October 10, 2013
Some details for our guests…
I figured since we don’t have a website (we don’t have nearly enough to say to merit that), I’d post a few items to note here so that everyone knows what to expect and where to go on October 26.
Rooftop reception begins at 8 pm on Saturday, October 26. Invite only, please. It will be held on the communal rooftop terrace at our apartment building, and there will be either a person or some kind of decoration to let you know you’re in the right spot.
Parking is along Marietta Street, on the same side as the building itself. I have counted more than 20 cars easily on the street at others’ rooftop events, but even so, carpooling with at least one other person will help cut down on the number of cars taking up space. (I assume many of you are carpooling anyway, at least with your date.)
The desserts and drinks will be plentiful! Cakes, doughnuts, pops, and plenty of other delicious treats. A menu and fully-stocked bar. This is an after-dinner event – I don’t want any of you going into a sugar coma from the drinks and desserts because you came on an empty stomach! You’ve been warned. (We will be bringing in reinforcements for party-goers who stay past the half-way mark of the night.)
I would call this semi-formal. No tuxes in sight, but come wearing your most fun, fancy frocks! And a note, in the fall evenings, up on the roof, it can get a bit breezy, so a lovely little coat, shawl, scarf, or other coverup for the ladies will be a wise decision.
Please bring your smartphones or cameras (or both, heck!) and snap lots of pictures for us! We want everything candid, nothing lame like us standing in front of a brick wall. So we’re counting on you to take some really fun pics. We’ll have a few cameras on-hand as well. Maybe some props, if I can scrounge some up here somewhere… But I can definitely say that the backdrop will be gorgeous and you’ll want to take at least a few.
Sorry if we made it tough on any of you by not registering for gifts. We are blessed with many things already and didn’t want to ask for more stuff while also inviting you to a reception-only event where we don’t even feed you fancy chicken. But the good news is, if we’ve invited you, you’re part of a small group of people most special to us, and so it’s safe to assume you know us well enough to have an idea what we might like. All that said, though, we really just want to see your face! Please don’t stress about this part.
If you’ve got any other questions at all, please reach out to me! You should have either my phone number or email address, Twitter or Instagram handle, any way that works for you. I am more than happy to answer anything – hotels, shoe advice, whatever you need. Can’t wait to see you!
September 24, 2013
Today I am 26. Last year, when I turned 25, I made a few goals, which I posted for the world to judge on this blog. They were:
1. Not die while running. Or at least, run one mile without having to walk.
2. write a novel.
3. make a flying geese quilt.
Now, with 365 more days behind me, this is what I’ve accomplished towards those goals.
Goal 1: Run a mile without walking.
It is quite amazing that last year at this time I was only just a few weeks into my Couch-2-5k app. I remember the day in October when I ran a whole mile without stopping to walk, for the first time in my entire life. It’s actually quite inspiring to reflect on that now, since I’ve been in a running rut all summer and have needed to take walking breaks in between bursts of running. And I’m slow; I’ll always be slow. I’m ok with that. But I spent the winter being awesome at running, in no other way than that I kept on doing it, didn’t hate it, and felt especially great when I was done with a route. I really hope it comes back to me when the weather turns for good to those crisp fall and winter nights that witnessed it last year.
Not being able to afford a gym turned out to be the start of a pretty incredible challenge, new activity, and goal MET.
Achieved: Miles run October 15, 2012 – September 23, 2013: 287.88*
*(estimate only, this counts runs I clocked in MapMyRun.)
Goal 2: Write a novel.
Not only have I now been working on my first novel for a year, I’ve got a head filled with ideas for more and I know I could spend the rest of my life writing them down. It’s like the floodgates opened, with the start of that one. There is utter freedom in creating something from your imagination. As a trained historian, it is a process that is the opposite of everything I’ve been taught. Now, I’m not writing about magic or aliens or other science fiction or fantasy subjects (though at least one of the ideas in my head does involve a parallel universe), so there is still a significant grounding in reality and real events. My novel is based on a real murder that took place in 1988 in Michigan. I have a loose idea of the events that transpired. But, like the disclaimer notes:
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
I am ninety percent through the first draft of my novel, by my best estimate. So I can’t exactly check this goal off my list. But the fact that I didn’t give up either and I’m still plugging away is more significant than finishing by this self-imposed deadline anyway. And I’ve written, to date, 117,482 words towards my goal.
