Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Finally Getting Away --- to China

Gotta get out of the country at least once a year! Going to Alaska last summer felt like going to another country, especialy with the length of the trip, but, of course, it wasn't. I've been planning this trip since about March -- to Yunnan section of China. It's a second choice. I had wanted to trek on Katchenjenga, the third highest mountain in the world, in the Sikkim section of northern India and signed up with Snow Lion Expeditions with whom I've trekked twice. They do a great trip! But after I had angiogram and a stent put in my heart's left ventricle I thought long and hard about trekking to about 17,000 feet ... talked to a guide ... tho' she was assuring about how I didn't have to go higher than I felt I could, I finally decided the idea was foolhearty for one my age, that my trekking days are over -- alas... [but I still hope to do some hiking in the future]. Anyway, having paid a down payment I scoured the beautiful, enticing brochure and wanted to go everywhere they offered. Even subtracting the physically difficult trips, it took some time to chose among the cultural tours.
"Yunnan South of the Clouds" won because I saw a few "hill tribes" in Thailand some months ago and because Yunnan is the southeastern tip of what was ethnically (partly) Tibetan. The map above shows where Yunnan is. Although shaped quite differently, if that map were the USA I'd be going approximately to Alabama and Mississippi ... if that helps the visualization of the geographically challenged. Yunnan is a mountainous, semi-tropical area where many tribal people live maintaining, I'm told, many of their cultural ways, including wondeful embroidery and textile work. We will visit a world heritage city, Lijang, which remains as it has been for ages.
Anticipation is wondeful! I've awakened about 2;00 the last two nights, just from sheer excitement and anticipation. I've traveled enough that I know I cannot imagine what I'm going to see and do ... but my senses will go into high gear from adrenaline rush and pure delight; everything I see will be vivid and interesting. It will all be new to me. I will learn about people living in places and ways I can't now imagine ... but they will all have smiles that make them beautiful, they will have big eyed, curious chlldren, they will be a little curious about me and I will be even more curious about them. I will feel shy about taking pictures of them but I'll try to over come that shyness and take lots of pictures, many of which I may post here.
I've met the Snow Lion guide, Jeff, tho' he probably doesn't remember me. I'll travel with three other Americans about whom I know nothing except names and the cities where they live -- but I will know a great deal about them in a few days. I've always enjoyed the people I've met on trips and expect to enjoy these people.
I do not look forward to a 13-1/2 hour trip to Beijing, a three hour wait in the airport there [tho' I know the area is a huge shoping mall, as are most airport waiting areas], nor do I relish arriving finally at Giuiyang at 11;30 at night [tho' it will be 11:30 a.m. to my body clock at that time]. But once there the excitement will kick in. And the adventure will begin!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Inspiration and Amazement

For years -- many years -- Quilters Newsletter Magazine has arrived in my mailbox. Now and then some technique or pattern has caught my attention and I've been inspired to make -- or at least start -- a quilt. Lately as my own direction and ambitions have solidified, as I've got hooked on doing series and I've defined for myself what appeals to me most, I've been bored with many issues. But this month's issue had a cover that breaks the usual format [whole quilt] with a close-up of a section of British quilter, Liz Jones' quilt called "Thanksgiving". What an inspiration! A magnificent quilt. Not one I would attempt to replicate but I think I understand the fun she must have had choosing exactly the right part of a batik design for each piece of fruit and each leave.
As I wrote yesterday, for me the idea is not strict realism as I make my butterflies, but the use of patterned commercial fabrics to approximate the subject. I imagine such fussy selecting and cutting is an acquired taste. For my part, I constantly wonder if I've made the right choices. But I remind myself, it's only a little bit of fabric, a little bit of time -- not SO little, really -- if something finally doesn't work at all, there's the wastebasket. What free time I had today was spent cutting out another couple of butterflies.
I know some people make complex drawings and dye fabrics specifically for their project and then work to create exactly their mental picture. I can't work that way -- don't even want to. Not knowing the exact outcome is part of the excitement. Not a big thrill like bungee jumping [I'm very happy without some kinds of thrills!] -- but a nice little delight.
Am I making "art"? Or is it "merely craft"? I don't quilt know. The craft involved is challenging and mastering it -- if and when I begin to feel I have -- which I don't feel yet -- will be reward in itself. But these monarchs, as I've written, have emotional meaning to me. I hope I am creating something that will communicate with others, I hope, the wonder and miracle of the many-thousand mile migration of these tiny, vulnerable beings whose brains are very, very tiny, and yet who get from Canada to Mexico year after year -- despite winds, rains, droughts, all kinds of predators have become, to me, a metaphor for iron willed intention and for the amazing miracle of genetic programming {which is not to say that intention is not a genetic program]. And that doesn't detract from the wonder of it.
I'll return again and again to these butterflies, eventually there will be pictures of work in progress. For now, it's time to shift mental gears and pack for my first trip out of the country in over a year. More about that tomorrow.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My Butterfly Obsession

Suddenly I realize time is flying and I'll never know if the Monarch Migration quilt will be at all acceptable if I don't get the monarchs made and at least pinned in place. I need twenty or so and maybe a few "friends" of theirs as well. I made over 30 butterfly postcards so this is not an impossible task, albeit I want to do much more hand embroidery. I'm doing a lot of fancy cutting of the pieces for the monarchs, I want no two to have exactly the same fabic combination. -- I didn't know during the last couple of years when I've had an unusual urge to buy oranges [which I used to hate] that I would want them for monarchs.
Strict realism is not foremost, although I will try to use the color balance Bea Oglesby shows in her book which is my guide. I love most about quilts the way different commercial prints and colors combine. So, lots of time is spent making choices and then making a tissue paper pattern of the parts [freezer paper doesn't do it for me], drawing and careful cutting, fabric gluing, lightly, then raw edge zigzag stitching. I am going to make the monarchs individually and then applique them to the quilt; they'll have an extra layer of batting behind them so they'll be a tad three-dimensional. I could NEVER do this all by hand. I would go insane.

