Saturday, 30 May 2015

In Praise of Guardian Angels

It happened again: another crow has escaped, to live a new life elsewhere. Squawk On! – my replacement piece for Cassandra – has left Sweet Surprise and once again I am faced with a blank wall space to fill.

This time, I decided to make a guardian angel crow. I made the first Guardian Angel of Beginning Quilters last year, then gave her away to my niece who has taken up quilting recently. Guardian Angel Too would be replacement.   

I have long thought that there must be a guardian angel of beginning quilters. From the moment a person sees a lovely quilt and thinks, “Hey, I could do that!” the road is fraught with perils. Beginning quilters make every mistake in the book, yet many fall in love with their craft. I attribute this to the presence of guardian angels who hover over the sewing machines of beginning quilters, whispering encouraging words in their ears and sprinkling magic dust into their eyes so they only see the beauty, not the mistakes. By the time the magic wears off, the quilter is hooked, in love with fibre arts.

There must be a lot of guardian angels around, becuase there sure are a lot of quilters. This week I attended a quilt show in Parksville, here on the island. Although Parksville’s population is only about 12,000, the Parksville Quilt Guild has over 300 members, and the quilts were phenomenal. Here are a selection of those I enjoyed seeing: (to enlarge the photos for a better look, click on them)

beautifully appliqued and hand-quilted with thousands of tiny stitches. This is only one square in a full-sized bed quilt.

original design inspired by African fabrics
Fireworks -- a small art quilt painted with threads
Full sized bed quilt -- Original design inspired by the artist's upcoming 70th birthday.
Small diary quilt inspired by a workshop with Susan Schie

A beginning quilter's first quilt! (Guardian angels working overtime, I think!)

A modern quilt: the creator said she used every fabric in her stash that she loved. The result makes her "crazy happy" when she looks at it.
an art piece made with a fusion of silk fibres

As I was working on Guardian Angel Too, I mused on the many blankets of love I’ve made, and the many art pieces created with fabrics and other fibres. Then the truth hit me: the guardian angels that have encouraged me in my 20+ year journey are not ethereal, mystical beings at all – they’re actually real life, flesh and blood folk. There’s a long line of guardian angels in quilting history: pioneer women who of necessity pieced together little fragments of fabric to warm their families, yet made the quilts as beautiful as they could to keep up their spirits; men and women behind the quilting revival in the 70s, whose passions and skills inspired me when I was younger; people in my own life who encouraged my work and cheered me on, who taught me sewing skills and saw only the potential, not the shortcomings.

This piece is a tribute to all the guardian angels who helped me, encouraged me, taught me, and cheered me on. Whatever skills I have, I attribute to you, guardian angels: my mentors, friends, family,  teachers, fellow guild members and more. Thank you.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

In The Company of One ... and One Another

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you will know that I treasure time alone.

With my odometer ticking and ready to turn over in a few weeks, it seemed like a good time to take another retreat, a quiet time alone to reflect on the past year and think ahead to the future. But when? And where? Alone at home seemed like a good idea, but then the resident sweetie would have to move out. A cabin in the woods would be nice, but kind of pricey.

As I was pondering this conundrum, I got a phone call. Would I like to go on a retreat? Up on the mountain? At a good price? A vacancy had come up at the last minute. Would I??? But of course, there was a catch: it would be a quilting retreat with eleven other women.

Retreat really is a euphemism when it comes to quilting. I checked it out in the dictionary, and none of the definitions match what I knew a quilting retreat would offer. This would not be a withdrawal or backing away from a hazardous position, nor would it be a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, or study. Rather, it would be a full-on frontal assault on a mountain of unfinished projects, which would involve packing the battle gear necessary for this assault: sewing tools, fabric, good sewing chairs and cushions, good lights, more fabric just in case, rulers, irons, ironing boards, cutting boards, and bread boards – because food was almost as important as quilting supplies. And more fabric, just in case.

how can you possibly leave home without it all?
 Silence and meditation was hardly on the menu – in fact, discussions about religion and politics were verboten; but  good food, storytelling, laughter, and the occasional light cussing to relieve frustration was encouraged and applauded.

