Thursday, May 31, 2007

Off The Island!

Sometimes I tend to think of Manhattan as an Elba or Robelin Island ... although it's very easy to get off, I so often stay here for months on end. Well the end of this spell happens tomorrow. [I'm ignoring a couple of trips to Brooklyn.] It's graduation weekend for Cori, the lovely young lady in the photo with her younger brother in what seem to be really quintessenstially teenage poses. So I'll head up the New England Thruway to Cape Cod. There comes a moment after crossing the canal bridge when I REALLY know I'm on the Cape ... it's when I notice that the trees are all short as compared to the trees along the previous roadway. The sandy soil of the Cape cannot grow tall tree, not really tall.

I've been thinking about global warming A LOT, and wonder if it will be 50 or 100 years or less ... before sea levels rise and most of Cape Cod will have disappeared. If I remember right, it doesn't get more than 300 feet above sea level anywhere and most is very near sea level indeed. So one must enjoy now. Some of us seem to carry around a doomsday awareness, the sort that says "Savor the moment because it is all you know you have." I think I've had that awareness for a long time. Maybe it goes back to the death from tuberculosis of Uncle Shortie [only six foot in a family of brothers all a bit taller] when I was three or four. His casket was brought from the sanatrium and sat overnight in our living room before it was taken to Kentucky the next day for burial. I don't know if I saw his body, possibly not but I really don't know because it was usual in Protestant funerals to have open caskets, and my parents weren't the sort ot "shield" children from that kind of fact of life.

Well, this sounds pretty dour and it's not "nice" to be dour. Actually at the moment I'm rejoicing about tomorrow's trip even if rain or thunderstorms are forecast. It will be nice event in any case.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Naughty and Nice

I've been thinking about the term "naughty" meaning sexual or erotic. As I've written I frequent a swap site where members think of swaps. Some are craftyl, like ATC [artist trading cards] many are "paper" like post cards or greeting cards of specific types and quite a few are writing oriented, letters, lists and short stories on themes. Doing the writing ones has been fun and is serving as a jumper cable to my own writing plans.
I've just finished the first short story I've written in ages based on a given line "the day care center and the nursing home were next door." Not a theme I'd have chosen but a challenge I felt would be good to attempt. Seven pages later, I have a short story that I think is competent if on the saccharine side -- nice. A nice story. In this case nice is veering from positive to pejorative. But I recognize that, in fact, I like to write stories with happy endings and that's usually of the "nice" sort.

An upcoming swap challenge is to write a "naughty" story which I did in one sitting -- no "interruptus" here. I haven't gone back to edit myself, I will wait to until the recipients are assigned and then I will read their profiles and try to judge by ages and comments whether it's too "naughty" and might need a certain amount of self-censorship. Meanwhile the term "naughty" reminds me of this rather silly postcard that has been in my possession a long time, I cannot remember whether I purchased it or someone gave it to me. It's the sort of "French post card" that I've read were a hot item a hundred years ago. Clearly it won't raise anybody's temperature today since considerably more skin is on view practically everywhere during the summer these days.

The word "naughty" is what bothers me. Children are naughty when they disobey parential rules. Things sexual are not childish -- of couse I know about Freud and his ilk and that children, too, are sexual beings. But to continue to use the term "naughty" to mean erotic is a demeaning enphemism really. All adults are sexual except those who, by choice, repress their sexuality, but it's still there. And eroticism is one of the many areas of possible sensory pleasure that our bodies and minds afford us. Nothing to be coy or childish about, nothing to titter over. Rather something to treasure and enjoy.

As an aside, in Lima, Peru there is a private museum displaying artifacts mostly found on a vast estate of the family who built the museum. It's a small and attractive museum with Inca and, if I remember correctly, pre-Inca items. Across the lawn from the museum is another building -- actually another museum which contains a collection of "erotic" statuettes, both human and animal. In this case "erotic" actually means sexual. Many of the figures were probably made for fertility rite uses, but some appear to have been made just for the pleasure of sexuality. Such items are rarely on display in any museums so it was refreshing to see that not everything had to have long-faced archeological explanatioins. We could smile at some that were clearly meant to be comic. Those black garbbed Puritans who settled in chilly New England did a number of the American psyche ... In a super sexed up culture where sex sells everything from cars to toothpaste we are still teaching young women to call erotic stories "naughty" as if they were being silly chldren, slightly out of hand, perhaps in need of spaking by a patriachial figure... Is this a tad perverse?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Diaries of Adam and Eve

A recent thrift store find was a lovely edition THE DIARIES OF ADAM AND EVE AS TRANSLATED BY MARKTWAIN, which has beautiful wood cuts by Michael Mojher. I've added the picture of the cover large so that some deatils of the illustration can be seen. I haven't read anything of Twain's for quite a while and I had forgotten his voice; and while it now sounds a little antique to me, it's still charming and delightful. There is no doubt he deserves to retain his reputation as our greatest humorist. Of course he was much more than a humorist just as TOM SAWYER is more than a boy's book and HUCKLEBERRY FINN is one of our wonderful classics.

The forward has a note that, tongue in cheek, Twain proposed building a monumnt to Adam and was surprised when he was taken seriously. He found himself petitioning Congress for a monument. He explained: Mr. Darwin's "Descent of Man" had been in print five or six years, and the storm of indignation raised by it was still raging in pulpits and periodicals. ... Mr. Darwin has left Adam out altogether. ... I said there was a likelihood that the world would discard Adam and accept the monkey, and that in the course of time Adam's very name would be forgotten in the earth; therefore this calamity ought to be averted; a monument would accomplish this....