Talk about labor intensive! I see articles and books "fast and easy quilts. Quilt in a weekend""! I understand the appeal of the quick and dirty, slam-bam, thank you ma'am approach. But I'm drawn to the slow and complex. Once I get the 20 or so monarchs cut out and ready for the serious sewing part, I want to add probably half a dozen other butterflies from Bea's book. Some are complex and I felt too difficult if reduced to post card size, to do at all well. They are mostly sizable, which worries me a little because I don't want to detract from the dominance of the monarchs. Possibly I'll get the monarchs made and decide they're enough and then do the other butterflies -- which I definitely want to do before I but this obessession on the shelf --and put them on some other quilt. We will see.

I have no design wall, but I can hang works in progress on the wall in the living room where I ordinarly hang a finished quilt. Then I can get a good ten or twelve feet away to contemplate 'what hath June wrought?" A tip I've often thought of sending in to some magazine is that for people who are myopic as I've been most of my life, taking off my glasses and standing back from something blurs the details and lets me judge the balance of colors and placement of patches, or, in this case, butterflies. So, time's a-fleeting and I'll stop blogging and get back to sorting, choosing, cutting, pinning, etc.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Amish Quilts -- Alas!

This is not an Amish quilt. But it was inspired by traditional Amish quilts -- the saturated colors and even by the two grayed colors on the back (the part you see at lower left), Traditional dark and bright Amish quilts are part of the American quilter's heritage. We may have entirely different tastes, different color choices, but the strength of the image of those classic quilts is as much a part of our accumulated idea of American folk as red barns or small town church spires rising about the maple trees.
Two years ago I drove to Lancaster, PA with my friend, Maggie. She wanted to go leave peeking and I wanted to see famed Lancaster County. The leaves were gorgeous. In Lancaster County Plain People clattered along two land roads in their horse drawn buggies. Of course we shopped. I bought wonderful quilt fabric at wonderful prices. We admired all kinds of local crafts loved the selection in the general store. But I was disappointed by the quilts for sale. The quilts in the shops were largely appliqued with pretty pastel flowers. The quilting was adequate but far from outstanding. They were obviously done for "tourist trade". This is not a type of quilt I like very much although I understand the appeal for people who like cozy, feminine bedrooms. They are utterly unlike the classic "Amish quilts.
Yesterday I read an article in Quilters Newsletter Magazine about this phenomena and it's special twist: much of the work is farmed out to Hmong immigrant women who come from a tradition of extremely meticulous, complex reverse embroidery. The Amish of Lancaster County came to the aid of Hmong immigrants after the Vietnam War, an act of kindness and generosity. Hiring the women to do some applique was also generous. Apparently the practice has grown likeTopsy.
The author noted that it seems a shame that practitioners of two marvelous needlework traditions have both forsaken their original designs in order to make a product meant specifically for the tourist trade, because Lancaster County has become a tourist destination. I have read that like all farmers the Amish are finding it more and more difficult to maintain family farms in the face of big agriculture. So the women are helping by catering to the tourist trade.

I don't feel quite as polite as the writer. I think something has gone amiss when a strong minded people who have been able to withstand the combustion engine and electricity, not to mention fashion in clothes, knuckle under to the cheap tastes of tourists -- who have a little less to spend then their more upscale neighbors who go to malls and buy "individual original" Kincaid paintings -- a phenomenon I find only slightly less disgusting than drive through funeral homes.
This is a country that has learned to prefer pizza and Col. Sanders fried chicken to healthy fruit and vegetables; where people do not know what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. The greed to sell to those willing to spend, has encouraged the sellers to load their foods with every sort of additive that will boost flavor and "crunch" and "mouth feel." It encourages people to want the latest design in jeans or sneakers, and to fill their homes with cheap stuff that is soft and pretty, cheaply made and tasteless. The Amish and Hmong women are caught up in this rush to satisfy the cheapest tastes ... like most of us they do not ask: is there something wrong with this picture?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Seventh at 8:00 - poetic observations

From a series of poems called "Seventh at 8:00"
Invisible oriental incense surrounds a new aluminum kiosk,
a miasma of Dehli reds, Jodpur pinks,
temple bronze, Himalayan mauves.
The Indian news seller purifies and blesses
his tiny domain to gain his share
of the dream of American prosperity
invoking daily the hopes
that brought him far from home.
I pass by and rarely stop, rarely buy
but breathe the complex scent
and feel my day is blessed
by his belief and hope.
My cynicisms curl and crumble
like the ash of his incense sticks.

Mornings when I go to work, I try to arrive around 8:00. I surface from the subway station at 23rd street and 7th Avenue and walk two blocks south to my job on 21st Street. Over the past two years I've written a series of poems about the people I pass regularly in that short two block walk ... many more than one might expect. This was the first poem of the series.

The picture above was from the street fair already mentioned. Again it is Indian immigrants trying to earn a living in this country -- beautiful sheer panels for windows, displayed as if enclosing a secret room, billowing in the fall breeze. They were inexpensive and beautiful, some embroidered

Several years ago when I went to India, I was afraid ... afraid I would find the poverty unbearably painful. Yes, I saw poverty. But every day I saw something so beautiful that I began writing a poem each night instead of [or along with] keeping a diary. The beauty and grace of India was overwhelming. I began writing afer I saw the Taj Mahal at dawn. And if that isn't a poetic sight nothing is! Nothing had the same sort of sublimity but everyday something was equally touching, equally unforgettable. The trip was so intensely moving and beautiful that whenever I get a whiff of the newseller's incense, or see the curtains dancing above the gray pavement of upper Broadway, the wonderful collection of images rush into my memory. I am so happy I have seen these, and so many other, beautiful things
The picture below has nothing to do with India; it is a flower I do not know the name of that was growing wild in marshes of Alaska; it's lovely and I feel like sharing it because we think flowers are bright or pastel, but this one is dark which makes it more exotic ... perhaps it attracts a certainly kind of bee which pollinates it. The diversity in the world, wherever we come upon it, is something to stop and pay attention to. How I wish I had Mary Oliver's skill to write a poem about each of these magical little moments of paying attention.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Our Best Friends for100,000 Years

ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION, Temple Grandin, Harcoutbooks, 2006 (paperback) ... a ZINGER of a final thought!!!
"... wolves and people were together at the point where homo sapiens had just barely evolved from homo erectus...." approximately 100,000 years ago. ... "when wolves and people first started keeping company they were on a lot more equal footing than people are today. Basically, two different species with complimenary skills teamed together, something that had never happened before and has never really happened since. ... When you think about how different we are from other primates, you see how dog-like we are. ... Dog brains and human brains specialized: humans took over the planning and organizing, dogs took over the sensory tasks. Dogs and people coevolved and became even better partners, allies, and friends.

