Sunday, December 31, 2006

Resolution, Same Old, Same Old

[this is one of my joyous little diary quilts -- seems appropriate for celebrating a new year]

In 1960 I made a resolution: I will read 100 books a year for the rest of my life. I was about to graduate from college, I did not want my education to end when I left the classrooms. Every year I have made the same resolution. A few years I actually read 100 books -- but only a few. I think the low point was 29. Lately it's been over 50 for a good many years. It will be 72 for 2006. How do I know this? I have a little notebook, every book I've read is noted there, for all 46 years. Magazines and short plays don't count -- sometimes, during years when I was reading a lot ofr plays, I'd count three as one book. Reading, along with classical music [listening and playiing it on the piano}, seeing art shows [which includes art quilts] -- these are the bread and butter, the daily vitamins and minerals of my mental, imaginative, creative life.

This is the Tyson public library in Versailles, Indiana. When I was in grade school I think I read every book in the west [right in the picture] side of the library, starting with the bottom shelf in the southwest corner which was where the beginning readers were. Then I made my way to the adult side. They had only a handful of art books; they had one book on handwriting analysis, hardly any poetry. I knew I wanted to study literature in college ... I have never stopped studying literature. I seem to read randomly, but I do not purchase books haphazardly.

Sometimes I join the mobs of people who resolve at New Years to lose ten pounds ... and keep it off. Like most of them I try, lose the ten pounds for the umteenth time ... and gradually gain it back. ... Now I wish, but I don't resolve. So many things I wish ... that would be all night typing. Midnight will find me with a book in my hand, it usually does.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Morning News

My clock radio alarm is set at five minutes before the hour. I awake to the end of a piece of classical music on WQXR and then the news headlines from the NY Times and then the weather, currently and predicted for the day. Every morning for a long time now, the news has included the number of AMERICANS who died in Iraq "today" and the incidents in the country of bombs, massacres and other events that took usually uncounted/able numbers of lives of Iraqis. There were deaths "today" in many other places, often in Africa, and a disaster -- earthquake, train wreck, ferry sinking, etc. Not a cheerful way to wake up ... hello, world about which I know too much and not nearly enough. Too many superficial facts, too little about what life is like in other places.

Today's headline: Sadaam Hussein was hanged before dawn. Hanged for 137 deaths ... although thousands, or maybe tens or hundreds of thousands were killed on his orders -- killed or tortured or disenfranchised. Perhaps he deserved to be hanged as much as anyone. I do not believe anyone has the right to kill anyone else, nor should any organization, be it a mafia or an internatioinal tribunal, have the right to kill anyone. A life imprisoned with ample time to understand why freedom has been taken away seems a more fitting punishment.

This news is the end of something ... certainly not the end of the fighting and dying in Iraq or in the Middle East. Still there must be completion of something. One less maniacal tyrant. Will any others see this death, after an international trial, as a warning? It seems some tyrants change as they grow older -- well, of course, we all change as we grow older. But Qadafi has somehow changed, Castro certainly changed -- although I think he's in a cateogry of one.

I listen to the news and wonder ... I don't dwell on it, most of us don't/won't/have no reason to think much about it. The weather -- now that's personal, especially for New Yorkers. Most of us don't go from kitchen to garage to car to highway to garage to work. Most of us bundle up, go out on the streets and get blasted by the wind whistling down the avenues. That's something we know how to deal with. After the weather report, I can get up and get on with the day. Or maybe I'll just spend 6 or 7 minutes listening to a little Mozart in the morning ... before I start the coffee.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Mellow. Thinking of nice things

No pictures for a couple days, so some nice pictures today and not so very, very many words [tho' that's hard for me]. Thinking about India as I read, or stop reading, TRAVELS WITH ELSA CLOUD, here is a large detail of a quilt I made with pictures I took at sunrise across the Jujuma from the Taj Mahal. Taking form as the mists cleared and the sun rose, it was magical. After breakfast I wrote a poem. But it wasn't just the Taj, every day I was in India a poem came to me spontaneously, that never happened on any other trip.

Summer, a path in the woods -- the familiar, homey woods of Versailles State Park in Indiana, a path I always walk when I am there. It crosss and recrosses this little stream on stepping stones. If it's early morning or almost dusk one might see deer. Otherwise there is a midday silence, no birdsong. Maybe a flitting butterfly, water spiders, maybe a blue heron. I hope to walk a lot of paths in a lot of other places, different parts of the world yet. Walking alone in the woods is one of the most peaceful things one can do. I think often of Mary Oliver's poems which frequently result from her early morning walks and observations.

A 4x6 inch block from what I'm calling, "My Daily Diary of My Amazing 65th Year" -- a cup overflowing ... with stars. It could be an emblem for how I feel about life when we come to the end of yet another year. Yes, my 65th year was amazing. But every year has been amazing; this year has, last year was, any year I pick out ... I listen to people chirp "enjoy your day". "Have a good evening." Does anyone have a moment and think as s/he sinks into sleep, ah, another good day? Landmarks like New Year arrives, or if you are church goer, maybe a minister reminds you to count your blessings ... would doses it spontaneously? That which is special, doesn't feel special when it becomes every day, familiar ... except if we suddenly can't. I cannot right now tie a shoe. I can't bend that far ... soon I will again; but right now my hip won't let me. Maybe the first time I put on my laced ankle boots I'll realize I'm having a good day.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

What I'm Reading, end of 2006

Let us go back a long, long way. The summer between 5th and 6th grade I read POLYANNA, then returned it to the library and took out POLYANNA GROWS UP. I couldn't finish the sequel and returned it half read. For many -- maybe 30 -- years after that I felt guilty if I didn't finish a book, except textbooks which were in a different category. I felt I owed it to authors to stay with them and see how they had finished their stories. At some point in my advancing adulthood I read that it is a sign of maturity to be able to throw away penciils shorter than four inches and to toss books that are boring. I went through the house and threw away a bunch of three inch pencils -- also thin slivers of soap. But I continued to have trouble not finishing books.
I have begun reading TRAVELS WITH ELSA CLOUD; possibly 50 more pages will be the end of what I read. I'm charmed by the title. A mother is writing about her daughter who once said, "I'd like to be the jungle, the sea or else a cloud." Thereafter the doting mother, author Leila Headly, often called her daughter "Elsa Cloud". Lovely. Except Headly is a very spoiled rich girl/woman whose writing is so self-indulgently discoursive that I'm muttering, "come on , already." She is so indulgent of her beautiful, manipulative, spolied daughter that I am getting nauseous. They are in India, the daughter is studying Buddhism in Dharmsala. But after 75 pages, the essence of India has not made a dent in anyone's narrow sensibility. I'm fnding mother and daughter insufferable. I found India a powerful place, deeply moving and life changing. If I don't begin to see these self-indulgent people reacting to the power of India by doing something more meaningful than spend money within another 50 pages, it will have to go the way of POLLYANNA GROWS UP. I can't read 500 pages of Ms. Headly's prose to learn nothing new about how people react to India.
I am also reading, THE VOICES by Susan Elderkin, an Australian writer. I wish her main charcter were a young girl instead of a young boy, but other than that, it is a powerfully written, deeply imagined work. Every so often I have to read about the Aussie outback, the difficult meeting of whites and aborigines, the desert and the exotic birds and the roos. I've never been to Australia but I've read so much, I'm almost afraid to go. How can it be as intense as books such as this? Or as the vivid moive, THE WALKABOUT?
Also, I'm reading BAD TRIPS, an anthology of travel writing [a used, and fairly old book] by Keath Fraser, a Canadian. The pieces are fairly and most very fine writing -- majority Brit or Canadian and they tend to have higher standards for prose in general. However the book is a bit of a cheat since some of the pieces are from works of fiction. This doesn't seem fair. Not all the so called "Bad trips," are so very bad. But then the war zone ones are nightmarish and only readable because the writing is graceful and one knows it's a filter from some time well in the past after the awful events occurred.
Of course, I'm still chipping away at the poetry books. And I have a new play by my Chicago friend, Wm. Lederer, a most prolific writer with a unique imagination that befuddles and amazes me. I will read it this coming weekend. Of course, there's the magazines and newspapers ... Yes, as Ellen reminded me this afternoon, when books became widely available, they were considered just as bad for human health and mind as we now consider computers ... "the kids spend all their time with [their noses in a book/in front of a computler] and get no exercise, never help around the house and are becoming flabby lumps of flesh. " So be it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Back to the work

