The Intervention

Mal | Color study,Here and Now,Home,Organizing,Simplicity | Monday, July 6th, 2009

Mom's kits

I’ve written about my mom and her fabric “collecting” in the past. Recently, she asked us for help in creating a functional sewing room in her basement, including purging the fabric she doesn’t intend to use. Naturally, I made arrangements to take time off of work and be there with my sisters.

Fabrics in their natural state

Although she has hoarded for many years, she has never actively sought help, so I was both nervous and relieved as I made the long drive to my parents’ house. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m going to spare you some of the details here, but…

Beginning of Day 2

At the end of Day 1, we were all feeling pretty good about the progress we’d made. Then, after she went to bed, we found a few more of her hidden stashes and uncovered more than twice the amount of fabric than what we had sorted and folded during the entire first day. Let’s just say the task felt pretty daunting at that point.

Folding station

Here’s a folding station. The task of sorting and shelving was pretty monumental, and at any time during the weekend, we had 3 folding stations going at once. I’ll probably put up a tutorial on the folding process, since it’s what I am using to stay organized in my apartment, too.

Mostly, my siblings and niece worked at the folding tables, while I sat knee-to-knee with my mom and talked her through everything. (This is a downside of being a therapist, I guess — when no one else can handle the talking, it falls to you.)

Sorting with mom

I literally spent 3 days handing her fabric, talking her through each stack, and carrying it to her shelves or the giveaway pile. It’s important to note that we went through the entire collection 3 times, each time purging more, until everything she wanted to keep would fit onto the massive shelves.

Bags of fabric

Here’s one of my macho brothers hefting industrial-sized trash bags of fabric out of the house. We estimate that these bags each weighed around 150 pounds, and we filled about 5 of them.

Filled shelves

This is what she was left with at the end of the weekend. It doesn’t account for all of her flannels and other fabrics; we didn’t sort through her books/magazines/patterns; we collected all of her in-progress projects into one place but didn’t get them really put away; and we haven’t even touched her batting and notions. Oh, well. It was a good start.

Pinks, Reds, Yellows

The shelves look nice, but little empty spaces like the one you see above make me very nervous. I hope she doesn’t go out and binge on red-and-white fabrics just because there is room left in that stack. Although we did a good job of clearing things out this weekend, I think we all realize that we are a long way from resolving the underlying behaviors.

Closer up on shelves

Still, I hope she feels as clear-headed and inspired by looking at these shelves as I do when I look at the photos. I love my mom, and I’d do just about anything I could to help foster her creativity and peace of mind.

Independence Day Giveaway

Mal | Give-aways | Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

 Patriotic Fabrics

I have just returned from my parents’ house where we touched, folded, sorted, and discarded thousands of pieces of fabric. Maybe tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? I don’t know. It was a lot. We are slowly working through my mother’s hoarded stash and trying to create a functional sewing room for her. I think we removed around 800 pounds of fabric from the house and we still have more to go.

There are several patriotic-themed quilt stores near my mom’s house, and having easy access to cute red, white, and blue fabrics has driven her into the belief that she needs to be making patriotic quilts. I guess were all guilty of being influenced by marketing. I am a sucker for new drawing pens, myself. But, I don’t relate to the need for projects that are designed to be used only a few days a year. My apartment is too darn small to be storing Christmas quilts, Halloween wreaths, or any of a number of other holiday-related items. I only have room for things that I’ll be using year-round.

In that light, I am giving away some of my mom’s patriotic fabric stash. The giveaway may or may not include the fabrics shown above — I honestly can’t remember at what point in the process that photo was taken. We may have kept all of these, or discarded them all. Rest assured, the winner(s) of this giveaway will receive very cute American-patriotic themed fabrics. I just haven’t pulled them out of my car to snap a photo, yet.

To enter, you must declare your independence from something today. Earn points in the giveaway by:

  1. Leaving a comment on this entry telling us what you are declaring your independence from. This is the easiest way to win a point, so do it right now!
  2. Posting about this giveaway (and your declaration of independence) on your blog. Please post a comment on this post with a link to your blog entry.
  3. Declare your independence on twitter. Be sure to link back to this entry and include @turningturning so I can find you.
  4. Subscribing to receive turning*turning updates in your reader or by email. I’ll secretly declare my own independence in the feed for the next few days. Email me my declaration with the subject “Giveaway secret phrase” for another point. You don’t need to be a new subscriber — current subscribers can also earn this point in the same way.
  5. Once again, doing all 4 of the above steps will earn you a bonus point. Send me an email with the subject: “Giveaway bonus point” and you’ll receive your 5th point.

Entries will close on Sunday, July 5th, when I go to bed. I’m very tired, so you better enter soon! Winners will be announced on Monday morning. Thanks for playing, and I hope you win.

Tetris vs. Pong: A question of creativity?

