On Needlepoint & Sacred Spaces
Most nights, after a long day of work, I’m greeted first by my dog and then by my teenage son’s detritus – his backpack, sneakers, a sweater he’s shrugged off and let drop to the floor – littering the front hall and obstructing my path to the kitchen. Yelling at him doesn’t help nor does it feel good. Lately, I’ve taken to calmly opening the front door and tossing all of his things outside while remarking that I think a rainstorm might be coming. In response, my son, hard-edged and sarcastic like his father, stays put, unconcerned. Without looking up from his iphone, he reminds me that his “sentence” ends in three years when he ships off for college. I tell him to close out of ESPN, to start his homework, to take out the trash, to learn to pick up after himself, to grow up for god’s sake! – all of which feel as terrible and ineffective as yelling.
But the other night, after chucking his things out of the door, I took in a new scene: My son at our kitchen island, his head bent down in concentration, working on a needlepoint. I was so stunned that I forgot about the trash barrels he had neglected to bring in, his homework and the mess all around him.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I need to get my grade up in art,” he replied, holding up the fabric canvas, “and this is just stitching. It’s genius. You don’t need talent.”
For the next few weeks or so, he carried the needlepoint around with him, stitching away as I made dinner, as he channel surfed in the evening. I watched as he stitched the red and orange foliage of a tree and filled in its brown trunk. He explained to me how after finishing the tree, he would paint a moon and a night sky, and then a mirror image of the entire landscape scene in reflection below. There was no hiding, even from me, his pleasure, his joy and his ambition. I hadn’t seen this side of him in years. At fifteen, he is armored and on the lookout for deceit and hypocrisy everywhere in the adult world. And moreover, his hobbies -- tennis, soccer, fantasy football -- don’t provide him much space to reveal or explore his tender-hearted good nature and his eye for beauty.
Watching him stitch, I remembered him at six, sprinting across the living room to shield our guinea pig’s eyes from the sight of a snake he imagined would scare her. I remembered him at eight donating all he had in his bank account -- $40 dollars – to GrubStreet for the “Muze or something.” In short, I saw him fully, in a way that – and I hate to admit this – I can forget to do when I’m tired and staring down another pair of dirty socks on the floor or when he’s sharp with me and I’m unable to be anything better or bigger than annoyed.
When I reflect upon what’s most essential about our work at GrubStreet, I find myself thinking about my son and his needlepoint. The world is armored these days, and our public space sometimes looks a bit like it does on my worst parenting days: consumed by shouting, forgetful of the irreducible and unique beauty of each individual. In this climate, our classrooms become sacred spaces for the grand bargain of the narrative arts: the opportunity to explore our singular insides. To do this in the company of others allows us to be seen, heard, and understood in our complexity and uniqueness. It is this promise of authentic human-to-human connection in a setting of love and respect for each other that ultimately feels most meaningful to me about our work.
My son finished the painting portion of his needlepoint at school. When I asked him if he could bring it home so that I could see it, he rolled his eyes and told me it didn’t matter. A few hours later, he texted an image of the needlepoint not only to me, but to his father and sister: Here it is, he wrote. I read it as: here I am.
Eve Bridburg is the Founder and Executive Director of GrubStreet. Under her leadership, the organization has grown into a national literary powerhouse known for artistic excellence, working to democratize the publishing pipeline and program innovation. An active partner to the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, Eve was the driving force behind establishing the country’s first Literary Cultural District in downtown Boston and securing chapter 91 space in the Seaport to build a creative writing center. The Barr Foundation recently named her a 2019 Barr Fellow in recognition of her leadership. Having graduated from its inaugural class, Eve remains active with the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program, a consortium of 200 of the world’s top cultural leaders, which addresses the critical issues that face the arts and cultural sector worldwide. Eve has presented on the future of publishing, what it takes to build a literary arts center, and the intersection of arts and civics at numerous local and national conferences. Her essays and op-eds on publishing, the role of creative writing centers and the importance of the narrative arts have appeared in The Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Cognoscenti, Writer's Digest and TinHouse. Eve serves on the Advisory Board of The Loop Lab, a new Cambridge-based nonprofit dedicated to increasing representation in the Media Arts. Eve worked as a literary agent at The Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency for five happy years where she developed, edited, and sold a wide variety of books to major publishers. Before starting GrubStreet, she attended Boston University’s Writing program on a teaching fellowship, farmed in Oregon, and ran an international bookstore in Prague.See other articles by Eve Bridburg