My bubble has burst. I’ve found fault with my hero – Dorothy Parker. You know Dorothy? I like to think that she lived just long enough to make sure that I was born and could carry on her mantel. Her career took off when she stood in for PG Wodehouse as theatre critic for Vanity Fair in 1918. She soon became famous for her caustic wit and has left a legacy of witticisms that still hold true today. Her actual legacy she left to Martin Luther King Jr and, upon his death, it passed to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). She suggested her own epitaph ‘Excuse my dust’ – and her ashes sat in a filing cabinet in her lawyer’s office for 17 years before they found a home in a memorial garden at the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore.
Her criticism of Katherine Hepburn says it all: ‘She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B’. One of her famous put-downs: ‘That woman speaks eighteen languages and can’t say “No” in any of them’. And when asked to put the word ‘horticulture’ in a sentence she delivered the classic ‘You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think’. What can I say? I love the woman (and I don’t use the L-word lightly).
So when I read a nasty quote recently that was attributed to her, I was suitably upset. No, I was more than upset. I was gutted. Gratitude, said she, is the meanest and most snivelling attribute in the world. How could it be? How could I admire and respect and look up to someone who figured gratitude to be a mean and snivelling attribute while at the same time respect and admire another someone who has taken the art of gratitude to new levels?
My mate Biddy in Australia (her with the red hair who has featured in this column before) is putting her social networks to good use and using Facebook to spread the love. Each day, Biddy and her two sons post a photograph of something they are grateful for. It could be anything from a picture of their breakfast to one of the lads on stage in a school play. It’s spurred others on to be equally public in with their gratitude. Even yours truly has been blogging in a series call Grateful 52 since the beginning of this year. Given that my New Year’s resolutions generally remain resolute for all of a month, I didn’t want to attempt a daily offering, so I opted instead for a weekly one – hence Grateful 52. (I was telling someone about it the other day and they took it as being my age and told me I was looking good for someone of such tender years – am still trying to milk a compliment from that one!)
So, two of my favourite women – one very much alive in body, the other just alive in spirit – would appear to have polar opposite opinions. As in all such times of quandary, I resort to my thesaurus in search of enlightenment. Gratitude has a number of synonyms – gratefulness, thankfulness, thanks, appreciation, indebtedness, recognition, acknowledgement, and credit. And a little light bulb goes on. While I can agree wholeheartedly with the idea of being thankful on a daily if not hourly basis for what we have been given in this life and can fully subscribe to appreciating and recognising our good fortune, I stumble over the concept of indebtedness.
Give and take
I’ve been the giver in a relationship or friendship almost as often as I’ve been the taker. In San Diego, I used to make my mate Lori write a check for $48 if she wanted me to skive off work and go play for the day. If I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid. And she had the money to make it good. I had no qualms about it. Likewise there are people in my life who earn considerably more money than I do, and I have no problem with them treating me to dinner or the theatre or a weekend away. When I started to make friends in Budapest and tried to continue this practice with me being in the giving seat for a change, I met with a blanket refusal. Whenever I showed my gratitude for help and friendship by doing something nice, it created a debt cycle. Why do we find it so difficult to accept help or compliments or favors? Why is it so much easier to give than to take? It’s a delicate balance, this gratitude thing – and I can only hope that Dorothy was railing against the indebtedness it can create rather than the acknowledgement of good things and good people.
First published in the Budapest Times 23 March 2012