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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Meyer

They Ran for Us

interpretation by Rebecca (Becky) Larson

Note: This week I welcome fellow writer and poetic interpreter, Rebecca (Becky) Larson to the page. Here you’ll find out how her thoughts on process, women of history, and her grandmother’s teacups brought this piece together.

Putting iconic women in my grandmother’s teacups was not where I started. After reading and re-reading Michelle’s poem, The Long Run, and mulling it over for weeks, I settled on the idea of somehow bringing in images of women who ran. Women in real life, in history and in literature have often run away from something, or run toward something, like the woman in the poem. Maybe we’re all running in some way. That was the extent of my idea.  The challenge for me was to figure out how to produce a visual, given that I’m not really a “visual artist”. The interpretations of Michelle’s poems that had been posted thus far were both inspiring and a little intimidating. Collage doesn’t require drawing or painting skills, only paper, scissors and glue, and I hoped that with collage I could produce something at least “fair to middlin’”. I ripped out images from magazines that were interesting or visually compelling, like Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale, and a teacup.  Offred got a trim, and I stuck her in the paper 2D teacup. That was interesting. And then I thought of the actual teacups, dozens of them, gathering dust in the dining room and a box in the basement, untouched for years. Every so often these cups and saucers, passed down from Grandma Lilly, Grandma Ferne, my mom, and my aunt are the subject of conversation with family members. “Take the teacups, please. They’re beautiful! You could put them on a shelf!” Never any takers. I had an idea that someday I would photograph them for posterity, and then give them to Goodwill. I never did that. Until now.

The first dusty teacup I brought out was one of two that my Grandpa Elmer brought back from a trip to China in the 1930s as a souvenir for my Grandma Lilly. He travelled to China to visit missionaries serving there, in his role as a pastor. Offred was placed in that actual china from China teacup, and next to my sewing machine. I snapped a picture with my phone. She stared at me. She didn’t look weak sitting in a teacup. She was fierce.

I kept going.

Frida Kahlo and some flowers went into the second of the Chinese china teacups. She was pleased with herself.

That was how it started.

The images themselves were interesting to me, but in the middle of the print, trim and photograph process I wondered “is there something anti-feminist about putting iconic women in teacups?” These are women who have run from abusive men, from slavery, they’ve run for their lives, they’ve run toward their art, they’ve run for office and toward their purpose. Teacups are fragile, and old, irrelevant. Does this even make any sense? Or was I perhaps just maybe possibly over-thinking (again)? Teacups are also history, and family, treasures of our foremothers. They were used to bring people together. They hold up through the years, if we’re careful. We pack them in newspaper and bubble wrap and carry them from one house to the next as we move. We might never use them but they were used. And some of us can’t bring ourselves to throw them away. Maybe sitting in a teacup is like being cradled in the palm of grandma’s hand. We are comfortable there, and it’s safe, though it can also be confining, and you’re not expected to stay there forever. Before grandma gives you a little nudge, or a forceful push, she whispers “It’s time for you to run away” or “It’s time for you to run toward something, even if it’s just tea instead of coffee. You can always come back here for comfort and safety, but it’s time for you to run now.”  I decided to just go with that.  My thanks to Michelle for letting me contribute to The Book of She. During these trying times it was a welcome and surprising distraction, a diversion, a challenge, and mostly very very satisfying. Thank you, Michelle!

The Women in Grandma’s Teacups Row 1

  1. Offred, the heroine of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

  2. Beloved, the character in Toni Morrison’s novel of the same name.

  3. Roberta Cowell, the first woman known to undergo sex reassignment surgery in Britain. She was a trans trailblazer, a pilot and auto racer.

Row 2

  1. Frida Kahlo, Mexican painter, known for her self-portraits, and for her stormy relationship with Diego Rivera.

  2. Natalia Goncharova, a heroine of the Russian Avant-garde, she lived in exile in Paris so she could work on her art unhindered.

  3. Elizabeth Gilbert, the only actual living person in the piece (besides me and Michelle). She is the author of Eat Pray Love, a story of running away and running toward.

Row 3

  1. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who ran toward justice and brought us with her. May your memory be a blessing, RBG.

  2. Virgina Woolf, novelist and writer of the 1929 essay “A Room of One’s Own”, about the place of women writers in a world dominated by men.

  3. Shirley Chisholm, politician, educator and author. First African-American woman elected to U.S. Congress. In 1972 she was the first African-American to run for a major party’s nomination for President.

Row 4

  1. Michelle Meyer as a baby, and her mom

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