"Girl Story" is a textile series I imagine I will work on for years. It feels like drawing from a well that will never run dry. The pieces employ ink, heavy, frantic hand embroidery and vintage textiles and were initially intended to explore menarche and the idea that every woman, every girl, has a story around this passage into womanhood. And what started out as a personal journey, a way to get my thoughts straight on how I could be an empowering figure in my own young daughter's life, has ended up touching other lives; women are coming forward with stories of other losses and renewal. Some of these losses I have never experienced nor can I fathom. These aren't vague blog post comments I'm receiving. These are purposeful letters. Women are stopping me and looking me in the eye. They have a story to tell. I promised I would listen, so I am.
I've been given permission to share letters here between a woman and her mother (now in her 70's and requesting anonymity). They were written in direct response to the blog post "A history of pretty," which explores the impetus for embarking on this series. The photographs in this post are from my own experience, cataloguing the time the and thought and essence of this project thus far.
I received these letters in reverence.
I hope you will read them with the same.
From Mother to Daughter.
...the article kind of left me with the feeling of “how can anything so every day-ish” be talked about in such length. Using washable pads was nothing unusual when I first got my period. Sometimes you could see them even on clothes lines drying after the family wash day. But when small children asked what that thing was, it was talked about in hushed voices. I remember seeing buckets of them, filled with cold water for soaking before washing them. When the first disposables came out, it was heaven. No more dealings with the bloody bucket, which by the way also had to be hidden, if possible.
When I listened to the video, I felt different. Remembering how I felt during my first period at age 13, it did feel almost like a celebration to me. Maybe it should be? I felt, like now I was a woman!! (Hahah) Most of my friends already had their periods and now I finally entered that “sisterhood”. You could talk to them about your cramps, how heavy or regular or irregular you were, etc. I always disliked references like “got my monthly visit” and others that made it sound like it was something to be embarrassed about and you couldn’t speak of it. It is more important as many smaller things we celebrate, like “Grandparents Day” or “Valentine's”. Without it, where would humanity be? I liked her linking it to the waxing and waning of the moon. I read somewhere a long time ago, that periods of all the females in a family correlate to a great extent with the full moon, I don’t know if that is true, but I do remember when all of you were home, it seemed like I had to buy one pack of sanitary napkins after another until we were all through and then we had a period of time when nobody needed them.
I would like to hear your thoughts on it.
From Daughter to Mother.
... I found Amy's quilting to be visually a bit disturbing because it was so familiar and so private, hung out there as it is for public viewing -- a little like the clothesline you wrote about. Even so, it has a beauty that reflects on the notion of menses itself. I felt the essay that accompanied the quilt was outstanding and gave me much to think about.
My response to Amy's art is layered and goes deep into what it meant to raise sons rather than daughters, for which I was always grateful. It has taken me 53 years, and growing beyond childbearing years, to feel truly comfortable in my own body. If menstruation had only been a stain of blood each month, it would have been easy to deal with. Instead, the hormonal fluctuations each month often created a sense of insecurity and distrust in my own assessment any given situation. I was okay on my own and my mood seemed manageable when it was just me and the kids. But when my now ex-husband was home, it was a time of heightened anxiety, fraught with emotional landmines. I could deal with the physical pain, cramps, fatigue, headaches. I just wasn't good at dealing with the difficulties, long-inherent in our relationship, during "that time of the month." Without those hormonal fluctuations, I might have trusted my intuitions more, realizing that maybe I wasn't "crazy" after all.
I always felt lucky to be raising sons because I didn't feel equipped to raise daughters. Life seemed far too complicated for women and I was having enough of a time navigating my female life much less helping a child feel confident enough with her femininity to grow into secure womanhood. Boys by contrast seemed like uncomplicated creatures. Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. Now of course I see things very differently. If I'd had a daughter, my intuition would have grown more keen on behalf of a girl whose well being I would have fiercely protected. I say this because I now have a granddaughter and I enjoy great clarity -- there is nothing muddled about nurturing her whole person. I also see that boys are equally as sensitive to gender issues and equally as confounded by the roles of men and women in the arenas of power and vulnerability. Male or female, the human psyche is especially tender in the area of sexuality, especially as it plays out in the crucible of early family life.
All that is to say, Amy's work made me dig deep into my own memories and thoughts about being a woman over the years. I do remember the first time I needed napkins and how you, Mom, made me feel special about joining the sisterhood of women. I remember thinking I was now grown up enough to have a baby. That was mind blowing for a 14 year old. (I was a late bloomer.) You always made us feel like being a woman was a fine thing and that it would and should not impede anything we ever wanted to achieve. You offered unconditional support and love even during the times our journeys were difficult for you to watch. All of your daughters have been richly blessed.
With love and gratitude,
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.