Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yesterday Rachel and I dropped off the African quilt to the Cozy Quilt shop for quilting. On larger quilts, I can't do the machine stiching that will hold the finished quilt together, but Lisa was wonderful and showed me this lovely leaf tracery pattern that will embellish my quilt -- by October. Just in time for the annual Quilt Show held by the Washington State Quilters' Association on October 17, 18, and 19, here in Spokane.

How does it feel to finish a quilt? Like most quilters, I'm guessing, I feel a little sad. The challenge is behind me. I know all those dangling threads, the two places that needed patching because I ran out of fabric, the several places that needed reseaming, and the hopes and history that were stitched in each line, not the least being the chance to research African history as well as other family memories that come with certain fabrics.

This week's writing prompt on Sunday Scribblings is about solace -- what gives us solace when all else seems to crumble. Perhaps it's quilting for me, though that's not really an answer. Solace digs deeper. I'm thinking about the view out my office window and how for moments I just like to look at the sky, watch the wrens fly about young aspen saplings. The leaves quiver in the wind, just like the wrens themselves as they hover, land and rush about. Perhaps there's too much of rushing in our lives so that solace comes unexpectedly, in such moments. I don't need long conversations with family and friends to feel settled in myself somehow. Just a word or a look, sometimes a hug, and I feel centered.

I was heartened by two texts this week from Barack Obama -- the inspirational text of his speech in Berlin and his very private prayer this week released to the press amidst great controversy, though, of course, it should have remained private. He asked that his family be safe first, and I feel sad we still have to worry about assassinations. Then he prayed that he not be prideful or carried away by a sense of despair; he asked to be the instrument of God's will. Scribbled on a sheet of paper from a hotel, how his simple words reveal the private person who has such a keen awareness of his weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and yet who sustains a vision of hope. If he is successful in being elected, I think we can take solace in his presidency. At last.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Quilting and writing. Writing and quilting. Both seem to balance each other. Since we've returned to Spokane, out came the unfinished African Quilt top from storage, inspired by Kaye England and Mary Elizabeth Johnson's colorful Quilt Inspirations from Africa. This book was about $25 when it first came out and is now a quilt collector's classic.

Thus, off I go to the library. Two chapters were especially helpful to me as I started this quilt last July. The top is comprised entirely of Fulani stars (I can find nothing online about this technique, though it's explained beautifully in Quilt Inspirations). The design is inspired by quilted armor Fulani cavalrymen wore into battle to protect them. Here's the top:

Inspired by this panel, I wanted to make an "almost" quilt for the back.

But somehow I also wanted to work in Adinkra symbols from the Ashanti, those applique shapes that convey additional protection and meaning. So, I chose four: osrane (the moon, full of positive female qualities, love and kindness); kuntin kantan (humility); gye nyame ("except for God", the immortality of God); and duafe (a wooden comb, again a female symbol for patience and care).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The travel bug has bitten. We're just beginning to plan for a six-month trip to South America. Allen's devoured numbers of Lonely Planets and I have started looking for apartments and fretting over how to carry my laptop.

The plan: We leave January 3, 2009, for Brazil (thankful every moment for airline miles). We'll spend Jan and Feb in Brazil (key stops include Salvador, Ouro Preto, Rio, possibly Sao Paulo, Florianopolis, and Iguacu Falls).

We'll spend all of March in a Buenos Aires apartment (Recoleta district), leaving on a 14-day cruise around the Horn on the Norwegian Cruise Lines on March 29. This ship will pass through the Chilean fjords and the Strait of Magellan on its way to Santiago, Chile, calling at Montevideo, Puerto Madryn; Stanley; Ushuaia; Punta Arenas; Puerto Chacabuco; Puerto Montt; and Santiago (Valparaiso).

We'll spend the last two weeks of April traveling through Chile, north to Bolivia. May, we'll travel through Bolivia, and June is reserved for Peru (with a focus on Incan and Moche cultures).

Every museum we've visited, we've found ourselves hovering over the artifacts from pre-Columbian cultures. One example is from the Dallas Art Museum, this foot high sculpture from the Jama-Coaque culture (Ecuador) about the years 200-400 AD. We've seen common motifs everywhere in the Southwest and connections between indigenous peoples in Mexico and the Southwest, so this trip will be a grand opportunity to visit every museum we can and to appreciate the rich diversity of art as well as the grand vistas of nature.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Today after writing, I read through a few 19th Century shipboard diaries kept by passengers on sailing vessels from England to New Zealand. I'm guessing most ships at this time to Australia were convict transports, where conditions were brutal, so I was pleased to find these diaries where the voice of the average person comes through (a little tougher to find in history books!).

What a wealth of material. People wrote about singing every night, dancing on the foredeck, whether church services were held or not (depending on weather), details on meals (people were grateful for fish after a steady diet of ship's biscuits and estatic when a passing steamer brought fruit). Passengers mutinied over food. Sailors fought over rum and were occasionally found in the women's quarters, and babies were born and died. Boredom was noted often.

Once the ship passed a certain point in the Atlantic, repeated storms and strong winds often made journal keeping nearly impossible. I notice a class difference between passengers (in cabins) and emigrants (down below in holds). I need to find some maps of ships to understand what parts are where.

One writer told of a passenger jumping up and climbing up the rigging with three sailors up after him, trying to catch him. Everyone watched with humor the young man's progress. When he was finally caught, the sailors bound him in irons unless he apologized -- and paid for some rum.

Today we go to the library. My African quilt is out of storage and I'm needing to come up with a design for the back. I read online that some original African designs avoided straight lines as evil spirits could then enter that way. So I'm maybe going to use the Fulani Star pattern that appears on the front (see pic). It would be wonderful to finish this, but perhaps like writing, the pattern will appear as I go.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Just two years ago a student brought this evocative You-tube posting to my humanities class to share. Since over 470,000 people have viewed just this video, the combination of Don McLean's "Starry, Starry Night" with a montage of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh is more than compelling.

There are no words to explain what we feel when someone we love dies, though we may try. We fall back on cliches and sometimes song. The Greeks spoke their poetry; the Celts call speaking from the heart, mouth-song. Here, the technology brings together a visual summary of Van Gogh's works with song, a moving tribute.

Artists and writers often work without recognition. What gives any person the strength to persevere through self-doubt? A friend told me to simply persevere. Perhaps what I see in my mind will never make it to paper, but parts will. Perhaps no one will read my work, but I'm writing, have a wonderful open office in which to write, and time without the pressure of a day job, so I can say, so far, most days, all goes well.