In her how-to-be-a-writer book, Bird By Bird, the American author Anne Lamott has a section called ‘Publication – and other reasons to write’. My favourite chapter within this section is one that I hadn’t ever thought about until I read the book a decade ago: ‘Writing a present’. Lamott, who writes funny, true fiction and non-fiction, actually wrote her first published novel as a gift for her father, who was diagnosed with brain cancer. Her father didn’t live to see the finished article, but read each chapter in draft as Lamott wrote them. The consequences, she says, were better than any publishing deal:
‘It helped my father have the best possible months before his death and the best possible death. I can actually say that it was great. Hard, and fucked six ways from Sunday, but great’.
Ever since I first read this, I’ve thought about presents that go beyond the obvious. One of my favourites is right next to me as I type this; a hand-made bookshelf given to my husband and I as a wedding present by a carpenter friend in Seattle. It always holds our preferred books, and every time I look at it, I think of its maker.
This week, I’m attempting a thank you of my own. I’m forty next month (shhhh) and feel like it’s probably time to own up to being grown up. So rather than (as well as) the parties and gratuitous celebrations, I’m running the London Marathon.
(photo c/o http://www.providingnews.com)
The money I raise will go to a charity which offers residential help to little kids who are so vulnerable that even foster care isn’t an option for them. And the reason I’m doing this? To say a huge thank you to my parents, who got me through childhood in the best possible way; always securely and happily, with encouragement that stayed just the right side of supportive and never veered into pushy.
It’s not a novel, but it’s been a hard slog. Every single time I’ve gone out to train, I’ve thought about my folks; pictures from our past, things they’d say to keep me going; their faces smiling at me and not letting me give up. And Anne Lamott’s right; having a broader reason for doing something has brought so much more to the goal. It’s not just a bloody long race; it’s a 26 (.2) mile thank you to people who’ve done the equivalent a hundred times over.
How do you say thank you? Or what’s the best gift you’ve ever received?