Friday, December 9, 2011

So, my thoughts/feelings on the Houston quilt show - finally.  I loved it, as always.  Every year I am excited, inspired, amazed, and I learn so very much.  It's easy to be a critic, I suppose, but I can hardly find anything at that show that I don't think is amazing (guess I'm still easily amused, as one of my college friends put it) Although at one point, I did overhear a comment that someone was "disappointed" in the winners - huh?  Is that possible?  How could one not be totally bowled over at the dedication, creativity, and amazing detailed work that went into those quilts, even if it isn't exactly something one might do oneself.  I don't get that comment at all.  I will say that I was annoyed at some of the quilts that somehow did NOT win a prize - hard to understand.  I guess there's no accounting for judging!

 I am going to share some of the amazing quilts I saw here and make some comments.  Many of them don't translate to pictures quite as well as they should, but here goes:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Quilt, Interrupted

       I apologize for being so intermittant lately where this blog is concerned, but I am currently suffering from “quiltis interruptus.”  Since attending the quilt show in Houston and being inspired by many new and exciting ideas,  I have, sadly, not had time to work on, think about, or deal with anything remotely having to do with art. 
       And yes, it is making me crabby.  But what’s a girl/wife/mother/chicken farmer/working gal to do? 
        I keep waiting for things to settle down so I can set a schedule to work on my art, but there is no end in sight – hell, now it’s the holiday season, and we all know that means we have to decorate, shop, bake, clean, plan, wrap, socialize (all of which are fun, but they do take time). 
        I have the evenings free most of the time, but I admit that I seem to be picking up the daylight savings-time blahs – I’m really tired at night - lately all I seem to have energy for in the evenings are sedentary pursuits; if I’m lucky and it’s not past 8:30 when I sit down, I might be able to read, watch television, or search the internet without falling asleep, but even doing a crossword puzzle can be too taxing for my brain – last night I drifted off on 22 across!   So anything requiring concentration, patience, and/or problem-solving is definitely out.    
       I know I’m not the only one who suffers from this disease.  We all have things we want to work on that we simply cannot get to at times – it’s called LAAG (Life As a Grown-Up).   And sometimes, let's face it, it sucks.  As my friend Karen put it the other day “I find it can be quite boring at times to be an adult.  In fact, Peter Pan is my idol.”  
         If only my mother hadn’t taught me to be so damned responsible ! (Yes, once again it’s all her fault - she haunts me even from the grave - it's her voice I hear in my head telling me "Do the right thing...take care of your one ever said it was going to be easy.)  It's enough to make me want to fly away to Neverland myself sometimes!
     Well Tinkerbell, it’s okay if we can’t fit it all in right now.  I know I’ll find the time and energy to get back to art soon.  How do I know this?  Because it’s an important part of my life and as such, I will make it happen.  It’s almost a matter of commitment and discipline - even if at first I have to drag myself kicking and screaming up the stairs and chain myself to the leg of my work table, I know that once I get back to work, the energy and ideas with be there.  I think we all go through periods where we have less creative motivation and/or time, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care, it just means we have other things that are more pressing.

        Soon, when the desire to create overcomes my lassitude, I will get up and get busy again.  Until then, keep tuning in – writing is a pretty sedentary activity, too…although right now I do feel a nap coming on…

Friday, November 11, 2011

Of Mice and Men

              I had the best of intentions: On day one  I was to look at the art; on day two, look at the shops, decide what items I want to purchase and weed out what I could not afford, and on the third day make my purchases.  All might have gone as planned except we ended up tweaking our strategy a little: We decided that instead of viewing all the art at once (It really was quite overwhelming – actually exhausting -  and we felt we couldn’t do them all justice)  we would go back and forth between the shopping booths and the art.  Admire the art for a couple of hours, look at the booths for a couple of hours…take a break and eat, then do it again.  Still, it was working; I didn’t buy anything on the first day, and I only bought one item on the second day.  I had seen most, but not all of the shopping booths by the end of the second day, and I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to buy from what I had seen, so I felt safe on the third day. 
            Little did I know that I was to experience a new phenomena  – one that I will call, the big finale.  On that third day, after I had coolly made my planned purchases, I discovered the Vogue booth, with hundreds of beautiful, colorful batik fabrics for half of what they normally go for!  I felt I would have been a fool to resist buying them, even though I had spent my allotment already.  “Okay,” I told myself, “You’ve spent your sum, but this really is a bargain!  Besides, I know I will use these fabrics!”   So I went ahead and bought them.  Later, we came across a booth we had missed with some of the most interesting designs I had seen in quite some time.  People were in a fabric frenzy in there– flipping through the stacks like they were dealing cards…even grabbing fabric from each other, and I knew that if I didn’t buy some of it, it would be gone, so, weakened  as I was from allowing myself to fall off the fabric wagon, I got that, too.  And that was it – I had taken my finger out of the dike and the material sprang forth.   
            The next day was Saturday, and we only had a few hours at the show before we had to leave.  We still hadn’t seen all the art, so we planned on viewing, and then leaving.   But then I got inspired by some of the pieces I had seen, and we still had two hours, so I decided I wanted to look for specific colors, and  suddenly we passed by the hand-dyes I am such a sucker for,  and the colors were so rich, and I was leaving soon, so I bought some of them, and then I (stupidly) visited the Vogue booth again with their darn half-priced fabrics -  and in the exact colors I was looking for, too…I ended up spending twice the amount I had planned.  I even had to go to the ATM to get more cash for food and incidentals. 
I’m so ashamed!**
            I’m also a little disappointed in myself because I did not remain entirely present and aware, which was my spiritual goal.  I know that I didn’t need to buy all I did;  I already have enough for many future projects, darn it,  but once the end was near, that part of me that is pure emotion took over and the result was, well, fabric gluttony.   I didn’t want to gain any fabric weight this year, but I piled the pounds on at the end.  Damn.
            My only consolation is that I already have ideas and designs in mind for every purchase that I made  - does that make it all better?  Probably not, but it makes me feel better, anyway.   

