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this art speaks. are you listening?

“Respect” wall-hanging no. 1, pictured above, is an example of art that speaks. It is one of the ways I’m trying to emulate the wisdom espoused in Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I found that book–a slim paperback–on a chance visit to a used bookstore in New Orleans. It was during a time when I was still working as a professor but sensed I wanted a different life, more open to creative possibilities. I found Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, at that same store, so I owe a huge debt of thanks to whoever gave those books up for adoption.

In Art and Fear: Observations about the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making, the authors offer sober, sensible yet not heartless advice for would-be artists. My favorite is what they call a “useful working approach to making art: notice the objects you notice. (e.g. Read that sentence again.) Or put another way: make objects that talk–and then listen to them.” (p. 101)

The “Respect” wall-hangings and quilts speak of a hopeful attitude toward living together, and that is the one I wish for us. They say: “Dream Big”; “Believe Racial Equity is Possible”; “Celebrate Beauty of All Kinds” and “Our Time is Now.” The back of this wall-hanging, which juxtaposes a vibrant African cotton in blue/green/and brown (an image that resembles a palm tree or a long-necked woman’s head) alongside strips of a lily-bedecked Japanese block print in blue, shows what can happen when strangers unite.

The three little birds from Bob Marley’s song are there too, in the white and black trim of the front; see them peeking through? The front also conveys a more explicitly political message, of course, thanks to the patches commemorating civil rights leader Malcolm X, reggae legend Bob Marley, and the BLM activists, whose rallying cry, “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance” forms the heart of the matter.

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P.S. Caveat: This is not to say that I am sort of saintly warrior for racial equity, sitting around singing “Kumbaya.” I will admit that I did give a fellow driver the finger yesterday. He was the aggressive driver of a grey truck who cut me off while we were both jockeying for a place in the incredibly congested traffic of West Seattle’s detour route (which has forced us all into massive traffic jams for over a year now. Tempers are flaring.). And when he reached out to indicate his indifference to my honk, I noted he was Black. I acknowledge that exchange was not very nice. But he cut me off! Sigh. May we live another day and try again tomorrow…

P.S.S. Like “Respect” quilts, these wall-hangings are available to you now, via the Honey Girl Etsy store! As a fund-raiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, it’s a fairly painless way to give… and to be part of the change.

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a gorgeous new book, with Respect (no. 7!)

After a sad spell, I return with good news, energy, and curiosity alight, thanks to the fabulous new book by art historian Samantha Noël which just arrived today. I made Respect quilt no. 7 for her, in fact, in memory of our time together during the years at Notre Dame and in admiration for her work. She works on Black artists and culture-creators of the Caribbean and the USA, and shows how their creations are interwoven with real aesthetic merit and political intention, despite being misunderstood or written off by the authorities. I’ve been waiting for my copy of the book so that I could pose the quilt with it, and the combination is even better than I imagined. I love the way the quilt’s vibe matches the message of the book! dancing people, tropical landscapes, a jaunty air of subversion–they are soulmates. Knowing it was destined to Samantha, I made this quilt particularly bright and cheerful. Do you see the visual reminder of the year it was made?*

A couple passages will show you why I’m such a fan of the book. It’s Samantha Noël’s ability to bring you right into the scene, to take the reader on a sensory journey to Trinidad or Cuba, to jangling cities and noisy jungles, where a luscious tropical heat shields a whole different world of smells, sights, and sounds and people with deep customs and histories linking them to Africa and the islands. Or to the glamorous world of Josephine Baker in the 1920s, when she took Paris by storm. (It is still sickening to remember that despite amazing talent, Baker was rebuffed at home in the USA, and that some part of her success was due to her concession to perform in the nude, with a male partner, a titillating danse des sauvages for white audiences). Noël’s focus on Black culture, island diasporas, and Southern histories is also a breath of new air into my Northwestern life, and one I’m eager to take in. Plus there’s a very intriguing photo of Maya Angelou on an album cover, as “Miss Calypso,” that I’m dying to explore!

