I think I may have gotten a little off track lately. In my efforts to notice and appreciate the beauty and richness of daily life, I have gotten bogged down by endless grey rainy days. When focusing in and looking deeper into my own life doesn’t seem to do the trick, apparently I need to turn the lens to the world beyond these four walls – figuratively speaking. It gets a little claustrophobic in here… Yesterday’s sunrise was a welcome relief, but this morning’s wind-blown rain was giving me trouble holding onto that “beauty in every moment” thing. I think that sometimes, its the richness of life outside of my immediate environment that enhances the inside. I’ve already mentioned that taking my camera with me changes the way I perceive the world, but my camera lives with me and it doesn’t always seem to do the trick at home. Maybe I should take one whole week and only photograph things and people within my house… but not this week.
I began a new book today. One of the benefits of being “forced” to exercise indoors is that I read more. After once again abandoning the idea of errands on foot with doggies, I picked up the book that has been calling to me from the top of my pile, waving its hand and saying “me, next” like an over-eager kindergartner. Its a book called, “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde. As I read the introduction, I knew that I was on a slippery slope. I should have recognized the symptoms yesterday when I started talking about “the gift” of the sunrise, and Alain De Botton’s article on art. Suddenly, the language and the references were all familiar and I was in over my head. I flashed back 20 years to graduate school. Then I realized what I have been stalking for all these years… I don’t think I can sum it up, because, as I just said, I’m in over my head. Some of the greatest minds in recent history in the fields of anthropology, linguistics and philosophy have already written about and discussed this issue well beyond my capacity to put it all together. My graduate work was in french literature. The names that I suddenly encountered in Lewis Hyde’s references were all familiar: Mauss, Levi-Strauss, Bataille, Derrida. All french … So all of a sudden, my brain is working overtime, trying to string together gift economies, the creation of art, stay-at-home parenting, indigenous ritual, etc. Can you see the wheels turning? Can you see why I am over my head in even attempting to write about this stuff? Its been 20 years since I last read these works and yet out of the blue they have an immediate relevance to my own thinking. The one thing I can confidently speak to is the idea that when we give something, we create relationships where we find meaning quite unlike the relationships that exist in the marketplace, where value is determined monetarily. The idea that appeals to me deeply is that the things we freely give ourselves to are what allow us to experience the fullness of our humanity. Ideally, parenting (stay-at-home or otherwise) is one of those things. It is a gift. Something given without expectation of return. I would argue that it falls squarely into the lineage of the gift economies discussed and explored in great detail by some of the above named authors. The reason this is important to me is that I truly believe that our culture is long overdue for a realignment in such a way that human beings are valued not for what they accumulate, but for who they are and for what they give of themselves to enrich the life of the larger human community.
So, now to get myself out of this and back to something more concrete… I spent a lot of today with a camera in hand. As a matter of fact, I ran the battery dead in one camera doing head shots of 7th graders for a teacher appreciation day gift. I had my new toy, the Canon s90, a fancy little point and shoot, in my purse for emergency purposes. When I got to the grocery store later, I found myself captivated by the displays. Usually, grocery shopping follows a specific plan. I start in the produce section and move through the store gathering the things on my list as I go. I arrive at the far side of the store, check the list to make sure its all there, and head to the check-stand. Not so today. I spent over an hour and a half wandering around finding things on my list, but getting distracted between items, checking out beautiful labels and shooting rows of olive oil and piles of peppers. The olive bar got two visits; one of which included a conversation about this writing with a man who congratulated me on being a stay-at-home mom. I’d like to thank you, if you are out there… I never imagined I’d meet someone at the olive bar who wanted to talk to me about my blog! I got so hungry mid-shopping that I stashed my cart, bought a piece of pizza, sat down and ate it and reviewed the images I had captured so far. When I returned to my cart, I still had a few more things on the list that required a few more detours through aisles of artistically arranged bottles, bags and jars.
Once again, the camera does the trick. Camera as metaphor… change the lens. Value is all in the way we perceive things. Whether its art, parenting, or grocery-shopping, I may not be able to change the culture I live in, but I can change the way I see things and accord them the honor they deserve.
I’m a little out of the practice of writing literary essays on post-modern french thought, and I’ve probably neglected to tie up some loose ends up there, but if I go back and try to make sure it all comes together, I will really be on a slippery slope. I will more than likely find myself still sitting here with my eyes burning a couple of hours from now. So tied up or untied, thats it for now.