So for this year, I must give myself a failing grade (A, for avarice), but next year, I’m still striving for a Z (for Zen!)

**Not really, because I really am so excited and inspired by the stuff I got, but I should be - really!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Propoganda Perspective

My son recently did a report on George Orwell for his the English class.  He read one of Orwell’s essays on language and how it can be used to mislead the masses.  It got me thinking about the Houston Quilt Festival, which I will be happily attending next week.  I realized that attending the show can have some Orwellian consequences that are either completely unintended OR – they are diabolically designed by some evil geniuses who are trying to control me, you and everyone else who attends. 
One of the reasons I love to go to the festival is to see and be inspired by the astounding creativity of the artists.  Often I come home so excited that before I say hello to my family I am at my desk, busily working on my next project inspired by something I saw or some amazing fabric I came across.

But - there is danger lurking in the seemingly innocent rows of inspiration - it is the danger of thing-a-ma-bobs, doo-dads, and hootchies.  You know – it’s all the stuff that you see in the merchant section of the show. These items that seem so delightful in the glow of post-quilt viewings are often in reality items that you never actually use and can’t remember how to work once you get home.  The people in the booths cleverly demonstrate their ease of use, tell that they can simplify and save time and how they allow you to make the amazing creations they have on display,  and you actually believe you must have one or you’ll never be inspired again, but the truth is it’s really just the warm afterglow of viewing great art influencing your judgement - you may not truly be interested in making that particular type of quilt and the handy ” whatsit”  you need to make it will, in all probability, sit in your studio for years until you come across it one day and really cannot remember what it is or how to use it.  See what I mean about being mislead?  You are in actuality being influenced by the beauty of the creations you have viewed to buy a bunch of crap you don’t actually want!
I'm not saying all the gadgets or tools sold at the quilt show are useless; I’m sure all of them were invented in good faith and some of them really are handy, no doubt.  I’m just saying that it is good to be a little more scientific and less emotional when deciding what to actually purchase, especially after looking at the quilts on display.  I speak not in a preachy manner, but from experience.  I have been a victim of afterglow several times myself, and my mother, bless her enthusiastic soul, was one of the worst suckers for gadgets I ever saw.  Periodically I would help her clean out her studio and we often found items still in their original packaging (albeit covered with dust) and when I would question her about it, she either couldn’t remember buying it, or said “Oh yeah – I was going to use that to make that one quilt – oh I can’t remember, but it was really cool – just put it back, I’ll get to it later…” But of course, there was always some other new thingy, and most of them still sit dust-covered (now in my studio as Mother is no longer with us),  or have fallen off the shelf and broken, never to be used at all.    

This year I am on a short budget due to the fact that we are embarking on a new business venture (see my other blog::, so I have devised a plan.  First, I am going to set myself a budget and take the amount in cash only. I am making a list of items to look for based on some designs I have planned beforehand, as well.   I will not even bring my credit card, so I cannot be tempted to use it.  On day one I will view the quilts, and view the quilts only.  The next day I will go through the booths and make lists of the booth numbers and what I think is interesting or what I want to buy (which is always a long list) as well as the price.  I will go over the list that night and see what exorbitant number I come up with and whittle it down to a more realistic amount, and on the third day I shall visit the booths again and make my actual purchases.  That way I won’t overspend or waste any money on things I will not use.  I’m going to stick to this plan no matter what.   I refuse to purchase another item I don’t really need just because of quilting propaganda.
Having said all that, of course I will be open to new innovations and ideas – part of the purpose of attending the festival is to get new inspiration, so I need to be a little spontaneous, right?  I'm not against being excited, I am merely attempting to NOT be mislead by the propoganda of the amazing art I will be viewing!  I'm trying to walk the line of inspiration frenzy and cool, clear-headed consumerism (which does NOT run in my family).  I’ll let you know how that goes when I get back – wish me self-control, okay?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sorry I haven't written in the last couple of weeks - been busy with my new chicken farming venture and my new part-time job!  I'll have a post completed tomorrow, though, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cheaters Sometimes Win

