Survival Tips: Joy

I’ve spent much of the last twelve months trying to survive. First it was a cancer diagnosis, then it was a fairly harrowing course of chemo. Now the pandemic. In the midst of all this, I managed to finish a novel, chair an important committee for the Mystery Writers of America, and keep teaching classes at Gotham Writers. Sometimes I find myself quivering with anxiety, but for the most part I’d say I’ve survived. So far.

People are always asking me how I did it, and I wonder about that myself, though, as you can see from the large picture below, trees are part of the answer.

My mother, who had a difficult life, used to tell me, when I asked her for survival tips, that she coped because she had no choice. You either coped or you died. (You can only imagine how cheerful our dinner conversations were.) But she was actually a very cheerful person and she took a lot of pleasure in small things. Every week we would go to Nathan’s and get one of those huge sodden baskets of French fries and a hot dog covered in relish in sauerkraut.

So my survival tip number one is to try to find one small thing that you enjoy and do it every day.

For me, it’s looking at trees. Even when I was going through chemo, I found one little friend that I could spot from my window. It was a depressing and slightly tilted little tree, but I was depressed and slightly tilted myself, and so we suited each other. I grew very fond of that tree and always enjoyed checking in with it.

What do you do each day that brings you joy?


  1. I go to the ocean! I sit still or walk along the shore, but I keep eyes fixed on the vast blue beauty before me, which reminds me how small my problems are. I take at least three huge gulps of salt air. More in the age of coronavirus. And most days, Susan, I watch the photos of the trees you post. They’re pretty good at reminding me of the same lesson.

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