Saturday, January 5, 2008

Time, Art, and Sacred Space

Memories entwine, a skein of visions, half-recalled moments, bits of poetry and prose until there is a need to pull something specific from the tumbled masse. Even then, one is sometimes surprised by what is delivered to the conscious awareness.

Salon recently published an article by Cary Tennis entitled Go away, can't you see I'm writing?! that sent me on an internal journey to Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique. Theoretically, they are connected by a root of feminist philosophy. While this is true, their relationship is deeper for me, however bleak.

The arguments Virginia Woolf introduced over seventy-four years ago in her slim but monumental A Room of One's Own, are still relevant today. When I first was led to the book, I felt the way countless other women felt when they read Betty Friedan's book---someone had articulated a problem facing women--my issues--and once the problem was "identified", it would not , could not, be silenced. Regardless of which field of art a woman is attracted towards, the reality is that it remains a struggle to seek and retain resources of time, money, and the peace delivered by "A room of one's own" in the pursuit to create.

The need to have a "sacred space" to create is vital for artists, but often women share their "creative space" with others, putting their own expressive needs aside to make room for dinner, children, or a myriad of other interruptions that delay or entirely halt the creative process. Woolf beautifully offers justification of space as a key element for the woman writer :

"One goes into the room –– but the resources of the English language would be much put to the stretch, and whole flights of words would need to wing their way illegitimately into existence before a woman could say what happens when she goes into a room. The rooms differ so completely; they are calm or thunderous; open on to the sea, or, on the contrary, give on to a prison yard; are hung with washing; or alive with opals and silks; are hard as horsehair or soft as feathers –– one has only to go into any room in any street for the whole of that extremely complex force of femininity to fly in one's face. How could it be otherwise? For women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated with their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics."
---Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own
(New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1957) 91.

While one might put pens, paper, or even a computer aside, it is yet more difficult for the artist whose medium is something other than language. Material considerations flood forth, and the
issue of space then keenly competes with the reality of costs associated with one's art. Is it any wonder why most individuals are hard-pressed to cite the names of ten women artists when you recognize the Atlantean struggles women painters and sculptors have had to endure to create then have their work be noticed?

There was an excellent article in the UK's Telegraph about Claude Cahun, a talented surrealist photographer from the 1920's whose work remained lost to us until the 1990's when it was re-discovered. How many other women artists are lost in the mists of time, their work destroyed, unappreciated, or simply unknown?

Distraction... invention... experience....even the discounting of one's own worth are part of the "recipe" women bring to the creative expression. Moments stolen in time are alchemically transformed into a visual mandate for vita, life.

Many years ago I stumbled across a poem that has haunted me ever since. I've danced with the poem over the years and now understand what words and images will never touch. The poem follows:

Woman Enough

Because my grandmother's hours
were apple cakes baking,
& dust motes gathering,
& linens yellowing
& seams and hems
inevitably unraveling
I almost never keep house
though really I like houses
& wish I had a clean one.

Because my mother's minutes
were sucked into the roar
of the vacuum cleaner,
because she waltzed with the washer-dryer
& tore her hair waiting for repairmen
I send out my laundry,
& live in a dusty house,
though really I like clean houses
as well as anyone.

I am woman enough
to love the kneading of bread
as much as the feel
of typewriter keys
under my fingers
springy, springy.
& the smell of clean laundry
& simmering soup
are almost as dear to me
as the smell of paper and ink.

I wish there were not a choice;
I wish I could be two women.
I wish the days could be longer.
But they are short.
So I write while
the dust piles up.

I sit at my typewriter
remembering my grandmother
& all my mothers,
& the minutes they lost
loving houses better than themselves
& the man I love cleans up the kitchen
grumbling only a little
because he knows
that after all these centuries
it is easier for him
than for me.

~~ Erica Mann Jong~~

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