Maybe it's a quirk of mine, maybe not many other peole find this idea absolutely and utterly fascinating. I love the idea of coevolution with dogs -- and in a sense, we coevolved with other dometsticated animals; especially, probably, the horse which has been so important in human life. The thing is life is a web of inter-relationships. That's what ecology tells us in one way and another.
Grandin is not just throwing out her day dreams, she butteresses her assertions with paleological evidence as well as physiological and sociological. This book was not a great fun read because her style is plodding. Her co-author, Catherine Johnson, seems to have wisely chosen to preserve Grandin's voice which is colloquial with academic overtones but a bit stiff as one would expect the voice of a person who has fought hard to live with and understand her autism to be. The book has much, much, much of interest about other kinds of animals and how they perceive the world -- how much smarter they are than we give them credit for. After reading about Alex. the parrot, who not only was able to look in a mirror and ask what color he was, but also spontanuously spelled the word 'Nut" one will never disparagingly call anyone a "bird brain" again. That is only one of many astonishing facts related by Grandin.
I've known of Grandin since reading Oliver Sacks's long article about her in a Ner Yorker magazine many years ago. So I was happy to become acquainted this the thinking of a really remarkable woman.
Now I'm focused on finishing Derrick Jensen's ENDGAME -- more at a later point. And I've begun to try to understand Deng Ming-Dao's THE LIVING I CHING ... not so far afield as that might sound because I have been using the Wilhelm translation for about thirty years, and the Wing I CHING WORKBOOK for over fifteen years. The subject is huge -- so huge Confucius is said to have worn out seven copies of the book and he didn't even think he had the wisdom to begin writing commentaries until he was over 50. It has long been my "wisdom book" -- not something I write or talk about much because I am aware that this book and its philosophy is so ancient and so deep that I cann add nothing to it -- while it can add immesurably to my understanding of life ... in the broadest sense, not just human life but the cycles of earthly life.
So, appropriately, we come a-circle ... from my fascination with how man and beast evolved, to a grand complication of the most ancient wisdom to which we still have access. Basics ... One of the I Ching readings mentions an egg, the perfect shape, the container of life, and says, in effect, if you can understand this, you understand all. I don't begin to understand, but my desire to understand as much as possible is boundless and I hope it never fades.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I Know How the Reservists Feel

Back to the feast for the eyes at yesterday's street fair. These are African baskets -- some one has ordered them in non-traditional pastels Aren't they pretty?

Then there was the eye popping opulence of this table of semi-precious gems. I think, but wouldn't swear, the lapis lazuli is real. I'm not at all sure about the authenticity of the turquoise. Really, if you're just looking and not buying, who cares. The Pharoahs of Egypt loved these stones. They still are among the favorites of not only native peoples but of such pseudo-rustics as Ralph Lauren.

Arriving at the court building for jury duty this morning we jurors found just getting into the building a challenge. A crowd, orderly but large enough to almost block the entrance was visible from half a block away. I'm still not sure what they were there to do, but the reason was the sentencing of Lynn Steward, the former lawyer for Sheik Rachman who passed information on to his colleagues. She has been convicted for aiding terrorism. Ms. Steward is in her late sixties, has breast cancer, and faced a possible 30 year sentence. -- All that was only peripherally known to me when I worked my way through the crowd to the guard at the door and told him I was on a grand jury.
He put me in a line that moved slowly. The guards at the x-ray and metal detectioin machine were in full tyrany mode, scrutinizing everything in purses and bags, wanding people, making everyone check all electronic devices. The guards are mostly retirees who have taken the jobs that give them a uniform and a modicum of authority that they weild well beyond any necessity. One regularly opens the top on my cup of coffee ... I presume he wonders if I'm hiding a hand gernade. The general paranoia in American public places will someday be the subject of satire.
Once in the jury room we were greeted with official letters ... NOT saying thank you very much for 18 months of selfless service [as 4 or 5 of the group have already rendered] but saying, you've been extended until, at least, April 18th, 2007. Yes, they CAN do that, just like the military can, and do, call up reservists for duty in Iraq. We were not greatly surprised, Conjecture had been that we would be extended. As if to prove how valuable we are we heard two long presenatons about complex cases that have been appearing before this jury off and off for more than a year -- they're brought back for superceding indictments when enough new evidence is gathered for new charges.
When we left the crowd was still doing vigil outside. At home I heard on the news the judge gave Ms. Steward 27 months, a light sentence that, in light of her age and medical problems, seemed reasonable. So there was drama inside and out -- a part of public life I'd know nothing about if I weren't on this jury
So it seems I will be seeing these people through the winter. It's not Iraq ... it's only lower Manhattan. ... When I have the butterflies ready for hand embroidery for the possible show quilt, I wonder if the guards will let me take in needles and thread ... No scissors, I presume, but threaded needles might be possible. We'll see.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Giving and Getting - Serendipity Sunday

