I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Get a Life

It's one thing to sit in your basement fiddling around with pretty beads or gluing pottery shards to the outside of old terra cotta pots and setting them out in your own home.  Everyone is entitled to a certain "grandma" quotient in their own house.  If you have kids, you can even fib and blame the zanny flower pot on them.  It's a whole other lump of clay to bring whatever you've made, up from the basement and into the light of other people's worlds. 

I spent many years making mosaics and giving them away.  I told myself they were, at the very least, unusual and thoughtful gifts.  No one else had one just like it.  Even if it wasn't their favorite thing in the world, it could be placed in an out of the way area of the garden until nature pummeled it out of existance or put in a cabinet to serve some function.  No one could fault me for not giving them my time and effort.

Shortly after my son was born, my dear friend Alison returned from a trip and gave me a clay cookie mold she had found while wondering shops.  It was an impression of a lacy heart, about 4 inches in diameter.  It came with a booklet with recipes and ideas for other things you could use the mold for, like paper mache impressions or salt dough ornaments.  You could even mold chocolate in it and make a fabulous Valentine.  One day, in a particularly deep state of boredom (the romance of staying home to raise my son was wearing off and the reality of resigning from my life to do so was setting in) I got that cookie mold out and decided to give it a whirl.  "Lightly oil the mold, wipe the mold to remove the oil, then dust lightly with flour".   Done.  I made the dough from their special recipe, chilled it, took it out of the fridge and began to press the dough into the prepared mold.  "Tap the mold lightly on the edge until the dough begins to pull away from the mold."  Tap, tap, tap.  Tap, tap, rap.  Tap, rap, bang.  Bang, bang, bang.  Bang, Bang, Bang!  What the ...  This was not working out.  Back to the directions.  Back to the mold.  "Oil lightly then wipe clean".  Ok, I did that.  I floured it too - looked just like a cake pan does.  Bang, Bang, Bang.  The dough would not come out! 

That evening I offered my family a plate of very dense disks of pleasantly tasting baked dough.

It was so cute though, that mold.  I tried again, realizing this wasn't  your ordinary cookie baking session.  This was going to require developing some skill and some patience -  something I was short on in my post partum stupor.  I took my time.  I worked slowly.  I read directions like I had just learned to read, enunciating each word carefully, one-at-a-time.  I tell you, it was one of the most thrilling days of my life, when I had prepped that mold just right and went tap, tap, tap, and that little sucker started to pull away from the clay and with the help of gravity I suddenly had this cookie, the likes of which I had never seen before.  I was sooooooo impressed with myself!  Better still, I felt like I had accomplished something real and I had hopped a learning curve into a better me. 

I started collecting those cookie molds.  Everywhere I went, I looked for those molds.  I amassed quite a grouping of them and had several themes and occaisions I could address with cookies.  When my son entered school, I got this nutty idea to make holiday themed, molded cookies for his class.  I wanted them to be more special though (type A personalities never rest) so I proceeded to teach myself, from the booklet, how to paint "watercolor" cookies.   This required food colorings I had never heard of before.  Not your mama's food coloring that you used for those anemic Easter eggs.  These were hard core, concentrated colorings in a little pot and if you got them on something you didn't mean to get them on, it was tough luck, sister. 

The Kindergarden year was cute but terribly imperfect.  The ill-tempered colors didn't dry very well and the kids went home with rainbow tongues.  I didn't give up.  By the 4th grade, I had pretty well mastered these little jewels and made 28 Victorian Santas, hand painted each and every one, put them in cellophane bags and closed them with a red, french ribbon bow.  I was so proud of them that I placed them in a willow basket and took off like Red Riding Hood to deliver them to the class.  Ok, I'll admit, I was just a little bit pleased with myself.  I felt what I had taught myself and mastered here, was not insignifigant. These, my friends, weren't your ordinary frozen dough sugar cookies with sprinkles!  Oh no!  These were molded, hand-painted little culinary masterpieces!

I was coming out of the school office and heading to the kids' classroom to distribute my little treasures when I ran into a teacher I was fond of.  We greated each other,  kiss, kiss and she looked down at the basket I was carrying over my arm.  What are those, she inquired.  I reigned myself in and as modestly as I could, expained to her about my glorious cookies.  There was a pause as she stared incredulously at my precious goods and then she looked up at me and said, "You need to get a life".

Yes.  I swear to god, that is what she said to me.  Not, "how nice", not "cute".  Nope.  "You need to get a life".

This was not my finest moment.  I didn't know whether to cry or to kick her in the shins.  Really, really hard.  But no.  I did my usual people pleaser shuffle and made a bee line to the classroom as soon as I graciously could.  Now, I am not exaggerating when I tell you this woman didn't just ruin my day.  Oh no!  She ruined my Christmas!  Here I had conquered all these obstacles, taught myself all these skills and produced a French bakery quality cookie and right out of the shute, someone tells me I need to get a life.  This was my bloody life!

After a while I got myself squared away over how Miss Dawn had shattered my world.  Yet what I was left with was the question of why I was so devastated by some snarky comment from a prissy 4th grade teacher.  They were just cookies.  But they weren't.  Not to me.  To me they were a work of art.  They were an accomplishment.  Those cookies represented how I was taking my life as a stay at home mom and allowing her to live side by side with the artist in me that had been cryogenicaly put down until my son left home.  I had gone from Rent to Parenthood, in an instant in my life, and somehow those cookies were the beginning of reconcilliation.  Through the making of that basket of cookies I was beginning to see a new way for me to live.  Somehow, those elementary school baked goods were a sign.  Through those cookies, I recognized that a new way of expressing myself was emerging. 

After a lifetime of dancing and acting and writing it was all coming full circle, back to my childhood, back to my hands.  I didn't need a stage to be who I am.  I was learning to talk to myself with my hands and the conversation was becoming clearer and clearer as I learned more and more skills.

"I could be on to something..."


  1. You certainly are on to something! I've seen and tasted these cookies, and they are delicious and beautiful works of art. I also really enjoyed reading this post, as we've all had a "Miss Dawn" at some point in our lives. Thanks for reminding us not to let short, sometimes thoughtless comments derail our efforts. And keep making those wonderful cookies!

  2. I think you are an incredibly talented artist and if one of the forms of that art emerges as a cookie, and you can get over the fact that someone is surely going to destroy your art because it tastes so damn good, then you should never allow Miss Dawn, et.al. to damper your spirits. You have a life - something many "stay at home moms" don't. Be proud, Mary, and keep rollin' on the river.

  3. If everyone could find in themselves what youhave been able to find in yourself, then the world would be a much better place. Everyone loves your cookies and your mosaics and your jewelry and your puses (I still carry mine) do what you do and be proud!

  4. Very important lesson!!!Do what you love, then love what you do, regardless of insensitive comments from misguided people, who dont really have a clue. Finding connections in our own lives is a gift and I am thrilled you have found some. Good for you!!! btw- Zoe LOVES her necklace and wears it EVERY day.

  5. i really don't tolerate very well people who say things like "get a life" and usually find something glaringly important and essential lacking in theirs... Every facet of you... your home, your kid, your marriage ever since i met you... always stunningly original and unique... never the mindless lemming cookie cutter type of person, you have always striven, with a generous heart, even in the making of these exquisite santa mold cookies, for a deeper kind of perfection that lives in your artist soul