Purpose, re-purpose

Mal | Simplicity | Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

fortune

A few days ago, I found myself shopping for domain names. Within the next week or so, I will be embarking on a new chapter in my life and I am feeling the itch to document it. I brainstormed, trying to find a site name that could grow with me and reflect my values and priorities. Naturally, I spent quite a bit of time journaling about it, making lists, and creating vision statements. At some point, I stopped and wondered — is turning*turning a place worth returning to?

After all, my original intention for this website was to muse about all kinds of things that were important to me — not only art/craft stuff, but also simplicity, mindfulness, practical philosophies, and organic living. The phrase “turning, turning” comes from a Shaker hymn that talks about being simple, free, and accepting of life’s ups and downs. It is a song about insight and introspection. Shoot, it’s a song about being flexible and open to all good and simple things. What I’m saying is that this blog was always intended to be about living a good and rich life, not about one craft niche or another. In fact, very early on, there were some posts which addressed these broader ideas.

But, what seemed to happen is this: when I would post something about quilting, I found a community of quilters who wanted to chat about quilting things. Cross-stitch? Here come the cross-stitchers. A blurb about ceramics would bring in a slew of questions about clay. My post about folding fabric seems to have achieved a cult following and to this day I still get emails about my ladder-stitch tutorial. The reality is that my interests are varied, and my loyalty to one medium or another is very fickle. I am a re-inventor by nature and I sometimes felt myself being pigeon-holed into a niche knowing that the allure would wear off in a month or two.

I am also continually learning about my professional life; every day I must balance public and private realms when it comes to making a living, serving my clients, and advancing my field.

So, I’m really not sure if I’ll be returning to this spot or not. There is much to catch up on, and the idea of a clean slate is certainly enticing. But, so is the idea of using this domain for the things I originally intended — to document my attempts at living a meaningful, connected, and purposeful life.

To turn, turn ’til I come ’round right.

Stop planning, start doing

Mal | Simplicity | Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Stop planning.

There comes a time when you have to stop planning

(fretting, wondering, worrying, thinking, debating, obsessing)

and just start doing

(moving, acting, deciding, changing, growing, progressing).

Some days

Headless monster

Some days are just like this, I guess. Some days I feel all stretched out and strung — like a too-tight banjo that’s been hammered on for hours. Like a hurricane blowing out in every direction, a circle of destruction. Like that plastic monster from my yard who battled valiantly and lost — plaintive and empty.

Rawr.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do this hour, and that one, is what we are doing… Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern… There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. 

Annie Dillard

I started this blog with a few different aims and purposes. One of them was to have an excuse to be making things — an accountability to myself that I would create art in my free time. I wanted to honor my mission of bringing art and creativity to other people’s lives by also bringing it to my own life. To have that little extra push. To find and make time for creativity.

And, let’s face it — some days it’s all I can do to make something other than a bowl of chocolate ice cream for dinner. Some days I am happy if I make my bed, wash my hair, tie my shoes. Some days, I feel extremely lucky to have sewn one bead, one green loop, one hexagon seam.

Green loop

At work, I am the boss. I head up a team of people who bring the arts and creativity to those in need. I don’t always get to see patients, though in general I wish I could sit every minute of every day, with the suffering and downtrodden. Instead, I sometimes spend eight hours a day writing reports, grant proposals, and performance reviews. Compiling statistics. Oh, and I answer e-mails. So, so many e-mails. I supervise my staff, making myself available to discuss their triumphs and failures. I build bridges in hopes of building bigger bridges. Bigger bridges lead to new lands and unforseen challenges. But, it’s all in the service of a greater purpose. I have a clear vision for where I want to go with my little department, and I chip away at it one day at a time.

I also have a vision for my life outside of work, though it is not always so clear. I try to maintain a social life, courting the someday-fantasy of having a partner. I budget my money, trying to get out of debt. I attempt to eat right and exercise so that I can continue to lose weight. (Last year I lost 80 pounds, but I still have more to go.) I maintain contact with my huge and expanding family. I care for the dogs. I clean and wash and fold. I sit. I rest. I shower in the dark.

Hex flowers

And, I guess that’s what Annie Dillard is trying to say. Maybe I don’t finish a quilt in a day or participate in all the swaps and challenges and trends and movements. But, if I sew two hexagons today, and one tomorrow, eventually they start to build up. Today piles on top of yesterday and forms the base for tomorrow. It all blurs together into a pattern, just like Annie says, and I want the pattern of my life to be about compassion and creativity and community.  

