Five Somewhat Unexpected Things To Be Thankful For

I had a few different ideas about what to write this week, but then I looked at my calendar and saw this post would go live the day before Thanksgiving. So in the spirit of the holiday, and in no particular order, I’ll share what I’m especially grateful for.

Grandparents who emigrated from Poland: I said no particular order and then realized I needed to start with my grandparents. If they had not come to this country, I wouldn’t be here. My grandfather came before World War I, and my grandmother followed about 11 years later. She brought my Aunt Hermie and Uncle John with her. My aunt lived to be 97 but still talked about hating school. At 12 years old, she was put in third grade because she didn’t speak English, and all the kids made fun of her. The whole family struggled, especially during the Depression. My grandfather could not get work, so he did construction through the WPA. One of the projects he worked on was the Brookfield Zoo. My grandmother cleaned houses. My uncle told stories about how he and his brothers stole sleds from the orphanage in their neighborhood. My mom’s family couldn’t afford sleds, and my uncles were jealous that people donated things like that to the orphans. By making such a huge change in their lives and persevering, my grandparents opened up so many opportunities for their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, who include teachers, lawyers, professors, doctors, executives, and many other professions and who are all people who work hard, contribute to their communities in positive ways, and have loving families. I wish I could tell my grandparents how much I appreciate their willingness to get on boats and travel to a new land where they didn’t speak the language and were not sure what awaited them.

My mom and dad at their wedding.

That lower-than-entry-level job. My first full-time job after college was at a company called PetroVend. Other than the money I earned and that there were nice people there, I would not have expected I’d be particularly thankful for that job. I worked at the company part time during the last two years of college coding by hand key cards like the ones that are now used for hotels. I was a good employee, so the company expanded the job to full time, adding duties such as invoice entry, filing documents, and assembling and sending catalogs to distributors. It was not particularly exciting, but I gained a lot of computer skills on the job. One of my more mundane tasks was photocopying a financial newsletter for one of the two owners. As I copied, I read. It was my first exposure to the idea that money itself could be invested to make more money. I had nothing to invest at the time, which made it easier to learn. I had no strong emotions tied to the stock market or to how to use money I might make in the future. I also often had to copy of the company’s manuals when we ran out. This was on a photocopier that did not have a collating function, so I made 20 copies of each individual page, then laid out hundreds of pages on the table and collated them myself. The same owner saw me doing this day after day and working quickly and, generally, cheerfully. (I was plotting my next novel in my head.) He stopped to tell me that he was impressed that I worked so hard at such a dull task and that he believed I would do well at anything I chose to do in life. He probably does not remember saying that to me, but it made a big difference. I realized that even at a low level job, I could distinguish myself. I also learned that working hard and caring about doing a good job are qualities that not everyone has, and that those qualities are valuable to employers. (And now that I hire people myself, I realize those qualities are even rarer than I grasped back then.)

New ways of watching television. I never would have expected to say I’m grateful for television, as for many years I did not regularly watch any shows. But I love the new ways to watch TV, particularly being able to watch an entire season within a short time period. That change in viewing habits has led to season-long story arcs, something almost unheard of when I was growing up. It is such a great way to see and understand plot, theme, and character growth. Plus it’s led to excellent scripts. In fact, at a panel discussion at the Goodman Theater last year, one of the speakers commented with disappointment that many of the best writers now work in television rather theater. I love seeing plays, so it is disappointing from that perspective. But watching a season of television now can be much like a 13-20 hour play, with all the nuances and challenge and excitement. While I doubt I’ll ever write for television, being able to watch a drama play out that way has helped my novel writing immeasurably. Plus it’s fun.

Podcasts. I just started listening to podcasts this year. In them, I’ve found a wealth of information as well as a sense of community. Every week, Joanna Penn in The Creative Penn interviews people about writing, marketing, and/or publishing. So much of that advice has helped me not only improve sales of my books but improve how I use my time and how I write. And Joanna’s updates on her fiction and non-fiction books and her speaking engagements, as well as comments by her listeners, keep me in touch with the community of other independent authors. At the StoryWonk forum, I’ve found other people who love writing as much as I do, and who care about story, theme, plot, and characters as if the world depended upon it. There I’ve also found people who love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the Dusted podcast) and Pride and Prejudice (the In Want of a Wife podcast), plus Alastair Stephens’ Journeyman Writer podcast on the craft of writing. Through the Reel Chat podcast, I’ve been able to enjoy learning more about story and also all aspects of making movies. The podcasters have such a great sense of humor and camaraderie that I often listen even if I haven’t seen the film. (Though I do love Reel Chat most when it covers favorite movies such as Terminator. And, I hope someday soon, the Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles series — that’s a hint, guys.) Finally, the Thank God I’m Atheist podcast addresses both religion and lack of belief with humor and insight, and I am very grateful to feel that I’m not alone in being a non-believer with a fascination with religion and its power in our culture.

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The age difference between my parents and me. My parents got married in their thirties and had my two brothers, then I came along when they were in their forties. My mother said having children late kept them young, and I am very grateful for that. (That’s a surprise, as when I was growing up, the large age gap exacerbated generational differences, and I wished for parents closer to my age.) Even when she hit her late seventies and early eighties, my mom’s philosophy was that old is ten years older than you are. My dad lived to his late eighties without losing any of his mental sharpness. Particularly because I have colleagues and acquaintances in their fifties who are already practicing to be old by reminiscing about how wonderful it was to be young and lamenting not seeing as well, thinking as well, etc., I’m grateful to have had examples of people who focused on the privilege of being alive rather than the negatives of living into middle age and well beyond. As I reach middle age, I feel more effective in both my law and writing careers because of the knowledge and experience I worked so hard to gain. I’m also freer to do things I enjoy because I’m not scrambling merely to pay the rent, and my life is richer for the friends and family members I’ve shared good and bad times with and because my widening circles of interest brings me in touch with new people all time. Just as there were good and bad parts of being in my twenties, there have been good and bad aspects of each decade since. I’m glad I learned from my mom and dad not to romanticize being young and not to dread being old, but to live life in the here and now.

What about you? What are you thankful for this November?

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you’d like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, click here to join her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.