No, the holidays aren't over. New Year looms - a holiday I take with some seriousnessl. A time to assess and think ahead. But otherwise days are taking on a normalcy perhaps a little sooner than expected. I've been back at work most of two weeks now. That means, in a practical sense, several hours a day not doing what I would be doing here at home -- not quilting, now writing, not reading, not playing the piano and not doing the bothersome chores of life like laundry and dishes. Also it means having a brain full of other people's voices -- for those who don't know, I transcribe audio or audio/video tapes -- of an extremely wide variety. For these several days it has mainly been financial. Men making mega-bucks from the funds they manage talking about how much money they're making for their companies and clients [and not mentioning themselves, although the year end bonuses must be the sugarplums that dance through their dreams]. This is a world I know well ... but only by the voices of obviously very smart men who apparently love thinking about money day in and day out.

Doing this kind of work for a good many years has given me an unusual perspective. Yesterday's fund manager was a brilliant man who spoke in wonderful fluid sentences. I wondered if he has a wife and children to whom he can speak in a simple human way. I hope so, but I wonder. His financial world seems totally engrossing to him. Today the spectrum shifted. A Hispanic man who has been diabetic half his life [he's in his early 60s] a retired blue collar working now dabbling in real estate to earn a needed extra bit of income, spoke of his fear, trauma and almost pathological hatred of giving himself insulin injections, the vehemence of his feeling was as eloquent as the analysis of the fund manager -- except I felt this man probably knows how to talk to his wife and his kids.

These people are examples of the thousands I've lived with a few hours of my working life. Their voices become part of my experience for a few hours. I laugh with them, follow their mental patterns, know very little, but pick up some essence of their lives. I'm a ghost, maybe a vampire imbibing some of their essence. And soon forgetting all but the variety of humanity whose concerns I have known. What I know of them is less, but more real, than what I know of the many fictional characters I've met in books all my life.

I can pick up the quilting metaphor easily, of course. The voices [and in the cases of the video interviews, faces] are the great variety of fabrics that have made up the patchwork quilt of my job. They have blended. My impression of the world -- from Presidents and multimillionaires, to wo/man-on-the-street even to criminals plus a lot of celebrities -- so that I see, often in a very superficial way, the variety and similarity of people. These people I've eavesdropped on blend nicely with the people I've voyeuristically watched as a tourist in many, many places in the world. Perhaps this is why I like what I called a couple of days ago an "ad lib" method of quilting. At my job I never know when I put on headphones what voices I'm going to hear -- I like surprises, I like variety ... I like letting the variety take shape around me. It's a fascinating world, I almost never get bored. I was enjoying being at home and doing my own things, letting my body heal itself. But now that I'm back at work, it's okay to sit typing several hours, getting stiff. Then I walk a few blocks to the subway and a few blocks home and the hips work okay. Life is full of variety .. yes, it's a wonderful, haphazard quilt of people, experiences, new knowledge, the whole kit and caboodle.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bad Taste, Ugh

I should have tossed that awful pig fabric. But, no, my thriftiness won out. Worse, I put the nine squares of it together with stripping of blue POLKA DOTS echoing the polka dot dress of a silly girl piggy. And this horrible example of bad, bad design -- the "artist's" and mine -- will be presented to some innocent tot who may not know any better ... how could he or she after exposure to equally awful stuff on TV? I should be ashamed ... I am, actually.

This is the worst of three "charity" quilts I've made and will take to the next guild meeting. A requirement of membership is making one charity quilt per year per member. I try to make two or three. They're quick and use fabric that I've acquired in grab-bags and such that I know I'll use no other way. I wanted to turn them in before Christmas because last year I was very moved when one of the recipient organizations wrote a thank you saying that several homeless children received no other Christmas gifts except the quilts. In this city where the children who live in the building I live in are not among the richest, by far, have SO much. Yet some children have nothing unless an organization makes quilts or gathers books or toys. I know society has ever been thus; but in such a wealthy city such inequality is heartbreaking.

Because of the hip problem I didn't get to meetings in November or December so I've only just finished three quilts. The other two are less disgusting. They have rather dumb cats but at least the cats are not pretending to be people. There is an inane conceit that animals become lovable when they are drawn as if they are people with animal heads -- but not real animal heads for these pigs have plastered on human smiles. Ugh! If I really think about it, it's enough to ruin one's breakfast.

We had pigs on the farm where I grew up, they were animals that demanded a certain respect. "They can get mean," my father warned. "Don't fool around with them." They were dirty and smelly and made disgusting noises when they were fed. Sometimes the sows at their babies and often times rolled over on one or two and crushed them. Such information was simple facts of farm life, not something to hide from children. I stayed of of the pig pen.

Although I'm embarrassed to have made the pig quilt, I'm delighted with the Laurel Burch cats. The latter are equally stylized but the differences are enormous. Of course cats are both more personable and more dignified than pigs. Beyond that there's the designer's intent and personality. These cats aren't pretending to be anything other than cats; but Burch has colored them with a high spirited joy. She has also given them totally cat-ty expressions. I've never had such brightly colored cats but I recognize the attitudes. And they remind me of a book I found a couple years ago called PAINTING CATS. Yes, there are people who paint, or dye, their cats' coats, treating their cats as art objects [to be as kind as possible -- there are other ways to look at the practice.]

A brief but vivid pig memory: two years ago I was in Thailand, in a tribal village in the north. Dogs, chickens, pigs wandered the streets along with the women who were eager to sell us their handicrafts. A sow walked up the path and then lay down beside it. Immediately at least a dozen piglets -- six or seven inches long, maybe a month old -- scrambled and tumbled from the weeds beside the path and attached themselves to her teets scramblng for a place, piling on top of one another, bigger ones shoving smaller ones underneath the pile. The only descriptor is "feeding frenzy." They not only sucked, slurped and grunted, they literally bounced up and down as they did so. I've never seen any baby animal so frenzied. This went on for four or five minutes; then they were satisfied and, with a couple more spasms, became utterly calm, still clamped to her teets. The almost wild, cannibalistic madness turned to a maternal scene fit for a child's picture book -- dozing babies beside the calm, drowsy, vast maternal source of all sustanence.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Neither Scrooge nor Grinch but ...

I'm one of those people who don't "do" Christmas. In fact, I really don't "do" holidays at all. No, they're not humbug to me and I recognize them as they affect the people around me. I just don't recognize holidays as weightier than days. As I wrote a couple days ago, I like Christmas greetings and I do get gifts for those I care about and I'm happy to receive gifts. Many holidays must be recognized for their meaning in the recurring cycles of our lives.

But the hype! Horrors. The hype has infected almost every corner of the world now that "we are all connected" an ad crows. I've been surfing blogs; I love the link on Dara Musing to a monk in UlanBaator, Mongolia. He recently posted pictures of the artificial Christmas trees for sale there -- in every plastic color imaginable. At least this country which has only scant forest along it's northern edges, does not use real trees. No, they import artificial ones from China and decorate them with plastic tinsel and garlands in other neon colors. Yes, there are some Mongolia Christians for whom Christmas is a meaningful event but for most it is a fun imitation of western ways ... something on which to spend money many may not have to spare. If the trappings of Christmas have spread to Mongolia, where haven't they reached?

I did not stop "doing" Christmas for political/ethical reasons. It evolved in steps. Autobiography would need a long essay that's not appropriate here and now, and probably too boring to ever bother writing. So, how am I spending the day? Quietly. At the moment WQXR, the classical music radio station, is playing one of my favorite Schubert piano sonatas. I've cleaned off my desk - sort of, I've made piles of to-dos and shifted my purse diary to the 2007 refill, noting must-dos from the old one. And I'm continuing work on the Laurel Burch cat quilt for Leslie.

