Being a Pilgrim and a Martha Stewart Homemaker
I am reading Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook. It is thicker than the Bible, than a medical textbook, than Kristin Lavransdater. I checked it out of the library almost three weeks ago. I will renew it once, and hopefully turn it in on time after having filled several pages in a notebook on housekeeping, homemaking, and homekeeping.
One thing I must learn is the distinction between the three, so I have written that question in my notebook along with a list of cleaning supplies, schedules for daily, weekly, and seasonal cleaning, and recipes for at-home (and, in effect, more natural and inexpensive) cleaners.
The book is 744 pages. I am on page 36. I have no grandiose dreams that, come the end of July, I will have finished Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook (it is not a handbook, it is a tome), and thus have well-run household systems in place, plus a head chock full of how-to knowledge on things like folding fitted sheets, how to clean an oven, and the difference between a jacquard and terry cloth towel weave, but I’ll have a start.
“To be a pilgrim,” writes Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, “you must be a killer of myth, a new invention of desire.” I don’t want to be a killer of anything, but I do realize there is some mythic quality to the quest of learning from Martha Stewart, so I was surprised (and relieved) to learn in her introduction that she is not the first of her kind. An Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy was published by Thomas Webster and “assisted by Mrs. Parks” in 1845. Around 1861 Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management was published, and sometime in the early twentieth century, The Concrete Household Encyclopedia was offered (among the how-tos of chores and domestic management are directions for card games—certainly that falls under the category of homemaking).
This is all to say that people came before Martha Stewart. She took what she learned from them to make her own way of living.
I’m reminded of Jeanne Murray Walker’s book of sonnets, Pilgrim, You Find The Path by Walking. In her introduction, she explains that she grew tired of her writing voice and so returned to those who’ve gone before her, in this case, the poets who wrote sonnets. It was in the boundaries of the sonnet that Jeanne’s voice began to emerge anew.
What is a new invention of desire? Could it be a well organized and clean kitchen, that invites people to eat, drink, and be merry? Could it be a sonnet that takes us somewhere, shakes something within us loose, and invites us to take a look and see—if we dare—to turn what’s fallen from us into a thing of desire?
I’ve learned from Janssen from Everyday Reading that putting shortening in addition to butter in chocolate chip cookie dough makes for the most amazing flaky and delicious cookie I’ve ever tasted (and also that it’s OK and perhaps even right to talk about books AND food on a blog). I’ve learned from Janet of Simply So Good that keeping dough out overnight to rise makes a loaf of bread that tastes exactly like sourdough bread. I learned how to tell a story using the second person from Lauren Winner, and Paula Huston showed me how to develop and use the emotional muscle writers must have to render conflict on the page. And from Martha Stewart, I’ve learned to pursue the subjects I love and that fascinate me.
Jeanne Murray Walker is right—we find our paths by walking. But Angela Alaimo O’Donnell is right, too—to be a pilgrim, we must kill the myth. That we are the only pilgrims out there. That others aren’t finding their paths, too. That what was done before us isn’t the most perfect boundary that can make us shine anew.
Try It: Martha Steward Homemaker
This week, write a poem about a boundary that gave you the freedom to emerge and grow. Or, write a poem about those you’ve learned from. Or even pen a poem about how to be a homemaker.
Featured photo by Strolicfurlan Creative Commons, via Unsplash. Post by Callie Feyen.