Here is a collection of posts from artist Amy Meissner — one of my favorite follows on Instagram — advertising a mending and clothes repair workshop she helped run in Anchorage, Alaska, before the pandemic. They all have the same caption: “Mend a thing.”
Here’s something she said about the workshops that has stuck with me:
Once you’ve mended something, if you didn’t have sentimental value attached to it before, then you certainly do once you’ve taken the time to care for it.
“CARE FOR SOMETHING” is the last lesson in my friend Rob Walker’s wonderful book, The Art of Noticing.
He explained in his newsletter:
[O]ne of my favorite responses to a willfully open-ended prompt I give my students — I order them to “practice paying attention” — came from a student who thought he did it wrong. He had made a planter, he explained, for a cactus. He’d done this, he said, on the theory that “by nurturing or caring for something, you pay more attention to it.” And of course he was right! (See also this recent Times Magazine essay making a similar point: “How Taking Care of Houseplants Taught Me to Take Care of Myself.”)
I will try to connect Amy and Rob’s thoughts with a snippet from Keep Going:
“Attention is the most basic form of love,” wrote John Tarrant. When you pay attention to your life, it not only provides you with the material for your art, it also helps you fall in love with your life.
So, while we often think of love as leading to care, care can also lead us to love.
I feel this most deeply with my kids. I’m closest to them when I’m giving them my full, undistracted attention and care. I feel the least love for them when I’m trying to get something else done, or I’m wishing I was elsewhere. (There must be a connection here to John Cage’s formula: If we ignore noise, it disturbs us. When we listen to noise, we find it fascinating.)
In her book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, Alison Gopnik advocates for abandoning the word “parenting” as a verb. She encourages readers to think of being a parent as a relationship that runs on love, instead of a job that runs on work.
“Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks of blueprints,” she writes, “but it does have a purpose.” The purpose of loving children is to care for them as a gardener would tend to plants, creating the conditions under which they will thrive.
This caring, she says, changes us, and deepens our love. “We don’t care for children because we love them,” she writes, “we love them because we care for them.”
This sentence has profound implications for parents and caregivers of all kinds. (Including children caring for aging parents.) I’m not even sure if the sentence is true, but I want it to be, and if it isn’t true, it is a useful fiction, because it encourages us to do the verb, first — not to wait on the deep feeling before we care, but to care first, and if the feeling comes it comes, but if it doesn’t, at least we’ve cared.
Gary Snyder once said he didn’t think talking about “doom scenarios” were very effective when it comes to changing people’s behavior. “The first step, I think… is to make us love the world rather than to make us fear for the end of the world. Make us love the world… and then begin to take better care of it.” I’m thinking of this now, and wondering if the first step is to perform an act of care — to mend, to repair, to darn, to sew, to patch, to heal — and then the love will come.
Or maybe it’s not directional at all, but an endless cycle: