The Art of Giving
I went to see the The Edinburgh Book Sculptures Tour 2012 recently when it visited Aberdeen Central Library. Ten book-sized sculptures, twisted bits of paper, cut up pages, glue and occasional flashes of colour that made up incredibly detailed, beautiful images of scenes and messages from and to the literary world. They were found throughout 2011 in various locations across Edinburgh including the Scottish Poetry Library, the Writer’s Museum and the Edinburgh Book Festival. They are extraordinary, brilliant pieces of art but what astounded me most was their provenance. To this day the artist is anonymous. From a note left by the artist with the final offering we know that she is a She, but that is all. She has not revealed herself despite a media search and mass, adoring calls for revelation. She has not stood up and said ‘It’s me and I’m available for commissions’ which would undoubtedly make her fortune as they are wildly popular and surely collectable. The very idea of this woman devising, inventing and creating these exquisite works, then simply leaving them in spots across the city and waiting for them to be discovered for absolutely no personal gain, in this time of rabid materialism, is nothing short of astonishing. It is the purest example of a gift I have ever seen.
It got me thinking about the impulse to give, to what extent people give and at what cost. Myself, I am not comfortable with receiving. A life coach once told me that it was something I needed to work on, but I remain a giver. I adore thinking about, choosing, making or buying and handing over gifts to people and knowing that they will cause pleasure. I am much more comfortable offering hospitality and assistance than receiving it. I find my own experiences of birthdays and Christmas stressful and I am getting worse with age. I am happy to save up and buy myself something, but perhaps I feel I have earned that by going without something else first. I can clearly imagine what She felt as she sat and thought about what to create for each location she wished to give something to: the glee with which she devised and crafted each piece, the leap of joy she felt when she hit on another clever idea or link for her potential recipient; the pride and perhaps nerves experienced when the piece was finally finished; the thrill of stepping into the beneficiary building, of scouting out the best place to leave it, the wait until the coast was clear, the adrenaline rush when she placed it on the shelf or table, heart thumping in case she was caught and then skipping out in delight to wait in happy anticipation for it to be discovered. And when they were found it wasn’t just the receiver who was thrilled but the entire world that was quick to follow the discoveries through social media sites, newspapers and television news articles. People were talking about it in magical, wondrous tones. The country was knee-deep in recession, addled by a corrupt media and struggling under a confused coalition government. Saturday night family entertainment involves tearing false idols down from their pedestal five minutes after they have enjoyed throwing them up there via a 36p phone vote. In this context the fact that we could still be enchanted by the simple act of giving showed a side of humanity that had been missing for a while. The act of giving as much as the gift itself reminded us to be kinder, live simpler, smile more.
But what if I look at this from a different angle? Reading does not come easily to everyone and I believe that the ability to read and discover other lives, worlds and characters in the pages of a book is one of the greatest gifts of my life. Books, tales, stories, words: they are also one of the most precious possessions and memories that I own. I want to share my writing with others in the form of my novel, but I am not confident enough in my own skills to believe that it is my ‘gift’ to the readers of the world. I do want to give people pleasure from reading it, to introduce them to my characters like new friends, to offer them a thought-provoking theme in a tale that stirs emotions. I want to give them the same joy I feel when lost in a book, curled up on my window seat, gripped by the story in my hands. In that way, I suppose it is the same as wishing to give those I care about any other sort of gift.
The legacy of the Edinburgh Book sSulptures is perhaps then a perfect example of the basic simplicity of a gift. An offering from one to another that gives joy in the one who receives as much as to the one who gives. The act of writing makes me happy. If, one day, it will give another enjoyment when they read it, it will make me happier still.