“Getting”

(Think you’ve got this blog series’ introduction memorized yet? Let’s see if we can recite it, word for word. All together, now!)

A few years ago, I wrote a short Christmas story in which (nutshell version) fifteen-year-old Al Fischer spends the holiday enthusiastically telling his family everything he loves about the Christmas season.

By purist coincidence (or not…), Al and his author have similar ideas about Christmas. And he’ll be pleased to know that I’ve decided to commemorate our mutual obsession here on Ever On Word by dedicating a series of blog posts to The Top 10 Reasons Christmas Rocks My World.

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#5: Gifts (Getting Them)

            Popping awake at the first spidery crack of dawn. Dashing headlong down the stairs, or perhaps just down the hall. Sliding into a brightly-lit, evergreen home plate, because you are ready to score, and to score big. For many, this is the highlight of Christmas – the point of Christmas – what Christmas means to them, actual reason–shmeason. Quite honestly, even Child Danielle more or less felt this way. (“Happy birthday, Jesus! Now where are my presents?!”)

            Sure, it’s more blessed to give; we’ve covered that. But let us not be so maniacally virtuous that we eschew the joy of getting, for that would gyp two parties of very great pleasure – giver and getter both.

            Last post, I reminisced about one of my favorite gifts ever given. Now for a look back on one of my favorite gifts ever received.

            Once upon a time (a couple months ago), in a land faraway (also known as my living room, which we actually call the “big TV room”, but that’s beside the point), I was celebrating my 23rd birthday with my parents, the sister who wasn’t at “Nutcracker” ballet rehearsal, and my BFFAEAE (best friend forever and ever and ever…) by opening aforesaid BFFAEAE’s snazzily-wrapped, very heavy present. Turns out that the box’s weight was due to its containing the deepest desire of my heart. …Apart from international fame as a bestselling author (which would not necessarily be heavy). …And the materiality-slash-availability of my tailor (whose weight we’ll politely leave out of this). …And superpowers (which might or might not be heavy, dependent on the form my power took).

            That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: It was a chain-mail shirt.

            For the sake of context, let it be known that I’ve been lusting after chain-mail since before I hit my twenties. Part of my annual Renaissance Faire tradition had been to stare with blatant yearning at the assemblage of metal links on display in one of the vending areas devoted to the glorious stuff. I wanted so badly to don the shiny protective gear and feel like Aragorn son of Arathorn (what “Lord of the Rings” fan wouldn’t?), but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on such an impractical item. (If only I had a legion of Uruk-hai to battle, but nooooo.) So no chain-mail for me. Until Tirzah hooked me up.

            And did I mention she gave me a hand-sewn cape, too? ‘Cause she did. ‘Cause she’s an angel.

            There was a good deal of grateful carrying-on, that day. Squealing, cheering, whimpering… I’m a little surprised there weren’t actual tears of joy. I went around in my twenty-pound shirt (and cape, and my minstrel beret) for the rest of the afternoon and evening, quickly-wearied shoulder muscles be darned. Every few minutes, I was forced to announce in a strained whisper to the world, “I have a chain-mail shirt.” The world was happy for me. Tirzah got hugged a lot, and I suffered her to poke my arm and beat me up because, what the hey? I had a chain-mail shirt!

            And that, my friends, is gift-getting ecstasy at its most gift-getting ecstatic. I guess every now and then, receiving can be pretty blessed, too.

            Anyone else want to relive the huge hurrah of getting something that blew your mind? The comment section awaits you!

“Giving”

A few years ago, I wrote a short Christmas story in which (nutshell version) fifteen-year-old Al Fischer spends the holiday enthusiastically telling his family everything he loves about the Christmas season.

By purist coincidence (or not…), Al and his author have similar ideas about Christmas. And he’ll be pleased to know that I’ve decided to commemorate our mutual obsession here on Ever On Word by dedicating a series of blog posts to The Top 10 Reasons Christmas Rocks My World.

* * *

#6: Gifts (Giving Them)

            An adult’s pronouncement that “‘tis more blessed to give than to receive” will often be met with skepticism on the part of the average child. Part of this may have to do with the rarity of words like “‘tis”, anymore (one good reason of many to preserve old seasonal standards like “Deck the Halls”), but it will be mostly due to the counterintuitive nature of such a concept. “Suggesting that ‘to make a present’ of something for another at my own expense would make me happier than being handed a gift, free of charge – are you insane?!” Average Child cries, appalled.

            Granted, on the surface, it may sound crazy. Average or not, I know Child Danielle didn’t get it. Giving people things was all very nice of me, I supposed, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as getting. Little did I know that giving can be a twofer: Giving and getting, too.

            Even Older, Wiser, and Prettier Danielle doesn’t give a lot of Christmas presents. It’s not because I don’t enjoy giving, because I absolutely do – but not because I’m “supposed” to. I don’t want to get some long list of people presents just because it’s a present-giving day; I want to be minding my business in the store, see some item on the shelf/rack/whatever, think “So-and-so would adore that”, and get it for them so they can have a grand surprise. I like to give gifts that I know the recipients will find meaningful and special and in some way perfect. And I really, really like to give gifts I’ve made myself.

            Have I yet mentioned that I love books? Because I do. Reading them, writing them, and making them. One of my favorite gifts ever given was a picture book I made for a cousin of mine, based on an assortment of my characters and the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. It was a time-consuming, multi-step process.

First, planning: How to fit a “true love” couple to each verse of the song? Which of my characters would ever give his or her sweetheart ten lords a-leaping, eight maids a-milking, or a partridge in a pear tree? (You’d be surprised.)

Second, creating the artwork. Drawing’s a lot like writing, you know – craft an outline, build upon it, fiddle and tweak the heck out of it until it’s something you can live with. Each of my illustrations had to tell a story, and look good doing it. My end result was no da Vinci, but I was proud of it.

