Friday, January 6, 2012


today's theme is needlework, and a response to julie's thoughts on balance.

the subversive stitch: radical reappropriation of the domestic arts as some sort of political act/statement. for example, questioning the notion that domestic work is lower on the rungs than intellectual work--reorganizing that hierarchy, as it were, so that, at least in one's own mind, one is not privileging one over the other without at least some examaination of the reasons for said hierarchy.

this has been a theme of my month, if not my life.

ingrid wrote a paper on fiber arts and subversive stitchery, especially as used in the street art trend of yarn-bombing, often performed by female artists, an interesting, gentle twist on the more permanent changes graffiti artists, often male, make on their landscapes. she argues that yarn bombing is, among other things, a way of putting the private, domestic world out into the public sphere, as in this yarn cozy over the merrill lynch bull on wall street, done by agata olek.

eva led a discussion on tuesday, for many hours, about the possible uselessness of an academic life--the possible decadence of one person devoting one whole life to an obscure area of knowledge. in the course of this discussion, she questioned the efficacy of the academy, the justness of the system, and posited that perhaps academic pursuits should only be conducted by part-time amateurs. she got quite an earful from the tableful of academics at which we sat. i think her point, one that i've spent a lot of time pondering myself, was that it's not fair that some people get to live a life entirely of the mind while having their material needs provided by a wife, mother, servant, etc., often female, of lower class, or of color. it is indeed an important and essential question. one that i haven't come close to answering.

what has this all to do with stitchery?

nothing that other people haven't discussed more intelligently and thoroughly than i will here, but something that seems relevant to this blog and the lives that julie and i are living--and that is the degree to which we as mothers, maters, are living in the material world vs. the artistic or intellectual world. i hesitate to put the two things in a hierarchy. i'm a big fan of matter. i've been called at various times a materialist, a hedonist, a sensualist, a gourmand, and i'll accept all of those labels as fair. i'm called mater by five people. and i very much enjoy taking care of their needs.

and then i get frustrated by the lack of time available to put into the non-material world. and then i go back and argue against my frustration, thinking about how the material world is really where it's at. where we're at.

without it, the mind has nothing to do, the poet would have nothing to say.

i mean, forgive my amateur philosophizing, but,-- in response to julie's struggle to balance her laundry basket (might we read her tumble down the stairs as at least partly symbolic?) and her ten page short story in the same week?--what's the mother to do? lots of people claim that most successful female artists had no children, no spouses, or had servants, etc. there may be truth to that.

i have no idea what to do with these thoughts and this supposed dichotomy: my enjoyment in making the material provisions for the people i love as well as the enjoyment and necessity of the solitary work of writing, reading, and thinking.

dude, i have no idea.

and i'm aware that in the grand scheme of humanity, i am in a most luxurious position here.

but i put myself up against the vast works created by dickinson, or woolf.

when i was younger, i thought i could create a new paradigm, and do both, or all, things.

but now i'm just too tired and more than a little discouraged.

but a few cool things and inspiring things about needlework, anyway:

1) jen bervin's dickinson facsicles: "A series of six large scale embroidered works by Jen Bervin based on composites of the punctuation and variant markings in Emily Dickinson's poetry manuscripts." bervin scans in dickinson facsicles and stitches the incidental marks on the documents onto large scale quilts. she says of the project:

I have never doubted Dickinson’s profound precision, however private, nor that the energetic relation of these marks and variants is anything but integral to her poetics. I have come to feel that specificity of the + and – marks in relation to Dickinson’s work are aligned with a larger gesture that her poems make as they exit and exceed the known world. They go vast with her poems. They risk, double, displace, fragment, unfix, and gesture to the furthest beyond—to loss, to the infinite, to “exstasy,” to extremity.

2) this cool thing my grandma gave me at lunch today from the bank of lehi, one hundred years ago, in 1912, that had been her mother's. it's a needle book, and some of the needles are so fine they are nearly invisible. "ladies remember," it reads, "if you need a little needle/ this will your need supply/ a needle of a dainty point /and a golden eye."

3) cecilia vicuña's "book".

p.s.--legwear: snakeskin patterned jeans. yes my children mocked me. kinda like when my mother got new glasses, and when she came home wearing them, we asked why there was a playboy bunny logo on the earpiece, "what? these are playboy glasses? i didn't even notice! oh well, i'm sure no one will notice."

similarly, i said, "what? these jeans are snakeskin? i didn't even notice, the pattern's so subtle!"

but then my student ariel told me i looked like a model. i didn't, but thanks anyway, ariel! love you!


  1. Golden eye! That's the magic phrase Lara. Easier for a camel to pass through it (the golden eye of your fine and beautiful needle) than for us to enter God's presence encumbered by needless material. Mater/Martha/Material--I just made that connection, the matter that matters more than the presence of the divine--although without a home and food and physical comfort the divine one would not be stopping for a visit? God's needle is fine and binds us, seals us, and we are thread and fabric, fragile filaments bound by spinning, loom, needle--all work done by agile women's fingers.

  2. thank you for your beautiful insights, mc. you always get it.