            Is it only cheating when you get caught - or is it okay to fudge, embellish, stretch, darn, or paint over mistakes?  I used to think that everyone except me was able to churn out perfect, flawless art, but now I know the truth – some of them cheat! It makes me so happy to know this!
            Because I make mistakes, no matter how careful I am.  Most of the time they are smallish and very few but the most discerning (or, to -mah-to) would notice them, but they eat away at me and I often feel compelled to point them out to admirers.  My husband always says “Just pretend they are part of the design, and if no one mentions them, you shouldn’t either!”  He’s right of course, but that is difficult for me to do – I have honesty diarrhea – it runs out of me before I can stop it a lot of time. I think the problem is that when I know it is there, it’s all I can see, and I always suppose other people are noticing it, too.
         Of course, in my quest to be more “zen”  I have also tried acceptance, and I can  certainly accept that I am going to make mistakes, even be (somewhat) calmish in the face of them, but let’s be real here –one cannot tell a potential buyer to just accept that the piece was made by a human and therefore has flaws  and then expect them to pay for it.  It has to at least have the attitude of perfection in order to be sellable. 
            Plus, it’s heartbreaking (or depending on one’s personality, crazy-making) when you have spent countless hours designing and creating something only to make or discover a glaring flaw at the very end!  In the past, when I have made mistakes, I thought “That’s it – this piece is ruined!”  Now I know better.  For example, I’ve made the recent discovery of the many delightful uses of clear thread (Where have I been? Under a rock, I guess – I know it’s not new).  I wish I had known about it a long, long time ago, because this thread is magic – it can be used to fix almost any mistake and it is basically invisible (especially with 40+ eyes! ) – LOVE IT!  
            For example, one time I was trying to trim threads when I finished a piece and I cut the fabric instead (Surely it’s happened to many people, not just me…right?) I  About a quarter inch gap appeared right in the front, very conspicuous, and I actually cried!  But after I mopped up, I was able to repair it with the magic invisibility thread and it was virtually unnoticeable – thank God!  The mistake was still there, so I had to clamp my jaws together whenever anyone complimented the piece so I didn’t point it out, but the truth is, no one has ever noticed it but me.  So the stuff really works and it is now my best friend.  (Of course, like all relationships with best friends we have our problems.  It may be able to make mistakes disappear, but being invisible it is really difficult to work with, sort of like sewing with a long blond hair – hard to see and thread through a needle - especially with 40+eyes - and even more difficult to use in a machine, so sometimes I curse at it, but deep down I truly love it.)
              I have fretted and worried about this cheating until I talked to someone who said she took an entire class once from a well-known and respected artist that was entirely about fudging – she even said one idea was to use a sharpie marker to “fix” little mistakes.  After I got over my shock, I was elated!   Well heck, if the leaders in the industry are doing it, then why can’t I? 
            So naturally, now I cheat with abandon (I mean, only if I have to)! No need to cry over mistakes, there’s probably a way to fix it, hooray! Only I don’t consider it cheating anymore – I’m just making it perfect (or at least look perfect!)  And if I can only keep my mouth shut about it – hopefully I can do it so well that no one will ever notice. 
            I’m going to the Houston Quilt Festival at the end of this month, and along with admiring the amazing works of art I will see and getting endlessly inspired,  I have to admit I’m going to, just for fun, see if I can catch any flaws or mistakes and see how these incredible artists cleverly disguised, fixed or covered them up.   Hey, I’m always on the lookout for new ideas, if you know what I mean!  

Monday, October 3, 2011


          In tenth grade world history I learned that one of the characteristics of a civilization is that they create art for enjoyment.  From that I can extrapolate that I live in a civilized world because I see art everywhere in our world – there’s fine art, books, movies, television, performance art, music, fashion – in fact, there are probably as many forms of at as there are people, because in the right hands, almost anything can become art, even food - I once heard about a restaurant in Spain called E Bulli where the dinner literally takes all night to eat.  The food is presented in course after course as if the patrons were at a museum looking at pieces of art – and then they get to eat the amazing (and hideously expensive) things. Naturally the place was booked years in advance, although it did apparently close this year to become a “haute cuisine” research facility - talk about artistic!
          Apparently we “modern” humans create just because we can.  Sometimes I wonder, though– is that enough, or does there have to be a larger purpose for it?  I know that when ideas and inspiration come to me if I don’t follow through on them I become crabby and impossible to live with, but on the other hand, what do I do with them after they are created?  You see, all this creativity takes a lot of time, and I am half German, which means that I sometimes feel the need for a little practicality.  Traditional quilts have always had a practical purpose, yet most people who have made them have strived to make them beautiful as well, because they could, so many are both useful and works of art – that’s easy.  But I don’t make traditional quilts – I make art quilts.  So what does this mean?  For me, it means that I am going to attempt to sell my art
           First of all, I know that in order to sell your work you must believe in it, and I believe in textile art as a medium – I know from experience it can really warm up a space, add style, texture, color and people respond to it emotionally every bit as much as they do to other forms of art.  So I’ve got that part down.  And I feel I can stand behind my work and if it gets some exposure, it might just sell.  So I’m okay there, too.
          But it seems I can’t help questioning whether this is the right thing to do at this time in my life, or I need to continue to live more conventionally (i.e.a steady paycheck, etc.)  Just because I feel I am opening up creatively doesn’t mean I am not still a practical, logical girl.  I know I’m at a time in my life when I still have many productive years left and I want to continue to contribute to my family, my community and the world in general.  I’m hoping that I can balance my need to create with a little dose of real life by getting my work out there and taking some chances - nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  If it doesn’t work out, I’ll do whatever I need to do and  furthermore (in keeping with the title of the blog) I shall strive valiantly to be at peace, whatever the outcome.  Because I can’t “just do it” – I apparently need a reason.  (That dratted German blood!)
          Having shared my personal situation - I also strongly believe that doing, making, and creating does have a great deal of inherent value just in itself.  Creating art as a hobby is plenty worthwhile, even if you have no idea of or interest in sharing it with the world.  What I believe is that we all have to create on our own terms.  I’m just still negotiating mine, apparently.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Circular File

