Photo by Taka Sithole on Unsplash

Gratitude Stinks.

But it fuels your writing.

Production of my current-work in-progress, an essay collection titled Listicles, was ahead of schedule. The writing had sped right along, thanks in good measure to Julie. Anticipation of her copy-editing perfectionism had kept my analytical, sentence-diagramming brain from worrying about Oxford commas.

I was free to be a creative genius.

I sent the manuscript to the developmental editor, Jessica Conoley right on time, and she finished earlier than planned.

But when I looked up from patting myself on the back, Listicles was three days behind schedule.

The hold-up? The acknowledgments page.

Gratitude pushed my Stingy button. I was stingy with money, having inherited a cheap gene, having a deeply ingrained sense of lack. Generosity? Not here.

Whatever you’ve got, there was less of it for me, which included gratitude. After all, gratitude was worth more than money.

I was squeamish about thank you. Sure, I’d felt it. I’d been known to break into a big goofy grin when on the receiving end of a compliment. I’d hosted a misty-eyed sigh or two whenever a young man opened a door. Some action or another had given birth to an awww shucks, a sideways head-nod thing, and a shuffle-kick.

But I didn’t know the words for the source of those contortions.

I procrastinated the acknowledgements page, certain to screw up gratitude. I would thank the wrong people for the wrong things. I would leave somebody out. My gratitude would be cliché-ridden. I would fail to achieve thank-you eloquence.

Overcompensation replaced competence.

The acknowledgments list grew to a hundred strong. People who’d never met me. People unrelated to my writing. People who will never read my book.

Thank you to the UPS driver who dropped off the new Square that eased the selling of my previous book at a book fair, which earned me enough cash to commission an illustration for Listicles.

I thanked the clerk at Sprouts, who showed me where Braggs was shelved, because the addition of Braggs led to tasty brown rice, and tasty brown rice took a little stress out of my day, a day I spent most of perfecting a paragraph.

I looked to colleagues for guidance. Deborah Shouse (An Old Woman Walks into a Bar) thanked her brother for his home-baked brownies. Good, I was on the right track; I’d also included my brother. But Michael had never baked me brownies. Oh, the brilliance of those essays, had brownies fueled the writing. What concrete Listicles-directed action of Michael’s caused my face to contort into gratitude? I was no longer certain of my brother’s relevance.

Another author thanked the writing residency programs that had given her the opportunity to focus on writing. Residencies, where you pay to live in beautiful surroundings, free from distractions. If I paid to live somewhere beautiful, I would definitely not spend my time in the torturous act of writing. I’d spend my time eating brownies.

I grabbed my copy of God Help the Child and flipped to the back to see how my writing idol had handled gratitude. There was no acknowledgments page. She had thanked exactly no one. Well … it was Toni Morrison … so that was appropriate.

Resigned, I plowed through on my own. Fussed and worried and deleted, until I whittled Acknowledgments down to a manageable length. Most clichés got the boot, as did strangers who had nothing to do with the book. A read-through of the final version delivered recollections of how each lovely I’d cited had opened a creative door for me. Somebody sighed. It might have been me.

I composed an email to Julie, attaching the manuscript. All that was left to do was hit send.


I forgot to thank Julie.



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Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey writes about love and pain. Her latest book is Blindsided: Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room.