In my family, gifts, for all occasions, were organized by Mom. But once, only once that I can remember, my father gave me a gift. Just from him to me. A desk. A writer’s desk. I loved it. I cherished it. I lost it.
First, let me tell you about the desk. “One of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century” (a biographer’s words, not mine) owned this desk. It was given to my dad because he was one of the most helpful people of the 20th century (my words).
Cubbyholes, secret compartments and the marvelous contents of its drawers—skeleton keys, strange coins, mysterious photographs, war ribbons and the clincher, a silk robe, sheer as a summer scarf—had me convinced the desk’s previous owner was Nancy Drew.
Growing up, we (the desk and I) spent a lot of time together in the attic. A blissful escape from the bickering chaos downstairs. Beneath that desk, I was an explorer, an archaeologist, a Jewish girl… Sitting at it, I was a teacher, a president, an inventor…
May 1979, my dad backed his truck into my driveway. Under a stained tarp was the desk. Piece by piece, he brought it in, reassembling it in my tiny house. The surfaces were newly sanded. Once sticky drawers opened with ease. The roll-top slid in its track (something it hadn’t done since a certain Sea Hunt misadventure.)
My dad said, “Um… a wedding present.” The desk said, All those years when you felt invisible, he saw you and he thinks you’re special.
Two years later, a chair, a single boot and dust occupied the space where the desk had been. So, you wonder, how does one lose such a precious thing? Fire? Flood? A muscled thief? Nope. A toxic tangle of family dynamics, as layered and complex as a soap opera. Details of The Mysterious Case of the Missing Desk, I will leave to your imagination.
The subjective experience, I’ve left with a few therapists. But, I have to admit, the storyteller in me delights in the whole shimmery shitty thing. Why? Because the bitter-sweetness of it seasons my writing. For the writer, every experience, the divine and hellish, horrors and hallelujahs are a gift.
A few years back, I was introduced at a conference as an expert in grief and loss. I know, right? Kind of a crappy field to be deemed an expert.
At that time in my life I was transitioning from nursing to writing, seeing life less through the clinician’s lens and more through a writer’s eye. My presentation was on resilience and I began by saying that, happily, I saw myself as more of an expert on redeeming grief and loss. That’s what a writer can do, isn’t it? Detangle and reweave hopeless messes into hero tales.
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
(The Uses of Sorrow, Thirst by Mary Oliver.)
I love Mary Oliver’s poetry. Admittedly, a box full of ‘dark chocolates’ would be nicer, but it just doesn’t have quite the delicious possibilities for the writer as a box…of darkness.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of receiving big boxes of poop, but I do see the fertilizer in it. If I open it up and use it, I might grow an idea, or a story or something as big as hope. I’ve never met a loss that didn’t have a treasure inside for a writer.
I walk. Preferably in the woods or by water. For me it’s more effective than Prozac or alcohol. And I’m a collector of feathers and stones, shells and sticks… I fill my pockets, bring them home and add them to the shelves in my office.
Some remind me of a loss, others, a gratitude. Most do both, like a broken shell showing its pearly centre or a fractured rock revealing amethyst inside. I painted my shelves and wall black because it makes my treasures sparkle. Much like how a writer uses dark threads to startle the reader with light.
I’ve always been a storyteller. It’s how I made sense of internal and external chaos. More importantly, it was how I found my way through loss, to joy and laughter, creativity and playfulness, gratitude and hope… But a writer? Even in the attic, sitting at that wonderful desk, I never dreamed I could be that.
Well, you just never know what is waiting on the other side of a box of darkness. Be brave and open it up. It could be a truck backing into your drive. A bittersweet conspiracy of tragedy and serendipity bringing you a gift.
Did you know:
Heather Tucker‘s first novel The Clay Girl was launched by ECW Press to critical acclaim in October 2016. It’s on the verge of a third printing and is available in bookstores in Canada and the U.S. Heather and her imaginary friends can be found in Ajax and north Kawarthas.
Win a signed copy of The Clay Girl! Tell us about a gift you received that made a difference in your creative life. Maybe it was a journal. Maybe it was an honest critique. Maybe it was some quality you inherited or learned from a mentor. Our lives are full of gifts. Tell us about yours in the comment section. Writescape will randomly select by draw from all comments received up to and including December 23.