This is the center of the quilt which is growing outward medallion fashion although it's not a medallion quilt. I call it ad lib quilting because I didn't know what I was going to do when I sat down with the two pieces of fabric, one with light background, the other with black background but otherwise the same. I saw that the repeat is really a 5x10 section with just six cats. So then what? Something to break up the feeling of too many cats. I needed solid or reads-as solid colors. The cats have lots of wonderful colors, so which ones did I have in my stash -- which is about 90% prints? As the picture shows, I found very dark green, red, turquoise and peach. If I weren't ad libbing, I doubt I'd have chosen these, but they satisfy me,

At first I thought I'd do the easy thing, just use strips but I've done a lot of what I think of as "window frame" quilts and worked out an easy and quick technique. I like the dynamic of four corners coming together and the way the implied diagonals move the eye across the quilt. It may add about a third more time to the sewing but it's worth it. So far I've done 25 blocks and have another ten I will add today. I think I will want to add another seven but I don't know that until it's together and I've looked at it on my bed.

Yes, I know lots [most ?] quilters know what they're doing before they start, at least know the number of blocks to make to get the size they want. I could do the math -- really, I like math, I'm good at math -- but I like the ad lib method. I'm thinking about the borders the quilt will have. I have an out-of-focus mental picture of the finished quilt but I anticipate the surprise and fun of discovering "what have I wrought" only when the binding is finally on. So that's what I'm doing this Christmas day ... oh, I'm fixing a somewhat more special than usual dinner. Let's just say the dessert is cheesecake and what comes before also delights the taste buds. I'm having a lovely day. And the radio has just begun playing Nutcracker music.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Winter Solstice - The Turning Point

This is the first full day of winter. The facts have long been metaphors: This is the shortest day, the longest night. Now the days will get longer, the nights shorter -- we may not be able to notice for a couple of weeks. When the days, or your life, becomes the darkest, you can't tell immediately that the change has happened, but the light is returning. The philosophers, the thinkers, the observers, the ancients saw this ... perhaps a thousand years before Lao Tzu wrote the TAO TE CHING the elders had observed that the changes come regularly, if with subtle differences from year to year.

How wonderful that way back in ancient times, the times of the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the makers of Stone Henge, the first Taoists, the Hopewell people, many others, human life had evolved enough that a class of people had the leisure to look at the heavens and around at the earth and actually SEE what was happning. That the stars seemed to move around the sky in a pattern, that seasons came predictably, that solstices came twice a year and equinoxes came between them. What power these observers must have had when they could warm that the moon or sun would disappear but then return. How wonderful to reassure the clan that even when it was dark and cold, spring would come, the animals and birds would return, food would grow, sun would caress goosebumps and turn arms tan.

In terms of how long we've been a separate species this knowledge if very new. The comfort it gives us remains remarkable, barely understood, wondrous. Even today, when we think we're educated and sophisticated, we observe the darkening days with our various festivals of light. Our cities are decked in sparking lights. It gives us a visceral thrill to look at the lights in the cities and in our homes, possibly blinking on the tree set up in the living room. Possibly we will never cease reacting t to other winter solstice with a celebration of light, with feasts and with honoring the people we care about with gifts to tell them they are precious to us. Whatever darkness has entered our lives of late, we will reach a nadir, and we will begin to heal, the days will become longer and lighter.

No need to think about your religion or my religion or the unimportance of religion ... the fact of the winter solstice is also a metaphor that is more than metaphor because it is a deeply meaningful fact of life as we know it and it has been since those ancients watched the sky and used whatever counting devices they had learned and prove. Yes, the change has occurred.
All, as the Taoists said, is change. The natural world in which we live is always dynamic, never static, understand the laws that govern that change and you will understand all. Whatever governs those changes -- the laws of nature -- also govern your life. Learn those law and live in harmony with them and you will have become a seer -- to have such knowledge brings deep satisfaction ... the modern concept of "happiness" may follow, but it is such a new concept, we don't yet know how to define it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

'tis The Season ...

The cards come ... the ones without letters, or at least notes, get a glance. The notes and letters tell of a year's elapse. Mostly the children, whether mere babe's like Laryn's or grown and with their own children. Strange things happen as we get older ... members of our own generation, cousins we've rarely communicated with since our teen years suddenly begin to send cards or write letters. And the younger generation like Laryn who, in fact, I've never met, (the daughter of my cousin Sharon) -- once she got married she began sending cards and announcements of her children's birth. It makes me feel a bit like a gray eminence esconsed in my NYC tower, a bit exotic, probably weird [the word eccentric is not a common part of my family's vocabulary]. But I've always enjoy my position in the famly as the One Who Went to New York.

[This is my Christmas in August star quartet quilt - one of the quartet series]

Many friends' letters tell also of moves from the family house to a new, smaller house or apartment. Trips to Florida, or Maine, retirements, new intersts, volunteer activities. Fortunately among most of my usual Christmas time correspondents few serious illnesses have been reported. Most of us are living busy, full lives -- this is a new phenomenon in the world. Most of us are just a few years ahead of the baby boomers, we're the vanguard, really, we're setting the example. I think we're doing a very good job of it.

Most people are conscientiously politically correct. They wish "happy holidays" and few send overtly religious cards except to those they know share their beliefs. I don't know how much political correctness has reached the every day people of the so called heartland of the country; but certainly here in NYC it's everywhere. In the lobby of my apartment building there is the usual tree and on the mantel the menorah -- tonight's the last night of Chanukah but I imagine it will sit there until the tree is taken down. Kwansa hasn't reached this part of the Upper West Side although I suspect twenty blocks further north there are lots of signs of this newest American December holiday.

For the time being, people have a new comment when parting -- have a good holiday, a merry Christmas, a nice trip to see the family -- it's a good change from have a nice day/evening.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Horses Are Home

A little over a year ago the regional SAQA (Studio Art Quilters Asso.) representative, Lisa Chipotine, came to an Empire Guild meeting to invite members to join SAQA (it has professional and non-professional categories) and also to submit a small quilt for a trunk show to be shown at two or three venues during the 2005-2006 season. She brought several examples already accumulated. Some I admired very much and others I liked less; the quality was variable enough that I felt I could be a part of the group.

So I made "WHEN WISHES WERE HORSES", I had accumulated small samples of several very bright, patterned fabrics including a quarter yard or so that had the horses. Could I make a collage, raw edge appliqued and/or fused, that would work for me as a quilt? Could I make some kind of statement? This was my first attempt, except for travel=memory quilts, to do free, nontraditional quilting. The experience was elating. I pulled out several other fabrics from my stash. Then I began to think about what horses mean to me. Although I grew up on a farm we had horses only the first six years of my life and they were a pair of work horses -- not the kind of riding horses that so many young girls find exciting. Otherwise I have had close association with horses. In short, I don't take them personally, their meaning is literary to me.

As I cut out the horses and laid out fabrics and just toyed with what sort of design I could make, I realized these were very dynamic, spirited, fantasy horses; they needed a fantasy setting, their wild coloration would have to stand out against an equally exciting background, yet it couldn't all be bright colors -- so the sky fabric added some solemnity. Then the children's rhyme began going through my mind: "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride ..." there was another line that I could not quite dredge up from memory - something and then "rings on her fingers and bells on her toes ... she shall have music wherever she goes ..." or was that a different rhyme? No matter, it was part of the creative mental stew as I looked at and fingered the horses and the other fabrics.

I was thinking about impossible dreams, about emotions that were too vivid to last, about the wild energy people associate with untamed horses. After a while I found the balance I wanted and made the little quilt, then embellished it in a rather restrained way with bright stars on the sky and beads in some of the fireworks-like bursts of color. That seemed bright enough -- maybe it was all too bright. It made me uncomfortable ... but uncomfortable in an edgy way. The way it feels to reveal a little too much about yourself. Just what a piece of art probably should do. I decided I liked this little quilt even if it did [and still does] make me a tad uncomfortable.