The only surprising thing in this matter is that the monument did not get built. However we still have this book and I spent a couple hours his afternoon smiling at Twain's portrait of Eve as the scientific but sensitive one and Adam as lazy and loutish. It had been a busy, busy, even multi-tasking day -- this wonderful weather inspires me to get all the odds and ends done, or at least in hand. But I was running out of steam about 3:00 in the afternoon so I went to Starbucks for a cappuccino taking Twain along and then came on home to finish reading it just as a mighty thunderclap rolled over the city. It's so easy to forget the "classic" writers from Homer right on to and through Twain are classic because they're just plain wonderful to spend time with. Any reader thinking aboug summer reading -- think classics.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Scientific Illiteracy

Do you recognize this as a sketch of the double helix that diagrams human DNA for which Watson and Crick won a Nobel prize quite some time ago? Gee, I hope so. At this point in our knowledge of science not recognizing it is like not knowing that + means to add and X means to multiply -- you throught it was a cross and a kiss? That too. But... you know what I'm talking about ... I hope.

In tomorrow's NY Times Book Review Steven Pinker, a wonderful scientist/writer from Harvard whose books I've enjoyed [mostly] reviews a new book called THE CANON by Natalie Angier, subtitled "A WhirligigTour of the Beautiful Basics of Science." It tells people what they should know about science here at the begining of the 21st century. Mr. Pinker writes: The costs of an ignorance of science are not just pracical ones .. there is a moral cost as well. It is an astonishing fact about our species that we understand so much about the history of the universe, the forces that make it tick, the stuff it's made of, the origins of living things and the machinery of life. A failure to nurture this knowledge shows a philistine indifference to the magnificent achievements humanity is capable of, like allowing a great work of art to molder in a warehouse.

Here's another double helix used by a graphic designer. I know some people really don't care about great works of art either, some are blissfully happy being innumerate and scientifically illiterate as well as other sorts of illiterate -- or they think they're happy about that ... but that "happiness" often includes superstitutions and utter befuddlement about their own medical condition and susceptibility to bad advice, including scams, coming at them from left and right. I really believe the more we know the better off we are, and that's true in spades about things scientific.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Amphibian Quilting Method

Borders on quilts are something I have not mastered. I admire quilts with nice, well thought out borders that add a grace note to the main design. I also like quilts with the simplest of bindings and mine generally fall in the latter cateogry. But the blue and while quilt I'm making needs a border -- largely because I don't have enough of the right colors to make five more blocks which is what's needed to make it a good size for my bed. So ... a border. I had a bright idea and decided to cut pieces and see if I could do the first segment. I measured carefully and cut carefully ... but when I had sewn pieces for one side I found the lighter pieces were not big enough. There's no way to fudge it; I have to cut new piecs -- fortunately I DO have enough of that fabric. But then came the Amphibian Quilting Method -- which I really should use a bit more often than I do ... the "rippit, rippit, rippit, rippit..." part. Sigh!

Let's turn to a somewhat happier subject. I've discovered Jane Hirshfield, a poet, and I'm reading her book, AFTER. The poem
"Pocket of Fog" begins --

In the yard next door,
a pocket of fog like a small herd of bison
swallows azaleas, koi pond, the red-and-gold koi.
The fog grazes here, then there,
all morning browsing the shallows,
leaving no footprint between my fate and the mountain's.

In the body of a much longer poem she quotes a haiku by Issa

do not worry,
I keep house casually.

I just might make a small quilt with a spider and frame it and hang it in a prominent place for visitors to see.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Vacation dreaming

It's almost 8:00 and it's still light out. Tomorrow is supposed to be over 80 degrees and the next pushing 90. Winter's behind -- of course it'll be cool a few more times but I'm thinking about summer trips. Starting in about ten days with a trip to Cape Cod for Cori's graduation -- my second grandchild to graduate from high school. Then it's time to think about a trip to Indiana and Ohio. This is Quilt National year and I have combined it with a visit to relatives and hope to again. Seeing Quilt National at the Dairy Barn in Athens, Ohio is a wonderful experience ... seeing this year's choices of art quilts "in person" ... buying th catalog and being amazed for months after at how different art is in front of you and on a printed page.

I hope there will be an August Cape Cod visit with some beach time ... and then I'll be thinking about the year's big trip. This time to South America in October -- which is spring there! Simple facts of geography can be quite mind blowing.

I'm keeping this picture from the brochure in mind ... the trip includes three days of treking in the Andes, reaching about 12,000 feet [the altitude of Lhasa, Tibet]. I beleive we will drive over a higher pass on the way to Bolivia ... When I went to Macha Pichu the weather was not sunny and I only got a brief glimpse of a snow covered mountain, truly it was hard to believe I was at 10,000 and among the Andes. So I look forward to getting to see them as the gorgeous giants they are. Oh, what lovely things I have to think about in those moments of reverie ...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Gnats of Irritatation

First of all, is there anyone else, say over the age of 45, for whom computers are not a natural extension of the fingertips, who believes that both the computer and the printer are inhabited by gnomes or gremlins or some perverse little supernatural beings? The old fashioned method of dealing with irritating mechanized things was to give them a kick or a thump and scare the little imp-ling away; but electronics are too delicate for that treatment. Today's irritation is that I've replaced a black ink cartridge in my printer and now it neither wants to print or scan. And there's a great possibility if I let it sit over night tomorrow it will have forgotten this fit of stubornness and work fine .. or so I hope. Yes, the cartridge is in right, it did the self-test thing quite successfully. Who knows? Not I.

