When I can’t sleep, I sew.
I don’t necessarily sew well, mind, since the type of exhaustion that being sleepless at 3:00 am brings is typically not conducive to straight, even stitches and the proper use of scissors. But there’s something meditative, quiet and not-electronic about midnight sewing that makes insomnia more bearable, so when I can’t sleep, I sew.
Last night, before I finally fell asleep around 5:30, I worked on a small coin purse I’m putting together out of denim from an old pair of jeans and various fabric scraps, appliqued on in the shape of flowers. Or, I should say, in the five-blobbed round that we typically think of as flower-shaped, though off the top of my head last night/early this morning I couldn’t think of a single flower shaped that way.
Dandelions? No. Daisies? No. Tulips, daffodills, irises? No, no, no. Geraniums, marigolds, lilacs, Queen Anne’s Lace, trilliums, thistles, clover, snapdragons, apple blossoms, columbines, jack-in-the-pulpits, coneflowers, sunflowers, roses, lilies? No.
At 3:00, and then at 4:00 and 5:00, I wondered if there were any North American flowers shaped like a five-blob round. I couldn’t think of a single one. And I wondered, is that what we think flowers look like because we never see actual flowers anymore? Do we reduce every visual scribble or doodle of Flower to this one shape because we don’t know any better? Have our mental representations of flowers become so notional through disuse that, when we think “flower,” we think “kindergarten drawing, supported by a green stick with a narrow, veined green leaf”?
After two insufficient hours of sleep I did manage to think of a few: apple blossoms, buttercups, forget-me-nots, and others among them; though the colours, clusters, textures and so on still show both more variety and specificity than our portrayals of them.
A hundred years ago, built human spaces must have been such a relief for most people. Outside all day every day you were surrounded by the not-human, by spaces we didn’t make, species we didn’t control, in landscapes we didn’t form. Imagine to come into a human-built house at the end of such a day, the sense of openness it must have brought. But now? We spend almost our entire lives in human-built and human-controlled environments, trying desperately to eradicate those last little bits of non-human nature that poke through–we call them “weeds” and “pests.” Now it is the human environments that cause us stress, that burn us out and break us down and send us out to spaces we don’t (yet, totally) control for a sense of freedom and escape. Now that we’ve lost all meaningful contact with non-human nature, to the point where when we think of flowers our first thought is not of the actual flowers that evolved and beautified this space for millennia before we got here, but of the artless lopsided blob shapes we drew in kindergarten.
It’s not that the coin purse I’m making is bad. It’s not. It’s colourful, it’s cute, it’s a good use of leftover materials, it’s fun to put together. It’s just that it’s kind of hobbled and impoverished, too. It says “nature” through such hackneyed images that they have lost all context or connection with the nature they’re trying to represent.
I thought, I can do better.
I will, too. I have an idea. After the coin purse, and probably after the move.
I think you can do better too.