June 17, 2013
My cousin Jake and I are the same age, the only cousins out of fourteen of us, and we grew up together. Though we never lived in the same city at the same time, I have fond memories of Christmases and summer vacations and various weeks in between, visits to Annandale, Minnesota, and the twin cities, Atlanta, and various locales in Wisconsin and Michigan.
With the groom, and our cousin Amy.
In April, Jake married Stephanie, and we made the trek all the way up to Houghton, Michigan, in the Keweenaw Peninsula, to celebrate and share the day.
We drove all the way up eight hours from Chicago, which was the closest place we could fly for under $200/ticket. Houghton is right here:
There is a small list of people who have received or will receive a wedding quilt from me, but Jake is on that list.
I was inspired by Elizabeth Hartman’s diamond quilt at QuiltCon this time around. I wanted to play with large-scale diamonds, set against a solid background, maybe one or two, singular, bold, striped.
I had these graphic, vintage, Native American-inspired button-up shirts that I’d picked up at a thrift store years ago, and kept holding on to, waiting for the right project, one that would utilize and highlight the prints, colors, and motion.
Mixed in with a few other fabrics I’ve collected, this is what came out.
Lots of straight lines for the quilting. I love the diamond grid that formed where the rows meet.
Two diamonds. Husband and wife?
With the finished binding, hanging over the stairwell inside the Houghton Travelodge.
The fabulous, large-scale backing is part of the Center City collection by Jay McCarroll. Love it.
All folded up.
And might I add, we went to Michigan for an April wedding. A spring wedding. It was certainly beautiful, though looked more like the dead of winter. It is extreme for sure, but it was a beautiful little chilly, snowy, stormy weekend away. Back to the homeland.
A trek on the Main Street in Houghton. Paul and Ben.
Adore any newspaper with Mining in the title.
Snowy afternoon downtown.
With the bride, Stephanie, and my girl cousins, Jeana, Amy, Jenn, and Sara.
And Amanda, too.
Yes, the Travelodge in Houghton tallied up the year’s snowfall at 195 inches. As can be corroborated by the amount of snow on the ground in the middle of April.
The only correct word for soda: Pop.
Once the huge snowstorm blew over, our Sunday morning drive out of Houghton was just gorgeous.
Love these old appliances and televisions slung out into the snow, part of the landscape themselves.
Lovely, busy weekend. Filled with love and celebration. Even got to spend some time in the best little thing in the north: indoor swimming pools.
April 21, 2013
Writers want to hear about how other writers do it. It’s something a writer can’t help but seek, especially if they are feeling like they’ve been writing utter crap and are having a moment of despair that the project will never be completed — or worse, we’ll get to the end but it’s a terrible mess with no hope of becoming anything worth reading, ever.
All writers have these moments, at least, I hope and think they do. I have been reading Gillian Flynn’s book Gone Girl for my book club this month, and her beautiful character development and intriguing story have me internally weeping over their beauty, and despairing because I feel like what I’m writing is crap comparatively. Though I often remind myself (crucially) that I’m reading final drafts, published works, while what I’m working on is a first draft.
But I still found myself compelled to Google “Gillian Flynn writing technique,” just to see if she’s ever spilled any information on how she does this thing called writing. And she has. And she has reassured me gloriously with her answer.
Parenthetically, I love this statement below, as I also feel like the most compelling stories are about characters, people, who find themselves caught in circumstances that have gone entirely beyond their control, and how they do or don’t get themselves out of it drives the rest of their story. This is true for books and films and television — I’m a sucker for a good story told in any medium.
What scares you in a good book? It seems that it takes more to sustain thrills, in this age of film, Internet, and quick-cut editing.
I’m old-fashioned. The stuff I love isn’t about gotcha scares, and gore doesn’t frighten me much either. It’s that sense of dread, and the sense that characters have gotten swept up in a current they can’t control, leading them toward something awful and dark. It’s why I love Scott Smith’s books, and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. That sense of inevitable doom.
