I am reading a book by Louise DeSalvo, “Crazy in the Kitchen”. I read an earlier one, “Vertigo” for a public book course conducted by Jeanette Turner Hospital for the University of South Carolina. It was a great course; we would first read a book, and for the next class session, the author came to speak. Louise is very strong and very open in her memoirs.
(above) LABYRINTH, Lee Malerich, 2001, Hand embroidery on pieced fabric, 9″ x 9″
What I read last night in the book described a former time in my life perfectly. It was not an especially healthy time and I had too much to prove.
DeSalvo says about her grandmother in “Crazy in the Kitchen”: “Once I saw my grandmother finish a tablecloth and begin a new one on the same day without stopping to take some refreshment, without holding the completed work up to the light of the window, without stopping to admire what she had accomplished. To crochet and to knit in the absence of anyone’s desire but your own. To crochet and to knit because the very act of knitting, of crocheting gives you what others do not, what others cannot give you, what the country you left, what the country you came to does not give you: a sense of worth and some small scrap of human dignity.
My grandmother’s hands, all dry and cracked and sere like the land she fled, making beauty. My grandmother at her needlework, affirming her right to exist in a world that did not want her. ”
DeSalvo’s grandmother and I produced things of fiber for the same and different reasons. Both being women, we knew these skills because our mothers and grandmothers taught us. They are handed down. Or were. Don’t know about currently.
Using repetitive actions like crocheting requires, and as the Yi potters knew with their throwing techniques, your mind and body to focus on that movement. The rhythm can facilitate thought. The Buddhist Yi potters used their repetitive movements when making their pottery and felt the by-product of this movement was that the “enlightenment” could creep in. Focus your mind and body on something else, and truth occurs.
The above is the Buddhist, selfless result of repetitive work. But when one lays a layer of “self” in the repetitive creative process, like I do with my embroidery, it is a different process indeed. I chose to talk about my life in this process, and that is not at all selfless. Perhaps a pure process was tainted! Trying to prove something in a generally unaccepted medium, one mostly done by women, and one that is soooooo labor intensive was a bad decision.
It worked for me for a long time however. I was recording time, while I made my work. I was proving that I was alive. I was doing that even before my life threatening cancer. It was my father’s cancer and death that made me start to record time.
The grandmother was also recording time. With this realization, she was the healthier one, not admiring her work because she had to start again. Time was streaming by! With my ulterior motive, that layer of self expression applied to the technique might move me into a different category. The only hitch is that talking about my disease was such a healthy thing to do to heal. And all art comes from pain.