writer in progress: the gift of your presence

Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pocket. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past. -- G.K. Chesterton

Personally, I want the sea always ... and with it sunshine, and wine, and a little music. -- Max Beerbohm

I am in love with this green earth; the face of town and country; the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets. -- Charles Lamb

I guess I said it last week, didn't I? And I'll say it every time I think of Leif Enger and his work. But it's still true, and so I'll keep saying it: words are gifts. It is a gift to read and a gift to be read.

Even Starbucks has picked up on it: did you see the new cups? I tacked one of their cardboard sleeves on my bulletin board for inspiration: Stories are gifts: SHARE.

It's so true. Receiving such a thing, a gift like that, makes it obvious that you have a debt to pay, some huge story account to feed your words back into.

I have so much wonderful time I "owe," so many moments where stories, essays, words were gifts to me. And yes, that's a fact that keeps me at my desk: books have done so much for me. Without that awareness, there's no way I'd be a writer.

I remember one Grand Rapids winter that was particularly rough. I was going through a hard time, and most of my close friends were traveling. I ended up facing the cold and loneliness with a book of essays (actually one of my class textbooks--oh the joy of being a nerd and loving your assignments!).

I sat by the fireplace in the lobby of my apartment building. I brought my coffee, and I would read for hours, devouring these personal essays. Their words were so immediate, so fresh and frank that my loneliness evaporated, there in the company of Seneca, Montaigne, Thoreau, Fisher.

My favorites, though, were the three I adopted as my uncles: G.K. Chesterton, Max Beerbohm, and Charles Lamb. I read their essays over and over, imagining the men themselves sitting around me in tweed jackets, smelling of pipe tobacco, their eyes large behind their glasses, gesturing with strong square fingers as they spoke. They were encouraging, entertaining, and laughed me out of my self-pity.

I mean, really. No matter how grey the weather, how exhausting and lonely the weeks, how can you not laugh at G.K. Chesterton's "On Running After One's Hat." The title alone is a little bit of brilliance, and the essay itself is wonderful. ("I am inclined to believe that hat-hunting on windy days will be the sport of the upper classes in the future....")

Near the end he writes: An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

You see, a perfectly charming uncle. Funny, engaging, and full of that wisdom that stays with you.

I remember those essay-reading nights and think again about the gift our words can be, across classes, across oceans, across generations. How books can meet us even in the places where other people cannot. And I feel both humbled and determined to work again.