Nesting. By Liza Cowan
DYKE A Quarterly No. 3, pp 30, 31. Nesting by Liza Cowan
TAKE CARE OF YOUR HOME AND YOUR HOME WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU
I have spent some time travelling around, visiting Dyke homes. I have stayed with women whose homes were beautiful, amusing, thoughtful, comfortable and pleasing to the senses. Some Lesbians have built their entire homes and all the furniture in them. Some have built some of the tings in their homes, or other Lesbians have built them. Many Lesbians have sewed quilts, curtains, pillows, wall hangings. Some women have made furniture out of packing crates, or rescued and fixed up abandoned furniture. Lesbians make pottery, weave rugs, paint stencils on the walls...and do one hundred and one other crafty and beautiful things. Lesbians have bought borrowed and made beautiful things and made their homes beautiful and comfortable places to be.
To me, a clean, comfortable nice home is as important as good food, clean air and the other things we accept as vital to our health. Our environment effects us, whether we are conscious of it or not. We respond emotionally to light, color, sound, smell and other stimuli.
Obviously we cannot yet control every aspect of our living and working environments, but we can begin to use environment as a tool for making us healthy and strong, better able to work and live our Lesbian lives. We need everything we can get, and we deserve nothing but the best.
PATRIARCHY DESIGNS, INC
Any building that is designed to perpetuate patriarchy and to destroy life is bound to make women feel uncomfortable. Supermarkets, office buildings, prisons, army barracks, government buildings, schools, hospitals, most institutions and mass produced housing are uncomfortable, sterile, ugly and life draining. Design and construction jobs are given to the lowest bidder or to political cronies, they follow no traditions and are devoid of female input. These environments are dangerous to women and to life on Earth.
When men make Nature conform to their own perverse and destructive ideas, they can't help but make a disgusting mess of Earth, just like the mess they make in their own homes.
I WOULD LIKE TO SEE
A room whose vibes were intolerable for men and ecstatic for women.
A room whose vibes made straight women come out.
Did you build, make our renovate anything in your place? Have you solved any living problems in a way you would like to share with DYKE readers? Have you had interesting house dreams, or ideas? Please share them with us. Send black and white photographs, drawings, writings, and anything else to share ideas about our homes and the way we live in them.
THE POLITICS OF HOUSEWORK
IN 1968 Pat Mainardi wrote an essay, The Politics of Housework. It was published as a pamphlet, reprinted in Notes From The Second Year, reprinted in Sisterhood Is Powerful, reprinted in Liberation Now, reprinted in Voices From Women's Liberation, reprinted in The Women's Almanac. The Politics Of Housework speaks to the married, educated, white middle class, left movement, heterosexual woman, telling her to get her husband off his ass to share the shitwork. Feminists learned how men oppress women by making women clean up men's messes and take care of men.
Now, many Lesbians have come to understand that it is men, not housework, that oppresses women, and we have gone on to create new ways of living, this time with women only. But while those straight women who chose to live with men seem frozen in time, the idea still lingers among some Lesbian/feminists that housework is shit, and that care and pride for our homes is silly, irrelevent, classist, elitist, bourgeois, embarrassing or contemptible. Why is this?
MARGARET AND JANE
"We were a great disappointment to the literati. Somehow we could never lead the kind of life that appeared normal for them. They could never count on finding us day after day in the restaurants or other haunts of the intellectually gregarious. We seemed to bear little relation to the younger generation bent on escaping the home. No sooner had we escaped than we began to create a hearthstone. We were dedicated to the ceremonies of living. We insisted upon living beautifully. And since we hadn't a penny we had to produce this condition ourselves. It took the best part of our youth and energy. We kept our house in the most perfect order. We cleaned, scrubbed, dusted, cooked, washed dishes. We made our own fires, cleaned our hearths - we could never afford a charwoman. We did our own shopping - chose our means and vegetables - and as Jane had an intelligent old fashioned prejudice against canned foods, hulled our own peas. We washed and ironed our own clothes. We cut our own hair - very well, too..."
"There were four rooms, the two large living rooms being of exquisite proportions. I loved the old New York houses. We soon learned that ours had and undertaking business on the ground floor and an exterminator company in the basement. But did it matter?
"After the usual piano arrangements had been made we concentrated all our efforts on Jane's room. It was to be a room where all Little Review conversations would take place. It was. In this room, the Little Review entered into its creative period"
from My Thirty Years War by Margaret Anderson
There is a barn like building, in it are many interconnecting small loft-like places, mostly containing beds. There are arranged in a honeycomb type formation. There is privacy in each bed/loft, but none is isolated entirely from the others. The bed/lofts are connected by ladders and ropes, you have to climb or crawl from place to place. These bed/lofts are all inhabited by women, and it is the most comfortable place in the world.
The structure is built of wood and natural fibers, there is plenty of sunlight and there is a very high/sensual loving vibration which seems to be intensified by the actual shape and materials of the structure.
This is only a rough descriptions of a place which I remember only vaguely. I dreamed it about five years ago. Shortly after I had this dream I came out. I all it my Nest dream, because nest is the closest image I can find for the feeling I had for this structure.
I dream about rooms a lot. I used to dream almost every week of finding new rooms in a familiar apartment. I believe this type of dream was created by my need for more physical living space, and also the rooms represent new ideas. I still have this kind of dream, but less frequently. In these dreams my feeling is one of intense joy and contentment.
