Monday, July 11, 2005

I [Heart] my Library

The dude and I are on a budgetary diet while I am unemployed. Our biggest expense seems to be books. (Okay, it's really his SEPTA pass, but that's so much less interesting.) So we've been hoofing it over to the local libary. It's only about a mile away, but you'd think we were aliens the way people look at us as we walk through the Exton Mall parking lot. (The dude really is an alien, but I digress.) I've discovered the joys of living with books without owning them. I've loved being able to page through craft books before deciding just to make the one project before I bring it back. (How many craft books did I own just to make one project out of each? Oh yeah, it was five boxes.) I've checked out Simple Knits for Sophisticated Living (how stupid is knitting an off-white floor runner?), Yarn Girls' Guide to Simple Knits (I see a sweater in the dude's future), and Stitch 'n Bitch Nation (and it doesn't have flames on the sleeves).

But I also want to read by the pool. So I picked up Knitting Sutra, which I have been meaning to read for years. And I forgot I meant to read it in the pool, and read it the moment I got home. In one go. I'm pretty ambivalent about it. I'm not what you would call a spiritual person by any stretch of the imagination. In the mind-body-spirit connection, I'm so mind-oriented that my body often throws itself in the way of furniture so that my brain feels the pain and remembers that it's attached. Spirit? Dude, I'm postmodern.

The book reminded me of when I taught the writing course associated with Gloria Orenstein's Feminist Theory course. During the course introduction, she was reliving--and I mean that almost literally--the early days of the woman's movement. I thought, how wonderful that we're going to get this firsthand account, with, of course, additional intellectual content. (And it was, for the most part.) But then Professor O started talking about her recent shamanistic journey. "The spirits can hurt you," she told the Orange County teens. Fuck, I thought, we've lost them now. (And I was right, for the most part.)

I like the idea of connecting with my spirit, so long as it has nothing to do with a higher power. I like the idea that the repetitive and introspective actions of knitting or cross-stitch could be the place I connect with my spirit. I'm not much for the shamanistic, but nature I can do. I loved the early parts of the book when she connected craft to contemplation, "like the counting of the rosary, the motions of needlework are singularly well suited to the practice of contemplation" (4). And connected us to the others:

with each piece of handwork that I do, I connect with the centuries of women who cultivated their inner lives and expressed them through the humble works of their hands. The making of crafts can be, at the same time, both solitary and communal in equal measure. (5)

I didn't even mind when she speculated about women we know nothing about. But there was something about the way she dabbled in spirituality--shamanism, Sufi, Arica--that really bothered me. I guess in some way it's the "Orientalism" of it--the way she chases after the exotic other--and in some cases does that literally. [I find it more than a little coincidental that both Susan Gordon Lydon and Gloria Orenstein are post-diaspora Jews. Makes you think. Is it their disconnection from their homeland that causes them to seek? And why in traditions that are "less intellectual" than Judaism?] While it's sort of obvious to connect knitters to "Spider Woman"--both Lydon and Deborah Bergman do--why is it so necessary? Why not Philomela? That is, why an origin myth and not a story about the silencing of women? Oh right, spirituality is about The Beginning. Or is it?

See? Ambivalent.

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