I haven’t been writing much lately. After two solid years of working hard on my first novel (which came only after three continuous years of work on said novel), followed by the novel not selling, and then my second novel (which remains unfinished), I finally petered out. I needed a break, and I’m taking it. Now, and for the foreseeable future. And boy, does it feel good!
This past fall was really, really rough. My oldest had a stressful start to kindergarten, I discovered I no longer have an agent, my entire family was sick for weeks and weeks…and I needed exactly no more things on my plate. I started cutting things left and right.
So what have I been up to?
For starters, I’ve discovered embroidery. When I was a kid, I did a lot of cross stitch. I mean, a LOT. My mother was very crafty–she did everything from stained glass to copper punching to drawing to quilting to basket weaving–and she did oodles of cross stitch. So naturally I did it, too. I did a little of everything she did. And even though I hadn’t done any needlework in probably 25 years, and I’ve never done embroidery at all, it’s funny how the skills came right back as soon as I picked up a needle. This is my latest project!
It’s not the best picture, but you get the idea. I am so proud of my pillowcase! I forgot just how wonderful it was to make things with my hands.
I’ve also been doing a lot of reading…but not my usual steady diet of novels, memoirs and literary journals. I’ve been reading a TON of non-fiction, mostly in the areas of urban homesteading and radical homemaking. What is radical homemaking, you might ask? Well, here’s a most excellent primer:
After a friend turned me onto minimalism (quick definition: get rid of all your stuff), I stumbled onto this book and felt jarred reading it. I have to admit, I’ve never liked the title “homemaker” even though I undoubtedly am one. It sounds so…1950s. So oppressed. So chauvinistic and headed-nowhere-in-life.
This book changed ALL of that. Turned it on its head.
I will sum it up quickly by saying that Hayes–who has a PhD from Cornell–goes through some very interesting history of consumerism in the U.S. and how it coincided with homemaking (which, once upon a time, was not a value-laden term meant only for women. Men used to be homemakers, too, in colonial America). When women went to work in droves in the seventies, houses were left empty…and remain so today. Women were sold a bill of goods, and so were men. Hayes says that the American home has been turned from a center of production into a center for consumption. What we used to produce and make ourselves–everything from meat and eggs to candles and soap and clothing and much more–now must be purchased outside of our homes, because we are working to support what she calls the extractive economy.
There’s so much more to the book that I won’t go into here, or I will never stop typing…but suffice it to say, I am now glad that I’ve chosen to make our home. Even though I’ve always stayed home with our kids, and I’ve always known it was the right choice for our family, I’ve also supported mothers who work (whether by choice or by necessity). Now I see that that vast majority of us who work outside the home are CHOOSING to…so we can have more Stuff in our lives. And when I read this and understood it on a visceral level, it made me so happy that there is no amount of Stuff–not brand-new cars, not a bigger house, not designer clothes or shoes or electronics–that could lure me away from my children’s childhood. This sounds so sanctimonious, but I don’t mean it to…I’m just so, so happy that my kids get ME instead of daycare attendants or babysitters so I can go out to work. For more Stuff. What is the point of working for a house that sits empty all day while its people are elsewhere, while its children are shuttled out to daycare? Isn’t that just a shell and not a home?
I’ve never felt entirely confident as a stay-at-home mom, for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t sound particularly interesting to other people (it tends to end conversations quickly, as opposed to telling people I’m a writer), and in our Be Productive and Do More! culture, it sounds lazy to other people, too. It FELT lazy, like I was copping out of “real work.” I think I needed to have some of my feelings validated, while also being given more information about how our culture is structured and what it values…and how that lines up against my own values.
This book did all that for me. I am on my path to being a Radical Homemaker, and I love it!
Happy New Year!