Achieved: 117,482 words (approx. 90 percent of a first draft)*
*The average novel is between 50,000 and 150,000 words.
Goal 3: Make a flying geese quilt.
Ah, yes. The flying geese quilt. Well, I did make some flying geese. I have a few rows of them and I’m liking them more and more the longer I fiddle and ponder them. But I did not, alas, finish a flying geese quilt by my 26th birthday. But the main reason for this is that it ended up being quite a year for births and marriages, and though the list of people I might make a quilt for is small, many of them had these major milestones in the past twelve months. So, I did make several other quilts in its stead.
For Alma, born November of 2012, because her mother meant so much to me during an uncertain time in adolescence.
Modern Sampler Quilt
These quilt squares taught me core quilting skills, many of which I’d yet to learn, in the Whipstitch Your First Modern Quilt online course. I finished it on Christmas Eve — just in time — so I could give it to Ben’s parents for Christmas. This was also my first official free-motion quilting project, since I usually tend towards straight line quilting, it was a fun challenge outside my comfort zone. This was also my first quilt with intentional sashing. Obviously the mac daddy square here is the tumbling block, with all those y-seams, but my favorites wound up being the Card Trick and Ohio Star blocks (third row, middle and right blocks).
Jake’s Diamond Quilt
This project was last-minute for sure, but I knew once I bought my plane ticket to Jake’s snowy April Michigan wedding that there was no way I could pass up the chance to make my closest cousin a quilt to celebrate his marriage. I used vintage mens shirts in bright, native prints that I’d been keeping in my stash for years, waiting for the right use. I found them together, red base and pink base, at a Goodwill years before. For this midwestern couple, I was picturing masculine winter wardrobes and cold nights where it’s cozy inside. This was another quilt that I finished the hand-sewn binding on in the hotel room on the day of the wedding. Check out how much snow was still on the ground in mid-April Houghton.
Lauren and Dave’s Michigan Pixel Quilt
I won’t go into too much detail on this here, because I’ve already explained the inspiration, technique, and process of the pixel quilt here. I’ll just say, this required the most prepwork, advanced planning, and math I have ever put into a quilt. It also marks the first time I created a pattern on my own that I’ve actually mathematically calculated and written out. My usual made up pattern is in my head and involves a process called winging it. (Like Jake’s quilt above.) Recreating the Great Lakes and the state of Michigan in 2.5-inch squares of fabrics obviously required the exact opposite kind of creative process. But it was probably the most rewarding and exhilarating quilt I’ve done yet, as I watched it actually start to look like something. Lauren and Dave are both natives of Michigan now living in Georgia, just like me. They were married in June 2013.
Baby Boy Watson Math Quilt
My best friend (we just celebrated or 13th “anniversary” on September 21, 2013) Ashley Watson is about to have her second child, a boy. Her due date is actually tomorrow (September 25) but I’m still holding out hope she goes into labor today and that we’ll share a birthday. (My mom’s due date for me was September 25 as well.) I don’t know the name yet, but I had this quilt in mind ever since I visited Austin, Texas for QuiltCon back in February, and I didn’t know the gender but knew I needed to use the math-and-grid fabric from the Archictextures fabric line, since both the kid’s parents are math teachers. I also used a chain link garden path quilt pattern I bought at QuiltCon on a whim — I rarely buy patterns for quilts. But I really liked the non-square shapes and those little angles in the corners. So I kept making squares until I ran out of all those fabrics. Hope it’s big enough for the little man Watson when he arrives.
Achieved: Five quilts, none that are flying geese, but all were given as gifts for people I love. Two wedding quilts, two baby quilts, one Christmas gift.
For clarity, because quilting friends might be wondering, the baby quilts are both about 35″ x 50″ and the other three are comfortable lap-size quilts, about 50″ x 65″ to my memory. Those aren’t exact numbers at all. But, for example, the Michigan quilt is quite large, not a wall hanging like it was originally conceptualized to be.
I’d say it’s been a pretty good year of goal-reaching overall. It’s been important for me to have these personal goals and creative outlets as I’ve struggled with finding meaning in the variety of positions I’ve had professionally in the last twelve months. Like many probably, my passions are in what I do after my day job. Shocking though it may seem, marketing an ad hoc reporting platform is not what I set out to do when I earned two degrees in history. Still holding out for the grand possibilities I see in the year ahead (and years ahead) within the field I’m trained for. But I’ll still be writing, and quilting, and yes, sometimes running, no matter where my career leads.
