Life can be sweet. Hard but with moments of grace. As I was writing this, Richie Havens, “Here Comes the Sun” came on the airwaves thanks to my favorite radio station KEXP, and reminded me of this flowering tree seen recently in Chinatown. Yes, let’s have some hope! Spring is coming, hate has lost, help is on the way. Tomorrow Trump has to leave the White House by noon, and we’ll have new leaders : President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris!
After four years of Trump, it is amazing to survive intact. And after all those years in the drear darkness and punishing snow and winds of Indiana winters, I am surprised by the light touch of winter in Seattle–it’s a damp darkness, slow-moving but livable. While we await vaccines and better times, I gave myself a task of capturing the rage and despair inspired by Trump, but now that “The Ten Days til Post-Trump” is done and published, I am ready to move on.
We persevere, holding book discussions while shivering at a picnic table, finding things to do at home, suspending judgment, just getting by. My sewing gives me hope and love; I hope the feeling comes across and gives you a little lift. Here is a sneak preview of “Respect” quilts no. 7 and 8, in progress.
“One showing is worth a hundred sayings” — Chinese proverb
I’m trying to be discreet but I’m so happy I could burst! and so I’m sharing a few images of the latest “Respect” quilt (no. 6) that shipped out today. It is heading to a person I’ve never met, but hope to some day…
May 2021 be the year when we all make a new friend.
But today, before I sat down to work, I could not resist playing Janelle Monáe’s stirring anthem, “Turntables”— and sharing it here. I can’t be a pessimist and we can survive. You can survive. I LOVE THIS SONG! Click on that link. Get up out of that chair, listen to the song, look at the video, dance around, punch the air, punch the f****s, and get ready to move on, cause the tables bout to turn! 12 more days.
This song is totally in sync with “Respect” quilt no. 6 (above, in progress), which juxtaposes two vignettes in Sheila Bridges’ Harlem Toile de Jouy around the gorgeous silhouette of a proud Afro-wearing woman (designed by AphroChic), to show the power of art to change the world.
The square on the left features an elegant lady facing a maid holding a mirror. I added a gold crown on pink cotton, and a big bloom from a vintage bedsheet (thanks, Aunt Babe!) to lend an air of baroque excess to her coiffure. On the right there is the same scene minus the elegant lady, of the servant holding a mirror, but this one is printed on red. The mirror-holder is cut from the lady and juxtaposed to a strip of black and brown flames above a square of shiny red satin. Result? Instead of being a lady-in-waiting, the lady holding the mirror is now in charge. She’s an artist, a poet, mirroring the new reality of a world going up in flames.
Enjoy the inspiration, and get through the days as best you can, safely and kindly. We can do this!
* with “morning pages” and a conversation with great minds of my choice. This is a practice I began 23 weeks ago, inspired by J. Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. Well, she urges the three morning pages. I added the great minds to think with. Today, I read around and found gems in Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit, Sir William Osler, Osler’s “Way of Life” and other Lectures, and Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air. Wonderful stuff.
Later on, I read the New York Times, and lamented briefly, despondently, about our nation’s leadership. Then I moved on. Now I’m going back to work, back to my art, and the community of sisterly souls (at least in imagination).
Happy holiday, reader. Not my favorite day, I’ll admit. This year has produced a perfect metaphor: my uneatable homemade gingerbread men. It’s a tradition. My mom made them for us kids, and I do it too. This year, after a fruitless search for a nice gingerbread mix, like I usually use, I pulled out Mom’s old Joy of Cooking. I was feeling good about continuing the tradition with the authentic, original recipe.
They’re terrible! Really awful! Disgustingly dry. I’ve never had such a tasteless cookie: thick, dry, and with a strong taste of flour. (Even the frosting doesn’t help.)
So if you are not having a super-duper fun Christmas today, just know you’re not alone.
Moral of the story: traditions can cook up some really awful results!
Audre Lorde once challenged us, saying: “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, in an essay that stands alone in the annals of feminist thought. It’s the ultimate conundrum, the inflexible status quo: our master patriarchy and its soul-mate capitalism. Their attitudes, expectations, their demands persist. Yet we try.
Lord knows I tried, during my stints in the ND administration. And now I’ve moved on, leaving the next generation of generous women to see what they can do.
Now I’m communicating in a different medium, of fabric instead of faculty meetings. Now I tell my views in the abstract, universal languages of color, shape, and texture, to convey wisdom, build community and share love. Now I use the tools of the mistress.
Yet the tensions live on.
Looking at “Respect” quilt no. 5 this morning in the frosty light, I see a visual response to Audre Lorde. The black arabesque lines of the black-and-white trim (formerly a duvet cover) now appear like wrought-iron filigree, the bars of a black gate, a baroque barricade. These vertical lines of fabric (inspired by the quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend), which are broken by the vibrant squares, reveal my interpretation of “Respect”.
