Flourishing in Creativity’s Gift Economy

A few years ago I submitted an essay to an anthology of queer Minnesotan writing. I called it “Wearing Bi-Focals” because it explored bisexuality as a lens much as my progressive lenses help my eyes integrate what’s near with what’s far. I sent the essay out and promptly forgot about it.

Six months later the editor called me. He liked the piece and would include it. (I did a little internal gig.) In the meantime, might he quote from it? His Baptist congregation was soliciting themes to guide worship during the next year and he wanted to suggest the idea of nonduality. Could he use my words as an illustration?

I was struck by how my sentences acted like flint and steel, igniting a small spark. They worked, both in the sense of being artful and in the practical sense of moving a reader. Perhaps they undergirded a year of worshipful exploration, the spark passing subtly and silently through the congregation. Or perhaps not. Likely I’ll never know.

I wrote those sentences but I didn’t generate that spark. I created the conditions that made the spark possible. The spark—the essay’s gift—came to me as an inspiration; it arrived as desire spurring me to write and as the talent and energy I brought to the task. The gift changed me, and I showed my gratitude with labor. Finally I passed it along. Now the essay has its own life, its own agency.

More subtle and powerful than the essay itself, however, are the ways writing it made me conscious of my own dualistic, us-versus-them thinking. Today my glasses remind me that there are always multiple ways of seeing. Whenever I actively hold paradox in my interactions with others, striving to see from multiple angles, the essay’s pilot light reignites. The living quality of my writing has a counterpart inside me.

These days I’m increasingly convinced that creativity flourishes within a vast gift economy. If we’re faithful to that spark of inspiration, tending it, feeding it, and moving it into our relationships—with or without the product reaching an audience—we thrive, both as writers and as humans.

The gift is a spark of life. What if we pay attention to that spark rather than setting our sights on some end product?

But keeping our focus on the gift is hard in a market economy, where end-product is all. We need the company of others who share this practice. That’s why I’m excited to invite you into a new—free—micro-course I’ve put together that introduces the gift in writing and ushers you into a community of writers seeking to nurture the gift. This is Eye of the Heart’s first step into creating community online. I hope to share the gift with you there!

– Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew