renaissance woman or feminist reject

Here’s a thing I love to do: hang clothes on the clothesline. In fact, I just ran another hundred feet around my backyard, randomly stringing line from tree to tree, so I can now dry all of the laundry instead of just the easy stuff like sheets and towels. In Indiana, we often have wicked humidity that keeps anything from drying, and in fact actually moistens things that are already dry. But I am more determined than ever to have a smaller carbon footprint, and now we are in the Vatta season, the dry time, the days of clear, blue, hazeless skies. I am out in the yard on a beautiful Saturday, hanging out the week’s laundry, a fly buzzing my head and the sun in my eyes, when I am struck by the fact that I am very, very happy. I am right where I want to be, doing what I want to be doing in this moment. It’s a feeling that comes over me more often these days–when I’m puttering in my garden, baking bread, sauteing onions and garlic in an a decades old, well seasoned iron skillet, fluting the edges of a perfect pie dough. And I wonder at this core of domesticity in myself that makes me so, damned, happy.

Sometimes I think, possibly, I am a reject of the women’s movement that dominated my early life. My mom is of a generation of women who were much more limited in their life choices. But I read widely at a young age, I knew things were changing out there in the big world, and I was having none of that teacher-nurse-homemaker bullshit. I studied math and computer science in college when 95% of the science types were male, and all of the teachers were. The women were administrative assistants, and a few brave souls looking for something beyond what we’d been led to believe we were suited for. But I think we also bought into an idea of what women should no longer be doing, the kinds of things that were considered demeaning to women who had better things to do with their lives. Many of my friends defiantly and quite proudly don’t cook or sew. They don’t sit on the porch snapping fresh beans into a bowl or “put up” produce in cans or in the freezer. It was as if we couldn’t be modern women if we did those things or even claimed knowledge of them. My mom didn’t even do all those things past the 70’s. It was retrograde to the women’s movement. I, instead, had a career, a 401K, a nice car, a pizza place on speed dial, a hundred distracting activities and travels to keep me away from home and out of the kitchen. I put kids on hold until I was more than a decade older than when my mom had them. I had a thoroughly modern woman’s life, 180 degrees off course from my grandmother’s, but somewhere along the way I forgot how to be happy. I forgot what even made me happy. I wondered why my grandmother had always seemed so happy, ironing her stupid pillowcases with light starch and canning her stupid peaches. Over the next ten years, I searched every nook and cranny of myself and my life for Happy, and I found it in the damndest places.

Although it is still an ever-changing and, in certain moments, a still-elusive thing, (and that was, afterall, the “gift” of the women’s movement–a vastly more unlimited, and sometimes more confusing, vision of ourselves and our choices) I now know this truth about myself–that Happiness can dress itself up but it still has the face and hands of my grandmother. It smells of carmelized onions and of sun-dried laundry, of basil and bubbling yeast and the earthy tang of pulled weeds. It has dirt under it’s nails and paint on it’s clothes. It makes popcorn and listens to the radio. Happiness digs for garlic like it’s looking for gold and picks wormy apples when it finds forgotten apples trees. It warms itself by the woodstove after hauling logs through the snow in big boots. It crochets, for chrissake. It takes up every corner of the house with it’s half finished art projects, collected pine cones, coffee cups, and last weeks zinnias going dead in a jar. It dances to almost anything. It toasts an even number of matching socks with red wine in a scratched glass. It smiles broadly at the end of a simply-lived day.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 14, 2008 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Someone said, feminism is the revolutionary idea that women are people too. And as a feminist, I owe a huge gratitude of debt to generations of women and men who fought so that I, as a man, now feel I have the choices to do the things that made your grandma and you happy: baking bread, quilting, gardening, starching my pillowcases.


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