Thursday, January 7, 2010

Not an Artist

Yesterday was the first day in the last several that we didn't have to go out and shovel sidewalks. This morning the plow went by again and got down to bare pavement in some spots. Just in time, because according to the weather forecast, more snow will be coming, beginning this afternoon, though it is supposed to be nothing like what we had over the weekend. The local newspaper reported that as a result of the weekend's “unusual storm” we ended up with 31 inches of snow! They seem to be doing a good job with the plowing and I have to give a shout out to the mailman. Looking down the street, I can see that many people didn't bother to do anything to their sidewalks, so the poor guy has to trek through deep snow for most of this block, anyway. And yet the mail has been in the box at its usual time. So to the mail carriers everywhere who are out there walking and driving in some horrible conditions, I say thank you!
We have been keeping the truck parked. We try to do this anyway, but we do take it to go grocery shopping. Food is more expensive here than it was in Oregon, and we have a tight budget, so it's worth it to drive the few miles (not really far, but not practical to walk) to the two stores where we can stretch our food dollars. One is an Aldi, which has great prices on lots of stuff, but it's small and the selection varies, so it's the kind of place where you go first to get what you can. Then we head to Wegman's to round out the list. That seems to be the nicest grocery store in town and the prices on everything I need, with the exception of a very few items, are significantly cheaper than anywhere else. But since we have no snow tires on the truck or weight in the back of it, we probably won't be doing our normal grocery shopping routine for a while. So another thing I have been appreciating is the fact that I shop as I do and I know what to do with the food I have. We only go grocery shopping a couple of times a month, so we stock up when things are on sale. I loaded up on baking supplies when they were cheap last month, so I have what I need to bake muffins and bread. Produce is expensive here, so we took advantage of the farmers' market that's a few blocks from our house. I got extra squash, apples, and cabbage because I knew it would keep. I always have a supply of pasta on hand and some canned stuff in the cabinet. I have been glad of all this lately because our regularly scheduled grocery shopping excursion was going to be Monday. Depending on how this next weather system goes, we may or may not be able to go next week. But in the meantime, I have been using my kitchen skills to feed us on what we have and because I shopped wisely, I have what I need to make nutritious meals. I am glad to have these skills. So many people don't bother, figuring they can open a box or drive through the fast food joint. And to be sure, we could walk to those kinds of places. And there are places to buy food within walking distance where I could shop for certain things and not bust the budget. But there again I have to be able to actually use the raw ingredients. It's a good skill to have and it helps that I enjoy doing it most of the time.
I have been thinking about things like this in a larger context. Sunday afternoon, while the snow was coming down fast and hard and I had a big pot of soup simmering on the stove, I read a book called The Cynical Idealist: A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon. Now I am not a particular fan of Lennon's music and really don't know much about him at all. It's not a book I would have pictured myself reading, but Bill had brought it home from the library and read it, even reading parts aloud and it sounded intriguing, so I picked it up. There were times I felt I could have been reading about myself in terms of the guy's personal philosophy and his search for more knowledge and understanding about this world. An entire section was devoted to the time after he met Yoko in which they decided together to make their lives a work of art. This is an idea I have thought about before. If more people looked at their lives in that way, I think they and the world would be far better off. Then yesterday I read a book that was different, but included the message that our lives are a canvas on which to create. This book is Joan Anderson's A Walk on the Beach. Again, here was some stuff that I needed to be reminded of. Then last night I watched an episode of Art:21 on the PBS website. I enjoy listening to creative people talk about their creative process. This was similar to what I felt reading the Lennon book. I got the message and even agreed with it, but I often didn't connect with the ways in which they tried to get that message across. In my own life, I have had people try to convince me to become a larger part of whatever local art scene existed in the towns I was in, exhibiting my work with yarn and thread. And I did this on occasion. One woman at an art gallery I volunteered at was persistent, telling me, “You are an artist, you know.” I felt uncomfortable with that designation. And now I understand why. It came to me this morning that I am not comfortable with the term “artist” because that truly isn't what I do. I believe very strongly in creativity as a means to an authentic and visionary way of living. But I am far more practical and down-to-earth than the art world would allow. I am interested not only in ideas, but in being able to express them to as many people as possible. I am a craftswoman. I take my raw materials and use them to create practical, useful things. If I am making supper, food is my raw material, and I use that to make simple, nutritious meals. I am not a gourmet cook, nor am I interested in fancy presentation where there's a dollop of food on a plate swirled with some colorful sauce. No, if I'm doing the cooking, you're going to get a big bowl of soup or pasta or something like that. It tastes good and is good for you and that is important to me, but it's not a work of art. If I am crocheting something, it will probably have a use—it will be worn or stepped on, as in the case of the bathmat I made when we moved in here, used in the kitchen or something like that. If I am writing a poem or an essay, I will take the ideas I am always bombarding myself with and the words needed to express those ideas and do so in a straightforward, yet creative way. I am not one to experiment with making up new words or playing with language in weird and theoretical ways and I don't enjoy reading the work of people who do—I just don't connect. And when it comes to crafting a life, I take all of the things I mentioned above and add whatever life offers me, using it all to create a life that is meaningful and that feels right to me. I have a larger message, which is really pretty simple—this culture isn't working on a societal or personal level and we can and must change it. We are not trapped by the limited possibilities offered by mainstream culture. That's it. I believe that if people really looked at how they are living, most would change something—either something large or something small. If they did, they'd be better off and the world would be better off because we would all be acting in far more healthy ways. I could try to express that in any number of ways. But for me it seems that the more people I can communicate with, the better, so I will use language in a straightforward way to craft a poem or an essay. I will use yarn or thread to create a gift or a garment that makes people think twice about mindless consumption divorced from creativity. I will fashion a meal to illustrate the fact that real food is not hard to prepare, tastes good and is better for you than the fake stuff you get when you open a box and stick a plastic container in the microwave. I don't need to create a work of art that will allow only a privileged few to access these ideas. Some people do have that need, because that's the way they think. And I say more power to them. We need more creative expression in this world. But I think that we increasingly need more craftspeople, too. People who are more interested in using the appropriate materials to become more deeply themselves and to share that with the world.

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