It isn’t easy, is it? I’ve been feeling pretty blown around by the human climate in our nation, in our world, on our planet. It is too easy to sink into fear and despair, and that does not help anyone, anywhere.
So, as an act of will, I turn away from that option, and in my small way, do my best to make every action and response positive, to act out of goodwill, not fear, not despair.
What we think matters, what we say matters, what we do matters. I do believe that the goodwill of each single human gesture adds up, and that there is power and balance in that.
Well, it took me one day to figure out that an imposed routine doesn’t work for me right now.
I can see that that has been generally my MO—set a plan and make myself follow it with discipline and the knowledge that “work” should feel like “work”. My new work routine did feel like work, and I got a start, but it wasn’t enjoyable. I wasn’t even going for the fun part, but I did want to enjoy “working”. Trust me, over the years work has been fun, challenging, engaging, exciting, difficult—all that good stuff. But change happens and time passes.
I guess I want something else now.
Yeah, one of those would be really good, too.
Anyway, by bedtime, after following my new work routine, and after setting a plan for the next work day, I ached all over, felt a bit bummed, and was definitely NOT looking forward to doing it all again the next day. I wondered–what the heck is the matter with me? This isn’t how I want to feel. This isn’t how I want my work to feel. This isn’t how I want each day to be.
I had an epiphany. I really did. I announced to Jim (my hubby)–because I figured he should know it too– I am retired! At first he looked at me like I had skipped a beat, then we both had a good long laugh…(I retired nearly 2 years ago, but I guess it has taken a while to sink in…)
Here’s what I think about it today…I don’t want to work to accomplish something, I want to savor something—my process, my experience, my expression. I want to play! Pure and simple.
I feel light hearted about the whole thing. I feel like playing with the same stuff I have been working with, but with a different attitude. There is no road map for that, no logical following the scientific method, no agenda, no commitments or schedules. But there is curiosity, lots of it. I wonder what will happen if I…?
Anyway, I’m retired from the business, not the art making. I know, duh…
That’s one of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons. The old Far Side calendar copy is long gone, but photo copied so I can keep it pinned to my design wall–an old friend, it seems just the right thing. As I encounter rethinking the way I work and re-establishing a work routine, believe me, this feels very familiar.
But this morning I feel ready, a shift in my thinking. I’ve spent the past week finishing up a major knitting project (yea!), and I can feel the urgency to knit (and finish) relax its hold on me. So I’m clearing a space on my sewing table and looking fresh at my design wall.
There are layers of stuff on my design wall…at this count, three layers. Projects roughed in and left, covered over with fleece, and new ideas fleshed out on top. There are actually some good ideas in there, underneath, somewhere.
One that keeps nagging me is the sweater on the yellow plaid field. Something about this one makes me feel really good, makes me smile–until I think about how to actually DO it. I’ve got lots of ideas about it, but up to now, not quite the energy to dive in and try it. I think I am there. At last.
While often over the past few years I berated myself for not “working”, I realize now that I was simply not finishing anything. I’d see my design wall everyday, look past the work up there, somehow going blind to it, and end up feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. But occasionally, I’d fling something else up there–very rough, very incomplete, but an idea that compelled me in some way. Then I’d think about making it and go lie down.
I have to chuckle at myself…about a week ago, after my last post, I walked into the studio, sat in my comfy chair, looked at the design wall, and I SAW my work. I saw that I had been producing, not finishing, but producing viable ideas. Maybe I didn’t want to finish them in the ways I have worked in the past, but that seemed OK with me. It seemed interesting to me. I felt the energy to find a way. Well dang….it feels good.
So I’ve cleared the decks and thought out a new work routine. I’m going to take it easy on myself and start out gently, slowly–a couple hours in the morning, doing some trial and error projects to grease the wheels, and to figure out some things. I am going to allow myself to venture into uncharted territory, explore materials and ideas I am curious about. And I am building in time to screw up. At last, that sounds like good fun.
Also, I’m going to add a few minutes of exercise bike time to my work routine–and do some research/reading while I pedal–easy going. My current pedaling fav is this book…fascinating text accompanying beautiful images.
It’s time to cut myself loose from expectations–mine. It is time to experiment!
I could not resist adding this–my NEW sweater! A hand knitting experiment in “will this fit?” YES!
That place is Baker Bay, Cape Disappointment, Washington. Every time we go there, I lose myself in photographing this spot. There is some mystery for me in that this is the terminus of the Lewis and Clark Trail. They didn’t find what they were looking for– the Northwest Passage, an easy, cross the continent route to the Pacific and on to the Far East. Disappointment.
