Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pity Parties and Blessing Counting

I’ve been having myself a grand pity party for the past week or so. Life’s being unfair, and I’ve been groaning and grousing, feeling sorry for myself and telling myself how much I deserved better times. But I can tolerate only so much of that self-defeating self-indulgence before I grow sick of myself. I reached that point yesterday, so I began searching for a cure.

Clearly the first thing I needed to do was stop singing “Gloom, despair, and agony on me /Deep, dark depression, excessive misery.” My mother’s cure for blues, “mean reds,” and other, multi-colored malcontent moods was to count blessings. When I was young, this solution produced the eye roll and shoulder shrug perfected by every child who has ever had a parent make a suggestion that was (a) antiquated (b) moronic, (c) irrelevant, or (d) all of the above. Years have taught me that my mother knew life and her daughter much better that my younger self dreamed. Mother’s rule was that the blessing had to be recent and specific. This insured that I couldn’t roll off a list of things that required little or no thought. For example, I couldn’t count my family’s love for me, but I could count a new book in the mail from a favorite aunt or the peach cobbler we were having for dinner because it was my favorite—gifts from loving family members.

Keeping in mind my mother’s rule and reminding myself that a blessing is anything that makes me happy or prosperous, I began to count blessings that had been boons during the same period during which I was immersed in self-pity.

10. The Falcons won Sunday.

Now I understand their win was not intended as a personal gift to me. But you have to understand that I belong to a football-mad family whose favorite college team is well on its way to its worse season since any of us have been old enough to follow a game. There is no joy in Mudville, the junkyard Dawgs have wimped out. But the Falcons’ win over the Saints and last Sunday’s win over the 49ers have raised hopes that while we may not have SEC champs in the state, we could have NFC South champs. That’s a blessing.

9. It’s only six weeks until the family will be in a theater watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I.

Again, I understand that Warner Brothers, David Yates, and Steve Kloves didn’t have me in mind when they made the movie and decided on November 19 as the release date. But we are a three-generation Harry Potter fan family. We’ve read—and re-read—the books, watched—and re-watched--the movies, and kept countdown calendars. From the eight-year-old grand to the senior member of the family (me), who chooses not to disclose her age, we are all happy that we will soon be watching movie #7.

8. I read Robert Frost’s poem “October.”

October is my favorite month, and poetry enriches every day of my life. Receiving “October,” a Robert Frost poem that was new to me in my email on October 2 was a joy indeed. I must have read the poem a dozen times since then, and each reading brings me moments of happiness. I find myself repeating two lines at odd moments just for the delight they being: “Retard the sun with gentle mist; / Enchant the land with amethyst.”

7. Connie Brockway is working on Giles Strand’s story.

In Brockway’s debut novel, Promise Me Heaven, published in 1994, Giles Strand was a secondary character. In Brockway’s classic dark romance, All Through the Night, published in 1997, Giles Strand was again a secondary character. Like many Brockway readers, I longed for Giles to have his own book. Brockway said maybe someday. This week Connie Brockway’s new website debuted. In her Books section, she has a subsection she calls “Works in Progress.” In that section she says, “I'm also working on Giles Strand's story on the off chance I might find a publisher for it.” These words make me happy! Now I’m praying for a publisher for her.

6. A long, hot summer ended.

Summer 2010 began in May with temperatures we don’t usually see until much later, and we were still in the 90s into late September. When we dropped into the 80s two weeks ago, there was much rejoicing. This week has been gorgeous fall weather with cool mornings and nights and highs in the 70s. At church, in the doctor’s office, at the supermarket, the common refrain has been, “Isn’t this wonderful!” I’ve never seen so many people so happy about the weather. It’s a blessing for the pocketbook too since overworked air conditioners have sent utility bills soaring in records to match the temperatures.

5. I read a book I have long anticipated by an author whose books make me laugh and cry, and I got to review it.

Sometimes books we long for just don’t live up to our expectations, but I read one recently that did. It possessed all the writer’s trademark strengths, it gave me a hero and heroine that I loved in equal measure, and I had the joy of sharing my enthusiasm with others in a review. Look for it tomorrow at The Romance Dish.

4. I received an invitation to a reunion.

I love reunions in fiction and in life. This week I was invited to the 35th reunion of the Class of 1976 of the high school where I taught for a dozen years. The organizers are a group to whom I was particularly close, and I’m so excited that I will be seeing them again, some of them for the first time since the May evening in 1976 when they received their diplomas. [I should add that I taught this class early in my career when I was still quite young myself. :)]

3. I have a friend who is home again.

This friend is not far from 90, and she’s so active and alert she puts those of us many decades her junior to shame. In August, after a morning of working in her garden and an afternoon of making preserves and jellies, she fainted. After several weeks in the hospital and even longer recuperating in a daughter’s home in another city, she is back home—as independent and energetic as ever. She makes me laugh, and she inspires me. If the proverb is right and “Everyone is the age of their heart,” she is eternally young and forever a joy to those of us who know and love her.

