On Making: Ancestral Creativity

My grandparents in the 50’s, near the start of their adventure of living an ordinary, hard working, creative life.

Heading out my front door as a child I had great choices.  I could turn towards the right through the yard and maze of rose bushes, to the tree house, back fields, or tiger lilies. If I went straight ahead I could climb the pines, skip down the gravel drive, or jump the fence to the horse. And if I turned left I’d pass or enter the barn… the scent of woody of lumber in my dad’s shop and mill and also the concrete cavern of my uncle’s metal shop. If I passed by the barn it would be because he was running the saw (never come up behind a craftsman when the saw is running!) so I was headed for the windbreak, the sawdust pile (a small mountain bigger than the barn) or the dump hidden in the woods of the back pasture. Staying inside meant I’d likely hear either the whirr of my mother’s sewing machine or of her baking in the kitchen.

I come from a family of makers.

I remember pencils behind ears, clipboards on the side tables, the click of my Grandmother’s needles, and rows of triangle eyes on the faces of Raggedy-Ann dolls lined up for sale. I remember meals and clothes made, not bought, the scratch of someone sketching, the rhythmic sound of scissors… harack-harack-harack on the table when she cut out a new pattern. I remember finding my mother’s poems printed out and placed in scrapbooks, her heavy SLR camera, and hours hiding behind bolts of fabric in the store while she shopped.

Every day of my childhood I knew where to find wood scraps, fabric and metal scraps, sewing notions, paint, crayons, glue, paper, hammers, nails, work space, and help. I knew that if you needed something, it’s best to see if you can make it first. I knew that when you have a really good idea for something that people need, they will pay you to make it. If you have an excellent idea that a lot of people will want, you start a business and maybe even get a patent. But also, that most ideas won’t result in profit and that’s not the only reason to pursue them. I learned that work weeks have seven days and that it more than okay for the shop lights to be on after dark. Whatever it took to get the job done. This also included a sacred set of minutes we referred to as, “break time.” I learned that ideas are endless; if one doesn’t pan out, another one will. Just keep going. Yagottawanna.

Making requires space, supplies, time, and ideas.

Making things is a lifestyle, a philosophy, and it’s embedded into my family’s DNA code. I’m not surprised when my sailor-son tells me he wants both an education in higher math and to take over the wood shop. I’m not surprised when my daughter sets out to sew the perfect bra. Yesterday, another son started shopping for welding supplies and the youngest changed his art major. I began a new screenplay, continued work on a pastel and learned a filmmaking trick for work. Pick a minute and I can promise my mom and sister are probably quilting, my dad is probably building, and all of us are juggling more ideas than there is time to explore.

Side note: maybe the reason why we also all have genetically bad necks is because our brains are developed too far to the right. Hmmm….

When my daughter moved out a few weeks ago, I got her room. This space is the first dedicated creative space I’ve had since I started having babies; our houses were always too small and the babies too many for a Room of My Own. But seasons change and in here I now write, draw, paint, dance, research, work, film, edit, dream, think, and plan. Every morning when I come inside, I feel I’m coming home.

It’s nice to no longer vie for space at the kitchen table or to have to pack up mid-project to make room for something else, although that’s better than not making at all. I did, after all, make 5 humans and raise them; motherhood requires creative energy unlike anything else in the world. Those babies were my tribe and I miss our little adventures. Even as demanding as those years were, a creative mind never really stops. Ideas would wend their way through my mind only to be left on scattered scraps of paper, the fallen leaves of thoughts never fully brought into fruition soon composting down into the soil,  becoming food for the next fertile moment I could sneak into the years of responsibility.

I can feel the fertility of ideas in this emptying-nest time.

When I think back on how I was raised, I don’t remember lots of words. I don’t remember lectures, team practices, schedules, screens or even silence. I remember the sounds of industry. I remember shared ideas. I call back to play that looked like work and work that felt like play. I hope I’ve passed it onto my kids…even though as millennials they will remember lectures, schedules, screens and silence. Those great-grands who came for the railroad, who built houses and everything that went inside, those people are in our bones and blood.