A couple of months ago, my friend, Julie, gave me an unexpected gift. She had woven an exquisite purple and blue scarf on her own loom. The warp yarn was a light taupe that ended in long, skinny tassels. It was not just that the scarf was objectively beautiful, but it was twice as meaningful because she had made it herself. It will be months before I can wear it here in steamy North Carolina, but I left it out on my dresser for days, just so that I could look at it several times a day. Julie used to work with me at the library, but has been home for a couple of years and has had time to take all the classes necessary to take her weaving from live sheep to finished product. As far as I know, though, she hasn’t acquired any sheep for her subdivision lot.
Looking at this brilliant scarf, I was seized with the desire to get back to all of my needlecrafts. So many people knit these days that I even asked another friend to teach me to knit. I’ve tried to knit before, but my sweaters would never fit anyone, since they are wide and narrow, wide and narrow. Does this have something to do with my stress level? In any case, I reminded myself that I’ve had an Amish bear claw quilt in the works for almost a decade, so perhaps I should finish that first. You know what’s wrong with hand quilting? Ironing. You have to jump up and down to iron as you go. Nobody thinks of ironing as an art.
J.R.R. Tolkien theorized in his essay On Faerie Stories that human beings create because we are made in the image and likeness of God, who is the Creator. Tolkien called us sub-creators. Within each of us is the urge—the drive—to create. One must admit that he lived up to this in his own life, building a fully-realized world in his stories of Middle Earth.
Most of us do not rise to that level of creativity. We will never be hailed as the new Michelangelo or Shakespeare, and yet we want to make beauty in our lives. It is as if the creative urge in our lives were dry soil, which, if left alone, will grow drier and drier until we are parched and cracked and cannot support life. However, when we create, we work and water that soil so that all sorts of life can spring from it.
Edith Schaeffer, the wife of the late theologian Francis Schaeffer, wrote a book called The Hidden Art of Homemaking. Schaeffer’s belief was that all of us can be artistic within our everyday surroundings by setting a beautiful table, planting a garden, decorating our home, making our own clothes, playing music, or any number of ordinary activities done with love and care.
When I was a stay-at-home mom for seventeen years, I lived this vision to the fullest. I ground organic wheat myself to make all of my family’s bread. I made my own skirts, crocheted my own afghans, made my own jam with berries I picked myself, and canned my own vegetables. I was a veritable Little Red Hen. My herb garden was cut into geometric patterns with walkways in between. I used hand-made paper to create my own Christmas cards. I cross-stitched Christmas stockings and smocked as much as one can as the mother of a little boy. Thank goodness I have lots of nieces. I read like mad, kept a journal, and wrote newsletters for our homeschool support group.
About ten years ago, our lives crashed down around us—I may write about that one day—and I had to go to work. I discovered that a bachelor’s degree and a part-time job would not support us, so I went to graduate school at age 47 and then to a full-time job. Needless to say, it is tough to do all of those creative things I described in two hours per night, even if you can muster up the energy. Think of the way most people today live their lives. We get up, get ready for work, are away from our homes all day, come home and make dinner, get some laundry done or other chores to get ready for the next day, and hopefully have an hour or so left. Add kids, their school schedule and outside activities, and it’s a wonder we’re still sane. Can you be creative after all that, or will you just be numb? Usually, we opt for vegging in front of the TV.
However, our crazy schedules and the fact that most of us are in sterile work spaces all day does not erase our human need to create. As a matter of fact, it may make the pain of that unfulfilled need even sharper. Three or four years ago, I was depressed and battling malaise, and I finally said to my husband, “I have just got to get my hands in the dirt. I need to grow something.” We had lived here for six or seven years and had never planted a garden. As I’ve said before, our back yard slopes down, so our only option was raised beds in boxes. It worked. We started with four boxes, but working with the soil and then the plants helped to heal my soul. Maybe I can only work in it on weekends and little bit on weeknights, but it’s something.
A few years later, I was determined to learn piano, figuring that I liked music, so why not? I was dedicated for two years, but I only progressed to a point, and then I realized that it was cutting into my reading time, and reading is much more important to me than piano. From this experience I learned that, to be restorative to you, your art must express who you are, not someone else whom you admire. I can be an audience for musicians, rather than trying to join them. I have decided the same thing about painting, despite several classes and some early attempts 30 years ago. Do you remember the movie Benny and Joon? I’m not sure that I’d hang Joon’s paintings in my living room, but they were obviously expressing something deep inside her and allowing her to communicate with her world.
Now I read more, still garden, and am trying to write. Occasionally, if I have enough time and money, my cooking may be creative enough to delight my family. I’ll jump out there and put gardenias in a navy teapot, and, as you can see in the hanging herbs picture above, I painted my bathroom Vintage Teal. No, it is not named after me, thank you very much. One of these days, I’m sure that I’ll get back to that quilt, and maybe even finish it. Who knows? After I retire, I may learn to knit.
What about you? How do you express your soul in a way that creates beauty in the world and satisfies that very human need to create? Do you need more quiet stillness to figure it out? Do you need talent, or just desire? Whatever you need to do, take just one step toward your desire. Water the dry soil of your soul, and we can all watch and rejoice in the life that grows from it.