2. Another friend will soon be a published author.

Many of you saw the announcement on Friday, September 24, that my good friend Manda Collins, former Romance Vagabond and forever Bon Bon, has accepted a three-book deal from St. Martin’s Press. A few of us had already begun celebrating with many squees, virtual toasts, and lots of laughter--mixed with a few tears of joy. Manda’s talent is immense, and her perseverance and professionalism are awesome. Good news couldn’t have come to a more deserving writer. I’ve read a draft of How to Dance with a Duke. It’s a terrific book, and reading it is going to make lots of people happy. This is a celebration that’s going to continue in various stages over the next several months. I’m happy I can be part of these squee days.

1. I have friends who understand the meanings.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The language of friendship is not words but meanings.” I am blessed to have friends who listen to the words but understand all the words can’t say. They have borne my days of darkness with grace and have offered unfailing kindness and encouragement. They are my safe-zone sharers, my defenders from life’s slings and arrows, the ones who are never further away than a handclasp or an emergency email. They are the kind of friends that 19th-century English novelist Dinah Craik must have had in mind when she wrote these words:

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.
Mother was right. Counting blessings does banish self-pity. I think doing so may have banished writer’s block as well.

Have you ever thrown yourself a pity party? What good advice did your mother give you? What blessings can you count today?


writerpainter said...

lovely writing! it sure does make a difference to count one's blessings, but no one had ever mentioned the idea of being 'recent and specific'. thankyou for that. I will remember it!

Anonymous said...

This was beautiful. I don't think I throw pity parties -- they just kind of spring up around me! LOL And then they seem to just keep getting bigger and bigger, until they're loud and out of control and somebody should be calling the cops to disperse it! :)

I like your idea of writing down specific blessings. Otherwise, I'm likely to grumble "yeah, I know, things could be worse" instead of really thinking how they really are much better. :)


TerriOsburn said...

I love this blog. A friend and I have joked about, and actually written, letters to the Universe. I mentioned this week that maybe I should write another one since Ms. Universe has been sending me not so great stuff.

The friend said I should write a letter of gratitude and then listed off several reasons I have to be thankful, all of which happened this year so far. That's when I realized, I've had a pretty good year.

Funny how it takes another to point these things out to us.

MsHellion said...

You know, that song was the only thing about Hee Haw I ever enjoyed. *LOL* "Gloom, despair, and agony on me...."

Totally never knew the second line. Thank you for enlightening me!!

And I love your blessings list. Great picks. And I agree with almost all of them (not being a football follower, I can't root for them, but can understand your need to do so.)

Terri is referring to me in her answer...but I don't blame her for not mentioning me by name. Since me telling anyone they should start with what they're grateful about and being positive is not something anyone would associate with me. I'm surprised Terri didn't write back and ask what had happened to the real Hellie.

TerriOsburn said...

I thought about it.

Janga said...

Thank you, writerpainter. I'm so glad you dropped by. From time to time, I think about writing a book about the truths my mother taught me. :)

Janga said...

Thanks, Donna. You know I never thought about it before, but those pity parties really do have a lot in common with teen parties that grow out of control. LOL!

Janga said...

Terri, I think tunnel vision is an inevitable side effect of dealing with junk that life throws our way. I know I find it easy to become so preoccupied with slogging through the rain and mud that I don't see the flowers growing on either side.

Manda Collins said...

Wonderful blog, Janga! And thank you so much for your kind words about me and my book:) Having you, who know so much about the genre and writing in general, say those things about my writing is a true compliment!

And boy do I know about pity parties. I've thrown countless ones for myself over the years. I think your mother's insistence that your blessings be recent and specific is genius. It ensures that you really have to think about the blessings. Speaking of, your friendship is definitely one of my blessings, even if that isn't so recent;)

Janga said...

Hellie, I love that song! I really do sing it aloud when I'm feeling sorry for myself, and then I feel even sorrier for myself because singing is another talent I lack.

And I'm not surprised you were the friend Terri mentioned. To borrow from Chance's favorite poet, contradictions are predictable in one who "contains multitudes."

PJ said...