A few years ago when the beloved Colliseum Book Store on Broadway and 57th Street was closing, I purchased a book that caught my eye, THE BONES OF THE MASTER by George Crane. It proved to be a fascinating read. Crane, from Woodstock, NY had become a Buddhist with an elderly Mongolian monk as a teacher. One day the teacher suggested they travel, now that China is welcoming tourists, to the area in the Gobi in Inner Mongolia [i.e., the part that is in China] to find the bones of his master. The monk had to flee China during the religious repression and his trip from the farthest nortn, all the way down to Shanghai was brave, dangerous and almost miraculous. We Americans have little idea, even though we know something about the horror of the "cultural revolution" that not only did Mao's Communism destroy religous structures and murder monks and send the intellectuals to work on pig farms and be re-educated, but a land reform caused a terrible, terrible famine which killed milloins of ordiniary people. It's parallel was about a decade earlier in Stalinist Russia when similar stupdity caused the same sort of famine in the Ukraine and other parts of Russia, killing millions. Nothing on this scale has ever touched the West.

Anyway, Crane and the elderly monk went to China, a trip fraught with diffficulty not the least of which was the monk's fragile health. The monk's story gets told in the body of the book, of course. It was moving as the best quest books are. I recently found another book by Crane called BEYOND THE HOUSE OF THE FALSE LAMA . As it turns out the monk might be physically fragile but he has an iron will and he wanted to complete some unfinished homages to his master and his master's master so he asked Crane to return with him. Their first attempt was aborted by terrible weather in the Gobi where it is possible for sand storms to completely obliterate roads.

So far I'm disappointed because this book has the feel of something agents and editors pushed for because the first was a success but apparently there was not enough material for a full book so the first third, or perhaps half, is about an ill fated cruise with a crazed owner of a concrete boat in the Caribbean during hurracane season. This is second rate adventure and I will chug through it because I know he'll eventually go back to the Gobi once more. I am sometimes put off that most of the Asian adventures are by men who are basically hippies. Dalva Murphy is the only woman traveler/writer who holds a candle to most of the men. I've got another of Murphy's books to plunge into sometime soon. How nice it would be to be retired and planning a long lazy summer on the beach, say of Cape Cod ... long book reading days. Ah, well ...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Joy of Spring Cleaning

Oh how righteous I feel today! I've neatened -- and dusted! glory be!! -- two bookcases. It's the cleanliness next to godliness paradigm. But in a sense it's the whited sepluchure effect -- two books cases are in great shape but two, well really three others ... plus even from my chair, I see six magazine slip cases of Quilters Newsletters to go through and on the piano bench piles of books and boxes to stow somewhere. The work is NOT done!! But I've made a good start.

So many books to read! Well, that kind of ambition is not a bad thing even if it does lead to frustration .. because I KNOW more books will come into my life and clutter up that book case -- I know I can't keep myself away from the book shelves in the Housing Works Thrift shop and every time I go into Barnes & Nobel something demands I buy it. I rarely regret money spent on books or traveling. It's an expenditure that enriches my life.

A moment of insight comes, not quite like an epiphany, but very compelling, when the foolishness of keeping certain books is suddenly as bothersome as a wart on the tip of the nose. I've got to find a good sized box and put the books in it and gradually tote them to the thrift shop ... books are pretty heavy en masse. I will give away any I can and give only to a good thrift shop, not to the crummy Goodwill store nearby where the books on their shelves are paperback mysteries and romances and "best sellers". I read good books and I want them to go on to other good readers. They are worthy of respect and I hope they will get it in their next life in someone else's hands.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Moving right along

On the top of my to-do list made last weekend was finishing the "Too Many Cats" quilt for Leslie. I've been chugging along with the quilting -- far from a stellar job, but adequate -- and got up this morning promising myself I would finish it today. It is finished ... [wee small voice: except for the label] Hurray!!! And the central panel of cats does have a symetrical balance, it just doesn't show in the cropped picture above.
Next on the agenda is tearing the paper off the back of the blue and white star quilt -- this is the unbeautiful back, partly with paper off, partly not. It's mindless work, I'm eager to get on with decided just what kind of borders it will have. Maybe this coming week that will happen .. but maybe not.

I've gotten sidetracked through no doing of my own. A large hole was made in my entry hall wall due to a leaking pipe behind it, which I was told was in my neighbor's kitchen but as it turns out it went on upstairs a few more stories. So the building's plumbers had a big job and I've had that hole for 10 days plus a smaller one that appeared later. All this means moving the set of bookcases lining the entry hall. Stuffed! Books and magazines and things I didn't think I could part with. But with much of it strewn about, I decided to see what could go. A lot, really. I'm sorting [and dusting] at the moment and not putting anything back where it was without considering why I have it.

