There is an experience that I need to talk about, because I do not know how to properly navigate my way through it. The experience is being on the receiving end of a complement regarding my work. Lately, I’ve received a few in regards to my latest story, and my response to these compliments have felt lacking.
We’re taught from a very young age to say thank you in the most trivial situations but also to give thanks when we experience gratitude on a grand scale. We use the same words when someone holds open a door for us as when someone compliments our dearest life’s work. The end result for myself is that saying “thank you” begins to feel trivial, and I search my lexicon for a way to express a deeper appreciation for what has been shared. I always come up short in the moment.
The greatest gift any stranger can give me is to encounter my work, experience it, and feel positively affected by it. Taking that extra step to actually tell me about the experience is an even greater generosity. I know that there are a nearly infinite number of ways for the reader to spend their time, and when someone (friends, family, or strangers) chooses to give one of my stories their time, it feels like a blessing.
When someone thanks me for having read something of mine, I don’t feel like common decency provides me the tools to express my own gratitude. We writers work in solitude for hours and hours to produce good work that is meaningful to us. When that meaning is successfully conveyed to another soul, it’s like a lightning bolt. Everything is illuminated for a brief moment. Shadows are banished and there is a clarity and a sense of purpose achieved.
I do not go through my life experiencing a sense of constant thankfulness and gratitude, try as I might. I take so much of it for granted that it’s shameful to even consider right now. Gratitude is a state of vulnerability that is impossible to maintain for long periods. Yet still, so many of us crave to experience that vulnerability. To feel vulnerable is to feel profoundly, deeply human. Life is often a process of hiding and protecting our humanity. Paradoxically, it is in unguarded moments of humanity when we truly live.
Lately, I make it a mission of mine to thank the creators that have reached me through their work. I know how it feels myself. I want to share that sensation and spread it around. I encourage everyone to send notes to artists and writers who have created something that has impacted you, even in small ways. It is a small thing, but so deeply meaningful. And I suppose there is no reason to limit it merely to artists and writers. Give your appreciation freely, I say. It is a renewable resource, and it can power great acts of creation and art.
If you compliment my work, and I say “thank you”, please know that the words are merely a sliver above the surface. A great shadow of emotions looms beneath. The words do not carry the density I wish they did. Written, they lack any profundity or intensity; their dullness can only be sharpened so much along the edges of an exclamation mark.
Thank you must suffice, for now. Thank you and so much more.