The Gift

Brace yourself: this post contains another parcel by mail, more shots of the damn dog, some very old news, and the extraordinary and entirely unexpected gift of healing and hope from someone I didn’t even know.

This could get weird for some of you before it gets better.

To set some context, this is as good a time as any to let you know that my employment situation with my company in California has evolved into half-time so that I can spend more time writing. I have a book underway called “The Accidental Speaker.” It’s about how to think about business presentations, and how they differ significantly from professional speaking gigs, and why knowing that can really help make the whole thing more comfortable and effective. It will be a fun book and the writing is coming along, but it’s difficult because it involves taking what I know and packaging it in text in a way that makes it accessible for other people. For me, this feels more like administrivia—organizing, cataloging, etc.—than it does writing. Still, it’s not horrible, and I think it’s necessary.

But in the last couple of weeks, I have also been exploring the idea of a parallel project of what feels like a more creative bent: a book that will be a hybrid of selections from this blog woven together with an easy going essay-style narrative of observations and musings on life, truth, and reality. Think “Travels with Charlie” or “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” except with photography, like here, and a storyline of two ridiculously happy fifty-something artists and their pooch moving full-time to a renovated 95-year old farmhouse in Teton Valley and figuring out what that looks like.

It’s the kind of writing that only happens in a flow, where I don’t really know what will emerge until I sit down, hands on keyboard, and just start. It requires the partnership of the Creative force, and looks more like a conduit than it does a file cabinet. It’s a decidedly un-corporate way to write, and while I’m familiar and comfortable with the bloggy part of the project, this other thing, this opening myself up and jumping into the stream, trusting that something interesting and engaging will emerge, is brand new, exciting, and frightening,

And my ability to leap thusly, it turns out, hinges on my being able to think of myself as a legitimate creator of valuable things that wouldn’t exist without me… an artist, and more specifically, a writer. This is not nearly as easy as one might think. A workbook called “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” by Julia Cameron is proving very helpful… life-changing, even. It’s about how to swap the “it’s too late…,” “you’ll never ‘make it’ as a real artist…,” type voices inside your head for ones that actually help you to get the work done.

Rick and I had just finished Week One in the program when this parcel arrived in the mail.

The return address said it was from Mary in Oregon. As I don’t know a Mary in Oregon, I opened it carefully and with a great deal of curiosity.

The note read:
“Hi Kathy, I know you don’t know me so I hope you don’t mind that I have been reading your blog since Kylie posted on Facebook about the SecurID that Winston chewed up. Your stories and photos are so creative.
I’ve enclosed some of the dog toys that I make for our company craft fair in Hillsboro for Winston. He looks a little pampered and I’m sure he must have a few toys already, but what dog doesn’t need more?
I hope you have a wonderful day.

Mary, there are just so many things about this that make me puddle up in a super-sized flood of gratitude, I can’t even begin to tell you. But let me start with the obvious:

  1. Your following the blog at all. Seriously, there isn’t a blogger on the planet who “minds” if someone they don’t know reads what they write. In fact, the first time you get a comment from an unknown reader is a moment of pure disbelief and excitement. Your family is obligated, BY LAW, to comment once in a while to let you know they’re still reading it, but a stranger?! The completely voluntary comment lands in an entirely different place.
  2. Your spontaneous generosity and for all the effort it took to actually act on it. Anything that requires finding the right box, getting it wrapped, labelled, and schlepped to the post office, then finally paying for the postage represents a serious intent to do good.
  3. Your attitude that a dog can never have too many toys.
  4. Your kind, kind words. You will see in what follows how they mean so much more to me than you can ever have imagined. Thank you.

Mary sews labels into her creations, identifying them as “Merry Bears.”

(Ready? More weirdness just around the bend ahead.)

In the early 90’s when I was busily employed mothering my kids, I had a Christmas craft business that made enough money to finance our annual family vacation for the years I did it. I made salt-dough teddy bear Christmas-tree ornaments, and for five dollars, would calligraphy people’s names on them with a fine-point sharpie, right there at the craft fair. People snatched them up as affordable gifts for music teachers, favorite aunts, etc. My mom helped out at the table, taking orders, getting the bears lined up with the names on little slips of paper, packaging up the completed ones and distributing them to their new owners while I churned ’em out.

I called them “Merry Bears.”

I remembered I had a newspaper clipping from those days in a scrapbook buried deep somewhere in one of the three huge, stuffed attics we have.

I hope you enjoy this photo. It came at a great cost of digging through mountains of old flotsam and other surprising and completely distracting finds of jetsom along the way.

The point here is that Mary’s gift, a token of appreciation and support of my writing and photos, pointed me directly back to a time when I did consider myself to be an “artist.”

There are still a few of these little critters that show up every year on our tree.

I was so excited by what was coming together that I did what I always do: yelled, “Where’s the camera?!” I wanted to set up a beautiful photo shoot for Mary’s creations so that I could blog here about how sweet and “coincidental” it all was.

And that’s when I learned that Mary puts intoxicating doggy-squeakers in all her toys.

Winston’s a sucker for a squeak.

I grabbed all three at once, and amazingly managed to connect with all three squeakers, simultaneously. Winston responded with enthusiasm to the sirens’ calls. Every time I’d get set up, he’d sneak up and slide one of the toys off the table, wrecking my photo shoot.

