I’m not feeling great. I should probably just end this post right here. But, no, I’ll soldier on. Not because this post is important, it’s not, but because it represents all the things on my to do list and so much that is just life. No one needs to hear my laundry list of “woes”, we’ve all got them. More to the point is that I’m struggling. My mom’s death feels like an endless, bottomless pit of emotions. I know I’ll get through it. I know work-arounds that help me get through those days when things are really bad and “getting through the day” feels impossible. That’s when the put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other method of coping gets enacted.
Grieving is a luxury. Some days require putting all of that to the side so that other things can be dealt with in a timely fashion and because life moves along, it doesn’t wait for those of us who are grieving. And I also know I can’t leap frog my way beyond the grief. It will be there waiting for me on the other side. It’s always there. Some days I’m luckier than others, the grief stays on the edge, other days it moves front and center. Those are the days when every step feels like I’m dragging a fifty pound weight. Those are the days when showing up feels like a monumental task. But I know from designing, from creating, from every day that I work on a piece, that even when I don’t “feel like it” showing up for the work is one of the most important things I can do. And, counter-intuitively, it is what ends up making me feel better in the long run.
All of this reminds me of something Michael Crichton once said. It was decades ago when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had reached out to him to kick off the conference. He was game and gave an amazing talk in the Paepcke Auditorium at the Aspen Institute. I will have to paraphrase as there is no transcript of his presentation. He was talking about writing. Imagine, he said, if you were a commercial airline pilot with a full schedule of flights and woke up one morning and said, You know, I don’t really feel like flying today. I think I’ll go back to sleep for a few hours. Writing (any of the arts) is the only “profession” where people talk themselves out of getting up and putting in the hours. Everyone in the audience was quiet. But it doesn’t work that way, he continued. If you’re a writer/artist then you get up and you put in your hours, whether it’s flying a commercial airline or writing a book, or in my case, working on a new piece, writing up a new workshop, filming a new Youtube video or any of the other things I’ve got on my list of things that I need to do because this is the life and profession I’ve chosen for myself.
How does grief fit into all of this? It doesn’t. It’s just there. All the time. And as a result, it is I that must make the necessary adjustments in my life to accommodate these new feelings and emotions, while continuing to show up for the work.
In 2015 or was it 2016(?) things were in flux. I was re-evaluating what I was doing, where I was headed, what I wanted… There were a number of things going on that led to this, but it was one of those moments that didn’t seem particularly extraordinary or even interesting, but in hindsight I see that it was a pivotal moment. A moment when I re-found hand stitching.
My mother taught me to embroider with crewel and a hoop at an early age. This is the Christmas creche we made together. It was while making one of those sheep that I came to truly appreciate the diversity and beauty of the simple French Knot done hundreds of times.
Christmas Creche embroidered with my mother
Since then I have gone down many paths, but the hand stitching path is perhaps the most surprising, to me. While at Parsons School of Design I would do anything I could to avoid hand stitching. And then I discovered draping and for a time it was my new love. Draping is a whole art in and of itself. Cutting fabric on the bias and then draping it onto a form and manipulating it so the fabric falls in specific ways was something I loved, but it was also time consuming and I was young and impatient and so my love for draping was set aside.
Funnily enough when I moved to Los Angeles straight out of high school and before I went to Parsons my first job was in a tailor’s shop in Beverly Hills. My favorite thing to do was to sit in the back room with the master tailor, an Armenian man who tried to teach me the fine art of tailoring. Hand stitching hemlines and buttonholes was something I never quite mastered during my time there, but I loved it never-the-less.
Hand stitching can be slow and arduous and very, very time consuming, and it can also be meditative, serene, calming and restorative, depending on one’s perspective. These days I find hand stitching to be all of the latter and none of the former.
A detail of my most recent work hand stitching on Pat Pauly hand dyed linen using Stef Francis threads, Painter’s Threads, House Of Embroidery Threads, Mulberry Bark from Stef Francis, Sari Cording from Stef Francis and wool roving.
When I began hand stitching again I followed other people’s patterns and instructions and while that was interesting and I learned a great deal, it wasn’t completely fulfilling. I have always gone off script and the farther I go, the happier I am. So when I began doing what I call “Improvisational Stitching” I knew I’d fallen into something important. Not only was I creating original pieces that didn’t look like other things I was seeing out in the hand stitching world, but it was an expression of my moods, my thoughts, the things that were going on in my life. Hand stitching is the way I express myself.