- Gillian Flynn, How I write
Yes, yes, yes! This is why I love the flailing, seedy, faltering, despicable Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) in Fargo. His descent into events out of his control, but which he triggered, is absolutely brilliant storytelling. Actually, the same can be said of Ed Crane’s (Billy Bob Thorton) experience in The Man Who Wasn’t There, and The Dude’s (Jeff Bridges) inclusion into events beyond his control in The Big Lebowski, and the role every single character plays in the spiraling tale of tragedy and comedy that occurs in Burn After Reading – a most brilliant tale about a bunch of terrible things that arise from an inconsequential event: John Malcovich’s wife forgetting her bag at the gym. (Ok, obviously I have an admiration of the Coen brothers. But they have mastered this exploration of “man in circumstances beyond his control, flails, kills, runs, fights back, etc.)
And of course, any novelist needs to know the method of other successful authors, of whether they write with the end-point in mind, the plot in their head, or just from a situation, and then see how the characters act and react until, voila!, a novel is writ. Again, massive relief in her comments on the craft.
Do you like to map out your fiction plots ahead of time, or just let it flow?
I let it flow, although that makes it sound more jazzy and less despairing than the actual process often is for me. I wish I could plot more efficiently or stick to an outline, but I just can’t. Partly it’s because, for me, the plot is the least intriguing part of a book. I start writing because of certain characters or themes or events I want to explore, but I’m often not sure what form that will take. So I do float along a bit. I probably write two novels for every one I end up with—lots of deleted scenes as I try to figure out what it is I’m really interested in, what it is I’m actually writing.
- Gillian Flynn, How I write
And of course, the blessed reassurance that we all must plea with ourselves, like we’re some unwieldy force that cannot ever simply sit, and write, without being coerced. As if this was something we were doing by force rather than by choice. Nope, even when I am so compelled to put words down on paper [word processor], I still need lots of self-control and personal incentives to actually do it, day after day. It is such, such an active process. There is absolutely nothing passive about writing a story.
Describe your morning routine.
Drink half a pot of coffee. Go downstairs to my basement writing lair. Sit myself in my chair and threaten myself like a recalcitrant child: you will sit in this chair and you will not move until you get this scene written, missy. Get the caffeine shakes. Regret drinking so much coffee. Finish writing the scene. Reward myself with a game or eight of Galaga.
- Gillian Flynn, How I write
Keep writing, keep writing. The first draft of anything is shit. It’s ok. Just keep writing.
March 27, 2013
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Read all the time and keep writing. There are a million talented writers out there who are unpublished only because they stop writing when it gets hard. Don’t do that— keep writing.
- Gillian Flynn, How I write
I’d seen this quilt, made by Carolyn Friedlander, before on the internet. Friedlander also happens to be the designer of the fabrics that compose the quilt, and this collection is inspired by her architecture background. Which is also fitting, since the whole thing is an homage to the home.
Oh, can I say? It’s absolutely more stunning in person than any photo can portray. But that’s true of every single quilt.
I seriously considered buying the whole pattern and fabric swaths — which were sold there in one of the shops in the vendor hall, all in one pretty, little package — though I couldn’t bring myself to spend the $130. I am loathe to make anything that is an exact replica of another quilt, when it’ll just ending up looking like a copy. Hers is just so great anyway.
So instead, I started taking pictures of houses. Houses that inspired me, on the neighborhood roads of Austin.
March 24, 2013
my second job: selling clothes
I have found myself, as I’ve eked on into adulthood, more and more fascinated by work. By the tasks and responsibilities people, billions of people, rise each morning (or night) to perform. How did they find this job? What does it mean to them? Is it what they envisioned doing? All the jobs I ever had before, in high school and college, were purposely temporary, means to an end, not “forever” jobs.
