Wednesday, November 30, 2011


About 15 years ago, I wrote an essay about an experience I had on Halloween when among the trick or treaters at my front door was a man who asked me for money so he could take his kids out for hot dogs. I won't tell you how I responded to him, but the experience did lead to essay, and the piece was published in the Chicago Reader, a weekly alternative paper. I called the essay "What the Halloween Man Brought," but the Reader folks changed it to "What You Give and What You Get."
     The essay begins by telling the story of the man coming to my door, and then moves into my response right there at the moment as well as in the weeks that followed, as ruminating and perplexity are significant parts of my MO. Most of the essay is structured around the eight dimensions of charitable giving, as articulated by Maimonides, the twelfth-century Jewish scholar, in his Guide for the Perplexed. That's him right there.

Here is the list of eight dimensions: 
1. Giving reluctantly or with regret
2. Giving less than one should, but with grace.
3. Giving what one should, but only after being asked.
4. Giving before one is asked.
5. Giving without knowing who will receive it, though the recipient knows the identity of the giver.
6. Giving anonymously (the giver knows the recipient, but the recipient does not know the giver).
7. Giving so that neither the giver nor receiver knows the identity of the other.
8. Helping another to become self-supporting.
For the past few years, my friend Tom, who teaches writing at College of DuPage has used this piece in his class. He likes it because it begins with an incident from real life and also sets out the process of reflecting on that incident and coming to write about it. Even better, it has a very visible and explicit structuring device (the eight dimensions). So it works well in his class (at least I think it does), and after the class has read and discussed the piece, Tom always has me come to his class to give a reading and engage in a discussion with the students. Every time I go to Tom's class, I have a great time, and come away very energized and impressed with the students. This year was no exception. I went a few days before Halloween, and I came equipped with a big plastic pumpkin full of candy.

As usual, the students were very lively, and their questions very thought-provoking, but they did not eat as much candy as I had hoped or expected.
     Anyway, the point of all this is that about a week ago, Tom emailed me an essay written by one of his students in response to my essay. The student is named Nathan Bassett, and his essay is completely wonderful and clever and funny, as he turned my whole thing on its head and called his "Eight Ways of Taking."
He structured his piece much like mine, including around the "eight ways":
1. Taking reluctantly or with regret.
2. Taking more than one should, but with grace.
3. Taking only what one needs.
4. Taking by guilting the giver into being a giver.
5. Being asked to take.
6. Taking what is lost or Ground Scoring.
7. Taking from an anonymous donator, benefactor, or spontaneous nudist.
8. Taking from another to become self supportive.
I'd love to find a way or a place to have the two pieces published together--to show what's possible and what can come of one small life incident, even all these years later. Ideas?

1 comment:

Jim Poznak said...

Why not start by publishing the work by a link on your website?