November Feature: A Community of Artists at TreeHouse

Mandy Ringdal

We are immensely grateful for our contributing artists and followers, and the rapid growth of the site. Since gratitude is a timely theme for the month of November, we asked some of our artists to ponder what they are most grateful for and share their thoughts with us. Here is what they wrote:

“I am most thankful for my loved ones that give me the strength and encouragement I need to keep pushing forward in my fight against cancer. With them on my side I’m gonna win this battle!” Mandy Ringdal, Singer/Songwriter

“The most natural occurrence of my life is also the one thing I’m grateful for above all else. This is the process of inhaling and exhaling. Does that sound too simplistic? Perhaps it is, but in such simplicity is enormous beauty. Friends, lovers, and jobs will come and go. But your respiration process will never be the least bit fickle, provided you’re in fair health. All you need do is to follow each breath from the beginning to the middle to the end. If you do that, the incessant “yackety-yack” of the mind is instantly shattered. Your pesky inner critic vanishes as soon as he arises.

I find this especially useful when that critic rages to prevent me from doing precisely what I’m doing now. That is, transferring ideas into words. For all the thousands of pages written on how to cure writer’s block, nothing is more elegantly effective than to minutely observe your breath.” – Steven Kowal, Writer/Film Producer

“I’m thankful for so much (family, friends, pets, health, geography, opportunities), but nothing comes close to my wife / muse / best friend / keeper of my sanity / number one multi-life partner in The Big Electron: Melissa. A quest neither of us even knew we were on (to remember why we’re here) ended the day we met over 13 years ago. And thus began our new quest: to nurture and grow this indescribable love.” Ryan Wirick, Writer/Videographer/Film Producer

“I am ever thankful that Yahweh wakes and moves me through each day;

For being where I am, when I am, doing what I am.

I am thankful for coffee, tea, ginger, garlic, lime, aloe and water.

For health, for family, for Patience, Hope, Faith, Passion, Curiosity, smiles, music, dancing, long walks and Sanctuary.”  – Natalie d’Auvergne, Writer

“Aside from being thankful for my family and friends, I’m thankful for moments of humanity, instances when people are simply kind to each other, are empathetic, and value others for being human. More and more, I’ve found myself appreciating quiet gestures of kindness, particularly when they reap neither recognition nor reward other than the simple pleasure of the act.

While on a trip to Savannah, Georgia a few years ago, a friend and I hovered around a parking meter, unsure of whether to pay. A woman stopped her car in the middle of the street and yelled to us: “Y’all don’t need to pay the meter after 5:00,” and she drove away. That’s the kind of simple, quiet humanity for which I’m thankful.” Ruben Guzman, Writer

“I’ll admit I’m somewhat prone to bemoan. Every time my computer freezes or a new book arrives slightly damaged or I trip on a crack in the pavement and fall on my face while out running (sadly, this has happened more than once), a few moments of muttering about a perfidious universe ensues. So, for the last several months, I’ve been trying to live with a deeper attitude of gratitude. Not surprisingly, once I started focusing on all the wonderful aspects of my life, it was easy to stop sweating the small stuff. And within a few weeks of this new and heightened consciousness, I realized that I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

I’m thankful for my challenging career and the comfortable home and sense of purpose it provides me. I’m thankful for the education I received at Chapman University the last five years and for the truly inspirational professors who have impacted me so profoundly and indelibly. I’m thankful for the heartache I’ve suffered and the dismal pit it has sometimes left me in and for my tenacity to dig out and emerge intact and improved – and for the depth and sensitivity I possess to suffer in the first place. I’m thankful for the days during which a spark of creativity enables me to write a paragraph or two, and I’m really thankful for the days during which the spark ignites and pages of new words come blazing out while I look on in bewildered wonder. Finally, I’m thankful for my courageous and vulnerable like-minded friends, peer mentors, and kindred spirits who unwittingly elicit more of my authentic self every day by merely being. I will be toasting to you all this Thanksgiving.” Michelle Arch, Writer

“I am truly, madly, deeply thankful for my two sons. Not in an idealized, Hallmark card, holier than thou, of course you’re thankful for your kids kind of way. I am thankful, with great specificity, for them, for the opportunity to live with them on this side of trauma, to watch their smiles unfurl, to see them blossom into the strength and sweetness of twenty something manliness, to enjoy them as they lean into the job of being part of a family.