Here’s to the year ahead.
September 24, 2013
Write now, right now.
I think a lot of people have sort of suggested that the stuff that I do may be second-class because there’s so much of it. My response to that is, I’m going to quit and be dead for a long time. This is the time that I’ve got and I want to use it to the max. I really want to try and mine everything that I’ve got.
- Stephen King
August 20, 2013
New broke this morning of Elmore Leonard’s passing, at age 87, after a few weeks recovering from a stroke. I have to admit as someone who’s new to the world of crime fiction, I’ve never read any of his work. I am almost ashamed to admit it, reading all the great stuff people are saying this morning. But I’ve long known his name, since my dad has been an avid crime reader since long before I was born.
And his 10 Rules for Writing sound quite similar to Stephen King’s basic guidelines. So much so, I’m thinking he drew a lot of inspiration from them when crafting his own.
I’ll pick up some Leonard very soon. In the meantime, I’m enjoying these pithy reminders. (The first one, I’m definitely guilty!)
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
* Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”
August 18, 2013
This quilt was the confluence of several ambitions. The first was to make a Michigan quilt. I was born there, in Southfield, a suburb of Detroit, and lived in a couple sleepy towns in the Upper Peninsula until I was almost eleven. This corner of the country holds a special place in my life and memories, and I continue to explore its influence in my life as I plug away on a novel set in the U.P. and northern Wisconsin. (The culture of the Upper Peninsula is arguably more closely related to Wisconsin than it is to the Lower Peninsula.)
Anyone who’s lived in this region recognizes the shape of the state, it’s unmistakable, one of those distinctive combinations of land and water you can always identify. It’s the kind of iconic geographic image you’d surely know from space. So I wanted to put this image on fabric, make it from fabric. But my only ideas involved variations of appliqué, since the outline is fairly intricate. I didn’t really know how I was going to effectively portray the map in fabric.
The second thing was the impending marriage of my childhood friend Lauren and her now-husband Dave. Both were raised in Michigan and their families still live there. She and I went to Young Fives (kindergarten) and Kindergarten together in Negaunee, and Dave is from Lower Michigan. They now live in Athens, Georgia, funnily enough, just an hour and a half away from me, where they’re in a nueroscience PhD program.
I knew that this was my opportunity to make a Michigan quilt that I could actually share. I have far too many around my house already, so I always look for the kind of home that can benefit from a cozy quilt. Being far away now from their homeland, I knew if there was anyone who would appreciate the outline of my native state, it would be these two. I didn’t get it to them before the wedding, but sent it so that it was there right when they returned from their honeymoon.
So this pixelated image is what I used to convert the geography of the state and its Great Lakes outline into a patchwork of gradient fabrics swatches. I happened to mention that I wanted to make a Michigan quilt to one of my friends at the West Atlanta Modern Quilt Guild, and she mentioned pixel quilts. Had I ever thought of doing it that way?
I hadn’t. But there’s an online tutorial, she said, for turning a picture into a pixel quilt. It’s Caro Sheridan’s From Picture To Pixel Quilt, and it’s free on Craftsy. I highly recommend it. This concept seemed entirely intimidating to me until I walked through the steps and videos she’s laid out.
Creating the image above is the first step. The next one is below. It involves a lot of formulas in a Google Docs spreadsheet, and then breaking it down more and more. It helped seeing her go through it step by step to understand how few colors I really needed, and to perfect just how pixels I could include to maintain the shape without going insane. There are some really crazy quilts on the internet (just Google image search “pixel quilts”) that must have taken thousands of hours, portraits and very intricate renditions of photographs. The point was not to want to commit suicide, but to make a modern quilt that interpreted Michigan in a fresh way. So I kept that as my goal.
Section by section, I put it together. It came down to one shade of blue, two shades of grey, a dark almost-black (Kona Pepper), and a beautiful, rich cream for the lakes. I know technically the blue would be water and the white doesn’t make sense, but I just loved the blue-and-white image more than traditional maps that I tried out in pixelation.
Stacks on stacks on stacks of squares and rectangles.
Before long, actually, they were all there, methodically pieced and labeled each time I finished one. They’re really just 8 Patch squares, sometimes 16 Patches. Masking tape was crucial in ensuring I had them oriented correctly and in the right order left-to-right and top-to-bottom.
