Things Given

Things Given‘Tis the season, and I’m thinking about gifts. Not just about presents wrapped with bows and ribbons, but about things given, and a recent conversation.

A friend and colleague told me that, in the world of therapy, you never take anything away without giving first. I’ll mess up his clinical wording, so I’ll give you my own writerly example of what he said:

Say you have a client with an imaginary friend, a major imaginary friend who holds a lot of power and sway over your client’s world. Now, you can’t just blurt out that imaginary friends don’t exist. That would be devastating, and would cause more harm than good.

At this point, I thought about key moments in my own life where the carpet seemed yanked out from under me. Many, many key moments flashed before my eyes and I was heartily amused to think that my own personal cheerleaders in life are brilliant for blurting things out before I’m ready. I think they delight in my hard landings.

The thing of it all has been though: I got good at landing properly–similar to the way they teach you to fall in martial arts classes. And I got good at licking my wounds and good at bouncing back up. It’s become a way of life for me, and not a bad one. I’ve been taught great lessons, and I’ve even managed to teach myself some doozies as well. Resilience, self-encouragement, finding the ray of sunlight in an otherwise dark mess, these are things I know from repeated trial and error.

Now at this point, my writer brain was awakened and starting to line up the words to describe this conversation, and that’s when this happened:

“Never take before you give,” my friend declared. “If you do, you leave a void.”

The writer brain did a flip, but this wasn’t the end of the story. My friend quickly mentioned different techniques for helping the client, and concluded that, rather than working to remove what was imaginary, a person should instead work on building the client’s ability to see all the reality in his or her life, all the flesh-and-blood family, teachers, mentors, coaches, and friends that populate the life of this particular client. He said you fill the client up before you ever suggest letting go of the imaginary friend.

“You give before you take,” he said, and then, “Never in the reverse order.”

These moments in life happen for a reason. Here I sit, in the midst of the holiday giving season, turning this over in my mind. Imagine it: Of all things given this season, our presence fills each other’s lives the best.

Hold on to each other, friends. I wish you all wonder-filled holidays, and an adventurous New Year!

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

The Store of Nonessentials

NonessentialsI stopped in at a friend’s store today since I happened to be in the neighborhood. We made polite conversation for a bit, and then he said, “I used to love this business. And I still do, but now… Well, look around you,” he said. “You don’t need any of this stuff to live on.”

He talked about opening his gift business years ago and dealing with the dotcom burst, then the rising and falling times through 2001, then the heyday of 2007, and the beginning of the end starting in late 2008, from which we’ve still not fully recovered.

“I’m reading a lot of history,” I said. “Do you realize, going back and back to nomadic times, that people carried items like you have here? They didn’t need them then, either. But they carried them. They carried them because they were important. And so is what you do here.”

We talked about his store being a scrapbook in itself, that every one of his clients he knew by name and by the important events in their lives. When someone needed a gift for a special occasion, they came to him. He knew birthdays, anniversaries, job changes, graduations, children, weddings, births and deaths all because of his store. He knew tastes, preferences, and most importantly, lives.

His demeanor started to change as we talked. He even started taking notes. He was no longer a man who sold nonessentials. He was the memory maker, a man whose personal story was intertwined in the lives of all the people who came to his store looking for a tangible way to honor a life event. He touched people’s lives through his store.

We talked up a frenzy of ideas and historical events and commemorations and the gifts that went with them, and how to write it all out in a memoir. Soon he started looking at his store with renewed eyes.

“I’m glad you stopped in today,” he said.

I’m glad, too. I needed a writerly conversation. And that’s just what I got.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

Recompense, Part Two: Obligation

I know someone who is a giver. Let’s call her Esmeralda. But Esmeralda is not just any giver, she’s a person who needs to give—either her time, her concern, even a gift she’s made. Over time, when she wasn’t profusely and ceremoniously thanked again and again for her efforts, she would sulk. Now, I ask you, what kind of gift is that to the recipient?photo

Recompense, as a verb, means to pay back. Recompense the noun is usually referred to in insurance as the payment one receives to make a wrong right. But there’s another definition for the noun, which goes: “Reward given for effort made.” Now that, I find interesting. It’s always those obscure definitions that get me.

Of course Esmeralda had every right to be properly thanked and have her friends appreciate her kindness. But she always needed more, and the thank you had to be just the way she wanted it.

She left many of her friends feeling like they owed her something every time she’d show up to help out. Curiously enough, her thoughtful giving wrecked many friendships. It’s only the few who see her giving as a need within her who have stayed the course, and those few have taken the task of building her back up time and again when she gives and isn’t properly thanked by someone.

I could leave it at that, but since there’s a little Esmeralda in all of us, I thought we deserved a happy ending, so…

Esmeralda finally found that core group of friends who have her back. They give her their honesty, but they do it with love.

Yes, that’s much better.

When you give, give often and give freely, with no strings attached. Remember my fellow Esmeraldas, our gifts are in the giving, not in the reward.

~

This Recompense Series kicked off yesterday with a look at kindness and payment as seen through my eyes, the eyes of a writer and storyteller. Tomorrow: Appreciation!

My book, Upside Down Kingdom, was taught in a college Humanities course its first year in print. The course examined art, love, music, religion, and the way we treat one another as human beings. UDK was required reading. It’s on Amazon.