So Lisa accepted it and the horses became part of the NYC area trunk show and hung in some of the big quilt shows in the country, I'm not quite sure which ones. Santa Clara, I believe, and in New Jersey -- where I saw the whole group hanging in very bad light. Lisa is now putting together a second trunk show. At the holiday gathering last Saturday, she brought back last year's pieces. So the horses are home. Absence and the passage of time made me fonder, perhaps a bit bolder.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Curiosity - Morbid or What?

I expected today's visit with the orthopedic surgeon to be a few minutes of mutual congratulations and out of there. Actually I learned some interesting facts. I've always been curious about medical matters and read all kinds of medical articles in magazines and newspapers. Having a good grasp of how our bodies work only makes sense. We live in them all our lives, we should be good stewards, not take them for granted even though they usually work very efficiently. Some people use the word "respect" -- yes, that too. To respect and try to understand our bodies is to respect and try to understand ourselves. Those who say they are not their bodies are fooling themselves, they don't fool me.

What we don't know about is usually what scares us. What happens to our bodies may literally hurt us but it doesn't have to terrify us and make us feel vulnerable to unknown forces. We don't have to depend on doctors to perform god-like cures with miracle medicines while we go into panics about all that seems to be going wrong due to malevolent forces..
Various friends and family think it "weird" and inconceivable that I was glad to have been awake when the stent was put in my heart last January. I was somewhat peeved that the video monitor the doctor used to guide the wire as he inserted it was at an oblique angle to me so I couldn't quite see the event. Sure it was more important for him to see it perfectly than for me to see anything. What medical people can do is astounding! Guide a wire from it's insertion point in the groin up into the heart right where there's a partial blockage and leave behind a tiny contraption to hold the vessel open -- wow! Who wouldn't want to watch such a miracle? ... Well, I guess a lot of people. What's to be squeamish about?
This comes up today because I had spinal, not general anethesia for the hip replacement. I knew essentially what was going to happen including that I would be given medicine to make me drowsy and largely unaware. There was no monitor to watch. I slept for some part of the prep but awoke, fuzzily, when I seem to hear sawing and then hammering taking place in my hip although I felt nothing except that the lower half of my body seemed to be encased in a foam vise. My upper half was tented under a plastic cover with warm air circulating around me although that did not stop me from shaking rather violently -- as I had shortly after the accident happened. I recognized that as a reaction to trauma, not cold, and that it was beyond my control.
Today, as I left after looking at an X-ray of my new hip and getting some additional explanation of how it should heal, I asked the receptionist for a card to explain to airport security heavies that I have a lot of titanium and chrome inside my hip -- not dangerous explosives in lower torso recesses. Knowing how unreasonable some of those ill-trained security people are, the receptionist also printed out the operation notes. Reading them was amazing. Step by step what happened during the operation from the spinal to the staples and gauze bandage at the end, with a final note, "the patient tolerated it well."
What caught my attention, in the midst of Latinate medical words, was "the acetabulum was reamed using the cheese grater reamers to a size 51." That, I'll bet, was the "sawing" that awoke me. Suddenly I have a picture, probably inaccurate, of an instrument grating over a bone in my hip. And once all was made smooth or clean, then the new parts were tamped into place. I'm glad I was awake to hear that happening. I'm glad to have read all those steps although much is meaningless to me. I did not know anyone dictated these steps so minutely and completely -- possibly it's a templalte to which specific changes are made for individual cases -- why do I say that? Because I actually work in a world where such things make sense.
Knowledge is power ... the power to understand at least in a general sense what happened to me. I will not ask "why did I fall in the first place?" It was an accident and accidents happen. Accidents have to be accepted. As I read RIVER HORSE the boaters relate amazing events of coincidence and luck, again and again and again. Luck and accidents are two sides of the same thing. Good stuff happens, bad stuff happens. Curiosity can bring us answers and amazements -- and life is richer the more answers and amazements we experience.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Monarchs Finished ... almost

The Migrating Monarchs -- or should I call it Monarch Migration? -- are/is done ... except the "sweeping up", clipping bits of thread, and adding a label. I'll have to decide on the name, of course. The first picture is in the marking stage as I got ready to bind the quilt. It's really tight here in my little apartment, and I can't stand very long, so I used an old trick. I have a folding cardboard cutting board I've had since the days when I sewed a lot of clothes and had to lay out all the pattern pieces before cutting. What a great investment that board was! It lies on top of my ironing board and I've used it at least 30, maybe 35, years. Of course the ironing board can be adjusted. So for this job I adjusted it to a height that worked when I sat in a desk chair. The border is the back folded to the front, same fabric as the pinwheels in the background pieced quilt. It hangs straight -- a major accomplishment for me.

And below is the completed quilt -- the light in my apartment is abysmal, always has been bad but since a huge new building is blocking my sky and light in general, I cannot take a good picture of a sizable quilt. But you see the placement of the butterflies and that they are headed toward the upper left. Which to me is Southwest -- headed for their winte home in Mexico. I'm sure the shadows and the three dimensionality would show up far better in a well lit photograph. I may have to pay a professional to do this for me.

Here's a detail that shows the effect I'm trying to get ... sort of. I know I could take better photos if ... if ... if .... very frustrating.

Big sigh! Maybe an hour of carefully going over the front and back and trimming, fixing a thing or two ... and the label -- I may need to make another butterfly for the label, one of the little guys. What a relief. I felt so often in the early stages it would not work. And the truth is, once in a while as it hangs on the wall, I said, Eh... what's the big deal? If I saw that in a magazine, I wouldn't stop and look very long, some sappy woman with a thing about monarchs... Doubting one's vision and accomplishment is a sad and bad habit. Like many others, I crave some validation. The stages seem to be 1. creative excitement, 2, drudgery and doubt, 3. satisfaction, 4., return of doubt now with various second thoughts [could-a, should-a ...].

But it's done and I have not only the wild black paper pieced quartet to finish, I have three charity (baby size) quilts to quilt and bind, a memory quilt I've decided needs a bit more work ... and then SO many possible projects, the first probably being a Laurel Burch cat quilt for Leslie. ... Of course, there is also Christmas to deal with. I'm terribly remiss although I have the most valid excuse I've ever had; I simply can't walk well enough to do any shopping. Which doesn't affect my check writing skills ... as several portions of the medical world understand very well. Sigh!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pause for some Poetry

I've ignored poetry for a while -- not that I haven't been reading it right along. So here is a segment of David Young's poem called "Notes on the Poems" -- which are imaginary poems. There are five segments, each witty and wonderful; here's part 3.

Whole families were involved here
and the death wish and the industrial
revolution. You say the third line
about the bathroom in the grocery
was troublesome; I ask,
should a poem make more sense than Omaha?

Okay, David Young and I have weird senses of humor. And then there's ever witty, every inebriated, Dorothy Parker;

Into love and out again,
Thus I went and thus I go.
Spare your voice, and hold your pen --
Well and bitterly I know
All the songs were ever sung,
All the words were ever said,
Could it be, when I was young,
Someone dropped me on my head?