They tell of strong women embracing life. Powerful metaphors–of grinning skulls, dancing feet, peace symbols, girls jumping rope, horses running, clouds, whirlwinds–are unleashed and draw in the eye, capturing the gaze in dream-like intensity. This story is bursting through the wrought-iron gates. And it will persist; it’s well sewn.
Happy hopeful holidays to all!
*Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” who dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and homophobia. The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, a book of feminist essays, was published in 1979.
I came to love her feisty spirit in graduate school in the 1980s, inspired by the radical work I was learning about in Women’s Studies (estab. 1982), with strong, witty professors such as Christine Stansell, Natalie Zemon Davis, Joan DeJean, Kay Warren, and Sandra Gilbert. And that quote, that concept, that challenge, has stayed with me ever since, like a nagging reminder of the work to be done and a depressing reminder of how fragile progress is, how ubiquitous the forces of “order.”
P.S. “Respect” quilt no. 5 is destined to another person who inspires us: renowned artist, quilt-maker and writer Faith Ringgold. More on that to come! I’m hoping to be able to wish her a Merry Christmas and Happy Quilt Day on 12/25… gotta get back to work!
How happy I was to see Nikki Giovanni smiling from the pages of the New York Times yesterday! The article, by Elizabeth A. Harris, is a very nice tribute to her life, her feisty spirit and announces her new book of poetry, Make Me Rain, which sounds wonderful. Today I share three rules of life shared by Nikki Giovanni. They are all one really needs to know, to survive in this day and age in the USA:
The best thing you can do for yourself is to not pay attention [to other people’s opinions].
You can’t let people you don’t know decide who you are.
I’m not going to let the fact that I live in a nation with a bunch of fools make a fool out of me.
Thanks, Professor Giovanni. You rule! (And that’s not the only reason I am making a “Respect” quilt for you!)
“Respect” quilt no. 4 produces an unexpected outcome in many ways! This photo underlines the incongruous combination: a hand-made quilt in honor of African-American friendship and love, with patches saying “One Love” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” is carefully tucked into a bag labeled Notre Dame.
How fitting, that an institution that has inflicted so much pain on people of color (beginning with the Potawatami and Pokagon peoples whose land it sits upon, to the many unhappy students of color I met during my 27 years there), is now being put into symbolic service as a wrapper for love. Furthermore, it is heading to Rwanda, to celebrate the union of a young white woman with an African man, in holy matrimony next spring. (Being an ND grad, she’ll get the joke for sure.) I hasten to add that ND has its good sides too! That is where we met and studied French together, in other times, times that look more innocent now….
Let the liberation continue! May you have loving spirits and soaring minds, as long as you all shall live.
let it be this one: When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi.
It received all the accolades our society can give a book.*
As for me, I listened to the book while working on “Respect” quilt no. 4. I’m doing the tie-quilting now, a slow laborious task conducive to peaceful reflection. In listening to the words of When Breath Becomes Air, I felt like I was sitting next to a dear wise friend who, just like me, was searching in literature–ancient and less so–for guidance on living a good life. A life that means something in the big scheme of things, at least such as a human can do. Paul Kalanithi loved English literature deeply and studied Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot and cites their beautiful words throughout this book. He also cites authors I’ve never heard anyone cite, but who are dear to me, like Osler, a famed doctor whose book (pub. 1919) I discovered during 2016-18, while mentally preparing myself to depart from the university, the only identity I’d ever known.
If you seek wisdom about how to live life with integrity, in poetic and philosophical prose, if you wonder how to face death, and don’t mind receiving technical knowledge about how lung cancer makes its way through the human body (useful, but not really a genre I’d seek out), read Paul Kalanithi’s book, When Breath Becomes Air.
Or listen to it, as I did. I think I’ll do so again some day. I bought the book too; it will likely arrive in a couple weeks. I look forward to the book arriving here in my home. When I see it, I will feel reassured, knowing he is there and I can visit his mind again, for times when I feel sad or alone or meaningless. He died at age 37, and I’m still here in my sixth decade. Pretty lucky.
