On Surprise & Gratitude
Happy Birthday, Keep Moving
I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea, which opens my book Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change: every ending is also a beginning, and we don’t necessarily know of what. A wise person once told me to start each day by asking this question: What else is possible?
Life constantly surprises me—sometimes in painful ways, sometimes in wonderful ways. Change is the only constant, isn’t it? During an interview the other day I was asked how I live so comfortably with ambiguity and ambivalence. My answer: I don’t! I don’t live comfortably with the unknowns, but I try not to struggle against them. I try to trust the ebb and flow. As Rilke wrote, “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
Just keep going. Keep moving.
Three years ago today, on October 6, 2020, this little, bright-orange book, which NPR called “a meditation on kindness and hope,” was published.
Keep Moving is now three years old, but the project itself goes back five years. By the time it became a book, I’d been writing and sharing the notes-to-self on social media for two years. I posted the first one on October 22, 2018.
That morning in October, I was heartbroken, angry, and afraid. My marriage was over. My husband and I were still living under the same roof but weren’t communicating except through lawyers. Our children had only known for a week or so that we were splitting up. Life was delivering surprise after surprise in quick succession—too much terror, not enough beauty—and everything felt wrong. The need to tell myself a kinder story about my life, a story that made the future feel possible, was an urgent need.
As I wrote in Keep Moving, hope is imaginative. You have to be able to envision something better ahead even if you can’t see it yet.
I had no idea on that October morning that writing these notes-to-self would become a daily practice. I had no plans to create a book (or, a year later, a guided journal). I was just trying to keep my head above water.
Keep Moving has been a miracle in my life. Writing these notes-to-self each day helped me become more optimistic and open to change. And as I shared in my memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, the advance for the book enabled me and my kids to stay in our house. Nothing stressed me out more, or woke me up in the middle of the night more, than the fear of losing our house in the divorce. I worried about having to uproot my kids from their neighborhood, move them away from their friends, and put them in a new school. I had no idea how I would manage to keep us here.
If you’ve been divorced or faced a major financial hurdle for another reason—medical bills, a job loss—you understand that frantic fear. Keep Moving is why I’m writing this to you from my office in the front room of my house, watching people walking by with strollers and dogs. It feels like a miracle to me.
As a writer, I learned from this book that I could surprise myself; I could push myself beyond the boundaries of genre, beyond the boundaries of what I thought my work was—what it looked like, sounded like, and where it would be shelved in a library or bookstore. No one was more surprised than me that after writing three collections of poetry, I’d ventured into prose. And no one was more surprised than me that I’d written a self-help book. And for me, it has been literal self-help. I still return to these pages when I’m in the weeds and need a self-pep-talk.
I couldn’t have imagined in 2018 what was possible in 2020 or in 2023. What might be possible in the next three to five years? What might come to an end? What new beginnings are in store?
What else is possible?
Happy Birthday, small but mighty neon book. And thank you, readers, for welcoming it so warmly during an anxious, precarious year for us all, and for continuing to give Keep Moving to friends and loved ones. I’m so grateful.
PS: If you want to learn more about Keep Moving and the experiences behind it, here’s a link to my favorite conversation about this book, on the One You Feed podcast, with my friend Eric Zimmer, who is so kind and wise.
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*In October 2020, we celebrated the book’s publication with an almost-too-beautiful-to-eat cake from Mrs. Goodman’s Bakery, thanks to my sister Katie. (Almost. The cake was chocolate with buttercream frosting, so naturally I devoured it. Chocolate, too, is a balm for the soul.)