Monday, July 25, 2011

Time - Well, Spent

For every thing there is a time, right?  So the immortal song (and psalm) goes.  But sometimes there doesn’t seem to be enough time for every thing.  Often my life is interrupted by, well - my life.   I sometimes despair that I’m never going to finish a project because I have so many other annoying responsibilities.  
Here is an illustration.  I hear a noise.  I look up from where I have been busily working for an indeterminate amount of time and realize the noise, which I have been hearing for a while but not registering, is my phone.  I pick up and it is my son.
 “Mom, are you coming to pick me up now?”
“Pick you up?   You mean you’re not here?  Where are you?“  I ask him groggily.
 “Mom, I’m at school.  It’s 4:45 pm.“
 “Oh honey, of course I’m on my way   I just thought you had – er- tennis practice until 5:30,” (Never mind that it’s January and tennis practice doesn’t start until March.)   
“Nope.  Mom, I’m freezing.  Are you nearly here?” 
“Nearly,  but…but…I had to stop and get gas so it will be a few minutes more,” I say, crossing my fingers and rolling my eyes at my fat lie.  ‘Darn school anyway,’ I think to myself as I’m racing down the road.   ‘What does he need to go there for anyway -  it’s basically a waste of time.   I’m sure he can learn something just as important from those video games he likes, like eye-hand coordination.’  Or  ‘He’s pretty smart - maybe he can home-school himself—‘ 
When he gets in the car, he says “Mom you were quilting all day again, weren’t you?  Did you know you’re still in your pajamas?  And your hair is scary.  I’m glad there’s no one else here to see you!”
He’s right, of course.  I’m a bad, bad mother.  I know it. “Hey, didn’t you say there was a new video game coming out today?  You want to go by the store and check it out?  And let’s get take-out Chinese (his favorite) for dinner,” I say, trying desperately to make up for my horrible neglect.  
It’s a continuous problem.   If I’m busily creating, I only want to stop when I want to stop.  Not for any other reason .  (The following has actually come out of my mouth on more than one occasion: “Dammit, I don’t’ want to have to pee now, I’m busy. “)  I do realize this is ridiculous, but hey, creativity is a demanding mistress!   There’s a line in the Jackson Pollack movie where his anguished, ignored wife says “You need, you need, you need, you need!”   Man, do I get that.

 Yet, I do love my family, and I realize my time with them is limited, and I want to be with them, too.  I want to take care of my responsibilities too - really, I do, if only for practical reasons - the laundry, for example, if ignored too long can take up so much space in the house it becomes another, very smelly, family member.
 But I can get immersed in a vision and it can be completely consuming.  I want to work on my projects until I am done.  And when I say done, I mean my definition of done – however I define it at the moment.   But that’s not the way it works.  I realize I cannot have healthy relationships with my family if I only come up for air every once in a while or when I feel like it.
So do I have to be a self-centered person to be a “real” artist?  The conventional wisdom often points to a tortured genius who has no trouble sacrificing her relationships for her art.  Well, guess I’m not a genius, because I don’t want to sacrifice my kid and my relationship with my husband for my art.  Does this mean I’m not committed to my art, then?    No, dammit, I want to have both!
 At this moment, art is my job.  It takes a lot of energy, just like my old job, teaching, did.  In fact, now that I think of it, I had the same kinds of issues of trying to balance that job with my life, too.   I held my pee all day then, too, and the malodorous Laundry Child visited us from time to time as well, although it was never allowed to take up permanent residence.
Hey - I’m having my first Oprah “AHA” moment!  That’s just how it is, no matter whether we work a “regular” job, or if we are taking a different path.  And we don’t have to sacrifice our families or our art or vice versa – we each, individually, have to find the balance that works for us and for the ones we love.  There is always going to be a struggle between the two, but we can make it work, if not perfectly.   I don’t have to be a self-centered pig artist OR a wife and mother and genuine all-around good guy - I can be both!  Just not at the same time. 
It’s not a matter of priorities, but of equilibrium.  We all put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect at everything we endeavor, but the fact is, we just aren’t.   And we are never going to be.  So we need to stop spending our time judging ourselves (and  others) and instead figure out what works for us. 
So if there are times when I am working and the dust motes in my house become so large they are mistaken for one of the cats – so be it.   I’ll sweep them away eventually (just hope I can tell the difference).  And so what if when I have to suction myself out of a quilting vortex to take my kid to (whatever) practice and for a moment, it irritates me a little -  I’ll still do it, and hopefully I’ll have enough presence of mind  to do it with affection and joy .  
I know, I know – I won’t be able to balance perfectly, and sometimes I’ll fall off on one side or the other for a period of time, but in the end, I’ll get there.   It’s the journey that counts anyway, not the finished product.  I just have to keep that in mind, and remember to comb my hair before I leave the house.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making Room for Inspiration

I have too many pairs of underwear.  I have two drawer’s worth, although I only wear the panties out of the top drawer.  The others are what I call my “Big Mommy” underwear, which I find don’t do too well with many of today’s styles, plus I was heavier when I bought them so many of them are pretty loose.    I never wear them, but they are still serviceable and some of them are cute, and the practical, German side of me has a hard time throwing them out when they still have life left in them – it seems so wasteful.  (Though the fact that they are equally useless while they languish in undergarment limbo has not escaped me.)  Normally I give clothes I don’t wear away, but…no need to explain any further on that one! 

