathe, silence, the lock on the bathroom door, eyesight, hearing, speech, anything—and hold the gratitude in your heart for the smallest moment.
Bother. Even on my worst day, I am capable of nanoseconds of gratitude, and even in miniscule doses, genuine gratitude will rebalance the humors. Gail’s suggestion has borne much fruit beyond that simple coping mechanism though.
I set my alarm clock for an hour before I intend to get out of bed. I use that hour to ponder my writing projects, and come up with the scenes I intend to write upon rising. Some days, nothing comes. Not one word, not one scene, not a single sentence—not even a wretched, trite, boring single sentence. It’s tempting to throw away the writing day at that point—and I love to write—but instead, I ask myself, what the smallest, positive step is that I can take in the direction of writing.
Turn the computer on. Open yesterday’s file. Read it. Read it again, and tweak a few words… Often, some momentum develops.
Similarly, when I walk into a situation full of people I don’t know, my inclination is to turn right around and walk out. This will not do when one is a published author. People are entitled to expect some civility, at least. So I ask myself what the smallest step is that I can take in the direction of Being Sociable: Smile. Smile at somebody who looks as awkward as I feel.
They usually smile back.
I see much advice regarding ways to make a day more productive, how to set career goals or devise outlines for writing terrific books. Lovely stuff, none of which has ever been as useful to me as asking the question: What is the smallest step I can now take in the direction I want to go?
Do you have micro tools that have served you similarly? The holidays are upon us, and I would certainly be glad to find a few handy little coping mechanisms beside my plate at dinner tomorrow, or under my tree next month.
My author copies of “The Bridegroom Wore Plaid” just arrived, so to three commenters, I’ll send along a signed copy. Don’t forget that Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish will be a 99 cent NOOK download on Friday, and to everybody, a happy, peaceful Thanksgiving.