I was driving into a valley on the road leading from my hilltown home, right into the middle of a cloud. It was like driving into a dream. The edges of everything became muted and soft, imagined images of what was there. My thoughts up until then had been dominated by the mental to-do list to prepare for my first book reading since the book was published. Strategizing how best to pick up the last few items, seltzer, dollar bills, and another box of books. It was going to be a busy day and everything needed to be in order, tasks accomplished in small spaces between responsibilities. It is the kind of organized mind-set I am capable of, and I have learned to be grateful for the highly functioning executive capability that I can be known for. But there is always a hard edge to this way, a pressure to follow the script, which can be stressful. I would be presenting my book, a story of learning to go off script and what has resulted in a day to day life punctuated by soft imagined images of all that is here.
I had been talking to my friend Beth the day before, reviewing the selection of excerpts I intended to read. I shared my thoughts about the act of taking responsibility for both light and dark feelings contained in an experience or resulting from a choice. How taking responsibility can begin with an awareness of how stories evolve about what is good or bad. The process of writing the chapter titled ‘Another Story’ was the first chapter I wrote and the beginning of this awareness for me. She added, “We don’t really know what we know until we write.” Yes!
I write, “It’s like what happens when you tell someone the gist of a story in abbreviated form, but one of the details triggers a memory of something hidden and we say, But that’s another story! And quickly move on without actually telling that story. What stays on top is appropriate, immediate, accessible, conscious, light. What stays hidden for another time is full of promise, unconscious, dark, scary, still alive. I wanted to explore the meaning that could emerge while working with these aspects of light and shadow. What came to mind were the bars of light I saw one night coming out of a dream. They were floating down around me like gentle rain. The widths of the rectangular bars remained constant while the varying lengths moved around each other evoking the feeling of a piece of music from another world.” After establishing a strategy for beginning the quilts, “I made some basic decisions about scale for the first quilt and began to consider fabric. I had just received a gift of beautiful Japanese fabric squares that Kathy had sent me from Australia. I had also just acquired a unique piece of hand-dyed cloth made by a colleague. There was a huge contrast between these two fabrics; one could even say they clashed. I became excited about the possibility of creating balance by revealing another story behind the surface pairing of these two opposites. The technique of reverse appliqué was perfect for creating context that could support the revelation of something new.”
When I went to NYC last week, I planned to take one full day to immerse in art in the museums I’d not set foot in for years. As if to honor my choice, my friend Mindy pulled out a card she had been saving for my birthday with this Gauguin painting, saying it reminded her of my quilts.
It was such a strong vision, to spend a day immersed in art. But the day ended up not being about time spent in museums. Instead, it began with a visit to the garment district. As if by homing device, I was drawn to peruse the cacophony of choices that live in large fabric warehouses there and with much discernment, managed to emerge with modest purchases. I was acutely aware of the commercial quality of what I was purchasing, happy to have these new coveted pieces of the uniquely expensive yardage.
City life imprinted in stylized designs and commercial abundance. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet, the sun was shining and I knew I would now spend the rest of the day on foot traveling to see old friends, human and inanimate alike, see the building that had been home,
and walk the now completed Highline that graced the west edge of the Chelsea neighborhood I once lived in.
Each of these places offered me a view of something familiar and intimate, and completely changed at the same time for the space that lived between me and their current presence. I found a new quilting shop around the corner from the building I once lived in. I bought a few spools of my favorite thread and another small piece of fabric. With clear restraint once again, as if defying the abundant choice that oozed from every fold of urban life here.
Underneath the story of culture that lives in perpetuity on the walls of grand institutions is the heartbeat of the very culture itself. NYC is still, truly, a grand melting pot and the grandest of places to immerse in to bring back the richness of what life was like for me years ago. I had a thrilling day of walking over eight miles, re-charging with the energy of a city that once ran like blood in my veins.
Next stop was southern NJ for a visit with friend Colleen, and a day of hand-dyeing fabric. We are so good at creating context for doing this together after years of acquired efficiency working together. We made yards of beautiful fabric, including preparation and set-up, dyeing, clean-up, rinses, final washing and drying, and ironing each piece lovingly into crisp folded rectangles to transport home.
All this accomplished with the energy of two young girls excited about every aspect of the endeavor. Shades of two women immersed in the lush landscape of Gauguin’s painting. Different lives and different stories that continue to spiral with each other.
The assemblage of newly acquired commercial fabric with the lush palette of newly hand-dyed pieces now on my work table holds the contrast of life in NYC meeting life in the country. I can’t wait to see what kind of story gets revealed in their pairing.
I did begin the reading from my book with an excerpt from ‘Another Story’. It was the perfect place to start. It will clearly be a place I continue to come back to over and over again.