Waiting and a Gratitude Month
A week of waiting and a gratitude nudge for November
Almost November. The months are spinning right on by. If you had an October drawing project and wrapped it up, kudos. I hope you found it to be a satisfying month of drawing and journaling.
Short this week. Or long. The long and the short of it, I guess. I don’t do well at pushing things aside to future weeks, future letters, future missives. I’m always in the now or stuck in the foggy past.
I found all week that my sleep was troubled. I was obsessively dreaming about what I was going to write and draw for Sunday. I was dreaming this post. I would wake every hour all night long having just hit upon the perfect solution for what to draw, how to illustrate this story, what the story should be. But as soon as my eyes opened, it was gone.
Like many, I have school dreams. Showing up for a final having never attended class is one that has persisted through the years. I miss my life in academia. All these years later, I still miss it. Those dreams never really surprise me.
Looping on drawing in my dreams is new. It was frustrating to keep reaching for that, to keep following the digital ink lines, for they were absolutely digital, and feel the sand sliding through my fingers.
I am finding a particular flow to the weeks. Release. Wonder what’s next. Wonder even more what’s next. By Tuesday, worry there is nothing next. Start writing and find there are too many possibilities for what is next. Think through the art and worry there isn’t really time to bring it to life alongside the writing. Then there is a spiral to Saturday.
Update! I did go ahead and record this and post it as Episode 489 of the Creativity Matters Podcast. (I still have to try the actual voiceover thing.)
Mostly this week was about waiting.
I didn’t realize that at first. Because we’re moving into November, I have been thinking about November. I’m late in making any decisions, other than that I did sign in and turn on my NaNoWriMo project. Beyond that, November is a month of gratitude for me. It is (or was) typically a podcast month. There is often a drawing component. It is a month of light. It used to be my favorite month for evening dog walks to the top of the hill and back. (She didn’t ever walk far, but the top of the hill let us look out over the ocean. Can I make myself walk to the top of the hill once a day “just because,” without a dog leading the way? Why does it feel so conspicuous?)
I don’t want to do a deep dive into gratitude today. But I do want to put that seed in front of you, invite you to pick it up, drop it in a cup with some dirt, and think about watering. Or, if that seems like too much effort, try the toothpick approach. Maybe this seed will sprout if you just put in some sticks and set it over a cup of water.
The week involved waiting and the stillness that comes with waiting. I would like to say I am the person who drew every inch of the ICU room over the last two weeks. I kept thinking about why I wasn’t doing that. I kept thinking I should do that. I kept trying to make myself do that. I did some knitting. I rolled a skein of yarn. But there was no drawing of machines and endlessly tangled wires and tubing.
Waiting isn’t new. Aren’t we always waiting? We’ve been waiting between this and that for years. We’ve been waiting since new verdicts last November. It feels we are always waiting for something coming, something looming, something next, something future.
We are waiting.
Thank you for reading. The art leads the way this week.
Quotes for the Week
I pick quotes at the end, and I find in this set, seeds I want to illustrate. I think I will!
“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” Hal Borland
“So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” T. S. Eliot
“Seek out a tree and let it teach you stillness.” Eckhart Tolle
“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” Lao Tzu
“Within yourself is a stillness, a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” Hermann Hess
“Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen—that stillness becomes a radiance.” Morgan Freeman
“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain.” Eckhart Tolle
It’s good that every day this week I walked down the nine flights of stairs at the hospital because waiting involves a lot of sitting. Waiting is often cloaked in stillness. (This is not always true. Waiting can also fuel nervous energy, restlessness, and pacing.)
I used scissors this week to cut my grilled cheese. This seems efficient to me, but even as I did it, I felt like it was a sign of mental fatigue. I just couldn’t be bothered to do it with a knife. The night before, I’d used a knife, and I just couldn’t be bothered to cut each sandwich into three parts (my preference). It just seemed too much.
