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Essay

All That Glitters

By August 29, 2012 3 Comments
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Here’s the thing: I was a very big fan of Lost, but I also knew were I ever in a similar situation that I probably wouldn’t have made it past the first week on the island (unless Jack had taken pity on me, but that musing is probably best left to another kind of blog). I mean, I do know how to cook, but to be honest, my life skills generally lie in the more theoretical and cerebral direction.  

Which is to say that I always have a moment of trepidation when I make a plane reservation, and I come to the “title” choice.  Should I choose Ms., be old school with Miss, or claim my PhD and go with Dr.? I’m proud of that degree, but I worry about over-promising. After all, I don’t want to find myself at 20,000 feet being summoned because someone is having a heart attack, and I’m listed on the manifest as a doctor.  Certainly, if the sufferer would like to hear—in the midst of his or her palpitations—a consoling recitation of Victorian poetry or an erudite explication of the ending of Middlemarch, I am the girl for them.  But beyond giving an aspirin, I’m not much use at all.

Which is to say further that yes, I am your standard-issue English professor: I read books.  I talk about them.  Sometimes I write about them too.  I am not “craft-y,” I do not scrapbook, I do not own a hot glue gun. (NB: I have many very fine and “craft-y” colleagues—this is no judgment on them or their ownership of said hot glue gun, which seems like a handy thing to own, to be honest). 

In any case, last week I somehow decided that making a gag gift would be “fun” and found myself in a Hobby Lobby.  From the reaction of the women who I met there (staff and customers alike), it was clear I looked lost or at least in desperate need of some help.  Of course, they were not wrong in that perception.  I imagine I looked slightly stunned: who could have predicted the cavernous magnitude of a store that in no way resembled any “lobby” that I have ever seen.  As I wandered through the store, looking for the one thing I had come for (and for which I was told there were three possible locations, seemingly a mile apart), I had not realized that the fake botany industry extended to every conceivable species and color—not just flowers in all the hues of the rainbow, but pumpkins and more squashes than I’ve seen at any farmers’ market.  I was amazed at the rows upon rows of mysterious objects for the creation of all manner of handiwork. And I struggled to fathom that that many surfaces existed for the presentation of glitter or, in fact, that an entire aisle of glitter choices was even a possibility.  Who knew of glitter’s rich diversity?

Was some of the store tacky and/or kitschy?  To be sure.  But it was also rather wonderful.  Here was a place that presented tangible evidence of the God-given desire to create beauty (even if that did mean glitter and artificial vegetables).  And what if it did?  Is not the knitting of a sweater, the compilation of a scrapbook, the decorating of a home—are not these holy and beautiful acts? A small part of the restoration of the world? A bringing of order and shalom?  A celebration of God’s presence with us, even in the very ordinary?  To the creator of the universe, I’m not sure that the aesthetic differences between “art” and “craft” is perceived in as widely divergent terms as we may see it.  To be honest, to God it probably all most closely resembles the macaroni projects of pre-school.  But God does not seem to love us any the less for trying to participate fully and imaginatively in God’s world. 

I think Gerard Manley Hopkins might have enjoyed the Hobby Lobby too.  In his poem, “Pied Beauty,” he celebrates the wonder of creation, even in seemingly unconventional, unlovely, and unexpected things and places.  And he also writes in praise of  “And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.”  By my reckoning that includes glue guns and specialty scissors and all manner of glitter.  To God be the glory indeed.

 

GLORY be to God for dappled things—

  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

 

    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

 

 

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

 

                  Praise him.

 

 

“Pied Beauty” can be found at http://www.bartleby.com/122/13.html

 

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

3 Comments

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Great piece, Jennifer. It reminds me of the Charles Baudelaire piece "The Bad Glazier" where, upon seeing a glazier in the street with only clear panes of glass, he shouts, "What! Have you no colored glass, no pink, no red, no blue! No magic panes, no panes of Paradise?" He then hurls a flower pot to break the man's cart of glass shouting "Make life beautiful, make life beautiful!" 🙂

  • Debra Rienstra says:

    I really love the image of you, on a plane, standing over a struggling heart attack victim, reciting poetry and explicating Middlemarch while the flight attendants break out the defibrillator. We're always saying literature is powerful, so who knows–maybe it would help!

  • Jennifer L. Holberg says:

    Thanks, y'all. Hadn't been aware of that article, Scott. And Debra, think of all the wonderful stuff you could do (Shakespeare, Donne, Mary Sidney Herbert's psalms)….

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