"... whatever the genre may be, fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader's mind."
When a writer develops a character that readers identify with, the annoying interview question or assumption often is that the writing is autobiographical. And while writers do pull from their lives, once a character has emerged there is often little that resembles the "real life" of his or her creator. The writer has created the conduit for an emotional truth. The character is the voice. The story is the dream we hope and long to fall into.
The yellow quilt came to me from a fiction writer, a former teacher and former neighbor. She is also still a good friend despite the fact that we only see each other once a year. I have no history with this quilt. I don't know who made it, who wore the cut up clothing, what babies were conceived beneath.
But I can still feel an energy and a voice channeling through its folds.
So it's going to become something else, and in this transformation will begin to tell a story. I am not treating this quilt as an heirloom, I have to see it as a found object otherwise I can't begin to do this work.
Heirlooms are precious.
Found objects are treasure.
There is a difference.
This story isn't autobiographical, but it bears an emotional truth that will resonate with some women.
And perhaps some men.
What I'm about to do might feel like sacrilege to many. The scariest part about this idea of mine is that it might not even work. Some large and potentially ruinous cuts are in my future, with an end result guaranteed to be something not many people love. But this is how change comes and how stories are told, whether or not you like the change.
Or the story.
But consider this: there are many stories you never liked that still lodge in your mind. Their truth still hums within you. Not all truths are lovely.
“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
Delete. Edit. Unpick. Rip. Cut. Kill. Revise.
And then begin again.
Tell the new story.
Get it right.
One night I was layin' down,
In 1978, I came home from Mrs. Patterson's 2nd grade class and informed my mother that I was going to audition for the Newcastle Elementary School's talent show.
I would need my 45 record of "The Boogie Woogie," new black gros grain ribbons for my tap shoes, and oh, yes, a dance skirt for my blue leotard.
And then I went and practiced for 2 weeks on an MDF board in front of the full length mirror on my parents' closet door.
I had no history of performance or bravery or even talent for that matter, but I did have a history of vomiting every morning before school because I was such a strung out bundle of nerves. It was my mother's familiarity with this latter history that raised eyebrows at the idea of me up on a stage. Alone. Tap dancing. But she didn't say a word.
Sometimes something's just in you and it's got to come out.
I still don't know where that bravery came from. And I don't know where it came from in the 3rd grade (Tap. Solo performance ... can't remember the music) or in the 4th grade (Disco. Solo performance ... to Rick Dees' Disco Duck).
And then I never danced on a stage ever again. I can't even tell you why (although my choice of music may have had something to do with it), but I can tell you that I felt bad for many years thinking I should have pursued tap dancing even though I didn't want to anymore (Disco? Hell, yes).
But the way I see it now is that I had something in me and I got it out. And then I was done.
And that's enough. That is a success. Let me repeat this idea because it's kind of a foreign one:
It. Is. Enough.
For those of us raised or semi-raised with the idea that you do something for years until you get really good at it and then you just hit cruise control while you continue to do it -- sometimes with much misery, it's really hard to let go of that thing and move on. But listen, there's a whole lot of boogie-woogie out in the world, and there is even more trying to come out of us. So, here's my question to you -- what's your boogie-woogie? Do you know? Are you letting it out?
Or, alternatively, are you so terrified of moving on, of becoming a one-hit wonder that you're milking that one boogie-woogie to the point of it becoming a mushy-gushy-boogie ... loogie?
Think about it for a second, then do this:
Show me your boogie-woogie.
I'll post it here.
Show me your best boogie-woogie -- what you absolutely had to get out of you, even if it was only once -- with a description of what this meant at the time or how it formed your artistic journey. (Send the image to email@example.com, subject "boogie-woogie," with links, your name, all that good stuff).
Keep in mind that I have small children and a husband so do not send images of body parts, orifices or smut. I may be banned from blogging and emailing (like, forever) and that's not playing nice for anyone. We can all be totally edgy and still classy at the same time.
Besides, we're all about putting our best foot forward around here. Even if we only do it once.
"Find your teachers."
In 2009, I joined Facebook and slunk around all the pages belonging to people I went to high school with, saw what everyone looked like ... err ... I mean, was up to ... and then didn't to go to my 20-year class reunion because I slid off the earth with my 2-year old and newborn.
Social media cooked right along without me.
I'm that late-adopter mom who writes epic text messages with her pointer finger. And edits before sending. I edit and re-edit Facebook posts. I edit posts I wrote 2 weeks ago. I'd edit your posts if I could. I write snarky posts and cancel them because I'm a Facebook Weenie and can't imagine adding more conflict to my existing life-drama of "Why do we always have to eat a yucky dinner?"
I also go to bed at 9 pm.