Mal | Art Process and Creativity | Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

 Tetris
 photo credit: mat.teo 

While listening to NPR radio the other day, I learned that the ubiquitous video game Tetris turns 25 this year.

The game’s original programmer, Alexey Pajitnov, was interviewed and mostly ended up talking about the experience of trying to own the rights to his creative work, which was conceived during the 1980′s in communist Russia (and which probably explains that awesome theme music). Well, while that raises all kinds of interesting questions about who owns creative output, what really caught my attention was a throw-away question toward the end of the interview.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, I have to go back to the ’70s, actually, and I remember playing one of the early video games called Pong, which was developed by Atari. And when I think back to how ridiculous I was, to be putting quarters into machines in video arcades, to play that game, you know, I feel like an idiot. But I don’t feel like an idiot, going back to my first experience, more than two decades ago, with Tetris. Why does this game have such legs?

ALEXEY PAJITNOV: Well, many people have different opinion about that. But I still like Pong, and I wouldn’t mind to put couple of quarters to enjoy it. I don’t see anything wrong with it, by the way. But as far as Tetris is concerned, the game is very simple and it has very natural user interface. It has some kind of creative style. In most of the game you just shoot and destroy. In Tetris you try to build something, to put the order in the scales of random pieces. And probably that’s what make you feel a little bit better about what you’re doing with your quarters.

(You can hear the entire interview or read a transcript at the On the Media website. I recommend you do so, because Alexey’s Russian accent really adds to the experience.)

Tetris is a simple video game, yes. It can be addictive and a tremendous waste of time. It does, however, require some creative problem solving. There are a multitude of ways to solve the problem of tetris. It is, as Pajitnov notes, more about building something stable than tearing something down.

Pong is not about destruction, but is a game requiring some skill and minimal creative problem solving. Playing it  can quickly turn into a boring, repetitive tasks. It has had very little staying power in terms of popularity and perpetuation — and why would it? Who needs more boring repetitive tasks in their world?

As an interesting note, if you search for “tetris” on flickr, you’ll find all kinds of crazy creations — tetris halloween costumes, cupcakes, even jewelry! Searching for “pong,” on the other hand, returns mostly images of the original game, its packaging, and other retro-philic stuff. Does tetris itself encourage more creativity? More building and making? There is a recent study that suggests tetris may help to ameliorate the effects and memories of trauma. Is it the videogame that does it? Or is there something inherently healing about using that creative part of our brains? We may never know, but I think you know where my bias lies.

To me, this building something — this making order of my world through creativity — pays great dividends. Like Pajitnov, I do feel better when I spend my “quarters” on pursuits that build rather than destroy. It’s a privilege to spend these coins of time, effort, energy, and other resources which are in short supply on building a creative life.

What about you? Where do you spend your “quarters?”

Surfacing

Mal | Here and Now | Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Surfacing

The image above is from a painting I made a few years ago. I admit, it’s one of my favorites and (unlike most of the artwork I make which is destined for the recycling bin) it resides in my bedroom where I can see it.

I woke up this morning, rolled over, saw it hanging there, and smiled. The painting definitely reflects my current emotional state, and thank heaven! All was a bit doom-y and gloom-y there for a few weeks.

I suppose there are only a few circumstances in our lives when a few select words can change everything for the better. You know, things like:

  • You’ve won the lottery!
  • Will you marry me?
  • Auntie June had a little money squirreled away, and they want you to attend a reading of her will.

Late on Friday afternoon, I was called into a meeting where just such a set of words was delivered to me. In the interest of professionalism (and not getting dooced somewhere along the line), let’s just say that in the blink of an eye, 90% of my work woes were gone. Just like that.

I’m still traveling to my parents’ house later this week, and in spite of great love and affection, that’s always a bit stressful. But, all in all, I would say I am surfacing. If you follow me on twitter, you know that I actually started surfacing the day before the good news was delivered. It all had to do with relinquishing my fantasies of control and accepting whatever outcomes might come from the difficulty and drama I was experiencing.

Thanks for your great care and support while I pulled myself back together over here. Now that we are out of raw survival mode, I should be able to get back to the business of posting about creativity and art therapy.

How about you? What is your emotional state today? Can you sum it up in one word?

Make it because

Mal | Art Therapy,Finished Projects,Handmade,Here and Now,Prosaic | Monday, June 15th, 2009

Maxed-out bag

Because I started it a few weeks ago in one of my therapy groups, and have been meaning to finish it.

Maxed-out bag

Because sometimes just saying, “I’m maxed out” isn’t enough.

Maxed-out bag

Because I just finished a whole series of blog entries about how to fit creativity into our busy lives, after all. (Thank you, Emma, for the reminder.)

Maxed-out bag

Because I’m an art therapist, and I believe in the power of art to express and explore our thoughts and feelings.

Maxed-out bag

Because even though it took precious time, it made me feel better.

