Over the past few years of my life, I could never quite grasp the idea of someday becoming a senior in high school. As a freshman, my train of thought only traveled a few months at a time into the future, and even more irrationally, a decade that showed me living along a European waterfront with my artsy husband who supports my career as an esteemed newspaper columnist and our two kids who share a mutual love for Don Bluth films and storybooks. I was a freshman blossoming with blameless naivety, and loving every minute of it because I had the comfort of knowing that I had a long ways to go before actually reaching that critical adult stage.
Now, as I enter my formerly unfathomable senior year, I realize that all those flowery thoughts are still important and applicable to the person I want to become after graduation. How else would life be interesting? As of this moment, the seemingly irrelevant tidbits may sound out of place for this reflection, but I consider myself to be an anecdotist—a teller of tales with a purpose—and this tale begins on my last first day of school.
Fourth period English had started off on a more philosophical course this year, at least, that was how it appeared when Mrs. Bickford asked the class to compare the ideologies and terminology for “The U.S. Economy,” “The Education Economy,” and “The Gift Economy” on a Venn diagram. Prior to this activity, Mrs. Bickford had shared a story with us—just as I am presently—about how she and her husband took a trip to Portland, Oregon over the summer, where she toured the immense Powell’s Books. Upon sifting through the mountainous shelves at the bookstore, Mrs.Bickford serendipitously stumbled across Lewis Hyde’s The Gift. She was immediately attracted to it when she saw the quotes on the front cover, one of which belonged to renowned author David Foster Wallace and the other from Margaret Atwood, crediting the book for “talented but unacknowledged creators” (the nice heart on the cover was not so bad either). Immediately inspired, Mrs. Bickford purchased The Gift and had only read the preface and introduction when she decided to make it the first unit of study for her IB English class. The Gift, which is essentially a lengthy essay in book form, gradually dominated the first week of my senior year (in a good way, mind you).
The first two days centered on the Venn diagram the class made, and the third day introduced a new activity that would carry on for the remainder of the week. Mrs. Bickford set up different stations around the classroom that pertained to themes present in The Gift, where we were to cycle through each station and take notes about each one. We were to then choose our three favorite stations and complete the activity described on the page. I chose stations #5, #7, and #9 because they required more audience interpretation and creative free-response as opposed to the ones that just provided information about the author. This exercise gave me a better understanding of the gift economy described by Lewis Hyde and the values that it is intended to instill within readers.
One verse from Jeanne Lohmann’s poem “Invocation” states, “May the things of this world be preserved to us, their beautiful secret vocabularies.” In context with The Gift, it is suggested that we as humans have the entire world at our creative disposal and we may use the things found on Earth as inspiration for crafting words to pass on to others as a token of the fulfillment found in perceived thought. To put it simply, our talent and voice are gifts to the world. Humans were blessed with the ability to think and perceive (a gift in itself) by a divine force, and in return, we must give others a present of a similar kind: an understanding, an acceptance in the fact that there is no intellectual boundary that an individual can cross, a truth that we should never underestimate the power of our words and writings. This generous philosophy/lifestyle sat well with me, considering that I am someone who takes advantage of any inspiration that life should provoke in me.
The mindset alluded to at the beginning of this piece about freshman fantasies coincides with the idealism of The Gift—the gift of story and sharing facets of life with others, not because you are required to, but because you want to strengthen the familial bond that tends to vanish in a community and mature together. It is an impromptu, intimate brotherhood bound by thought instead of blood. And so, the moral of this tale is to spread the ideas of the gift economy to classrooms in order to better the learning environment and grant more opportunities for an individual to prosper, as concluded by Lewis Hyde himself: “My concern is the gift we long for, the gift that, when it comes, speaks commandingly… and moves us.”