Baker Bay opens out into the Columbia River just before the river flows into the Pacific. At this point, the Columbia is a place of dangerous sand bars, shifting waters, and often wild weather–still requiring careful piloting of the ships that travel up river to Portland, Oregon. While Baker Bay is a small protected and shallow bay, sand bars come and go with the storms. It is a place of many moods. I love it.
Even in the pouring rain and blowing wind, I can’t help but try to capture it.
Marks for counting—the posts, relics of an old pier,
Imprint still water.
On our most recent trip to that place, I found myself saying–“I need to make a quilt of this.” And then I stopped, astounded. I haven’t said that in a long long time. For a brief moment, I could see the fabric I would use. I could see the pale colors I would use. Then the moment passed.
Like a bolt of lightning, the idea seemed so clear
Where did it go?
I’ve been writing a lot of haiku lately. Well sort of haiku—17 syllables. Traditional haiku pays attention to the number of syllables per line as well as in the whole…I am just letting it rip. I think of haiku as a word picture with a point. And that is the basis of what I am going for.
Since the beginning of my quilt making, I have thought of my quilts as poems, not particularly holding to any form of poem, just your garden variety visual poetry. Kinda high-falootin’ my mother would say…. but there you go.
It is helping me, right now, to think of my quilt ideas as haiku—short statements capturing a feeling or a moment—visually. And somehow this place that I keep photographing is prodding me. It’s a bit like bird watching–catching glimpses among the branches, standing quietly, respectfully, gently so that the bird does not fly away.
So an idea begins to come into focus, just a hint or two for now.
The next stage feels as though I am marshaling my forces to begin a campaign–gathering the bits, the tools, all the stuff that takes an idea into real form. And it still seems a task I am not ready for. What’s holding me up?
I know I have to figure out the HOW. How am I going to work now? How am I going to DO it? I don’t want to force myself into the ways I have worked for so many years. It feels like an old shoe that no longer fits.
Hand work, lap work, portable, rough and ragged, loose and fragile, humble, collected elements, simple, crude techniques, unfinished, unvarnished, imperfect, aged and relaxed, freed up….Ideas are coming around, and around, and around….
“Camping” for three weeks touring around the Olympic Peninsula. Aaah, what a treat–relaxing, relaxing, relaxing.
When we left home, there was still snow on the ground, and when we returned a week ago it was full on Spring. Amazing. We had freezing weather, wind and rain, bright sunshine at 30 degree temps, and two days of a heat wave that broke local records for the highest temperatures ever recorded for Western Washington in March.
Our goal was to revisit some of our favorite places from Fort Flagler State Park to Cape Disappointment and points in between. We aimed to include a bunch of simple cafes out in the wilds, take lots of pictures, and see the wide open spaces of Washington off season–rain or shine. For me, it was a good time to think, to ponder next steps, and let my mind wander just as we were, letting each day unfold in its own time.
Dawn, Fort Worden, WA. Yes, we really did get up at dawn–once. It was worth it.
This place has pie….and darn good burgers. Town of Joyce, WA. We managed quite a few cafes…good ones. Over the three weeks, we indulged in pie, razor clams, hot cakes, home made hash, and burgers….oh, yeah, and beignet. Oh man….
We love little towns. This place is the oldest (1911) continually operating General Store in the state of Washington. Inside is a step back into history, and…
Candy–the most amazing candy collection I have seen since childhood! It was mythic. They also had a store cat, but I didn’t manage a picture of him. Darn… I even went back, but he was out.
I stored up a lot of great views…That’s when I know I am not really a photographer. I get lost in looking. I listen to how it feels to be seeing what I am seeing. So I didn’t get pictures of the river otters at Cape Disappointment, or the vultures riding the thermals above Salt Creek. But I watched and soaked it up. And that felt really good.
I found myself wondering how I might translate what I saw into stitches. Each time this happened, it was a brief fleeting moment, but it was there. And then we came to a place that I never get tired of trying to capture with my camera.
Baker Bay at Cape Disappointment, WA. The Terminus of the Lewis and Clark Trail.
My, my, my. My photos, my favorite glimpses, my surroundings. From time to time, I like to photo what is right in front of me–from various and different vantage points–looking for compositions, looking for textures or colors, looking at how light works. Looking and collecting.
Sometimes, there are oops! Like the photo above. I do this a lot, probably having more to do with too many fingers in the way than any kind of skill. But I kinda like it.
Often this practice teaches me what I am drawn to, leaning towards, or interested in before I am really conscious of it. It clears my mind.