Weekly Roundup

Mal | Roundup | Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Testing beaded fringe

When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

Buckminster Fuller

This week

Most of my free emotional and mental space (where the blogging and crafting used to fit) is all filled up right now. That surplus of creative energy with which I usually write, sew, and paint is currently employed with trying to find creative solutions to some major, major problems that have arisen at work and in my family. I sense that we are working toward solutions, but it has certainly slowed down my blogging, hasn’t it?

Please note

My cartwheel quilting method was highlighted on Joan’s Quilting on a Budget blog. She said some very nice things. Thanks, Joan! It’s always nice to meet people who respond to what I’m trying to do with turning*turning.

Comment highlights

Still, t*t readers continue to contribute wonderful nuggets of thought and wisdom. Here are a few that came through this week.

We’ve gotten a few more thoughts about making time for creativity.

Making time is always a challenge- for me its about finding the balance. I am so “all-or-nothing” that I tend to dive in and get swallowed up in whatever I focus on, whether that is ‘making’ or attending to daily responsibilities. I do think of making time as ‘me-time’ and it often comes last.
this past year I have had some physical limitations that have ended up being a gret ebenfit to me in this area. Not being able to sustain activities for any length of time has forced me to figure out how to do a little bit about a lot of things. Surprisingly, this piecemeal approach has resulted in several unfinished projects getting done, and even a couple of bigger ones! Now I try to spend a little time instead of trying to do it all in one sitting, and so far, its working!

Catherine (no blog)

Delurking to post a quickie: Like some of the others who responded, I try to work a little time for projects into my crazy schedule. Sometimes that means cutting out stencils or hexagons (!) at lunch in my office, or doing web-based research during slow time at work. Recent research projects: search for outlines of sparrows, ravens, hummingbirds, late ‘60 R/T Chargers and VW Bugs to make into stencils or stamps; hexagon quilts – which is how I found your wonderful blog; American pioneer / prairie dresses vs English muslin dresses of the early 1800s – just looking for stuff to inspire or inform future projects. Like others, I know I’m spending more time admiring the work of others than actually working on my own stuff. Sometimes I only have the time (or the energy) to be be inspired, and I’ve learned to accept that.

When I was able to take public transportation to work, I would knit or crochet on my commute. Now I must drive, which takes away my commute-time crafting, and ooooooh was I bitter about that! Recently, though, I realized that my car, which I park all spring / summer in a warm location, makes a perfect bleach stencil making / stamp curing location. Here’s what I do: I make the stamp / stencil during breaks at work, and the next morning, when I park my car at work, I put together the project & let it cure. When I get back to my car at the end of my day, my project has BECOME something in my car. I cannot tell you how happy this makes me…

Anyway, thanks for the inspiration you’ve provided & that which is to come.

Muna Samira (no blog, but photostream over on flickr)

I like the way that quilting can always stand for ‘getting it together’ — that is, the way the actual piecing of disparate elements is in and of itself an integrative act. That means that when all else feels like it’s whirling in chaos or falling apart, I can look at whatever I’m making and say, “but THIS is coming together…. “

Dee of Dee Mallon & Cloth Company

Good reads around Blogland

And finally

Not only am I facing some work challenges and gearing up for a trip to my parents’ house in the next couple of weeks, but also I just submitted the application for my state psychotherapy licensure. (I’m nationally certified but am pursuing a state license to practice independently.) This means that I’ll have two major exams to study for over the next couple of months. It’s going to be a miracle if I can keep making things and/or blogging about them! Please send all positive, creative, calming vibes my way!

What to do: Make time for making

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Give-aways | Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

100th post giveaway

A few days ago, I asked, “How do you make time for making?”

I’m honored that so many of you chose to respond, as this is a topic that we all have to confront from time to time. So, here is a breakdown of the recurring themes in your answers, in order of popularity.

1) Squeeze creative time into small moments, whenever you get a chance, such as between other chores. Here, we have the “just do it” approach. This was our most popular answer — take advantage of small opportunities that present themselves most every day.

I make time by not waiting until I have a big block of time. I used to think I had to have a dedicated chunk (like 2 hours or more) to get anything done. But now I just keep a running list of bite-sized tasks, and if I have 15 minutes, I do one. The next time I have 15 minutes, I do another one. It adds up, and I’m getting a lot done! I also find that this lets me have multiple projects going at once. If I don’t feel like doing task 5 for project A, maybe I can do task 2 for project B instead.

I also stopped waiting until I had time to myself…

Evelyn of Use the Loot

2) Ignoring other “important stuff” — this includes things like housework, social obligations, and other negotiables but also includes neglecting things like sleep, cooking, and health issues. I’m not sure I can advocate this technique, although it certainly seems to be common! Christine’s entry makes me laugh, but many of the comments in this category are a little concerning.

I make time for making by leaving out non-essential things like eating and sleeping. Haha, sane? No… chocolate covered bridge mix helps with the eating, the sleeping problem? Haven’t figured that one out yet. I can’t help it that I sometimes stop quilting because my foot is cramping up and see that it’s 1am. Oops, how did that happen…?

