Every day I milk a large, verbose cow.
There was a little song my kids learned when they were preschoolers: “What can I give to the king, what can I give to the one who has everything.” It’s got a contagious earworm of a tune and a sentiment that gets under my skin anytime I’m like a preschooler: feeling small and overwhelmed that anything I could offer up would possibly be of any worth or value. Kings and God-metaphors aside, that little song hits to the center of every creative person’s wrestling mat. Is what we make any good? Is it gift worthy? Would anyone ever want it?
The song’s verse goes on to say we can offer, “a heart that is open wide, a life that has nothing to hide.”
Funny, that. One short poetic children’s lyric lays out the angst of anyone involved in the pursuit of an authentic, open, honest, humble, true life.
It’s not easy keeping a heart open wide. It’s not easy telling the truth about one’s life. And yet, that’s our greatest gift as creative human beings.
For me, that means living the mantra, the line that works equally well for meditation and whining toddlers alike: USE YOUR WORDS.
I can give words. I can use words. I can craft words. It’s how I was made and the older I get, the more I suspect its why I’m here.
Which brings me to last year, the ramp up to Christmas 2015. I wanted to offer something handmade as a gift and that brought me to words. A poem? An essay? Anne Lamott suggests in Bird by Bird that writers have many ways to share their writing beyond traditional publication. She says writers who feel compelled to write should simply do so.
I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway.
But I also tell [my students] that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it.
And, after you milk the cow, what do you have? A bucket full of milk. If you do it every day, you have enough milk to drink, to make cheese, soap, butter, chocolate…you start having things to give away.
So, I did last year, I gave away some words. It felt good. Some friends enjoyed my story. One said I didn’t go deeply enough into the psyche’s of my characters. That was helpful feedback for a character writer. I worked hard this year on craft. I finished the 2nd draft of my novel Work In Progress and then took a 2 month break to read. Another story spilled out.
What is this year’s holiday gift?
This year’s short story gift is about Marjorie James, a woman in her late 70’s reorienting herself after sudden and unwanted change. When her new husband starts stealing her joy, Marjorie discovers her spine.
“A glimpse into an older generation– I think I know these characters!” -D. Hesterman
My story is a free download, available via email. I hope readers will share it with their friends, will give it away, will pass it on. You can do so by signing up here, by sharing the link, or by sharing the email once you’ve received it.