            Katherine ( my sister-in-law) says I’m dotty.  No, not as in “She’s a bit of a nutter,” although that is also undeniably true.  What she means is that I seem to have an endless fascination with circles.  To clarify, I am referring to circles, not dots or polka dots.  I find polka dots and dots to be both perky and falsely cheerful (they aren’t fooling me), and I think that many people have a tendency to over-use them in their lives in an attempt to project that they are A) mod or B) open-minded, and most of the time it just doesn’t work.  They seem somehow subversively circumspect (pardon the pun) in their uniformity - it arouses my suspicion. 
            Having made that extremely important distinction, I still find that I am drawn to themes of curves and circles in my life and in my work.  For some reason, they are a source of endless inspiration for me.  But not, as I said before, in any set pattern – as soon as they are in a non-random pattern they lose my interest.  It’s not just circles, either – anything with curves is attractive to me.
            This inexplicable lure (I find myself liking a particular rug, or piece of furniture, for example and Katherine will laughingly point out the curves or circles on it) has me wondering if there is a deeper, cosmic reason for my circular proclivity.  So I looked up the meaning of the circle as a symbol.  According to the website “What’s Your (Catchy title, huh?  But the website is written by a symbologist - kind of like the reknowned symbologist in the Dan Brown books – so it must be legit!) the circle represents any and all of the following: inclusion, wholeness, unity, nurturing, cycles, focus, initiation, perfection, womb, centering, revolution, mobility, inclusion, completion.   According to this website, the circle symbol meaning is universal, sacred and divine.  Furthermore, Dr. Carl Jung (just to lend my research an air of respectability) viewed the circle as the archetypal symbol of the psyche (the body’s symbol is the square). (Why the psyche needs a symbol I cannot conclude, but there you have it.)
         Circles (apparently) represent the universal nature of energy and the inclusivity of the universe.   They are symbols of eternal love (as in a wedding ring), and let’s not forget the circle of life.  So in short, a circle represents, well - just about everything!   So that’s why I like it – because I like everything?  Not particularly elucidating, but still – kinda interesting.  At least it is a positive symbol and doesn’t somehow represent negativity  or something bad…the way an evil, pointy triangle might.  (Just kidding all you triangle-loving people – I have no idea what a triangle symbolizes!)
             The larger question is really one of inspiration, and from where it comes. What causes us to pull over to the side of the road so we can jot down an idea, or get up in the middle of the night to create?  And why does it seem that we are attracted to certain shapes, colors and styles? 
            It seems many of us creative types go through phases in our art – which puts us in great company.  Picasso, for example, had his famous “ Blue” period, Toulouse Lautrec had his “Can-Can” period,  Frank Lloyd Wright had his organic “living architecture” period. (There are more, of course, but these are the easy ones to list!).  On the other hand some artists, no less talented or famous -Titian for example - produced everything they did with an unmistakable and unchanging style. 
            It doesn’t really matter of course, but it does make me ponder a couple of things - why would my inspiration be so shape-specific?  And will it last forever, or is it just a phase?   I wonder if any of you out there can look at your creations and find a universal theme?  And if you can, does it say anything about you as a person, or is it absolutely meaningless?  Please share with the rest of us.   One could of course make the argument that it is all meaningless, of course, but still – it’s fun to explore and quite interesting.  You might learn realize something about yourself reflected in your creative urges!
            The only thing I can conclude for certain, which brings me full circle (pun intended) is that I like circles.  It might be just a phase or it may last the rest of my circle of life.  Guess I’ll just have to keep going and find out.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Margin of Errors

Recently I tool a quilt into an art dealer who absolutely loved it – thought it was beautiful, wanted to hang it in her gallery.   I was so excited - until she spent the next five minutes pointing out its flaws!  I don’t blame her – she was absolutely correct, and luckily I was able to really make the piece a lot better for her input, but I admit I walked away feeling a little bruised – it’s not like I didn’t try to get it right!   I actually aspire to absolute perfection in my work – not very Amish of me, I guess. 
You see, the Amish always deliberately leave a flaw in their quilts - or so I’ve heard.  They do this because, they say, only God is perfect and it would be wrong to try to be God.  This really works for me - only luckily, I don’t have to purposefully do anything in any of my work – flaws just happen. (I wonder if this makes me holier than thou?!) 
Admittedly in the past, I have been in a great hurry whenever I was quilting, trying to fit it in between my life.  The rushing to get finished often led to lots of errors and much frustration and yes, cursing that would make a sailor blush. I wanted my work to be perfect, but I also wanted it to be completed, and time (and my patience) were rather limited.  So I was never completely satisfied.  Now that I have a different, more “zen” view, I no longer feel such a need to hurry and get finished, which I really do believe enhances my creativity.   I know it increases my enjoyment (not to mention my family’s peace) and makes my finished products better…except for the blasted flaws.  There are still always, always, flaws in my work.  No matter how slowly I go, no matter how careful I think I am being. 
Part of it is my own fault; my ideas are often far beyond my skill level – I almost wish I wouldn’t think of some things, because then I have to try them, and often I really, really don’t know how the hell I am going to make them work! (All I can say is thank God for people who share their own discoveries and techniques in books and on the internet – if I ever make any of my own, I promise to share, too!)  I also think might have a slight fine-motor coordination problem because no matter how hard I try to sew something perfectly straight, it never comes out that way.  But whatever excuses I can conjure (and I’m sure they are numerous – I have a great imagination) the fact remains that I still want my stuff to be flawless.  It just never is.
So is it even possible to create something perfect?  I don’t know.  I sure see a lot of things that I think are perfect.  My mother’s friend Karen seems to produce quilt after quilt with no discernable flaws – not very Amish of her!  I’ve asked her how she does it but alas, she cannot tell me her secret – she claims that they are indeed flawed.  Okay, but I sure don’t see any.  Apparently even Michelangelo wasn’t completely pleased with his statue of David – says it’s out of proportion or something – I can’t say I agree with him either, but the point is, maybe perfection is actually unattainable.  So do we quit striving for it?  Nah – I don’t think so.  
            But we do have to keep it all in perspective.   I don’t think that we should see our creations through rose-colored glasses – it’s good to look at them critically, as others may.  It’s a good thing for me – it keeps me striving, alert, challenged, engaged.    However, the new, calm-ish me strives to undo, re-cut, tear out, even start over, to take my time, and what’s more, to do it joyfully!  I figure it’s good practice for being accepting of the moment – the less I curse or sigh heavily, the better I’m doing! Not to set the bar too high, eye rolling is permissible, but if I can ever get to the point where I can do it without a single grimace or twinge of frustration, I’ll know I’m making serious progress.
           The goal is the perfect(!) balance between pursuit of perfection and knowing when to let go – not too soon, but not to the point where I have apopleptic fits over a few stitches that truly don’t make a difference at all – for me, at least, a fine line indeed!  And no, I’m not deluded that I will actually ever arrive at that final, flawless destination, but I shall still endeavor to board the train, at least - the journey is the thing, after all.  We’ll just see where it takes me…


Monday, September 12, 2011

Original Thoughts?