Christine from Cutting Edge Quilt

3) Have a schedule, make dates/appointments with yourself. This is something that I will probably never be able to have any success with, but I’m happy that it works for so many of you!

When I see a free day on my calender- I try to actually make an appointment with myself. It helps me not have any excuses with other tasks. When I find 5 or 10 min a day that I don’t have anything going on I check out the web- blogs, flickr etc for inspiration so I’m ready for the days I plan to be away from technology with all these mental images and sketches that come from them!

Liz of Chunk of Chedder

4) Cutting out TV or time on the computer. ULP!

I make time to ‘create’ by GETTING OFF THE COMPUTER!!!! I spend so much time admiring stuff online; it does inspire me, but I just keep reading and playing.

Shelley C (no blog)

5) This wasn’t necessarily a “popular” answer, but it is probably my favorite one and one that I would say has been true in my life recently: Broaden your definition of creativity.

How do you make time for making?
It seems I never stop “making”. I see patterns everywhere I look. I dream about sewing. My color favorites are seen in the Fall season. A field of wheat waiting for cutting, pale blue sky and the turning leaves are my pallet of colors.
I set rules for myself. A little housework then the reward of sewing something. I even find joy in super-cleaning my sewing machine or winding a box of bobbins so I am ready to go with the next rush of sewing.

Subee Mohr of Subee Sews

20090607-random33

Congratulations to Casey of Casey Random who wins the mini quilt with her email announcing that she had earned the bonus point. All of the entries — comments and emails — were lined up in my email folder and Casey’s was number 33. This means that Casey commented, twittered, subscribed, and blogged. Go Casey!

Honorable mention goes to Tracy of Unfolding Moments who wrote an entire blog entry inspired by the question.

If you haven’t answered the question yet, please share: How do you make time for making? Does it fit into one of these categories?

Tutorial: Cartwheel Quilting Motif

backofquilt

I got lots of questions about the quilting detail on the 100th Post Giveaway mini quilt. Some thought it was a simple square motif. However, you can see from the illustration above that it is a bit more complex than that. The shape is almost like a 4-leafed clover, with intersection-points in the center of each cartwheel. You can start at any point on the motif and quilt in a continuous line until you reach that point again.

Here’s the view from the front.

cartwheelfronton

The mini-quilt was machine quilted, but I think this motif would work equally well with hand-quilting.

Stay tuned! The winner of this mini-quilt will be announced tomorrow.

Weekly Roundup

Mal | Roundup | Sunday, June 7th, 2009

MAL Quilt

Special thanks

The photo above (and those that follow) shows a wonderful mini-quilt made for me by Victoria of Bumblebeans. She wanted to swap for the collage that I made last week and I’m only too happy to send it to her! The quilt she made says my name, MAL, and she used it to practice her machine quilting skills. Looks great to me, lady! Thanks for your generosity!

I can’t wait to hang it on the walls outside my bedroom, where I’m hanging other mini-quilts.

What I worked on this week

Welcome to my slowest blogging week yet! Situations at work and with my family have eaten up most of my brainpower this week, and I am behind not only on blog writing but also blog reading. I’ve canceled all of my plans for tonight, though, and will be catching up on both reading and writing. It’s good for my mental health, and after a week like I’ve had, I’m particularly interested in what we, in The Biz, call “self care.”

MAL Quilt close-up

5 comments you should read

Of course, You All haven’t taken a break from contributing excellent and thought-provoking comments and I’m so glad to be able to highlight some of them. Be sure to always check and see what your fellow readers are saying!

(Read on for more…)

Making meaning: Hexagons and siblings

Mal | Handmade,Media,Quilting,Sewing,Works in Progress | Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Hex rough draft

There’s a saying in family therapy that each member of a family lives in a different family than every other member of the family. That is to say that each person’s perspective, their relationships to the other family members, and their unique experiences gives every family member their own story.

What does that have to do with my mini hexagon quilt project?

Hex stack

See, it’s not only my goal to make more things, but also to make more meaning with my creative endeavors. As an art therapist, it was natural for me to wonder if there was any meaning underpinning my hexagon phase. Maybe that sounds like a strange thing to say — hundreds and thousands of you are out there with your own hexagon quilts and that thought probably never crossed your  mind.

But the way the project seized me in the spring, the way I dove in headfirst and pushed the project into all of my spare moments, and the times and places when making hexagons became most important to me all added up to this: maybe there’s something there.

Hexagon pieces

I’m the 2nd of 7 children. My parents are still married and my siblings all get along fairly well. No one is disowned or giving the silent treatment to anyone else. All in all, compared with other families I know, I can say we are doing pretty well. Still, you can’t grow up in a family of 9 without it affecting you profoundly and there are certain, recent family circumstances — intense shifting of roles, jockeying for position, new alliances where there was once tension — that may have made this hexagon project take on an extra meaning for me.

