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!