Beauty is not a luxury
A praise song
The other day, my love told me how much she appreciates the way I make things beautiful, how I create beauty in our lives and in the world.
This made me happy; it made me feel good, seen, and loved.
And then, almost in an instant, my very active inner critic flooded my brain: Beauty is nice, but it’s not going to change the world. There’s so much terror, hate, and suffering—you should be spending your time doing more serious things.
So I took a deep breath and began naming where my inner critic learned this.
Patriarchy: Beauty is feminine and therefore not important.
Capitalism: Beauty for the sake of pleasure and delight doesn’t produce anything and is therefore worthless.
Then I called to mind the women workers who led the 1912 workers’ strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts: We fight for bread, and we fight for roses, too. And anarchist Emma Goldman, who declared that she didn’t want to be part of any revolution that wouldn’t let her dance. And Audre Lorde, who inspired the title of this essay:
If what we need to dream, to move our spirits deeply and directly toward and through promise, is discounted as a luxury, then we give up the core—the foundation—of our power, our womanness; we give up the future of our worlds.
—“Poetry Is Not a Luxury” in Sister Outsider
I opened the pages of Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown and read the words of Taja Lindley, a multi-media performer
…I really appreciate beauty because, for me, beauty and pleasure are freedom rituals. Sexual and sensual self-expression is a part of it, but taking my body and telling my own story with it, especially inside of a state, a nation that is concerned with writing my histories and writing my body as legible in certain kinds of ways or illegible in certain kinds of ways, it’s powerful.
And I listened to the podcast Code Switch, about the protests in Puerto Rico and the ways music, spectacle, and pageantry were all a vital part of the successful movement to force the governor to resign.
Especially when we are surrounded by hate. Especially when we feel terrorized for being who we are: our race, gender, sexuality, where we come from or what passports we hold or don’t hold. Especially when we are suffering or witnessing others suffering—we need beauty.
We also need organizing and resistance. We need speaking out, marching, boycotting, direct action, and more.
But we need beauty to fill our cup, nourish our souls, inspire and fortify us to fight another day.
Beauty is a gift from the universe. The ability and inclination to make beautiful things and make things beautiful is a gift and a blessing.
All you artists, poets, playwrights, writers, dancers, choreographers, actors, performers, gardeners, cooks, knitters, embroiderers, quilt makers, flower arrangers, collage makers, sculptors, origami folders, tattoo artists, jewelry makers, potters, printers, painters, designers, decorators, singers, composers, musicians, percussionists, taiko drummers, weavers, basket makers, carvers, cleaners, muralists, bakers…beauty makers of all kinds—I see you. You are valuable and your work is essential.
And to all of you, dear readers, I offer these gifts in the name of beauty: flowers from my garden, a poem I wrote, a recipe I made up.
Flowers from my garden, vase made by a new friend
Image description: A bouquet of yellow and purple flowers in a blue, white, and grey vase, in front of a window and four blue glass jars. A heart-shaped stone is in the bottom left corner of the photo.
In the theater of the former capital, dancers and musicians swept bullets and rotten wood off the stage.
On the night of the performance, their costumes fluttered, rags in the updraft.
Rigged lights flickered like intermittent birdcalls, then steadied.
The audience breathed—a single, taut animal.
At the curtain’s rise, the hard knot in every one of our throats burst, caught fire, became a wail.
The dancers raised their arms in unison.
A slow procession of tears flowed from our eyes to chins to laps.
The drummers drummed.
Our tears pooled on the floor, lapped at our ankles.
Wind and string instruments winged through bullet holes and hunger.
When we all finally swallowed the last note, the theater was a salty lake.
Folding chairs became boats on which we floated into the night, our bodies strangely light: mirrors to the stars in the cloudless sky, wings unfurling on our backs.
A previous version of this poem was originally published in Hysteria: A Collection of Feminisms, Vol. #2, 2014.
Inspired by produce from my garden and my box from Movement Ground Farm, a social justice CSA. (It doesn’t get better than that!)
These vegan tacos are filled with a comforting black bean and squash mixture and topped with crispy kale and a tomato and ground cherry salsa. Measurements are all approximate. Taste often and adjust as needed.
Tomato and ground cherry salsa
(If you don’t have ground cherries, try substituting tomatillos or cherry tomatoes.)
A cup of ground cherries, husks removed
A cup of cherry tomatoes, diced
2-3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Jalapeño to taste
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the broiler on in your oven. (I did this in my toaster oven.) Spread the ground cherries on the baking sheet. Broil until they blister in spots—15 minutes or less. Cool.
Toss together the roasted ground cherries, tomatoes, scallions, and jalapeños. Add lime juice and salt to taste.
A handful of kale leaves, washed and tough stems removed.
Heat your oven to 250 degrees. Tear up the kale into bite-size pieces, toss with some oil and salt. Spread the kale in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or so until crispy.
Black beans and summer squash
1 small onion, chopped
1 patty pan squash or other summer squash, diced
1 can of black beans
1 teaspoon or so of cumin
1 teaspoon or so of chile powder
½ a jalapeño or other chile, diced (more or less as desired)
1 tablespoon of neutral-tasting oil
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and cumin. Sauté until onion is soft. Add the squash and the salt. Cook until squash is soft. Add the jalapeño, stir for a minute or two. Add the beans and chile powder, cook until it is the consistency you like. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Assemble the tacos:
Heat corn tortillas and fill with black beans and summer squash. Put a spoonful of salsa on top. If desired, add a spoonful of sour cream or drizzle some crema. Sprinkle a handful of crispy kale on top.
To use in journaling, writing, meditating, tarot pulling, etc.
Spend one hour or more making something beautiful. Or, spend one hour or more enjoying something beautiful. Be present. Breathe. Take it with you, leave it there, share it, or give it away.
Thank you, and please share!
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