Samantha Noël paints a complicated picture of the jamettes, or women who belonged to the poor of urban Trinidad, whose male counterparts were called badjohns. Instead of consigning them to the toxic influences that dominated their daily lives (abuse, sex work, poverty), she also notes the feisty, flamboyant style they embraced and the important role they played in the neighborhood. Famous jamettes–Yvonne “Bubulups” Smith and Gateway Elaine, for example–could be seen during street happenings of all kinds, from political protests to Carnival carousing. The consequences were sometimes dire, as the author notes:

“When Bubulups initiated a battle with her opponents, policemen arrested a naked and wounded Bubulups. … The difficulty of a jamette’s life is best summed up in Jean’s words: ‘Listen to me Dinah. … The road I walk had nothing. It didn’t have no money, no food. I didn’t have no mother. I didn’t have no father. All I ever wanted in my life was money and that is the only way I know how to do it. And that is how I am going down.’ … society branded them vulgar. As uncouth spectacles, their physiques gestured indiscretion against the repressive colonial order. Vulgar now became the pejorative agent in the sociocultural framing of these Black working-class women.

… she captures the attention of onlookers. Her monumental presence captured in the photograph also highlights her explicit control of the domain around her as she literally makes space, transforming the tropical, colonial territory as she traverses it.

Their movements were akin to the steel bands, whose rhythmic and melodic sound also emitted an unruly flair as the steel pan voiced the Black masses’ desire for acknowledgment of their political, social, and creative presence. The jamettes thus reveled in the music in their costumes, oscillating their hips with their arms akimbo, some waving the flags of their affiliated steel bands and others simply moving to the music while singing refrains from popular calypsos. If the jamettes were indeed primitive, it is because they were appropriating primitivity in their performance as a means of challenging the colonial order.” (pp. 133-135 in Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism, Duke University Press, 2021).

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BIRTHDAY SALE!

Select Honey Girl quilts will be on sale for one day only, March 10, 2021. Check it out!

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photo of Maya Angelou album cover courtesy of: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36595496

*the ox on the green & yellow square is a symbol of 2021: Year of the Ox according to the Chinese zodiac.

Plate 1 of “Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism”, by Samantha A. Noël is juxtaposed here to a “Dancing Feet” star in Respect quilt no. 7, by yours truly, Honey Girl Books and Gifts, 2021.

On left above, an oil painting by Aaron Douglas, Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery to Reconstruction, 1934, courtesy of the Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

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forever young, for Greg (and thanks, Bob Dylan)

I just learned that a friend of mine died. I will miss his brightness–he was electric! Greg was a man of witty conversation, warm bear hugs, and passionately-held beliefs that fueled–along with many excellent wines and wonderful food–heated debates over dinner tables in Michigan, Indiana, and in France. Because Greg was not only a voracious reader and bon vivant, he was also a traveler, fluent in French like his wife Catherine, my friend and colleague of many years at Notre Dame. I remember when they met, how in love they were, how beautiful it was to witness and to enjoy being with them. Greg even came to our monthly Café français with students, on occasion! What a guy.

So this morning I’ve been moving around with a heavy heart. Luckily I had the good sense to turn on the radio to KEXP, and wouldn’t you know it, DJ John Richards just played the perfect song for Greg (for us, really): “Forever Young,” by Bob Dylan. Listen to the music here (with heart-breaking photos of Dylan over the years), and here, for a purer version of the music.

So rest now, friend Greg and go where you are, assured you will live on in our sad hearts, and we’ll think of you over dinner tonight, and pause to give thanks for knowing you. And may Catherine come visit us soon. And we’ll drink toasts to Greg, and tell stories, and laugh through our tears, and we too will stay forever young…

Forever Young

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the light surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

1973, Ram’s Horn Music.

Lyrics from: https://www.bobdylan.com/songs/forever-young/

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seen on this day

Bonne fête de la Saint Valentin ! Happy Valentine’s Day !


Here are some images of beloved sights from my world, and a favorite quote by Epictetus to warm hearts wherever you are:
“Faithfulness is the antidote to bitterness and confusion.”
The Art of Living

P.S. Being faithful applies to your self too, your principles, hopes, and dreams. Live deliberately, like Thoreau said. What better time than now? Back to “Respect” quilt no. 7 I go…

(Respect quilt no. 7, in progress)

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family fun

At this dreary time of year, it is good to cheer up yourself.

You can start by remembering funny stories about those funny folks we call family. Everybody has some, right?!