 So here I sit, with a drawer stuffed with piles of still serviceable, but unused panties that take up space in my drawers and sadly are no longer fulfilling their underwear destiny.  It is, somehow for me, quite a dilemma, although the solution might seem obvious to others – but we humans do tend to complicate things, don’t we?

It seems like it is embedded in our genes - this tendency to accumulate things we don’t need or use.  All of us do it in some form or another – either material objects, or psychic stuff, or some combination of both.  When I see piles of stuff everywhere - even tools that I use, it makes me feel crabby, frustrated, or want to get up and clean instead of create, or it makes me want to just leave.   It can also be impossible to work in a space if there is no – well, space there!  I actually like to not have too much stimulation when I am trying to create –  the feeling of air and light makes me feel open, free.   It helps my juices flow. 

I think the same is true for old stories and mental and emotional baggage, too.  It keeps us from being truly loving and intimate, from giving to others, from finding peace.  (Which can also interfere with true creativity.)  I have a theory that the accumulation of material objects is often an extension of the mental baggage we haul around, dragging us down and limiting our capacity to love.

At the same time, certain forms of creativity require materials – there’s no getting around it.  In my art, I require a good number of gadgets, threads,tools, fabrics…otherwise it makes it difficult to complete projects.  I need stuff to make stuff!  And by golly, I want it right at my fingertips when I need it or when an idea strikes – it can really kill a creative buzz if I have to stop and go to the store instead of diving right in.   And the beautiful fabrics and even the interesting tools can be a source of inspiration, too - the colors, the textures, the challenge of using something new can lead to all sorts of brilliant brainwaves. ( I sometimes wish I could dive into the fabric bin and live in the colors – does that sound weird?  Oh well, I prefer to call it imaginative – to-may-to, to-mah-to – whatever.)

 The point is, there has to be some equilibrium.  It’s not always easy to balance my free spirit and creative energy with my need for a neat, clear space in which to be productive.  That includes the spaces in my head, too.   I’m striving to prune back and weed out things I just don’t need, not just in my studio, but in my entire being.  Any old grievances or hurts – any sadness or injustices, I am right now, this moment, releasing to the universe.  I know the insidious little bastards will try to creep back in, but I’m simply not giving them my attention  - there is no space for them .  I’m filling myself instead with light, love and peace, and openness to whatever inspiration that might hit me.  I realize this is not a one-time deal, but a practice I have to do daily, maybe even hourly, but I am committed to doing it, not just for myself but for the people I care about.  They deserve the best of me, too.

Wow – that was super easy.  Now for the hard part – does anyone have any ideas for how to use old, but serviceable intimates?  No?  Well, I guess I’ll just toss them in the bin, then, with thanks for their brief, ( pun intended) but meaningful while it lasted, service.

Postscript 7/19:

Just wanted to let you know that I did throw out my languishing panties. I realize they are inanimate objects, but I thanked them for their service, and hoped they would decompose quickly. Maybe they can become the dirt that grows a flower or a tree - the possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

When is too much not enough?

