The Purest Writerly Joy

Santa Claus is a close personal friend of mine. I’ll bet you didn’t know that (except for you, Santa, who I know are reading this blog up there at the North Pole). My perambulations have brought me into contact with lots of people around the world, so — the rest of you — don’t look so surprised. Why do I bring up my friendship with the Jolly Old Elf at the end of June? Well, last winter, I read an article he wrote for a newspaper about his visit to a certain town in Iowa. (Yes, Santa keeps his hand in at writing — why else would he be reading a blog about the writing life? — his life isn’t all about toy-making. Trust me: the immortal soul who annually writes the longest list in the world is a writer of the highest order {not to mention all those millions and millions of notes he leaves beside the plates of cookies and glasses of milk left out for him — he writes fast and he writes well}. And anyone who checks said list twice is also an editor, which all good writers also have to be.)

But anyway, this article of Santa’s that I read. He’d been to this town in Iowa, and he’d ridden in their Christmas Parade. But what he loved the most was talking to the children — meeting them one by one, seeing the wonder in their eyes, hearing the requests for those wonderful visions dancing in their heads. (FWIW, most kids today no longer dream that much about sugar plums.) In one of his encounters that touched Santa (and his readers) most deeply, he was able to reassure a child who was deeply worried. The little one was spending Christmas away from home, at Grandmother’s house (which was probably over the river and through the woods) — and was half-sick with worry about the ramifications that would have for Santa’s Christmas Eve visit. “Don’t worry,” Santa Claus told this wee one. “I know the way to Grandmother’s house, too.” And the child was immensely relieved. And seeing that relief that his words had brought was a greater joy, a greater fulfillment for Santa than he gets from the actual toy deliveries themselves.

Delivering those toys, I suppose, is somewhat like a farmer sowing a field. Santa knows his work will bring delight in the morning, but he can’t see the joy directly. He can’t ever see it with his own eyes. By the Rules of Christmas, he has to be long gone by the time the first sleeper tiptoes from bed to peep around the doorframe at the wondrous changes that have taken place in the night watches, in the hour of the kneeling oxen.

Santa’s main job has a lot in common with that of a writer. See the connection? We labor in isolation at our own North Poles, wherever they may be. Long months go by, and we pile up words and pages, much like Santa stacks up those bales of toys — the whistles and the balls and the whips that crack. Like Santa, we deliver. The manuscript goes out through the driving snow, out into oblivion. Once it’s gone, we’re left in the boreal darkness, drinking our hot chocolate, gazing in weary commiseration at the exhausted elves, wondering how our words are faring Out There at the place they went to. And after about two nights of deep sleep, we wander restlessly back to the workshop. We roll up our sleeves, pick up our tools, and start the whole wild, mad, paint-sloshing, industrious process again. Because that’s what we’re here to do.

But like Santa Claus, we don’t really know how our stuff went over for eleven months. (I use that number symbolically. For writers, it may be a good deal longer than that.) The moment Santa knows he pulled it off is when those letters start rolling in. The awareness comes home to him then that he’s provided what those kids wanted, and they’re relying on him to provide it again. Then, with operations well underway at the Pole, he journeys out to towns like that one in Iowa, and he meets them . . . the ones he labors for. Their faces reassure him that of all the things he might have done with his immortal life, he’s chosen the right one.

The point I’m making with all this is that, this past week, by grace, I’ve been experiencing Santa’s early December “subcreator’s joy.” It is the profoundest joy, the greatest privilege, of which I’m not worthy in the least.

Come and see — come and get a ring-side seat! Come and read these comments and questions from young readers. There’s nothing I can say about the rewards of writing that could be nearly as eloquent as your own perusal. This is what writing is for. This is why we do it: giving worlds of adventure to others — providing good food for their imaginations. The writing life doesn’t get any better than this, and there’s no award I could win that would bring me more happiness and fulfillment than these letters do. I thank the good Lord for the privilege of standing in this place. Won’t you share this joy with me on Cricket‘s Web site? Here’s the link:

http://www.cricketmagkids.com/corner/frederic-s-durbin

All glory to God!

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One Response to “The Purest Writerly Joy”

  1. Daylily Says:

    Thanks for sharing your joy and excitement! The interchanges were fun to read. This is an illustration of what I call “closing the circle of communication.” When I send out one of my nature vignettes to a small list of friends, I enjoy the writing. But if no one responds, I wonder, did what I wrote mean anything to anyone but me? Or when I lead worship from the organ, or present a new composition, it means so much if someone says to me what the music meant to him/her. It’s not that I want to hear how great I am or how well I did. It’s that I love to know that what I had to say, or what God had to say through me, enriched someone else’s life. Then I know that all the effort and the hours of solitary practice or of solitary composing were worthwhile.

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