I threw in the mauve shades when I noticed the bits of purple and pink that popped out of the original pixelated image. I want to encourage you, if this seems overwhelming, to go through Caro’s tutorial. And don’t let the math intimidate you. I took this as a chance to learn some new skills, design my own quilt pattern, and work through all the cutting and planning and required fabric on my own. I’ve done this before for improvisational quilts, but by the very nature of an improv quilt, that rules don’t matter all that much, and measurements are only guidelines. This was a wholly rewarding process and learning experience.
This was when it all started coming together. Below, I was playing around with the order of the strips, once they were coming together, to see if I could make it incomprehensible. I’m pretty sure this looks like a whole bunch of pixeled nothing.
And there it is almost ready to be a whole quilt top, in correct order. Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, all present.
For the quilting lines, I decided to do straight line quilting, which I always gravitate to, but in a kind of echo pattern around the lakes, within just the blue. In the creamy lakes, I did a stitch-in-the-ditch outline all the way around, almost clockwise, if that makes sense. They’re all connected, so I didn’t have to stop the stitch lines anywhere, I just powered through, top-right corner of Ontario back around to the bottom-right corner. Eastern-most to eastern-most, technically.
The backing actually took a lot long to decide than any of the front fabrics. I don’t like to do very much piecing for the backs, and by this point, I was all out of patchwork energy anyway. But it’s always a struggle to find the right scale of a print. I did want a print, something reminiscent of a forest, the woods, trees, rustic nature, a lakeside vista, a cold winter morning.
My mom, living over in Italy, got about a dozen emails from me with links to certain fabrics on Fabric.com, none of which had quit the right aesthetic to match the front of this quilt. Too cutesy, too small a scale, too bright, too blue, too green, to traditional. I was getting pretty concerned.
And then, through some magic of clicking and searching across the site, my favorite online fabric shop delivered exactly the right thing. Nature’s Etching Birch Bark in Rust/Bark tone. Exactly. Dead-on. I am reminded of snowy mornings, and rusty cars that’ve driven thousands of miles on salty roads, and the blue-greens of an evergreen forest. It is exactly the fabric to represent the elements of a tough, beautiful landscape in a remote region of the country.
Once I found the right thing, it was a no-brainer. I was reminded how obvious and easy a choice it is once you’ve found just the right thing. All those other options I felt lukewarm about were clear warnings of the wrong thing. I was on the fence because it turned out I was in the wrong neighborhood anyway.
Appropriately, I named it HOME. Home for all three of us, in one or another or a hundred ways. I ran a stripe of blue along the back edge because, of course, I underestimated the square inches I would need for the back, as I often do. Imperfections give quilts their handmade character. I’m OK with it.
For binding, I did something I’ve never done before: I used a variety of prints in my long strip of straight-grain binding tape. This was my chance to use a few fabrics that went with the motif, but would not have worked in the quilt top. It was risky after all this to put patterns on the edge, but I always love when other quilters do bold things with their binding, and so I pushed my own boundaries. I’d already done this insane self-invented pattern, worked out all the fabric cuts and arrangement and gradation, and expanded my skills with all that. I might as well also make myself uncomfortable with a bright binding. I love how it turned out.
I shipped it off to Lauren and Dave a week after their wedding, and it was waiting for them on the doorstep when they returned home from their honeymoon. (They went to Newfoundland, Canada, perfectly appropriate for those two!)
August 15, 2013
Ideas are everywhere if you’re looking for them. If your mind is exercised enough to notice. Like this color/shape motif from window panes, which would be a great quilt.
It’s true when they say writing is like a muscle, needing exercise to grow. Since I’ve started writing a novel, just by writing, ideas for other stories, novels, and screenplays just keep coming.
Right now, I have a novel I’m writing, which still has a lot of work ahead before its a compelling finished product. But I have two others I could write, and an idea for a screenplay. This being my hobby, this is easily years of writing, all lined up in the tank (i.e. in notebooks and in my head). A year ago, I had no ideas for a novel. I labored under the notion that other writers had great ideas, and I had nothing to write about. And that even if I did, I was terrified of actually starting. Scared that I might begin and only realize it’s all just awful and I’m pecking away at a masterful craft with absolutely no tools behind me.
