telling stories

Let me start with a disclaimer.

As a feminist who came of age in the mid-seventies, there came a point in time when the words, “telling a story” and “making voices heard” were so overused as shorthand for the empowerment process that they made me want to wretch.  Even now, it is with some hesitation that I employ the phrases.  If you share this particular repulsion, however slight, forgive me.

Some of my favorite bloggers are storytellers.  Look at Jude Hill and how her cloths, imbued with weather, energy, and love, have so many personalities on the surface — planets and trees with eyes and mysterious and playful creatures almost begging to tell their secrets to onlookers.  Here’s a recent example:

Jude Hill

Or, go to Kari, of Writing Up a Storm, and see how a few chips of paper can lead her into the most wonderfully imaginative narratives.  Watch how effortlessly she follows her creations into their worlds, instead of ‘authoring’ them.

Similarly, Denise Kester,  mono print artist extraordinaire, allows her medium to lead her to the most fleshed-out animals and people, all brimming with personality and many assuming mythic stature.  Not unlike the primitive sculptors who let the stone speak to them before chiseling a single mark, Denise starts with abstract swipes of ink on her plate and then LOOKS to see what is there.  She shares this remarkable process here — Oregon TV profile.

She let her words fly forth as blessings. In the shelter of Bear’s arms she let go of her fears. Her words became like birds and flew away Becoming something unexpected.

Because of these and other artists, I have been asking myself — How do I, me, Dee Mallon, tell a story? And what is it?

And the answer is, I don’t know.  I have always had an impressionistic approach — an image here, a snapshot there.  As a writer, I have NEVER known what it is I’m going to say until it is written — even academically.  Outlining has always seemed admirable and alien.  I just can’t.  I can’t even IMAGINE planning in that way because my mind doesn’t work that way.  Just like I can’t (so it seems) keep a neat house.  And now a digression.

When I walk into a truly neat house, especially if it is also livable and inviting, I feel a little anthropological in my appreciation.  My eyes wander about, I smile and accept coffee, while my mind reels:  “WOW!!  HEY, you mean there are people, real live people, people that I know even, who can DO this?!!!  How?  Day in and day out?!  HOW?  AND they have kids, too?!!!  DO kids, in fact, live here?!!  Where is the evidence?!!  Could I maybe convince myself that this is an unhealthy place for a child?!  Oh — forget that! Let’s go to weekly help, instead — exactly how much outside help is exerting an influence here, and how would that influence impact my household were it available? Do they have 10 more closets than I do?  Why do I trip over six to ten pairs of sneakers and shoes (that would be 12 to 20 shoes) getting from the side door to the kitchen (and, truth be told, half of them are mine)? Does their husband help pick up more than mine does?  What?  How?  How?

Then, moving on, hopefully, to something else, I generally conclude that it is simply the case that we come from different planets.  It is the one conclusion that lets me drop it, believe it or not, without judgment flowing in either direction.

I want to populate my quilts with stories.  (Some kind’ve, sort’ve do now, but….)

And, I don’t know how.

16 thoughts on “telling stories

  1. Victoria

    The artists who show here are wonderful, and I truly think Jude Hill’s work is a feast for the senses.

    As for your digression… what a hoot! Dee, my brain has the exact conversation, and I mean exact… I even come to the same conclusion that such folk come from a different planet then I, (we) do. I mean really, what other reason could there possible be? I try, but there are only so many hours in a day, and add kids and a husband to the mix… come on!

    (But boy, while I am tripping over the shoes, I truly wish at times that I had come from that other planet!)

  2. Victoria

    P.S. As for quilt stories… I think that not ever story has to be pictorial or conveyed through words. Some stories can be told just by color, line, stitch. If a quilt, or any form of art, (such as music) evokes and brings forth emotion… some sort of story has been told, revealed, remembered. And I think you do that.

