Merrill Garbus, on the name of her project, Tune-Yards.
The idea of talent and inspiration as a gift, something beyond and outside of the maker, is an evergreen topic, but it seems to be an idea that has been coming up with greater frequency since Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk hit the web in 2009. It’s reminiscent of a part of D.H. Lawrence’s Song of a Man Who Has Come Through:
Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.
If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world
Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible blows,
The rock will split, we shall come at the wonder, we shall find the Hesperides.
The independent source of inspiration may be from a divine attendant like the Greeks’ daemon as Gilbert explains, the wind as Lawrence writes, or as a place like the tune yard that Gerbil describes. The crucial aspect of this externality is that the insight and inspiration provided by these things is a gift to the artist; it becomes the duty of the maker to pass on these gifts by making their work. Lewis Hyde, in his book The Gift, calls this obligation a “labor of gratitude.” Hyde states:
When I speak of labor, then, I intend to refer to something dictated by the course of life rather than by society, something that is often urgent but that nevertheless has its own interior rhythm, something more bound up with feeling, more interior, than work. The labor of gratitude is the middle term in the passage of a gift. It is wholly different from the ‘obligation’ we feel when we accept something we don’t really want. (An obligation may be discharged by an act of will.) A gift that has the power to change us awakens a part of the soul. But we cannot receive the gift until we can meet it as an equal. We therefore submit ourselves to the labor of becoming like the gift. Giving a return gift is the final act in the labor of gratitude, and it is also, therefore, the true acceptance of the original gift. … The shoemaker finally gives away some shoes. The twelfth step in AA gives away what was received; the man who wanted to teach so as to ‘pass it on to the younger men’ gives away what he received. In each case there is an interim period during which the person labors to become sufficiently empowered to hold and to give the gift.
Needless to say, as one who has taught, worked for free, and tried my best to document many of the successes and failures in the early stages of a career, I believe in passing on the goodwill, wisdom, and inspiration I’ve gained through the efforts of others. So perhaps it’s fitting that I’m attaching these thoughts as a reblog. As Hyde says, “the gift must move.”