Memorable Gifts: Rediscovering the joy of creating artful gifts

click to enlarge Joy is found when
 you make art.
Joy is found when you make art.

After my mother died, in the winter of my senior year in college, I discovered report cards she'd squirreled away. My elementary teachers had consistently noted I "showed initiative" but didn't "play well with others."

True enough. I'm an introvert in a world that favors extroverts.

I lucked out, however, with good college roommates who included me in their family events; their friends also became my friends. By the time I'd dropped out of school and moved to my mother's home to care for her, that safety net and the prospect of one day returning to school kept me from utter freefall.

Christmas loomed, eclipsing any joy I might find in being with my mother in her final days. I smoked cigarettes and drank without end, and then for some reason, I decided to make Christmas stockings for my inner circle. I remembered making oversized, personalized cookies for a group of high school friends years before — Raggedy Ann and Andy, Tweety Bird, Snoopy — and it made me smile. I put the bottle down.

The stockings were similarly elaborate, sometimes three-dimensional, hand stitched. Some were elegant, others campy, like the Santa bowling a strike, but all of them personalized.

I kept expanding my gift list. Making things felt good. And as an art student, I wasn't focused on "making art" for once; I was just focused. Creation was a welcome distraction, a way to refashion my current reality into something else — something recognizable, controllable, that would also bring joy (I hoped).

Art as a vehicle for expressing complex things — loss, fear, anger — is powerful. Art history, especially contemporary art history, is full of examples. But art as a way of simply celebrating the act of creation is vital, too.

I can't remember the names I stitched onto any of those stockings. And I've not spoken to any of the recipients in decades. Maybe they still have them. Maybe not.

What I have is the memory of that time, the recognition of joy that comes from creating something and being purposeful. And I learned a valuable lesson about giving and receiving. ♦

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