I feel a little bit like Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas, but then I had a blanket and sucked my thumb until I was ten, so I guess it makes sense. Tonight I put Patti Smith between me and The Walker and came to understand Christmas in a new way. I must have heard the song Oh Holy Night sung a million times in my life, but I’ve never heard it sung like this before. Patti Smith makes it personal. She’s warding off The Walker, singing the truth about darkness and hope.
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As you can see, Deb takes after her Ma. She too is a messy eater. She always talking too. Not the strange “burps” that Ma used to make, but her won distinctively loud baa.
I still have a few happy Winter Light potholder for sale. They are $15 each + $5 shipping for 1-2 $7 shipping for 3 or more. If you see one you like just let me know at email@example.com.
It all started with Neno’s aprons. A couple of years ago Tess emailed me and asked if I would make a quilt from her grandmother’s (aka Neno) aprons. Tess spoke so lovingly of her Neno, I couldn’t refuse. I called it Neno’s Apron Quilt. Then Tess decided to drive from her home in Baltimore,with her family and pick up the quilt at the Adirondack Museum in upstate NY where I was doing a demonstration one Saturday. And that’s how Jon and I (Jon came with me) met Tess. I don’t know how long she stayed talking with us, but it seemed like hours. And I mean that in the best way. We just connected. Jon encouraged her to start a blog (he told her she had a lot of opinions and would be a great blogger). Soon we were getting to know and love Tess even more through her blog If You Don’t Mind Me Asking (Turns out Tess is a great writer).
So when Tess asked me to make a quilt from Neno’s Violet Table cloth for her sister Mary’s 50th Birthday, I was glad to do it. Yeah, it may have taken me a year to do it and Mary is almost 51, but that’s one of the great things about Tess (and Mary apparently), she trusts the creative process. So she was willing to wait. Now the quilt is all done except for me stitching the name on it and signing it. Happy Birthday Mary!
Last week, Mandy and Athena and I were having lunch at the Round House Cafe and Mandy started telling us about this book she read when her kids were kids. It was a young adult book and the part she was telling us about was this person (but not a real person, more like a spirit person or some other kind of mythical being) called The Walker. The Walker would walk around outside during the winter months and spread a cloud of gloom where ever he went.
In my mind I saw this stooped, hooded being, walking through the snow in the cold night. And at that moment I finally understood what Christmas was about. The Walker is Christmas embodied. And how we celebrate Christmas is the antidote to The Walker.
I know Christmas is a religious holiday for many people, but it never was for me. When I was a kid we celebrated Christmas like a lot of people. It was completely over the top. It went on for months. When I got married and left home, I carried on the family tradition. At the height of my Christmas Madness I was even making my own wrapping paper (red and green Christmas Tree potato prints on brown kraft paper). In reality, I was probably just creatively starved and all that pent up creativity went wild at Christmas time.
Then when I was in my early forties,I realized that the holiday had become an empty ritual. Or maybe it always was and I was just seeing it clearly for the first time. So I broke tradition and got rid of all my holiday decorations. The Spode dishes and Christmas Villages with tiny stone walls and mirrors for ceramic people to ice skate on, the homemade Manger, the candles and lights. Sacrilege where I come from, I was afraid to let anyone know. I was paring down to see if I could get to the heart of the holiday. The first year I didn’t have a Christmas tree I felt a little freer.
But still, even without the decorations, like in The Grinch, Christmas came every year. There must be something beyond the ritual, I thought, which the more I participated in the lonelier and emptier I felt. I really wished it would just go away. I stopped going to my mother’s on Christmas Eve (more sacrilege) and Jon and I would take trips instead, or stay home, with the animals, on the farm. That was better, but I was still haunted by the echos of the past and trying to figure out what Christmas was really all about.
The only thing I could figure was that during Christmas, this dark and cold time of the year, we humans need light, we need hope. So we create a festival to get us through to get us through to the longer, warmer days. And that made sense to me. But it was still missing something. Maybe the Christmas story, the myth, the magic. And then, here comes Mandy with her story of The Walker.
