Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
I remember reading Martha Nussbaum’s Sex and Social Justice in graduate school; in it, she argues that we are all “body workers,” that every human is embodied and therefore uses some physicality to perform our work. It’s just that the product of some people’s work is divorced from our bodies, so the work is considered more dignified. I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot lately, because it feels like my body is falling apart. This is most evident in my hands, where I have a recurring ganglion cyst (that came back even after surgery removed it two years ago) in my left hand and carpal tunnel in both. There were days last week when my hands were visibly inflamed with tinges of bruising. And I know why they’re flaring up right now, too: my main work involves carrying around my four-month-old — and sometimes her three-year old sister, too. My secondary work as a writer doesn’t exactly help, yet somehow, no matter how much my hands ache, I can’t give up my writing.
Then there’s my sewing pile, a bucket teeming with bits of felt, scraps of flannels, snippets of ribbons, and buttons of all shapes and sizes. If I stay away from them for too long, or spend too much time grading my students’ papers, I start itching to make something. It’s funny how often a “productive” day in my world doesn’t actually produce anything. Mary Choi touches on this topic in this month’s Wired; her article “The Second Shift” asserts “if you want to be a maker of things — or at minimum avoid a quietly desperate life in front of the television — you have a responsibility to head down to the workshop.” Choi’s essay argues that hobbies, as long as they don’t take too much time away from families and jobs, actually enhance every aspect of our lives. It’s like we were made to make things. So while disembodied work (if there is such a thing) might be more respected (and I think Nussbaum is right there overall), it can never on its own satisfy the creative itch that we humans feel as part of who we are.
Embodied creative work took on yet another form for me as my elder daughter and I read Lois Ehlert’s picture book Hands. Shaped like a bright yellow work glove, the story follows the narrator as she learns all the things her parents do with their hands in the workshop, the garden, and the sewing room. Filled with pictures of hand tools, the tale ends with the narrator setting up her own station, so she too can work with her hands and develop as an artist. The book is beautiful, and the sentiment it expresses seems almost second nature to children, who are tactile and whose toys, from Playdough to finger paints to sand boxes, invite the work of little hands. Children love to build and make (and then sometimes destroy) simply for the sake of engaging their bodies in the textures of the world around them. We may grow up and enter the dignified world of adulthood that prizes disembodied work, but most of us still seem to find solace and satisfaction in working with our hands as casual artists, gardeners, and mechanics.
I think that creative itch derives directly from our origins as creatures made in God’s image. Indeed, Ephesians 2:10 declares “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (NIV). Those “good works” involve cultivating spiritual gifts for building up the Body of Christ and serving others, but I wonder if they also refer to our impulse to make, just like our Maker. Creator is really the first manifestation of God’s character that my toddler understands, because she too is an artist, inspired by all of creation, which Psalm 19 proclaims as God’s own handiwork. I could go on, but my left hand is beginning to ache, and I need to save some reserve for cuddling and cradling my baby. Maybe I’ll go pick her up and make something with my older daughter — something beautiful and delightfully messy .