gratitude [grat-i-tood, -tyood]
the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful:
He expressed his gratitude to everyone on the staff.

The word has become quite popular of late; I stopped counting the number of Twitter handles that include the word at 36 as I could see there were scads more. Likewise for blog and domain names. Being thankful is a good thing; it may reduce anger and hopelessness, and keep us humble. Yet I have my issues around the word. They weren’t part of my review of Gratitude and Trust by Paul Williams and Tracey Jackson as I wanted to focus on the quality of the book’s content. A ‘must-read’ btw.

Certainly in a ‘big picture’ sense I am grateful. I was an out and proud gay man in Toronto in the 80s and 90s who remains uninfected, I survived being mugged in Toronto and a serious car accident in November of 2000 (18 day hospital stay with mutliple surgeries). I am grateful.

However on a day-to-day basis it is a struggle; I am broke, under-employed and fighting foreclosure. Going to a movie theatre or live performance is beyond my resources, much less going back to Toronto for World Pride last month. My health is not terrible but there are aches and pains. Which of course leads to self-recrimination; so many of the people I knew in Toronto 30 years ago passed long before gout or arthritis could become an annoyance.

And then there’s that whole not wanting to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ attitude of mine.

At the same time, I have an almost visceral response to “being grateful” that seems to stem from a few different sources. First is the far-too-common use of ‘just be grateful for what you have’ in religion, employment and politics as tools to control we, the people. No upsetting the proverbial applecart. Accept your place. There was a time we gay folk were advised to be grateful for whatever crumbs society deigned to permit us. Back when we protested for non-discrimination legislation and the concept of ‘same-sex marriage’ wasn’t a pipe dream, it was a non-existent concept. And when it did become at least a dream there were many who said the time ‘wasn’t right’ to push. Since there is still no national employment non-discrimination protection in the US, perhaps their fears were not without some foundation. Fortunately some souls decided to ignore the nay-sayers. While full marriage equality has yet to arrive in the US of A, it is no longer a pipe dream.

However, I am learning to limit the hold my past has on me, while not forgetting valuable lessons. And so I move forward – in gratitude.

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Dropper of Names

Over the past few days I have been contemplating a new blog post about Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, selfishness, celebrity and my Grandma’s last few years- plus whatever else my brain connects with any of that. It is interesting what crosses my mind as I clean warehouse bathrooms and vacuum a Call Centre. I’ve also been thinking about an acquaintance’s suggestion that I am a name-dropper. And yes, I am more interested in this person’s accusation than the same one leveled at me by a small-time radio host who clearly projects their own insecurities.

Although some people apply that label to anyone who mentions their connection (genuine or not) with people of note, I am pleased to see dictionaries ranging from the traditional Cambridge to the more populist Urban Dictionary continue to recognize the additional judgement attached to the term. To acknowledge one’s connection to a person of note may well be merely a statement of fact; one of my instructors at the local Community College is a cousin of Liza Minnelli but says so only when asked directly.

The ingredient necessary to go from Namer of Names to Dropper of Names is either (or both):
* the person claims a significantly closer relationship to the person of note than what exists;
* the person inserts the Name(s) of Fame into a conversation where it has no relevance;
and most often does so “in order to achieve a self-gratifying level of social acceptance and/or ego boost” as noted in the first definition found at the above-linked Urban Dictionary.

For example, in the movie Monster-in-Law Jane Fonda’s character responds to Jlo seeing a photo of Jane and Oprah by acknowledging that she knows her. Not name-dropping. On the other hand, when Jane’s character is leading the conversation at a dinner table she says “So there I was sitting next to the Sultan of Brunei with Maureen Dowd, Carrie Fisher and Snoop Dogg” in a story that involves only the Sultan and Snoop. Arguably not namedropping to mention those two but adding Maureen and Carrie’s names clearly qualifies.

Of course whether one finds name-dropping to be offensive is a personal decision. For that matter, one may decide that mentioning any connection to Names of Note is pretentious while someone else enjoys any opportunity to learn something from such a story.

And a somewhat parallel situation is the term ‘name-calling’. Imagine if you will that your parent comes out on the porch and calls for you. Presumably to come wash up for dinner (yes, an image from another era; kids willingly playing outside without electronic gadgets and then sitting down with the rest of the family for a meal). They are calling your name, but most people would not say they are calling you names. Name-calling clearly refers to “the act of insulting someone by calling them rude names,” as the Cambridge dictionary puts it.