Retail associate at American Eagle was never supposed to shape into anything beyond school. Now I work part-time on nights and weekends at Gap, supplementing my full-time job, using what I learned about the industry during those years. And I don’t have the same dread about it, either. I’m not at work, willing the hours to pass faster so I can get out of there. I have a purpose: helping people find clothes that fit their bodies, making a good sale so Gap stays in business. And I work contentedly. Even if, yes, perhaps I would rather be at home. But isn’t that the definition of work?
And so my fascination grows.
This is the articulation of something I’ve been pondering a lot over the past year:
I’ve certainly experienced my share of cognitive dissonance when it comes to determining the social value of my career. But, like most people in their twenties, I find it very hard not to derive a lot of my self-worth from that career. For any recent graduate taking their first steps onto the ladder, a job is the culmination of fifteen years of education and all of the hard work, money and striving that comes with them. It seems like the most important thing in the world because it’s what finally qualifies us as grown-ups. In career terms, being in your twenties is a time to be selfish, to take what you can and claw your way to the top. The consideration as to whether or not this career, this badge that we wear so proudly, is actually of any significance to the universe can wait until later. Right?
Wrong. Part of the reason people burn out and have mid-life crises is because they reach a point where they realise that they’ve given the best years of their life to a career that didn’t really mean anything. And because all their self-worth was built around their job title, when that becomes devalued then so does everything else.
I started watching The Walking Dead recently, an AMC show that follows the lives of several little groups of survivors of the zombie apocalypse, basically. It is always intriguing to imagine what falls away and what is left, in humanity, when normal life ceases to exist. A cataclysmic event occurs, and those who survive must examine what is left of their life and what matters now. In stories like this, it is usually just survival. There is a part where four men from vastly different lives before are now devising a plan to escape from a large building in Atlanta that is surrounded by the undead, who are sure to feast on their flesh unless they’re quite careful. The American kid of Korean descent has come up with a great plan.
“What’d you do before all this?” another asks.
There. If the zombie apocalypse began tomorrow, your entire job life would stop, become defined by whatever job you had been performing, whether or not you ever considered it your forever job. I think quite often, things that start as temporary become your career, whether it was what you envisioned or not. Grocery store clerk, maybe a promotion to manager of a department or the whole store, if you’re a good leader. But if you’re not, there’s not an ounce of shame in being good at your job as a grocery store clerk. Or a pizza delivery guy. But it doesn’t mean that, as humans, we won’t spend plenty of time pondering out work, because it does provide a huge sense of what the meaning of ours lives is. We spend so much time at our jobs. So we do hope that, at the end of the day, there is some meaning there.
The longer I was in school, too, the more meaning I expected my post-graduation job to have. Surely this much education, this much money spent, means doing something really valuable for society afterward. I think people need clothes, which means people must sell them. People need gas and food and so there must be truck drivers and grocery store clerks to provide it. People need gas station attendants and train drivers and miners. As much as we like to ignore it, we also need seamstresses in Asia who make our clothes. The more I live, the more fascinated I am with the regular, non-glamorous, blue-collar work that keeps us all alive and operating. There’s so much meaning in that work.
March 19, 2013
I’ve been silent for awhile. It has not been because there is nothing to say. There has been far too much to say. February was the month of insane hours on resumes and prepping for interviews, and one of those jobs, I got. (So that is awesome. Obviously there is a lot to say there.) I literally got a job offer, countered, accepted, quit my data entry job and packed for QuiltCon in the span of thirty-six hours. I went to QuiltCon with all this information in my brain about the new job I would be starting in B2B software development the Monday I got back, so I was busy being totally inspired each of the days I was in Austin, and learning about my new industry in the hotel room at night for an hour, before passing out by 10 p.m.
Since then my second job and my new job, plus regular life things like cooking, sleeping, relationship time, exercising, and reading have occupied any time I’ve had. Oh, not to mention that little side project, my first novel, that I’m working on, too. And in the whole mix, I am truly inspired to sit down at my sewing machine and work on some quilts. I just haven’t had any time at all.