So that even on days when I am only able to do the very smallest thing, it’s okay. As long as I am facing the right direction, contributing somehow to my life’s larger purpose, stringing together my days, my stitches, my pencil marks, and my paint strokes into a life of creativity, then that’s what matters to me.

What about you? What small thing did you accomplish today in the service of your bigger vision? I hope you’ll share.

Journal Quilt: Showering with the lights off

Journal Quilt: Showering with the lights off

Last week, I wrote about eliminating or reducing input from one of my senses — vision. As part of these experiments, I’ve been taking showers at night with the lights off. Although the idea is to reduce the chatter of visual input, the experience is still visual: the way the moon hangs in the upper corner of the window, the silhouette outline of the neighbor’s tree against the night sky, the invisible (but present) droplets. I love how the moon makes a halo of light around itself. It all adds up to a calming and soothing experience. I think I have finally found my insomnia buster.

Journal quilt: Showering with the lights off

I think I’ve also found a way to bind mini quilts into a book. The Art Journaler and Book Binder in me is so excited! Journal quilts! In an actual journal! Awesome.

Journal Quilt

This is my submission for Malka’s (of A Stitch in Dye) Mini Quilt Monday.

Mini Quilt Back

New sight

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Here and Now,Simplicity | Friday, May 8th, 2009

This is a bit of a long story, and it ends with my date thinking that I fell asleep on my feet at a Bruce Springstein concert two weeks ago. But don’t worry — that’s not the punchline.

Springstein Concert

I started wearing eyeglasses in 1st or 2nd grade. Since then, my eyesight has gotten steadily worse and my vision prescription has gotten steadily stronger to compensate. I don’t want to be overdramatic — I’m not legally blind. But sometimes I do emit a little bat noise to make sure I don’t hit anything in the dark. Without my glasses, I cannot see my own shoulder clearly. Everything from my mid-sternum down is blurry, so I would guess I have a sight range of about 6 inches.

I’m a very visual person. In fact, you could say that a natural proclivity plus years of art therapy training have made me hyper-aware of visual details. But, something odd happened a couple of months ago as I was leaving work.

I don’t know that it was a particularly long day at work, but I was tired and a little stressed. I stepped out of my office and, without thinking, took off my glasses and perched them on top of my head. That’s an odd thing to do, I thought, but kept walking through the blurred haze. In fact, I walked all the way to the subway in this near blindness.

That blurry walk was so relaxing, so carefree, so quiet that I felt completely renewed. I was free from the need to process everything, to catch every detail, and to see. The stress of work seemed to fall away from me, like so many chunks of broken crust. 

So, I began to experiment.

I walked blind to the subway nearly every day after that, and each time I did, I felt refreshed. When I deprive myself of visual acuity, it disengages a part of my brain that chatters at me non-stop. I no longer wonder Where did she get those shoes? or Why did he look at me that way? or Is that person in pain? or They look lost; should I help them? Instead, I get reconnected to breathing and centering and just walking. Sure, I think a little bit about not tripping or stepping on invisible-to-me gum, but only a little bit. I think about the basics. I eliminate the distractions and am left only with myself.

I’ve started  to experiment with un-vision-ing in other settings. To unwind before bed, I now take my shower with the lights off. This intense experience reduces the sensory input to an almost raw and primitive state. I become hyper-aware of my body sensations, the pounding rhythm of the water, the steam and the shadows. I shampoo, soap down, rinse, and all the while am relying on my body to judge my place in space and time. I don’t know exactly why, but this not-seeing quiets everything down and I sleep marvelously well. 

When I was invited to a Bruce Springstein concert a few weeks ago, I decided to go even though (a) I’m not really a Bruce fan per se, (b) it was on a weeknight after a long day of work, and (c) the tickets were general admission which meant close proximity to the stage in exchange for two-and-a-half hours on my feet. My date was a rabid Springstein fan who has never missed a Boss concert within 100 miles.

By the time the show started I was already tired, and a little cranky, but I was determined to enjoy myself. It wasn’t too hard — there was plenty of good people-watching and my date was a really nice guy. Soon, my therapist-brain began to formulate theories about the people around me based on body language, clothing style, and interactions. The show itself was visually interesting — lots of lights and staging and imagery. I was hearing each of the songs (even old classics) for the first time so I know I was missing a lot of the messages and meanings. Although I was entertained with these little games, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like an outsider in the sea of fans — each singing along to every lyric, jumping up when everyone else jumped, and pumping their fists in the air.

