One night, not so long ago and definitely in this galaxy, I had on red pants and a red shirt. That night, I made dinner, which necessitated me putting on oven mitts. They were also red. They still are!
I felt like a lobster. So I began to sing a little song, which I do when I’m happy. If I’m singing, you know I’m happy. My little song went like this:
Won’t you pinch meeeee…”
That was it.
I am reading Lo. Lee. Ta.
I read it my sophomore year in college, not for a class, but for — I was going to say “for fun,” but “fun” is not a word a person employs to describe a Lolita-ing. I read it because someone told me, not incorrectly, that Nabokov’s novel is the greatest of those written in the English language (usually in a dead heat with Ulysses) and undertaking it is non-negotiable for anyone wanting true human race citizenship. I cut through my foolishness (beer, flirting) long enough to get a copy, sit down, and be destroyed.
What is a masterpiece? For my money, I’d say a masterpiece happens because whomever we are and whenever we are, that masterwork of art affects us anew each time it presents itself. (Really, though, don’t we present ourselves to it?)
An example outside of literature: You see Water Lillies* when you are ten. You love Monet’s painting because it’s looks like so many pink dresses. You see Waterlilies at twenty-five and you hate it, because you’d much rather check out the Duchamp and the Dali, this being a dada and surreal time of life — your rejection is a choice; you have still been moved by the haunting painting. You see Waterlilies on a bad day after a hard rain in your thirties and you marvel at what those paintings did, how they were made, what it took, what it gave, etc. You buy a print when you are sixty. Your granddaughter loves it when you are long gone. She is eight, and it calms her down to look at it when she’s sad.
Two-bit, goofy cartoon characters don’t do this to people. Pulp romances don’t, either. This is the difference between art and everything else.
In the St. Louis airport yesterday, reading Lolita, I had a dim awareness of being an advertisement for the power of a great story. My surroundings disintegrated, washed out into the ether as the Haze house built up around me. Dolores ran past me on her colt legs and even I was in love with her, even I wanted to smell her “biscuity” smell. I physically shuddered when Humbert described himself as a spider; I audibly groaned twice, once when he unfurled a silky strand, again when he unfurled something else. I was in St. Louis, but I might have been in Kuala Lumpur for all the difference it made. The book is a spell.
I debated selecting a few sentences to share with you, a few rubies, but I can’t. Imagine sitting at a five-star restaurant and being placed with the best dish the house can make, some buttered, silky, foie-crunch-braised-foam fresh tower of artistry and then taking out a penknife to strip mine “a good part” for your dining companion.
Hell to the no. You’re just gonna have to read it, folks. You’re going to have to read Lolita, maybe again, maybe for the first time.
It’s been nice knowing you.
*Astonishingly, I selected this example at random, only to find when fact-checking that the series in Monet’s native French is entitled Nymphéas. The only truly Nabokovian stroke here and it was an accident. Great.
My stepdad is a retired commercial airline pilot. My sisters and I call him “The Cap’n.”
This man flew 747’s. He served in the military. He raised several children. He’s a grandfather. He knows how to play bridge, wallop my mom at Scrabble, read and comprehend an astonishing number of books in short order, and he recently reported that his golf game is “really getting there.” The Cap’n is clearly a capable person, which makes it all the funnier than he can’t seem to not lose his wallet, keys, cell phone, checkbook, etc., at least once a day. He’s done this for decades. I say it’s funny, but of course it’s not funny to him when he needs his checkbook, or to my mother, when she needs to turn on the car and go someplace.
This mostly harmless absentmindedness produced a big problem for my stepdad, however, with the arrival of the cell phone. (I understand that was awhile ago.) The Cap’n dutifully got a cell phone and over the ensuing years proceeded to lose it, replace it, forget about it entirely, get angry because it would ring at inopportune times and not ring when he needed it to, lose charge, get broken, become obsolete, etc., etc. When he eventually got an iPhone, he downloaded and printed the entire operator’s manual from the Internet so he could best use the new tool everyone was so nuts about. This is why I love him.
One fine day last week, The Cap’n took his iPhone out to the garage and smashed it with a hammer.
“I’m done with it,” he told my mother. “Done with the whole mess.”
He smashed his iPhone! With a hammer!
“What?!” I cried, when Mom told me. I was instantly mixed with feelings of shock and feelings of a deep, inexplicable happiness.
“He just hates having a cell phone,” Mom said. “He never liked having one. It really stressed him out. He’s much happier now.”
I spluttered, “But what about for travel, like when he’s in the car?” (Cell-phone manufacturers and mobile service providers surely have that question etched into the walls of their castles.)
“Oh, I suppose he’ll manage.”
Indeed, he will. We all will. We all did. Bravo, Cap’n. I am really proud of you. You took your happiness into your own hands. You fought the law and the law lost, big time. The whole Apple industrial complex was felled in one hammer blow and I adore you for it. You’ve got one less thing to lose, one less thing to manage, and you will never, ever have to turn your ringer on or off, ever again.
This post is for my quilters. My homies.