Among the things I have is a collection of Quilters Newsletter Magazines back to the early '80s. My how their editorial has changed!! I really must flip through every one to see if there are gems I want to keep. I just found one with an article about a very young Ruth McDowell [young mother with cute kid] and many of her early quilts. I'm goiing to tuck that article into one of her rrecent books. Even in 19822 her designs pop right out with genius. Great color, great design, bold conceptions. She was clearly headed for quilit world stardom. Fascinating.

By the way if anyone reads this and has a hankering for historic quilt magazines, let me know, for the price of postage or a swap of fabric I'll send them by the dozen. I'd love them to have good homes. My current plan is to take them by handfuls to my quilt guild meetings [what I can easily carry] where they will be sold for 25 cents each by the library committee. But that waill take months yet. I'd love to give them a deserving home.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Spending time with strangers

I don't write about my "day job" very often -- largely because, like lots of day jobs there is a fair amount of repetition and drudgery ... who wants to hear that I transcribed over 100 interviews with people with allergic asthma who are now "cured" [or symtoms dissipated] by a miracle drug? That particular job, I admit, was more repetitious than usual although each person had an individual story. Very often I "attend" conferences, panel discussions, conference calls, meetings ... transcribing them of course. Sometimes I learn a lot, once in a while a little of it is useful ... the truth is I will be more compassionate when I climb subway steps behind someone gasping for breath.

Quite often I transcribe one-on-one interviews -- I've had more than enough models and actresses -- but I never tire of the banjo player Bela Fleck who I seem to have "met" a various stages in his career. I've heard what might be insider trading secret except I don't trade and don't know anyone who does so I can't pass them on. I've been utterly mind-boggled by guys explaining how derivatives and hedge funds work ... the words seemed to be standard English but sentence by sentences it made no sense at all. A short time before I found myself in a hospital after a stent was put in my heart, I heard one of the discoverers of statin drugs wondering aloud at a conference why they only work on about 28% of the patients who take them. So when my cardiologist said I should be on statins the rest of my life I quoted The Expert. But so good has the propaganda of the pharmaceutical companies been that it cut no ice with my doctor.

I spent today in the company of [it seems most real when it's a video and not just audio that I transcribe] a woman academic talking to a feminist about goddesses. Ho-hum. At a certain age many subjects have a deja vu component. I may have read this woman's first book back in the '80s. There were various times I felt like adding parenthetical notes to the interviewer suggeting qusetions that went a little beyond what had been said 30 years ago. Of course I didn't; that would be utterly unprofessional on my part. The sad thing is that the wheel has to be reinvented for each generation; and progress in feminism -- forget goddess worship, that was the lunatic fringe then and still is -- moves at a glacial pace ... but so, apparently did this woman's research in India where she's spent 7 years learning that in the most backward village goddesses are the local totem, as it were, a tree or a rock. THAT took seven years? I keep wondering if she noticed how girl children are treated in very poor communities ... a note, of course, I didn't add.

With such things occupying my thought process -- while some automatic part sends impulses to my fingers to spell the words right, add punctuation and make paragraphs at appropriate places -- is it any wonder I need to spend time each evening with good poets? People who are observing the world with thoughtfulness and accuracy ... I think I've covered this subject enough for some time to come.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Denise Levertov poem

FIELD is a biannual publication from Oberlin College. That's a Durer owl on the cover. The issue begins with a symposium about Denise Levertov who died in 1997. Several poems of hers are printed and discussed. The last one discussed was written in the last months of her life, during the Gulf War. She always had a strong political consciousness but in this case she had a political farsightedness that is almost eerie today. "In California During the Gulf War" begins with descriptions of the long drought in California and that the spring flowers, nevertheless bloom. It goes on

...Yet the blossoms, clinging to the branches
more lightly than birds alert for flight,
lifted the sunken heart

even against its will.
But not
as symbols of hope: they were flimsy
as our resistance to the crimes committed

-- again, again -- in our name; and yes, they return,
year after year, and, yes, they briefly shone with serene joy
over against the dark glare

of evil days. They are, and their presence
is quietness ineffable -- and the bombings are, were,
no doubt will be, that quiet, that huge cacophony

simultaneous. No promise was being accorded, the blossomsjavascript:void(0)
were not doves. There was no rainbow. And when it was claimed
the war had ended, it had not ended.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bit by Bit

I've just written an ambitious to-do list with the deadline the end of the month. How will I get it all done? Well the cliche we've all heard ... "the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step" comes to mind. A little work now, a little tomorrow, keep at it. Sensible, hard to believe unless you KNOW it works, and I KNOW it works.

At 29 I didn't like how stiff my body was so I decided to learn yoga -- that was in the VERY dark ages before anyone, let alone in tiny towns such as I lived in, was doing yoga. I had one book ... and gradually a library of them before there were classes except those I, uncredentialed but enthusiastic, taught in our town. What I learned, in the sinews of my body, the hamstring in particular, was that just a few minutes a day, EVERY day, makes a huge difference. What I taught myself back then I'm still practicing ... not as religiously as I wish. But I KNOW that a little every day accomplishes much. I'm not sure I'll finish the list by the end of the month. I know I will finish. And I know the stiffness and difficulties of a hip replacement will be overcome when I walk in the Andes next fall -- after a summer of daily walks and exercises (mostly yoga)

