Thank You, Thank You Very Much

It is 68 degrees. Not bad for a late January morning. Cayce agrees as he lounges outside on the top floor porch. This angle, while hardly his most flattering, sadly does accurately reflect his spreading chubbiness. This cat, however, cares not one whit about his “imperfect” body, but instead enjoys the moment for what it is – an opportunity to bask in the warming rays of a wan sun. I say, “Catch it before it fades, cat boy. Rain is in the forecast.”

I hurry to snap the photo, but try to do it quietly, calmly, so the cat doesn’t move. Mission accomplished, I bend down to stroke  his thick pelt, and a sense of well-being courses through me (and I hope the cat too). Amazing the effect a fat cat lounging on the porch in an anemic sun has on me. Such an ordinary but sublime moment.

Neither he nor his brothers have been outside much lately. Like much of the country, we’ve been unseasonably cold – not bitterly cold like where my father dwells up north in Saratoga Springs, NY, where it was -12 degrees just three mornings ago, but cold enough that I am often the lone walker on the beach, sweatshirt hood up and tightly cinched under my chin, windbreaker zipped against the bracing 25 mph wind coming out of the north. I grind sand with my back teeth until I clamp my mouth shut. As the sand blows down the beach, a recent Letter to the Editor pops into my mind. It was written by a local man complaining about money spent on beach re-nourishment. He objects to spending millions of taxpayer dollars to truck in and dump new sand on eroding beaches. Perhaps he has a point. Is it an exercise in futility?

I sometimes wonder the same about my writing – if it too is an exercise in futility. Sometimes I think I expect too much from it, like a wide adoring audience (just kidding, sort of), but with no progeny to carry on some kind of legacy, my writing takes on an added poignancy. It feels important to leave something tangible behind that captures who I was for this brief time on planet Earth.

People say that writing is a lonely business. That always surprises me. I don’t really feel that. A much-revered teacher once said that I was comfortable in my own skin. What a compliment! Now if only I could stop the preoccupation with my sagging, sun-spotted skin. However, beyond the superficiality of my looks (or lack thereof), it is true that I enjoy my own company — and am endlessly entertained by the places I go when I write.

However, the reality of writing is that very few of us hit it big – most of us do not get tapped by Oprah or NPR or Ira Glass or any publisher, but toil in relative obscurity. Most of us do not attract wide audiences. Does it matter?

About a year and a half ago, Jim and I ambled over to Rollins College to catch Bill Bryson unspooling funny stories about his writing. We went early and joined the masses, nearly 2,600 other lovers of the written word, who sat on chairs with lousy back support and bleachers with no back support in the campus’s sports arena. We chatted with our neighbors, unusually voluble, while waiting for the show to start. Bryson did not disappoint. He was amusing and charming and said that it wasn’t very long ago that he was giving readings to just a handful of people, including once in Scranton, where another guy named Bill Bryson showed up, not because he was interested in his writing but because they shared the same name.

I certainly have harbored the hope (and fantasy) that my blog (and other writing) would be widely read. I expect I am not unique. But, that’s generally not been the case. Sometimes, I feel bad about that – and sometimes I feel bad about feeling bad. Clearly, I am still steeped in our metric-centric culture.

However, here’s something I did recently that made me feel really, really not bad, and in fact just great. I went back over last year’s blog posts and re-read every single comment written in response to those 2017 pieces.

In doing that I discovered a couple of things: that the stories about natural disasters, sea creatures and dead mothers garnered the most responses, and that stories about Trump, films and books the least. But, what was most striking was what happened inside of me when I read your comments: a rich assortment of thoughtful, spontaneous, heartfelt, empathetic, short, long, beautifully written, deeply supportive and generous comments. Warmth infused my very soul. Like Cayce lolling in the warm sun, I basked in the radiance of your goodwill. In the privacy of my office, I cranked up YouTube and did what passes for dancing for me, to a sure toe-tapper, Walking on Sunshine

So as 2018 starts, I say, “Thank you!” Thank you to those of you who read my blog, commented on postings, or gave it an affirmation. Thank you: Anna, Aunt Celie, Bara, Barbara, Betsy, Billie, Bonnie, Bruce, Chris, Chuck, Claudia, David, Debbie, Dory, Ellen, Emily, Franziska, Gary, Gina, Helena, Hillary, Jamie, Janet, Janna, Jody, Judy, Kate, Kim, Kyle, Leslie, Linda, Mare, Maria, Mary, Michael, Nacol, Nedra, Pat, Patti, Peggy, Rebekah, Roberta, Sarah, Shannon, Susan C., Susan E., Susan H., Taffy, Tara, Tim, Tom, Uncle Jim, Valerie, and Wim.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t single out one guy for special thanks, although he’s the last guy who wants to be singled out. I guarantee that Jim will groan when he reads this, and probably say, “Oh no!” Such is the lot of a writer’s spouse. Simply put, Jim is a world-class listener and an invaluable help as drafts evolve into finished products. His advice is unfailingly sound, and sometimes I even follow it. And without his technical know-how, I’d be up the proverbial shit’s creek without a paddle.

