Monday, June 17, 2013

Getting all swirly: the writing chapter (Hidden Art of Homemaking)


Up until this point in Hidden Art I haven't gotten too close to any specific talent or need-to-create that Edith Schaeffer has been describing.
I like to make stuff, but I'm not a decorator.

I cook dinner, but I'm not a chef.

I play the piano, but I don't consider myself much of a musician.

I even draw sometimes, but I am very far from being an artist. I'm satisfied with doodles.
Ah, but now we get to a bit of an "ouch" chapter for me: "Writing: Prose and Poetry."  My so-called training (twenty-plus years ago) was in writing.  I pick up books about writing.  I read biographies of writers. The thing I've never figured out what to do with, myself, is writing.  I'm not a professional writer, although I've occasionally been paid for writing magazine columns, and I've done a number of unpaid projects.  I've had ideas for novels, but they've usually fizzled.  I've often used the excuse, "there are too many bad books out there already, so why would I want to add another one?"  It's been a point of guilt (I should be doing such and such) and frustration (I don't think I really can do such and such), in the same way as Edith describes.  And when she talks about "boo hoo, you couldn't go to the music conservatory" or whatever, "so use your talents to bless those around you," in the other artistic areas, I'm fine with that.  But now she's saying, "use your writing talents to write funny notes for lunchboxes. Or maybe prayers."  I'm not so fine with that.
Emily Carr, "Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky"

Is that the way the artists and musicians feel about her suggestions in the other chapters, that painting a mural on your child's wall is the equivalent of having something hung in the National Gallery?  If you were meant to paint for the National Gallery, if you are Emily Carr or Mary Cassatt, you are not going to feel very fulfilled by little dibs and dabs here and there, occasional sketching jaunts to the park.  If you have the talent and drive and believe God has called you to be a serious artist, then your work deserves more respect than that.  If you have an important or uplifting or hilarious book churning to be born, then you should write it, and writing the Sunday School Christmas play is not the same thing. 

That's not to say that you can't have other responsibilities or jobs.  Lucy Maud Montgomery "scribbled" after hard days working in the post office and then taking care of her old grandmother.  Melissa Wiley wrote a post about how a busy mom finds time to write.  (Melissa said, "If I don’t write my head gets swirly with pent-up words and I am no use to anyone.")  But I think the reason this chapter gets under my skin has something to do with the fact that women artists, musicians, writers, have had a hard time being taken seriously, and taking themselves seriously.  It feels like a bit of betrayal to have Edith Schaeffer telling us that we ought to be satisfied with "just" using our creative talents to feed our families, decorate our homes, illustrate sermons.  Yes, those are very, very important places to use creativity, scatter grace, bless those around us!  But it strikes me that we need to be careful too not to think that our talents should be less...public?...just because we're women.


My dad's family...his aunts, grandparents and so on, so mostly before my time...seem to have been a wildly creative bunch.  Unexpectedly so, since most of them were also staunch, staid Scottish Presbyterians;they were hardworking farm people, blacksmiths, housemaids. Several of them were musicians--not professionals, just church musicians, organists, people-with-tuning-forks.  Some were writers, book people, town librarians.  (There's probably a connection with Robert Louis Stevenson, although I'm not sure how that works out.)  One of my great-aunts painted in her spare time with pastels and oils, fulfilling a dream that her (staunch staid Anglican) mother had tried to squelch years before by refusing to let her take art lessons.   My uncle was a florist. I have cousins on that side of the family who are decorators, design jewelery, make furniture (I think they probably blew glass and made candles during the 1970's too).

And there was one particular auntie...she was my great-great-aunt, so I never remember her as anything but old (she looked like Corrie Ten Boom).  But out of all of the relatives, she was known for being the most young-at-heart.  She lived to be ninety-plus, and even then she liked to make people laugh, especially with funny verses.  I don't think she ever wrote a book or got particularly angsty (see above) about her need to make art; she just created anyway.  When she was a young thing of about forty, she wrote a funny poem about an adventure she had delivering furniture with my great-aunt (the painter) and another young lady who became my grandmother (and who expressed her own creativity mostly through quilts).  It started like this:

"Lend me your ears and you will hear
A tale that I shall unfold
How three young maids without any fear
Rode off in a truck quite old.

"T’was a model of 1914, they say
And that I can well understand.
It sure could travel all the way.
But it rattled to beat the band.

"On the outside was 'Cowan’s Maple Buds'
In lettering large and red.
And on the inside-a sewing machine
And springs for an iron bed...."

