So I have been reading Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.
Hyde writes that the giving of gifts is part of how communities have been created. He demonstrates this with studies about how certain human tribes treat gift and commodity, the scientific community’s exchange of ideas and the folk wisdom of fairy tales.
Using the “The Elves and The Shoemaker” story, he points out its similarity to how artists develop their gifts. First the shoemaker is starving and only has enough leather to make one last shoe. The elves come and make wonderful shoes for him. The shoemaker goes from destitution to prosperity because of the wonderful shoes the elves continue to make for him at night.
Eventually he and his wife decide to make clothes (and SHOES) for the naked elves. After they do this the elves dance gleefully away and the shoemaker continues making the wonderful shoes himself.
Creativity is a kind of gift.
It’s like the elves making wonderful shoes in the night for you.
But the next step is to take the art into discipline and become the elves as it were.
So the gift is received and then given back.
This seems like one of the many ways “gift” functions in being human.
I think the language of gift and vocation are part of my Christian heritage that I have not rejected.
Vocation is a calling, a destiny if you will. It seems to me that each human has a destiny or a calling, a passion waiting for them. It’s up to each of us to figure it out and then run with it.
I also feel like the idea of gift is related to the idea that humans flourish when they are helping and connecting with other humans. They seem to shrivel up as people when they become self centered.
I read a disturbing letter to the editor in the NYT yesterday which said that we must choose as a society between generosity and responsibility. This is a false choice to me. To be fully human I think we need to be both generous and responsible. Generous to others and responsible in our own actions. When we focus on the actions of others, we end up short-changing both them and ourselves.
Creative people know that when they create or “make” something mysteriously flows through them. It’s like waking up and finding elves have made your raw leather talent into something beautiful and amazing. It’s just a first step, but probably a necessary one.
This gift is related to the gift that we give to each other in our selves. When we become selfish or angry something in this stops and we lose the change to become who we are.
Here endeth the sermon.