I, as you most likely know, am a Buddhist. I am a very bad Buddhist: I drink, swear like a sailor, and until recently was a very happy ethical omnivore. I make my amends, though, and one way I do that is through routine meditation practice. As an offshoot of that, I have a lot of boddhisatva statues around my house. They’ve been on my mind lately – probably because, in the recent CLEAN ALL THE THINGS push, I’ve handled each of them to wash, dust, and reposition them.
From where I’m sitting on my bed, I can actually see four statues: a Green Tara, a Kuan Yin, a weeping Buddha and my yard gnome Buddha.
The Green Tara on my nightstand is missing a lotus and what looks like a naga. The Kuan Yin in my bathroom is missing a hand. Another is missing lotus petals. My yard gnome Buddha is probably the best example of this, though: during a move, many moves ago, he tipped out of the chair he was being carried in and the back of his head shattered across the ground. Concrete meeting concrete is never a pretty thing.
It was my ex-husband who dropped the yard gnome Buddha, and I very distinctly remember him bracing for what must have seemed like the inevitable explosion. That I stood there thinking for a moment, and then laughed, was certainly not the expected response.
Looking back on it, it was one of those moments. Everything slowed to a crawl as I watched the Buddha tip over and shatter, and then there was a bit of a sideways shift while practice clicked and tumbled in to place. The yard gnome Buddha became, in one swan dive, a very nice, very literal embodiment of non-attachment.
I’d like to say that since then I’ve reached some serene, zen-like state, closer to enlightenment, but the reality is I have my good days and the bad. I’d also like to claim that having a set of largely broken Buddhas decorating my house was an intentional choice, but instead it is more serendipitous. A reminder about how messy life is, and how broken we each are, and that life is often about finding the beauty in the broken, and the people whose shards match your own.
When I was little, my mother would buy the peanut butter that had separated in the jar. When we got home from the store, there was always the ritual of dumping the peanut butter into a bowl, stirring everything up, and then placing it back into the jar.
I never had to do this; Mom always did. It was sticky and messy and lunch for all of us, so leaving it in the hands of an impatient child probably would have been a bad idea.
Even though I never had to do this, I always hated it. It was so pointless, I though. Why spend the time and the mess and the energy when you could just spend a little more for the stuff that was already mixed? That was faster! It was cleaner! Therefore, it must be better.
Mom would just shrug and say that this was the way her mother did it, and this was the way she did it, and maybe some day I would understand. I was a child, so of course I knew that I would never understand, and fastercleaner would always be better.
It’s nearly 4am, and these are the things that go through your head when you’re standing in a bathrobe in the kitchen, mixing a new jar of peanut butter.
There’s something to be said about being who you know you can be, rather than who you are, and ideals and northern stars and guiding points rather than achievable goals, but I think it’s either still brewing, or I’ve found something I’m finally not worth placing online. Which, given what I’ve said here, says something in itself.
I’m sitting on my bed right now, although a quick glance wouldn’t make that obvious. I’ve set aside that last paper I need to write, that take home exam I need to go over one more time before deciding that really is my final answer, and I’ve opened up the boxes of art supplies that have sat in my pantry, untouched for almost two years. A huge shift for me, for someone who incorporated art into classroom assignments (both those I gave as instructor, and turned in as student). But I’ve been feeling that clawing need to end up with hot glue on the tips of my fingers, paint ground into the very pores and lines of my skin, flecks of bronze leaf in my hair and ink or pastels smudged across my face.
You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. If you don’t want to starve, a certain ruthlessness becomes necessary. You may not want to own the bloodiness involved in killing, plucking and drawing your own chicken, or butchering your own pig, but you’d probably be prepared to dice onions with a sharp knife and mince parsley. Similarly, if you had a garden or allotment, you’d dutifully hack and slash at weeds and brambles. This sanctioned destructiveness can give the mildest-seeming person great inner satisfaction. No need to come out publicly about one’s sadistic impulses if there is vegetable chopping or shrub pruning to be done. Magically, the angry feelings, channelled through practical technique, loving and attentive, may produce beauty.
That happy result depends, of course, on whether you’ve chosen your work or feel obliged to do it. Perhaps bad cooks and gardeners have too much anger rather than too little. The cook who reduces the vegetables to sludge may be venting her exasperation at having to produce daily meals whether she feels like it or not. The gardener who concretes over the wilderness may be fed up with doing most of the nurturing in the family. Burning the dinner may mean wanting to change the world. Feminists since Mary Wollstonecraft have known this.
The review goes on to say that the book author, Juliet Miller, ties in the idea of sanctioned forms of female creativity, such as motherhood, and the unsanctioned – anything with anger or violence. But the problem is, art is often angry, often violent, often the exploration of a rupture; if women don’t think of anger as feminine, but instead masculine and off limits, they can stifle themselves into silence.
It’s an interesting idea, that she extends into writing, research, and just about everything we do – art is creation, and creation can be found anywhere, from the lab to academic papers. And we stifle ourselves whenever we begin to think that we can’t get angry, we have to play nice, we have to fulfill certain roles and duties. Miller ties to whether or not we look to our ideal woman as being the sexless virgin mother Mary, or the passionately violent creator/destructor Kali. I’m not sure I so precisely buy that stringent a dichotomy, but I do find the idea (as I sit here in a sea of supplies) that we need art, that it is not a hobby, not a luxury, but a necessity.