The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mt.Vesuvius--Vanquished by the Amish

           I was reading Cathy C. Hall's blog, and she was writing about mistakes we make--in life, in writing. I wrote a comment about my former life as a quilter, and it prompted me to dig up an old wall hanging.

        This wall hanging was made during a retreat. Since I hate using the machine am not overly fond of working with a sewing machine, in times such as this--where the machine was used for lots and lots of piecing--I cursed and spit and threatened my Singer machine...a lot.

      Sometimes you're not thrilled with the writing process when it comes to a particular draft. But be persistent...

    However, as the weekend progressed, I was pleased with the results. The colors, the "movement" in the piece.

     Celebrate the small victories in writing. You crafted a great phrase, a wonderful image, an effective metaphor? Revel in it. And then continue writing...

           All these evil lovely diamonds were coming together--in rows--to create larger diamonds. How cool. It was somewhat of a mystery what it would look like once it was completed, but the parts were far.

       Sometimes, when you're working on a poem, a story, a novel--you're not sure where it's going to go.  Enjoy it when you step off the cliff.  If you know the characters, the story will take off on its own direction in a sure-footed manner. If it's a poem--well, ask Fireblossom what it's like to "freefall" while writing poetry.

      I was ecstatic when I finally got the thing pieced together. The final step--before it was basted and then hand-quilted--was pressing it. I proudly took my creation to the ironing board and started to press. And press.

    Unfortunately, no matter now hard I pressed down with the iron, the center would not be subdued. The middle would not lie down flat. All those diamonds converged in the center and erupted.  The center of my wall hanging was like Mt. Vesuvius--and from the looks of it, it was about to spew.

     My piecing skills--as usual--had failed me. While other quilters' seams are perfectly uniform and unwavering, there were probably dozens and dozens of tiny mistakes I had made...resulting in a "perfect storm" of thread and cotton fabric.

      If your draft is not working, rearrange it. If it's a story, begin at the middle or the end and go back to the beginning. Change genre. There was a memoir I wrote that sucked in prose. But when I put it in the form of a free-verse poem, it sang. Don't be afraid to change things up.

       No amount of spray starch worked. I was ready to chuck it (I was that frustrated, after working on it all weekend) or I thought, 'I'll sew a huge button in the middle, to hide the eruption,' when the workshop leader suggested I cut out one of the eyeball-looking things in the border fabric and applique it in the middle.

       I did, and it looked like I had intended it as part of the design all along. The "eye" kept the center of my cotton volcano from erupting.

       The Amish don't believe in perfection. They don't think humans are capable of anything completely perfect. So, when they make a quilt, they will make a small, deliberate mistake.

       When you screw up a piece, call it your Amish essay # ____.  When you mess up on the rhythm of a poem you're writing, tell everyone it was an on-purpose mistake.

    And then keep on writing...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Writing T-Shirt Pick Up Tale #2

         Well, if you didn't catch my last post, where I lured a man into my womanly web with my wiles and my writing T-shirt, I will sum it up quickly. (It's not worth providing a link for you, trust me. I ain't Pearl. My post's aren't worth rewarming for a second savoring.)

       So how did I attract my first "hunk," using just a writing T-shirt? Here is a succinct summary to get you up to speed:

  • I was in Santa Barbara in February on business with the National Writing Project.
  • We were in front of the city art museum, doing various things. At the time I caught this "fair" haired (white hair) man's eyes (which were probably failing as fast as his hairline), I was rolling around on the sidewalk and acting out a painting.
  • The man in question noticed my writing shirt ("Will write for food") and asked if I was a writer. When I told him I was a writer as well as a teacher, we got involved in a great conversation about writing.
      Since that time when my shirt sang out like a Siren, driving all men one elderly gentleman to total destruction to the point that he ended up losing a few minutes of his life that he can't get back, I've been plotting how to use the power of the writing shirt again. My scheming, my research, my extrapolations--everything came together this afternoon at Aldi's, my favorite grocery store.

      Same shirt. Different day.

      I had gotten checked out without a nibble. I was worried. Perhaps my shirt had lost all its mojo? But no...that old shirt magic had its hooks in someone.

      The security guard (there in case a couple of people got into a fistfight over the last box of frozen brussel sprouts) noticed my shirt and asked the same question: "Are you a writer?" Yes, and a teacher, too.

      In our short conversation, it was clear that this man was

  •  younger than my previous "catch"
  • drunk. Very, very drunk.
     The next time I bring out my writing shirt and unleash it, what kind of man will find it irresistable? Who will be my next prey?

      Your suspicions are welcome...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day, Serhij!

        Reading Donna Volkenannt's Memorial Day post memorial post reminded me of the most patriotic person I know. Although he did not serve America as a soldier, he did fight against his own country in a war--at a time when he was far too young to wear a soldier's uniform...

        My cousin Serhij began life in the Ukraine. While he was still a little boy, his family was taken to a concentration camp.

        Because Serhij was the smallest, he was the one who snuck out into the fields at night, in search of any vegetables that had been missed. I cannot imagine the terror that filled his mind, and I cannot imagine the sorrow of a mother who had no choice but to send her little boy on such a dangerous mission.

        Some of Serhij's family survived; some did not. The fortunate ones sailed to America and settled in New Jersey. Serhij's mother lived to be a very old woman who--even in her 90's--insisted on working on her own roof and breaking up the sidewalk in front of her house when it needed repairing.

       Mama W never learned to speak English. She lived in a Uke neighborhood, went to a Uke church, and when she died, she left behind only one person who had suffered in the same way she did back in the old country---Serhij.

        Serhij married a cousin on my mother's side, they had two children and proceeded to live the American Dream. They worked hard, they eventually were able to buy a nice house, and now they have grandchildren and a winter home in Florida.

photo by Jake Coffey

       My cousin is 100% American.  He knows better than most how wonderful our country is. Yes, he still goes to a Uke church, and he could be living with fewer luxuries and his flag-waving would not waver one iota. And, Serhij would still be in love with America, even if the monetary things he accumulated all fell by the wayside... long as his wayside remains in America...