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Blogging as gleaning?

Gleaning, as every good art historian schooled in 19th century French painting knows, “is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.”

The painting on the left, by Jean-François Millet, is the Gleaners (1857), with its bleak Old Testament mood of “you shall earn your bread by the sweat of your brow” and Book of Ruth lessons about “how the poor shall be with you always.” More solid than the massive haystacks on the horizon, these gleaners will be here for all eternity.

And so, while Millet monumentalized the poor, his approach was however appropriately enough re-thought by more progressively socialist-minded painters (Pissarro, eg.) who maybe weren’t entirely satisfied with “naturalized” pictures of poverty because those representations weren’t really going to change anyone’s mind about the nature of poverty anyway – or the social status of the poor.

During the last week, yours truly must have been working the fields a bit too hard, for I’ve been dealing with the most annoying pulled muscle back pain for almost 6 days.

Earlier today, I figured out why my back hurt and thought I’d just write a little post about that (the pain).

But looking first for images under “back pain,” I found this:



And finding that cartoon, “Back-Ache by Millet,” which satirizes The Gleaners, gave me something else to think about.

First, here’s how I think I hurt my back: I’ve set myself the task to blog daily, but I’m busy doing other things during the day, so I often don’t get to writing my blog post until later in the evening. At times I’m really down to the wire as I scramble to finish the entry before midnight (deadline!), lest I leave a gap in the calendar.

(I think I’m getting a bit obsessive about this self-imposed schedule…)

Sometimes, because I’m writing at night, I try to be “social” about it, meaning: I write while curled up (read: hunched) in an upholstered chair in the living room. Other family members might be in the living room, and if I write in the same room with them, I’m being social by being available to them (that’s my theory, anyway).

Sometimes, I go to my desk to write (especially if it’s already closing on midnight, the deadline hour). But by then all my bad habits kick in and I could just as well have stayed curled up in that too-soft upholstered chair with my legs tucked under me. At my desk, I put my feet up on the desk (and I cross them at the ankles, too), lean back in the swivelly chair, laptop on lap, body torqued to maximum, shoulders hunched. And then I start writing.

For some reason, I always think that sitting like this is far more comfortable than sitting in an ergonomically-correct position – until, that is, I try to get up. Then I realize that I’ve thrown everything, from spine to shoulders to knees, out of whack. Ouch.

I was going to describe all this as my insight of the day (seriously: it didn’t occur to me until today that I have only my own slouching habits to blame for the really terrible back pain I’ve endured for nearly a week). I was going to add that I might cut back on the blogging a bit, until I can improve my habits.

But then I saw that cartoon! Naturally, I can’t resist writing that blogging has lately felt for all the world like gleaning: pecking out the bits of value in an ocean of sensation and information, trying to make a meal out of nothing much at all.

Except that it’s not entirely true. If I’m a “field” worker, my injuries are completely self-inflicted, and my field is infinitely rich, not a meager stubbly patch. Unlike starving peasants, I can’t complain about a dearth of anything, least of all material.

My back, though, is still killing me. 😉


  1. It’s a great “little” post about back pain and gleaning on so many levels, not to mention across time. Very few people can harvest such great yield from such a situation, but then, as you pointed out, your field is forever putting out crops.

    Comment by maria — April 27, 2010 #

  2. Well, it’s funny (not your pain, that is not funny. I can relate)…the field might be rich, but it still feels like gleaning to me. I’ve always thought of that ‘rag-picking’ (from Baudelaire) analogy too…you’re sort of dealing in leftovers and stray gauds that may or may not have value. They need to be picked up and sorted, and in any case first approached on their own level (thus the stooping?)


    Comment by John Luna — April 27, 2010 #

  3. […] When I go out, it’s for meetings (as happened today) or to walk the dog. So, if I can’t glean a minute inbetween other minutes, it seems it doesn’t get […]

    Pingback by » Some resources for Victoria’s MSM Yule Heibel's Post Studio © 2003-2010 — April 29, 2010 #

  4. Thanks for the comments, Maria and John. Love your play with the metaphor, Maria; and John, great reference to Baudelaire and rag-picking!

    Comment by Yule — April 29, 2010 #

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