Back when “blog” wasn’t a word and people actually mailed newsletters and letters to each other, a lady named Carla Emory wrote the following:
I used to take my poems down to a street corner in Greenwich Village (along with a baby or two), put on a great big sandwich board that said “Poems for Sale” on each side and sell copies for 25 to 50 cents apiece… I barely made enough to pay my bus fare and buy lunch, but it was really beautiful just standing there sharing my work all day with people who came to read my notebooks and pick out one or two poems that would really go home and live with them and become a part of their lives. That was the only thing I’ve ever missed about New York—selling poems. I never was one to live in an ivory tower. I needed people to react to what I was writing. Their reactions provided a sonar for me as I swam through the literary waters, guiding me to a better and better result—better because it meant more to them. Though I’ve always written something or other, it’s best when there is a real human being on the receiving end who can laugh and care and learn something they really want to know. (The Country Living Encyclopedia, p. 530).
I want to be a person who takes other people’s poems home to live with them.
Most of us assume it takes a certain gifting to give of yourself in communication–to be a musician, an artist, a writer, even somebody who makes clever posts on Facebook. But few of us realize there’s a real gifting to being someone who really receives communications well, too.
Right now I’m visiting a couple of friends in South Africa who are experts in the art of receiving other people’s gifts. Their house is loaded with savored books that they would bend of backwards to tell you about and lend you. When my son picked up one of their drums, the guy stopped and picked up another one to join him in an improv drum circle. They laugh deep, they listen hard, they savor music, they spend their little money or beautiful art, they look for the beauty in people, and they care.
As a writer, I have come to deeply treasure people like them: real human beings wide awake on the receiving end. As our book drops into new readers hands, I love knowing there’s a little percentage of readers who I’ll actually get to exchange stories with some day. Here’s a beautiful example from a recent email from a reader:
i’m not completely through with your book yet, but each time i read i’m overwhelmed with how faithful God is to reach out to us and reshape our perspectives when we’re spiraling downward and losing focus. i’m ok with him using a book to do that instead of a massive tragedy at the moment as well, so that’s great. anyhow- it’s been life-giving. convicting. and helps me push past the moment each day where i’m tempted to crash on my bed and wallow in nothingness until sleep temporarily relieves the stress of feeling meaninglessly busy.
Carla, the poem-seller, also describes her experiences meeting readers of her book. I totally agree:
I think of this book’s readers as ‘my people.’ They’re… the people who live my (our) dream in all its tawdry chicken-plucking day-in-and-day-out fine print. They’re the people I’ve worked my writer’s lifetime to serve. I want to touch these precious, truly beloved readers—real at last in person. So we clasp hands across the table. Or if they look like huggable sorts, I come around the table and put out my arms, and we hug each other with genuine feelings of love. I know that a particular reader is someone who already knows me well and cares about me. She or he’s the person I’ve worked so long and hard to serve, visualized in my mind’s eye, talked to as I wrote and wrote and wrote this book over the lonely days, months, and years. Those meetings with loving readers are always a beautiful experience—my reward! Then I know it’s all been worth it. And I’m again astonished, humbled, to discover that a mere book can mean so much to people. The job of writing is indeed a special one.
Already I’ve come to know many of you out there in just this way. You’ve read my story, you’ve reached out to care about me and the little good that has happened in my life that I try to share, and you write to me, or maybe we even hug somewhere.
I’m not great at promoting my writing, and I don’t actually have a clue most of the time how many Facebook or Twitter followers I have or why they follow me. But despite the best practices described in the many communications and marketing books that slide across my husband’s desk (as an associate director of communications for InterVarsity), I continue to prefer quality of reader for quantity, and from what I know of most of you, you fit the bill. You do indeed make the job of writing a special one.
And for you all, the gifted receivers out there, I’m writing this to thank you.