As I wrote yesterday, I've been cleaning closets. Which means gathering stuff for the thrift shop. I took a sizable shopping bag to Housing Works, my favorite thrift shop in the world. Can't go in without checking it out because they get incredible donations. Today's excitment was three brand new pieces of Laura Ashley cotton print at $2 a piece, a total of just under six yards -- easy math. $1 a yard. And it's so pretty -- perfect for baby quilts, especially the one with alphabet letters.
I never know what I'll find so it's always serendipity time. They also get donations of brand new clothes, not just used stuff. I found new Jones Jeans for $8 (with the $79 manufacturer's tag still on). They're partly Tercel, perfect for travel and a soft hand as "they" say in the "rag industry", which means it's not stiff denim but feels and hangs like a nice twill.
Walking on air from that I came home, by then it was almost 4:00 and I'd had no lunch. As I tried to convince myself not to stop at the nearest pizza place, I came up from the subway into a street fair. At my corner was a Thai stand offering $5 combo plates. Perfect. "Hot spicy peanut sauce on the chicken sate?" asked the vender. Of course! I hurried home salivating and was totally satisfied. Lovely spicy hot feel in the roof of my mouth and inside my lips -- love spicy food! The pad thai was topped with the sweetest, crispest bean sprouts I've ever had. The mixed bok choi, eggplant and chicken over rice was not overcooked. I know food tastes best when you're really hungry. I ws huntry; it was great. I even saved most of the pad thai and the spring roll for tomorrow. [yes, enough for two meals for $5!]
Once the tummy was taken care of I went back into the street fair with my camera. It was crowded and full of textiles,mostly from India and China.
All the street venders are selling "cashmere" and "pashmina" scarves ... look at the sign and shake your head. They are soft but not a strand of goat hair was shed for those scarves.
I took a bunch of pictures and I'll add more tomorrow or the next day but for now, just one more picture which is real or not silk scarvs from India, in fabulous colors. They were all jumbled in this gorgeous heap.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

What's In a Name?

Shakespeare asked and answered himself by talking about roses. I once had a lit professor who, tongue in cheek, I think, said Poe was not a good poet because he needed a "t" at the end of his name ... So my name's been Calender all my life. I don't know if my sense of season and attention to anniversaries of various sorts is unusually keen. Probably not. But the season has announced its change this week, from 80s Monday and Tuesday to crisp 50s the last two days. And I'm knee deep in the seasonal drawer and closet revision. In a small NYC apartment out of season stuff needs to be stowed out of sight/reach .. top shelf, back off closet, under the bed, hide the clutter.
Handing off these four quilt postcards for the project to have NYC cards for sale at the planned quilt show in the spring did not significantly unclutter my work space. They are, I must say, somewhat prettier than the picture because there is glitter both on the apples and in the windows of buildings that did not photograph well.
In the course of closet cleaning I discovered what I've done with the majority of my star quartet wall quilts so I decided to take a few to show and tell. Some habits get so ingrained in us as teens they rear their heads even when they seemed to have been overcome half a life ago. That physical feeling of mild panic before speaking in public was back -- but milder, no dry mouth, no butterflies in the stomach. But I'll bet my blood pressure was up.
On the subway ride home I meditated on why someone who's conducted many public meetings, speechified to similar size gatherings nevertheless reacts viscerally to a non-threatening situation as if it were a threat. Because a psychological threat is always there! The matter is, metaphorically, in that apple with the bite out of it. Eve's legacy -- never mind the good and evil part of the story. [Of course they exist but they are often a matter of definition]. The real reason Adam and Eve suddenly grabbed the fig leaves has nothing to do with modesty. The loss of innocence is realizing that externals, superficials always affect the way others see us. No one will ever totally know us from the inside out. We will be judged often not for who we are but for something beyond our control, how the other needs to see us.
On one level, I do not care what those women think of me or my quilts; However I toted the quilts to the meeting, didn't I? To share. Not for charity toward them, but for my own ego. I offered myself, not nakedly {heaven forbid!] but to be judged by their individual standards. The group is too big to be warm as a small group would be. This is only the second time I've done show & tell ... I'm feeling ambivalent about it ...
I think one reason people don't feel old when they're beyond AARP age is that these residues of youth haunt us. They're not all uptight like stage fright; some are the need to twirl around the coffee table when the radio is playing The Blue Danube or start singing to Sousa, "be kind to your fine feathered friends, for a duck may be somebody's mother .." etc. So I'm still capable of stage fright, it's simply part of the package.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Anthologies, the Scrap Quilts of Literature

From Wendell Berry's poem "October 10"

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.
The calling of a crow sounds
loud -- a landmark -- now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.

The whole poem is in an anthology I've been reading every night before going to bed called "A Year in Poetry, A Treasury of Classic and Modern Verses for Every Date on the Calendar." Published in 1995 by Random House, I found it in a used book store. After checking to make sure it wasn't full of warm-fuzzy chicken-soup-for-the-needy doggeral, I decided to stretch my poetry reading habits because it mostly commemorates things that happened on each date which has a lot of births, deaths, battles and other historical references. The poems span centuries from Old English to contemporary. One sees how the poet's role has changed from dramatic and public to personal and private. I've read of people and especially battles that were nowhere in my frame of reference, and I've already forgotten most of them. The scope has been enlightening.
The crow above is by Evon Kerbetz; it is a post card I purchased in Alaska last summer. She has an unhelpful web site but I've managed to learn she is a graphic artist and book illustrator and anyone interested in her work could write her at the address on the postcard: P.O. Box 8943, Ketchikan, AK 99901. I saw other examples of her work in a gallery in Valdez and though she was very talented.
I was going to write about the metaphoric similarities of scrap quilts and anthologies but I will leave that for another time. I once believed all quilts were scrap quilts. I've just decided to read another anthology with a less promising title [sounds icky but I wouldn't have bought it if I wasn't convinced it's not] "Love Poems by Women: An Anthology of poetry from around the world and through the ages" Edited by Wendy Mulford, 1990 Ballentine. The reason I knew I'd like it was the very first poem, which I have to quote entirely and really hope it's okay, copyright-wise: It's by Carole C. Gregory called "Love Letter"

Dear Samson,
I put your hair
in a jar
by the pear tree
near the well.
I been thinkin'
over what I done
and I still don't think
God gave you
all that strength
for you to kill
my people.
Love - Delilah

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Doggie Paddling in Deep Water

THEY say the way to keep your mind young is to learn new things. THEY may be right but some new things are more fun than others. No jury duty today so I thought I'd go in to my job and get a head start on a big job awaiting me. I was greeted with disproportionate surprised delight -- a bad sign. A new job had come in and it was in "a little different format." Yeah! Instead of being in Word for Windows it was in Excel [ I am so unfamiliar I'm probably spelling ir wrong].
Well, Sonya was as kind and helpful as possible but I felt like the kid who's sadistic father has said, "Come'on, Kiddo, I'll teach you how to swim. We'll just go out in the boat to the middle of the lake ..." SPLASH! Throws the kid in without a life vest. "Swim!" Dad says and paddles off. I have ZERO technical knowledge about any computer program. I don't even WANT more knowledge than I need to do the work I want to do. But here I was faced with a moderately complex job that, in the program I use, would have been interesting. Excel was a nightmare. Glub-glub-glub ...