I did make muffins one day. It was a rallying of self. But my approach was chaotic. It went something like this:
I saw browning bananas on the counter, and I thought I could make a shake (because I had planned on caramel apple shakes this week). But then I thought muffins would be good because throwing a banana in always works, and those potassium-boosting bananas were on their way out.
I found an expired box of blueberry muffin mix on the shelves. Two years past its date. Shrug.
I used the required eggs and water and added a container of applesauce instead of oil. (I think it’s “close” to the right measurement.)
I put in one banana and a couple of big spoonfuls of Greek yogurt. No, I didn’t measure. Plop.
I got out the old-fashioned oats, and I added some, though later I wasn’t sure if I really added them or not. I intended to add a half cup or so. (I couldn’t tell in the end, and I wonder if I got them out, opened them, closed them back up, and never really did actually add them.)
I added a bit more water, maybe another 1/4 cup… because of the oats. (Shrug. I definitely added the water.)
I opened the tin of blueberries. I smelled them. I smelled them again. Shrug.
I couldn’t find any cooking spray for the muffin pan, so I improvised with a paper towel and some oil. I filled the mini wells and put them into the oven.
Then I waited. I cooked them extra. (Our oven is broken, unfixable, and doesn’t go higher than 350, but that was good enough.)
The knife came out clean when I took them out, but the middles weren’t quite as done as I like.
I split a couple and put them in the air fryer for a few minutes to crisp them up. I ate some with butter and some with butter and cream cheese. So good. Why is this so rare these days? I used to make muffins all the time.
I would like a scone.
I would like an apple or caramel macchiato.
I would like to be back in the days when I got a scone and a coffee and drove to the top of the hill, to the lookout, and wrote, often a little one sleeping in the car seat. It seemed like so much was ahead of me, so much within my grasp, so much in the distance.
How long….. one of the doctors asked.
More than thirty years.
These realities are too big. I don’t know how to comprehend the number of years and yet how small, what a blink, it all seems.
We all get stuck at a younger age in our heads, and I so often feel the disjunct between how I think of myself and what people see on the outside. In a hospital setting over the last two weeks, it has been clear how people interpret me, make assumptions. My white hair doesn’t help. That it has thinned dramatically this year doesn’t help. But sometimes I realize, as I watch from behind my mask, that I actually am old to many of these people. That’s a given when you can answer a question about your adult life with more than thirty years… It just doesn’t feel that way.
There was much waiting.
It’s been a long, as I write this draft, ten, eleven, twelve days. I’ve had muffins and grilled cheese and too many fries in the air fryer. My son and I decided to get frozen pizza, for the first time in forever (since the oven can’t get hot enough), and give it a go. It was good enough. (We do cut pizza with scissors, which I think is the best way.)
On the surface I’m fine, but maybe I’m too worn out on some deep level to care.
I took several wrong roads this week. Absentminded?
I snapped multiple pictures of the parking garage pole each day because I couldn’t seem to remember day to day which level I was on.
I kept asking myself, is this just brain overload?
As I drove back and forth throughout the week, I tried to go through “Blackbird” in my head. I keep trying to commit more of it to memory. I thought playing it while driving, or at least reminding myself of the changes—5/3, 8/7, 7/5, 10/9 and so on—would be helpful. Unfortunately, it seems to be like typing. When I hold the guitar, my fingers know, and my eyes can read the tab and tell my fingers what to do. But in the abstract, my hands on a steering wheel or fluttering in the air on an invisible guitar as I wait at a stoplight, the notes vanish. I keep trying. It feels important to remember, to keep repeating something in my head, but I can’t tell you where letters are on a keyboard, either. I simply type.
Making the muffins seemed like a likely candidate for art this week. Many of us draw these kinds of scenes and progressions over and over. I think it would have been a good distraction, a good way to focus. It’s a concrete moment. The muffins were excellent.
I planned today’s letter around gratitude and how I think about November and whether I will or won’t do a project.