 Hexagons clustered

You may remember that the hexagons hit me full force during a time when we were dealing with the state of my parents’ house (including my mother’s fabric hoarding), when armies of my siblings were descending for “clean-out days” and some of the fallout was reaching all the way to my apartment, two states away. The hexagons came to me during my brother’s engagement and were in full force when I went to his wedding.

And then it hit me. Here we have a hexagon — a 6-sided shape. Each hexagon connects to 6 other hexagons. Each has 6 sides, 6 corners, and a center. No single group of rleationships has been so important in my life as the relationships I have to my 6 siblings. Hmm…

Since having this realization a couple of months ago, I have come to believe that the slow, soothing process of stitching hexagons is my way of processing adult relationships with my siblings. It is the way that I have kept some of my anxieties (about the changing face of our family) at bay. It brings me back to my childhood, when my world revolved around these 6 strangers.

Hex stack

I believe that hexagon fever held meaning about my siblings long before I realized it. But, if you’re a skeptic, you might wonder about a chicken-and-the-egg effect. Do the hexagons hold meaning on their own? Or have I simply foisted meaning onto them by thinking about my siblings? Either way, the articulation of that potential meaning has psychologically connected this project to my sibling relationships, and I now think of them more frequently, more specifically, and more fondly each time I stitch a seam. When I connect two pieces together, I think about the connections I have with these 6 wonderful, crazy, frustrating people. I think about how we have evolved as adults, how our relationships get closer for a while, or weaker for a season, but how we always come back to center.

As my project starts to come together, these thoughts and feelings intensify. Sometimes it takes a little hunting, but I love to discover this kidn of meaning in my work. Knowing that these meanings come through in my own personal work makes my professional work as an art therapist even more powerful. I truly believe in what I do, and that’s such a privilege and a blessing in my life.

100th Post Giveaway

Mal | Give-aways | Monday, June 1st, 2009

 Mini quilt on fence 2

On January 18th, I broke my years of blogging silence and rejoined the ranks of crazy people who share their lives with total strangers. 5 months, 550 comments, and many miles of email exchanges later, we arrive at a milestone. It’s no full-sized quilt or bundle of designer fat quarters, but I am pleased to give away this mini quilt in celebration of my 100th post.

 Mini quilt close-up

The little quilt is dedicated to my readers in every which way. It combines elements of some of my most popular entries — modeled after my first mini-quilt, and made with the two colors you identified as your favorites during the last giveaway. Truly, this is the mini quilt that my readers built.

I’m so grateful to all of you who have contributed to the collaborative spirit of this blog. The comments are consistently well-written, thoughtful, and provocative. I learn so much from my exchanges with you — both those that happen here in public and those that happen behind the scenes in email or by phone.

 Binding on back 1

If you’re new here, welcome! Please feel free to jump into the conversation and share your views. If you’ve been following for a while, here is a rough draft of what you can expect in the next 100 posts.

  • Streamlined organization of the site, including better category structure and collective lists for series such as the What to do posts.
  • Active recruitment of guest posts from like-minded folks.
  • Tutorials?
  • Putting my art therapy skills to use with some kind of collaborative art project that you can join.

 Quilt on wall 1

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk on this blog about setting priorities and making time for creativity, so put on your thinking caps. Enter to win the mini quilt with one (or all) of the following methods.

  1. Comment on this entry by answering the question: How do you make time for making?
  2. Post about this giveaway on your blog, then post a link to your entry in the comments section here.
  3. Subscribe to this blog, then send me the secret phrase you’ll find in your feed reader or emailed entries. (Current subscribers can enter this way, too. You don’t need to be a new subscriber.)
  4. Post about the giveaway by twitter, including the phrase: “I make time for making by ________________. #turningturning.com” (Fill in the blank with your answer, of course!)
  5. As always, earn a 5th entry bonus point by doing all of the above. Just email me with the subject line “Giveaway Bonus Point.”

 Mini Quilt on Fence 1

If you’d like to hang this quilt, I’ll gladly stitch a pair of loops on the back. Just let me know! Entries are open until Sunday, June 7th. Good luck in the giveaway — I hope you win!

Weekly Roundup

Mal | Universal | Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Conference

What I worked on this week

  • Some collages
  • Spectating at the marathon
  • Finishing touches on an upcoming giveaway prize. Tune in tomorrow!

5 comments worth reading

I really appreciate the conversation that is generated in the comments section, and each week I highlight 5 thoughts that were particularly keen.

Honorable mention goes to fellow art therapist Megan of When We Were Made who writes:

i had a dream about you! you were getting married and your hubby was carrying you in your wedding dress. which is funny because i don’t even know what you look like.

i know that seems odd, but i think it relates to seeing your turning*turning name in my blackberry inbox in the middle of the night. i have weird dreams :) but your dress was amazing!

