What a gift!


28 January 2015, Hoi An

On our first day in Hoi An, as we assembled at the lobby of the magical Long Life Riverside Hotel for our welcome fruit and drinks, I couldn’t help but ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” WrICE co-director Francesca Rendle-Short just smiled.

1. Something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone; honor an occasion, or make a gesture of acceptance.
2. Something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.

“What a gift,” I declared on Facebook, and to myself. For what makes me think I “earned” it? I certainly didn’t “win” it, even though I did need it, as I had a book project I needed help on; and I did submit my previous works to them so it wasn’t as if I didn’t deserve it. Everyone “deserves” gifts like this: a trip to a place one has never been; time and space to write and to focus on work that needs to be done; interaction with like-minded individuals who are also vulnerable, even though not equally; and an opportunity to begin or to finish something important – to oneself and to others. In this sense, we all deserve this.

That evening, at our welcome dinner at Morning Glory restaurant, (which had run out of their signature dish by the time we got there), co-director David Carlin explained that they do not ask for anything in particular in return; that we are free to do what we like with the time given, except for the window at 3-6 p.m. during which we collaborate on our projects in our immersion workshops. In this sense the WrICE fellowship is indeed a gesture of assistance. I needed it. Badly. But yes, it also means being shown favor; this is a gift that prods me on. I embrace the opportunity and open myself to the grace; I must honor the true gift – my talent and the story I need to tell.

Talking with Cate Kennedy over dinner, I was struck particularly by her insight about being miserly in writing and how this creates a logjam in the creative flow. I realized suddenly that my niggardly attitude towards myself, i.e., not allowing myself too many luxuries, even though I can actually afford them, reflects my attitude towards my writing. Cate is right to ask “What am I saving it all for? Do I expect the creative idea to grow bigger by not spending it?” Yet I know it doesn’t grow; it just gets lost in the muck. And I am not the richer for it. Heck, even money in the bank doesn’t really grow because the interest is so small and it’s even taxed! So why save at all? For some unknown purpose in the future, just to be assured that there is something to pull from when necessary? But why not spend it now?

The Vietnamese dong will teach me to be generous, I know. I have ten days to learn to spend thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions on myself! Even with my pathetic Philippine peso, I can afford it. I will open my wallet (but not without serious haggling). I will open my heart to the ocean of creative abundance. Enough of the closed and tight fist. This will be my gift to myself on this journey.

P.S. Sumptuous welcome dinner for twelve persons: VND 2.5 million (about AUD 150).

Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz, Philippines