It had been a really good day.
I spent it with my friend and my baby. We had gone to the farmer’s market. To a thrift store. We bought seedling for our gardens and I bought a small shelf for six dollars. We had been talking about learning to can preserves and tomato sauce “to save money” of course, but really, just because it sounded fun. We made plans to got to the fabric store the following week so that we could begin making a quilt. “I want to have a big basket of quilts that I have made. I want it to sit by my couch so that they will keep my family warm all winter….”
We talked about the long drive to the farmer’s market being worth it because of all the money we saved when we got there. How we had been soaking beans for a large pot of beans and rice. We were oh-so-frugal.
It felt satisfying. To dig in the earth. To make things from scratch. To use my hands to make a home. It was simple. And lovely. And good.
Later that night, I had forgotten something at the market and had to run to the grocery store by my house. Six o’clock is a terrible time to go the store. It’s busy and people are haggard and the lines are long.
I walked in, it was cold. I gathered my few items. And looked around me.
Behind me there was a woman in scrubs, walking quickly but with a slight limp. I could tell she had been on her feet all day. She had two children in tow. “I’m hungry Mama!” One of them wailed. The other, older, holding up a toy army man shouted, “Mama, can I have this?” “Not today,” She replied. “We’re almost done guys, hang in there.”
As she said this she pulled three packages of frozen dinners from the freezer.
Later on, standing in line there was another family. Three kids who clearly were less than enthused by being in the grocery store at that moment. They were hanging onto the sides of the cart, tugging on their mother’s arm, poking there older siblings and pretending that they hadn’t. I sympathized. My daughter dislikes shopping too. I don’t speak Spanish, but from the inflection of their voices I could tell that they too, were hungry and wanted toys they did not need, and they too may in fact be driving their mom just a little crazy in that moment. I looked in their shopping cart. It was full of hamburger helper, neon colored soda, and hot pockets. I knew that when they got home, in fifteen minutes those children’s bellies would be full with something warm, that tasted good. And they could play with the toys they already owned, and their mother could sit down for a moment, and (finally) eat her dinner too.
I was the only white person in the store.
By the time I got home, I had lost my appetite.
I picked at my food. It was one of those moments when you wonder if you are a part of something much bigger than yourself. Something you did not know existed.
Here I was, using all my resources to build my home. To celebrate it. To make it a place of safety, creativity, and rest. And here I was, doing it all by hand, reclaiming the dying skills of the domestic arts, doing it for less money, buying locally, being green.
And then I wondered how (and why) I am able to do such things.
How much of this noble path I am on, is because I went to college. Or read the right books. Or live in a certain neighborhood. How much of it is because my husband went to grad school. And he read the right books. And now that I have done those things I have the time to “live simply” and “sustainably.” How much of it is because the resources I do have are spent on myself, not my parents or grandparents or little brother. How much of what I love and value has been formed by what I have been told is valuable. And how much (dare I say it?) of that has been granted me because of my skin color.
This was the beginning. The first inkling that my understanding of social responsibility may, in fact, have something to do with privilege. That my grand effort to live a beautiful domestic life may have more to do with where I came from than where I want to go.
Yet there is this tension. I still have to keep a home. And a budget. And a kitchen. And a life. I want to celebrate that. I want to relish it. I want to be present and simple and attentive, and in doing so not miss my life as I’m living it.
The more I scratched the surface of this dynamic, the more I found. The more I wondered what this new wave of the domestic arts meant, the more complex it became.
I have no answers. But painting for me, is a mode of thought.
So I turned to the objects in my home, and images of the wild. I put them together. I made them talk to each other. I painted over them. I struggled with them. I spent time in front of the canvas in order to spend time in front of my life.
So here is the beginning of these private conversations, hopefully the beauty and also the tension that I found there.