A few weeks ago I found myself in need of a gift for my nephew’s birthday. We ran out and got an iTunes card or something but it wasn’t quite enough in my opinion. He had given me a Father’s Day card a few weeks earlier—a card he made himself, using some of my well-used one-liners to poke fun at me. And clearly that needed a response.
About fifteen minutes before it was time to head out to his party, inspiration struck – as it always seems to do exactly when I don’t really have time for it to strike. I whipped up a tale which may have no meaning to most people in the world but for my nephew and our family it was funny and very appropriate. I wasn’t real sure how he would react to it – he is a 15 year old boy after all – but he laughed and really got into it (and I don’t think it was solely due to my inspirational, dramatic reading of it). I was pretty nervous presenting it to him, though. I have often created homemade cards for people, complete with Hallmark-style cheesy poems that fit the need of the gifting moment. These and many other poems and love songs litter my poetry folders because there was a time in my life that I could bang out a few stanzas of heartfelt, meaningful lyrics in a matter of minutes. And I never really felt all that hesitant to share them with specific people as a gift or part of a card because for the most part they were simple statements of what I felt.
But stories have always been different. They take longer to write – not only because they are longer works but because I always labor to get them “right”. The larger investment – both in terms of time as well as in terms of nervous anxiety – traditionally has made me hesitant to consider a custom story as a viable gift option. But now, seeing the reaction to The Forgotten Tale of Harvey S. Whombaker, I think I may be reconsidering the concept of giving a gift of words… though I am still somewhat hesitant.
People give homemade gifts all the time – cookies, knitted socks or scarves, clay pots they made in an art class… but somehow stories – words – feel different. Clearly, handing someone a story for their birthday or Christmas has risks, just like homemade socks or cookies might. What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t appreciate the time and effort as a gift? What if all they really wanted was a nice, tasty fruitcake and a Starbucks gift card? Why does it feel “different”? I know when I was younger and a friend would take the time to write a poem for me, I was honored – in fact, one which was written to me during my senior year of high school, “Ode to Rob”, holds a special place near my desk even to this day 23 years later because I can clearly hear my friend’s voice saying those words to me and it brings me back to those happy moments. I don’t know if she even remembers writing it or not, but every time I read it a smile comes to my face.
Sitting here right now, I’m thinking the idea of writing stories or poems or scripts as a gift has merit for at least some potential recipients. My 16 year old neighbor, for example, would love getting a nicely printed short story as a gift (especially if it included zombies); her sister, on the other hand, would likely take it and fold an impressive origami swan out of it. Similarly, my mother-in-law and father-in-law would get a kick out of a story written in honor of their anniversary; my own parents, however, would likely use the paper to clean up after the dog. Obviously, like any other gift, I’d have to consider the appropriateness of it for the recipient before moving forward.
I’m curious what others think – do you sometimes give friends and family the gift of a short story, poem or script? If you were given a story, would you think of it as a special gift or would you be left confused or disappointed that it wasn’t something more traditional? Is it really any different than something made of yarn or flour and sugar?