(and Etsy, and crafty blogs, and…)
Three years ago, I came upon a popular blog that kind of changed my life. It seemed to have it all–sustainable living, peaceful, joyful family life, relaxed homeschooling, great food, plenty of outdoor time, lots of good books, and abundant handmade crafty goodness–captured in friendly, relaxed prose and appealing, soft-focus photographs.
I bought this blogger’s book. I waited impatiently for every new post. I took up knitting again, this time with a vengeance. I learned to sew (finally, for real this time.) I broke out my sketchbooks and pencils once again. I made my own yogurt and cheese and bread. I set up lovely, natural, seasonal crafty projects for my kids.
Now, I was kind-of sort-of doing all (or at least most) of those things already, or had done them in childhood. But this blogger reminded me of things I’d forgotten I loved; things that, when I took them up again, changed my life because they helped me keep myself much, much better company–knitting and sewing and baking and gardening got me out of my head and into my body and my surroundings somehow, in a way that was really, really good.
Making things feeds something in us. I do think we humans are made to make things. There is a satisfaction that comes from completing a project–however mundane or marvelous–that is about more than just survival; more than just ‘getting by’ and passing along our genes or whatever. The impulse to make beauty and order–whether we’re simply talking about transforming dirty clothes to fresh, folded ones, raw ingredients like flour and butter and salt into puff pastry, or cast-away junk into something usable and pretty–is God-given.
There’s a story about the early years of ‘ready-mix’ type foods that tells about a ‘complete’ cake mix that flopped with consumers: it contained everything–powdered eggs, milk, and fat–and so required only the addition of water. There wasn’t enough creative work to do, so the mixes were re-engineered to require the addition of oil, eggs, and water–simple enough to offer convenience worth paying for, but involved enough to allow the consumer to feel that she was still being creative. Commercial recipes–like the ‘classic’ green bean casserole–involved mixing together convenience foods into novel creations.
Artifacts that seem funny now–like elaborately molded Jell-O salads (“if you made a Jell-O mold, you had made a meal!” a lady who’d been a 50s housewife once told me) and like the Bedazzler speak to the unease with which we’ve entered a world where it’s possible to do very little for our own sustenance. How many of us farm, or make our own clothes, or even our own music and drama and entertainment, as most people have done most places throughout most of history?
If you don’t make your own clothes, Bedazzle them. If you make a dessert from a mix, then put it in a fancy mold with nuts and marshmallows and whatever else. And if you don’t have time to do whatever crafty-foodie-artsy thing you wish you had time/money/energy to do…you could always just hang around Pinterest, or SouleMama, or Martha Stewart.com, or whatever. Even the dream of creating is powerful.
So, anyway, when I rediscovered making things–something I’d loved as a child–it felt like part of me was awakened. It felt weirdly powerful to have knitting needles and know how to use them. I have to credit rediscovering craftiness with the re-discovery of my love for writing. Making things–from paper and pencil, fabric and fiber, flour and fat–felt powerful. If I could make something worth wearing/seeing/eating, maybe I could write something worth reading/hearing/pondering.
Here’s where it got tricky for me, though: online, the line between what’s inspiring and what’s discouraging can be blurry, and I can only think it’s because of the careful edits. Ann Voskamp surely gets mosquito bites out there in God’s gorgeous creation. The most peaceful, attachment-parenting crunchy mamas get angry, pop in a DVD, and call for take-out, they just don’t write/photograph/blog those stories.
There’s a reason blogs like CakeWrecks and Awkward Family Photos (the anti-Pinterest and anti-Instagram!) are also popular: they bless us with the truth that everyone and everything is sometimes–even often–as messed up as we (and our families, and the stuff we try to make) are. They offer us the promise that even the screwiest of screw-ups can be redeemed into something, even if it’s just the sacrament of laughter.
We love Pinterest and the like because we’re creatures created to create, and creating feeds something in us that demands to be fed. But not all creations–certainly not the most important ones–can be photographed, pinned, blogged, or otherwise ‘sold.’ They are the ones that open us to ourselves, to each other, to God, and to the world, in thousands of visible and invisible ways: the tears dried with a gentle touch, the I’m sorry whispered with sincerity, the love that covers every flaw even if only for a few fleeting seconds.
At the end of it, all of our making strives toward this. Command + C those moments, and pin them in your heart.