I admit that I am not one to suffer in silence at work. Boring jobs get loud groans, funny stuff has to be shared and frustrating stuff brings for serious calls for help and complaint. It was not an easy day for anyone around me -- I should apologize but if I were drowning in that lake, you can bet I'd holler my head off for the lifeguard.
Well, I began to get the hang of it, but the computer itself was not cooperating very well. I plugged on until I was too wrung out to continue. By then it was raining -- appropriately! I was so generally zonked that I blanked and missed the 96th Street stop on the subway, found myself at 103rd Street and had to walk 10 blocks ... by which time it was not only pouring hard but the street corners were all two- to three-inch deep rushing torrents.
As THEY say, into every life a little rain ... So I had a dinner of Midwestern comfort food -- ham, butter beans ... etc. and a Weight Watchers eclair!! That helped A LOT. But I've activated a bunch of brain cells that might have been on the verge of atrophy. I wonder if I've decreased the days of dementia my eventual nursing home caretakers will have to endure.
By the way -- the pictures herewith: They are, at the top, a summer lightening storm, and the second is a steady rain {in lazy daisy stitch]. These are from the Daily Diary of my lovely 65th year ... which I'll write about one of these days.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Big, Brainy, Beleaguered and Going Bonkers

My reading is sometimes random, i.e., whatever the articles are in the Times Sunday Magazine, the current issue of New Yorker, other magazines I pick up as well as the books [usually 3 or 4] I'm reading at the moment. Human and animal psychology are coming at me from various directions lately. Yesterday's article in the NYTimes Magazine was me reeling.
Think about these facts: they're far bigger than we are, they have better memories, they have better "family values", they have very deep emotions [yes! Believe it!], they may be as smart [can't be proved one way or the other]. For at least a couple thousand years they have worked for and sometimes entertained people. {Remember Hannibal?] In the last 50 years they have been under assault like never before. Many suffer from a disease finally being recognized to exist in humans: post-traumatic stress disorder. They're apparently damned mad [in both senses of the word], and they're beginning to do something about it, a little like the rampages of teenage boys the papers called "wilding."
I mean elephants, especially the African elephant. Yesterday's lead article in the NY Times Sunday Magazine ought to be mandatory reading for everyone. EVERYONE. Because we are all animals and we share this world. We can learn a great deal from them. The facts make my heart hurt. When I was at an "elephant farm" in Thailand and the ONLY fact they told me was that a hundred years ago there were half a million elephants in Thailand and now there are 5,000! What if the inhabitants of ANY country were not decimated [the word means 10%] but if 90% were killed? Well ... How long do you need to imagine that? Think of the Native Americans, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Australian aborigines and tribes in Africa my ignorance doesn't let me name.
I can only urge anyone who isn't afraid to look honestly at what has and is happening to people and the grandest animals the earth currently hosts, to go to the NYTimes website and fill out whatever various info you need to, to be able to read the article -- if you aren't able to get it in hard copy from a library or friend or your own wastebasket or recycling bin.
To be fully human we need to be aware that we are not the only sensate beings on earth. We are the destructive beasts, often out of ignorance but out of amoral evil as well. This article, on top of Temple Grandin's book about how animals think, and why proof of their intelligence and emotional life is finally being accepted, has me in more pain than if I had awakened from a comfortable night's sleep with a terrifying, pulse-pounding, cold sweat kind of nightmare.
You have enough concerns, worries, pain in your life? You don't want to know about something that doesn't touch you like elephants going insane from emotional pain? You simply don't have the energy to care about everything? You have to pick your causes and most of them are contained within your household?
Letting yourself know and care about what's happening in the world is like graduating from pablum to real food. Some food will be fantastically delicious, some will be sour or bitter or rotten and might give you food poisoning ... but there will be variety of flavor and texture and combinations ... there is even chocolate! Caring about things and wanting to know what's going on in the world around us is what our brains are made to do; and they're made to do that in order to keep us alive and maturing. It's going from a tightly furled bud to a gorgeous open blossom ... it's becoming fully human.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

BEEE-autiful autumn afternoon

Some days are so beautiful it's a sin not to enjoy them. Autumn is often like that here. Today was a treat.
I worked during the morning then took the subway to the 6th Ave. entrance to Central Park. As usual the park was full of people, all also enjoying the day. I stopped at a deli and got coffee and a snack and was looking for a place to sit. Just before I found a perch on a rock I passed a couple on another rock, the guy, who was probably 140 was holding on his lap his girl who looked from my angle as if her hips added up to about 140, not counting the rest of her. But they were enjoying each other's company.
After my snack I walked past the big Sheep Meadow which was full of people in ones, twos and groups, all quietly soaking up sun. White garbed people were playing croquet in the enclosed court, always a strangely Victorian, elegant sight in the midst of the motley variety of others. Row boats were out in full flotilla on the lake and a topless [male] singer with guitar was conertizing to a sizable audience.
I knew there would be a street fair on Amsterday or B'way. First there was a crafts fair along Columbia beside the Natural History Museum -- beautiful stuff, and reasonably priced if one is going to spend money. I didn't.
The fair, sparsely attended and essentially dull was on Amsterdam. Since 9/11 Street fairs have gone into decline throughout the city. To many people they are a waste of time. Very little enticed me except cheap lipstick and eye liner. But I always like the sense that this is a echo of one of the earliest rites of civilization -- the coming together of those who have something to sell. Markets were going strong in Hellenistic times and probably a thousand years before that.
I watched a trim 60ish woman riding a child's scooter, and a very large and tall 50ish man on roller blades, people munching roasted corn on the cob and others getting covered with confectioner's sugar eating funnel cakes. Already overweight people munched French fried sweet potatos or stopped at the crepes booths for a sugar shock.
The market is flooded with what I once heard called "exotic real Chinese plastic beads." Everything priced at $2 -- and worth about twenty cents. A bunch of ladies are selling [possibly real] jade, lapis and fresh water pearls from Myanmar, and there are tons of "pashmina" scarves, most of which are neither wool nor silk but some are very pretty patterns and colors. And at $5 -- why argue? But I have a drawerful so I just looked enjoying the colors -- back to that subject!
Mostly I enjoyed the sun, the people, the ritual of getting out on a Sunday afternoon and doing nothing of any use ... enjoyment for it's own sake is enough. [I had my camera but didn't think to take pictures -- I'd have liked that woman crushing her boyfriend's kneecaps but didn't have nerve enough to impose.]

