Here it is the Saturday before Christmas, in a year that’s been so intense that I celebrated having an entire hour off a few evenings ago. Ah, the glory. The flurry of shopping is another world, vaguely remembered. I’m even late compiling my wish list. This close to the holiday there isn’t much time to buy and ship, nor is there much time for anyone to check my list and whether I’ve been naughty or nice (unless you have a source at the NSA). So, skip the traditional list of things shipped in boxes with bows. I put together a list of what I really want. Hardly any of it fits under the tree, but happily, little of it costs anything except those most precious commodities: time and good will. And they are things that many others may enjoy, too.
Do you want a list of things that can be wrapped? Sure, I’d like a new computer (this one has a cracked case, a dodgy logic board, and missing screw), briefcase (holes big enough for mice), teapot (an odd couple of pot and lid), microwave (or bread box), monitor (which doesn’t always turn on or off). While we’re at it, a new range, dishwasher, fence, windows, roof, woodstove, and kitchen sink; but 1) they don’t fit under the tree, and 2) if I lose my house I’d lose those gifts.
I’ve enjoyed plenty of the plenty that I’ve been provided with over the decades. The most memorable things were a commuter mug, a Leatherman, commissioned sculpture, lots of DVDs – (pause, while I reminisce) – thick socks, a hiking jacket, a waterproof kayaking fannypack; do we detect a theme here? It must be because I haven’t been hiking, skiing, or paddling for a while. Food and drink have been equally memorable; particularly the scotch and anything that was handmade.
But as I sat, trying to break free of my frugal mode, I realized that there were many things I’ve appreciated more.
Writers enjoy readers. Authors enjoy sales. Positive feedback can bring on a glow. Public positive feedback is awesome. Honest, enthusiastic reviews are very welcome on goodreads, amazon, and barnesandnoble – and of course, Oprah’s ear would be a good place for a good review. And my favorite review was worth more than the rest. A friend told me that I’d written just what they needed to read, the way they need it told, when they need it said. That can be worth years of work.
Artists like patrons, and sometimes survive because of them. One of my favorites was the woman who became quite quiet while looking at Scatchet Sunset, and after a pause turned and told me that it left her with a feeling of serenity. She almost got that one for free. Another was a young woman who couldn’t afford to buy art, but who walked in, found an image she loved, gazed at it, and broke into tears. She walked away before I had a chance to react, but her reaction has stayed with me since.
Speakers like audiences. Teachers like students. Consultants like clients. Being paid for my time, experience, insight and effort is gratifying – and is what may keep my house out of foreclosure; but helping people connect with others and ideas to their mutual benefit is something I’ve done and look forward to doing for no pay (but the pay is kind of necessary right now.) The woman from France who scooted into my office to hug me when her self-published book arrived better than she expected, the look of realization that shines through as someone becomes aware of some nugget of knowledge or opportunity they didn’t know they had, the project that finally broke free from a slightly different nudge, all are gifts that I treasure.
Life does exist outside my business, but as I work to regain financial independence there’s been little time for Life. And in those moments, it has been a joy to watch friends organize bicycle rides for school kids, struggling families find a feast at the food bank partly due to the gleaners, and of course, the fun made real by my friends who’ve organized dances.
On a larger scale, there are a few things that caught my attention that make me smile as I pass them along.
- Write A House is, believe it or not, “a twist on the ‘Writer’s Residency.’ In this case, the writer is simply given the house, forever.” Now, that’s residency! And something that can be done in more cities (and maybe on an island).
- Karma Kitchen, which puts Pay It Forward to work, and it works. You don’t pay for your meal. You pay for the next person’s meal. Yes, the world can work this way.
- Give Back Films has even made a series of videos of people pulling stunts of random kindness and senseless acts of beauty. An extra dollar delivers much more than a smile.
I am a traditionalist, and yes, I find myself reacting to the sight of the empty space beneath the tree; but, I’m older now, and have been getting rid of stuff by choice and out of necessity. This year, I’m looking forward to Christmas because I will share it with a dear friend, and I’ll have a great excuse to cook up a feast of ham and fixings, that will turn into leftovers, omelets, chef salads, sandwiches, and lentil soup. In the pantry are a sweet set of gluten-free baking mixes, and in cold storage is some excellent fruit, and there are still days to go before the cooking begins.
Maybe it is age. Maybe it is awareness. I see fewer packages and more invites to events. Maybe the recent financial turmoil has reawaken an appreciation for the basics that we can provide each other that can’t be bought: time and good will. Hug, dance, smile, talk, listen, and enjoy the season.
(But be sure, if I found a gift-wrapped bottle of scotch under the tree I wouldn’t return it.)