First off, any comment that talks about me getting married totally wins. Unfortunately, in spite of my better efforts, that blessed event does not seem to be in my near future. Megan, if you can scare me up a husband, I promise to make your dream come true! Don’t any of you have a kind, smart, 30-something brother that you want me to meet!?

Back to business, then.

(Read on for more…)

What to do: Set your priorities

Mal | Art Process and Creativity | Thursday, May 28th, 2009

On the fence 3

When I wrote my About page, I laid out out my intention for this blog.

This is not a blog about one particular medium or another. This is not an assembly line of amazing and flawless creations. This is not a business site designed to promote a book or a business or a product. This is a place for exploring, discussing, and considering the creative process — the power of making — and its place in modern life.

In recent weeks, you’ve seen me trying to puzzle through this business of modern life and how to fit creativity into it. But what exactly do I mean? What is modern life and why is it so difficult to make time for making?

I guess by “modern life” I mean this whole fast-paced thing — this overscheduled, overcrowded, convenience-driven attitude that is popular in our culture.

On the rail 1

In the old days, people created because they had to. Women quilted because their families needed warmth. They baked because their families needed food. Men fashioned their tools and laid out their farms so that they could eat. Women cared for children, men cared for plants and livestock. All were involved in the slow, steady work of nurturing life, and of making things, and of getting through.

Nowadays, why cook when we can pick something up at the drive-thru window? Why make blankets when we can buy them at Wal-mart for $3 a pop? It takes so much time to cook, to quilt, to paint or string beads or write poetry. Why labor over a hand-bound book, a tile mosaic, or a plein air painting when you can so cheaply pay someone else to do it? Paying will surely free up our time. But what do we do with that time? Well, a lot of us work harder to earn more money so we can pay for more conveniences.

Turquoise in tree

Money will buy time. If I could pay someone to do my laundry for me instead of sitting in the laundromat for 3 hours a week — to do my cooking and cleaning, my car maintenance, and my dog walking for me — why, I could travel the world with my sketchbooks and do nothing but create. But, the only way for me to have funds to pay for convenience is to work more. Working more means less free time. That must not be the solution.

As it stands, you and I and everyone make small decisions every day. For the most part, we give time to those things that are important to us. I say “for the most part” because if we are going through our days without examining our priorities, it’s very easy to fall into some cultural traps. How much time do I spend watching television? And why? Is watching television important to me? Well, no. Not really. But culturally, it is the popular thing to do. It is an easy thing to do. It is a fairly brainless thing to do. It lulls me into thinking I have done something. (Hint: I haven’t.)

On the fence 6

If I wish to dedicate more time to things that are important to me, I first have to know what those things are. I have to set my priorities according to my values and be prepared to make decisions every day — every hour — to keep myself in line with those priorities.

One of my values is a core belief that making things enhances and improves my life. I have worked this year to make making a priority in my own life, and not just in the lives of my art therapy clients and patients. And so, even when I’m tired, or have had a long day at work, or am being jostled about on the subway, I try to make something. When I am upset or sad or sick, I try to make something. When I am happy, excited, or anxious, I make. Making is my priority.

In the tree 1

I’m not a self-help author. There are plenty of people out there who want to tell you how to set your priorities. I’m not going to give you a numbered list of steps or suggestions for what your priorities should be. But, here is what has worked for me:

  • I separate my values from my priorities. Values are things I believe. Priorities are things I do. They are the areas where I choose put my time and energy. Knowing my values helps me set my priorities. Priorities are my filtering system. They help me organize my time so that I can live a life in line with my values. Is that circular enough for you?
  • I try to limit my list of personal values, priorities, and such to only 3-5 at a time. That’s not to say that I only believe in 3-5 things, just that I don’t want to actively be working on more than 3-5 areas at a time. More than this just gets overwhelming and probably sets me up for failure. I don’t like failure.
  • My list is always in flux. What is important to me today may not be as important tomorrow, so it’s important to revisit it frequently. If I were to have children, for instance, this list would be likely to change.

I’m currently in the process of re-examining my list of values and priorities. Certain things have become less important to me and are being jettisoned. Others are making a re-appearance. Here is my current list of priorities — the places where I am trying to spend time:

  • Health
  • Creativity
  • Prosperity
  • Relationships

What about you? What are your values? Your priorities? Where will you spend your time and energy today?

The view from here

Mal | Handmade,Here and Now,Prosaic,Works in Progress | Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Markers

Pictures from around the studio — lots of works in progress right now.

Blue and green

A little something to look forward to.

Beads

Another little something to look forward to.

matisse

A month ago, Victoria of Bumblebeans issued a challenge to make a quilt based on this Matisse painting called Interior in Aubergines. She encouraged us to “turn off your brain” and work quickly, intuitively. I wasn’t able to participate in the challenge at the time due to great disarray in my workspace, but the idea stuck with me.

Last week I was given a stack of home decorating magazines and, well, add in a little late-afternoon migraine medicine and the rest is history.

