Back to the Farm: A Thanksgiving Note

I’ve an old print of Grant Wood’s, “Spring Harvest”, that hangs over the stereo in the livingroom. It was my mom’s but I suspect before that it was my grandmother’s.

My grandmother’s family came from Iowa, my father’s from Illinois. On both sides I come from hard-working stock; my paternal relatives being noted brick masons in Elgin; my mother’s family owned one of the original farm homesteads in Sierra Madre, California.

But in more recent branches of the family tree, they turned their backs from the farm and bricks and towards the better life promised with education, white collars, and city living. Both my maternal grandparents (and both of my parents) attended UC Berkeley. They were the last generation to work the family farm, selling it and moving into a small suburban house only a stone’s throw from the farm. The two women (my mom and grandmother) were both well-versed in the English language. Good penmanship, proper grammar and correct spelling were a virtue second to none unless it was to the reverence for books and reading. In only one short  generation the transition was complete: no longer working class but educated middle class.

One of my earliest memories of my grandmother – and it was never grandma, or nana, or anything but the proper “grandmother”  – was the grandmother to which I wrote letters. I remember trying to be a dutiful daughter by sending my “thank yous” and such after gifts arrived, and I remember struggling, even at a very young 4- or 5-years old, to find the right words to write. I did what I could but it never flowed. It never felt natural. It was always a chore: not because I didn’t have a suitable vocabulary but because I was so afraid of making a spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistake.

Through my school years writing never came easily. I had things to say but often battled to meet the minimum words required to pass the assignment. It took practice and graduate school before I overcame some of those difficulties. Still, I’m not the most verbose writer. I’m told I’m deliberate.

I’ve been a visual artist for a while. That calling popped up as some of my other passions did: cycling, knitting for example. With that too it took a while for me to acknowledge that I was an artist. However, after a couple of juried shows and sales of many prints I just couldn’t deny it. The images I printed came to me who-knows-how. They just came and I felt compelled to manifest them into prints. For several  years I had no shortage of inspiration.

But, then my mom died. For some reason, with her passing words forced their way out. I had things to write. It wasn’t that I lost my visual muse, it was that I had to write. I started carrying a journal everywhere and working with words. Sometimes they came in sentences other times short phrases. I wrote haiku, poetry, prose, essays, travel notes, and recipes filling several chap books.

As the words gained momentum the prints slowed but in between a series of prints with words emerged: “Bird Songs” was completed in a letterpress class and is the compilation of those works. That was a few years ago and now the words seem to have full control of my creative energy. Sure, I can still pound out a print or a collage but the inspiration is not there. At times I can feel it’s still in me just as years ago the words were, they are just withdrawn for now but they’ll be back.

It’s with gratitude that I press the keys that make the words and sentences I post. It’s therapeutic for me to write now. It calms me, helps me think, and lets me get lost: removing me from my home in the city, with all of its challenges, and takes me back to a place I need to be. It takes me to a place I can farm the language for the words that sustain me.

The past weeks have been, and the coming weeks will be, a bit hectic and lacking in writing time so if my posts are lacking know that I’ll be back soon. There’s a crop to bring in.

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