You know what most people’s problem is? Too much money. (You know that I’m only a little bit serious, I hope?) But I’ve been thinking about this lately. That whole necessity is the mother of invention thing, ya know? I believe that. We are ALL more creative when we have to be. But buying has become the new making. And not just this decade but since the early 1900’s and after the industrial revolution. The subsequent plummeting price of goods began to be felt by the masses through places like Sears, Robuck & Co. and continues today with the fast-fashion of H&M.
Culturally, we here in North America stopped making things when it became easier/cheaper/faster to just buy them. For a while that seemed to work. People have become more and more comfortable with self-expression through the medium of store-bought style. All the while, and through every decade, there remained a contingency of hippies, artists and crafters making and creating their merry way through it–side-stepping the consuming.
The gorgeous modern craft movement of which you and I are a part is the backlash to at least 40 years of buying being cheaper than DIY. All of that saving money really impacted people and they got tired of not knitting, not sewing, not baking. So we claimed it back. Fast forward to now and all of it has led to Etsy, which we all love. But even Etsy is in a self-fulfilling loop at this point with the handmade goods becoming as self-referential as the outside world. You know what I mean: are you wearing those little gold bar earrings that are just little lines about half an inch long. I am. And is there an arrow anywhere on you? Yep. Have you coveted any imagery of sacred geometry in the last year? Me too. Did you buy marquee lights this year maybe in your initials…but maybe L O V E? Yea. I know.
But the core of those Etsy tropes and memes is same-same-different. The Etsy shopper gets the same self-satisfied high as the Whole Foods shopper. The shopping itself-the curating of goods and more importantly, one’s identity, through the shopping medium (Claire’s vs. Esty vs. your local shop) has become our self-expression. But still, Etsy isn’t saying exactly what’s in your soul, is it? It isn’t Etsy’s fault. I love Etsy. I’m an Etsy shopper and shop-owner. But I can tell you that it is as viral and socially driven as Instagram. It is a quickly leveled field. And it all shakes out to just a few memes: pretty little arrows, hand painted chunks of faceted wood (*swoon*), knotted ropes. All that stuff looks like you could have made it. You might have even made it better. But you didn’t. Because you are busy, right? Not enough confidence in your creativity? Maybe. But honestly, the real reason is because on Etsy you can find things that are close enough–lovely handmade things by real people that tell lovely stories. Goods that are close enough to reflecting your soul–your style. But they’re not really spot on. The curated cream that floats to the top of Etsy based on sales and likes and comes streaming beautifully into my inbox once a week feels fresh and artful. But here’s what I don’t find on Etsy or in Nordstrom or in Target:
I don’t find things that express longing, belonging, heartbreak, grief, ecstasy, terror, despair, fragility, aroused senses, focused meditation, the intensity of a monsoon and our tree almost falling, the changing light of fall, my baby getting chemo, my parents aging, or my good friend telling me I’m not around enough, or my husband telling me he loves me, the tender quietude of my family drawing at the dinner table, the history of art, the mythopoetic imagination and machinations of my heart and soul as I contemplate Shakti and Shiva, or even just the ridiculous amount of cicada sheds stuck on our tree fort. That’s for sure. Not a lot of cicada sheds at Target. But if you need an arrow t-shirt or a gold bar earring they’ve got you covered.
And that’s just it. Shopping isn’t art. It may be an art form. But the curated goods we get in stores and even some that are handmade instead of made by machine are still driven by the desire to connect and to sell. Etsyans are there to sell–so they can continue to pursue their craft–so they can support their family and follow their dreams. But nonetheless, their wares cannot and never will fully express the feeling of the almost palpating, sensory vibrating particles flickering in front of us that comprise this life–this experience of living.
So, I’d just like to remind you, whether you think you are an artist or not, that the only way to capture the particular incandescence of your very personal human existence is to make it yourself. Whatever it is, make it yours: make things…write things…paint things…sew things…bake things and sing things that tell your story. Yours. The painful and the miraculous and the tender. Because if you don’t, if global warming hasn’t made it impossible for a future species to dig up our bones, then when they come and dig in our graves, all they’ll find are thousands and thousands of little gold arrows. Little arrows bought at Claire’s and Neimans and Etsy. Little arrows in silver and gold and rose gold. Little arrows made in factories and little arrows made by hand.
Start your own art revolution. Tell your story however you can. Let your art, your poetry, your spirit, your vulnerability, your tender madness shine every day in how you pack your children’s lunches and how you hold your husband’s hand. That species that comes down here and digs us up, they won’t know about hashtags or Groupon or Instagram. They might actually be mesmerized by sacred geometry. But they won’t know why it’s on yoga pants–and believe me those pants will still be here. They won’t know our heartache, how afraid we were, how faithful or sensual. Shine the light of your particular soul. Let your tenderess leak out through little things. Don’t let approximately good be good enough. Don’t be approximate. Be exact in who you are. Be exact in how you tell your story. Choose your own symbology and myths to represent you. Of course, you should keep shopping at Etsy, just make sure you fill in your gaps and round out the telling of your myth–your narrative. Add in all the strange parts–the parts that can’t fit into tiny arrows.
Telling your story isn’t meant to set you apart or create difference, because we are all the same, really. We really, really are. But telling your story as you go, will heal you as you travel through your life. It will nourish you and support you. It will be your therapy. It will be your bandage. Because really, when archaeologists dig, all they really find are pots and pans, houses and trash piles. And bones.
All we can really do here is to feel it all. And reflect all of what we feel in our cast-offs. Let your life be your lab and your art. What is your arrow? Just close your eyes, right now. Breathe in. Breathe out and ask yourself: What is my symbol? What expresses how I feel in this moment about this exquisite life? Let your inspiration and desire be your guides. Follow the momentary urge to create. And when they dig you up, they’ll find a world of tiny miracles–of strangely personal objects–talismans which express the complexity of you. And that future species will look at your stuff and they’ll feel exactly how we feel about this life, they’ll shake their heads at the mystery. They’ll be full of wonder.