I sighed, long and loud. I tried to exhale the stress of my workday, my aggrivation at myself for agreeing to this event, and my hyperawareness of the clock. Only 142 more minutes to go. As I exhaled, I shut my eyes. When I did, I felt a surge of electricity.

Woah.

I did it again. Within moments, I was caught up — swept away in the same unifying undertow that had already washed over everyone else. No, I didn’t know the lyrics. I was still tired. But I was lost in a surge of rhythm, beat, vibration, release. I felt my body in the midst of it all. I was aware of my skin — the place where my body meets the world — but I lost my sense of self and became part of the rush of the crowd. There was only me, and my breath, and my vibrating sternum, and the balls of my feet, and the roar of the crowd, and the energy of ten thousand people all riveted to the same purpose. I danced, and crooned, and roared, too. And then I stood very still, eyes closed, leaning against my date.

What happened? Is it like the proverbial blind woman whose other senses are heightened? Do I rely so much on my sight that my other senses have atrophied? Can this new skill be used to my advantage in my therapy work, my art-making, my relationships with others? Whatever it is, I’m curious to follow this path where it leads. (I just hope I don’t trip on anything along the way.)

Granny Day

Mal | Current Events,Here and Now,Simplicity | Monday, April 13th, 2009

An image last year's Granny Day.

This weekend, I celebrated Granny Day — 10 years after my sweet grandmother passed away. I used to celebrate Granny Day on the day she died, but for the past few years I moved celebrations to her birthday. I wrote a bit about her a couple of weeks ago when I was musing about passing on textile arts.

Blueberry Pancakes Coming Up

Celebrating Granny Day is no easy task. The idea is to live like she did for one day. It involves making delicious food from scratch, doing something creative, giving something away. It involves waking up early and going to bed late, calling someone you love to check up on them, and making sure all the chores get done. It involves fulfilling your own needs while being sensitive to the needs of others. It’s a little exhausting.

The day Granny died, she woke early and pruned down the raspberry patch on their small, self-sustaining farm. She made her weekly bread from scratch — enough loaves to share with neighbors (as always). Granny worked on a sewing project, went and voted, took dinner to a neighbor who’d been sick, and watched the news while she crocheted. Before she went to bed, she wrote in her journal and tidied up. In other words, according to my values, she lived the perfect last day.

Me and Granny

The picture above is of Granny and me working on a quilt together. It’s the last photo I have of her, and was taken about 2 months before she passed away. I’ve lost many people in my life since I lost Granny (and, let’s face it, at this point she would be well into her 90’s and probably gone anyway), but I still get teary-eyed every time I talk about her. She was incredibly influential in my life.

Granny Day 2008

Granny believed in hard work. She believed in learning (a teacher and school librarian for 50 years). Granny believed in giving things away, in abundance for all, and in caring for others. She was creative and dynamic but in a quiet, humble way. She was keenly insightful with her advice and her counsel. She lived close to the earth in literal and figurative ways. Granny was a dynamo and we all wanted to be like her. I still do.

Granny Day 2008

You can celebrate Granny Day, too. Simplify things, get to the raw, whole ingredients, think of your loved ones, serve those around you.

Do you have someone that you miss?

Return of the machine

Mal | Embellishment,Finished Projects,Media,Sewing,Simplicity | Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Sewing Machine

“…the evil of machinery is largely a question of whether machinery will use men or men shall use machinery.” (Ernest Batchelder)

It was nice to have a reprieve from making things by machine for the past few weeks, but I pulled out the ol’ Husqvarna Viking last night to finish a gift for a friend.

Fixed tea wallet

She has been giving up coffee and trying to drink more tea. When I found the tutorial for a tea wallet over on Christy’s Creations, I knew it would be perfect for her.

Even though she is one of my best friends, assembly of her gift came at the end of my great and grand handmade holiday list last year, and so it had some problems that were created by rush, short-cuts, and sloppiness. Sure, it has a snap, but not even my obsession with snaps can override the gross errors in this piece.

Teatime

In fact, I think it was my precious love for snaps that made this project go wrong. I wanted it to be in just the right place, but didnt plan correctly for it. So, here’s how I spent time the other night — re-doing, slicing, and fixing a previous work. In spite of what I may have said yesterday about proudly being an imperfectionist, I feel strangely satisfied.

Colored flowers

Mal | Current Events,Home,Prosaic,Simplicity | Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Valentine's Day

My dad sent me these flowers for Valentine’s from 2 states away. Something about the colors really appeals to me — feels like a vintage print.