Damn that Julie Powell -she stole my idea!  A few years ago I was in the kitchen cooking with my Julia Child cookbook called The Way to Cook.  It’s one of my favorites – a go-to cookbook that I got as a wedding present.  Everything I’ve ever made from the cookbook has been a little scary, but absolute perfection, as long as I followed the directions to the letter (one simply does NOT take shortcuts with Julia Child’s recipes!)  Julia is quite sure of herself as a cook, (as evidenced by the title) and the recipes are somewhat intimidating; still I love to use it - whenever I’m feeling quite confident of my culinary skills, that is.
Anyway, as I was cooking, I had this terrific idea for a book.  The title of the book was going to be Channeling Julia and it was going to chronicle my attempts to become a cook of Julia Child’s caliber by making all the recipes in her book, inserting hilarious anecdotes and witty comments in appropriate measure and to delightful effect (kind of like the book Julie and Julia - you know it?!)  This is the absolute truth - it was MY idea.  Just ask my husband (who still stolidly insists that I can write my book if I want to…sure I can, but why would I?)   In fact, until the movie came out, I had never actually heard of Julie Powell’s book or blog! (I guess I live under a rock or something!)   But I didn’t get to write my clever book because Julie Powell stole the idea and wrote her clever book and even made a movie out of it first -  DAMMIT!  (FYI - I know she didn’t really steal the idea  -  I’m just illustrating my point with this very true story!)
Which brings me to said point, in case you haven’t already guessed it.  It’s not particularly profound, but I shall endeavor to put a new(ish) twist on it, although my attempt to do so sort of paradoxically cannot actually be done, if my point is, in fact, true – but not to be too obnoxious about it, here it goes:  There are no original ideas.  How can there be?  Humans have been around for at least a few million years, and during that time, we have actually done quite a bit of thinking and inventing.    I venture to say that back when people were evolving to our present form (which by no means is complete now) there was quite a bit of originality happening – there had to be – we were, like, BLANK SLATES!  I mean, the other day my husband was pondering, “Whoever thought of the idea of looking at a wheat field and thinking they could eat all those seeds up?  And then who thought of grinding them up to make a powder that they could add water to and make bread?”
 Well, honey, I have no idea – but as you correctly surmised, it happened a heck of a long time ago, back when people were figuring out how to continue as a species.  Shoot, our ancestors had to think HARD with those little brains of theirs to survive – they had to invent tools, figure out how to make fire, how to weave cloth – blah blah blah - the list goes on and on.  But since then, even though we’ve built civilizations and begun to create art for just for art’s sake (rather than as religious ritual or whatever the cavemen were trying to do) the fact is, pretty much everything that we think of (like my seriously clever idea for a book) has probably already been done in some form, or at least thought of before.  And now there are so many people on the planet, it’s hard to conceive of a truly unique, original idea being possible.   Basically, we’re just building on – well, the basics.
So what?   I don’t care necessarily if I’m the first to come up with an idea or a technique.  In fact, I’m sure I’ve yet to do it, and I don’t really strive to, anyway.   The way I see it, we forge stronger bonds of connection to other people when we use the creativity they have tapped into to do something that’s new, at least, to us.  And while it may not be something entirely original in a universal sense, whatever I’ve made has been made by me and therefore has some part of me in it, (possibly manifesting as some sort of flaw, but whatever) and therefore is in some way, different enough.
  Plus it’s a lot of pressure, trying to come up with something new when everything’s already been done before.  I’m not saying that people aren’t still coming up with fresh new ways to use old ideas, or that we aren’t extremely innovative and resourceful as a species, because clearly the iPad belies that!   (Not to forget the internet – how did we live before the internet?  It must have been some sort of half-life, at best.)   But really both of those inventions are just new twists on ways to communicate, which cave people did by drawing pictures, gesticulating, and grunting at each other – hey - it worked for them - mostly!  But then again, their lifestyle was completely different from ours. 
Anyway, I sometimes think we are striving too much to be different from each other – as if we only matter if we are noticed or stand out in some way.  (Witness the tendency of people to give their children names such as “Apple” or “Hiawatha!”)  To me, that kind of thinking is the kind of thinking that puts us at odds with each other, leading to an awful lot of unnecessary competition, fighting and destruction. 
In my experience, we are all pretty much the same underneath the different packaging and life situations.   It’s conceivable that much war and other problems could be avoided if we focused on that sameness, rather than our differences, which are really only on the surface.  Maybe we think we can somehow enhance our importance by coming up with something no one in the history of the universe has ever done before…good luck on that one!  I just don’t think we can raise our value above one another in any way – we all carry equal importance (or unimportance, depending on your viewpoint) where it really counts.  We just can’t see that when we are so separated by our perceived “uniqueness.”
  I don’t want to seem cynical about the originality thing, though - in fact I kind of find it comforting, because it means we aren’t in this alone.  All the ideas and innovations of our ancestors are still with us, albeit in different forms.   As we evolve, we just retool our creations and make them more complicated, but no matter how simple or complex or how much easier they make our lives, they do not change who we are, just how we exist.
Here’s a scientific fact:  Everything that is in the universe now has been in the universe since the universe began.  The atoms and molecules that make up our physical beings and everything we create or make are the very same atoms and molecules that have been on this earth for billions of years!  We truly carry everyone (and everything - even the dinosaurs!) who has ever come before us and who will come after us in our very beings! Wow – that is way cool!   But again, quite comforting, at least to me.   To me, it proves that we humans are far more than any idea we have or thing that we create –but I’ll leave you to your own conclusions on that one.
  So  - no, I don’t feel like I have to come up with something that’s totally original, or has never been seen or conceived of before.   Because whatever I do create is only temporarily in this form anyway, and as long as it brings me or anyone else pleasure in this moment, that’s enough – for now.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