Enough levity for now. I ventured out to an office party last night and will go to a local SAQA meeting this evening and then I hope to return to this blog with a picture of my Monarchs quilt. The light is so lousy in my apartment I have difficulty getting a decent picture -- what's more I have difficulty being sure I have on socks the same color as my slacks or even the same color as one another.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Snow White as in Santa's Beard, but real

I don't like having people "do things to me". I'd never go to a hair salon if I could cut my own hair. I've never had a manicure or pedicure. The only massages I've had were in Turkish hamams -- believe me, that's a very different matter than the gentle "petting" that most American massages are. My ideal trip to the hair salon is to stop at a "no appointment needed" place, be able to sit right down, get a trim without a shampoo, and be out of there in about twenty minutes having spent no more than $20, counting tip.
Well, I had a very different experience yesterday. I think it was worth it although it was very expensive and I was in the salon from 12;00 TO 4:00. Before I post the rather unsatisfactory before/after photos, here's some background. Many years ago when I moved to NYC I became aware of many fantastic looking gray and/or white haired women, some apparently only in their 40s. After years of covering gray with do-it-myself applications I decided to join the ranks of the "natural grays. My hair gradually became nearly entirely white. I liked it. No fuss, no coloring. This was me - liberated. Upon occasion a woman in the street or subway or a store would compliment my hair color.
Then when I was seeing A. he began saying I should color my hair -- we had known each other many years before. His picture of me was as a 35 year old brunette. I resisted, for months. Although he's a fair amount older than I and white haired, his ego needed a woman who was not white haired -- no G.H. Bush he! [politically good, emotionally another matter] My ego and feminist standards were no match for his need and I finally gave in. So for some time I've been brown haired again. But since that episode in our lives is over, I've thought more and more about going back to my natural white. To undo a bad decision is very difficult. ... Finally, with the natural hair growing in - a lot - during my 'invalidization" period, I said to myself, the time has come. Precisely, the time was yesterday. So here are the sad before and after pictures -- believe me this is not my most flattering picture. [It's small and it doesn't enlarge if you click on it - ha!]

A young woman who uses the nom de dyepot, Havana, who is the salon's color director, took up my challenge and, indeed, worked very hard at the job. After the first part of the process I had a rusty orange cast throughout my hair. So another process was applied and after that yet one more. The result -- after four hours -- my hair is as snow white as any Santa's beard. Better yet, it is so close to my own natural color that when my hair continues to grow, the difference will {I think] be imperceptible. And I'll never purchase another box of hair color from any of those multiple cosmetic firms again. What you see is what I am. And, happily, I remembered immediately how I emphasized my blue eyes and naturally very light complexion with make up. I cannot say I was ever anybody's "arm candy" but I can say I certainly never will be. My politics are very different indeed, but I'm in the Barbara Bush camp - hair-wise, here and forever.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mediation and the Needle

Long hours appliqueing and embroidering -- two thoughts come immediately to mind.
1. Some years ago an experiment showed that the act of hand quilting lowered the quilter's blood pressure. I believe this can be -- maybe was -- extrapolated to other kinds of repetitive hand needlework. That is to say, this kind of work is calming and good for the body.
2. In Ibsen's A DOLL'S HOUSE, Torvald, Nora's dense but SO typical husband, finds her emboridering and says he's delighted his beautiful, "doll" wife is not doing something common like knitting with that awful clack-clack of needles, but rather plies her needle with a graceful lifting of the hand as she pulls the thread through the fabric. She is a lovely sight.

Perhaps the Chinese women in these pictures are enjoying lowered blood pressure but they look like women who are involved in the real world and not worried about being graceful for chauvinistic husbands. Anyway, this is a period for meditating about what I'm living through and how I handled the unexpected -- the only bone breaking accident of my life. It's a time to learn something about myself, or affirm what I already knew. Firstly, both Jeff and Kathy commented that I was a "good patient" in that I was calm and not demanding. I know this about myself: I handle the unexpected without histrionics. When I realized I was seriously hurt I also realized that I had to rely on others and that, I was lucky because Jeff knew exactly what to do. I did not have to control the situation. So I could let myself be taken care of.

I note, too, that, when I was in Beijing with the help of a woman Jeff arranged to help me, I had the presence of mind to ask about carriers other than Air China, the one she thought I had to use. And when she said a Continental plane was going to Newark [not aware that Newark is almost New York, or maybe confused enough to think it was the same thing], and was delayed in departing, I firmly insisted she must be assertive in a way she was not trained to be. She must insist they open the closed ticket counter and find me a seat on that plane. She did it. So, I see that I had the sense to know when to be passive, when to be assertive. And the latter despite taking the morphine pills, ad lib, prescribed by the X-ray doctor.

Leslie said I was able to stay clear enough to be aware of what was going on and to be assertive despite the morphine because I am "strong minded." It may also be that I have long known that when morphine or other major narcotics are needed for pain relief they do not have the euphoric quality that induces dependence in people who use drugs "recreationally". I knew that I have a high pain threshold and that, since I very rarely take even a couple of aspirins for pain, whatever drug I take works very well.

I know too, that I have trusted my body and believed in its strength and balance since I began doing yoga more than 35 years ago. I know it will heal and this is a period during which I must listen to both the doctors and my own physical signals. I am not 30 or 40 or even 50 any more, I cannot expect to heal as fast as I might have back then. But I can expect to heal more quickly than many others my age because I have kept my body strong and supple -- and because I was born with mostly good genes -- yes, there's the inherited congestive heart matter, I knew about that too, and the high blood pressure. But, as my [younger] brother remarked, I gain seven years on him -- meaning that I had seven more than he had before having any heart problems. Thanks to cholesterol control and a generally healthier diet and lifestyle -- with walking and exercise.

So my meditations today are satisfying ones. Yes, I'm dealing with a problem I never expected to have. But all in all, I've been better than lucky, I've been pretty smart ... except for that fatal moment when I decided to jump up the tiny embankment to those Tibetan children to give them sheets of sticky stars. Boom. So now, I'm paying for a misjudgment -- literally, of course. I've already had to dispute over $1,000 of incorrect bills. I'm sure that won't be the end. But I've got a lot more appliqueing and embroidery to do ... it'll keep me calm for at least another week.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Slow but Steady

Slow but steady could mean a bunch of things at this point, including the way I just covered six blocks, mostly downhill, to the grocery store, and then six blocks, mostly uphill, coming home. The tortoise. Racing no one, just going where I need to go. Much as I wish I could walk a couple of miles at a nice clip, that has to wait until I can do it again. And I will.

The butterflies are being appliqued, by hand, slowly. So far nine of nineteen, but only four have their antennae -- it makes a big difference. Nothing much to say about applique. When 2/3rds I stuff them with a few wisps of batting for more dimensionality. I really can't work many, many hours a day at something so totally sedentary and repetitious. I'm listening to Katherine Graham read a much condensed version of her autobiography. That helps. But she read flatly and I had little interest in a run of the mill rich girl with important husband having babies on the first CD. But on the second her husband give in to manic-depressive disorder and the charms of another woman. Her reading remains flat but this is much more interesting, the' the insights are predictable.

To break up the sameness, I'm back to the 14th "Star Quartet" in the series. The one that is dark and bright and so busy I still am not sure I'll like the final result. But I will finish it, quarter of a star at a time. This, too, is slow work but I truly enjoy the paper piecing technique. The picture shows clearly, I think, that there are 12 quite small pieces and another four that are largish. This particular star is an example of why I truly enjoy paper piecing. For those who haven't used the technique there is a learning curve, but an easy one. Then the challenges become the original fabric choices and not the sewing -- once one understands that it's absolultely necessary to sew exactly on the marked lines.

Here are the reasons I really enjoy using this technique:
1. Only with this method can I make neat points on triangles
2. Only with this method can I make designs with tiny elements like the ones in this design
3. The quarters of the star can also be joined with accuracy I wouldn't have otherwise
4. If I were using templates and cutting these pieces one by one {I cut strips of each fabric instead] nothing would join right and I'd be constantly frustrated -- rather, anticipating that, I simply wouldn't' make anything this complicated.
5. There is an element of surprise and I LOVE the surprise of sewing on the wrong side, and only when done seeing how it is turning out. For this star series there have been many kinds of surprises.
A. It's been an exercise in color. I've discarded some original color choices after seeing a whole or even half a star and realizing it doesn't work.
B. when it does work, I've usually been surprised how well it came together and how the colors played off each other. The "I'm doing something right!" discovery is affirming and fun.
C. On the various occasions [as with this one] when my uncertainty continued, I've had plenty of opportunity to mull over what's happening with color and pattern, I analyze and think about stretching my taste toward the more contemporary.
D. I am surprised several times - finishing a quarter of a star, finishing a whole star, putting four stars together, and then looking at how my choices in borders work. Every surprise teaches me things ... and I find them just plain fun.