I whipped up a baby quilt top for the magazine to show in a Quilty magazine tutorial. “Whipped up” is a kind way to put it. “Threw it together on my way out the door” is a better way to put it. And I made some errors. No, really. Look:
I taped it up in a box, mailed it to Iowa. A week or so later, I got this email from the Quilty managing editor, whom I adore:
“Hi Mary — We were getting ready for photography, and we noticed there were several places in the baby quilt top that you sent us that the seams don’t match up. While we are not trying to be the quilt police, we thought it was important to address this. We need to do very detailed shots of the quilt top and we can’t photograph it without showing the places that are not aligning. I can send it back to you if you are going to use it, just let me know.”
Here are a few things I think we can all take from this course of events.
1. Quilty (and all Fons & Porter titles) have high standards.
2. Just because you’ve made a passel of quilts, it doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes.
3. Slow down, cowgirl.
4. COWGIRL! I SAID SLOW DOWN!
5. Be kind to yourself.
6. Were you drinking?
I’d like to expand on #5 for a moment. When this happened, I had a mini-meltdown. It wasn’t a crying, kicking, screaming meltdown, I just had a horrified look on my face, silently wept for about 3 minutes, and felt like an utter and complete failure. Too much? Well, considering it was my birthday and considering the fact that I teach quilting on national television, I think I reacted appropriately.
But after that, I couldn’t let it go of how dumb I felt. That seam? That’s like, really off. It wasn’t the only one. And I didn’t even notice. Sure, I had ninety things to do, but so does everyone else, and besides: I had that particular thing to do and I didn’t do it too well, did I? I felt like a sham. I felt like a fraud.
Several days later, when I was still hearing the word “fraud” in my head over and over, I finally did stop myself and say, “Self, this has gone on long enough. ‘Fraud’? No. Hasty? Absolutely. In need of some perspective? Without question.” It wasn’t an immediate turnaround, but over the course of the next few days, the stung subsided, mostly because I vowed to be nice to myself.
This post is not about vindicating my rejected baby quilt top. It absolutely should have been rejected. This post about vindicating yours.
I’m a writer/editor working in the quilt industry: I see a lot of quilts. I see quilts with problems, both in terms of workmanship and design. I see quilts that are technically flawless but utterly lack soul. I see quilts that would never make it onto the pages of a quilt magazine in a thousand years because frankly, they’re quilts only a mother (or a child) could want. These quilts are all made for a reason. Sometimes that reason is for fame and fortune, sometimes it’s for fun, and the majority of the time, it’s for love.
Look, I read the blogs. I watch the tempests swirl about modern vs. traditional, this sewlebrity vs. that one, the fans vs. the naysayers of the latest trend, latest winningest quilt. I most definitely see people going back and forth about technique. You’d think it was their very soul at stake, sometimes, and all anyone said was “squaring off.”
If you’re going for publication or a job-job in the quilt industry, yes, you need to bring an A-game. But regardless of whether that’s a goal of yours, take the pressure off of yourself to be all things to all people, all the time. Maybe you’re more of a designer, not a blue-ribbon winner. Maybe every fabric combination you choose looks like the dog’s vomit, but MAN are you a crackerjack machine quilter. Can’t turn a binding that doesn’t look like it was chewed by your toddler? Well, fine, but your knack for solving Susie’s (and Joan’s and Polly’s) contrast problems make you the #1 go-to for such things while everyone else is scratching their heads.
Learn the craft. It’s more fun when you know how to do stuff well. Smart quilters say that again and again. I say it. But for heaven’s sake, be nice to yourself. I spent far, far too many hours in the dumps because I made one mistake and of course, I can’t make mistakes. Ever. Lemme tell you, learning to sew on national television was not easy and I thought I could weather any storm after that, but apparently, I can still be felled. And if the editor of a national quilting magazine can be rejected from time to time, you better not feel too bad about it, either, L’il Miss.
By the way, I just finished my latest top. 🙂
I’m misunderstood, you know. Really, I’m a dancer.
I never told anyone, never dared to admit it even to myself. I took dance classes at Debbie’s School of Dance as a kid, but those classes weren’t fun so I wasn’t particularly good at them. That made it seem that I was only an okay dancer, not a gifted one.
Now wait, wait: I’m no dance genius. Have you been to any city ballet company performance recently? watched a Beyonce video? Dancers are artists and they train their whole lives to be professionals. I wouldn’t insult them by saying I have some divine knowledge of their craft. But if you’re talking passion and creativity, I can say with conviction: I’m a dancin’-dancin’-dancin’-dancin’ machine that can match the best of ’em.
You know how I know? It’s because there is no other state in which I am more baseline happy than when I am dancing. Look how happy I am:
I’m dancing, as evidenced by the right foot step forward, there. My sister Nan is mugging for the camera and she’s clearly freaking adorable, but I’m actually not mugging. I’m just caught in a moment.
When I’m dancing (and I prefer good, crunchy remixes to pop music) and in the zone (which most assuredly does exist, a place between intense focus and stream-of-consciousness) I’m alive. I feel my vitality. It’s said that we don’t “have” a body, we are a body. When I’m dancing, I know this and embracing it feels as good as it felt to be with my sister back in that room on the farm in Iowa that day.
How about you? What do you love the most?