Not all my house dreams are pleasant. There is a frequent dream of mine where I find myself in a house that has a passageway that is too small for me to squeeze through, though others seem to be able to pass easily. Am I feeling too fat. Is this dream symbolic of trying to climb back into my mother's womb? I don't think that's it, although it's an interesting idea: mother as dwelling.
The Nuba of Sudan have passageways in between rooms that are circles of only about fourteen inches in diameter. Is this type of architecture the archetype of my dream. Am I remembering the architecture of a long ago matriarchal lifetime? Do you ever have dreams like this? Do you know what it means?
THE KITTY CORNER
In The Girl Sleuth, a book about girls' series books, Bobbie Ann Mason traces the cozie nesties to Honey Bunch, Nancy Drew, et al. "The true celebration within these little books is the kitty corner, a motif that recurs in all the girls' series books. It is a perfect world in miniature, a little elf nook, a playhouse, a gingerbread cottage, an English garden in a terrarium, a hideaway in an attic."
Taking the clue form Bobbie Ann, I have been looking at my favorite childhood books to find one source of my own cozy nesties.
"I am going to make a bed.\," called out the child again as she ran busily to and fro in the loft, "but you must come up here and bring me a sheet, for the bed must have a sheet to sleep on."
"....a very neat little bed had been made in the hayloft, they hay was piled up higher at one end to form the pillow, and the bed was placed in such a way that one could look from it straight through the round open window." from Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
"The attic was a lovely place to play. The large round colored pumpkins made beautiful chairs and tables. The red peppers and onions dangled overhead. The hams and venison hung in their paper wrappings, and all the bunches of dried herbs, the spicy herbs for cooking, and the bitter herbs for medicine, gave the place a dusty-spicy smell.
"Often the wind howled outside with a cold and lonesome sound. But in the attic Laura and Mary played house with the squashes and the pumpkins, and everything was snug and cosy." from Little House In The Big Wood, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
In our women only households we are creating changes in the way we live. Just about every Lesbian household that I have visited that has more than two occupants has a work wheel prominently displayed. How do you decide who does what in your house?
Two years ago I shared a house with three other Lesbians. We had a terrible time figuring out how to arrange meals. Alix and I were sort of scatterbrained about eating. When it got near dinnertime we'd rummage around for something to cook. The other couple was very well organized and serious bout meals, they liked to plan in advance but resented having to plan for us, which usually meant shopping for us, too, since we did not have any clear idea of what to buy when we were at the store. Since th supermarket was twenty miles away, it got to be a big deal.
We decided against eating separately, so we arranged to make a weekly menu before shopping. Each of us would decide on one or two meals that we wanted to prepare. We figured out all the ingredients, plus the regular staples, animal food etc. We went shopping together and split the bills 2/2. Our meals ended up delicious and relatively hassle free.
This was one of my favorite articles, or spreads really, that I wrote for DYKE. Nobody noticed it. Nobody commented on it. Like my articles about clothing, which were also either ignored or reviled, writing about home was considered too bourgeouis, not serious enough, too frivilous for a radical magazine. Alas.
In those days, Lesbians spent a fair amount of time, and spilled a fair amount of ink on our Lesbian foremothers. Margaret Anderson was one of my favorites. How would she not be? She and her partner Jane Heap produced one of the most influential literary magazines of its day, The Little Review, and she celebrated the art of home. I devoured her three part autobiography.
Margaret Anderson, My Thirty Years War. Note that the photographs are by Berenice Abbot and Man Ray. I swoon.
The Girl Sleuth by Bobbie Ann Mason.
Always a big fan of girls detective fiction, I loved Bobbie Ann Mason's book The Girl Sleuth, published in 1975 by The Feminist Press. It was Mason's first book. I love the book so much I wrote her a fan letter. This was her response:
Letter from Bobbie Ann Mason to Liza Cowan 1977
I'm embarrassed that I've neglected to answer you letter for so long, but I appreciated so much your warm response to THE GIRL SLEUTH.
Your comments were encouraging, yet I can't help but feel discouraged when I hear such enthusiasm, because I feel so many women have this response and yet the book is not distributed widely enough. The Feminist Press is small and it has no advertising funds. From the good responses I've had, I feel certain that if the book were given better publicity it would reach thousands of women. almost every woman I run into grew up on the series books.
Its also interesting to find how many women are still into the series book -- like you, still collecting them. I thought I had discovered something, reached back inot a part of the past and held it up for us to see, but I find I'm no the tail end of a bandwagon, I thing it's so good that we're not embarrassed about our origins and the influences that shaped up. The only way we can really rise about them is to face them and accept the good parts. --Like your affirmation of the "cozy nesties" impulse.
I've just finished a novel based on my childhood--it's about a little farm kid who reads too many Nancy Drews and fantasied trailing the swindlers in the cornfield. Hope I have some luck getting it published.
Thanks so much again for your support.
Of course, Bobbie Ann Mason did get published again, and again and again. She's hugely successful, and vibrantly talented. She's Bobbie Ann Mason!
And about those tiny round portals in Nuba homes in Sudan: here's the only photo I could find.
Sudan,Kordofan. Entering the bedroom of a Mesakin Quasar House. Photo George Rodger 1949, Magnum Photo.