Lately I have noticed textures…
I like looking at how light behaves…
And then playing with it…
Layers–I always enjoy looking at layers…I also like those blues…
And don’t EVEN get me started on yellow…
So my assignment for the next few weeks is to mull, wander and collect with abandon, and without judgement. I am telling my inner critic to take a hike! I may take a saunter or two…. Wanna come along??
Right after I retired I completely reorganized my studio to reduce clutter, and generally make my work space more friendly to my achy joints. I was also wrestling with a deeper issue—was it time to let go of my long arm quilting machine, Millie.For some 15 years, Millie had been my steadfast partner in making my quilts.Millie gave me the ability to densely quilt my work so that it had the sense of intensity I was striving for.But, a quilt had been sitting on Millie half way quilted—untouched for nearly 2 years.I couldn’t bring myself to work on it, partially because maneuvering Millie across the surface of a quilt was painful, very painful, and partially because I no longer felt connected to the piece.I no longer knew what the quilt meant to me.I didn’t know what it was saying.I didn’t know what I wanted to say, or IF I had anything left to say.
I removed the quilt from Millie, deciding that it would be a sacrificial transition piece (whatever that meant…) to help me find my way from then to what would come next. I decided to hand quilt it in big loose stitches, letting all the “bits” show, all the steps.This seemed like a good idea, an interesting idea, but after a few weeks of working on it, I lost interest.I pinned it back up on the design wall, and there it rested until last week.
It felt like it was time to ask the questions again—“What is this about?What do I have to say?What does it mean?”
Regret, conflict…Talk about conflicted
Between what I feel,and what I think I should feel.
Between what I want to do, and what I actually do, and what I think I should do.
Then there are the different sides of what I feel about this one thing—the rough and smooth, the tangled, the tight and loose, the hidden, the exposed, the raw edge left alone.
No wonder I like knitting.It is simple.You take a strand or two of yarn, a couple sticks, and you fiddle your way to make loops, through loops, and you get a hunk of fabric that holds together.It stretches, it bounces back.You can pierce it, but if you cut it, it will come undone.If you pull a loose thread one way, it will tighten, if you pull another way it will unravel.It’s about the loops, always the loops.
Who invented this stuff?What a mind that took, what thought, what vision and interpretation—to see such possibilities with a simple loop, repeated, repeated, with sticks.Boggles my mind….
Loops.Loops of thought.Some things just keep coming round, again and again.I think I have that figured out, and here it comes again.We think we have made progress, and here it comes again.We have made progress, but we are not done yet, it is not totally fixed.Here it comes again, I have to deal with it again.
Layers.There are layers and more layers.As quilt makers we deal with layers.We bind them together.We have lots of ways of doing this.Sometimes parts are hidden, sometimes revealed, sometimes tight, sometimes loose, sometimes purposely and apparently careless, sometimes with painstaking accuracy we hold those layers together.I love that about quilt making.I love that about my own quilt making.
I am amazed I just said that…I haven’t felt that way for a long time.
Snow covers up a lot. There are some things you just cannot get to until the snow lets you.
Its beauty makes up for that.
Playing in the snow is the only thing to do. Even if that play happens inside looking out, even if it is the slow down of the day, the quiet time to look out and look in.
I’m letting the snow sculpt itself. And it is doing a good job!
The Mystery of Knitting
I should try and figure this out. I am trying to be logical in my blog posts–this thing ought to lead to that logically, and to that logically…. However, the brain isn’t working that way! AND, I still can’t seem to get myself to sit down and work on my quilt making. But I am knitting up the wazoo. Sweaters, mittens, more sweaters… So what is it about knitting that has me in thrall?
I love the texture! Both in the fabric and the fiber. I love the hand work–not tiny needle holding, but both hands working equally with sticks and loops of yarn. I love the feel of it in my hands, I love watching the fabric grow. It is about going back to the origins–the beginning of fabric building fascinates me. Plus, I love the smell of a rustic wooly yarn, the clean sheepy smell. Wool is magically warm and light.
It satisfies something in my yen for natural shades–greys, creamy whites, tans and the darkest blacks with flickers of reddish brown. In the winter, as it is now, the yarns match my snowy landscape, the sky, the trees holding onto the snow, ice dripping.
There are some things that I cannot express in knitting. My knitting is for comfort, making things that keep us warm, keep ME warm.
Many years ago, my quilt making became my voice, my poetry–very personal, yes, healing, yes, but abstracted to leave the door open for others to reach in and touch.
I am finding that I still need that voice, that physical poetry, that allows me to explore the depths of what I am feeling, and to do it in a positive, affirming way.