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Color Conundrum - part 2

I got worried that "conundrum" was the wrong word so I looked it up. It's okay - second definition but often used to mean as the King of Siam sang, "it's a puzzlement."
COLORFUL! That's the picture here. Nine of fiteen stars from another Carol Doak foundation pieceing book. I loved seeing the colors come together. I was so I was so delighted I left the all over the living room to admire. Then I began working on something else and put them away before adding the sashing. Eventually I decided to go with the vari-toned turquoise sashing which I now believe to have been the major mistake. If I had looked at just a part of the quilt for a while, I might have taken it apart and used something darker, maybe navy or a really,really dark green. But doing sashing doesn't take long and I did it all one day. Then I wasn't very happy so I put the whole thing away and it sat in the UFO parking lot [out of sight, out of mind] for at least a year.
The middle of the summer I finally added a backing and batting and quilted it all in one rush -- to clear out that parking space for more recent UFOs. I have very, very mixed feelings. Love the individual stars, uncomfortable with the whole. So I put it on the bed. It was hot this summer so I didn't need to sleep under a quilt but I lived with it. It's still there and I'm sleeping under it. This is not -- so far as I can explore my subconscious -- a superstituous act of making it mine [analogous to a dog spraying a hydrant].

I think I have two color problems: I am insecure because I know my innate abilities haven't been professionally trained. I could take art classes, if I felt strongly enough about it. I don't. So I'll accept that insecurity and work within it. I'm just fine, really with color combining if it's a sofa and a rug, or a sweater and pants. It's only making quilts. Problem two is that I don't like to copy. I WILL NOT look at a picture of a quilt and try to reproduce it. I go to my stash and decide what I want to use. In this quilt a couple of the stars are very, very close to Carol's choices and I like them the least. Not because of her tastes [which are far better than mine] but because they aren't mine.
Finally, of cousre, color taste is a part of one's individuality. It changes as we change. I'm collecting orange and purple fabrics now; once I had none of either. I'm also using them!! I'm growing a little less fond of blue than I used to be ... I'm sure this means something. I've reached an age to accept much about myself with a shrug and turn my attention to other things that are newer and more exciting to me. I haven't thought much about color until the last couple years. I will now drop the subject -- but it's fall, the leaves haven't changed yet here ... when they do I may have to write about the gingko trees.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Color Conundrum - part I

This is the star I wrote of a few days ago. I've been living with it. It's grown on me so I think I'll make three more for another "quartet". It will be slow going, partly because each star has 128 pieces and takes three to four hours to piece and because I'm working on monarchs [per yesterday's entry].
I keep thinking about color, taking it personally. We say that some people have "a musical ear" or "an eye for color" or a nose for scandal -- well forget that, it's a metaphor. A few people called "Noses" are well paid by the perfume industry and the food industry has tasters. Some people are born with extraordinary musical or color skills. Most of us can never be Mozarts or Matisses. But, like so many skills, we can learn and hone our innate abilities, even if they're mediocre. I'm told even tone deaf people can learn to sing. I know an art quilter who, as an adult decided to learn to sing -- I don't think she was tone deaf, just untutored. She found a good teacher and can now sing and it gives her much joy.
I have a poor musical ear, I cannot hear a tune and reproduce it on the piano as my grandchildren can. But my mother believed her job was to raise a daughter with the social skills she wished she had which included piano lessons. I learned to read music and the dexterity came easily. But I had very poor teachers and learned almost nothing about music although I played the piano hours a day because I loved music. Not until my own children found piano too boring to practice and I decided to take lessons from their excellent teacher did I begin to learn musicality. My mother didn't mean to give me classical music but I discovered it and have been enriched ever since, mainly listening, but also playing the piano.
I think color skills are analogous. In my case there were no art classes in school. I had crayons for a while but no instruction. There were no art museums, no awareness of art. -- An aside: I vividly remember a calendar from an insurance company that had a picture of Rosa Bonhuer's Horse Fair.

It's a powerful painting. I had no idea those huge horses were painted by a woman. Not until I moved to NYC did I see the size of that painting. I was stunned that that picture I recall from seeing before I was ten, has a major space in the entry hall to the impressionists in the metropolitan Museum. When at the Met, I usually go by and say hello to the horses and salute an iconoclastic woman (a wearer of pants a la George Sand).
I learned about color combining sewing my own clothes. I am thoroughly comfortable combining garments, as most women are, but I am especially comforted living in NYC knowing I can dress all in black any time, any place and I'll look fine. That is how many insecure New Yorkers dress; it's also economical. The easiest fall back decision any day.
Back to color and quilting. I've read the color theory books, but I feel about them the way I feel about trying to read music without a piano to play. It's not helpful. I don't have the eye to carry theory in my head, or the ear to hear music on the page.
Part of the reason I've made fourteen "quartets" is because I wanted to practice color combinations in a small venue. I have lots of fat quarters or other smallish pieces of fabric and a great array of colors. I choose colors that are not those that Carol Doak uses. I have often made a square or only half a square and chucked it and changed one or several different colors for the quartet. Even with a pile of fabric on the table, my judgment of what will be strongest is not good; I have to see it sewn. I've been prepared to chuck this one. I might sew another and still chuck it ... this is definitely pushing my comfort level but I believe I can't learn if I don't push take the leap..

