On making.

It has long seemed to me that what we need to make is a difference.  If we are making ephemeral things, I’d always thought, we aren’t really making much, or doing justice to the world, because what it needs is change, contribution, brilliance, systems, products that last, that improve our lives in concrete  ways.  Like health care reform.  Like voter registration systems.  Like healthy local food production.

And here I am, listening to my thirteen-year-old niece draw the most extraordinary sounds from her cello, basking in the resonance, this sound that wraps around me like a hug and reaches into my knees like a kiss.  This, I can tell, is sacred; this is true.  This is worth any amount of practice, money, and inconvenience.  This is important in the world.

I remember my own youthful engagement with music, which always filled me up but which was, I felt, not important enough in the world.  Which is to say: it did not stop fights or help my parents like each other.  It did not contribute to household income, at least not for a while.  But I can see, now, that it helped hold things together for me and perhaps for us…maybe even when we should have fallen apart.

I now see that that’s the point: to help us hold it together; to help us fall apart.  It’s the point of music, of painting, of poetry, of knitting and spinning and dying yarn.  It’s the point of collage, of letterpress, of papier-mâché.  It’s the point of song, of singing, of dance.  It’s the point of anything that we make ourselves, with our tiny hearts and striving souls.  It’s the point of all these many ways we hold up the specificity of our lives, ourselves, against the incoherence and fray of the universe.  Making is what we have, the action that demonstrates choice and will and art and resourcefulness.  It makes us human, of course, and no art or craft more than any other.

My niece’s playing reminds me that what is sacred is the yearning, the creativity, the hope embedded in the action.  It’s what we are.

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On wading in: Day 4. Going under.

But not in the bad way, not like you’re thinking.  I mean it as in swimming lessons, as in my three-year-old who loves the water but is afraid to put his face in or actually go under.  (Not surprising, considering his first total submersion in conscious memory involved falling off a dock…)

I mean it in the sense of this extended metaphor, that life itself is this vast and beautiful body of water and we dip our toes.  We wander along the strand.  I’m working on wading all the way in, and what I find is fear.  Not of drowning, per se, since I’m awfully good at survival, but of never wanting to get out.  (Here my fellow Mainers are laughing heartily, since the waters here are COLD.  Staying in is not a winning proposition.)  But you hear what I’m saying.

I know artists (of many stripes: academics, builders, designers, cooks, writers, painters, photographers, etc.) who get so immersed in their work that it’s hard for them to resurface.  They skip meals and neglect their families and commitments, or at least experience transitions back to dry land a little like a fish: there’s gasping and often a little thrashing about.

I am afraid of that.

I LOVE the work I am doing — the reading, the writing, the scholarship, the design; the complexities of play with children; the management of many lives.  But I’m always afraid that if I dive right in to the art, to “my work,” I might not be able to come back. And I NEED to come back.

This is where you’re wisely examining my metaphor and saying, “But Anna, who said you had to look at life as a matter of safe, dry land (dry in every sense) versus joyful, life-giving sea?”  And you’re right.  It’s a false binary. But for survival-oriented kids, and perhaps anyone taught that creativity and contemplation were wasteful, it’s reasonable to see a divide.  So here I am.

The intention today, then, is to put my face in the water.  Perhaps even to try going under.