It sounded like the exact opposite of what I was looking for, but one little phrase sweetened the pot: a room of my own. A room with a view. A room in a lodge on the mountain, far from the madding crowd. Oh, glory. I could hide out in that room all week if I wanted to, reading, writing, and enjoying my company of one. And making brief forays out into the world of women, quilting, laughter and food. Oh, yes.

Guess what? It didn’t work out that way at all. The room of my own didn’t have a comfy chair or desk. The view turned out to be a view of a bulldozed road to nowhere – the good view was in the sewing room with its enormous windows and attached  deck where you overlooked the mountains and woods; where you sipped wine and enjoyed happy hour with 11 other women, where you could hardly hear yourself think, but you sure could laugh a lot. It turned out that I wasn’t going to be enjoying the company of one; I would be enjoying the company of one another. And who knew? It was just what I needed.

I admired the work of the women who churned out gorgeous quilts composed of little tiny pieces perfectly matched at the corners; they admired the pitifully few small art pieces I was trying to hatch. I let them chatter while they worked at 7 a.m. in the morning, and they respected my inability to talk in more than one syllable grunts before I’d had my 2 cups of coffee in a quiet corner.  We took walks. We pitched in and cooked for each other. They generously shared bounty from their stash when I ran short. They shared their stories and their life situations, each so different and unique, yet the themes we discussed were so similar, and often outrageous. “If my kids could hear me now they’d be mortified,” said one woman, but we promised we wouldn’t tell. What happened on the mountain stayed on the mountain.

Sometimes, what we think we need is not what we really need. Perhaps what I needed as I looked into the future was not so much quiet reflection as reassurance that I was on the right track, that I was part of a larger community than the one named MemyselfandI. Perhaps I needed encouragement and affirmation and a reminder not to take myself too seriously.

Alone in the land of MemyselfandI or ...

In the company of others ... (my unfinished projects come together for a discussion and review)

I did get some time alone to reflect on things. On my last day there, I withdrew to the dining room when it was empty, and journalled for a while, and in that brief encounter with myself, I got a bit of a vision of something that needed doing in the next year, a glimpse of the future.

It’s the best of both worlds when a week like that happens. Thanks, ladies, it’s been a blast. See you next year, I hope. 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Live and Learn

The Secret Life of Cassandra the Crow: Cassandra in her boudoir

Oh, no! Cassandra has flown the coop! While I wasn’t looking, she took off with a perfect stranger. Vain bird that she was, she succumbed to flattery, and went along with the first person who said nice things about her. And I didn’t get to say good bye!

Parting is such sweet sorrow ... but the $$$ in my wallet make up for it.

So now there’s a space on the wall at Sweet Surprise, the bakery-cafe where she was hanging out. Having had a taste of the rewards of creativity, I decide to place another crow in the empty space which Cassandra vacated so suddenly.

Actually, I have another crow waiting in the wings to make an appearance. She didn’t make the cut at Sweet Surprise when the proprietor looked at all my available pieces, however, and I’ve learned something from your feedback last week. You like art that brings a smile to your face. And definitely, this bird is no barrel of laughs.

It’s a piece I made more than a year ago. I remember what prompted me to make the beaky creation which appears to be yelling a lot of harsh words. I’d been at an event where people started talking, and the talk made me very uncomfortable. Perhaps you’ve been there, too: perhaps you’re politically conservative, but everyone at the party is slagging the Prime Minister (or vice versa for my American friends); or you’re a vegetarian, and folks are poking fun at those bleeding heart animal lovers, all the while stuffing their faces with sausage bites. Or you overhear someone making a derogatory racist comment. What do you do?

I kept my mouth shut, while seething inside. But when I got home, I did a bunch of soul-searching. What a wuss I was! I didn’t want to make waves, didn’t want to lose friends, didn’t want to be a party-pooper, so I said nothing. But what about my integrity?  I considered my options: I could decide not to associate with these people anymore; I could keep quiet and pretend all was well; I could bring up the issue the next time I was with my friends and voice my opinion; I could phone each of them and discuss it. Or I could write them an e-mail or letter expressing my discomfort. (This last option is definitely NOT the way to go, I discovered – it’s the coward’s way out, and opens the door to yet more misunderstandings. Oh, well, live and learn.)

