Wednesday I received a very kind note from Alex Zonis over at Pencil Scribbles. She told me she was an avid reader of my blog and was giving me a Sunshine Award.
It's always gratifying to hear from readers that they think you are doing a great job, that what you're writing about is interesting, helpful, and perhaps even both.
The thing is I like an uncluttered blog, though that seems to be more and more difficult these days. In my thank you note to Alex I had to explain I don't add blog award buttons to my already cramped left-hand column (her kind note had already anticipated I wouldn't). (Have you noticed the fun Fake Journal button there that will take you to The Official International Fake Journal Blog? Or the button which links you to the Urban Sketchers Network—Twin Cities blog I participate in?) There just isn't enough real estate for all the things I have planned!
But I did go to the link Alex provided to view the button. There I found out that Alex had actually left off the most important bit about her award process—she didn't tell me the link was to a post where she listed a baker's dozen of artists and bloggers whom she felt had helped or inspired her in some way—and her husband for his help. You can see this list here.
Now to the cynical amongst us (and people who know me know I'm cynical) you might wonder why I'm posting about a pastime that could be categorized as a chain letter of sorts, designed to get more hits on the blogs involved. Certainly if everyone receiving the award (assuming that everyone plays) lists 12 people and so on that's an awful lot of awards flying around. I have to admit I'm not much interested in that.
But what I am interested in are the statements Alex makes about each of her award recipients. One is a Chicago artist who invited her to her sketch group. (A simple act of kindness and friendship.) Another is an artist who helped her find some books. Several others have mentored her in one way or another.What the list adds up to is a lot of specific acts of kindness resulting in some very specific gratitude on Alex's part. And I am interested in that.
I think it is important that everyday we give some thought to those things, people, animals, events—whatever—that make our lives better in some specific way, even if it seems a very small way indeed. When we recall those specific details that matter to us, our resultant gratitude reminds us how we want to live our lives, treat other people, and work in the world.
I'm not going to advocate that people start sending awards all over the place. If you feel moved to do that and it works for you, the internet will allow you to do that with a lot more ease. And if you take the time, as Alex has to specify your compliments then you are focusing your gratitude, thanking people, and also helping spread the inspiration that they supplied you out to others. I try to do this in my own way with Profile Friday (an occasional feature here on my blog.)
I would like, however, to advocate yet again, that you spend some time focusing on the specific details of your life—the small things you might take for granted—the odd little happenstance that seems unobtrusive and unimportant. These are different in each life—ranging from small courtesies to large, grace-packed favors that only seem small if we don't bother to examine what they cost the doer. Be specific in your reflection, whether you write a note or speak a thank you, or simply catalog another awareness in your journal. Be specific. Acknowledge what it did for you, what it means to you.
I have a little motto that friends know, borrowed from The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer. Cary Grant plays playboy artist Richard Nugent. He accepts a trophy at a games-packed family picnic saying:
I don't know how this happened to me. I guess I owe it all to clean living, proper outlook, and the help of my friends.
It's a doubly ironic statement. Nugent is speaking ironically with an urbane nonchalance which succeeds as wit. He actually doesn't live clean or have a proper outlook—at least not in the eyes of some of the other characters who are at great pains throughout the movie to tell him how much they disapprove of him. Even he likes to think he's a bit of an outlaw. But additionally, though he doesn't know it, he did only win with the help of his friends. And that's also the point.
We all owe a lot. How we detail that list of debts determines where we put our focus and efforts. Thank a couple people today—maybe it's a sibling who took the time to help you understand geometry, maybe it's the check-out girl at the grocery store who always smiles at you even though she's been on her feet for 12 hours and her back is killing her.
In my case that sibling made it possible for me to grow up loving mysteries (and theorems) and to give my heart to a scientist; and that check-out girl reminds me what it's like to be young, full of hope, and hungry in the best possible way—as well as constantly courteous in extreme situations.
If we stop and think about those specific details we know exactly what happened to us and how to pass that gratitude along in actions.
Also take a moment to go and look at the links Alex provided to her inspirations. You might find artists and bloggers who also provide you with inspiration. And if they do, by all means drop them a note detailing what specifically they inspired.