But, there has been a lot of waiting. That’s what I realized I needed to write and to draw. I considered pushing the “waiting” to next week, but ultimately, I let the drawing lead the way. What I most wanted to do for this week was include panels, and working on these drawings in the final days of the week was exactly what I needed to do. This was the most helpful thing I could do. It has filled me, satisfied me. This has been the balm.
My drawings are rough, and that’s okay. I’m pushing myself to stop talking and get back to doing. This feels good.
So, a few snippets about waiting.
These panels barely scratch the surface, but they feel like a beginning. I’m okay with things that appear here being “beginnings” and leaving the doors open for later work.
I know, for example, that the single panel showing “waiting for news” could be a whole page. If I had more time, it would have been. That was a single day, but a day I sat in one place at home…. the only day I didn’t go to the hospital. I sat home, waiting. I did things, but I was, more than anything else, waiting.
I am waiting for a number of other things, too…. So many things are about to break, and all I can seem to do is wait. This small set of drawings is definitely not finished. But it helped me find my way in this week.
We’ll talk more about gratitude (maybe) next week, although there might be some clowns.
I have a number of older podcasts about gratitude, and about gratitude projects, big and small. You can pick up the thread with any of these:
A Gratitude Mindset (Episode 428, 2020)
With Gratitude (Episode 268, 2017; a list of ideas in here, too)
Approaching Gratitude (Episode 273, 2016)
Gratitude Cup (Episode 455, 2021)
November Light (Episode 333, first of 2018 series)
Spark series (2017 daily; there are also compilations versions)
As November starts, I encourage you to consider a gratitude project or a gratitude log. Tracking gratitude can be a wonderful addition to your day at any time of year. But there is something fresh and empowering about November. It’s a good time to kindle or rekindle your gratitude awareness and habit.
Write three gratitudes each morning. If you do morning writing (any form), make it a part of that process.
Alternately, write your gratitudes at night as part of an end-of-day review.
Add gratitudes to a daily calendar. Add them to your bullet journal.
Write gratitudes on slips of paper and fill a jar.
Share a gratitude a day with a friend. (Stories of projects like this are beautiful for accountability. I do think this would be a real stretch for most people.)
Take a photo each day that captures a gratitude.
Make a piece of art that involves daily gratitude.
Read something each day about gratitude.
(In 2021, I coupled daily gratitude quotes with the 100-day dress challenge. I posted quotes daily on an Instagram account and later recorded a compilation of some of those quotes. You might enjoy that one just for the words.)
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I often put daily notes into the intro of my post, setting the stage for the week. It’s a bit like talking about the weather. It slows down the getting to the point, I know. Maybe you’re not even interested in that part. Maybe you really only scan subheads and scroll to the comments section anyway. Lots of maybes.
I have mixed feelings about interrupting or flipping and flopping my flow. I’m writing to you, after all, not simply presenting a lecture. That’s why I like the epistolary opening, the feel of the preface, the letter. I have mixed feelings (and some doubt), but I am going to experiment with moving some of these minor notes to the paid subscriber section.
I appreciate those of you who are supporting this substack space. I also appreciate and understand (keenly) the “if it’s free, do it free” or “I only do what’s free” mentality. As this change happens, don’t feel pressured. The core post will be outside the wall.
And though the sequence might look odd, I plan to leave the “comment” prompts above the fold, too, so that anyone who wants to can still fully participate. (I really dislike the trend of allowing comments only from paid subscribers.) (Update: I have learned this isn’t possible the way the substack controls currently work; I will have to rethink.)
Thank you for reading. I am grateful you are here. I won’t be making this change lightly or immediately. I plan to keep most of the text free. There will be some experimenting. Maybe more private notes will be behind the wall. I don’t know. I’m not sure I owe everyone a microscopic look.
As an example, this small snippet (below) would typically be in my welcome note. In the future, something like this and the art notes (below) might be behind the paywall.