Matisse collage

It’s many weeks late, and it’s a collage (not a quilt), but hey. The other submissions are really neat to look at (scroll down). I’m so glad Victoria got this idea.

What about you? What are you working on today?

What to do: Take small steps

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Current Events,Here and Now | Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Marathon

This week, my city hosted a marathon.

Since I moved here, I have wanted to go downtown and be a spectator of the marathon — to vicariously experience the emotions and triumphs of the thousands of people who undertake this superhuman feat.

So, I woke early and watched the television coverage while I dressed — the starting line of the wheelchair race, the “elite” men and women duking it out to the finish line, the weather reports and sports commentary. But, this is not an essay about the starting line or the finish line. It’s about everything that comes in between.

Once I had my fill of enthusiastic starts and dramatic televised finishes, I grabbed my camera and bound for the train. I had chosen a viewing point for transportational convenience (closest to the metro that I am familiar with) so although I wasn’t sure exactly where I was along the route, I knew I could get some pictures and enjoy the feel of the event.

Mile 24

When I realized that I was standing at Mile 24, just 2 miles from the finish line, I was flooded with emotion.I stood and cheered and clapped. I yelled, “You’re almost there! You’ve done it!” for an hour or so. I comisserated with my fellow on-lookers and enjoyed the live band and generally marveled at the people in front of me who were still running — still plodding one foot in front of the other — in spite of the pain they must have been feeling.

But, I’m not really writing about the pain, either. What most impressed me was that 24 miles ago, the marathoners had started taking steps. That’s all. They just took one step, then another. Most of them in this non-elite group were alternating between running and walking, even sometimes stopping to stand still at the water stations. They ran over to the sidewalks to hug their families and friends. But, in general, they made a gradual eastward progress. They were still at this business of taking steps, long after the excitement and energy of the starting line had past.

And that’s what distinguished them from the spectators, besides their numbered bibs. They were actively moving toward their goal. They took one small step, then another step, until they were done.

Sure, there were a handful of “winners” yesterday who took home special medals and money awards. But, for the most part, thousands of runners were just trying to finish. They were fighting only against themselves and their environment. They weren’t looking to the right or to the left to see how anyone else was doing. They just kept taking one step, and then taking another step, in a solitary journey.

Marathon mosaic

They did this in spite of being older than those around them. They did it with a cause, from a wheelchair, and in spite of all distractions. They slowed down and looked back to see how far they had come, but they didn’t stop taking steps.

Marathon gadgetry

I love this lady. She has all of the fancy gadgets — a virtual Bat-belt of snacks, water, and stride measurers.  But guess what? Even she wouldn’t make it to the finish line without taking one small step at a time.

Last week, I was bemoaning the fact that in my current life circumstances, I can only squeeze in my moments of creativity between meetings, telephone calls, and other obligations. I wrote:

…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.

I’m not alone in this. Many of you out there are mothers of young children, caretakers of ailing parents, and working two (or three!) jobs to make ends meet. You have difficult marriage relationships, personal crises and illnesses of your own. With the exception of people like Arlee, who will be creating for 3 months at a summer residency with limited distractions, we don’t, for the most part, work under ideal circumstances. The message of hope that I took away from my experience at the marathon was this:

All you have to do is take one step, then another step.

Someday I will finish my hexagon project. Do you know why? Because I am dedicated to pulling it out for 10 minute spurts on the subway. Because I sew a seam here and there, whenever I get a chance. Because I work on it a little, then I work on it again. I enjoy the process, not just the completion.

This is how most of us fit creativity into our modern lives. For my part, I’m going to stop wishing for a miracle — for a millionaire to marry me and magically remove those limitations of time and space and money. I’m also going to stop looking around me to see just how fast everyone else is moving. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I can do today. And, if it’s just one small step, well shoot. Mile 24 awaits.

What small thing will you do today?

Weekly Roundup

Mal | Roundup | Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Jump straight to:

500comments

Milestone

It was good to have Dee of Dee Mallon & Cloth Company back this week from her short hiatus. You can imagine my delight to notice that she was also my 500th commenter! And such an insightful comment, too. I highly recommend you go read the whole thing, but here’s a taste.

I grew up in a house where my mother deemed her activities ‘creative’ and my father’s not (he was an engineer, she was an art teacher). I have striven not to be so linear and confining in what I consider ‘creative’ — surely building an organization, planning a birthday party, figuring out how to juggle various responsibilities, are all creative acts. One of my sons specializes in making wallets out of duct tape… what’s not to love? … I see artistic/craft endeavors having many categories — super challenging ones that push one’s technical capabilities, stuck ones (that need to go to sleep as another reader mentioned) and peaceful ones (perhaps like your hexagons?), where one can sit and relax and build something with enough time and effort. I think it’s important to have some of each.

Thanks, Dee! You’ll be getting a little prize package in the mail.

