WARNING: Massive Thanksgiving post ahead!
My dearest readers, fellow writers, and companions on this weird publishing and life journey,
It has been an extraordinary year.
Like lots of words in English, extraordinary is two small words pushed together. I assume this is a fun leftover from our linguistic ancestor, German, that master of the wonderful and weird compound word. (Grief-bacon. Look it up.)
Extraordinary. Extra. Ordinary.
This year has been one of extremes. Beautiful, magical things happened. Horrible, awful things happened.
If there is a theme that threads through all my work, it is this: There is no light without dark. There is no victory without sacrifice. There is no love without loss. The very act of loving opens you up to the worst kind of loss.
I fell in love this year. My grandmother died. I found out I am gaining a niece. A beloved uncle was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Nothing about this year has been ordinary.
I have published less this year than any year since 2011. And yet, those books that I finished have been more highly praised than any others. I reached down to very dark places writing some of them. It was awful and wonderful and challenging and cathartic. There were real tears. And ineffable joy.
To those of you who have been following me as a writer for a while, I want to thank you for sticking with me this year. It’s been a year where I haven’t been able to give you as many of your favorites, but I’ve still been able to pay my bills. Thank you for that. Thanks for going with me on this journey. I don’t know what the future holds in a broad sense (though you can check out my rough writing schedule here), but I feel more confident knowing that I have readers who aren’t looking for the latest trends.
This year started with a trip to Ethiopia, the cradle of life. It is not an exaggeration to say that what I thought would be another research trip for a book changed my life. It stripped me down. Forced me to see the world through an entirely new lens that maybe wasn’t new at all. It was always there, but maybe I’d ignored it.
Beauty and poverty. Ancient and modern. Valleys and heights. It’s a place of extremes where people live in modern cities and wander paths that have existed for millennia. It’s a place where they dig down into the earth to reach heaven.
It fit this year. Or it shaped it. I don’t really know. I don’t think it matters.
I have never wanted to live an ordinary life. I consider it a privilege to be surprised. This year tested that.
Parts of me are exhausted. Parts of me are thrilled. Maybe I’m finally old enough to stop thinking I know what will happen in my life. I’m sure that won’t stop my imagination from running wild.
Because life is extraordinary. Extra. Ordinary.
Thank you for being part of that.
As we move into the holiday season, I’m holding hope in my heart. I’m in a waiting game right now on the personal front, so I’d appreciate your thoughts and prayers. My whole family is waiting. For love. For our future. For inevitable loss. For unexpected joy. We are waiting. We are hoping.
What an extraordinary gift we have been given to be alive in this time! To see the challenge and the promise balanced so clearly in front of us. I cannot control what will happen in the world. I can only control my own choices.
I choose love. I choose hope. I choose peace. I choose others above myself. I choose thanks. I choose giving.
So, in this spirit, I’d like to highlight some things that I hope will challenge you right now.
Our country, like many others around the globe, is turning inward. It seems to be focused on itself like a toddler who’s scared and doesn’t want to leave the house or share his toys. This is a global trend, by the way. It’s not just us.
Travel. Learn a new language. If you have the benefit of neighbors from a different country, invite them over for a meal and get to know them. Or if you can’t do that, try streaming Parts Unknown on Netflix.
It’s funny and unexpected and deals with big ideas like:
- Who gets to live in paradise?
- Where is home for an immigrant?
- What does faith mean in modernity?
- If pig is considered a dirty animal by so many cultures why is it so darn delicious?
There are a bunch of seasons on Netflix and other streaming services. Check it out and broaden your mind.
I don’t want this post to get political, but the trend toward isolationism and nationalism I’m seeing all over the world really concerns me. I don’t want this to be who we are as people. If you like my books, I think you’re probably the same way. So I encourage you to challenge these trends in whatever way fits you best.
There came a point about halfway through the year, I think after I got back from my second trip to Ethiopia, where I realized:
I do not need a another darn thing.
Nothing. Seriously, other than groceries and clothes for my RIDICULOUSLY FAST GROWING child, I need nothing.
So I stopped buying stuff. (Okay, other than books and music, let’s not get crazy.)
But stuff? More clothes? More doodads for my house? Nope.
(Check that, I bought camping gear because I’d been borrowing my parents for too many years.)
OTHER THAN THAT, I’ve been pretty good about
Examine what you need in life. And think about what you can give. About what your children can give. I think this year I’m just going to tell everyone to donate to something in my name if they want to give me a present. Because I don’t need stuff. And I’d rather give things away.
Here are some of the things I love supporting with my money:
Conservation: The Monterey Bay Aquarium
This one is personal to my family because it’s our closest aquarium, and it’s focused on marine conservation on the central coast of California, which is our home. Added to that, my son is passionate about marine biology and has said for years now that he wants to be a marine biologist or geologist (he goes back and forth.) Pick something that’s important to you and your kids. Support an organization focused the natural world that will speak to them.
Art: LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
We spend a lot of time in Southern California and my son’s dad lives there, so I’ve supported LACMA for many years. My funding helps build new exhibits and education programs and also keeps costs affordable for families who can’t afford a big ticket. It helps fun free music programs and student memberships. (All children in Los Angeles get a free museum membership at LACMA.) Art is important and should be available to everyone, so I help give to support it.
Our world: Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiers)
MSF does the work most of us look away from. They go to the neediest parts of the world to administer medical aid. Don’t look away. Don’t ignore it. They don’t. They’re very highly rated on Charity Watch and have an established reputation, which means they get access to places that smaller organizations might be turned away from. The organization is not without its problems, but they get things done in parts of the world most people wouldn’t dream of going to. Syria. Afghanistan. Refugee camps all over the world. They do the work that needs to be done, and they need financial support. It’s as simple as that.
My son’s school chose the motto for this year: Others. It’s not about ourselves.
It’s a good motto. It’s an important one.
Thanks for the extraordinary year that 2016 has been. Thanks in all circumstances.
Giving to our planet (which is really giving to our children), our communities, and others around the globe.
As you go into this holiday season, I hope you understand how grateful I am for your support and encouragement. As we approach the release of A Stone-Kissed Sea—the book that sent me to Ethiopia!—I hope you’ll join me in thanks and in giving.
I want to wish a happy Thanksgiving to all my readers. (Even those outside the US! Why not?) Please know that I am thankful for you.
Be well and thanks for reading,