A change of life is upon me.  No, I’m not talking about menopause, although the timing is certainly coincidental and may be somehow connected, but it’s not physical.  I suppose it could be described more as a mental change – an opening up.   It’s as though I’ve discovered a ribbon of creative energy running throughout the universe and all I have to do is grab on and let it take me wherever it wills.  Not creativity in just an artistic sense either, but a creativity of ideas and spirituality, too.
Just to be clear – I have not started wearing tight, low-cut dresses, getting invasive procedures to try to stay young-looking (although admittedly I am attached to all my wrinkle creams – but - that’s just maintenance!), trying to pick up younger men or driving an expensive new car!  I’m not abdicating my responsibilities as a mother, a wife, a human being or making huge changes in my life situation either.  But instead of living for what is to come or looking to the future, it’s more like I’ve discovered a joy of doing whatever it is I’m doing at this moment that I never really felt before.  Instead of questioning whether this is all there is to life, I feel like “Yeah, this is all there is, but - WOW - the possibilities are endless!”   
The excitement is similar to how I felt as a young adult, but back then I took it all so seriously.   I was building for the future, becoming something or someone. I was going to experience this or see that…I was setting up my life to be a certain way.  The funny thing is, many of the plans I made didn’t happen at all the way I envisioned, or maybe some did, but they certainly didn’t stay that way.  If I could have seen into the future, the younger me might have been deeply disappointed in some aspects of my life.
            Silly young me - I was too wrapped up in outcomes!   Now forty-six, I feel a lightness in me that is incredibly freeing.  I don’t feel a need to become anything – I feel free to just, well – be.  And do, too – whatever it is I need or want to do.  Part of the difference is that now I try to find the joy in the doing, not the results.  If things don’t turn out as I expected, it’s not as upsetting or disappointing because I was never really attached to them anyway.  More importantly, I feel more like I am not trying to make anything happen, but I can deal with whatever does happen and still be happy, peaceful, content – for the most part. With practice – I feel the capacity for growth may well be limitless.  But I’m not worrying about that just now…J
There’s a poem called  “When I am An Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple.”  Once she reaches a certain age the author plans to free herself completely from conventions and do exactly as she pleases.  But to me, this poem is not about not caring about other people or repudiating what’s come before (as I thought it was when I was a teenager).   It’s about not seeking or needing approval from outside anymore--it’s a peace and joy that cannot be touched by anything – so called “successes” or so-called “failures”  as defined by the outside world.
It’s that freedom that has allowed me, I think, to find that creative energy and let it flow through me and manifest as art.  But it doesn’t have to be art – it can be different things to different people.  It's more freedom from fear than anything else, I guess.  I just don't have the fear or anxiety attached to every little thing I do - i can allow others to do what they want to do without being threatened or judgemental, so I can relate to everyone on an entirely new level - indescribably wonderful!  (Well,I said it was a life change, didn't I!)
As the mother of a teenage son, I wish I could teach him this now, before he tries to make his life happen.  I hope in some ways I can still point him in the right direction; teach him that he is not defined by what he does or any external thing, but it’s probably a realization we all have to make for ourselves, when we’re ready. And whatever the cause of my discovery was, be it middle age, menopause, life-changing choices, or I’m just a seriously late bloomer – I’m eternally grateful for it...and I'm not waiting until I’m an old lady to wear purple, either!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hard-ly Worth It!

Okay, taking a poll – what’s the most difficult thing you ever endeavored to make or do, and why was it difficult?  I don’t like to dwell on the past, but when I ask that question, does a particular thing come into your mind?  Can you look back at that one thing that really took all your mental resources, skills, time to learn/finish/accomplish?  Because I think if you can think of one thing, you’re one lucky person - I can hardly think of one thing that wasn’t!

For my purposes today I’m just going to focus on quilting.  An example please, you say?  No problem – it will just take a nanosecond to come up with one - here you go:  I was working on a quilt that had curves and circles, etc.  I had this nifty curved sewing foot that I was using (Dammit, Mother – you swore by the thing!) and I was going absolutely insane because I could not get my curves right.  I actually had to go and cut more fabric because I ruined so many pieces (and cutting is my least favorite part of quilting!)  I nearly brought the house down with my rantings – I think I even chased all the bugs out!  And I shudder to think of the number of curses and new foul language my son learned from that one incident.  I was actually ready to give up altogether (much to family’s relief), when I got the idea to try to sew without the nifty device.   Turns out, the nifty device wasn’t so nifty after all, at least not for me.  I was able to sew so much better by just using good old fashioned pinning and clipping curves!  It was amazing  - and a little frightening - how all that vitriol instantly turned to peaceful smiles and humming, making me understand the true meaning of split personality.   I’m surprised my husband didn’t cart me off to the looney bin right then and there.  (Poor guys –  what they had to put up with before I became “The Zen Quilter!)”

