Work that is Real

             First, thank you to everyone who found my blog via Tapestry on CBC. I've received several emails from program listeners, and it's a pleasure to get to know each of you. For those of you unaware, I did an interview with Tapestry last year. They re-aired the interview today, and you can listen to it by clicking HERE.

             Blatant self-promotion aside, I've been thinking about this space again, and in honor of my Tapestry interview, I thought I'd bring back an old MCB tradition: explaining how I feel with a poem. (I mention a poem by Nikki Giovanni in my interview, and because CBC is awesome, host Mary Hynes contacted Giovanni and interviewed her as well. You should listen to that part of the interview. It's amazing.)

            Anyway, behold: a poem.

To be of useby Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I shared this poem with my friend Gurr last year. Gurr is probably the most non "parlor general" person I know. But it is a personal mantra for me too: I want to do the work that is real.

My job as a teacher is not glamorous. Every day I strain in the mud and the muck, and do what has to be done, again and again. The only thing getting me through the long days and the frustration is the hope that I am making something with a "shape that satisfies, clean, and evident." I am grateful for work that listens to my soul's cry for water to carry. At the end of hard days I picture the black heads of seals, and keep swimming.

Spiritually, it's been a long time since I shared anything particularly personal on my blog. My last "real" post on faith  hid a lot behind words of other people. I realized I was scared of saying anything real, of showing any part of my soul to a world that might respond unkindly. I've become more private, but less vulnerable, in the last few months.

I've  also felt ashamed of myself, somehow. Ashamed that things hurt me, ashamed of being weak in public spaces, and determined not to let anyone see the process of turning clay into vases and pitchers, pretending that I'm content to live as a relic in a  museum. Work is hard and messy, and it's easier to hide until the work is done, and you're dead, and no one can criticize you.

Reading this poem reminded me that I shouldn't be ashamed of my work, or my life. I listened to the Tapestry interview again today, and I realized that even during the saddest most difficult parts, I sound strong. I sound like myself. I sound like I harnessed myself to a heavy cart, and pulled through. I'm proud of myself.

The work of my life will continue to remain unglamorous, and most likely, I'll swim and pull and create relatively privately. But I'll do this without being ashamed of the work I've created, of the harvest I've sown,or of the mud I've shaped. My work-both in my classroom and in my soul- is real, and made to be used.

As always, thanks for following along.


MotherOfGooses said...

Really enjoyed the interview on Tapestry and hearing you speak so truthfully from your heart.

Sherrie said...

Thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed your interview on Tapestry CBC.