And I can say that such physical practice becomes more than physical, the lesson translates to being patient, working steadily at other things. I can also say that most of what is called "Yoga" in classes today is not yoga but simply physical exercises. To me true yoga has nothing to do with going to classes; it is about being alone in a room without distractions, your attention directed entirely [eyes closed] on what you are doing with your body. It is a meditation in very slow motion. And it is not something one brags about, one does not show off the asanas learned. It is a private practice. I write about it now because I am disturbed by the way everything is commercialized, by the 101-- or 1001 -- varieties offered. The physical yoga [hatha] is only one of many anciently practiced, it existed not as an end in itself but as preparation for the mental yogas which were so demanding that physical stamina was needed. Well, I'm not going there ... but there are rewards all along the path.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Quilting Drudgery; Postal Rate Hikes

I spent the morning starting the drudgery part of finishing the two bed size quilts in process. First an hour removing paper from the paper-pieced blue and whtie stars -- this was the second hour spent on the job and I've got another two hours to go... I love paper piecing except for this step. Then I spent a couple of hours quilting Leslie's cat quilt -- made from the Laurel Birch fabric Lynn sent me. What Leslie needs is more cats -- she has three, just gave away four kittens [and is feelng lonely without them]. Many more hours are needed to finish the quilting and then binding but I hope to get it done this month. Both these jobs send me into the mental state -- sort of -- that I think of as the Zen of quilting. Repetitious, time to watch the breath as classical music plays, otherwise clear the mind. The pictures also emphasize the crunch of working on a 1x5' Parsons Table area! And the lack of light now due to the @#%^&^%#% new building blocking my sky.
I escaped these jobs around noon when I went down to the main NYC post office [open 24/7/365]. Many others had the idea of getting packages in the mail before tomorrow's rate hike. Very long line, very long wait. I always marvel how patient New Yorkers can be. No muttering, just some cell phone talking and shifting from foot to foot. I hate to see postage going up but its a minor expense compared to the annual discussion in the City Council of how much the rent will be allowed to go up.

But not everyone is patient and polite. It was a lovely, lovely day so I wandered over to the Sunday flea market on Columbus Ave, chatted with some venders, bought a pair of earrings and marveled at sunburst style pins made of colored and exotic feathers. The artisan/vender says she goes to Paris, buys feathered objects in flea markets and takes the feathers off and uses them. They were marvelous, perhaps I should hae asked her if I could take a photo but I was a bit afraid she would think I was trying to rip off her idea. Eventually I got to the exit where a wonderful couple sell baked good. I was in a long messy line with my 7 grain bread and strawberry-rhubbard pie when two men in front of me got in an arguement about who was next. Sarcasm as only aggrieved New Yorkers burst out with --- well, maybe not only New Yorkers for in other countries I can't understand the language. It was not an unusual exchange and no one else remarked -- we just waited it out. Such is life in an overcrowded metropolis. And here with is the picture I should have posted last Sunday about the fried snacks, ...Yuck!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Weather Workshop

BecauI worked [And I mean WORKED] in volunteer organizations for many years, I understand the problems off committee chairwomen when they make phone calls to ask someone to do something. Twisting my arm isn't really hard. I've been on their end. So when Ann Faustino asked me to do a workshop for today's Empire Guild meeting I eventually said yes although workshops are usually about techniques and there is no technique I want [or even can] teach. So I said I'd talk about ways to show weather in landscape quilts ... planning to use my diary pieces as illustrations. This sounded to me like a not very appealling subject for newish quilters who want 'how-tos". I expected, at most 3 or 4 attendees.

To my vast surprise I found ten or so waiting for me when I arrive [a bit late thanks to a local train that suddenly went express] and then another 7 or 8 joined in after we had started. I showed several "weather" pieces from my diary set and was astonished at the enthusiasm and interest. Here are a couple of examples -- a brilliant sunny day and a storm encroaching on a sunny day. My scanner got tempramental and refused to accept a couple of others. [I'm sorry for the slight tilt on the stormy one."
It's nice to get some mileage out of this year-long project [some 350 4"x6" little quilts]. Every time I pull out a bunch, as I did in thinking about this workshop, I wish I could do a whole book about the year with commentary [brief] and the illustrations of the days. It was a crazily ambitious undertaking but resulted in a lot of interesting pieces and is a deeply satisfying memorial to a happy time. The lovely ladies of the Guild never ask for details -- most are old enough to understand one says what one wishes to share and that's that. But there are illustrative things about being 65 and having such a year that I could say in a book with carefully written commentary.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Looking at and seeing quilts

A couple of days ago I received in the mail the
CD of the Empire Quilters Guild show and I could hardly wait to pop it into the comptuer. All the quilts are there and there are other features, index. etc that I haven't explored yet because right now I'm busy with a dozen details to take care of before the end of the weekend. But I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about the different experiences of looking at pictures of quilts and looking at the quilts themselves. It's the difference of a photograph of a lilac or hyacinth and standing in a garden beside a lilac tree or a bed of hyacinths ... the beautiful aroma cannot be photographed, obviously. And the tactility of a quilt cannot be photographed.

These photos, unfortunately were not well enough lighted. I saw them being photographed before they were hung. There simply wasn't strong enough light. What happens is that backgrounds are darkened and the patterns/design of the quilts are emphasized. This is fascinating, if a bit frustrating. Of course all the texture of the quilting is lost -- they become abstract paintings in a way ... and seeing them one by one, each on it's own design merits adds to the painterly feeling. I discovered this perceptual surprise back in 1973 or '4 when I saw the Holstein show that had started at the Whitney and that made quilt history. To see quilts hanging on museums walls for the first time was a staggering surprise. In fact ever since then I have preferred to see quilts hanging or at least being held up for display. I like seeing them in books and catalogs -- yet on the several occasions, gallery shows, Quilt Nationals when I have seen the actual quilts some have been far more interesting and amazing "in fabric/flesh" as it were ... while others are more interesting photographed.