Little by little I see my way opening once again. And it has to do with permission.
To try something new, something old.
To fowl up, to rest, to think, to wait, to puzzle, to feel the way I do.
To say no to should, to say no.
To be sad, to feel sad or angry or hurt.
To be sorry, or wrong, or right and still feel wrong.
To not know the answer, or the way ahead.
To put one foot in front of the other, and take one step.
To think of myself, to put my feelings or well-being first.
To remember, and be sad or hurt or angry.
To feel stopped and frozen because I feel so bad about not wanting to be there.
Put that into my work, my cloth, my quilt-ish things, and leave them unfinished, undone, raw, and uneven because that is how it feels.
I can show that, and I do not have to explain.
It is loss and regret, what might have been but wasn’t, what should have been but wasn’t.
It is dark. But the light shines through those cracks, those breaks in the surface of all broken things.
I have heard it said that there is good clutter and bad clutter. I wonder about that.
I am good at arranging clutter. I am good at organizing piles of stuff into neat stacks of stuff. I do this a lot. I think this may be akin to my tendency to make lists, which I also do a lot. I have frequently made a list just so I can cross off a thing that wasn’t even on a list. Does that make sense?
Tidy space, tidy mind…….
What about the clutter of ideas. Sometimes there are so many ideas whirling around in my head that I am overwhelmed, and I can’t settle or make up my mind. My inner critic butts in with a negative response to all the ideas, and the only thing I get is…tired.
Hint to self: take a break. Have some protein, go outside, take pictures of whatever, go in close and SEE. Make a list! Yeah, that’s the ticket–make a list of the ideas, whether they seem stupid to my inner critic or not. It is like saying it out loud–“I am thinking about this, and this, and this.” It clears the space without trashing the ideas, then it makes room for something else.
One of my favorite ways to work–back when I couldn’t wait to get into my studio–was to take an idea and squeeze every bit out of it that I could–working it from many different vantage points, over and over, change after change until it pleased me. It was easy to work like that when the energy was good, and I wasn’t achey or tired. Trying to force something when I am tired or discouraged is just plain depressing. It is the same when I am trying to finish something–when with dogged determination I wrestle with the thing through aches and pains, through fatigue. It sure isn’t fun at that point. I have learned (the hard way) to stop–though I have to repeatedly remind myself. I often regard this as the ugly stage, and the only thing to do is to come back at it when I am refreshed. Stopping at the ugly stage never feels good, it is frustrating, but I know my “tired” is talking. (I do the same thing with cooking and other tasks, and I am finding strategies that help by breaking jobs into segments, and working on them in short bursts throughout the day.)
Funny thing is, I need to remind myself that I KNOW this or that all the time. Funny how often I do not trust myself. Funny that I need to remember to DO what I think I know how to do.
OK, back to clutter. You should see the clutter on my design wall. Well, maybe not….
This is where I put ideas that have actually made it to substance. And here they have been waiting for the past year or more while I have coped with my arthritic hip. Having a new hip is great, and I am gradually finding my energy and spirit returning. But that is mitigated by the fact that I have other arthritic joints, fortunately mild to moderate at this point. As my surgeon told me early on, “we can fix this hip, but you will still have arthritis.” Well, dang!
The tricky part now is that I have to pick up the threads, reach back for what I was thinking about and working on nearly two years ago. Or do I? At first I looked forward to a post surgery resurgence of energy, clarity, and purpose. I thought it would just BE there. My expectation is there. The rest of it, not so much. At least not yet. Though there are glimmers…..new notes going up on the wall. I guess it really is a process after all. Wait, don’t I know that already?!
So, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, clutter–mental or physical……
Tidy space, tidy mind…..ah baloney. For the time being, I’m keeping my clutter. I’ll just arrange it neatly…..
Did I lose it? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately. I’m going to look for some answers, and this blog is going to be my journal.
I know I want to work differently–to accommodate achey joints, but also to refresh my energy and enthusiasm, to try out new ideas, make new THINGS, and to enjoy the process.
As life changes, ways of doing must change. I’ll admit it is a little intimidating. I just might screw up. Then I hear myself saying to students, “trust your ideas, be willing to screw it up.” It’s time to take my own advice.
So, for now, this is the path I see in front of me. I wander a lot in my thinking, and I want to pay attention to the distractions, to the clear ideas, the missteps, the turn arounds, the do-overs, and above all, to my own curiosity.
This may turn out to be a lot like watching paint dry, but I invite you to visit when you have a mind to. My plan is to write as the spirit moves me, to no apparent schedule, and possibly for no apparent reason.