First of all, I must alert you to oldest child’s blog, mslifeisbestlife.tumblr.com/, which inspired me to start this one. Her blog is feisty and super intelligent, and don’t think I’m taking credit for that, because science says daughters’ intelligence derives from a mysterious mix of father and mother. All I did was lay off the white wine and broccoli when pregnant. Yesterday I was thinking of a favorite photo of her, age seven, standing on a sidewalk with hands on hips, and that look on her face that says, Anything you can do, I can do better. If I could find the photo and scan it and upload it, I would put it here—but that sort of proficiency belongs to oldest child, who set up my whole blog framework so all I have to do is type.
There are 80 million blogs. Why add another? It’s selfish. Let’s blame Nicholson Baker, who makes stream-of-consciousness writing appear criminally easy, as in The Anthologist. He has caused no end of bad imitations, I’m sure, like people who read Louise Gluck and think it’s a snap to write portentously about goddesses or small Dutch paintings. Or we could blame Paul Celan, who changed poetry from a “project of artistic mastery” to a “testimonial project of address” (as noted by Shoshana Felman in her essay “Education and Crisis, or the Vicissitudes of Teaching,” which oldest child picked up in a workshop on trauma writing taught by Daniel Mueller). A project of address! Indeed, I am tired of writing to no one! Notebook entries may be implicitly addressed to a potential reader but I can tell you that no one is hanging around leafing through my notebook. Literary essays are very rewarding to write, but since I am so slow at it, it’s years from thought to publication. Maybe no one will read my blog (the writing of which caused an instant panting-puppyish questioning of people, hey, didja read my blog? Was it dumb, hey, didja think it was stupid? Oh, you thought it was okay, yay!), but at least it is explicitly addressed to a reader. And it’s fast. I always liked that about diaries and notebooks, that they test the limits of how much you can articulate in any one day, and they also document the messy bits instead of elegantly styling them into shape like a perfectly curlicued frosted cake.
My white pitcher reminds me of small Dutch paintings. A pitcher is useful, and bespeaks hosting, pouring gracefully at a well-set table. Maybe a table under a shade tree in the summer. A pitcher is an ancient sort of vessel, evoking not only colonial but medieval ages and further back.
We lived in a fifteenth century house in Tourrettes-sur-Loup, France, for a while and I liked inspecting its outfittings and thinking about how similar they were to our current household (when I wasn’t watching the Olympics on the nice TV). Medieval householders had pitchers, and bowls, and trivets, too, and frying pans, and pots and ladles. We have a charcoal grill instead of a hook for hanging meat over the fire. We have a Cuisinart rather than a mortar and pestle. We have a dining table and though we do not “set it” by laying planks on trestles at meal times, we do say, “set the table.” At dinner, we use candles. We have glass windows, and mirrors. While we have a bath tub instead of a bathing vat, the idea is the same, and we wash with soap. We fasten our clothes with buttons. We use needles and scissors. We wear belts and shoes; we carry purses. In the cold weather we wear hoods and mittens, which we store out of season—though in a closet rather than a coffer. We sleep on stuffed mattresses on frames, our mattresses being stuffed with cotton, rather than straw or wool. Our babies slept in cribs, not cradles, though they might have. We didn’t bathe them twice a day, though we did wash them in a small tub. Not so much has changed in the household realm since the 1400s.
But to go further back, I think of Anne Carson’s contention that in antiquity a woman was thought of as a “leaky vessel.” While the pitcher seems to me essentially feminine as an object, and woman-as-vessel is a familiar conceit, the leakiness of said vessel feels like a fresh insult. Referring to women as portrayed in Greek myths, Carson writes that “women’s boundaries are pliant, porous, mutable. Her power to control them is inadequate, her concern for them unreliable. Deformation attends her. She swells, she shrinks, she leaks, she is penetrated, she suffers metamorphoses. The women of mythology regularly lose their form in monstrosity.” (To read the rest, see “Dirt and Desire: Essay on the Phenomenology of Female Pollution in Antiquity,” in Men in the Off Hours.) If you’re wondering what Plato or Aristotle thought of women, there’s one answer: leaky vessel. Women: the people who might turn into bears, or snakeheads, or mechanical cows.
My pretty white pitcher is an antique. I don’t actually use it, because it’s cracked and it leaks.