I've been trying to think about fine art shows I've seen and later looked at the catalog ... I think in almost all case the real object has been more interesting, except for paintings like those of the Breugels and of Bosch where there are so many details, that sitting and studying a photograph adds to the amazement. To me, quilts are not always art or "Art" by any means, many are best on beds, as intended. But I enjoy seeing the "whole" on the wall. Although I must say it's nice to lean against a pile of pillows and look at a quilt covering you on a cool evening and finger the pattern lines, the quilting lines -- as one is not supposed to do, of course, at any quilt show. And I have to add that looking at the 171 quilts from the show, the designs are amazingly strong and colors fascinating! It was a very good show and we should all be very proud of this group of quilters.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Discoveriing a Poet

Poetry Month is over. But I'm still reading poetry, as I intend to keep right on doing. In the last few days I've discovered William Matthews in a 2005 issue of Poetry International which has many of his poems and many short critical or appreciative pieces about him. The poems are wonderful. Many are about jazz especially his favorite, Mingus. But he had also discovered opera at an early age [in Cincinnati, I think as he spoke of hearing lions in the zoo while at an outdoor opera; Cincinnati's zoo opera was quite famous and is where I first heard opera -- the lions were quiet that night. Matthews died in the late '90s. Here is a poem with humor, and a turn toward profundity. I am very happy I have discovered this man's work, his mind.


"The tenor's too fat," the beautiful young
woman complains, "and the soprano
dowdy and old." But what if Otello's
not black, if Rigoletto's hump lists,
if airy Gilda and her entourage
of flesh outweighs the cello section?

In fairy tales, the prince has a good heart,
and so as an outward and visible
sign of an inward , invisible grace,
his face is not creased, nor are his limbs gnarled,
Our tenor holds, in his liver-spotted
hands the sporano's broad, burgeoning face.

Their combined age is ninety-seven; there's
spittal in both pinches of her mouth;
a vein in his temple twitches like a worm.
Their faces are a foot apart. His eyes
widen with fear as he climbs to the high
B-flat he'll have to hit and hold for five

dire seconds. And then they'll stay in their stalled
hug for as long as we applaud. Franco
Corelli once bit Birgit Nilsson's ear
in just such a command embrace because
he felt she's upstaged him. Their costumes weigh
fifteen pounds apiece; they're poached in sweat

and smell like fermenting pigs; their voices rise
and twine not from beauty, nor from the lack
of it, but from the hope of accuracy
and passion, both. They have to hit the note
and the emotion, both, with the one poor
arrow of the voice. Beauty's not for amateurs.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Wisdom -- wise old woman?

This past Sunday the New York Times Magazine was devoted to considerations of wisdom. The lead article discussed scientists trying to locate and define wisdom. I was fascinated and frustrated. Why must science be so parochial, so US-centric? or Euro-centric?: I can understanding having to narrow the scope to be able to handle data but to proceed as if the rest of the world has nothing to contribute is -- what else can we say? -- exceedingly unwise. However I read the whole thing with interest. And then I took the wisdom test with some trepidation.

I've always thought a worthy life goal is to be a wise old woman -- like in the fairy tales -- after all we can't go on seeing ourselves as The Princess beyond a certain age. After that we certainly don't want to become the Queen as in Snow White's nasty step-mother. Much better to be the wise old woman who has the answers or the keys that makes it possible for the hero to accomplish his seemingly impossible task. So have I gained wisdom or, as T.S. Eliot recognized, knowledge is not wisdom: Well the scoring is 1 to 5, 5 being some pinnacle of wisdom. I was a modest 3.8 ... not stupid or idiotic but far from profoundly wise. [I recommend readers of this blog check out the Times magazine soon, because my impression is that the site changes every week. Tho' if you're more computer savvy than I, maybe you can figure out how to get to their archives.
When I think of wisdom, I think of examples of people from other cultures, like, obviously, the Dalai Lama. [The surveys quoted said people put Ghandi at the top of their lists.]
What about Chief Joseph of the Nez Perze. People with broad perspectives, who have cultivated compassion and understanding. Where are the Americans, the Europeans? Who???

A few weeks ago I mentioned a book by a woman who wrote of her own enlightenment. I've been pondering that since I encountered it and I remember reading in literature about Buddhist meditational practices that euphoria, such as that woman described [and named "enlightenment"] may happen during practice of disciplines but it is an impediment to continued work toward enlighteniment. Euphoria feels great, but it seems to be a chemical imbalance. Not so different from a drug highl. But this is already far afield from the scientists in the Times article -- they take no meditational practices into account. They don't recognize what I'd call "mind work", the kind of practices I've read of used to train the mind to reach an equilibrium, to empty itself of thoughts and look at pure mind. I unerstand that, in theory, I do not feel myself drawn to those practices. I think this attitude which is a kind of laziness on my part, or an attachment to the ephemeral, will keep me from becoming wise by my own definition. But still time remains before me [I hope] so maybe another phase will come about ...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spring Fever

I awoke bright eyed and bushy-tailed, as we said back home in Indiana, yeserday mornig with a list in my head of things I wanted to accomplish this weekend. Mostly spring cleaning-rearranging related. Like putting away the boots and getting out the sandals, stashing the cashmere turtlenecks and getting out the short sleeved t-shirs. Also some house cleaning and related jobs. I also planned weekend time to be outdoors.

