Of Grape Gum and Glass Pens: Practicing Gratitude

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vintage rose stationary

Guest post by Aimee Nezhukumatathil


And so we have come to the end of summer, Dear Reader. As Fall starts a slow creep here through Western New York, my stint as a blogger for Ploughshares is at its end. I’m so grateful you’ve checked in on me here from time to time here at Get Behind the Plough. This week was full…of life, I suppose. My husband started the semester and though I am missing being in the classroom and my students, I survived my first days home alone with my new baby all day long. The new “big boy bed” that we ordered for my three year-old finally arrived and he made the switch from crib to bed seamlessly. Five of my poet-pals have pledged to write a poem-a-day during this month with me and I have thankfully been able to keep up with them…about just over half the time, with about fourteen new poems I’m pretty proud of. That’s fourteen poems that otherwise would not have been written if not for the encouragement of my friends from all corners of this country. To top it off, my three-year old suddenly decided he was done with diapers (hallelujah!) and so now we are in the midst of ye olde Potty Training 101. And no, I’m still not getting more than a couple of hours of sleep at a time, but you know what? I wouldn’t trade all of this for anything. For reals.


I’ve talked before about how I keep writing, even when I am swamped with deadlines, teaching, wife-ing, and being a mother to two young sons. I’ve talked about where the magic happens, so to speak. I’ve talked about finding a writing family. We’ve even covered reading topics like travel writing and reading for inspiration, as well as writing ideas on nature poems and the Japanese poetic form of the haibun. And through it all, you have put up with gratuitous photos of my sons and Rocketship, their goldfish. As a side note, I had no idea so many people were interested in Rocketship. But judging from all the emails I received, perhaps Rocketship will find a way back into the blogosphere in the near future, a poetry mascot of sorts.
Gratitude List #1:


1. Rainier cherries
2. newborn baby hair that looks like iron filings
3. the first blank page of a notebook
4. turquoise mason jars as vases
5. grape bubble gum
What I wanted to talk about here for my last post was the idea of gratitude in a writer’s life. A French proverb says, “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” I would even say that Gratitude is the writer’s memory. Right now, I am knee-deep in edits for Lucky Fish, my third collection of poems from Tupelo Press, due out next year. Perhaps that, coupled with the fact that my two month-old is growing out of the “NB” or “newborn” size of clothing is making me a bit wistful these days. But with edits comes what is my most-dreaded part of the whole process–the round up of the blurbs, those little statements of praise and endorsement on the back of a book. I worry and fret over this because I try to be super-conscientious of not being a time-vacuum on a fellow writer. The thing is, I am more than happy, and in fact deeply honored whenever someone asks me to write a blurb for them. As I type, I am actually putting the finishing edits on blurbs for two wonderful and very different poets. It’s taking me a bit longer than usual because I don’t want to end up sounding over-the-top. My poet-friend, the lovely and talented Kelli Russell Agodon has a great post on her recent experience on gathering blurbs, and I think she covers the elation and fear and self-doubt that can appear in a frothy tornado of emotions during this process.

At any rate, as I write this, I feel immensely grateful for two poets I have poet-crushes on who agreed to write up a few words for Lucky Fish. I can now focus on getting this book in ship-shape condition as it finishes the editing phase. And just in case you raised your eyebrows a bit on that last sentence–these are totally platonic crushes, Dear Reader–need I remind you that I am happily married, and so are the poets who will be writing on my behalf?

I’m also in awe of the generosity of my poet-pal readers, who read early drafts (some multiple drafts!) of this collection, and all the various people who helped answer questions when I was researching biological information on these poems, including scientists from Arizona State and the Georgia Aquarium. And for the gift of time, I am especially grateful to my former students who came over so that I could squeeze in a couple of hours to write while they played downstairs with my eldest son.
How long has it been, Dear Reader, since you have picked up a pen and sat down to make a list of what you are thankful for (big and/or small)? Or if you have never taken the time to do this, what is actually stopping you? You simply will not be the same writer a month or three from now–don’t you want to capture that in some small way? When you start listing the items you are thankful for, I am confident you will quickly find out there is so much good out there for you. And instead of focusing on what you don’t have or what awards you haven’t won, or where you haven’t published, etc.–I think you will begin to see that life has a way of expanding joy in your little corner of the writer-universe. The publications and accolades will follow. But even if they don’t, are they really more important than the fact, say, that your mom or dad is still around? Or that you actually know how…to read? I mean come on.


Gratitude List #2:
1. that I can still pick up the phone on a daily basis and call either of my parents and they will drop what they are doing to talk to me
2. the sound of my geriatric dachshund drinking water
3. ice-cold tiramisu
4. having a flower garden that continues to perplex and amaze me

Go on. Now’s the time to crack open one of those dozens of blank books or notebooks (c’mon–isn’t that the number one gift from your friends and relatives, the blank book? Or is that just me?) and see if you can list five or so things you are grateful for. Or if that is just too much Oprah-cheesiness for you, feel free to narrow the focus a bit more to cover just your writing life–what things about your reading or writing are you grateful for? What kinds of things (big or little, concrete or abstract) are you thankful for? What is it in your life that makes you feel like this–like spring, like bicycles in the park and cherry blossoms falling in your hair:

Gratitude List #3 (writerly, in no particular order):

1. mentors: real-in-the flesh poets and teachers whose patience and teachings of craft and how to act both in and out of the classroom;
mentors: poets and teachers who I don’t get to spend time with, if
at all–but whose books and teachings have sustained me over the years. And yes, I consider the people who have ever written a blurb for me to be a kind of mentor too.
2. Stationery! People who know me know I have a deep and long-standing sickness, er, obsession–with stationery. I have one whole closet devoted to it. I know how bad that sounds, especially since I also teach Environmental Literature or Writing each spring. What can I say–paper and ice-cold bubbly coca-cola are my two vices. The paper thing? I can’t help it–when I travel, I love going to stationers and paper factories. Also? I love letters. I love to write them, love to send them. Forgive me.
3. glass pens
4. people who are friends first, poets second, and food snobs third
5. the magic of wireless! Wi-fi, wireless mouse (mice?), and wireless printers all make this poet’s life much, much easier.


That was just a sampling of gratitude from this week. There is so much more, but that is reserved for my notebook and my morning pages. But I would be remiss if I did not especially thank you, Dear Readers. Thanks for checking in on this blog and for welcoming me into your e-lives. I feel like you’ve been a small part of the first two months or so of my newborn son’s life and so I thank you for that too, and for letting me air out and ruminate on various writerly (and not-so-writerly) topics. How lucky we all are, no? To even want to write, and then sometimes, we actually get to write about whatever we want to write about–what a gift, what a blessing.
A fugitive of a wasp hides in the swell of summertime. A rotten pear of a face yells at me from the side of a motel. It begs me to pull over and I do. I jot down a few more people and things I am grateful for. I drink this summer night up.


This is Aimee’s eighth and final post for Get Behind the Plough.

Images: 1 and 2.