All day I listen to a steady stream of pick-ups spurt their way up our steep gravel drive past my cabin on their way to view the foreclosure on the hilltop (while I attempt to revise a couple of poems). I could easily blame other physical and psychic invasions: a stack of winter rejections, my husband painting the bathroom, the smell of the primer pervading the house when I come in to dose my coffee with whipping cream and brown sugar, the plaintive cries of our feral cat Emma ascending the trail. But really it’s just the tailspin of the school year’s demise (with its attendant overwhelming list of activities to perform before summer begins).
Fortunately, I’m in the middle of reading Lewis Hyde: “You work at a task, you work and work and still it won’t come right. Then, when you’re not even thinking about it, while spading the garden or stepping onto the bus, the whole thing pops into your head, the missing grace bestowed” (The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, p. 62). Catnaps and down-spires, then, are just as valid as chair time (writing time), so I eventually give in, turn off the light and rest on the futon. Hyde also asserts, “There is a reciprocal labor in the maturation of a talent. The gift will continue to discharge its energy so long as we attend to it in return (p. 62).”
Attending to my writer’s calling means rest as well as escaping to view the work of others. Last month sculptor-Mom Sandy spirited me away to see Stories Seldom Told: A feminist retelling of some familiar and not-so-familiar Biblical stories (written and directed by Lizann Bassham) featuring powerful monologues threaded together with a song titled, “Someone Ought to Know.” The cast wore long vibrant silk dresses (each had her own color) and the singing served to soothe the gravity of the tales; a few vignettes provided comic relief (Pamela Tinnin turned in exceptionally humorous performances as an aunt and as the woman at the well).
I came away thinking: what would it be like to be the sister of Judas? Actress Krissy Campbell movingly portrayed the sister’s sense of culpability...should she have foreseen? shielded? brother Judas from his fate? And what of Irid, Lot’s wife, turning back for one last glance at her daughters? What of women who gave of their bodies in exchange for the safekeeping of their families in times of war? (Could we extend our blessings, rather than our scorn, for their ingenuity to use the currency of skin?) Such anecdotes of hardship abound not only in our past, but in our midst, the director conveyed—and then gave the audience several ways to take action: lighting a candle in honor of a seldom-told-story in one’s own lives, or making a donation to The Living Room (a support group for women who are homeless as well as their children).
Perhaps this otherwise free performance enacted Hyde’s theory on giving one’s gift for the benefit of others, though I’ll be sure to update you once I’ve caught up on sleep (and am able to finish, without nodding off, The Gift with its back cover blurb promise: “...A brilliant defense of the value of creativity and its importance in a culture increasingly governed by money and overrun with commodities”). Do the words “poetry”and “money” belong in the same sentence? I didn’t used to think so, but now I have three children and a husband working like a madman to feed us. I want to feed us too. Help, Hyde, does such a theory of unpaid gifts apply to poet, musician, and artist mothers circulating their gifts right now, today?