Or: Why pickles are as important as poems

This week my FB feed has been hopping with reactions to Akin. I rarely get directly political there (and never here on this blog), but even I joined in on that commentary. While few topics will get me to engage in political discourse on FB, rape is one that will.

My feed was also hopping with its usual stuff, the things we write about here on the blog: DIY projects, home design, intentional living.

Seeing posts about fall wreaths and canning jars and fabric flowers in the midst of all those weightier posts and links, I found myself questioning the value of what we’re doing here.

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I mean, really: We’ve got serious, serious issues facing us and I’m using my talents, time, and energy to write about… homemaking?

Even before Akin opened his (ignorant) mouth, I was already chewing on an essay that came my way via a writer friend. In it, Mary Rechner questions the value of placing great importance on the raising, procurement, and preparation of food. This is the sentence of hers that really got me:

“…urban homesteading and “the home arts” should not be confused with real art-making, which involves challenging the status quo, not feeding it.”

Ouch.

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This stings because much of my time, energy, and talent the past few years have been focused on the home arts, which, according to Rechner, are not real art.

Now, I could (and did, in my head) write a rebuttal that explains how the home arts can challenge the status quo. I could write about how making a home the way we are attempting to–and writing about it here–is all about challenging the status quo in more than one area. I could address the definition of “real art-making.”

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But, the more I argued (in my head) and the more heart-sick I felt about the larger implications of what it means that we have elected lawmakers who feel rape needs qualifiers and who don’t understand basic human biology, the more I came to believe that such arguments don’t really matter.

Rechner’s primary concern about current practices (among some) with regard to food is that it takes women’s time and talents away from more important pursuits. As she writes:

“A jar of pickles, however beautiful it appears on the windowsill with the sun shining through it, however thoughtfully and sustainably it was made, however good the pickles taste, is still a jar of pickles. It isn’t Judy Chicago’s ‘The Dinner Party.’”

And you know, I agree. A jar of pickles isn’t, and can’t be, the same as an art installation that educates us about women and challenges our beliefs about them.

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Rechner suggests that in the face of pressure to do food (or whatever) in currently fashionable ways, women who might otherwise be creating art won’t be–because we all have finite amounts of time and energy, and most of us don’t have enough of either to produce both politically correct (or home artistic) food and poems/paintings/plays, etc.

I agree that most of us can’t do both, especially if we are raising children and supporting our families economically. But I also know this: Denigrating the home arts–by defining them as lesser than other arts–isn’t necessarily going to result in the production of more socially weighty (and, perhaps, meaningful) art by women.

It’s just going to make the women who passionately practice home arts feel crappy and/or suppress their creativity, which can only lead to more problems that artists (and others) will need to address.

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I speak from the perspective of my own experience. Earlier in my life, I was a poet. Not a wildly successful one, but successful enough to know that I possess the raw skills to do good work in that arena.

I couldn’t do it. I blamed my domestic and economic responsibilities. I didn’t have time to write the way I wanted to. I couldn’t find time to write the way I wanted to.

At least, that’s what I thought.

When I finally gave myself permission to lay down the obligation I felt to be a Serious Writer, it felt like letting go of a heavy weight. In the space that opened up, I found myself doing the creative work I really wanted to do:  craft a home and write about it in a blog.

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It’s not that I stopped caring about larger societal concerns. In fact, I think I address some of them through the work we do on this blog. But I know I’m not doing it in the same way that Judy Chicago did. I’m doing it in a way that often feels lesser than.

When I start to feel hangdog about that, I remind myself that at least I’m doing something, which is so much better than the nothing I did during all those years I felt crappy about not doing the important work I thought I was supposed to do.

I wasted so much time thinking I couldn’t do creative work because of all my other obligations, but here I am, churning out two posts a week (or so). I’m doing more creatively than I’ve ever done in my life–while still working, raising kids, tending a relationship, making a home.

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While there are moments that I tire of creating this blog and doing the projects that make up its content, it’s never the chore that writing poetry often was. I used to force myself to write poetry, in the name of discipline. Now, I sometimes force myself to stop working on this blog. I enjoy indicators that the blog is “successful,” but I’ve never cared about success the way I did when I was writing poetry. There’s an intrinsic value in the doing of this work that I never found in writing poems.

I don’t know that this means I’m more shallow than, say, Judy Chicago. Maybe. I like to think it just means Judy and I have different things we need to do.

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Most of the literary writers I know don’t talk about writing as if doing it or not doing it is a choice. It is something they are compelled to do. For them, not writing is almost like not breathing.

I think that is true of any person who has a creative passion. I don’t think we choose the work we do so much as it chooses us. And if someone feels that drive–whether it results in pickles or in plays–we should honor it. Acknowledging the value of the pickle-makers won’t deprive us of the plays they weren’t going to write anyway.

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I am so glad that there are writers able to articulate the rage I felt this week. I am glad for the Eve Enslers of the world, who can channel their time and talents to affect issues I care deeply about. Because they are here, I can use mine for the things I am better suited for.

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We like to mythologize artists; we like to think they are rare and special. Maybe they are, but it seems to me that most of us are creative beings. Many of us long to make things, and the world is a better place for the diverse ways in which these longings manifest themselves.

I think the world would be an even better place if all of us were able to satisfy those longings, if we all felt that our contributions were valued, if none of us felt pressure to do or be things it’s not in our nature to do or be.

Mary Rechner was clearly made to create literary art, not artisan pickles. Good for her–and I’m not going to judge her if she buys non-organic produce at Winco or has nothing on her windowsill but dust. If that’s what’s necessary for her to make stories and poems, then I’m all for it. But I’m also glad that other women make pickles (or raise chickens or grow their own vegetables), if that’s what satisfies some longing within them.

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I’m probably naive, but I think that if all of us were more able to do the creative work we were built to do, we’d be more likely to have a world in which we wouldn’t have to have such ugly, disturbing discussions about rape–and war, and poverty, and a host of other injustices. I think much of the hurt, fear, and violence in the world stems from humans being silenced and devalued.

I believe peace begins at home, and peace in our world has to be created one person, one home at a time. Working with Cane to make our home peaceful and writing about it here–so that others might find ways to make their lives and homes more peaceful–is what I do best. It’s small, but it’s what I can do, at least for now.

So I’m going to keep doing it. I hope (for all our sakes) that you’re able to do what you do best, too.

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