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Monarchs [poetry Thursdays]

This is the only monarch butterfly post card I've made. Now a poem -- by moi.
In September I saw the monarchs
gorging on nectar of roses
fueling to leave for Mexico.
They do not know they will die
I wrote
they only know the will to fly.
In February I saw the monarchs
dead by the million
in sudden cold in their mountain retreat.
The species is not in danger
wrote the journalist
the monarchs will survive.
We humans are not endangered either
though we died by tens of millions
in the 20th century
and have started the 21st
with the same will to kill.

This is a follow up poem after I wrote about seeing the monarchs on the tenth day, a vision of hope, in my long, painful poem after 9/11, "Ten Days in September". The monarchs and the horror of the WTC will always be connected in my thoughts.
Yesterday the NY Times science section had a long article on this year's migration of monarchs from Canada to Mexico, what is known about this miracle of migration and what is unknown, and the dangers they will face in drought areas, in storms. Mention was made of the plan to have individuals plant milkweeds in gardens and empty lots since the monarchs feed on them and milkweeds are being eliminated by big agriculture in it's herbicidal mass killings of local flora. I am awed by how these tiny creatures make a journey few humans could make on foot even with our well learned survival techniques and available shelter. Actually the article said that, at least on the spring journey from Mexico to Canada, the migration sometimes spans there generations, with stops at various points to lay eggs and then grow to migration ability. It didn't say if that happens on the north to south trip.
I have begun making the monarchs that will go on the envisioned show quilt which will be called "Monarch Migration" ... The survival of this idea and it's successful implementation remains, at this point, as chancy and dubious as an individual monarch's probable success of reaching that winter resting place.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Van Gogh, Picasso, not eye candy

I am addicted to eye candy. I love the photography in fashion and shelter magazines, I even occasionally read the wedding announcement pages of the New York Times -- that's BAD. I'm addicted to a brain candy too, the NY Times Sunday puzzle, The Wall St. Journal Friday puzzle and the simple after dinner mints of New York Magazine's puzzle. Ear candy? Well, I do like Strauss's polkas and almost all of Gottschalk's music.
But the main course is always better than the quick bite of candy even though the sugar rushn is nice. The main course in eye food is a good art show. It can be a quilt show were I'm challenged to pick the exciting out of the competent; it can be a gallery show with just a few pieces by an artist I never heard of before. It can be a major show at major museum.
Yesterday was a feast. A pure feast of a fall day, blue sky, warm but not hot, a walk across Cental Park to the Met, stopping on a bench to eat a sandwich and watch the dog and baby walkers. I was bound for the show about the art dealer Vollard who knew and handled everybody from Van Gogh to Picasso. A big, important show, a crowd pleaser -- and there WAS a crowd but not as dense as dense as I feared.
Such shows usually have a few things that I've never seen, either in museums or books, or that I have seen in books but now see "for real." Here were some very familiar Van Goghs, but also three hanging together, as apparently they had once and only once before: two views of a bridge over a narrow river amid spring verdure of and between them a young woman in a field of luxurious grasses. Van Gogh's work when I first meet a painting [not once it's too familiar from reproducions) is pure emotion, pure presence of that moment. These three were A Spring Day to me. Fresh, lucious, abundant.
I won't mentional the astonishing list of painters represented. At the other end of the time period was a cubist painting Picasso did of the dealer, all in grays. A picture I'd never seen in any book, owned for years by a Russian collector. It was understandable, a complex picture of a complex man, an example of cubism I could really love looking at.
Many others are already puddling together in my mind; but those four -- and, oh yes, a Starry Night of Van Gogh's that I had never seen before. Not the manic one with the tortured cypresses we all know and are astonished by, but a slightly earlier one, below is
a bridge over a dark river, and above, the stars, points of pure color dabbed directly from the tube. This is the glory of a clear night sky in a place where pollution in the air and pollution by city lights have not intruded. A picture about being in love with the miracle of glimpsing a sparking universe.
Those I will remember; those have enriched today and made me happy I am in this great city and can decide, when I find I have a free afternoon, to go see something wonderful.
Last week I read in one of the Artful Quilters blogs that in order to become a quilt artist, one must look at great art. The idea is not to imitate suject or style but to know that art is as much about emoton as idea. Technique, of course, one must be competent and capable but art is not manipulation of material and color; art is to communicate through maniupulation of matureal and colors.

Cow is a female bovine -- really!

