I Stand Here Ironing

>> Sunday, August 16, 2009

I've spent a lot of time in the past 5 or so days at the ironing board, with my trusty (heavy!) iron, heating up an already-warm space. Such is the price of sewing in the summer. But a price well worth paying as the blocks you see are part of the chuppah I'm making for my friends Beth and Harley.

I've tried to alternate cutting, ironing, piecing, and trimming in order to keep the increased heat level to a minimum and maintain a varied pace of work. So far, so good. I've been thinking about the quilt front for a long time, and I started gathering fabric in the spring. I'm modifying a pattern from Evelyn Sloppy's Strips and Strings and dove right into cutting and sewing without reading her directions too carefully. Somehow my eyes skipped over her fabric quantities, but even once I looked more closely, I somehow ended up with far too many light and medium colored strips. Not to worry, I'm confident I can find uses for them!

I'm a consummate multi-tasker, and ironing demands being done alongside something else. Most of the time, I watch shows via the internet or DVDs from the library. But sometimes 2 things at once is insufficient. In which case, I iron, sort of watch something, and try and throw in some balance or plyometric exercises (not too close to the ironing board!). Other times, I read a book, in paragraph-long stints, in between moving the iron. And, then, of course there is time to think.

Which, this week, brought me to Tillie Olsen's short story, "I Stand Here Ironing" (1961), which centers on a mother's thoughts about her daughter while ironing. My thoughts are perhaps less profound and less centered on mother-daughter relationships. They tend more toward the things I need or want to do, the ideas swimming in my head about a paper I'm working on, the movies I want to see (Julie and Julia!) or, with some regularity, what I want to eat for my next meal. Nevertheless, Olsen's story is ultimately about the desire to empower or, at the very least, the hope that a daughter will be empowered. For me, ironing is not necessarily empowering, but part of an act of creation that is very empowering; yet for many others around the world, ironing is demeaning, forced, and soul-crushing.

In the Jewish calendar, it is almost the month of Elul, the last month of the year and the month of preparation for the new year, Rosh Hashanah. Since Jews are oh-so-fond of rituals, there are of course a bevy of activities one could incorporate into one's life as a marker of this month -- shofar*-blowing, extra-psalm-saying, and the like. But for me, the thought, the pausing to take stick, the re-evaluation corresponding to these indicators is far more important (and alas, in my experience, frequently secondary). Over the summer I've been thinking a lot about empowerment: what it means to me, what I need to do to feel and be empowered, how I can empower others near and far.

One of my goals for the year -- the new Jewish year, the new academic year (school supply sales and apples-and-honey coincide for me as signs of a new year) -- is to embrace empowerment and empowering; to find ways to empower myself on a personal level, as an individual within my local communities, and as part of the larger world; and to act to empower others locally, nationally, and internationally. These are lofty goals, in lofty language, but I think it's important.

And participating in Iraqi Bundles of Love (with a classy new blog header!) is just one of many ways to empower others around the world. I do want to apologize for not wrapping my bundle as nicely as others have done -- in my hasty effort to mail it on Friday, nice packaging went out the proverbial window. In any event, I want to post IBOL Guy's comment on my post (since I don't always read the comments on other blogs):

So, we had a meeting later yesterday, about the bigger project. One of the two chaplains present commented on the theme of giving that is such a key component of Ramadan. He then asked about the fabric and knitting supplies, and I told him there was some coming. Some, like maybe a few hundred bundles. That knitters and quilters seem to understand the whole thing about giving.

I don't think he was ready for the whole "hundreds of bundles of love" thing. But then again, I doubt the mail folks are, too.

Note to self -- need to stop in and warn them.

Thank you, BTW. This has had me on cloud nine this whole time.
This is a project that can really empower the giver and the recipient. Just as giving is an important element of Ramadan, so too is giving in which the giver and recipient are unknown to one another and giving that helps sustain the recipient (the whole teach a person to fish concept) the highest forms of tzedakah, or charity, in Maimonides' formulation. Just some interfaith, Judeo-Muslim food for thought.

*A shofar is a ram's horn and comes in the small and long-windy-big varieties. Think the sound of a trumpet.

**I know this is a longer and more intense post than usual. Sometimes it just happens that way.


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