Here are some favorite pics of mine, grandparents Kingsley and Dorothea Douthwaite. One captures them on their scooter–a shot printed in a motorcycle magazine in the 70s–and the other shows them with the first loaf of bread baked in the solar oven he built. They rode that scooter all around Santa Barbara, CA (Mom insinuated that Grandpa was too cheap to buy a car and he was known for a certain frugality). I remember the sharp tang of eucalyptus in the air. They were probably on the way to the store or the old folks home, where Grandma played piano.

We kids always thought that was so funny, how she didn’t get the irony of playing for the old folks, since she was an “old folk” herself. But she had the last laugh, I now realize. She did not have a piano at home. So she found one and an audience for her music too, outside the home. She proved by her music, her courage and generous spirit–in putting up with Grandpa, who was something of an outspoken curmudgeon / genius engineer / reproduction rights activist, for 60+ years–that age is an attitude. And happiness comes to those who take it. Even if he did make her sleep in bunk beds for most of their lives together, in the tiny wooden house he built on the hill. Before all the mansions arrived…

Between them, there’s Honey Girl, the ultimate comedienne. She’ll be 12 this year.

Love your family! if you can, surely you can.

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wake up! (Thoreau inspires again)

I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up. –epigraph of Walden

“Every morning was a cheerful invitation,” writes Henry David Thoreau in Walden, “Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me…. to be awake is to be alive. … I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.” (Walden, chapter “Where I lived”)

May these images of spring from my neighborhood in West Seattle–including one photo of our very own chanticleer on Admiral Way, from last spring!–bring hope and inspire you to enjoy this day. Or at least keep trying to do so…

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remember Thoreau

I’m sick at heart about Amanda Gorman’s new modeling contract. https://people.com/style/amanda-gorman-signs-with-img-models/   It may seem unfair to thwart a young woman’s aspirations for fame and fortune, and she is certainly beautiful enough to grace the pages of fashion magazines and elite runways world-over. But to have discovered in her a poet of such transcendent grace and wisdom at such a young age has made her into a magical figure for us in this time, and we wish her to rise, like a goddess, to lead the way out of this uniquely American morass.

It is unfair, I repeat, to expect her to exert such independence at such a tender age (22 years old). Yet one can wish another future would be ahead for her. Will it be possible to remain undistracted by the tawdry parasitism of social media and the crap world of fashion advertising, and to go on creating original words of wisdom?  Seems unlikely.

But here’s hoping.

And for the rest of you writers out there, who are not receiving modeling contracts or other worldly fame for a poem, I append the following quotes from Walden, which no one can refute. I challenge you to keep on writing, remain focused, prove that words can still have lasting value, even in 2021.

Remember Thoreau.

“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips…

When the illiterate and perhaps scornful trader has earned by enterprise and industry his coveted leisure and independence, and is admitted to the circles of wealth and fashion, he turns inevitably at last to those still higher but yet inaccessible circles of intellect and genius, and is sensible only of the imperfection of his culture and the vanity and insufficiency of all his riches, and further proves his good sense by the pains which he takes to secure for his children that intellectual culture whose want he so keenly feels…”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience, ed. Michael Meyer (New York: Penguin, 1983),  147-148.  Original pub. 1854.

Photo of Inauguration poet Amanda Gorman, photographed in 2018, has signed with IMG Models.(Charles Sykes / Invision / Associated Press)

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meilleurs voeux!

In France, people have a tradition of sending holiday greetings to friends as cartes de voeux, or new year’s greetings, instead of Christmas cards. This is a great tradition for many reasons: it is secular and thus non-discriminatory and especially it is less time-sensitive. Although debates abound on this as on all aspects of French etiquette, from what I’ve heard, you have until Jan. 31 or even Feb. 15 to get them sent. This leaves lots more time to get them out than the three weeks of the frantic pre-Christmas dash to do everything and have a wonderful time while singing carols, baking cookies and other “magical” tasks (that all seem to land on women’s shoulders or psyches, if they fail to meet everybody’s expectations).

This “family fun activity” (haha) has been gathering dust in our house for months, and it is still no closer to being done than … well, than the COVID-19 virus is done wreaking havoc on our psyches.

So enough with the guilt: here’s your “carte de voeux” in all its unfinished glory. Here’s to survival…

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spring into hope!

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.

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in honor of a certain special person … can you guess who?

“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.