It’s all my mother’s fault – she started it!   She was a quilting pimp – she made it seem so fulfilling and exciting, showing me all the beautiful colors and letting me finger her fabrics, offering to share with me, taking me to quilt shows until I, too, began to collect my own stash, make my own quilts, and now  - well, there is no turning back! 
It turns out quilters are very co-dependent.  We had so much fun quilting together; we shared everything, and we constantly egged each other on… 
“It’s alright,” we would tell each other, “Go ahead and start on another quilt even though you already have >twenty unfinished projects languishing on the UFO (unfinished objects) shelf…it’s okay, everybody does it!” 
“Of course you have to buy that beautiful fabric even though you have no plan for it, it won’t be around forever!”
“Hey, there’s a fabric sale at --- they have such great stuff and usually it’s so expensive.  Maybe that stuff you looked at last time is on sale – we should go look, at least.” 
“You should try that pattern, you can do it!” 
Alas, my wonderful mother is no more.  She has moved beyond the physical world into the metaphysical realm, to a place of infinite beauty and love, which is, of course, a good thing…for her.  I miss her terribly.   She was my biggest cheerleader, not just in quilting, but in life, the kind of mother that not only pushes you to be the best you can be, but helps you get there, too. 
But my mother is still supporting me, even after her death.  No she doesn’t communicate with me from beyond the grave - I inherited her stash!
Mother’s quilting story is a pretty typical “empty nester” tale.  She started quilting about the time her last child, my youngest sister Erika, got into high school.  Liberated by the fact that now most of her children were out of her hair, she looked around and saw that she needed a new hobby to on which to focus her boundless energy.   
It really surprised all of us when she took up quilting because although she was always busy and creative when we were growing up, she was usually in a really BAD mood whenever she sewed, leading all of to believe she didn’t, in fact, enjoy it.  I don’t know exactly what put the notion of making a quilt into her head (possibly menopause – I blame a lot of otherwise inexplicable behavior on that) but in true Eleanor Ottmers fashion, she took the bull by the horns, attempting one of the toughest patterns on her first try.   Naturally, it was beautiful, and she was hooked. 
So began her descent into the “quilting vortex.”   You know the dark tale.  It begins with one innocent trip to the fabric store and ends with an entire room being added onto a home in order to house the enormous stash of fabrics, books, rulers, machines, design walls, threads, tools …did I say fabrics?
In all honesty, mother was a little over-the-top in her pursuit of quilting (as she tended in every other aspect of her life – it was part of her charm, actually).  She never met a piece of fabric she didn’t like, or saw a technique she didn’t want to try.   She loved it all, and she wanted to make it all.  And she had the fabric (and eventually, the space added on) to do it!
Unfortunately, she ran out of time.  She quilted up to the very end, though.  It was really the only thing she could muster any energy for when she was so sick– it was a little crazy; she literally couldn’t keep her eyes open, but I would say “Mother, you want to quilt a little bit?” and her face would light up.  She would drag herself to the quilting room, where she would sit, “resting her eyes” while I would thread the needle, pin the squares or pieces together, and hand them to her.  She would open her eyes, sew furiously to the end, and then her eyes would close again, a Mona Lisa smile of contentment on her face.   
Yes, Mother is gone, but her stash lives on, now in my quilt room.  Even though I told myself to be ruthless when going through her things so as not to end up in the quilting vortex myself, I found that like her, I wanted to try this or that technique or utilize that cool new gadget too!  Remembering my goal of being “Zen,”  I panicked for a moment, but suddenly I saw my mother’s twinkling eyes and I realized it was not an obsession with material objects that was triggered by those silly things – it was the endless possibilities, the unparalleled joys of creation, the act of being  itself , something that my mother was so gifted at, that was arising in me, now, too.
So now my quilting “stuff” has doubled, tripled, or maybe even quadrupled because in the end, I was unable to part with most of the things in her quilt room.  But I have a goal in mind - to honor my incredible mother and the art by using every bit of talent and energy to turn those scraps of material into something beautiful, something that will communicate the joy of creation, of being, to others.
I believe it is her way of continuing to support and push me even from her new shiny place in the universe, reminding me there is always another quilt to be made, another idea to try. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is The Zen Quilter an Oxymoron?

When most people think of quilts, they picture of a bunch of sweet old ladies sitting around a giant quilting frame in a church room.  Glasses perched on their noses, they are contentedly bragging about their grandchildren, giggling over some silly shennanigans of their husbands or neighbors, and saying prayers for the less fortunate, all the while adding miniscule stitches to a scrappy quilt made with muted-toned calico fabrics in a traditional double wedding ring or Amish star pattern. 

I am not one of those grandmothers.. First of all, I'm nowhere near being a grandmother (my only son is fourteen).  I've never quilted by hand, I rarely follow a pattern exactly, and I would hardly describe myself as sweet.  Or old.

 But I am a quilter. Oh yes -  and I have the UFOs (unfinished objects), fabric stashes, gadgets, books, ideas and quilting room to prove it.
 However, there is rarely anything muted about the quilts I make - or me. In truth, I'm much more apt to curse than giggle or gossip while quilting. 

It began with a trip to the Houston International Quilt Festival.  I went for the first time as a novice quilter, and I have never been the same since.    As anyone who's ever attended the Houston Quilt show can attest, it's a magical journey into the realm of infinite inspiration. This place makes everyone who goes there want to go home and MAKE something - even if its just an exceptionally good sandwich! 

I had no idea you could do that with fabric!  It literally took my breath away, and I have never looked at "quilting" the same way.

So I make art quilts.  I still sometimes use a pattern, but now I'm at the point where more and more, I want to create my own designs.  I have a lot of ideas, too.  They usually come at the most odd and inopportune moments (like in the middle of my son's out-of-town football game, while having my molars drilled, or even in the middle of a heated discussion about healthcare) so I've learned to always carry paper and pencil everywhere I go.  But as I said, I have only been quilting for about ten years, so often my ideas and inspirations are way beyond my skill or knowledge level.

I don't let this stop me.

 Together with my endlessly suppportive mother and her enabling friends, I happily start my projects, having no real idea of  how - or if - I am going to pull them off.   Constantly pushing myself beyond my abilities can lead to - well- limitless frustration, and as I mentioned earlier, lots of bad, decidedly un-grandmotherly language and behavior. Sometimes I am downright obnoxious, even to the point of annoying myself!

 Don't get me wrong - I still get far more pleasure and excitement out of quilting than frustration, but sometimes I wonder if there is a way to be an artist and a calm, peaceful person at the same time.

So I'm creating this blog, dedicated to sharing my adventures as I learn, create, and try to be what I am decidedly not : Zen.  It's not so much about quilting but about balancing real life, art, and the need to create.  It's an attempt at finding peace in the process of creativity, not the outcome.  I promise that I will share nothing but the truth - at least as I see it.

Hopefully it will happen before I actually become a grandmother, but I'm not impatient about it at all - in fact I'm feeling quite...Zen.