The Walker, similar to the Grim Reaper, but not absolute. The Walker, who spreads gloom. And our response is good cheer, candles and lights. Gathering, singing and eating to ward off the darkness. And it works, The Walker goes away, for a little while anyway. Naming the darkness that accompanies the festivals of Christmas makes that darkness less mysterious, less scary. It makes it known and so easier to deal with. I don’t have to run from it anymore, or try to cover over it with excess. It’s just The Walker. There’s no avoiding him, you just learn to deal with him. He comes every year, no matter what, just like Christmas.
I started making the quilt from the tablecloth last week. It’s been just about a year since I got the tablecloth and a letter in the mail from Tess. I had agreed to make her grandmother’s tablecloth, with violets on it, into a quilt. My plan was to have it done by January 2014. That obviously didn’t happen, but Tess seems fine with the timeline. It’s one of the last few commissions I took.
So last week, I laid the tablecloth out on my floor and pulled the purple and yellow fabrics from my shelves and tossed them on the floor. Then I cut up the tablecloth. It was bigger than I thought it would be and I was wondering how I would use it all. So many options, really with a piece of fabric that size, so to narrow it down, I started cutting. Squares and strips then started with a square.
Violets, like lavender, like pansies. They can be old lady flowers,delicate, soft and lady-like. But to me they have an interior strength. Hardy and prolific they will dominate a lawn or garden if you let them. And this is the part of the violet I wanted to come through in this quilt. Because I have come to know Tess pretty well and I imagine the rest of the women in her family are like her, and like the violet. Tough enough to be able to be soft when she needs to be.
So this is how it went….
The Violet Table Cloth was Tess’ grandmother’s favorite. I like to think she’d be happy with what I’m doing with it.
See it? That oval spot of light just behind me, almost in the center of the photo? It’s a reflection right? Maybe from the window or off the wall paper where it’s so shiny.
But it’s also unusual enough to catch my eye. I’ve seen literally thousands of Jon’s photos and when there’s a sunspot or some kind of reflection, it has a particular look to it, usually round and often yellowish or colored like an oil slick.
So I asked Jon what he thought about it. He said it was probably a refection, that the focus on his camera could be thrown off by certain lights. Then he added, “But we are stirring up an old house.”
Of course, there’s no way for me to prove that this spot is some sort of spirit presence in our house (aka ghost) but there’s something about the way it looks and feels that makes me think it’s more than an reflection.
I’ve spent a lot of time in old buildings, “stirring things up” as Jon said. And I’ve felt and seen many things I can’t explain. And I’ve come to trust my feeling about them too. So I’d say something shifted when we started pulling off the wallpaper or maybe something was released. What do you think?
I think I got the idea when my friend Mandy said she was painting her dining room yellow. I think it was that, and the dreary short winter days which made me want to finally get rid of the old faded wallpaper in our dining room and, yes, paint it yellow.
Jon’s been wanting to brighten up that room since we moved in, but I just wasn’t into doing the work. Then….suddenly….it’s all I can think about.
Knowing we can’t get it done in one weekend, we decided to do it one wall at a time. So, today, we scraped the wallpaper (I love removing wallpaper, maybe because it’s immediate gratification, maybe it’s just so satisfying when those big sheets peel right off, or the excitement of going through the layers, not knowing what I’ll find) and painted one wall. All we found under the wall paper was lumpy plaster, painted a blue-green, and some marks where there was once a picture or clothes rail and a built-in cabinet.
I never painted over such rough plaster before, usually we have someone put a skim coat over the walls to even them out. But I found that I really love the texture beneath the fresh coat of paint. It speaks to the age and history of the house and gives the room even more character.
Four wall, four weekends and we should be done. Having painted the one wall will inspire me to keep at it. I want the whole room to glow like sunshine.
The Need to Create
I’m talking about the emptiness
that at odd times sneaks in
begging to be satisfied
Pushing it away
I am filled with longing
Desire for sweet gooey desserts
wine and numbness
Embracing it is dark afternoons
lonely traffic outside my window
memories of my life with the Hungry Ghost
And, the need to create.
I bought these slippers to wear in my studio at the end of last winter. They are toasty warm, but oh so boring. So I decided to make them beautiful as well as warm. Last week I started drawing on them with my permanent neon markers. Just a little each morning when I put them on. A spiral here a bird there… like that. Makes me want to draw on more of my clothes….