What I worked on this week

5 comments you should read

I’m going to experiment with format on this feature — attempting to limit the list of most compelling comments from the week. Then it might be less of a dump of everything that was interesting this week whatsoever and a little bit more of a reward.

(Read on for more…)

What to do: Don’t hold back

Mal | Art Process and Creativity | Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Don't hold back

We’re all clear (aren’t we?) that these “What to do” essays are letters to myself — internal pep talks that I make external. And here is something that I am guilty of doing very often: holding back.

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is a signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Annie Dillard

The idea of this post came to me in the early hours this morning. It was about 5:00, and the soft buzz of dawn was just beginning to grey. I was curled up with the dogs and mentally reviewing the wins and losses of the past week. The smaller dog wasn’t stirring yet, but the older one had already joined me for our wake-up ritual.

I thought about some of the week’s errors and, in a few instances, regretted holding back. I thought, ”That’s a good idea. I should write that.” And then, “But, why waste it on a Friday? It’s too good of an idea for a Friday.” I stroked the soft, fluffy hair of the old pooch. We were all still pretending to sleep. ”People will like it. They’ll respond. I should save it for, say, a Tuesday when I get more visitors.”

I didn’t have a photo to accompany the post anyway. Surely I would by Tuesday. As I rushed around — showering, brushing, ironing, eating — I cast about for an image. I searched, in vain, for a particular trinket that I thought would work. (Turns out that it wouldn’t — you’ll see it come up later.) As I washed breakfast dishes, I remembered these empty pill capsules and had an idea.

“But, no. That’s too good of an idea for a Friday. I should save that for something bigger — something more impactful. People will think it’s a gimmick if I use it more than once.” Besides, I hadn’t pulled out my trusty old typewriter for ages. I wondered if the ink would even imprint. As it was, I was running the risk of being late for work. “Maybe I should just wait.”

By the third time I caught myself standing in my own way — trying to convince myself to hold back what was clearly a good idea — I knew that this was exactly the essay I needed to post today. Anything else would be false, would be stopping up the flow. To hold back would demonstrate a lack of faith that something equally good or better will come to me by next Tuesday. And, it’s possible that nothing will! But, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

What are you holding back? Are you willing to spend it today?

Phat Quarter Swap: Anatomy

Mal | Embellishment,Finished Projects,Handmade,Media,Sewing,Stitching | Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Anatomy of a stitcher

Here’s my contribution to the Phat Quarter recent swap. The theme was anatomy.

Anatomy closeup 2

I wanted mine to look like an x-ray film, a bit blurry and fuzzy. So I used a single strand of embroidery floss and did a sloppy stem-stitch to give the effect.

At times it was a bit surreal — spooky, even — to look down and see my hand in the same position as the ghost hand, and to ponder the bones and veins beneath the skin. It was a pretty cool process, I have to say.

Anatomy closeup of needle

I even like how the hand looks as though it is sewing down its own binding.

Anatomy tilted

I’m sure my choice of an x-ray image is partially motivated by my work at a hospital. Hope Ben likes it!

Book review: A big new free happy unusual life (2.5/5)

Mal | Resources,Reviews,Universal | Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

bignewfree

 ★★½☆☆ 

Introduction

Nina Wise is a performance artist who has “taught improvisation since 1972.” Her book, A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life: Self Expression and Spiritual Practice for Those Who Have Time for Neither, boasts one of the longest, most confusing titles I’ve ever read! Clearly, this is a book that aspires to be all things to all people.

I have actually owned this book for many years because a good friend (a free spirit, spritely, fairy of a friend) recommended it to me. In all those years, I have never been able to get through reading the entire book. I decided to give it one more shot before I parted with it, read it cover to cover, then sold it almost immediately after listing it for sale on amazon. I guess that speaks to (a) the popularity of the book, (b) the allure of the title, or (c) my incredible ability to miss the point.

You can read an excerpt of the book on Powell’s.com. You can also skip the overview and get straight to my opinion.

(Read on for more…)

Fulfilling obligations

Mal | Finished Projects,Handmade,Here and Now,Prosaic | Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Anatomy closeup

I completed and mailed my piece for the flickr Phat Quarter swap. There’s a sneak peek for you.

Stash giveaway winners

I bundled up and mailed off the stash stacks for the Granny Day Giveaway winners. I ended up sending more than I intended (including some felt because HOLY CRAP with the felt already,  mom!) but it was fun to get the packets together. One red, one blue, one brown.

Baby McGooey

I spent some quality time with the dogs, including a spontaneous photo shoot with a very sleepy puppy.

Plates

And I spent the rest of the weekend manning a booth at an art fair. We were soliciting donations for my department at work. It was a hot, dusty couple of days but I’m glad we were there.

200905178739

Late Sunday night, I found out that my sister-in-law’s father had passed away and I spent Monday afternoon and evening with her.

Sometimes we don’t get to write our own to-do lists. What’s on your list today?

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