Another example?  Not hard to come by - I am just putting the edges on a project.  When I first got the idea for it, I almost talked myself out of it before I began, “Oh crap – this is going to be so hard!” I whined to myself.  “Why do I always have to think of something more complicated than my skill level to do?”  But although I am a whiner, I am not daunted by a challenge, so I decided to do it anyway.  And lo and behold, the part I thought was going to be so tricky in fact went quite smoothly! It was fun – I had a great time.  I actually had the (fatal?) thought “Hey, I’m getting better at this!”  HA!  That was until I got to the next step, which I never had a care for when I began. (Skinny borders between and around big stretchy blocks, and outside border around stretchy skinny borders, for those of you who know quilting.)  For those who don’t, just take my word for it – it went much more (literally) bumpily!  In fact, it took more time, ripping and redoing, and far more calming breaths and “centering,” than it took to do the bits I expected to be problematical.  (Okay, there was a little cursing too, but only a minimum – ask my boys!  And I did have the sense of humor to laugh at myself when I realized I had exulted too soon, too, so that’s progress, too.)

If I am big enough to be completely honest, I can look back at a moment during the making of every piece of art I have ever made and admit that there was some moment when I had difficulty and I lost my temper, therefore making it the most difficult project I ever attempted -so far, anyway.  Hmm – wonder why?

Pondering on it, I see it has nothing to do with skill level or any other external thing – it all has to do with me.   (Yes, it’s another “DUH” moment!)  And yes - I’ve made (yet another) not so startling realization:  The hardest quilt I ever made is my next one.  And furthermore, it’s always going to be that way.  There is always going to be a challenge, whether it is lack of experience, trouble with machines, nifty, time-saving (torture) devices...hormones… All of which really boil down to one thing, which is my focusing on the end result of my efforts, not on the actual doing -  the how I am doing it.  Yes, of course I want to complete what I start and I want it to be worthwhile, but what makes something worthwhile?  I might not necessarily end up with what I envisioned, (Who knows - it might actually be better!  Or not – whatever!)  but if I can do it in the manner to which I aspire, it will change me, make me better – more in touch with what’s really important (my sanity…my family’s?) Yes, that too, but seriously, just to be the way I was meant to be – loving and awake – conscious every moment…alive, and joyful about it. 

 So my goal at this point is to get through one entire quilt without allowing myself to get mired in ONE moment of frustration.   I’m not saying that I can’t recognize something as a challenge but that when this happens, I will simply do, without negative emotion or frustration, what I have to do to fix it, if I can.  And if I cannot fix it, I want to accept that as well (without cursing!)  And yes, I do actually believe it is possible, even for me.  It may take (quite) a while, given the puerile level of my frustration tolerance, but nonetheless, I shall persevere.    

I’ll let you know how it goes. 

In the meantime, I’d love for you some of you to share some thoughts.  Or some comments – heck, I’ll take them even if they’re nasty.  (It will be good practice for my Zen-ness!)  Let me know you’re out there, please.   (And FYI, it would be really nice of you to let me know if I’m not the only one who is frustrationally challenged – good for your ego, too…cathartic, maybe even.)

And “Shalom, baby!” to all of you - may you have a peaceful, joyful week.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Creative Frenzy

The word ‘frenzy’ brings a distinct picture to mind, doesn’t it?  Something like this, perhaps:  Hair standing on end, glasses sitting crookedly on face, eyes wildly darting,  feverishly  - even manically, perhaps- scurrying around from task to task, muttering under one’s breath all the while,  not actually accomplishing anything, just driving everyone nearby crazy with useless, undirected  activity.   Of course I’m not talking about myself – well, not at the moment, anyway.   I have been there, of course, too many times to count.  Don’t especially like the place, but still am compelled to go there anyway from time to time.  (Actually I think that many of us  spend a great deal of time there with our breathtakingly busy lives, just trying to get something , ANYTHING, completed before we have to do the next thing.   It’s called being a grown-up, I think, but I suspect we bring a lot of it on ourselves.) 
 However, that exploration is for another day.  Because today I want to talk about ideas, and what to do about them.   I am in a frenzy at the moment, but (thank God) not the useless, crazy-making kind  – I'm in a creative frenzy.  There's a veritable rollercoaster of ideas whizzing about inside me - to the point where I have to keep a pen and notebook by my bed, in my purse, in the car - so I can write them down whenever and wherever they strike.   I’m actually enjoying this flow of creativity enormously – ideas galore - fabuloso!  As soon as I finish one thing, I am raring to get started on the next one.  Whoo-hoo – what a ride!

 Naturally, in the (typical) human fashion, what appears to be a boon also has another, darker side (also known as the PRACTICAL side.)    First of all, not all the ideas are exactly superb.  Some (meaning many) of them actually stink - badly.  But that’s just a minor blip, because it’s all about flow – you can edit out the garbage later (And there will be some good ideas, even if it is only two out of two thousand, it’s okay, really - my guess is that that is actually a pretty good ratio of cream to er- crap.)

No, the dark side is far more evilly insidious.  Because it has to do with the question, “Why?  Why am I doing this - why am I spending several hours a day creating?  Why am I getting all these ideas?  What am I supposed to do with them?   Does it have a purpose - am I helping the world, making it a better place?”  And then there’s the most frightening question of all:  “Am I wasting my time?”  EEEEK– just writing the question makes me bite my nails.

