I missed Writing Quote Wednesday this week, so I wanted to make up for it with this quote from Annie Dillard:
“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”
I often find myself holding back as I’m working on a book because I’m afraid that I’m going to run out of ideas. This is a ridiculous thought. Ideas are infinite. Some people, like Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, even think our ideas don’t come from us, they pass us through us and, if we’re lucky, we’re able to grab them on the way past.
As I make progress on the novel based on my short story My Strength Will Ease Your Sorrow, from Beyond the Gate I’m going to try to keep Annie’s words in mind. “Give it, give it all, give it now.”
Here’s Annie (and friends) giving it her all as a karaoke singer in Key West.
I also like this quote because this is the season of giving.
I love giving and receiving gifts as much as the next person. But I know that around this time of year we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get the PERFECT gift.
We sweat and fume over what gift to give to those we love. We wander the aisles, in real life or online, running our fingers, real or cyber, over the merchandise on those overstocked and bulging shelves.
We might ask ourselves:
“What should I give to show how much I care?”
“What is the perfect gift for the person who has given me so much?”
“Why can’t I just buy something and be done with it?”
We seem to pursue that perfect gift to have a transcendent experience with the person the gift is intended for. As we pick up the object we look into the future and see the hoped-for response in the receiver of the gift. Maybe we want them to weep in happiness or jump up and down for joy or finally see how much we really, truly understand them by our choice of a gift.
But how often does this happen? (Hopefully it’s happened more often for you than it has for me.)
In the past, I’ve felt the painful disappointment of giving a gift that was received with less enthusiasm and joy than I had imagined. Excited for the holidays, I kept a joyous anticipation of the look on my children’s faces when they would open their gifts. Then when the big day came and the gifts were opened and almost immediately abandoned, I’d feel a sad lump in the pit of my stomach as I realized I hadn’t achieved gift-giving nirvana once again.
Now that I’m older, I realize that gifts during the holidays are just a token to stand in for something larger and more important – our time and attention. Time and attention is so scarce in these days of smart phones and binge-television and Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and whatever other social media apps are hot now. A gift is a small way to say, “I appreciate you for who you are and treasure your time and attention,” not “The value of this gift is how much I value you.”
Because we could just as easily paint rocks in pretty colors and give them to each other if that was our tradition of gift-giving. But even if that was our tradition, people would still be disappointed because the rock they gave wasn’t purple enough or red enough or orange enough or shiny enough or big enough or small enough or new enough or whatever enough quality they were looking for in the gift because it’s not about the gift.
This holiday season try not to project the perfect response on to the receiver of the gift. Allow what happens to happen and be there for it fully. Maybe their eyes will twinkle for a millisecond. Perhaps they’ll sigh because they have a hundred of the same thing at home. They might even drop the gift on the ground and jump gleefully into the box it came in, playing with the box for hours. By allowing their response to the gift to be what it is, you have a chance to remember that a gift is just a stand-in for the time and attention you want to spend with that person now. If you waste that time worrying about what they thought of your gift, you’re missing out on being with them fully as they are.
This slight change of thinking has made for much happier holidays for me and my family. I no longer put tremendous pressure on myself to come up with just the RIGHT gift for those I love. Now I try to give my time, my love, and my attention. The object wrapped in shiny paper can never equal that in value.
If you are looking for gifts for the writers in your life (including yourself), please stop by and order something from The Writer’s Retreat. There’s some great books on writing, writer t-shirts, writing supplies, Poe air fresheners and more. Check it out by clicking this link: THE WRITER’S RETREAT.