Monday, August 29, 2011

jelly jar

It occurs to me that for a while now I've been considering a piece of art I have in my home, a handmade snowglobe. It looks like this. 

It's been on my mind only recently, although I consider it almost every day. I see it often during my yoga practice, and my view of it looks like this.

It's on a bookshelf, and so low that unless I'm inverted and facing that direction, I rarely see it. But the other day in downward dog, I considered it, and have thought about it at least once daily ever since.

You might not be able to tell from the photo, but inside the snowglobe (a Bonne Maman jelly jar) is a woman standing with her face pressed against the glass. At her back, on the other end of the world, are several people: an athlete with a basketball under one arm, a villager with a pitchfork, and a small, cape-wearing, breasted alien-looking creature. They are all pointing something at her--a finger, a ray gun, a yard implement--and she has her arms at her sides and is facing away. I turn the jelly jar horizontal, and on the red-and-white gingham lid is written, "Too Rich or Too Thin RSM '06."

Oh, that's right. That's who gave me that. Times were different then.

I consider this snowglobe now, and I can't help but put the artist inside that static, watery world and consider the scene as some narrative of a moment of her life experience. If I think back, I remember it as a gift she gave me early in our friendship. Strange now: if it is a kind of metaphor for her life experience, how vulnerable she must have been or felt to give it away, and to someone who knew her so shallowly as I did then. Was she making a hip artistic statement about the cruelty and judgment applied to women, our lives, our bodies, how others set us apart because they deem us unfit for membership in the community? Was she telling her own story of having been kicked out (or feeling that she'd been kicked out) of some community that she just wanted to be a part of? Perhaps both?

I know now that this kind of excommunication was a part of her life experience. I know now that she has been both that girl with her face pressed against the glass, and the villager brandishing the pitchfork. I wonder if she knows this about herself, that she has been both victim and abuser.

There is a part of me that is a little sickened and saddened by the life experience that prompts a piece like this. But what is that experience, if not as common as a crack in a sidewalk? We all have been the one shunned and distanced, and we all have known the false, corrupting power of being the shunner, the alien with the ray gun, Homie #1 with his crooked finger of derision pointed at another human's back. Even more sadly, perhaps we all are frozen in this same story, doomed to repeat the role of victim or abuser, over and over.

So how may we find a way to put our hands down, to march our heavy, stiff feet over to another, and touch them on the shoulder? What must we do, or know, in order to break into that more human part of ourselves? I don't know, really. I think it involves a lot of pain. Feeling a lot of horrible things. Acknowledging a lot of ugliness. Showing a lot of compassion.
Heaven help us all.


Anonymous said...

I think it's relevant to point out that this is a "Bonne Maman" jar and not Smucker's or an off brand generic. Is this intentional, or is it another way the artist sometimes forgets her own, ubiquitous privilege?

Jessica Young said...

I'm almost certain the artist wasn't thinking of her privilege as indicated by using Bonne Maman over Smuckers, etc. She might have considered this as a pointed choice, but I doubt it. It's such a minor element on the piece as a whole, you frankly wouldn't notice it. But she might have been that considerate of her own work, though I tend to think the jar came out of a practical choice, having the widest mouth to accomodate all those characters.