I am thankful for the sunshine, both inside and outside of my home; for the birds that cavort in the bottle brush tree, pause momentarily to make sure I’m watching, then continue their silliness; for my cat, who adopted us several years ago and quite possibly saved our lives and still refuses to stop sleeping on the dining room table whenever my back is turned. I am thankful that my ninety year old mother will fly all the way across the country on her own to watch Jeopardy with us and make us laugh at her ineptitude with anything that must be rolled up and contained within a tortilla. Finally, I am thankful for my “framily” (if “friend” plus “enemy” is “frenemy,” then “friend” plus “family” is “framily”), so thankful that worlds fail me, for they give me joy.” – K. Dana King, Writer

“There is a beauty behind this yearly vehicular togetherness with my family that I wouldn’t change for the world. On the road, we leave one home for another with our ears stuffed, our bellies full, and our hearts consumed. Driving down the bulging veins of Southern California freeways, I know it will be another long, exhausting day making mad dashes across three county lines, racing against butterball thermometers and glazed hams, but I know it’s all for the sake of keeping family and tradition united as one.

But I want more.

You see, my husband and I are the spawn of 1st generation immigrant parents, and we do not have extended family members here to celebrate the holidays with us, only our immediate family—and the numbers are low. So we struggle to hold onto what we have left of tradition every year, and we cherish the little time we get to spend with each other. So although my husband and I do momentarily wince when we recall the pain of trying to eat Thanksgiving dinner twice in the same night, and driving all sorts of ways through the 210, 57, 60, and 5 freeways, I would much rather spend this Thursday evening traveling for miles on end in an old Honda with my husband and kids, listening to Beatles songs and chit-chatting, being thankful for all the little things, the funny things, and the important things, instead of being one of the cars speeding beside us, racing towards consuming all the unimportant things. Unfortunately, this year, Black Friday somehow seeped its shadowy way into Thanksgiving Thursday, with many retail stores, fast-food chains, and even frozen yogurt shops opening throughout the day for an extra, extra head-start on sales.  This new tradition of zealous mass consumerism reminds me of a quote from my favorite author, Oscar Wilde: “Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” How true these words still ring 120 years after they were originally written.

The fact is, the fact that families are being torn away from this special day of celebrating a long-time American tradition and togetherness is disheartening. However, this unfortunate situation makes me realize how lucky I am to be able to spend this time with my family, even if it’s not for as long as I would probably like. Of course, if we could not spend this day together, it might be suggested we simply get together on another day. But we all work. The children go to school. There are extracurricular responsibilities to fulfill. And let’s not forget the volunteering. So Thanksgiving day is an extra, extra special day for us. We all make sure we spend that evening consuming one another. There have been trying times in the past, but regardless, we have always been able to spend that time together, whether it was more or less than what we would have liked any particular year.

I do like to think I’m grateful every day for the small things, the simple things like my daughter’s gentle kisses waking me up each morning, my husband getting the kids’ breakfast ready so I can sleep in an extra 20 minutes, and my son feeding our dogs without one single nag. Not too much time goes by when I don’t feel blessed to have a healthy, loving family, fresh food on my table, and a job where I get to teach my favorite subjects like fiction, poetry, and drama. This year, I’m going to be especially thankful to my parents and my in-laws for having adopted only the tradition of Thanksgiving Thursday and banishing Black Friday fanaticism because it allows all of my family members, low in quantity as we may be, to enjoy quality time together this Thursday and celebrate each other’s prayers and blessings, laugh at funny stories, share great food, sing-along car rides, and try to prepare for the Tryptophan hangover. My situation may not be great for some, though it might be better than others, but I think overall, I have it pretty good—it’s all mine.  So what do I want this Thanksgiving? That would be for my family to consume my attention, stuff lots of good chisme into my ears, and fill my heart with love.

Is that too much to ask?” – Deborah Aguilar Escalante, Writer

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

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