I spent a good portion of the day cleaning my house to get ready for a [pretend to watch a video but really make out on the couch all night] date. The cleaning included clearing off the table pictured above, which doubles as a dining table and a craft/work space. My sewing machine is now put away for at least a few days, which means I can focus on some hand stitching — getting a jump on the band sampler and hand stitching a quilt binding. Pictures to come.

Being in a clean, clutter-free place inspires my creativity.

What I wonder

Mal | Simplicity | Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Raindrop

  • Do machines simplify or complicate my life?
  • What did our ancestors gain from their particular type of traditional, cultural, folk, and other arts? Can I benefit from the same gains?
  • Can I live more simply? How? Why? At what cost?
  • How can I better harness the healing power of art for my own well-being?
  • How good is good enough?

Modular living

Mal | Home,Simplicity | Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Wowie zowie. Check out this tiny apartment and all of its many possibilities.

Image is from the New York Times, and shows a library wall concealing washer/dryer, and a television wall concealing a kitchen.

The image is from the NY Times and shows a library wall concealing a washer/dryer and a television wall concealing a kitchen. It was designed by Gary Chang and reported in the New York Times, the 344-square-foot apartment allows him to live as though he had much more space.

Where I lived in grad school

I myself am no stranger to modular living in tiny spaces. During my first year in grad school, I lived in a studio apartment of about the same size as Mr. Chang’s in which I carefully maximized space. It allowed me to have a live/work art studio for a fairly reasonable price. Sure, I had to fold the futon up and down every single day, did not have a table or other surface for eating, and could not entertain more than one visitor at a time, but there are certain things about it that I still miss.

I miss my singular purpose, my solitary focus of creating art and becoming an art therapist. I miss the spartan, slimmed-down set of furniture and belongings. There was no room in that apartment for anything that I wasn’t using or wouldn’t be using soon. I miss being forced outside — I walked the dog more, took in the neighborhood sights, and generally acted like more of a local when living there, in part because I needed my world to be larger than those 350 square feet.

Neighborhood walk

But I made tons of art in that space, and mostly because it was a space designed to foster art-making. That’s a good reminder to me, as I go through my living space and attempt to make it meaningful. What behaviors do I want to foster? How can I use my space to foster them?

If I could get accustomed to the idea of maximizing a utilitarian, small space, maybe I could live in one of those tiny-footprint homes on some nice acreage. This would allow me to have more interaction with nature, live more simply, and perhaps be able to afford my dream of owning and cultivating a plot of land.

But, maybe not. I’m keenly aware that this sort of modular, small-space living probably only works if you are living by yourself. If I had been forced to coordinate the futon-folding hour with another person, it probably wouldn’t have worked.

New sewing machine!

Mal | Sewing,Simplicity | Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Viking Emerald 118

For Christmas, my mother generously bought me a new sewing machine. She had wanted to get me a very fancy machine with a computer and all kinds of embroidery features. But I didn’t want a fancy machine. I had plans to buy myself a new ultra-basic machine. As far as I’m concerned, a fancy computer in a sewing machine is just one more things that can go wrong! (Or, one million more things, depending on how you look at it.)  And I sort of want to work on my hand embroidery this year. I am a single woman living in an apartment. The sewing machine sometimes has to go into storage, sometimes gets bumped around from kitchen table to the back of my car, and generally needs to be, well, a work-horse rather than a show-pony. As with everything else in life, I reasoned, simpler is better when it comes to machines.

Well loved

This attitude has developed over the past 20 years as I’ve sewn on my old Elnita. It was a Christmas gift from my mother when I was 13 years old, and could only accomplish the very most basic of functions. I could, in most instances, crack open the machine and make minor repairs and adjustments on my own. I could count on it to work, day or night, and that’s what mattered.

Old elnita stitch length...

You get the feeling from this machine that even the backstitch function is sort of a luxury. In addition, no matter how many times I had it professionally serviced, I could never get the tension quite right and the variable stitch-length was severely compromised. I constantly sewed with the length set to 4 mm in hopes of getting a stitch of 1.5mm or more. I learned to work around these and other quirks, though.

Elnita presser foot

I’m grateful that my mom let me have some input into the new machine. It’s a solid, basic machine that has every feature I need plus a couple of luxuries (needle up/down control!) which will make my life a lot easier without complicating it unnecessarily. In a nutshell, that’s my life mission.

Goodbye, old Elnita. You’ve been a good girl.

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