After five minutes of this fun game, I gave up and told him to pick which two he wanted.

Mary, I hope you don’t mind, but he left the blue one, and I’m keeping it for myself.

I wanted to have something to remember your kindness by, and W. has an intense focus on finding and removing the squeak. Death by nibbling, we call it, and he’s relentless.

Is there such a thing as “dognip” that they put inside those things?

Anyway, he settled in with the red one. I told him to lick it.

Dog slobber is a guarantee of permanent ownership granted to the slobberer. No one else even wants to touch the slobberee.

He seemed pleased with his choice.

In fact, eventually he took such umbrage at my own relentless camera work that he decided to seek more private quarters to bond with his new buddy.
Look out… comin’ through….


Remember I said above that in the search for the newspaper clipping of me at the craft fair, I came across some surprising finds?

One of those was my third grade report card.

In the first term, Mrs. Eglington reported that while I was A-okay on the basics, she felt that I “…daydreamed tremendously.” This apparently did not bode well for my future, especially when combined with a tendency to be “…too self-assured for her own good.”

I now take the “daydreaming tremendously” comment as a compliment. I only wish I could grab back some of that assurance that my eight-year old self had in the possibility of those dreams when the unison droning of multiplication tables I already knew weren’t enough to hold my attention.

I wonder what happened to that pure confidence that anything was possible, not just for me, but for everything and everyone?

Ah… I see where it went. It came down to earth.

Well, Mrs. Eglington, in the spirit of “better late than never,” I’d like to respond, if I may.

Leaving aside your own inability to stay within the lines and a questionable subject-verb agreement choice there, I beg to differ with your conclusion about both my downfall and where I need to be.

I’m still skipping along just fine, thank you, and sometimes my feet don’t even touch the ground.

Your report on my prospects is returning to the back of the attic where it belongs, and Mary’s blue Merry Bear will stand guard over my keyboard, with her encouraging note on my bulletin board above my desk, where they both will remind me that I’m not in this alone.

Not by a long shot.

14 thoughts on “The Gift

  1. Mom

    I remember that report card & also that Dad & I laughed at the “silly old bat!” She couldn’t appreciate individuality which you always had & still do in spades – happily you were hurt for a time & then filed it away & carried on being the most entertaining creature I know! I think your last blog is brilliant – your writing just keeps getting better & better, in that it gets more entertaining/hilarious. You come from a long line of laughers. I’m so proud of you my sweet child.

  2. Mary

    Hi Kathy,
    I especially liked your latest Blog! I am glad I ignored my inner voice that was saying “You shouldn’t send dog toys to someone you don’t know – she will think it is strange.”
    Amazing that you were making the salt bears and called them Merry Bears. I love it.
    Now, for the teacher. I like to think she was trying to help. Sounds like moving to Tanzania happened just in time. She did have lovely penmanship but I can’t imagine your mother agreeing with her words.

    1. rickandkathy Post author

      Who would quibble with the Queen?!
      And yes, Pablo most def would enjoy some Merry Bears. Say… five within a half an hour or so… Thankfully, W. is still on an “outside the seams” relationship with Big Red so far.

  3. Pegi

    Hi Rick and Kathy,
    So sorry to hear you are moving (or have moved) from HMB. I enjoyed talkung to you on the beach and loved seeing Winston on those few occasions. I love reading your posts as well and relate to your “daydreaming” one as I had a 2nd grade teacher who told me I asked too many questions…That really put a damper on my future curiosity with my studies but never stopped me from asking.. And I still ask until I understand….Teachers sometimes don’t realize the impact they have on young children. Good luck in your new adventures…
    Your neighbor on Troon..

    1. rickandkathy Post author

      Hi Pegi,
      Yes… we’ll miss those times on the beach, too. So wild that a teacher, of all people, should think it appropriate to squelch a curious mind!

  4. Jan

    Wonderful post today Kathy! I’m not a total stranger, but I do love reading your blog.

    In a similar vein, I recently recounted to a friend my 2nd grade misadventure of having to take a note home to my parents to sign and return to school. It said I spent too much time drawing… before I handed it to my parents, I distinctly recall hiding behind my bed tearing all of my drawings out of my school tablet, humiliated and frightened beyond belief, while crying gut-wrenching tears. I avoided drawing after that. I ultimately pursued a degree and career in an aligned field, three-dimensional small sculpture, in a form that people happen to wear. Otherwise known as fine jewelry.

    It took until the age of 50 for me to realize that I do love to draw… and paint, and that I am actually fairly good at the drawing part. The painting part will take years to learn, I just wonder where I’d be now if I’d spent all these years focusing on painting instead of avoiding it.

    Just know you are not alone in all this, and I hold you in the highest esteem for pursuing and excelling at your passion!

    With Love, Jan

    1. rickandkathy Post author

      Jan, thanks so much for sharing your story here. I hope people click on your name to visit your website and see all the amazing creativity that’s flowing through you now!

  5. Rick

    People in leadership positions — be they teachers, managers, or captains at the helm — bear a responsibility to act with fairness, integrity, and care for the well-being of those in their charge. Knocking the wind out of the sails of an 8 year-old in the grade school equivalent of a corporate performance review is not only a failure of leadership, it’s demoralizing and rather mean. Kathy, good for you to persevere and not lose something so precious and valuable. Daydream away, my darling, tremendously.

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