6. Another reason I like paper piecing -- there are already so many designs available I can choose among many and don't need to think at all about coming up with an original design -- the color choices will be mine, so will how they are put together -- That is all within the American quilting tradition: taking a known pattern and making it yours by your choice of color, border, backing, quilting. Yes, once in a while I do a "from scratch" quilt and I hope to do more; but the good old tradition is enormously satisfying to me.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

FRIENDS - kind, generous, surprising

When the unusual happens, when one is hurt, needy, experiencing the unexpected, fiends' don their true colors unconsciously and spontaneously. That is the effect of unusual events -- as novelists a playwrights know welll.. When one is the recipient of those attentions, unless truly unable to res[ond to the circumstances, we ought to pay attention to the little things, the marks of character that arise spontaneously. -- That's an awful abstract sentence. I mean, in Linda Loman's words, "attention must be paid."
I've already written about my daughters. The poinsettia above is from Leslie who thought it would be a bright touch and it is. I'm pretty good at killing plants but this one, I think, wiill make it through the Christmas season, cheering my table at every meal.
My first friend to the rescue was Maggie who immediately came to the hospital with what I needed most, tooth brush and tooth paste. She even thought of floss. And flowers. She's extremely busy with a super hectic life right now but she calls regularly. We've shared a lot in more than twenty years.
Eli, my neightbor, brought much needed chocolate, from my refrigerator and his own additions. Brought the newspaper and some magazines which helped save my sanity. He's nearby and often asks what I need -- yesterday is was for him dig into the highest shelf of the closet and find my winter hats behind bath mats and mattress covers. Then he made a special trip to the store for a couple of bagels because it had been so cold I didn't venture out all day.


Lynn, my long, long, long time friend, now in Boca Raton, called with an immediate invitation to come and recuperate at her lovely [tho' under reconstruction] home. A few days later an email said to expect four envelopes. I knew that meant she was emptying her quilt stash. She has done this at irregular intervals; the arrival of fabrics she has decided she will never use or cuttings from quilts she has made, is always a special time because I LOVE being given fabric. She knows this and took the time to send me the above collection -- practically all of the Laurel Burch collection! Wow -- Christmas indeed!!! What fun, opening one envelope after another! Immediately images of quilts-to-be began to dance like the Sugar Plum Fairy through my head. All the more reason to keep plugging away at appliqueing the butterflies. What a feast of colors! Some are flannels -- wonderful to the touch. Plus there's a complex Hoffman fabric. YUM! Just the thing to lift spirits on a cold winter day. Lynn's generosity always stuns me. Plus she knows my past as no other friend does, we share things I share with no one else.">der="0" alt="" />

The surprise that I've been mulling the last 24 hours but really since late summer: a phenomenon either of aging or Midwestern-ness or of the internet era. I don't yet understand it. I attended my 50th [yes!] high school reunion in June. We were only 56 graduates, nearly half showed up for one or more of the reunion events, only three had passed away at the time although a couple were seriously ill -- a couple still are. Versailles, Indiana is a tiny, very rural town; at least a third of us began first grade together and continued together for twelve years. Others joined us in the 5th grade when a one-room school was amalgamated with ours. Many of us were part of each others' lives for a long time. I cannot say we knew each other well -- children, adolescents, teens are necessarily so self-involved we can see those around us only through our myhopic eyes. I lived three or four miles from town and was never a part of the in-town cliques. It didn't matter, I had my place in the class from first grade on -- the teachers' pet, the one who got A's, the one who played the piano and was somehow a little apart.
We had earlier reunions, starting about twenty years ago, which were held every five years. I attended most. I was the one who had "ambitions". The writer. The one who went to live in New York. I found at reunions that others had excelled beyond the seeming promise at our graduation. Changing times opened opportunities for both men and women. Many remained near Versailles, but many spread out across the US. Previous to the 50th reunion, I had much email correspondence with Bill S. who had undertaken to put together a memory book. He did a superb job with a little help from others who did home town research and by nearly all the class who submitted bios - summaries, long or, usually, short, and photos.
We talked a little at the reunion about how lucky we were to have lost so few. But we were very aware of infirmities; many had stories of knee or hip replacements, this or that chronic illness. Most are on polypharmacy, as one would expect. Our vulnerability was evident even as we looked surprisingly good -- if thicker in the middle. Several weeks after the reunion, Marilyn, who had seemed radiant and healthy suddenly was in the hospital with a partial leg amputation, that, over weeks became a radical amputation. The emails began to flow. Enormous support was mustered from members of the class, the news was regular. There was mass rejoicing when she was able to go home for Thanksgiving.


Linda -- now Lin -- one of my first grade best friends and always a friend [another teacher's pet] is now a retired teacher living in L.A., has become email central. She returns to Versailles every summer and keeps in touch with as many classmates as possible, she is the ideal contact person and had willingly taken over the role. She has a couple of assistants as well who sometimes forward the same info ... this redudancy is a welcome example of caring as I see it. Lin even phones the non-email users occasionally to keep them in the loop.
So it happened that Kenny heard about my hip and called yesterday to ask how I'm doing. This is absolutely amazing and I have been thinking about it 24 hours now. Kenny's grandparents lived across the road from our house, I saw him and his two cousins who were also in our class, often. At about age 12 or 13 Kenny decided I was the best thing that had happened in the world since the invention of Rice Krispies. He was shy and I was not interested; his dad was a farmer, and now he is a farmer. Kenny named heifers after me; I was mortified. He wasn't exactly shy but I hid my own shyness behind a facade of unapproachability. He never dared ask me for a date -- nor did anyone else, for that matter.
I'm told by Janet, who was my high school best friend and who also returns to Versailles every summer from her home in Arizona, that Ken [no longer Kenny, of course] always asks about me. Somehow, when Lin told him of my fall and hip replacement, this Hoosier farmer, now at age 68, has acquired the gumption to act on his concern. He picked up the telephone and called to ask how I was. I was and am deeply touched.
I've given examples of friends acting generously and spontaneously; but this community of information and concern among my one-time classmates makes me consider the small town values, the '40s & '50s ethos that shaped this small group of people. Simply, they are good people. They have lived simple but honest and mostly, as far as I can tell from their bios, meaningful lives. And as we grow older and more vulnerable a caring is surfacing that is warm and really quite wonderful.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What I'm Reading

Never just one book at a time. The regular intake of newspapers and magazines goes without further mention. This year has been the ongoing poem-a-day book -- not uplifting stuff, historical. Last night's poem was part II of Gerard Manly Hopkin's "Wreck of the Deutschland" - hardly light reading. Appropriate because that was the anniversary of the wreck. I've learn, or at least been touched by, a lot of history this year through reading this book of poems. I also dip into the Love Poems by Women anthology I have; there' s little of the Barrett-Browning "How Do I Love Thee...." stuff. It's much harder headed and is truly both international and spans more than 2000 years going back to Sappho.
The two big books at the moment are GENGHIS KHAN and RIVER HORSE. Wandering around Lijiang alone one afternoon despairing of finding any interesting shops -- all the same jewelry, Chinese medicine, stuff -- I actually found a book store! And in the back a small selection of books in English. I found a nifty little book about Lijiang itself with pieces of information I had not yet gleaned - among which was a note that Genghis had been there. Which I found unlikely but perhaps I'll find it is so. Anyway, near that book was the Genghis biography which I bought. Here are two pictures of GK -- book cover and one which is seen often in UlanBaator.