While sorting this all out, I turned to my trusty friend, Art – Art Therapy, that is.  I decided that I would be quiet no more. I would take my cue from the crows, who do not hesitate to speak out on issues. They tell other crows to get out of their space; they holler loudly when they spot danger, they call for help if they need it, and they’re no slouches in the sweet-talk department, either. (Read more about crow communication and the genesis of this piece in the blog posted January 14, 2014). My art piece featured an enormous beak with a subliminal message:  “Don’t mess with me; I’m mad as heck and I’m not taking it anymore.” Creating this piece of art was therapeutic, but not all that popular. It's the least favourite piece of the resident sweetie, who is generally pretty supportive. My friends have little to say when they see it. And after all, who wants to be face to face with angry crow? Hmmm ... live and learn. If at first you don't succeed ...

So I took a second look at it. Whoa! Look at all those negative messages. Whatever happened to “a soft answer turns away wrath?” And this bird is all mouth, no heart. She is not embodying any of her messages; she’s just yelling at the world. If I want to win friends and influence people, I need to find a more acceptable way of communicating.

I took the piece off its frame and ‘unsewed’ the big beak. It had to go. Then I created a whole crow, one standing out on a branch with her beak open, but not aggessively so. And I added new messages: “stick together, girls”; “nice job”; “wanna dance?” and “LAUGH”. Yes, it is important to say Stop and NO when needed; it’s important to speak out and warn of danger, or invite others to listen to your opinions.  But it’s also important to speak so others want to listen; it’s important to encourage, to build community, to find common ground which includes joy and play, love and laughter, and so much more. I call the piece SQUAWK ON.

I hung the revised piece on the wall at Sweet Surprise and we’ll see what kind of feedback I get. In the meantime, I’m realizing there’s more I could have done to revise it. Crows are seldom solitary creatures; they are part of a large extended family and often travel in groups. They know all about the meaning of “Stick together, girls!”

A large group of crows is known as a "murder of crows".
 This one little crow is trying to change the world all by herself.  Doesn’t she know there’s strength in numbers?

I think I’ll have to try again, and this time I will feature a murder of squawking crows, or at least an attempted murder.

 Yup -- live and learn!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Letting My Babies Go

After I wrote last week's post on Aparigraha, I realized there was still more to say. If you didn't read last week's post, you might wish to read it first.

I’ve been thinking of babies this week.

It started when I read a post on Facebook about a sock monkey named Melvin who was running for premier in Alberta. (If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know by now that Melvin didn’t make it. Too bad, so sad.)

My friend said that her daughter-in-law makes sock monkeys, and she never dreamed that one of them might grow up and aspire to be a premier. But yes, that’s what babies do – you raise them as best you can, and then you have to release them out into the world to make their way as best they can. At that point, if you know what is good for your child, you will let them go. Aparigraha

I’ve released a few babies out into the world myself, not all of them human.  Last week, I hung my crows up in a local bakery/café called Sweet Surprise. My crow art pieces are like my babies. I create them with great joy, and pour myself into them. And now I was sending my babies – all 9 of them – out into the world, which as you know, can be a cold and cruel place. What if nobody likes them? Or worse, doesn’t even notice them? It’s hard to let go. But I did it. Aparigraha. If I didn’t release those crows out into the world, they’d just be languishing under the bed gathering dust. This wasn’t what their creator had in mind when she started down that road. Each of those crows has a message, and it’s time to let them caw loud and insistently. (You can read about my crows' messages in the post of June 14, 2014.)

So far, according to Heidi, the proprietor of the café, the feedback is overwhelmingly in favour of the dancing crow, which I created to celebrate my 66th birthday.

 I can imagine how the other crows feel about that. When the café is closed at night and all is quiet, they begin their squawking. “Oh, sure, Ms. Centershot, grab the limelight – again. Mom always liked you best, anyway. What about the rest of us?  What are we, chopped liver?” 

No, my dears, I want to say, I love you all. And in fact, knowing that the dancing crow is almost everyone’s favourite is slightly embarrassing. My dancing crow doesn’t have much of a message and furthermore, that piece is not terribly original. I based it on a drawing I found on the internet, adding my own features, but still...

I have not been able to find the name of the artist who posted this on the internet. Can anyone help me? I'd like to give him/her credit.
What does it say about me as an artist that people prefer my derivative, slightly frivolous, art rather than the original stuff? But once you put your babies out into the world, you have to be brave and get ready to take the blowback.

