In praise of the gods of small things…

“…the female sex cannot rival us while it is pocketless.” – 1899 NY Times article

Over the holidays last year, I discovered a new deity. He is the God of Christmas Lights and accepts offerings of burnt out bulbs and has domain over tangles and keeping everything lit through the whole season. We praised him when everything went up with more ease than usual this past December and thanked him once more as the lights came down, still all fully working, at the end of January.

Quite a few indigenous religions (and I count Greek/Roman as indigenous in this context) have the concept of the small god, the household god, the deity with domain over the various aspects of domestic life. (thank you, wikipedia) I’ve always connected with this idea. I have little shrines around my house dedicated to various small gods. I have gnomes and code helping robots and shrines to whimsy.

All of these little shrines are an outgrowth of my deep and long abiding fascination with micro history, the history of everyday life. It started with repeated trips to Williamsburg, VA, where I would be entranced by demonstrations of paper making, cooper work, jars of leeches at the apothecary, and the trappings used by the people doing that work.

One example of this kind of thing came back to me this morning when I found an article on the archeology of pockets and remembered thinking that the pockets in 18th century ladies clothing was brilliant and ingenious (a belt with two large pockets, plenty of room for daily tools, snacks, books of verse and slits in the skirts, so no matter what skirt, you had the same pockets. so smart!).

I have a stack of ‘to reads’ that includes subjects such as eating utensils, the pencil, and color. The idea that the desire for pepper was a key factor in driving early exploration just kills me. But what do I do with all this? Well, besides being a fount of trivial yet intriguing information, it comes out exactly where you might think it would: my writing.

I have this thing where I write domestic scenes to establish characters or plot or just because I like writing about someone making a cup of tea or cooking a meal. It helps me ground the characters in my brain, and hopefully show something important and intimate about them to the reader. It adds richness to the story, but it’s also a hallmark of one of my biggest writing influences, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I may be writing space opera or fantasy, but repeated childhood readings of the way LIW wrote about Ma churning butter has ingrained itself in my own writing. I recognize it when I’m doing it, but I’m no more powerful in stopping myself for all that knowledge.

And, honestly, I don’t think I’d want to change that about myself. It’s something that I feel makes my writing, my thought process, the way I see the world, just a little bit different. So yes, in my head, there is always cooking in space and even in the midst of a galactic-spanning war, there is always time for tea.

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