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Putting the GIVING with the THANKS

Cranking Up the Prep

By Stu Krieger

When I was first hatching the idea for my debut novel, That One Cigarette, I thought about several students I’d mentored and peers that had confided in me; many of them had confessed that they felt like passive bystanders in their own lives. Things were happening to them but they weren’t getting where they wanted to go.

They would make comments like, “You and Hillary really love each other, your kids are happy and doing well, you were a successful screenwriter and now you’re teaching and loving that…how did you get so lucky?”

I’ll be the first to admit that there are elements of luck involved, but there’s more. I’ve worked my ass off. I’ve been present and intimately involved with my family on a day-to-day basis; they were always my priority. I wrote every day, even when I knew what I was turning out would eventually end up in the shredder. I have been loyal to friends, and I give them what I can: time, compassion, a sounding board and hopefully a little constructive feedback on whatever they’re grappling with.

I believe that because I give, I also receive.

Loyalty begets loyalty. When you help people, it makes them want to help you. Being positive and upbeat makes you much more enjoyable and interesting to be around. And when you’re hitting a rough patch, or just having a bad, awful day, it helps to be able to be candid about that as well. When you screw up, own it. Taking responsibility for ALL of your actions, good and bad, is also a form of giving. You give others the ability to see that perfection is a futile goal to chase. It doesn’t exist. So one more thing you can give is permission, to yourself and to others, to make mistakes, to be human.

All of these ideas became the springboard for That One Cigarette. The tagline says it’s “the story of ordinary people making extraordinary ripples in the ocean of life” and that’s the underlying idea behind it: keep your eyes wide open, look for opportunities around you every single day, learn how to recognize what you can bring to the party – and strive to make changes in your world by giving to others.

I promise you it will earn their thanks.

Each year, this holiday reminds me how fortunate I am. My wife and I have been married for thirty-six years. Even before we tied the knot, back when all four of our parents were alive and living locally, prior to owning our own home or having kids, Thanksgiving has always been “our” holiday. Except for one year in the ‘90s when we grabbed our two children and fled to Kauai, we have hosted a Family & Friends Turkey Feast for thirty-eight years. And we love it.

This year there will be around thirty of us here. The parents are long gone, other “regulars” have moved on but, once again, the turkey will be barbecuing in the Weber kettle, the mashed potatoes will be on the stovetop, the stuffing and pies will be in the oven and the party will progress from afternoon cocktails and appetizers to tequila shots and board games that last until midnight. We will host our son and his fiancé, my brother-in-law and his wife, their two daughters with husbands and four children in tow, former students, a fellow faculty member and her husband, plus a few neighbors and longtime friends that don’t have (or don’t like) their own families. It’s always an eclectic mix, this year ranging in age from three to seventy-one.

And that’s where the “giving” merges with the “thanks.”

We have the space and the energy to open our home, so we do. One of the guests joining us this year was my student when I was a visiting professor at the University of California’s satellite campus in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2016. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara last June, he recently moved to L.A. to resume the acting career he’d put on hold, after working as a kid, to focus on high school and college. His family is in Idaho. He doesn’t have the time or money to get back to them so my wife and I invited him to join us. One of our nieces who has been coming to our home for turkey since she was born, and is now in her late thirties with two kids of her own, tells us often how much she always looks forward to the food, the fun and the interesting mix of people she knows she’ll encounter at the Casa Krieger Thanksgiving.

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Stu Krieger was a screen and television writer for more than thirty years before making a switch to full-time academia in 2006. His first novel, That One Cigarette, a counterfactual history tale following four disparate families from November of 1963 to January of 2009, is being published by Harvard Square Editions the day after Thanksgiving, November 24.

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