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.


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.


  1. The hexagons are really pretty. I find just a little piece of tiny patchwork some days is just enough.
    The little loop is delightful too.

    Comment by Cele — 15 May 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  2. Very nice post. Just what i needed to hear. Not a Lot going on creatively although my brain works all the time at it. Sometimes creativity comes out in, how I can creatively get my daughter to sit for a shot at the dr’s office, or how I can creatively spruce up the same meal I get in a rut making over and over… How to creatively talk to myself into making my bed each day,( which I usually prefer to skip altogether) but in the scheme of being creative with my daughter and teaching her to make her bed each day, I make my bed… creatively. ;-) and so on and so on….

    Comment by V — 15 May 2009 @ 6:47 pm

  3. Mal, thank you for such an honest and thought-provoking post. To be equally honest in reply, I’d have to say that I am having an unwelcome run of these sorts of days… it feels like nothing in my life is going well and creativity is struggling to emerge at all. Like you though I do see small things, a general facing-in-the-right-direction-ness, and hope above hope that warmer, happier, more expansive days will come. Your writing is such a blessing. Be assured that whatever you achieve, you are inspiring and encouraging people much more widely than your immediate physical plane through this blog. And what’s more, you’re holding down a taxing and important job – huge credit to you for that.

    Enjoy your weekend :-)

    Comment by Sue — 16 May 2009 @ 5:14 am

  4. You asked “What small thing did you accomplish today in the service of your bigger vision?”

    I’m going to think of mistakes from now on as deliberate subconscious attempts to subvert the norm!

    Comment by arlee — 16 May 2009 @ 11:55 am

  5. It is this precise struggle to keep all the eggs up in the air all day, every day which makes me characterize the phrase “shadow artist” as mean-spirited. Our creativity in our *own* service must, much of the time, be used in the service of others. But does that make it less genuine? If we are engaging with the world in a constructive way and *not* creating our own artistic ivory tower (the perfect atelier, the perfect studio, the perfect 100% artistic life, etc., ad nauseam), who has the moral right to say that we have made the wrong choice, a “shadow” choice?

    The non-negotiable human need for food, clothing, and shelter must be satisfied, either by us personally or by others on our behalf. Then we fulfill our obligations to others in our circle, however small/large it may be, and *then* we might have–what?–2 seconds to think about creativity before crashing into bed.

    And what if one has a chronic illness? chronic pain? small children who need tending 24 hours a day, each and every day? sick pet(s)? an ill spouse?

    If one’s “bigger vision” is to improve the future world, the cultivation of the minds of the young has got to be ranked right up there on the list…teaching, helping, parenting, healing, feeding, and so on.

    It takes a very strong person to persevere with everything Life can throw at us *and* keep the desire to create anew, alive. Developing and nurturing this strength is, itself, an exercise in renewal and (dare I say it?) creativity.

    Comment by Cynthia H. — 16 May 2009 @ 4:02 pm

  6. I forgot to mention in my earlier comment, that one green loop is beautiful, very Miksang.

    Comment by arlee — 16 May 2009 @ 5:18 pm

  7. I finished and framed a piece! Usually I finish them and then I fold them and put them away for a while but trying to change that! Although if I framed everything waiting to be framed I wouldn’t have any time for embroidery.

    And I revisited your lovely blog been meaning to for weeeeeeeekkkkkkksssssss.

    Comment by debraann — 17 May 2009 @ 2:57 pm

  8. “Today piles on top of yesterday and forms the base for tomorrow. It all blurs together into a pattern…” this is a profound thought, worth further pondering.

    i really loved this post. i’m sure i’ll be back to read it again. there’s a lot here.

    and i love your hexagons.


    Comment by julochka — 17 May 2009 @ 3:43 pm

  9. Oh, those little gfg flowers are so pretty. And thanks for posting that pretty button loop — I’d forgotten all about those — sometimes I need a plain loop and that’s the perfect solution!

    Comment by Thimbleanna — 18 May 2009 @ 7:44 pm

  10. One of the things that I love about this blog is your willingness, Mal, to put it out there. I adore that guy up top — he’s a mess, he’s empty, he’s needy, but look at all that energy! Great comments above, too — a tribute, I believe, to your honesty.

    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?

    Having said that, part of why quilting has worked for me, particularly when my sons were younger, was that I could do it in 10 minute increments… I have heard this over and over from quilters who were also mothers. Dedicating a closet and two square feet to your work (whatever it is) really, really helps, so that if you only have ten minutes, you can work and not get ready to work.

    But that’s all blah, blah advicey — what I REALLY want to share is that last night I dreamt I was taking a painting class. I had painted a large-ish canvas black and was about to figure out how to ‘stamp’ a flying, white-haired witch-figure onto the canvas — it was so exciting and I woke up wondering, Am I going to ‘let’ myself paint?!!!!!!!

    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.

    Comment by Dee — 19 May 2009 @ 1:20 pm

  11. You articulated exactly how I feel. Each project that I have on the go may not be finished in record time but that is how I want to spend my non working hours. The need to create (plan, design,gather materials) is just as great as my need to breathe. I wouldn”t have it any other way.

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