It's Sunday evening and I've accomplished most of my list. There's a ton of ironing to do and a few odds and ends not done. But I managed to walk by the Hudson yesterday and stop to each lunch on a bench near the boat basin beneath a portion of the long stand of flowering trees -- all in lush bloom! Gorgeous to look at -- no scent. The breeze from the river was coolish so I didn't sit long after lunching but walked on up to the community garden that I love. That's where these pictures are from. It is always predictably beautiful. Yesterday was no exception as you see.

Today the ambition remained. I was well into chores when I went out and discovered the first of the spring street fairs was setting up on the east side of B'way. A sure sign of spring. A visit to one usually tells me what the subseuent ones are goiing to be like -- same sorts of booths. But wandering with the crowd later on in the day made me feel connected to the tradition of "Market Day" that goes back at least to the Middle Ages and, really farther back into history. Here we had no haggling --it's against the American commercial tarditions although it persists many other places. There was a great display of cheap goods and various eateries -- I noticed a new level of bad snack food -- high or low? I can't say. Ponder! Fried Oreos? No? You like your Oreos in their original form?: Well, then you can have fried Twinkies! I kid you not!! Despite constant emphasis on healthy eating the street fair people have come up with Fried twinkies. I also noted chocolate covered marshmallows, super gooey crepes, how about filled with banana and drizzles generously with chocolate syrusp ... sounds pretty yummy to me. I got my street fair inulgence, a gyro to bring home -- experiences has taught me that walking and eating a gyro is an invitation for disaster -- yogurt sauce dripping down my chin onto my clothes, shreds of lettuce and tomato spilling all over.

But the dictum is true: You've seen one, you've seen them all. The rest of the season's street fairs will offer the same booths ot $2 Chinese junk jewelry, '"hand strung genuine pearl" necklaces, 24 hours scented votive candles, Indian embroidered long full skirts and 4 for $10 socks. Ah, spring in the Big Apple.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Going Out of Business ... eventually

Last summer when I was on a grand jury and down in lower Manhattan twice a week, I explored the last of the rats' nest fabric stores that used to abound in that area. Only six or seven remained. By "rat's nest" I mean a jumble of fabric, mostly on long rolls, not folded on bolts as suburbanites find it. Often with barrels of remnants and piles of trims. Some of those stores are so claustrophobic I can't handle going in them -- there are a few in the garment district still but most there have mordernized and organized at least to some extent.

Tracy, a coworker spoke of S&W on lower Broadway when she made bridesmaides dresses for a sister's wedding. I found it and was glad to discover that their 100% cotton, quilt-appropriate cottens were organized in a section at the back of the store. Not a large selection but some nice ones at lower prices than uptown. Then in December I was disappointed to hear they were going out of business as of December. I was recovering from hip surgery and could not have managed the trip except with an expensive cab ride so I missed it. ... I thought. However, a couple of days ago I went down there to check into other bargain stores [shoes mainly!] in that area and walked along B'way. Lo, and behold! S&W were open with a big SALE sign. Wild horses couldn't have kept me from going in.

Everything was drastically, 50 to 60%, marked down. I quickly found a few bargains -- I would have found more but it was Friday afternoon and like many such stores, they close early because of the Sabbath. They actually turned the lights off in the back of the store to encourage me to make up my mind and get out of there. So I didn't get back to the majority of qulit fabrics. However, their patterns were 60% reduced and I have long been envious of the many quilters in my guild with wonderful patchwork jackets. I've thought of making one but don't have pattern. I found a Vogue pattern with an asymmetrical closing -- I like being a little different from the crowd -- yet simple enough to lend it self to a patchwork technique. I also found 6 yards of the wonderful multicolored fabric it's on for only $7 [barely over $1 a yard]. The very first thing I found, as I walked into the store was a cut of blue and white print that my color-memory said is the same as the colors in the blue and white quilt I am making and for which I need a border fabric. It was so inexpensive I knew that if my color sense was wrong I'd be able to use it for something else. Glory be! it is just the right blues. Today I finished the star blocks for the main part of the quilt. Now I have to do some interesting border piecing [Seminole, I think] and I have the right fabric to finish it! Hurray.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Quilt Related Books

When I was at the Folk Art Museum some weeks ago I purchased UNCOMMON THREADS, Ohio's Art Quilt Revolution (Gayle A.Pritchard, Ohio University Press,2006) and have only reached it in the pile of nonfiction reading I had accumulated. It is a a broad view of how it happened that Ohio was the breeding ground for the art quilt movement in America. I enjoy the comprehensive, socio-political chapters and having the quilt artists of whom I've been aware for years put into perspective. Of course I knew Nancy Crow was a force to be reckoned with, but I also had seen Terrie Hancock Mangat's work for many years. I was unaware for some reason that Susan Shie was a part of the Ohio group -- perhaps because the quilts she and her partner, Jame Acord, produce seem entirely sui generis. Among the surprises in this book is that Susan Shie's grandmother who taught her to sew was a Mennonite seamstress -- what a shock Susan's kitchen goddesses and other pagan figures would be to that prim lady in a picture in this book!