So when I saw Kathy Halper's embroidery work online last year, I had to contact her. If there was one thing I could learn from this person -- amid my riot of small children and exhaustion and yucky dinners and the wondering what the hell I was doing with my artwork all the while editing myself into oblivion -- it was, perhaps, how to just be.
-How to be contemporary while working in a traditional medium.
-How to create work that feels spontaneous, yet well crafted.
-How to use language to make a social point.
-How to be better at listening.
-How to be heard.
-How to find my voice.
Meet Kathy Halper, I found her for you. We've been exchanging a mile-long thread still connected to my original email, with the subject heading "Awesome Work." When I see this in the inbox, it always means I have a good excuse to cuss ( I don't in person), whine a bit (okay, I do whine in person), keep it real, bare it all and edit that shit, of course.
Kathy Halper, Chicago Area, Illinois USA
Best advice given freely but never followed:
Get off your ass.
Seriously, as far as my art career is concerned, I’ve been pretty good about following the advice I give others, which is to set your sights on a goal, meet people along the way, develop relationships, work hard on your art and jump at opportunities when they’re presented to you.
Opting out of:
The 9-5 world. I had a brief return to the the business world this past year, acting as Marketing Manager for an ecommerce company. Turns out, after years of running loose as an artist and mom, I’m no longer domesticated enough to be in captivity.
Not currently. Not recently. But definitely in the future.
What don’t I watch!?! Downton Abbey, Shameless, Girls, The Good Wife, The Daily Show, Last Week with John Oliver, Better Call Saul, New Girl, Nashville, The Americans, House of Cards, any new movies On Demand ... In my defense, I spend a lot of time sitting embroidering so while my brain turns to mush my hands keep moving.
Spending too much money on:
Currently working on:
A series of embroidered narratives that are forcing me to examine my life at 56. I became an empty nester this year and I can see 60 from my front yard. This is forcing me to think about the ways life has not turned out as I imagined it would. I’m finding the work therapeutic in giving me closure and giving me a way to say goodbye to things that are no longer. It may sound depressing but I don’t believe the work comes across that way. We will see.
Hoping to learn:
How to make money as an artist.
On Voice and Truth:
I wish I could give a formula for finding voice, but I honestly believe my voice found me. And it took a couple of decades.
It seemed to emerge when after years of “trying on” different voices I finally created a body of work that incorporated so many disparate parts of my life:
-My adolescent love of needle crafts.
-My life as a mother of teenagers.
-My focus on figurative art exploring relationships.
-My love of wordplay from my days as a copywriter.
-My fascination with pop culture and the discovery of Facebook.
It’s like I put them all in a blender and my social media embroideries came out.
I never got a formal art education, but my daughter is getting a BFA so I have an idea now of what I missed. It’s taken me close to 20 years to create the work that feels like “my voice,” and I believe a good art education could've shortened that journey enormously. To be challenged every day by other artists' voices and forced to explore other mediums and study art history would’ve been such a wonderful experience. Yet I also realize that the work I’m doing now could’ve only come from my years of trial and error and my life experiences.
Years ago I made a lot of money doing commissioned paintings for clients of an interior decorator. I would do whatever they wanted to match the living room and go with their decor. As we struggle to pay for college educations, I often wonder why I don’t go back to this lucrative side job. But since I've found my voice, I've come to realize that I'm incapable of not being true to it.
For more of Kathy Halper's work:
Yes, and about that "making money as an artist part," check out Kathy's etsy shop for some little bits of voice that might just reflect your very own: www.kathyhalperdesigns.com.
And for further Awesome Work (of the fine art variety), head to www.kathyhalper.com.
Hey, if you're a Curious Learner type, you'll also like the post Find your teachers: Bren Ahearn.
*Text excerpted from Strange Beauty: Issues in the Making and Meaning of Reliquaries, 400 - circa 1204, by Cynthia Hahn, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012 (pp. 9-12).
And about that embroidery ...
The stitching around the slate beach stones is called shisha or shisheh embroidery. Shisheh means "glass" in Persian, referring to the glass pieces embroiderers originally employed; now this technique more commonly uses mirrored disks (the other name for this is "mirror work"). Reflective elements such as this are said to be an attempt to ward off the evil eye.
Whooooooo-ooooooooo-ooooooo (insert wiggly fingers here).
If you'd like to learn a simple version of this stitch, check out a comprehensive tutorial at Joyful Abode, then do yer own thang.
And for more "How To" posts from this blog, click on: "A history of chaos," "B sides," or "How to box & ship a quilt (like a Swede)" (more located under the sidebar's "How To" category). Most posts are visual explanations of embroidery or construction techniques, but others are explorations on how to be, so get your Smarty Pants on, or your Thinking Cap, or your Smock, or your Mad Scientist Goggles and get to work, people.
So damned much to learn. So little time.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.