He and you make all the difference in this writer’s life. Thank you, thank you very much.*

 *Elvis would have turned 83 on the 8th and shares a birthday with Leslie, a friend since kindergarten, where we sat next to each other in Mrs. Leslie’s class.    

Reader’s Invitation

Got any stories or “aha” moments when you realized just what was valuable or rewarding? Please share about that or anything else this post evokes in you.

12 thoughts on “Thank You, Thank You Very Much”

  1. Hello Beth! I enjoy reading your pieces. It’s hard for me to see you, or Sara, or Leslie, or Michele, or Wendy, and all of our other friends that I truly loved and still do, in any other way than the way it was in HS in Broadalbin, NY. I loved my school years so much that I had to return to Broadalbin to give back in my elementary teaching position there for 37 years. I still live just outside of Broadalbin, NY. I didn’t have an easy childhood with an alcoholic, abusive father which led me to leaving home at 16 and working and putting myself through college so I could become a teacher who advocated for children who were destined to live the difficult childhood that I did. I think life is about helping others. However, you can’t let it consume your every moment, because you also deserve to enjoy life with carefree experiences. You were always very smart in school, and I knew you would do great things. I hope you’re content with your life. Your writing sounds like you’re living it just the way you wanted. PS I’ll never forget out cheerleading days! I loved it and you! Valerie (Aesch) Fiorillo

    1. Hi Valerie, Thanks so much for reading this and commenting in such a touching, authentic, and heartfelt way! We really bonded, didn’t we? I still feel it! You were always such a strong, resilient, positive, upbeat force for good – the school system was lucky to have your considerable talents all those years. And, you have all that lived, albeit sometimes painful early-life experience that certainly affected you but did not define you – and I imagine helped give you great wells of empathy. I experience such moments of contentment these days it takes me aback – like, oh, this must be joy. Some parts of getting older are great! Love you, Val. P.S. You see too that sometimes my memory is faulty – I’ve corrected the post to reflect Leslie’s comments on the order of our teachers.

  2. “Amazing the effect a fat cat lounging on the porch in an anemic sun has on me.” As a fellow writer and cat observer (do they really have owners?) I found this posting beautiful. You’re welcome, and thank you, for asking the important questions, making the gentle connections, and including us in that journey.

    1. Thanks, Linda. I so appreciate your reflections. I can feel them affect me – hope they burrow deep into my sub-conscious (and my heart) to inform my future writing. What a joy it is to know you!

    1. Hi Anna, You were in a dream I had recently. Details are fuzzy but what I remember is that we were exchanging anecdotes about our grandmothers. Your loss is recent and mine is far from recent (1986) and yet the memories are right here. I went to college down the street from my grandmother’s house and my friends and I hung out there a lot over 4 years. What a precious time that was! Thanks for your encouragement.

  3. Leslie Van Kleeck

    Hi Beth – love this. But we met in Mrs. Leslie’s kindergarten class where we sat next to each other. We had Mrs. Mildred Griffin for first grade and Miss Carol Otto was second grade. In my early 20s I became acquainted with Miss Otto’s husband Vince. He would always tell me how much she enjoyed her brief teaching career. Thanks for remembering me and Elvis!

    1. Hey Leslie, I was actually walking on the beach after I posted this and realized I’d screwed up the teacher order. Thanks for this -and have to say I’m quite impressed with your sharp memory. I updated the post to reflect this. Afraid my memory is not so sharp these days (always a worry since my mother had Alzheimer’s disease). That’s something that you met Miss Otto’s husband – she was one of my favorites. Jim was impressed I could rattle off all our elementary school teachers. Those early years really made an impression. You were such a big part of my life – and your grandmother and Bijou too, of course. I always remember your birthday – some friends are just meant to stick, I guess.

  4. Ohh. How sweet. I loved this one. I resonated with the looking at kitty and feeling their peace. I do miss having a pet sometimes. I truly enjoy reading these blogs. I love the length. I love that I know you and Jim so feel like an insider. I love your sense of humor and turn of phrases. I love the imagery which really gets to me. I wish lots of folks would read them and love them too!!

    1. Hi Nedra, I just did something weird while responding to your comments and lost them so I’ll start again. Thank you – I truly appreciate how consistent you have been reading the blog and commenting. Jim does not care for the spotlight but as Nora Ephron said, “Everything is copy.” Aren’t we lucky to be married to men with fabulous senses of humor? The cats are a pain sometimes but can’t fathom life without them.

  5. Beth….what a beautiful way to start the year….reading your lovely, heartfelt blog!!! It is exciting to get to know you more and more through your outstanding writing!

    1. Hey Susan, thanks! I was just picking up oodles and oodles and oodles of trash on the beach and stopped to talk with a local and after bemoaning the sorry state of the beach and speculating on where it is all coming from, we shifted our energy to be more positive. That’s how I feel when I read your comments – positive and energized. What a gift you are!

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