She enjoyed life, she was well-loved, and the thirty years since she's been gone have been the poorer for not having her around.  Is that a resolution to the problem?--that, sometimes, those things are enough?


Did you ever hear of Lillias Trotter?  She was a turn-of-the-last-century missionary in Algeria.  Before that, when she was young, she was a very promising painter, a protégé of the artist and critic John Ruskin.  He said that if she concentrated on her art career, she would probably become very famous.  She thought it over,  and decided God was calling her to devote her life to missions instead.  She didn't feel she could could do both.  Her story reminds me (to come back to the Schaeffers) of Jane Stuart Smith, who left a career in opera to work at L'Abri.  Lillias continued to use her art, recording desert landscapes and illustrating her devotional books.  Jane continued to minister with music, in various ways.  Talented women who "drop out" tend to be viewed as if they've betrayed the sisterhood somewhat, as if these underachievers haven't done enough to prove that they're people-not-just-women.  And that's me too, I guess.  I "dropped out" (not that I was doing all that well even "dropping in" in the first place) to do the things I've been doing for the past twenty years. 

The sermon at our church yesterday referred to the verse in Proverbs about ants who store food in summer.  The speaker (a woman!) pointed out that the true wisdom of these ants (or in Leo Lionni's mice) is in knowing what season they're in--not hung up on the past or the future, but living out the tasks that are given them today; not being unprepared for the winter, but making the most of seasons of preparation.  I think of Edith's expoundings on creativity as somewhat like that.  It isn't good  to think either "I could have done" or "maybe someday" to the point where you can't make the most of today.  Even if maybe you have to write in the bathroom or whatever.  But that doesn't stop you from thinking ahead either, maybe to times when life will change, for good or bad; in using and improving the skills you have use for future needs. 

And as for me...I have to go put the squash on for supper.


Queen of Carrots said...

Some excellent thoughts here.

M.K. said...

Very good thoughts. Thank you -- I esp. enjoyed the story of your furniture-moving, poetry-writing aunt :) You said something up in section #1 about a person having the talent AND THE DRIVE. That's the key. I do believe lots of people have the talent to write something excellent, worthy of time. But do they have the drive to push it out into the world?

The aspect of this chapter that bothered me a bit is her heavy emphasis on letter-writing. I have nothing against letters at all, but there are other wonderful writings that should be attempted. Why not encourage those? Is it b/c she emphasizes the "communication" aspect of the hidden arts? Thus she wants us all to write letters? I don't know.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I enjoyed your post, especially your aunt's poem. I did not know that Trotter was an artist. Interesting!

Cindy said...

It is hard to know what is patiently waiting on the right season and what is copping out.

I also found the idea of writing to be my chapter but I was not really that inspired by the chapter. Maybe we don't need inspiration in the areas we are strong in.

I am thinking of maybe writing my grandchildren poems on their birthdays and your aunt is inspiring.

hsmominmo said...

Look at you - you are writing! and very beautifully, too.
I enjoy your way with words, Mama Squirrel. The words come alive, right off the page, I mean, screen.

Mama Squirrel said...

LOL, hsmominmo. That's another paradox, isn't it?

Cheryl said...

Respectfully, I think I still agree with Edith. The small bits are important! I remember chafing (inside) when someone said that so-and-so went back to work after having her first child "because she did not want to waste her education." Waste? Is it a "waste" to use your talents and intelligence in the rearing of a child with whom the Lord has entrusted you?

That's probably beside the point, but I believe that it is important to do the small things (which are really big things in the light of eternity) and if it is in His plan for us to do the "big" things, then He will bring it about.

Or am I missing your point (which is entirely possible)?

Mama Squirrel said...

Cheryl: yes, I agree with you that expressing creativity in our everyday lives, using whatever talents we possess, as unto the Lord, is vital. Vital meaning both important and life-giving. Yes, no argument there.

But at the same time, I wonder if even Edith would feel that...just for example...a skillful surgeon would feel entirely happy just putting on band-aids..not that that isn't important, but others could do that too, while not being able to do what the surgeon does. Maybe the differentiation is simply between whatever we do to care for a spouse, children, friends, etc., and how we use those skills or gifts professionally.

Barbara H. said...

I'm running late on this chapter due to company, but I loved it.

I don't think she was saying "Be content to write lunchbox notes rather than published books" but that you don't have to be "published" or a "professional" to express yourself in various ways by writing.

I love that your aunt created fun poetry!

Love this line, too: "It isn't good to think either 'I could have done'" or 'maybe someday' to the point where you can't make the most of today." I've been encouraged that some of my favorite writers didn't start until later in life and by the fact that their writing was probably better due to the maturity and experiences of the years.