Writer in Residence

On Writing and Gratitude

By Adebe DeRango-Adem

Inspired by  Ocean Vuong's piece in the "Writers Recommend" section of the Poets & Writers website, where the poet discusses what it means to be "stuck" with words, unable to write with ease, and offers ways of possibly navigating through such difficulties, I was struck by one particular suggestion: not to force the writing out of oneself and hope to snap out of it, but to slow down and give solemn thanks to others.

Vuong writes: "I find a quiet place in the day and stop. If I’m at home, I lie down on the carpet. Then I do this thing where I just say ‘thank you’ to all the things and people who helped me. I say, ‘Thank you, light, for helping me. Thank you, flowers in the jar, for helping me. Thank you, mom, for helping me. […] Of course, simply saying ‘thank you’ does not awaken any creative force; it just reminds me that the work I am doing is not validated by quantity, but rather, by the connection it builds between the world and myself."

I love this statement, and the emphasis on outward connection as a way back into writing, rather than attempting to beat material out of oneself. Only in connecting and feeling gratitude can we really become open to new channels of exchange—
between ourselves, others, and the words we seek. And of course this is something beyond just the realm of writing.

The benefits of gratitude are many: some of us may decide to create actual gratitude lists, or mental ones, send random notes of kindness or small prayers out into the world. The essential feeling of being presently "okay" and thankful because one is at least breathing and connected, even if it might feel otherwise, can become a spiritual reward unto itself (maybe with some practice). I think gratitude is a practice. To give thanks for other people (other writers who have inspired you, those who have shown you love), or even memorable things/experiences, suddenly opens the door to sensations of kindness and gentleness that bounce back. There needs to be some kind of offering in order to make receiving, and then creating, possible. Patience, receptiveness, willingness to give back, openness to influence. This is the stuff that new pages are made of.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Adebe DeRango-Adem is a writer and doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in various North American sources, including Descant, CV2, Canadian Woman Studies and the Toronto Star. She won the Toronto Poetry Competition in 2005 to become Toronto’s first Junior Poet Laureate. Her debut poetry collection, Ex Nihilo, was one of ten manuscripts chosen in Frontenac House's Dektet 2010 competition and was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She is also the co-editor, alongside Andrea Thompson, of Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out.

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