Motherhood, I learned long ago, is not for the fainthearted. You watch proudly as your children march out into the world, and then they go do something like pick their nose in public or belch loudly during a very quiet, sublime part of a concert. Motherhood can be an exercise in humility. Children will do what they will do. And the same applies to artistic motherhood. Are you getting just a teensy weensy bit proud of your work? Ha! Take that! You’re taking yourself too seriously. This reminds me of a comment another writer made when she published her first book: “Putting your work out to the world is like dancing naked in front of a crowd. Everyone sees your imperfections.” Oh, yes!

But we do it anyway. We create with great joy and pour ourselves into our work. And then we let our babies go to be what they are, in hopes that someone, somewhere, will notice. Writer James Baldwin wrote a statement about his craft that applies to any creative work: "You write [create] in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can't, but also knowing that literature [creative work] is indispensable to the world ...The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way ... people look at reality, then you can change it."

So I’ve decided that my dancing crow has a message, after all. The world has a lot of garbage to throw your way, but dance anyway! It will make you happy, and I’m pretty sure someone, somewhere, is watching and smiling. You have made a difference.

Saturday, 2 May 2015


Birthdays are fun. That’s my conclusion after  coming  back from helping my sister celebrate her big day.

Among other things, we attended a quilt show  – a display of stunning heritage quilts, some going back to the 1800s. (Old quilts + old quilty gals = fun, you know!) The show also featured a collection of old hats, which we were welcome to try on for photo ops and selfies.

But birthdays can also be serious times, when we reflect on the past and look forward to the future. About a month ago, author Anne Lamott posted on Facebook about an upcoming birthday. She thought she should write down everything she knows, now that she’s 61. It amounted to 14 things. 14 things after 61 years? That’s not much.

This week, a good friend turned 75. When we shared a celebratory meal, I asked him what he knew now that he didn’t know when he was younger. “Not much,” he said immediately. Not much? That’s about the same as 14, isn’t it?

Of course, there are people like Oprah, who can write a column every month in her magazine called This Much I Know For Sure. She’s been doing that for almost 15 years. You do the math! She knows a lot more for sure than Anne and our friend Al.

But somehow, I identify with Anne and Al more than with Oprah. When I was young, I thought I knew it all, but now, unfortunately, I know very little for sure any more. I’m a little leery of “for sure” these days. I’ve lived long enough to have experienced many “for sures” that were proven to be not so for sure. Cigarettes were harmless; coconut oil, eggs, coffee and dozens  of other foods were bad for you, then good for you, then ... well, who knows?;  humans will never step foot on the moon; Bill Clinton never...well, never mind. For sure isn’t always so for sure.

Sometimes I think it would be so nice to know things for sure. If you know things for sure, you can feel a little more in control. But then I remember that the desire to know for sure is where Adam and Eve ran into trouble. “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so,” said Mark Twain.

I learned a new word when I was in Ontario that has something to do with this topic. The word is “aparigraha”, a Sanskrit word. It was written on the side of a Lululemon gift bag. “Graha” means grabbing or taking; “pari” means from all sides; and when you put an “a” in front of all that, it means, NO!  Aparigraha can be translated as ‘not grasping”. Often it’s applied to letting go of greed and material possessions (which I find a little ironic, considering that millions of folk will pay big $$$ for Lululemon duds because it’s THE thing to wear in the gym. But I digress...)

Another way of interpreting aparigraha is this: finding freedom in letting go. That little five word phrase is packed with enormous implications. What if we let go of our need to conform to other’s expectations, or even our own? No more trying to be as beautiful, or as fit, or as smart or as rich as that impossibly high standard being held up to you. Aparigraha: be free to be yourself.

What if we opened our mind to the possibility that  our “for sure” opinions might not be so “for sure” after all? What if we stopped holding those opinions in tightly closed fists? Aparigraha: be free to learn and think and grow.

What if we relinquished our grasp on our cynicism, our grudges, our emotional wounds? Aparigraha: freedom to heal, to reach out, to change our perspective on the world and the people we love.

Number two on Anne’s List of things she knew was this: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

I like that.

Unplugging is a form of aparigraha, letting go for a while. Who knows what may happen? something good ... for sure?