Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, contains a subplot that revolves around a tree. A very special tree. It’s located on the way between the Finch house and the Radley house, and Jem and Scout pass by it practically every day on the way to school and town.
This tree has a hole in it, where a branch was lost. The hole is roughly the size of your fist, just perfect to hide small toys or other little trinkets. Indeed, midway through the book, Jem and Scout start finding such items hidden deep in the tree. A medal. A broken pocketwatch. A penknife. Two figurines carved from soap.
At first, the source of these anonymous gifts is a mystery -- the children have no idea where they came from. But gradually, they figure out that the items are being placed in the tree by Boo Radley himself, as gifts for the children to enjoy.
Well, this goes on for some time, and the children accumulate an impressive array of gifts from the mysterious Mr. Radley. But eventually, Scout begins to feel guilty. You see, the children never leave anything for Boo in return. All they do is take. They never give.
At some point, the tree’s owner patches up the hole, and the gifts stop. But Scout is left to ponder the meaning of gifts. Why we give them. How we decide what gift to give. What we expect in return. Gradually, her guilt lessens as she realizes that Boo expected nothing in return for his series of gifts. The giving was its own reward, and the children’s delight in finding each new item was acknowledgement enough.
This message was driven home to me loud and clear this past week. I wrote a couple of nodes that were basically polar opposites on the seriousness meter. The first was a little piece of fluff about Q-Tips, the second a story about the captivity and abuse inflicted on a little Russian girl. The Russian story was emotionally wrenching, but it dealt with a topic I thought was important, so I muddled through. Not without a few tears, though. In the immortal words of Steely Dan in Deacon Blues, “I cried when I wrote this song, sue me if I play too long.”
The Q-tip story? Not so much.
But the Q-tip story did better than Masha’s for days. The disparity was driving me insane. It was almost as if I was offended that such an inconsequential piece of fluff would be more warmly received than a true story of human courage and endurance in the face of unimaginable hardship.
Some of the more experienced noders told me to take it in stride. Long, depressing writeups often don’t do well at first, they said. Wait a while, it’ll even out in the long run. That all sounded good, but when I watched the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird this past Saturday, I knew what the real answer was.
A node is a gift. From the noder to the entire e2 community. And as such, it should be given free and clear, with no strings attached. If you’re noding for the right reasons, your only goal should be to write the best node possible. If you do, but the node lands with a resounding “thud” in the nodegel anyway, so be it. It’s tough to do. Lord knows, I have a hard time with it. Putting your heart and soul into a node that fails is a difficult experience, one I’d rather avoid if at all possible. But if you write your heart out in every single node, and connect with even one person at the end of the day, it’s worth it.
So I just want to take this chance to thank all you noders out there who have been giving me gifts for the last year and a half. They’re very much appreciated; some so much you could say that they are precious to me. And I’d also like to say that I will try hard to make each node I write a gift, one that might help or enrich the lives of others on e2.