At this point I am trying to purchase quilt books for inforamtion and UNCOMMON THREADS is a fine example. I try not to purchase books with new techniques and shiny ideas for inspiration. At this point I have too much inspiration -- and not nearly enough time, alas!!

This book sent me to the catalog of Nancy Crow's one-woman show that I saw at the American Craft Museum in 1993 -- the catalog is a farily recent purchase-- a repint (I think) by the America Quilters Society. I remember spending a very long time in front of several of the pieces in the show, trying to soak in why simple one-patch designs were so powerful. I don't think I understood it, really. There is joy in the colors, both complexity and simplicity in the patchwork and a fascinating tactile surface creaetd by the hand quilting -- which Nancy Crow has done by certain quilters she works with. very different from one another -- they use different techniques, different color palettes, and have very diferent ways of working ... still it all grew from that fertile Ohio soil, thanks to the particular Midwestern atmosphere of the 20th century which culminated in the explosion of ideas and understanding that quilts may be many things and all of that -- and more to come -- is art.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fine Fickle Weather

The weather prediction was quite specific. Clouds in the morning, turning to bright sun in the afernoon. Didn't happen. Until mid-afternoon and never as warm as predicted. Throughout most of April and May, sometimes right into June, it is impossible to be dressed comfortably. Too warm or too cold, or it rains when no one expects it. I went out of my building this morning and saw a woman walking by in a sleeveless dress. I saw a man coming toward me in a parka with the hood up. Seveal people were wearing raincoats. We're all confused.

Oh, well ... as a walked home from the post office in the fine sun that finally shone, the street was lined with trees in new leaf -- the sun filtered through the tender yellow green of the small leaves and sprinkled the sidewalk with light while I walked under the new canopy. The picture here is from a walk to the Conservatory Garden in Central Park on Sunday before last. It was a lovely day. After the garden I found a path I had not previously been on in a section, the North Woods, I have not ventured into before -- it's further north than I usually have reason to walk. I picked my way through a bit of bog that had spread over the path for a few feet.

Eventually I was reluctant to leave and spent 15 mintues on a bench watching the usual mix of New Yorkers from toddlers to elderly out enjoying a truly wonderful day. The next day it rained and turned cold. But weather is a blessing for what many of us consiider social life -- it's always something to talk about. And we do.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Consider the Odds

I was surfing the Artful Quilters Web Ring and read Tall Girl's blog which is listed quite near mine [I'm now 160 - things get changed every so often, i was 181]. She wrote on Earth Day that she felt she was doing all she could to reclycle and be eco-aware but then read an article saying that the cords to all our electronics emit carbon and should be unplugged when not in use, including TVs and such. I tired to leave a comment when AOL seized up as it tempramentally. But since this is a peeve of mine, I'm writing about it.

The media are very good at scare tactics, pretty good at reporting odd staistics and lousy at putting most things into context. Two examples besides Tall Girl's concern occurred today. I went into a deli and heard a young man order an egg white omelet. "What do you want in it?' ask the guy behind the counter. "Nothing, just egg whites." I looked at the slender 30ish guy and thought Why? No one can convince me that egg whites alone taste good. He doesn't need to lose weight, he's probably too young to have serious conerns about heart disease. But he read something saying egg yolks are bad for you. That's why. At work I transcribed a woman journalist talking about anorexia and bulimia, looking for why young women want to be thin and obsess about their weight. The journalist, who is 27, had no historical perspective beyond her mother who is probably 50. and she, feminist that she proclaims herself to be. She had no political perspective at all. She had looked only at media images and the "perfect girl" idea -- but not where it came from, beyond the mother's need to be supermom. She seemed to be a very ingtelligent woman, perhaps in 30 years she'll be able to look at society with a wider lens and wonder why society at this time needs to portray women as stick thin -- boyish of figure. Certainly not Valkuries or Amazons. Look at the arguably most powerful woman in American Sect. of State Rice ... A smart woman, a talented woman [whose politics I dislike] but does she look like someone who can throw her weight around? All 110 pounds of her?

That's my soap box: The well meaning smart young or not so youing media people who glom onto a few statistics, but cannot see beyond, often, their own economic class, almost never beyond the American culture. So all become more and more parochial, and grab onto "facts" which are rarely put into any useful context. Another example: not an hour ago, I heard a health report saying that a new study says that people who eat a lot of flavaoids have 23% less pancreatic cancer. Where can you get flavaoids: Cabbage and spinach is all they said. What's the incidence of panreatic cancer? No information given, who should care about this "information"? It was presented as if we all should, after all they used the big C word. Really -- is this news? Is this really information? How much cabbage did you eat this week?

Let's go back to Tall Girl's concern about all those electical cords in her house. What is the possible carbon emmission, if it's true that there is? How does that compare to the carbon emmission of the power plant that generates her electricity? How does it compare to the haze of Beijing or Los Angeles or even tiny Kathmandu? Does she need to go around unplugging things when not in use, can't she do something truly positive with her time? Can't that guy with the egg whites spend five minutes in the morning actually enjoying his breakfast -- what if he at half a cantaloupe with some cottage cheese? Flavor, protein, calcium, caratinoids and tasty. We have one life to live, we aren't responsible for saving the world, we are responsible to ourselves not to waste the precious life we have.