The iron faced warrior, the cover of the book, is appropriate. Until I went to Mongolia, I thought of Genghis and his hordes as neutron bombs on horseback. Man does not use that analogy but, indeed they were. I'm deep into his conquests at this point. Sheer greed and primitive ideas of honor seem to have driven him. I've just read a sickening chapter that describes Genghis at Baghdad and Merv and other Islamic Silk Road cities in Central Asia. He may not have invented genocide but he probably practiced it to a degree never equaled before or since. His soldiers became killing machines; often they killed everyone in a city except for the artisans and occasional women wanted for the general's enjoyment.
The other Genghis, a gentle old sage, is the law giver. This picture was painted some thirty years after Genghis'' death {no notes when the iron face was cast] when his grandsons were portraying him as the great unifier, the founder of a Chinese dynasty. Since being in Mongolia I have wanted to know more facts about Genghi. I'm certainly getting them, the book, mercifully, is very readable. Man tries to calculate the conflicting stories and numbers of people killed and so on, tries to piece out motives and to be matter of fact in a way that is not politically correct these days. He gives this mass butcherer simple straight forward reasons for what he did. There may be truth in his approach, people were less self-aware, more direct in their actions in the early 1200s. They actually did not think like we think, I hope no one ever again thinks like Genghis thought.

My night table book is, by contrast. a quiet, peaceful telling of traveling from New York harbor, all the way across the United States to the Pacific - with only very short portages - by boat, a two-person dory, to be exact. It is by William Least Heat-Moon whose book BLUE HIGHWAYS I loved many years ago. RIVER HORSE is what he calls his little boat. I've just read the only portion where I can relate directly to his descriptions -- the section of the Ohio from Cincinnati to Madison, Indiana; an area I know from growing up not far from there. He is a quiet story teller, who has done his research about all the distance he travels and all the towns he passes. He is a very likeable man as is his pseudonymous partner. I love the juxtaposition of Central Asia on one reading table and Northern US on the other.

I took Orhan Palmuk's SNOW to China with me. He won the Nobel this year. I had previously tried to read MY NAME IS RED but gave up, lost in too much detail about miniature painting techniques. At a midpoint I gave up on SNOW also, I had read again and again about the politics of the radical Islamists, including the "headscarf girls", I had endured endless descriptions of the snow falling and of cafe conversations and felt I understood what he was saying about the political situation in Eastern Turkey. Jeff said he had been unable to get much further than I'd got. I gave up. But while she was visiting Leslie picked it up and was within 60 or so pages of the end when she put into her backpack for the plane ride home. She has an endurance for political polemic -- plowed through nearly all of Solzenitzhin's Gulag books. Although her usual choice is "urban fantasy fiction" - a genre I've never read. In fact my daughters' reading is a mystery to me. Rachel had lugged along a fat volume of the complete Mervin Peake GORMEGAST Trilogy. Undoubtedly some of this goes back to my Tolkein fit when they were adolescents - I read the entire LORD OF THE RINGS aloud to them ... twice.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Letting the Body Talk to Me

I'm still sharing pictures from China. This dignified man seemed to be a village priest in a "stone" farm village we visited outside Lijiang. If he was, I suppose he was Taoist for the building he was sitting beside was not a Buddhist one and, of course, he isn't dressed like a lama or other Buddhist priest. He was happy to have his picture taken and to receive a few yuan ... for all cynical New Yorker than I am, knows, it might have been his stchick. But I don't think so. Most small towns have their spiritual personage of whatever persuasion and I assume that was his role.
Oh, my! Yesterday's excursion has echos yet today. I was tired and I was pleased to have a good night's sleep. But today I find myself more depleted than I would have expected. It's a beautiful day, sunny and in the 50s, so off I went aiming for the grocery store six blocks away. Not so far a walk on a beautiful day ... usually. But as I approached the much more expensive grocery store three blocks away I realized that would have to be my destination. For the first time in my life I had groceries delivered -- which I know many people do regularly but to this independent Midwestern WASP it was a new experience. Isn't it new experiences that keep life interesting?
I was up bright and early and working on the the rest of the quilted border and then I cut out paper patterns for the shadows of the butterflies. That was before I went out. Instead of hanging it back up the wall -- which is a bit of an operation -- it's a display wall, not a design wall -- I lay it on the bed. I don't like it much on the bed. So I've got to find the energy later on and hang it up. The angle really makes a big difference. This needz to be seen head on, not looking down.
I suffer many doubts about what I'm doing, since I've had no art training. Heaven knows I've read a lot of art books. I have a two volume catalog of mostly contemporary American art that was sold by the Philip de Pury Company in May of this year. Rachel saw me with the first book in my lap reading the critical comments and the artists' statements and remarked, "You're the only person who ever reads those things." Well, I do. I read and look and try to understand. I do the same with quilt show catalogs, and with all the other print that comes into my hands, like the Fiber Arts Magazine I bought yesterday and the Quilting Arts Magazine I had just finished reading. When does craft become art? Who decides?
I know when fiction, poetry or drama is seriously intended although I don't always understand the poetry. I've read so much in the course of my life, and tried so hard to write well and to express what I understand that I don't have to ponder whether the author is trying to make "art". But the visual arts, expecially the arts that have grown out of crafts leave me confused. I don't think I'll be able to call the butterfly quilt art ... but I'm not sure. I can call my year-long daily diary quilt pieces cumulatively art. They say as much about that year as I could have ever said in a poem -- more, I think. And they were done with expression as the motive even as I was using new craft techniques. So perhaps the definition of art comes down to sincerity of expression. Is then superior craft in the service of that sincere expression what lifts works into "fine art". I'm sure it is in literature, and I suppose it is in the traditioinal [museum defined] visual arts. I think people like quilters are still trying to make a case for what they do. I believe some of the excellent art quilts I've seen deserve to be in a league with some of the art in the catalogs I'm reading -- and sold for similar six figure prices. ... but I won't hold my breath for the latter.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Above is Tiger Leaping Gorge, the deepest gorge on the Yangtze River. This is a considerable distance from the Three Gorges that are now dammed and through which many tourists cruise. Our little group did not go down to the bottom of this gorge, one of the group had serious knee problems. There were young men doing the work formerly done by "coolies", carrying tourists up and down the long, steep path in tacky version of a palliquin. None of use wanted that kind of ride. To me, in retrospect, if was a visual hint of how I would feel some hours in the future being carried on and off airplanes by people I had to trust not to drop me.
As of today I have been "graduated" by both the Visiting Nurse and the physical therapist. I've mde excursions the last two days. Yesterday to a new cardiologist and today to a Barnes & Noble in search of a book on tape or CD to listen to while hand appliquing the butterflies to the quilt. How disappointing the trip was! Literary snob that I am, I do not read mysteries or spy books nor almost any best seller. All I found was Katharine Graham reading a condensed version of her biography. I'd prefer the whole thing; several people whose taste I respect have said it is a book worth reading. So I'll get a feel for it and I like that she recorded it. The best book on tape I ever had was Wm. Faulkner reading AS I LAY DYING -- prose became poetry in his voice & accent.
I spent much of yesterday marking quilting patterns on the two borders of the Monarchs quilt -- I had a template with two sizes of a chain design which was perfect since the inner border is a little over 2 inches and the outer is four inches. I'm so glad this is not bed size-- wall size is big enough. Today I spent all morning machine sewing the borders and I'm not done yet. I have about two hours more on the outer border. Since the butterflies are going to seem to be floating over the background [I hope] the quilting has to be done first. It was so slow because the white chalk pencil on the inner border did not always show up and I had to do quite a lot of remarking. I know alternative ways of marking exist but this seemed direct and is what I've usually done. So I'm resistant to "new fangled" techniques.