In my job I transcribe a really weird, wide, wild variety of stuff. Today it was a Kurdish writer talking about the "poetry or resilience" and the horror of attempted genocide. The subjects are so all over the place I can't begin to list them. Last week it was trailers for the animated movie BARNYARD which is currently in the theatres.
Briefly for anyone who hasn't seen trailers or the movie: when the farmer goes away Otis, a cow, becomes leads the animals in having a bust out teens-on-the-loose party. Eventually Otis falls in love with Bessie, a lonely pregnant cow and with the calf she eventually delivers. What's wrong here? Otis is a COW, "he" has an udder. "He" is obviously not a bull. "COW" means female. Duh! I was ranting about this at work and was told "it's a lesbian story." I don't think so.
This is a nationally distributed movie by Paramount. This cost a pretty penny. How old are the animators and scriptwriters? Do they speak English?
As I've mentioned I grew up on a farm. I knew at a young age that all mammals, birds, and beasts like frogs and snakes have two sexes, as do humans. Do the people who made this movie also think that milk is concocted in a factory as Coca Cola is? Do they know where eggs come from? Do they think hamburgers grow on tropical trees? A college educated adult recently asked me what kind of animal a "veal" is. True!
I've read that Americans are becoming stupider. I know educators are saying Johnny and Janie can't read. I know even members of my generation are what one writer called "enumerate." They don't understand numbers or statistics [unless they're men talking about baseball players' records]. But have we lost touch with the real world? I think we may have -- by "we" I mainly mean Americans with our "great society" where the majority of people are urban and have never seen a working farm. I mean the under-30s who think up movie ideas.
I'm reading books that make me think [I perversely enjoy thinking] including Temple Grandin whose ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION I mentioned a couples days ago. Ms. Grandin points out that humans ARE animals. Animal studies show, she writes, that for their brains to mature puppies, kittens, etc. need to run and jump, chase their tails, pounce on shadows, mock fight, etc. The movements of the body affect the maturation of the brain. This must be true for human children too; but today children spend far more time in front of a TV, far less time climbing trees, riding bikes or playing with friends and helping mom and dad with household chores. Maybe part of their brains aren't maturing properly ... maybe it's not so much the violence on the TV but the body itself -- which, we are now told, is also getting unprecedentedly obese and that leads to a whole batch of other problems.
I'm also reading, as I've mentioned, ENDGAME, by environmentalist, Derrick Jensen, who emphasizes that our water and air are both polluted, our food is full of chemicals, and kids are being pumped full of various drugs, and now are getting vitamins and heaven knows what else in the supposedly pure water they buy because some ad agency has made it chic to carry around a bottle all day ... what is all this doing to the developing body and brain? We have no idea. Are kids getting stupider or are they mutating in ways we won't be able to see for decades? How much is going on that we don't know about?
Why aren't we at least teaching our kids that animals come in two sexes and that COWS are female and BULLS are male, HENS are female, ROOSTERS are male. Have whole parts of society become either ignorant of, or so afraid of sex, they can't even admit living beings are not neuter blobs? Meanwhile some -- at least one -- American is so afraid of sex that a parent in Texas raised such a stink because his or her child was taken to an art museum and saw a nude in a painting that a teacher lost her job and a school system will now deprive all children of the cultural advantage of knowing that art museums are places full of treasures.
What is going on here?" What century is this? If we lose touch with the natural world, what will we be?
Below is the "quartet" quilt I meant to have at the beginning of yesterday's posting. Read on to find out about it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It's Fun to be Surprised

In quilting, I like surprises. I'm not the kind who plans everything out on graph paper. I don't go shopping for just the right fabric. I find something I want to sew, dig through my stash [LOVE my stash!] and start.
Paper foundation pieced blocks usually surprise me. When I chose the fabric I have an idea what I'm going to accomplish but my sense of color is wobbly -- I'll write about that another time, maybe tomorrow -- so that I'm never quite sure just how a block is going to work until I see it done. Probably people with really good color sense will say something like "you poor handicapped schmuck". I am, both handicapped and a bit of a schmuck about how colors are going to work together -- I like to use commercial fabrics rather than hand dyes -- I really can't dye in my little NYC apartment. I love accumulating a stash and love pulliing out the fabrics I think are goiing to work. I'm often wrong.
For the past couple of years I've been making stars from Carol Doaks' book of 50 state stars. She shows them in groups of four on each page so I decided to make a number of "quartets" that would, with borders become wall size quilts. At the beginning of this entry is one of them, I'm not sure what number but it was in my digital album and demonstrates a "quartet". I just finished the first star of #14, I think. I don't have a picture of it yet because I'm contemplating whether I like it enough to continue with the background fabric I'm using -- a Hoffman geometric print with a black background that I like and have had a long time. Like many Hoffman fabrics it has its own strong pesonality which may be too assertive. The geometric print colors are greyed and the fabrics in the fairly complicated star are brighter.
I couldn't know what it would look like before I had one star done. Right now it's across the room, pinned to the black sofa. I've been myopic since I was 12. Long ago I discovered that with my glassses off the distracting patterns become fuzzy and the balance of colors pops at at me -- I'm surprised I've never heard this as a "tip" in any magazine. In my small-ish apartment I have no design wall so things lie on my black sofa.
I contemplate them from across the room. I do not complain about lack of space. Many years ago I heard Paula Nadelson speak -- about her complex quilts mainly -- but she mentioned her Bronx apartment shared with family and very crowded with her fabric stash. If she can accomplish those astonishing quilts in such a cramped space, I cannot bring myself to complain about lack of space-- tho' I dream A LOT about a studio.
This is the most recently completed quartet. It's so bright I'm almost embarrassed by the triteness of the colors -- I call it "Christmas in August Star". I probably over reacted by chosing black print background for the new one. I found I had a stripe in my stach that had the same colors as the print only brighter. Then I chose the other fabrics of the star from the bright spectrum. On the surface this is all very clever and ought to work. Maybe it does ... I need a cople days to decide. Part of the problem is that I generally find cleverness a very bad route to take. I don't trust my own cleverness.
In fact, I don't like cleverness in anything except cocktail party chatter. It's wonderful how delightful people become after a martini. I dislike clever novelists like Tom Robbins and clever playwrights or screen writers and I've never liked stand up comics. I don't like clever quilts either or other kinds of art. [In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I'm not really clever and when I try to be it feels hollow so, sour grapes?]
I think in general cleverness is mental laziness. My theory is that a smart children find that by being clever their friends laugh at their jokes and their grandparents tell them they are the smartest kids in the whole world and they become addicted to their cleverness which was also appreciated by teachers who are so starved for anything at all sparkly in the classroom that they gave the clever kids a lot of positive feedback too. So they skated cheerfully along and some of the cleverest are making lots of money in ad agencies and glossy magazines and Hollywood. They were never challenged to really think about much.
Now that's not always true, I'm thinking about Dorothy Parker who was very, very clever -- but her cleverness was always in service of her very acidic view of life. That is where cleverness works best -- to display an ironic and sarcastic understanding of how things really are and work. Oscar Wilde was probably the cleverest writer ever, I beleieve he truly saw society's foibled and stupidities and pointed them out mercilessly, even compulsively.
Major digression, huh? With that I should pack it in for today.