Oh- that post mentioned in the first line above is still being mulled over- stay tuned.

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Book Review: Gratitude and Trust

Gratitude and Trust: Six Affirmations That Will Change Your Life
by Paul Williams and Tracey Jackson
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
The authors borrow heavily (and openly) from the Grandfather of Twelve Step programmes. Many of the concepts and expressions will be familiar to anyone who is, or has been, in A.A. or other Twelve Step programmes. I suspect most people will recognize something from the Programme whether through someone in their life or media/ pop culture references. Which is not to say this book is just for addicts and their loved ones. The authors say their book is for anyone in search of “a happy, centered, purposeful, healthy, constructive, spiritual (if we so desire) fear-free life” (page XVIII). This is followed by saying it can be done with just the six affirmations referenced in its sub-title.

Truth be told if I found a book with such an incredible claim in a store I would not purchase it. At best I might make note of the title and see if my local public library had a copy available.

However I received a free copy of an uncorrected proof via a Goodreads give-away. I entered the give-away specifically because Paul’s name is attached. I’ve elsewhere described Paul as a “song-writer, singer, occasional actor, and long-time hero of mine.” While Goodreads encourages winners to provide a review they are not required. I would not write one that misrepresented my opinion just because a copy was free, nor due to my respect for an author or the small earnings an affiliate link might bring**.

But back to this book, and my review. Much of the text was written jointly; each author does have ‘pull outs’ with personal stories or comments. Paul writes from the viewpoint of an addict in recovery (over 20 years). He is open about his addiction; how it damaged relationships, took over his life, and his ongoing battle with the disease. Stories are told without hyperbole. Details are insufficient to identify other individuals; they are used to illustrate the point at hand.

Tracey is not an addict. But she has spent many years in therapy. Like many (most, or if we’re being honest, perhaps all) of us in ‘the western world’ she has compulsive behaviours and tendencies that have not been helpful in leading to that happy, centered (etc) life mentioned above. I recall John Bradshaw saying that someone once asked him if he had really said that “90% of modern families are dysfunctional” to which he had replied that no, he had said that 100% are. Be that as it may, I identify strongly with Tracey and I suspect many others will.

Together they present a six-step approach to improving one’s life. My sense is that although the wording may be different, each of their steps is similar to one or more of the iconic Twelve Steps. Perhaps the book would be redundant for an addict active in such a programme or it may well serve as a powerful supplement; I can’t say. As I have only just begun to implement their six steps in my own life I can not say they work for people with compulsive or other self-destructive behaviours. An update will be provided down the road.

It may be argued that none of their approach is truly ground-breaking. Perhaps there is nothing new at the core of any ‘Self-help’ or ‘personal improvement’ programme; each new one just uses different language and packaging. Perhaps. And quite logical since we are, despite centuries of change, still very much a primal beast at our core. If a particular author’s approach, fame or personality appeals more to someone, if changed packaging leads people to make constructive changes in their lives, the world may well be better off for it.

As with many ‘self-help’ texts, mnemonic devices are used to aid in memory. For example, Accept/Except is an introduction to, and summary of, issues of responsibility. The book is a delight for those of us who love language play, puns and lots if colourful imagery. Others might find the language distracting. For example, a list of ‘maladaptive behavioral traits’ includes ‘Emotional Anorexia’, the ‘Bette Meddler’, ‘Any Porn In A Storm’ etc. More straight-forward language is used to great effect as well; “the butterflies-and-rainbows lifestyle is tough to maintain when face to face with a full-tilt, card-carrying asshole.” (page 191) One of the struggles we all face is how to remember what we need from our past without it trapping us and preventing us from moving forward. The authors suggest “Look upon the scars of your broken past as bookmarks to a bit of text you need to remember.” (page 235).

For me, Gratitude and Trust: Six Affirmations That Will Change Your Life is far more than just ‘a bit of text’ and certainly is material that I need to remember and practise regularly.

** The Federal Trade Commission rules require bloggers to clearly identify when they have or will receive compensation. I will receive a small affiliate commission should you make a purchase after following any of the Amazon links in this post in addition to the review copy noted in the review above.

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