 This is my black hole.  As always, I blame my mother and my German blood for it – she would never let me take Art in school; said it wasn’t a serious subject.  She pushed (okay, not that hard, I pushed myself harder) me to be an academic, to pursue a career, a job.   The right, practical (German) thing to do was get an education, a job and be secure.  And remember, I like to do the right thing…so I did it, by golly.   I have been working since I was 15.  I went to college and graduate school and I have worked all my adult life.  I am a mother and a wife and I take care of my responsibilities, dammit.   And, I feel lucky to add that I have been extremely happy doing it.  I like to work, I like to contribute, I like to do my part -no complaints there.

Plus, I didn’t think I had an artistic cell in my body until I was thirty-one.  That was the year I got pregnant with my son.  It was as if suddenly a dam broke loose inside me along with my water, because after he was born I couldn’t stop the ideas from coming, even if I wanted to.  And then I moved back to Texas and my mother introduced me to quilting and there really weren’t enough hours in the day.  I (and my family) found myself quite put out when I could get to my art on a regular basis.

Fast forward to now,  the present moment.  Here I sit, with this flurry of ideas and the opportunity to pursue them, but… it seems somehow too indulgent, too selfish – too fun, really, to go for it,  because there’s that (diabolical) practical side breathing down my neck, asking those horrible, soul-sucking questions. 

So what to do, what to do…Well, as you may have guessed, I’m just doing it.  I’m taking this inspiration and jumping right into the vortex of the dark hole.   I have no idea where it will take me or whether it will spit me right back out, but I’m doing it anyway.    I know from experience that this flash of ideas doesn’t grow on trees, so I’m going to create, quilt, write, paint - all of it - while the creative stars are aligned for me, and whatever happens, happens.   I’m fine with whatever- security is a state of mind, anyway.  Some people feel secure in the midst of a plane crash and others feel unsafe with a million dollars in the bank. )

 For some reason, a new door has appeared in my life and I want to go through it, even if it is scary.   And I’m not asking if it matters or it’s a waste of time, either, so please - don’t tell me!

Monday, August 15, 2011


Quilters are among the most giving people I’ve ever met, as a whole.  I’m continually impressed and humbled by how very decent every single quilter I’ve ever met has been.  Here’s a recent example:  Last week I was sewing with a Bernina that I inherited from my mother.  Neither she nor I really ever learned how to use it; she ran out of time, and I just started using in my usual haphazard fashion, consulting the (sketchy) manual whenever I ran into a snag.  I couldn’t get a certain stitch to work, and I tried everything I could think of as well as all two of the troubleshooting suggestions offered by the (very sketchy) manual and it just wouldn’t sew correctly.   I decided that I needed to have it looked at.   I took it down to Pocketful of Poseys, the local quilt store, and was talking to Cindy, the owner, about it.  She told me that the repair man she used was not coming anymore, but she offered to look at it for me because she has the same machine.  She told me to come back the next day.  When I did, she and one of her coworkers had cleaned it, changed the needle and fixed the problem for me.  Thrilled, I asked her how much I owed her and she said “Oh nothing, not a thing.”  Now there is no reason for this woman not to charge me, at least for her time.   Believe me, I appreciated her help enough to pay for it (I had spent two very UN-zen hours trying to get the blasted thing to work the day before.)  It was just so very kind  - what a nice person!  And this is not an unusual happening - it seems to happen all the time.   It's as if quilting is a kind of sisterhood and everyone supports everyone – it’s a beautiful thing.
The ladies from my quilting bee are generous to a fault.  They give tools, material, lessons thread, books and magazines away at the drop of an “Ooh or ahh” of admiration. They share so much, in fact, that sometimes I wonder if they even know which stuff belongs to whom!  But it doesn’t matter to them – it’s all part of the collective creativity. (Just don’t tell their husbands how much they spend on this shared wealth!  Although I’m sure that it all evens out anyway with all the give and take!)  I teasingly tell them they do this because they are enablers– kind of like people sitting around a campfire smoking pot who want everyone else to share their addiction - if you don’t take a toke, everyone stares at you until someone vouches that you’re “cool.“  (You have to partake of all the fun, man!) ** But the truth for these wonderful women is not that they are trying to justify what they are doing, it is that they are having such a blast, they want to share their delight with everyone.
They are also quite liberal with their support and praise, as well.  Never does one hear a discouraging word from any of these ladies, no matter how insane or impractical an idea.   My friend Diane Kammlah, in particular, who I believe has more knowledge about sewing and fabric than any person I’ve ever met before, loves to encourage me to try things and often is an accomplice to my creative insanity. Her catch phrase is “Sure, you can do that!” usually followed by some suggestion of how to make it work.   If something isn’t working, I usually call her and together we hatch some scheme for making it work.  Even when (as is often the case) my work is less than perfect they politely don’t point out the flaws, but notice the beauty, or at least the intent of beauty.
 More evidence of quilters’ munificence is how often and freely many of them offer the fruits of their labors to friends, family, admiring strangers… If you know or are a quilter, how many quilts have you been given/given away – too many to remember, I’ll wager. 
 This unnecessary and unexpected behavior nicely demonstrates the Zen-ness of art – it’s not the final result that counts, it’s the DOING.  This is one of the more important lessons I’ve learned from all these incredible women.  ( It's closely followed by "The more you give – the more you get back."  )
  Now this may be because quilters want to be encouraged in their own daffy endeavors, but I don’t think so.  I think that it’s just because quilters are a Zen-erous bunch.

**Don’t be so shocked – even Mery Streep did it in “It’s Complicated!”  On the other hand, IN NO WAY am I advocating the smoking of dope!  Smoking of any type is nasty business if you ask me.  But although I don’t personally partake, I’m hardly one to judge - I can get high from fingering fantastic fabrics! J