A few things I’ve learned through hand stitching, which can be applied to the piece I’m working on, but also to life:
Any emotion is fair game and can be expressed through stitching.
Any emotion is okay and when expressed through stitching creates a vibrant, interesting piece.
Impatience is a frame of mind and a choice.
When I don’t know what to do, stand back, take a photo and get a new perspective on the situation.
Compare and despair.
Everything has its own timeline.
Divas can be fun, but they also can silence everyone else.
Diversity makes anything and everything better.
Rules are helpful, until they’re not, in which case, break them or ignore them.
This blog is a reminder of my mother. She was my biggest supporter and commented over the years more than anyone else. It was through this blog that I often kept in touch with her and towards the end it was the one full proof way I knew I could reach her, especially when my emails would go unanswered and my phone calls went to voicemail. I knew she would read whatever I was posting. Over the last few years when she could no longer speak, she would send me things that she knew I’d post here, much to everyone’s delight, because the things she sent were such fun.
Like this video:
And then there was this one that I loved:
Mostly I’m missing my mom and while I know this will ease over time, it’s still causing me to wake up many days feeling listless and kind of “blah”. I know from other periods in my life when I’ve felt down and a loss of energy that doing the things that I don’t feel like doing are the things that often make me feel better. It’s funny how that works. It’s counterintuitive, but if I can remind myself to do those things anyway, I’m halfway there.
It reminds me of when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had organized to have Michael Crichton speak to kick off the conference. During his talk he was spoke of a work ethic. He was speaking of what artists, specifically writers, but it applied to anyone in the arts, often do. He said, imagine if you were an airplane pilot working for a major airline and got up in the morning and thought – you know I don’t really feel like flying today, I think I’ll sleep a few more hours. – You’d expect to be fired immediately or at the very least given a stern warning and if you tried that again, you’d be out of a job. He then went on to ask, why do artists treat their work any less seriously? If you’re a writer get up and write. If you’re a painter, paint and so on. The point was, our feelings don’t really matter when it comes to getting the work done. If we think of ourselves as an artist then put in the hours and create the art, regardless of the feelings.
With that in mind I keep showing up for the work, regardless of how I’m feeling, because I create. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. Today is no different than any other in that way. Yesterday I taped a video on this idea, and some of the things I do when I’m feeling low energy, which almost always comes hand in hand with doubt.
When COVID hit New York City over a year ago now, death was no longer an abstract idea. People we knew were getting really, really sick, a few of them died, a few are still not 100%. When the mobil morgue parked just blocks away from our building to handle the overflow of dead bodies, it marked a turning point for me. This wasn’t some bit of horrifying news that I read or heard about, this was happening and it was happening all around me. At the time I was just starting my YouTube Channel and it hadn’t occurred to me to video tape the empty streets, void of cars and humans. I wish I had, but I didn’t.
Once we had a vaccine and my entire family had been vaccinated, I decided it would be a good time to visit my mother and sister, neither of whom I’d seen in almost two years. It was wonderful to see them after so long. And of course there was the added benefit of being surrounded by dogs…
with lots of great places to take a little walk…
Death brings perspective. None of us are getting out of here alive. Our time is short and it seems to get shorter the closer to the end we get. All the more reason to enjoy things like this bee.
This past week has been filled with medical emergencies of one kind or another. Not mine, but those I love. So far everyone is either stabilized or we hope they will be soon, for which I am grateful. So what better way to respond to the fear that comes with people we love going through medical horrors?
Silliness and laughter.
This one from my mother (I always love getting the things my mother sends) is more sweet than silly. I’m so impressed with this little girl who clearly has Celtic blood running through her veins! Have I mentioned that my husband descends from Vikings? Not the war waging, marauding, raping and pillaging ones, but the farmer, seafaring adventurer, music and dance lover ones. Can you pick? I just did. And anyway what do the celts have to do with the vikings, you might ask? Well, probably other than culturally influencing each other, intermarriage and the like, not much, but this is the way my brain works. Welcome.
And then there are these photographs that my sister-in-law sent, which are just too funny and fabulous.
In another life I want to be a travel photographer so that I can have animals climbing all over me. It’s important to clarify – non human animals, like a cheetah sidling up to me or a tiger cub or a baby gorilla… Okay, whatever.