Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
January 29, 2000 - Issue 02

It CAN be Done
Suzette Haden Elgin
Original art by Suzette Haden Elgin

Suzette Haden Elgin was born in Missouri in 1936. All sorts of things happened, and in the late 60s she found herself widowed, re-married, mother of five, and a graduate student in the Linguistics Department of the University of California San Diego. Since everyone knew in those days that mothers-of-five hadnít a prayer of making it to the Ph.D., money for school was scarce; even teaching high school at night didnít cover the bills. Suzette, therefore, began writing science fiction novels to pay her tuition. She did survive grad school, with the distinction of being the only student ever to have to write two dissertations (one on English, one on Navajo) for that purpose; she went on to teach linguistics at San Diego State University, and then retired in 1980 to the Arkansas Ozarks, where she can still be found. She has grandchildren (ten of them) worldwide.

Suzette Haden Elgin is a self-taught artist. Not because she was so arrogant that she felt no need to be taught, but because every time she enrolled in an art course the same thing happened: The teacher would watch her struggle unsuccessfully for half a dozen lessons with that obligatory Apple-Sitting-By-A-Bottle, and then gently advise her to take lessons in something else. She therefore taught herself to draw by using her crocheting skills to make fiber art pictures that she calls "crochaintings," and moved on from there. Suzette has been crocheting for half a century; she uses no patterns, which means that no two of her fiber art pieces are ever alike; and she could crochet a Volkswagen ó with an automatic transmission and a catalytic converter ó if she had enough yarn. She now works in three media: fiber art; gourd art; and drawings in ink and colored pencil; her work can be seen at the science fiction convention art shows.

Suzette's recent venture in writing for and about grandmothers. She explains her reasons below:

I've set up the Grandmother World website for the same four reasons that caused me to write The Grandmother Principles. They are.....

(1) I'm worried about the possible disappearance of grandmothering skills. We live in a society where many people have little or no contact with their own grandmothers or anyone else's; the role models that used to let grandmothering be learned by example, over time, are all too often just not available today. There's no evidence that any culture can stay healthy and whole without grandmothers and their skills.

(2) I'm distressed by the widespread image of aging women as whiny unattractive nuisances -- an image that causes so many women to be horrified when they learn that they're going to be grandmothers, and that leads so many women to waste their resources trying to look twenty-five their whole lives long.

(3) For the first time in our history, greatgrandmothers are not at all rare. I'm concerned about our failure to consider their role and their needs; and I'm concerned about what it means for grandmothers not to be the senior woman in the family any more.

(4) It doesn't seem to me that other "grandparenting" media are giving time and space and energy to these problems. It doesn't seem to me that "grandparenting" media adequately convey the fact that grandmothering (and greatgrandmothering) differ from grandfathering in many important ways.

My hope is that Grandmother World can take useful steps toward solving these four problems; that's the plan. Your input -- comments, criticisms, suggestions, thoughts -- will always be welcome here.

Finally, I want to let you know that when I use the word "grandmother" I'm not referring only to a woman who has grandchildren. Society as a whole needs to be grandmothered; many people whose biological or legal grandmothers aren't available to them need grandmothering. I also use "grandmother" to refer to honorary grandmothers -- women who don't have grandchildren in the traditional sense, but who are willing to turn their hand to grandmothering all the same; and women who, although they do have grandchildren, are willing to "adopt" another one or more.

Suzette Haden Elgin

Suzette Haden Elgin's Page

Grandmother World Website

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