Christmas decorations cover every surface. Today we’re having our annual holiday open house, a time when we invite friends and family to drop in, toast the season with David’s exceptional eggnog, and catch up on the events in one another’s lives. Last year, though we hadn’t lived here long, more than forty people came. Though it’s a lot of work, connecting with the members of our various groups outside the usual venue is enlightening. And it’s always wonderful to see old friends.
This season is also when I write my informative letter, which will be slight this year because, other than the deaths of my mother and my dog—and who wants to hear about that at Christmas?—not much has changed. The boys are prosperous and healthy and we’re proud of them. Curtis is engaged to a lovely young woman, wedding in the spring. Still in Beijing, Sam continues in his buy-one-give-one business plan (company name, Mantra, goal is eye exams for rural Chinese children). And David is busy with his various local projects—Habitat for Humanity, ushering at church, playing golf. So, our lives flow contentedly on.
A couple of months ago I was thrilled by the UK publication of my novel, Old Buildings in North Texas, a topic which introduces a petty, yet consuming, issue. OBiNT is getting good reviews in England, which is excellent, but I need more of them. I understand that part of being a writer is that, when you release it you’ve got to let it go. And I also realize that roping in the few people I know and coercing them into writing reviews is a ludicrously ineffective thing to do.
Nevertheless, I gave nine signed copies to friends and relatives with the stipulation that they post a review. Every one of them seemed desperate for a signed copy, and they were all agreeable to my terms. Though I received twenty of the hardbacks from Arcadia, a generous gift, it was my intention to have them available for sale at my upcoming readings. I obviously have difficulty saying no.
Reviews are important because a high number of them indicates a high number of readers. A person browsing online will see an impressive number of comments and think hey, look how many people have read that book. I should probably read it, too, so I can discuss it with all the cool Literati at parties who are sure to be talking about it.
Also, it’s Christmas, and in the UK that means giving books as gifts. The British are a book-loving breed.
Of the folks who received signed copies and a really good read that cost them nothing, only two have gone to the trouble of doing what they said they would do. It’s a matter of a few minutes to log on to Amazon UK, say it was a good book, and give it five stars.
Disillusioned? Disappointed? You bet.
Two women that I don’t know that well—one from Mahjong, and the other, one of David’s friends from Habitat—were interested enough to purchase copies online. Both of them wrote reviews, and if I didn’t consider them good friends before, I sure do now.
This situation prompts me to search my memories for a time when I let someone down. I must have, at some point. Apparently people do. Here’s what I came up with:
After college I heard from one friend, Cindy, that another friend, Mary’s, brother had committed suicide. Cindy didn’t know Mary that well, but I’d been tight with her and her family since I met her at band camp in seventh grade.
“You need to call her,” Cindy told me. “I ran into her at the grocery store and she said she was depressed and she felt like her friends had abandoned her.”
“Of course I will,” I responded. “I loved her brother.” But I never did. The more time passed, the more difficult it became to make the call. I was immature and didn’t know how to comfort someone after a loved one had died in such a tragic way. I never spoke to Mary again, and I’ve felt sorrow over my behavior ever since.
Another time I didn’t meet an obligation was when we were preparing for a move to Singapore, and I was distracted and frazzled; and on Monday morning I forgot it was my turn to help count Sunday’s collection money. An insignificant incident, but bringing it up indicates how the memory of it still brings me shame. I have a keen sense of responsibility, an obnoxiously loud conscience, and an inability to self-forgive.
So, if my recollection has failed me, and if I’ve let someone down and not apologized for it, please let me know and an apology will be forthcoming.
On the other hand, because of the horror brought on by someone relying on me, I’m stingy with my commitments. This is a trait passed to me by my father who, if he thought someone was going to ask him a favor, would hide for days. During my formative years, he often told me, “Jennifer, do never volunteer.”
One of the friends who receive a copy of Old Buildings in North Texas, but never wrote a review, arrives at our open house.
“Don’t let me forget my cake pan,” she says cheerfully, referring to the pan she forgot to take home with her on Thanksgiving. As pans go, this is a nice one, substantial and expensive.
“I’m keeping it until you post the review you promised,” I tell her. This is what I’ve resorted to. If she thinks I don’t check UK Amazon every day, she’s crazy.
“I haven’t even started it yet,” she responds, which is maddening and hurtful. Like I said, I wanted reviews for the Christmas season. I don’t remind her to take her baking pan, and she leaves without it. It’s being held hostage in a kitchen drawer, next to Kendra’s favorite sweater, which she left here last week, and which will be held until her review appears; also, Eileen’s Mahjong set, which she left in my charge because she had to leave early last week and her set was in use, and which I’ll release to her as soon as I see her review on Amazon UK. And now—
Let it go, Jen, let it go.