There are still many times when I fear my vocabulary is inferior, and my descriptions lacking, especially when I read exceptional novels. But I don’t let it get me down (most days) and keep plugging, working towards my weekly goals. Some weeks I meet them, others I fail. I climb small hills, knowing that they are part of a mountain, really, and when I turn around and look back down at the ground I’ve covered, it’s breathtaking. I look up and see how far there is still to go. It’s good. I am a pretty good writer, in that I’m well-practiced, and I enjoy it. I have an decent vocabulary and I find that the characters I write don’t always need to use a fancy word, nor would they know it to use it anyway. I build my skills by writing more, and by reading. I am a student of the craft. But not the one who learns in theory. It comes from practice, more practice, and then more.
I am so thankful to have this initial story to inspire me, to get me to begin writing fiction. Using a real-life inspiration. But that was all it took. It was exactly like this proverbial floodgate, that once I found myself thinking on an almost-daily basis about the lives, decisions, and barriers in my characters’ lives, it becomes easier to imagine the what-ifs of a thousand other characters too.
What if a woman on her way to a job interview has to take a detour because of construction, and then her car breaks down, so she gets out on foot; but on the way to the interview (she’s now sweaty and quite late), a group of fantastical dwarfs intercept her and recruit her to help them save a princess captured by their enemies? [Based on an actual dream I had. Thanks, brain.]
These are the kinds of scenarios that begin novels, and before my writing muscles weren’t strong enough to challenge my brain to see them, all the multitude of what-ifs out there, everyday, that inspire entire universes and spawn the characters we come to admire or loathe and everything in between.
They’re already there. I just wasn’t exercising enough. I’ve also learned that you don’t have to know the whole story before you sit down. You just have to start with a character, with a desire, and a challenge. I’d heard it before, but that is different, entirely, from sitting down in my chair and writing it. And learning it, understanding what all those other writers says when their best advice is just to sit down, every day or almost every day, and let it come out.
August 6, 2013
Though I’ve said something similar about my experience a few times before.
On the difficulty of getting a job in public history, in what I studied, and earned two degrees to try to do professionally.
I spent long hours reading job descriptions, getting a feel for the market. I found no shortage of wonderful-sounding positions for which my hard-earned degree would suffice.
Yet time and again my heart sank as I read about the experience requirements. Some jobs were clearly senior-level positions, designed for professionals who had already made a name for themselves in their field. But even lower-level positions with modest salaries and encouraging titles such as “assistant curator” or “assistant collections manager” or “historic preservation assistant” had heart-breaking requirements about years of prior experience doing whatever the precise job was. After having maxed-out my possible number of internship hours at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, I can boast of eight months of part-time experience processing archival collections, and another six months of part-time research and writing, plus a year spent working on a film documentary. I had no experience creating and installing museum exhibits, handling artifacts, or guiding tours, had never heard of a cultural landscape, and didn’t know what Section 106 was or why it had to be complied with.
The root of the problem was clearly evident: organizations, institutions, and companies often rely on prior experience as a predictor of being qualified for a given job. I found this strange. Surely there are other ways to gauge or predict the likelihood of future success in a job. Suppose doctors told expectant couples, “I’m sorry, but you are not qualified to become parents until you’ve had five years of experience raising children,” or the United States military started telling hopeful enlistees, “We now only accept recruits with at least two years of combat experience.” Of course, that’s not how it works at all. Yet it seemed as if the job advertisements were really saying, “You are not qualified to work as a public historian until you have x years of experience working as a public historian.” This mindset turns the profession into a walled fortress that cannot be breached from the outside. I fervently wished I could find an organization willing to train an eager would-be historian, or at least let me learn on the job using transferable skills, instead of expecting me to be an expert already. Surely that would be in everyone’s best interest in the long run, since the organizations would no longer be excluding an entire pool of potentially capable candidates, including me. Unless, I realized, that is exactly what they are deliberately trying to do.
- Matthew Exline
A million times, yes. I had these same realizations, and all the frustration that ensues, for all of 2012, when I was earnestly searching for a public history position. I started searching nationally, then narrowed it down, necessary for the time-consuming nature of the process, to just Georgia and Atlanta. I figured there was strength in my network, which has been mostly true. Though the search continues. And the best advice people offer is to volunteer places, but as the author of this points out, when you’re doing that, how are you surviving the present? That’s what all those loans were for in grad school, to do internships then. Yes, I did them.
Anyway, I just know this man’s thoughtful essay on his sticky employment search must be a part of my larger series of essays on similar subjects. Kindred spirit.