Friday, March 4, 2016

Countdown to Spoon Knife: What is a Spoon Knife?

In today's Excerpts from The Spoon Knife Anthology: the Introduction, "What is a Spoon Knife?", by Michael Scott Monje, Jr.

Autonomous Press is now taking pre-orders for The Spoon Knife Anthology, as well as Barking Sycamores, Year One and Imaginary Friends.  Order at  (See the latest issue of Barking Sycamores online at

Introduction: What is a Spoon Knife?

The first question I got from my partners and blogging friends when I started talking about spoon knives was “What is that?” Every one of them had heard about Christine Miserandino’s “The Spoon Theory,” of course, and they could tell I was referencing it, but none of them seemed to be familiar with traditional woodworking tools, because they didn’t see that reference or its connection to activist work. Not at first, at least. Once I posted some pictures of various spoon knives and the bowls they were used to carve, the idea caught fire.

To start understanding the idea of the spoon knife, you need to start back at “The Spoon Theory,” that wonderful, dynamic metaphor for living with chronic pain and disability. If you’ve never read the original essay, it’s worth the time, and it is available online at In it, Ms. Miserandino details how she used a collection of spoons to symbolize her pool of resources when a friend asked her what it was like to live with lupus. As she detailed the tasks of a regular day, she took spoons away, to show how her energy had to be spent. At the end, when there was only one spoon left and the only item on the list—dinner—was likely to take two spoons, it helped to drive home the choices and the careful safeguarding of resources she has to make as she plans her daily activities.

The essay is a powerful statement about the importance of long-term planning, of not doing everything, and of prioritizing self-care. At the same time, though, it also begs a question: How does one get more spoons? To extend the idea in her original essay, each day is treated like a table, and each table is set with a different number of place settings. Sometimes, there are more spoons than you need to do everything on the list. Sometimes, though, there are not enough. That complicates planning. What if there was another way, though?

Interdependency, that principle that governs so much of the way that disability and disabled cultures are constructed, seems to suggest that the whole room does better when we are willing to send extra spoons to other tables. That, at least, is the organizing principle in most of the activist organizations and groups I’ve been involved with, whether they are formal or informal in nature. What about when the whole room is packed, though? How do we get more spoons when everyone needs them?

The answer is the spoon knife, that old woodworker’s companion that looks something like the tool it is used to make, only sharp and nasty and quick. A spoon knife is used to carve the bowl, which makes it curved, like a melon baller. It shaves away the unnecessary parts of the wood in layers, too, so it has to be sharp and strong, to keep slicing and slicing until it has peeled enough to make a depression in an otherwise smooth stick. It looks thin, like something made from an old beer can, but in a master’s hands, it rewards patience and precision.

If we’re keeping with our extended metaphor, though, then we still have to ask the question: What is a spoon knife? We know what our symbol does, but what in our community is capable of doing that thing—cutting away layers of what shouldn’t be there, to leave us with the ability to do more, reach further, and nourish ourselves more successfully. What looks thin and weak, but nonetheless digs deep channels into reality?

My belief is that the spoon knife is a story. For some, it’s an expression of solidarity that refills our emotional reserves even as it bolsters the morale of the one who offered support. For others, it might be an example that provides the cognitive scaffolding needed to get out of an abusive situation, or even just to recognize one in the first place. It’s also possible for it to be a confrontation, a reality that will not yield to our need until we learn to wield it and to control its damage with unwavering precision.

It’s fitting that the spoon knife looks both weak and menacing at once, because story is a thing that can be blown away on the wind, or it can slice away the people around you by revealing what lies underneath your initial presentation. And, at the end of the day, a spoon knife is absolutely unthreatening unless one chooses to make it otherwise.

If I’m right, then this collection of knives will provoke new spoons when the right kinds of readers connect with them, providing the things those readers need to navigate their own daily tasks and challenges. And who knows? Maybe a few of them will look into this volume and see more than spoons. Maybe those readers will see the possibilities that arise when you study the uses of the knife. And you know what? We will be waiting for them.


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