Back to China. This is a Tibetan monastery with prayer flags. They are called "wind horses". They are in the five auspicious colors. They are usually stamped with a picture of a horse as well as a prayer. In Tibet they are omnipresence -- or were when I was there which was ten years ago. By now the Han Chinese population of Tibet has exceeded, by far, the native, Tibetan population. But I'm certain prayer flags remain abundant in the countryside. For a long while I did not understand, on an intuitive basis, why the practice had come about. In the mountains there are few horses -- lots more yaks. But gradually I learned that large parts of Tibet are plateaus and plains and the horse has long been extremely important. So a wind horse began to make sense -- a spirited steed to carry prayers throughout the world everywhere the wind blows.
That the prayers are not individual but for the benefit of all sensate beings appeals enormously to me. Likewise the prayer wheels [drums] -- the copper colored items along the wall of this monastery -- are packed with printed prayers. [I saw one being constructed.] The visitor turns them clockwise when walking beside them and they send prayers forth as do the flags ... again to benefit all sensate beings. Tibet, lying at the top of the world has been sending forth such prayers for hundreds of years. Cynics can say it doesn't seem to have helped either the world or the Tibetan people much, consider the history of the last century and today's ongoing wars and horrors.
I felt Tibetans were different from other groups I have met -- they were immediately likeable. I was eager to visit the Tibetan village and Ganden Monastery on the last day of the Yunnan trip ... I'm disappointed I didn't get to see them. I expected it to be the highlight of the trip. Alas!

Monday, December 04, 2006

On My Own

Three weeks after surgery and I am on my own. The timing was just right. I took neither pain nor sleep medicine last night and was more comfortable than I have been even if I was awake and reading from 2:30 to 3:30. I aokeI su with energy and feeling firm on my feet. I even decided I was stable enough to step into the tub and shower with the hand-held shower head Leslie installed. WHAT HEAVEN -- the first time in a month I've felt water cascading over my body. Never ignore the bliss of such simple daily routines. I suggest just a moment to take a breath, feel the warm water and say "Ahhhh..."

Today was all my own, no appointments. I've been embroidering the butterflies' markings and making more and more butterflies for the show quilt. I have had misgivings all along but Saturday Leslie and I created an impromptu design wall, hung up the background and pinned on the butterflies that were altogether (not finished). We agreed I needed quite a few more but that it was going to work. The arrangement will be shifted and tweaked. So I've been making more, including having just finished two more today. -- About five hours to make two butterflies. -- Did I say this is a labor intensive quilt? Here's the empty looking first pass. It needs much -- which is exactly what I plan to devote my time to in the next several days.

Why am I subjecting myself to this exercise? Because these migrating monarchs are not just a bunch of butterflies; they are delicate, tiny, beautiful and perform an amazing feat every year, flying thousands of miles from Canada and North America to a wintering home in the mountains of Mexico. They do the seemingly impossible. ButI would not put this effort into something that was siimply an intellectual appreciation. There's a pesonal dimenson. Since a few days after the horror of 9/11 here in New York, they've been associated with that event in my mind and in a poem I wrote.
I was walking beside Hudson River walk below Riverside Parkwith Maggie. We were both enchanted by the numbers of monarchs we saw on the late roses along the path. A few months later the newspapers showed the monarchs in Mexico, killed in their hundreds of thousand by an unusual winter cold. Their death seemed to echo 9/11 -- but they have returned and rebounded. So this may look like a somewhat fussy, "sweet and pretty" quilt and if people see that, great. But it's more to me.
Now I'lll add a picture of one of Dottie Moore's quilts with a beautiful tree that I should have had in yesterday's blog when I wrote about her work.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Trees .. and we ...

When she first visited me in the hospital Maggie brought me this excerpt from a poem by Robert Bly:

We did not come to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves like the trees,
the trees that are broken,
And start again, drawing up from the great roots.

I have thought about this. It is my contemporaries who remind me of my aging for they are more attuned than I am to the toll time is taking on us. I have been a bit vain and proud of my energy and invulnerability although this year could be called, as Queen Elizabeth called the year of Diana's death and the awful fire at Windsor Castle and the media fury at royalty, her "anno horriblis." This year has been mine. Despite cardiac surgery in January, breast biopsy in the early fall and now this hip replacement, I have difficulty feeling I'm losing my leaves and becoming broken. Pure denial.
I am now walking with a cane, easily ... but not confidently. "Broken" ... it bothers me to say "broken." But, yes, the roots have been growing safely underground where the storms cannot snap them as they can the limbs above ground. I see in myself the determination to have this period behind me but I also know that my energy lessened. I have to pace myself more slowly than I would like. Pain has taught me fear and caution.
I think, as I read Bly's words, about the work of quilt artist Dottie Moore who has explored trees as centerpieces of landscapes in many of her art quilts. [I tried to scan one just now and did not succeed but maybe tomorrow I'll figure out what I did wrong and print it above this post.] I have seen several of her wonderful quilts and have learned about trees from them and from her thoughts in conversations. Roots became important in her tree depictions some time after she had done many graceful trees in expanding landscapes. At some point she began to think more about the immensity of the root systems many trees have. She tells viewers that which we may know intellectually, that roots are often more extensive than the branches ... and as we grow older, as Bly tells us, after any break we can draw strength "from the great roots."
The tree above was at the Stone Forest in Yunnan, a labyrinth of tall, dramatically twisted and sharpened karst stones shaped by wind and rain. The occasional trees among them were a living counterpoint -- hard, of course, with their weathered bark and twisted limbs but emotionally softer. Like so many tourist attractions in Yunnan, the Stone Forest was crowded with visitors, mostly Chinese. I kept trying to imagine it empty of people except myself -- it would have been awesome and scary because of it's complex passages. But surrounded by a few hundred other people one cannot feel lost -- confused, crowded, even oppressed ... most of which I felt. I liked the stones but I like this tree for it's aliveness.
I have much reluctance to write about what strengths I draw from the roots. I mistrust those people who talk about "inner strength" and such. I think often of a spiritual I've known most of my life with the like "everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't-a goin' there." Which has usually translated to something like "those talking about doing good deeds aren't actually doing them", The Tao Te Ching has several verse that say essentially the same thing. So, enough about the "great roots' -- one grows them naturally as one grows older -- if one is a serious person and is not lost in frivolousness.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Thank Heavens for Girl Children

Leslie is out shopping for dinner. She will also correct the woefully inadequate state of my nonexistent tool kit -- I have a hammer and a few screwdrivers -- by purchasing a pair of pliers. I got out of the house with her yesterday to see a movie [THE QUEEN, recommended] and to buy a hand held shower which Leslie is going to install once the pliers are on hand. She is also shopping for dinner. So I have shown a picture from a market in China with an unknown fruit -- prickly and off putting. No such thing exists in our markets and no one had a name for it. When I traveled in Thailand a couple years ago we had many tropical fruits no available here - it was part of the educational aspects of the trip. Some were very delicious but they were presented so often and in such a variety of guises I remember almost nothing except that it was a delight to eat new foods.
So I'm rambling, covering three "topics" in the above paragraph which would drive a grade school teacher mad -- a C- if not a D for that effort of composition. But all thought bits could work in a modern poem ... maybe. I will not try. The thought I started with was none of the above. I wanted to say that I would wish all mothers the good fortune of finding, when their daughters are adult that they are can-do, competent people who also happen to be good cooks. It's very nice that they have interesting lives and ideas ... which are not necessarily the same as mine. When one does not live very close to one's children, and time spent with them is limited, a few days of togetherness is revealing, rewarding and just really, really nice. One does not HAVE to have a hip replacement to enjoy time with adult children -- I do not recommend it. But to know they come through in a time of need is also a wonderful thing. Somewhere I did something right but I could cogitate a very long time and only come up with guesses. I won't take 100% of the credit, they have a good father as well and they have their own inherent intelligence and that oxymoronic quality "common sense" which is really so uncommon.
Of course I should have a picture of them here but I don't, I'm still adding Chinese pictures This another market. Perhaps NYC is the only US city where a significant part of the population can shop each day for their fresh food. I love the spontaneity of seeing a bundle of asparagus at the corner market and decided I'd like it for dinner. And I especially like being able to good fresh bread, never the stuff with preservatives. Leslie has just returned amazed that one can very many basics packaged in small containers in NYC because people like me do not cook a lot and do not need quarters of cooking oil or a dozen eggs -- half a dozen is enough at one time. So dinner will be delicious and I can begin looking forward to my first shower in a month!!! It's the simple things one misses.