Posted by: minnow | October 10, 2010

Jumping Off

I obviously have been a bit distracted by school.  I do not even check Facebook daily–wow! Still I have been having a grand time going back, especially in my 3D Design class.  Our most recent project has me thinking a lot about women, my generation of women in particular, and the idea of feminism.  Our assignment was to have a conversation with or to interview someone we have never spoken to and know nothing about.  Then we are to create a sculpture using that conversation/interview as a jumping off point. 

When our instructor first gave the assignment I knew I wanted to talk to a woman.  I also thought about dropping in on the Janette Rankin Peace Center since I am interested in a variety of social and political issues.  In the end however, I decided to take a less overt route and knocked on the door of a woman in the creative writing program at the U.  My limited research prior to talking with her lead me to believe she was a poet.  As it turned out she is primarily a memoirist.  Her book, Breaking Clean, hit the New York Times bestseller list a few years back and she currently is the creative non-fiction area of the graduate creative writing program. 

Like many of the women who wrote Judy Blunt after Breaking Clean came out, I can resonate with her story–the details differ of course but the core hit home.  Her book, at least to the point I have read so far, tells about her roots, where she came from and the ways in which that beginning has shaped her present.  Isolated in Eastern Montana she was raised with limited options and strict gender divisions, even in the late 60s and early 70s.  She had no luxury of childhood and the work ethic she was raised with has spent her body.  In that regard I noted, not regret so much as a slight disappointment in her assessment of her present, as if that work ethic had failed her the way it had failed its share of homesteaders.

Later when I asked Ms Blunt how she self identified she almost whispered, “I whistle past that graveyard.”  Like so many other women of her (and my) generation Ms Blunt was taught to see herself by what she produced–children, a garden, a hearty meal.  Feminism was a theory.  Though she almost admits where she stands with the question, “Aren’t all women who decide to tell their stories a bit feminist?”  No placards.  No solidarity marches.  No unnecessary posturing.  Just a story.  An offering.

The sculpture I imagine is large.  I do not know if I will actually be able to construct it.  I see metal and barbed wire and dirt.  I see many hands, rough edges, broken pieces, and something new, something I haven’t figured out yet.  Blunt’s story triggered many images for me.  The sculpture I want to create won’t be about ease. Or comfort.  Or even success.  It will be about survival.  And not even survival that is ultimately triumphant.  It will be about making it to the other side, knowing you put one foot in front of the other, and made it to the other side.  If there is not another step in you, so be it. 

This sculpture (not the one I will create so much as the one I will still need to create when my skills begin to better match my vision) is indeed a jumping off point for me.  You see, I see myself as a passionate humanist.  I woman who wants to tell the stories of women, not because women’s stories are better than men’s or more important than men’s but rather because in my experience they have been so sadly underrepresented.  As evidence, I just spent a couple of hours looking up contemporary artists for my Art Crit class.  Out of more than 400 hundred listed I saw perhaps 80 women (I did not do a completely accurate count).  Yet surely in today’s world the ratio of men to women making art is not actually 5 to 1.   

I have always wanted to tell stories–In college I dabbled in poetry and playwriting as a means to that end.  Now I am trying my hand at art.  And the truth is many stories are out there just waiting to be told.  Some are stories I can tell, whether as a writer or an artist.  All are stories others, men and women alike, need to hear so their own stories can be made richer.

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