One morning this week, after my morning routine and then the rest of my morning time responding to comments, I moved to my table to work. (I do a lot of things in one of two spots, at the table or on the couch. But loosely, these are separated. When I move to the table, it typically means I am heading to work.)
Passing by the window, I glanced at the fence. (The falling fence is causing a lot of anxiety.) As I did so, I caught movement, just below eye-line. A hummingbird was jizzing. In a single vertical line, it dropped low and then back up and again, several times. Then it hovered, right in front of me, stilled enough for a beautiful look at its ruby throat. An Anna's hummingbird, I'm sure. It repeated its odd movements in front of the window enough times that I thought maybe it was injured. But then it flew off. As I sat down and wrote a short list in my notebook while waiting for my computer to load, I noted that it was the date of my grandmother's birthday, a date that had been on my mind over the last few days. And then, the hummingbird made sense.
Who am I to doubt that the universe has ways to find and reach us?
A few minutes later, the parrots flew by. I heard them behind me, and I halfway held my breath at the thought they might land in the trees I can see. (They never have.) They didn't, but hearing them has always been a symbol. It is one I haven't ever completely interpreted and yet one I take comfort in, each and every time.
I finished a pair of arm warmers this week while sitting. It struck me that they are, in fact, the colors of the Anna’s hummingbird. I was a bit iffy on them until I made that connection. Now, they are a symbol. It can be that easy.
Notes on Art
A lot of experimenting going on. Last week, I didn’t break my panels up. I don’t know why. Later, I wished I had because I am big on margins and what happens in the spaces between. But this week, I drew eight panels using the same boxes. (They are wonky on purpose.) Then I thought, again, that I should add gutters. Since the art was done, I almost decided to wait until next week and start with a new set of boxes next week. But the missing gutters started to bother me. I wanted to see how the panels compared with and without.
The process was complicated precisely because of my wonky boxes, but I went in and spent time moving and tweaking to build in the gutters without ruining the fit of what I had already drawn. I think I salvaged things.
As I worked on the art over a few days, I kept hearing two songs in my head. Neither is an exact fit, but they were persistent. The head image grew from the Otis Redding ear worm. It was the final step. I didn’t let myself look up a reference to draw a pier or a dock. I just went with it, creating a simple backdrop for the lyric, an introduction for today’s post. Here are two additional iterations, one an extension, and one without the “waiting” edit.
Thank you for reading along! I always enjoy your comments and invite you to chime in.
Last week’s P words (in the comments) were a treat. I love how I feel that there is a community effort in building this small wordscape. Maybe you look at what others offer, maybe not. It feels collaborative, a potluck of bringing and giving and sharing, and everyone doesn’t show up with the same casserole. I feel quite sure we could all gather and have tea together.
The P words proffer a poem of their own, not a platitude in sight. Two of my very favorite words, ones I hold close, are P words, in fact. They don’t appear here. I hold them because I feel they are the words, someday, for everything I do and have done.
In the comments, there were wonderful stories and approaches to using or thinking about affirmations, many which brought to light other P words: prayer, post-its, philosophy…
To these, and not giving up my favorites, I might add a few simple extras:
And pizza. And plums. Of course.
Thank you for reading.
As always, feel free to rearrange, embellish, and add your own flair and whimsy. Feel free to share a joke.
Pocket watch, if you are waiting.
Jar if you have a solid gratitude habit. Beaker if you dabble. Jam if you think you might should.
The color of the sky right now.
A high (or a low) from October.
A costume you remember from Halloween (your own or a child’s).
Jump in in whatever way feels comfortable. If you enjoy the weekly post or know someone who might, please share.
Illustrate Your Week — Week 44
The new prompts for Week 44 have been posted.
Thank you for reading the Illustrated Life substack. Please consider subscribing to receive the weekly email. Writers need readers, and I am grateful for every reader! Please comment and share with someone else who might enjoy my particular blend of wordplay and art.
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