You have no idea how much I needed this blog today. I'm mostly a very upbeat, positive person but recent events have brought the gloomies to visit and I've become mired in the negative mud. It's not a place I enjoy. I needed something to shift my focus from the dark place back to the sunshine and rainbows of my life: my many blessings (and there are many).

Like your friends were there for you, you've paid it forward to me. Thank you, Janga.

Janga said...

Thanks, Manda, you deserve every word of praise and more. I can just think about your news, and I start smiling. But no more dancing until I'm fully mobile again. :)

Janga said...
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Janga said...

PJ, you are one of the most upbeat people I know, so if my post helped lighten a rare gloomy period, I'm blessed by that. To borrow a metaphor from one of my favorite children's books, I hope whatever turned your rainbow gray will disappear and that love and laughter and other good things will repaint that rainbow in the brightest colors imaginable.

irisheyes said...

Wonderful blog, Janga! I also like your mother's stipulation that you need to be specific. I have a feeling that your mother (if she were still alive) and my mother would have a lot in common if they were ever to meet face to face!

I've given myself a little slack over the years and decided to embrace my pity parties rather than beat myself up over them. Even though they don't last as long as they used to, I'm seeing great benefits to adding a tally of 10 blessings to my clean up routine!

I know I'm speaking to the choir here, but there is something very concrete and cathartic about putting pen to paper. Thanks for reminding me!

Keira Soleore said...

Janga, your grumps were well deserved, but your strength coming out of it is awesome. Thank you for blogging about it and also for blogging period. I always look forward to what you have to say next.

MsHellion said...

Yeah, Terri got done calling me a paradox this morning. *LOL*

I think paradoxes are the true difference between real people and characters. Characters aren't really allowed to have paradoxes...

Janga said...

Keira, thank you so much. Comments like yours make the blogging worthwhile. I'm so glad you visit.

Janga said...

Paradoxes are interesting, Hellie. I have to think about the idea of paradoxical characters. I'm sure there are some.

Santa said...

I rarely venture into blogs lately but am so glad I decided to pop by today. I saw your posting on Twitter or was it FB or, well, I can't remember where but I promised myself I would stop by and see what your take on pity parties and blessing counting was all about.

I'm glad I did.

I think we all go through pity parties. Life can be tough at times and all we want to do is go lay down somewhere and toss the covers over our heads.

Your mother, as you've always known, was awesome! Step back away from the mire, rub your eyes and think for a minute how pleased you really are.


Your list made me smile. We have much in common in many of the blessings you list. Harry Potter movie. Connie Brockway flexing her genius writing muscles. And MANDA!

Onward and upward, my dear. We're all in this together and I can't think of better company to be with.

Janga said...

Irish, how great to have you back aming us! I think you're right about our mothers. :)

And I love the "clean up" metaphor. That's such an apt description. My grandmother would have advocated a literal clean up as a cure. Ironing a shirt, polishing silver, or scrubbing a floor served as her idea of therapy. :)

Janga said...

San, I'm so happy you dropped by. Thanks for your kind comments, and thanks for being part of my company of friends. LYG!

quantum said...

Yesterday I had my 7 year old grand daughter for the day. ..... Now there's a blessing.

I took her to a stately home which boasted a nursery with toys and a 'child friendly' attitude.

Going round the home we left a trail of shell shocked National Trust guides behind us!

In the empty nursery, after the guide had appologised for the lack of children, she helpfully commented "If you got some more toys you might get more children" and then "If you got more interesting toys you might get some interesting children"
The guide promissed to pass on her comments to the NT.

In a large bedroom with four poster bed She asked whether the lady who had slept there was able to bounce on the bed.
I don't think the guide had ever been asked that before!

And so it went on. *grin*

My mum, bless her, once told me to play with a straight bat.
Thats the only advice I can remember and came after I was out for a duck (cricket match).
It has served me well!

Nice blog Janga .... hope you're feeling better now. *smile*

Vivi said...

I work in retail and it's been exhausting and stressful the last few months. I was so stressed that I couldn't concentrate long enough to read a book. Lucky for me, I hit a windfall of books that were amazing. This euphoric feeling has made my stress a little bit more bearable.

Thanks for letting me have my own pity party here! :)

Janga said...

Q, I love the story about your granddaughter, particularly her comment "If you got more interesting toys you might get some interesting children." LOL! I bet that guide remembers her.

And grands are among the greatest blessings, aren't they?

Janga said...

ViVi, thanks for visiting us. I can imagine how sressful retail can be, but how great that books provide you with stress relief. With the big holiday season still to come, I'm sure you're in for even more stress. I hope you find extraordinary books to help you cope.