Third, more fiddling and tweaking as I added text and decided on formatting. Then came printing the pages, laminating them, and binding them so that they were less like super awesome placemats and more like a book.

            Books, calendars, CDs and accompanying musical guides… if the receivers of these gifts get half as much of a kick out of getting them as I do making and giving them, that’s a lot of kicks. And knowing that you’ve provided those kicks really is like nothing else. Watching the receiver’s face light up, or hearing their squeals of ecstasy, or reading a thank-you message blown to bits with exclamation points and massive fonts and giddy emoticons – that is a gift in and of itself, and it’s kinda priceless.

            Joy vs. the homemade picture book of a yet-to-be-famous author. Yep, I’m coming out ahead.

            And now a little gift from me to you, readers mine: Share one or more of your Top Giving Moments, and bask in my joy!

PerGoSeeMo Psalm 15

Psalm 15. Psalms 34:1-9; Matthew 6:33

            Oh, that I’d sing like this now and always! –

My spirit shouting praises though my smiling mouth is still;

That I’d hold onto this high in the low times.

Help me to remember; I pray I ever will.

            You gave me heart when I raised my weary eyes

From the dale of discouragement and far beyond the hills;

When I determined to tell of your greatness,

Exalting your name as I pray I ever will.

            I cried in my suffering – knowing well you heard me –

Straining for an answer I may now begin to hear:

Not a “yes”, less a “no”, more a “wait until you seek me;

Trust me in the dark that I may teach you not to fear.”

            You gave me words far too long lying dormant,

Silent inside where none – not even I – could hear.

You pulled the rocks from the dam that blocked a river

Of love due you whether I’m glum or of good cheer.

            Oh, that I could hug you even tighter than you hold me,

The squeeze bringing release from this joyous overspill!

That I could look you in the eye and whisper, “Thank you,”

Showing gratitude as I pray I ever will.

PerGoSeeMo Psalm 14

Psalm 14. John 11: 3-7, 14-15, 32-45

            You could have stopped its happening –

Could have kept the pain and sorrow

Miles from the ones you loved, your friends.

This and more would have been nothing

To one with your boundless power,

But you approved the means to serve your end.

            You did what was necessary,

Though it hurt your heart to see

And feel the suffering dealt from your hand.

And even knowing you’d soon provide

Their greater joy… for now, you cried.

I wipe my eyes and write and understand.

“Passion”

If ever a word carried enough heat to virtually burn through the page, this one is it.

            Even the least extreme definition is hopping with intensity: “Boundless enthusiasm” or “the object of such enthusiasm”. When people speak of their passions, this is often what they mean – a sport, an art, or some other activity that they feel too strongly about to insult by labeling it a mere hobby.

            That strength of feeling typifies passion, so much so that it is first defined as “a powerful emotion”, the primary examples listed being “love” and “joy”. And we so ardently love our passions precisely because they bring us that intense joy. Our passions make us feel more – more alive, more invigorated, more free.

            “But,” as my Wilderhark king of the night so elegantly put it, “every coin has two sides.” Passion can denote love and joy, certainly, but also (definition 1 continues) “hatred, or anger”. People are said to fly into a passion – “an abandoned display of emotion, especially of anger”. And isn’t it interesting how quickly a cloud nine high can transition into fury? Small wonder that love is routinely compared to a rollercoaster, and artists are so commonly categorized as temperamental: Passion is a ride that rushes you daily, hourly, every other minute to incredible peaks where there’s barely air to breathe, then throws you into a freefall that snatches that hard-fought breath away, only to jerk you toward the heavens once again. (Lather, rinse, repeat…)

            Of course, if you look at where the word “passion” comes from, this breathless state will come as no surprise. Going back to the ol’ dictionary for a perusal of trivia often placed in brackets at definition’s end, I find that the word is “…from Latin, an undergoing, from passus, past participle of patī, to suffer”. In the archaic sense, this word means “martyrdom”; and will passion not make martyrs – “those who make great sacrifices or suffer much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle” – of us all? When you strongly love a thing that gives you joy, will you not suffer whatever less pleasant emotions come part and parcel with it?

            “So why put up with it?” you may inquire along with Milt from my old “Name” post. Well, to put it pessimistically, you really can’t win. To engage in your passion is to suffer; to avoid your passion is to suffer worse. When you’re passionate about something, you want that thing; badly; all the time. And separation from it can induce anything from mild twitchiness to agony, even if whatever you’re doing instead is actually a lesser passion. I think I best expressed my own experience of this phenomenon in a poem I wrote (and felt mildly twitchy while writing it, because it wasn’t fiction writing, i.e. my passion):

            I should be painting this masterpiece with words;

Creating colors from adjectives and verbs;

Every brushstroke

Should be a keystroke;

Make you feel that you’re seeing what you’ve heard.

            I should be composing a story, not a song;

Harmonizing narrative and dialogue;

And this melody

Should be poetry;

Make your heart dance as you read along.

            The urge to create’s deliciously inviting;

In a world of drudgery, this much is exciting;

I can fight the tedium

With almost any medium.

But I’ll always feel that I really should be writing.

            So passion brings joy, and it brings suffering. And even in the midst of pure joy, there can be pain. If you love something or someone enough, believe it: It will hurt. There are times when I write a pair of my characters deeply in love, and I can physically feel the heat – as if I’m writing it while gulping a steaming mug of tea and sitting by the Hoover Dam in July. That “warm, fuzzy” feeling raging through head and heart is no joke, ladies and gentleman. And it’s amazing. Hurt, but welcome hurt. And that’s why we sports fanatics and artists and authors will continue to happily hop on that rollercoaster, throw our hands in the air, and scream.