But I finally got around to curating a collection of my favorite images, my most inspiring snapshots, from the whole weekend in Austin, Texas, for the inaugural QuiltCon, and it was so lovely to reflect again on that special time alone. It was amazing to be there alone. No one else’s time mattered in the least; it was what I wanted to do, at exactly any time, for however long. Friday, I went to seven lectures, including Yoga for Quilters, where we actually got up and did some morning yoga.
So I am sharing, in bits and pieces, some of the images and quilts that made the biggest impact on me. This is a series of beautiful things that struck me at my core, in a larger weekend consumed by beautiful things. What I mean is, pretty much everything was amazing to even make it there, but within that highly competitive and truly modern collection, there were some that spoke volumes. And there will be bits of my experiences too.
This quilt, by Elizabeth Hartman, is simple enough, but so striking. Initially, I didn’t think much of it, really. But I kept coming back to it. Something about the crisp lines where the diamonds touch the negative space is so satisfying. I was struck by taking simple strips to make stacks of color, tone on tone, but making their ultimate shape a diamond instead. I’m not a huge fan of lots of pattern in my fabrics, so I am always looking for clever ways to use some of it without overpowering the pattern and tiring the eye. This is a pleasing presentation of prints (I adore the deer wearing sunglasses in the pink polka dot fabric). I’m using it as inspiration for a wedding quilt, which I’ll of course share when it comes together.
February 6, 2013
I’ve wanted to do a flying geese motif pretty much since I began quilting. I admire the classic (and okay, traditional) pattern every time I see it, even if I hate the fabric or find the overall interpretation slightly boring. I love the motion, the movement. Back in September, when I made a list of three things I wanted to do while I am twenty-five, one of them was to make myself a flying geese quilt.
(The other two are to run a mile, which I do now regularly, and more than a mile; and to write a novel–which I’ve been plugging away at with a little more than 35,000 words in early February.)
This quilt is what I used as my color inspiration, as I continued to obsess over it for weeks after I saw it on Pinterest. I think I did a pretty good job finding the right tones to imitate, considering I bought all the solids on Fabric.com, because I need to have my Kona solids, and they have the largest selection. That’s not a true black, it’s Kona Pepper, and the creamy white is the all-time most perfect tone of white: Kona Snow. I actually thought I had missed the mark a lot more, until I put these photos up next to the one below. Love!
So now I just need to decide how to arrange it all. I like these flying geese, but I don’t love them yet. I am pondering adding some half-square triangles into the motif, because I love the way multiple directions of points and triangles play off one another in a quilt. I will at least make some and see how I feel about it.
January 21, 2013
Tonight I brought my iPod on my run, because I wanted to hear Marketplace, the little gem of a show from 6:30 to 7:00 on NPR. It’s the prefect combination of economics and culture, delivered always in fabulously interesting reports. For such a short show, they manage to cover intriguing subjects and highlight aspects of the economy that I don’t hear other shows covering.
I wanted to hear the advertised upcoming report on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s hometown, and his neighborhood through booms and busts over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His hometown, of course, is Atlanta, and his neighborhood is Sweet Auburn District. Georgia State’s President Becker and Dr. Cliff Kuhn were both featured in the report, representing my urban alma mater and its relationship to the historically African American district of the city, that was torn right in half with the construction of the downtown connector when the Interstate highways were built.
Also on the show was a report about tailor’s shops in Hong Kong: the decline in number as tailors age and retire, while some others are catering to younger crowds with stylish and modern interpretations of the suit and high men’s fashion. Great stuff.
And, they lobbed this gem my way: Born On Inauguration Day, a special report featuring people of many ages and walks of life, who were born on various inauguration days in history. It’s equal parts regular and absolutely extraordinary. It’s worth exploring.
And listen to the report that made an impact on me tonight: Born on Inauguration Day: Where We Go From Here: