The Gift That Seriously Keeps Giving

My corner of Facebookia is teeming with references to the Winter 2011 Residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, my alma mater #3 (and the third time truly was a charm) from which I earned an MFA in writing almost six months ago. Now some great friends and fellow writers are gathering to earn their degrees, or to travel to Puerto Rico for the first-ever winter residency abroad, or to develop their critical thesis plans, or to just begin the program.

Sigh. I am raw jealous.

New York is a mess. I bought enough groceries today to last through tomorrow. Since I work from home, and I have no appointments or events tomorrow, I refuse to leave the apartment when crossing Second requires a six-foot leap over brown meltwater.

Montpelier, however. Cold, icy Montpelier. How I crave you.

To pull myself from this envyfunk–which I promise my VCFA friends is swirled with only the best of tidings and the warmest of thoughts for an incredible-as-always residency, making for a sort of sweet-and-sour cone–I am returning to my own graduation gift. For my arrival home, J had assembled for me a bookshelf. A vertical shelf, requiring just a square foot of floor space. A shelf full of books that had been sent to me from family and friends, those close to me who do not otherwise spend time with me in my writing life. J figured that my writing/editing friends and I have swapped, and will continue to swap, books forever. But everyone else, the artists and teachers and quilters and chefs, the musicians and photographers and social scientists and so many more, they sent me the books that mean something to them, or books they thought might mean something to me. And each one wrote a note to explain why the book was chosen. The notes! Oh, the notes. Each note is now partnered with its book, a handy bookmark. What a way to remember each book, each reader, each thread of intention between the giver and me.

Is it necessary for me to say how I cried at such generosity?

So since I’m sort of crying it out again now (sweet-and-sour cone style), I’ll just reprint what I wrote to the book-givers this summer:

To all the loving people who now populate my new bookshelf,

I am deeply moved by the graduation gift J assembled and revealed late last night. I’ve been talking about a new vertical bookshelf for some time now. At first, that’s what I thought it was. (Awesome enough, by the way. I cried just at the bookshelf, and it looked great with what I first thought were some of my books on it.) But oh no – it was SO MUCH MORE.

Each book, each note, and each person behind it–I am overwhelmed by this gift. I love you all so much, and feel privileged to share in your meaningful reads. I spent late last night pulling them down one by one, trying to guess the sender, reading each note, feeling surprised or unsurprised and always eager, starting little conversations with each of you in my head that will continue on as I read your books. Today, I slept late (a real joy), then returned to the bookshelf with coffee in hand. I read a few pages of each, re-read the notes, organized them, re-organized them, and took a few to bed for an afternoon reading/napping session with the kitties. There could be no more perfect post-graduation day. Tomorrow I should probably unpack. I look forward to having the time, now, to read!

If you’re at all curious, the very first book I cracked is the one given to me by Ruthie the Wonder Dog: Why Does My Cat Do That? Ruthie, I know how hard it is for you to acknowledge the existence of cats, let alone share with me a whole book about them. Your generosity will not be forgotten. I’ve already learned why my kitties sulk when I tell them not to eat the plants, and why they always wash from head to toe in the same order several times a day. If you’re ever ready to have a dialogue about cats, let me know.

Attached is a picture J snapped of me with the bookshelf. I’ve been crying, as you’ll see! The shelf stayed this way only for about thirty seconds before I tore into it.

Much love and gratitude to you all for the perfect, perfect gift.




PS – J, too, was very emotional as we went through the bookshelf. It touched him how kind everyone was in response to his request. He said it was tremendous fun to get these books in the mail!

So to all VCFA-ers about to graduate, I wish you moments that bring you to tears, this residency and immediately after. And warm socks and mittens, and wrist warmers if you’re lucky, and large bottles of wine and plenty of corkscrews, and soft blankets, and arms to grip while you slide to Noble, and fingers to tap on the podium when you’re nervous, and this is ridiculous, I have to stop crying.

And oh yes, the reason I thought to write this in the first place tonight: to R, whose book I just opened tonight, I say thank you. From The Red Tent by Anita Diamant: “It is terrible how much has been forgotten, which is why, I suppose, remembering seems a holy thing.”