You are here to share your peculiar gifts with the world.
Some gifts are peculiar indeed.
Rereading The Gift, Lewis Hyde’s wonderful study of “the commerce of the creative spirit,” I was reminded of one gift in particular which truly embodied Hyde’s claim that “a gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift.”
One summer I was working at a program for young writers and foreign language students at my alma mater, Simon’s Rock College. One of my fellow staff members was going into town and I told her I hoped she would bring me back a snack. When she asked what I wanted I said, “I don’t know, get me something crunchy…surprise me.” She came back with a Pickle in a Pouch. If you’ve never seen one, it’s exactly what it purports to be: a large pickle encased in its very own pickle-sized plastic pouch.
We never did eat the Pickle in a Pouch. Instead, we continually re-gifted it to one another in new and increasingly creative ways. It circulated among three or four of us all summer. Sometimes it wore its own custom-made construction paper costumes; once it had a whole diorama made for it to pose in; at least once it ended up hidden under a pillow, and I also have a vague memory of it being ingeniously suspended from a dorm room ceiling. In the end, we held a burial ceremony for it and laid it finally to rest.
Hyde describes this kind of gift as a “ceremonial gift” and says, “The clear uselessness of such objects seems to make it easier for them to become vehicles for the spirit of a group.” The value of the gift was in the giving itself and in the bonds of friendship that it strengthened among those of us in that tiny crunchy circle of givers and receivers.
With each act of giving, the pickle inspired us to reach for greater and greater acts of creativity and ingenuity.
As Hyde writes, we must think of the gift “as a constantly flowing river.” Try to dam it up or horde the gift for ourselves and it goes bad. “What is kept” he writes, “feeds only once and leaves us hungry.”
Now imagine that your gift – your voice, your art, that which is uniquely yours to give to this world – is like the precious Pickle. It may not seem to have any “practical use,” yet it goes about in the world, bringing joy or introspection or maybe wondrous puzzlement and it creates a bond between giver and receiver.
Once you find your own true gifts (your art, your voice, your listening ears), you will feel the same way we did about that pickle: we could not wait to find some new and unheard of way to give it. The giving itself was a source of great joy. The opposite is also painfully true: to have something to give and no way to give it – that is one of the most excruciating things of all.
With the urge to give so energizing, it’s no wonder that thinking about how our gifts might interact with how we put food on the table might pull us up short.
Hyde offers some wonderful wisdom for thinking about making art and making a living and I am brimming with excitement to share those gifts with you in future posts.
For now, I would love to hear: What is the one gift that you are bursting with readiness to give to the world no matter what?