In the meantime, I went back to Osler this morning and found this quote, my farewell for now to you, dear reader. Remember Osler was writing in 1919:
“Let us not be discouraged. … If survived, a terrible infection, such as confluent small-pox, seems to benefit the general health. Perhaps such an attack through which we have passed may benefit the body cosmic. … Plato concludes that ‘States are as the men are, they grow out of human characters’ (Rep. VIII), and then, as the dream-republic approached completion, he realized that after all the true State is within, of which each one of us is the founder, and patterned on an ideal the existence of which matters not a whit. Is not the need of this individual reconstruction the Greek message to modern democracy? and with it is blended the note of individual service to the community.”**
* It was a New York Times bestseller, spending 68 weeks on the non-fiction bestseller list at publication in 2016. Matt McCarthy of USA Today gave it 4 out of 4 stars and said, “It’s a story so remarkable, so stunning, and so affecting that I had to take dozens of breaks just to compose myself enough to get through it.” Nick Romeo of The Boston Globe wrote that it, “possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy.” Melissa Maerz of Entertainment Weekly stated that the book was “so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Breath_Becomes_Air
** Sir William Osler, “Old Humanities and New Science,” pp. 96-97. see “Favorite Books” on this blog.
You heard it here first! The eminent scholar, author, curator, and expert quilter, Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, supports the “Respect” quilts I’m making; in fact she considers it “a very meaningful project.” Thank you Dr. Mazloomi!
The “Respect” quilt project: Post-election Update and Jubilation!
The “Respect” quilt is a result of Black and white creators working together to honor Black women’s beauty, history, and resilience. It is also a timely product for this moment, when we celebrate that a Black woman, Kamala Harris, has become VP-Elect of the USA!
ORIGINS: The first “Respect” quilt was created by a former teacher, a white woman, for a former student of hers, a Black woman in South Bend, Indiana. When in her class at age 15, the young woman wrote and illustrated a short story, Overcoming Adversity, which stayed in the mind of her teacher all these years. (Discussions are afoot about revising it and publishing it with Honey Girl Books and Gifts LLC.) “Respect” quilt no. 1 was delivered in October 2020; she loves it!
MATERIALS and IMAGERY: The “Respect” quilts tell little stories, each one different, through fabrics such as the historical vignettes of antebellum Blacks in “Harlem Toile de Jouy” designed by Sheila Bridges, and the stunning black on white AphroChic silhouettes (both of Brooklyn, NY), African fabrics from Cultured Expressions (Rahway, NJ) and other fabrics purchased from African-American business women across the USA, including Our Fabric Stash in the Pike Place Market (Seattle). The quilt backs are more overtly political: the red fabric is decorated with a swath of denim with a pocket, and three patches: a portrait in yellow and black of Malcolm X, “One Love,” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.”
TIMELINE and COMMITMENT: “Respect” quilt no. 3 is now available! No. 4 is already reserved. Nos. 5 and 6 are coming along nicely. The series will continue indefinitely. After an abrupt realization of my own many privileges (again) this past summer, as I remembered that Grandma D. was born and raised in Rhodesia–a British colony, what is now Zimbabwe–and Grandpa D.’s family emigrated from England to South Africa, yet I no one ever told us why, or whose lives they impacted, I have vowed to make “Respect” quilts a part of my legacy. Maybe someday others will join, and “Respect” quilts will cover the country! This is meant as a way to give back to Black women and girls the love and admiration they deserve, now, and from this generation forward.
TWO WAYS WE GIVE BACK:
1. Retail sales (online). At $779.99 each, the “Respect” quilts sold on the HGBG Etsy website (below) are a fund-raiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of St Joseph County, IN & King County, WA. For every “Respect” quilt sold, 50% of the proceeds, minus materials, are donated to the BGCA.
2. Inner circle & non-profit offer (by invitation): At $250 each (cost of materials), a “Respect” quilt can be made for a church benefit, political fund-raiser or given to a well-deserving person of your choice.
I’m pleased to introduce you to “Respect” quilt no. 3, now available!
I hope its bright colors and cheerful, feisty message will buoy your spirits. You deserve it. It’s been a rough year.
P.S. Can’t say enough how I love working with these fabrics.
The striking black on white Afro silhouettes on fine canvas make me feel like I’m surrounded by friends as I work. AphroChic is a great discovery, from my June 2020 researches into Black-owned businesses. (They actually promote T’ai chi too!)
Another finding is called “Harlem Toile de Jouy”–tight canvas printed with historically embellished images of Blacks in antebellum USA, in black and other colors, by Sheila Bridges. Those pics are fun to use as a centerpiece to each quilt top. No. 3’s combo, of a young woman at a picnic (with a lot on her mind), and a careful fox looking out of a tree, creates a quiet mood.
The African strips of fabric, found notably in the center of no. 3–the orange and green flowers–are also new to me. It’s amazing how they tell stories all by themselves. (Note how there are three flowers in the quilt, from bottom (closed like a puckered bud) to mid (open and central) and higher (moving into sky). I just love messing around with those strips of fabric imported from Ghana, courtesy of Lisa Shephard Stewart at Cultured Expressions.
The whole feeling of “Respect” quilt no. 3 could be summed up as foxy, contemplative, smart, visionary, earthy and natural.
No. 4 will feel more hip and hetero-sexy: it includes a man and woman dancing to a boombox!