A few days ago, as I was artfully sticking my homemade "Please take me home" stickers on the gift bags I put together for my children's fourth birthday party, I had a familiar feeling. I was sort of enjoying myself, getting a certain satisfaction from the Martha-like perfection of the goodie bags, but underneath lurked a simmering resentment and impatience, a little throb telling me that my cutsie-pootsie project might not be the best use of my time.
As I stuck the stickers I started to suspect that such things, these bourgeois arts so trumpeted by women's magazines and Martha Stewart and a thousand design blogs, were just a giant diversion of creative energy. I imagine that no great artist, and certainly no one who has ever really changed the course of the world for the better, has expended much time or effort into making perfect goodie bags, or butterfly cakes, or wallpaper-covered file folders.
I'm all for an uplifted environment, by which I mean that I appreciate design and believe aesthetics make a difference (you should see my new faux bois rug--OMG). I get as much pleasure from a piece of beautiful Indian craft paper as the next girl. I adore a nice leisurely stroll through Design Within Reach or Etsy or Ikea. I even sort of like Real Simple.
I must admit, I'm sort of proud of my butterfly cake
But I also notice that men make and get credit for most of the "great art" of the world. Ditto on great scientific discoveries, adventures, environmental milestones, and feats of engineering. Meanwhile, women are encouraged to make the world a little cuter one scrapbook at a time. (Again, I appreciate a good scrapbook, but they are not the building blocks of a greater civilization, as least not as we currently view it.)
And the spaceship cake.
Of course not all of us were meant to design bridges or write the Great American Novel or become the next Beethoven. Most of us were meant to live decidedly less dramatic marks. And there is something to be said for doing something out of love, without regard for the praise or attention it might garner. All this magazine-style cuteness—wrapping forty presents, or making a spaceship cake, or laboriously calligraphing the place cards—might all be seen as acts of love. There is nothing wrong in wanting to delight someone else with a small effort toward beauty.
Still, I wonder. All this presentation is so fleeting and so fickle. Today's gorgeous cupcake tower will most likely be tomorrow's pineapple candle salad. Adorable goodie bags get torn open and disposed of with barely a glance. Spaceship cakes take 4 hours to make and ten minutes to eat.
I think of it this way: there are a million aspiring novelist in the country and I bet none of the male ones spend hours of their precious writing time making delightful goodie bags for four-year-olds.
Then again, I don't watch sports on TV, so maybe we come out equal.
P.S. The party was a complete success and much fun was had.