I was probably 6 or 7 when I first remember making something. I made my grandfather a birthday card; rhyming couplets in my own handwriting, and a watercolor of the two of us fishing from the side of a lake. It was on thick, cream paper. I can’t remember where the paper came from. I remember the wonderful fuss he and my grandmother made over my artwork.
My grandfather used to take me fishing. I always use the phrase “used to” loosely. There wasn’t a lot of consistency in my childhood and if I did something more than once, it feels like a “used to”.
So, it follows that I “used to” make handmade cards.
In reality, I don’t think I was much older than 8 or 9 when I decided I wasn’t a good enough craftsman to give handmade gifts anymore: they were childish, imperfect, “charming” with a bright smack of condescension from Aunt S.’s lips.
Teachers pointed out that I should use the left-handed scissors to avoid the sloppy, jagged edges that I always seemed to wind up with. Left-handed scissors made no difference. Cramped my left hand.
I studied art in school. In college. I won little, local awards for poetry. But unless it was sanctioned by the gatekeepers who put monetary value on things, it was amateurish in my mind, and amateurish was a bad word. I was aiming higher. I always prefaced, and undermined, my attempts at crafts by explaining that I was a lousy at it.
I was an idiot.
In my twenties, I met a woman who became a mentor to me. We had talked a lot about being kind to our inner little girls. I decided to make her a doll for Christmas. It felt like an important thing to do. A process that honored what she meant to me.
I was dating her son at the time, and he made it clear he thought that was a childish thing to do. So I didn’t show him. I sewed the doll from scratch. Set her hemp hair in corkscrew curls with wood glue. I have a photo of the three of us. Two of us have faces a bit red from crying.
Even my boyfriend had to reluctantly admit it didn’t turn out as crappy as he’d imagined it would. (We all go through our phases.)
But it was many years before I made another object. I wrote books. But they were published by other people, illustrated by other people. Once I told an artist friend of mine that I was going to start making paper. She smiled and said that people spent years learning how to make paper. She’d been to Korea and taken a workshop on paper-making, but didn’t do it herself out of respect for the craft.
I didn’t make any paper.
I decided to learn Flash instead. I made interactive poetry videos. But after hours and weeks of work, I felt that I had put nothing real into the world. Nothing I had put my hands on, nothing that other people would put their hands on. It matters to me for some reason.
So, four years ago I took a bookmaking course. I told myself and everyone else that I was doing it because craftsmanship was something I knew I sucked at, so I couldn’t take it seriously, wouldn’t be competitive about it.
Who knew that it would take me so long to learn that what it takes for me to make things well, is a desire to put them in the world that has nothing to do with my own ego. It has to be an act of love.
After just three months of dating, I gave my now-fiancé a handmade book of poems.
A flash file just wouldn’t have been the same.
Thanks to Suzi at Blue Car Painted Green for the prompt.
Posted in: "A diary means yes indeed" - Gertrude Stein