4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
A hundred years ago, when I was an artist and an art student and a lover and a free spirit, I wrote a manifesto on art based on Claes Oldenburg’s I am For… from 1961. And so I dug it out from under a stone, wiped off the dirt and dust, updated it for the modern Jen, and gently laid it here. It’s a good reminder that not every child needs to be controlled by a stoplight clock (I love that ding-dang thing), not every piece of art needs to be beautiful, and most importantly, I wasn’t always Mama Art.
Once upon a time, I was For an Art...
I am for an art that reveals itself unabashedly. I am for an art that keeps deep secrets.
I am for an art that lives in dark spaces under stairwells, below dark dusty beds in musty basements and other people’s garbage.
I am for an art that wanders through nightmares, places of discomfort, frustration, loss.
I am for the art of dreams, visitations by the dead, flying through the sky, talking faceless ones.
I am for the art of pink curlers, the pulling off of a doll’s head, the odor of burning doll hair on a curling iron.
I am for the art of a weighty grandfather’s tool chest carrying mysteries and tales of pain and hardship, for the steelworker and the waitress, the housewife and the businessman, and their stumbling, tumbling progeny.
I am for the art of scary clowns, sleeping babies and the stale smell of Marlboro cigarettes.
I am for the art of the squeak of leg braces, of the rising of bile in one’s throat for an unnameable fear. I am for an art of a devotion and obsession that is two parts resentment and dread and three parts pulsing, pressing, throat-clenching love.
I am for an art that witnesses moments of absurd despair and self-loathing. I am for an art that celebrates the gritty, fearsome strength of the obese woman living inside of small women.
I am for an art of too much sugar, too much color, too much pattern, too many treasures, too many thoughts, flowers, crabapples and children.
I am for an art that expands like a turnpike, repeats itself like stripmalls and is deceptively comforting like suburbia.
I am for an art of the attic, the garage sale, the folded photograph and stories handed down, once truth, now lore.
I am for an art of the clenched fist, the pinching of one’s own flesh, the scratching of skin to erase the fear, the bone and skin and muscle.
I am for an art that counts the number of days left, years of marriage, pounds lost.
I am for an art that you can hold in your hand, that makes your nose run and mucus slide down the back of your throat, that you can stare at but never see, that embarrasses you or reminds.
I am for an art of diaries, billboards, caution signs, Charlie Brown, National Geographic magazines and hastily scribbled postcards.
I am for an art that envelops you, that makes you like a rat in a maze or a fish in a bowl or a baby in a crib or a fingernail on the page of the Sunday comics.
I am for an art that stumbles and is embarrassed, looking back to see that there was nothing to stumble on, pretending to never have stumbled.
I am for an art that lifts its skirt, that throws its skirt in the air, that gingerly peeks below its skirt, that forces you to look up its skirt, that didn’t realize its skirt was tucked into its waistband.
I am for art that is honest, that tells all. I am for art that conceals in rambling sentences of excuses and sidetracks.
I am for the art of a pregnant woman trying to sit on the ground, of a child dancing a whirling dervish, of a self-conscious teenager painted and pressed and primped.
I am for the art of sticky fingers in your hair, hands clutching your skirt, your pants, your shirt, of baby fingers curled under the edge of a bra strap as a hungry mouth sucks the milk of your marrow.
I am for the art of chance, of decision, of a changed mind, of a coincidence.
I am for the art of duty and honor, fear and betrayal, of resentment and jealousy, of humor and serendipity.
I am for the art of spinning until you throw up, of a lover’s sweaty embrace, of realizing you were wrong, of flipping through the TV channels, of wanting to be liked, of hating the way these pants fit, of a child’s tantrum, of laughing until your stomach hurts, of a beeping alarm on a hospital machine in the master bedroom, of telling a hurtful truth, of ads and radio jingles that you hum all day, of black magic markers and shiny house paint breathed deeply.
I am for an art of more, more, more. At all cost.
(I write this as part of the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge, Manifesto, as a tribute to Claes Oldenburg’s chutzpah and as a reminder to myself that I am still for an art.)