Sunday, September 11, 2016

Domestic Me, Writing Updates, I Worked in an Art Gallery

Some of you may have read of my great tote-bag sewing victory of a few weeks ago. Next, I shall sew skirts, under the careful tutelage of my friend Frankie. I know I shall sew skirts because I got a 25% off coupon for Joanne’s in the mail recently, and today I went and spent it on fabric—some beautiful deep-pink jacquard butterfly-patterned fabric, and some cute retro faux-suede cowboy-patterned fabric. I’m looking forward to learning how to sew skirts, but mostly I’m looking forward to telling everyone I made the skirts myself. As someone who has been sewing-adverse to the point of phobia for most of my life, this new-found love of sewing has been a revolution.

A while back, I was talking to one of my senior volunteers, a former home economics teacher, about how important domestic skills are and how unfortunate it is that they’re not taught anymore. Me, of all people, had that conversation. I remember taking Home Ec in junior high, and rolling my little pre-teen eyes at it constantly. I associated it with everything that modern women’s magazines found wrong with it: it was old-fashioned, irrelevant, retrograde, and silly, not to mention disempowering and demeaning. Plus, I was naturally incompetent: I cut my finger literally to the bone trying to sew a felt locker organizer, and my home-made grape soda exploded. My egg-baby rolled off my desk and broke, and my teacher did not appreciate my highly sarcastic essay about why he died.  (A tortured musical genius, he jumped to his death when his latest opus bombed with the critics.)  One semester of that and I was over it. I made incompetence on the home front a point of pride. No one was going to trap me in some suburban housefrau’s nightmare. I was going to move to a city and work in an art gallery. I was meant for better things than laundry and cooking and mending socks. I regret my rebellion now. In my terror of being “trapped” by domesticity, I spent years resisting skills that are actually quite empowering, and I count sewing among those. I know there’s been a hipster resurgence of crafting over the last few years, but certain core domestic skills are still intrinsically intertwined with female disempowerment, and I think that’s really unfortunate. There’s nothing inherently anti-female about knowing how to remove a coffee stain from white linen, or the right ratio of bleach to water for mopping linoleum.  

I finally finished my sestina yesterday, and for old time’s sake, I went ahead and sent it off to a well-known lit mag, just to see if it will get any traction. I’m scheduled for a poetry reading in November, and my goal is to have five new poems ready for it. So far, I have two that I am confident in, two that are very personal and that I’m not sure about, and one that’s a little lame, but I’m not quite ready to let go of yet. I need to keep a notebook by my bedside. I keep waking up with poem ideas in the dead of night, then promptly forgetting them. Maybe it’s because they’re not really that good, but you never know. On the novel front: After a recent e-mail exchange with a publisher who was very generous with her time, I’m going to do a full re-write of the first 100 pages and start the submission process over. She’s offered to have me submit the full manuscript after an edit, which is exciting, because it’s not a “no”. So, yay? I’ll take it as victory, however small and unsure.

(By the way, I did eventually move to a city and briefly, worked in an art gallery. It wasn't that great. I had to deal with a lot of serious weirdos, and it paid almost nothing.)

--Kristen McHenry

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