  3. deemallon

    Victoria, your first comment is funny! Fortunately, I do know that I’m not alone in this mess-business!! And as for stories in color/shape, I was aware while writing this post that I was selling the narrative aspects of my work a bit short… I think it’s that I want to take this aspect further. Not that it isn’t there. And, of course you’re right that producing responses in a viewer does not require recognizable images, at all. Your recent work cloth quilts, for example, with bars of color and stitching alone, are VERY evocative…

  4. kaye

    Thank you for this post. I’ve struggled for a long time with the issue of story in cloth, and I think you nail it with the phrase ‘my mind doesn’t work that way’. Mine doesn’t work that way either, and I wish it did. I signed up for Jude’s class on story cloths and I’m hoping that will perhaps unlock some images for me. Mostly I see colour and line in stories rather than images. Thanks for the links to some talented artists too.

  5. deemallon

    Hi Kaye, I have signed up for Jude’s july class… and it’s funny, because I really love both your and Victoria’s work… the “absence of narrative” doesn’t even occur to me as a way to look at either of your works… it will be interesting to see what changes for you (& later in the year, for me) after the class. I guess for me it’s wanting to have more flexibility in my approach. If I want a dog or a cat in one of my villages, I need to have the courage to put it there!

  6. Deb G

    Another piece of this is patience…at least for me. Acceptance that it may take time and practice to figure out how to express my story. Some people are just farther down the road…

  7. susie

    I think messy people are more artistic than neat ones! I think its because they can free their mind up from the little things that plague us neatniks – and concentrate on being whole heartedly creative. Im jealous!!

  8. deemallon

    Deb — you are so right to add patience to the mix.
    Susie — you prove that it’s always greener on the other side. LOTS of days I’m busy telling myself that my house is a mess b/c I’ve got 16 projects going… but I’m not always sure.

  9. jude

    first off… thanks for the shout out and the links.
    secondly, i have always wondered how houses stay neat. i suppose it depends on your priorities. the mess only bothers me when company is coming. but i gave up. neat is not who i am so i don’t spend any time thinking about it any more.

    the story thing is always there i think. it is a habit to catch the thoughts and associate them with physical expression. i hope i will be able to communicate this clearly in my class…

    nice post. thanks!

  10. deemallon

    hey jude (sorry, can’t resist!) — my goal with neatness is to get to that place where I too, don’t spend time thinking about it anymore. And, I should have mentioned, that our house can look really, really nice with the “15 Minute Whirlwind Pickup”… which is nice. I’ve lived in places that DON’T pick up nicely…

    ‘catching thoughts and associating them with physical expression’ — what a way to think about the process of storytelling! it most certainly doesn’t have to be about ‘planning’ as you, Denise and Kari, so ably demonstrate.

  11. Kari of Writing Up A Storm

    Oh my! Finding this lovely compliment after such a hectic week has just been lovely, lovely! Just what I need to keep on keeping on. Thank you so much! My house is a mess, by the way, and I really need to just forget about trying to fix that. Both my husband and I are packrats, so it’s hopeless. And about story: I think something is a story the minute we attach a single word to it. Even a wordless picture book story is read by “reading the pictures” in words. In my own art, I find that sometimes an image will come first, and then the words. Sometimes the words come first, and then I try to come up with an image to illustrate the words. Whichever came first, when you gave your quilt the title of “global warming,” it became rich, dense, with its “story.” And your fern-fiber house is a wonderful on-going story ~ who knows what the ending will be? Yes, you are definitely already telling stories!! xo Kari

  12. deemallon

    why thanks, Kari… after all these comments, I am adjusting my sense of what makes a story… though I’ll admit to still wanting something MORE… maybe it’s just a more defined style or way of working.

    I have the same back and forth between image and word… I often listen to hear what a title will be, because it will be truer than anything I would work at coming up with…

  13. Kari of Writing Up A Storm

    Dee, I wanted to add something here, because I almost sound as if I know what I am talking about, and honestly, I don’t. I’m lost in the woods most of the time. But when I have written stories before, I have always started with an outline. The blog, however, is so open-ended that I have been having a hard time getting a foothold on what I am doing. I’m so used to having an ending in mind!! When I suddenly made the little paper girl, I found her doing the most surprising things, and I have simply been letting her go where she will. She is so totally unlike myself. She really doesn’t care what people think about her. I love her stalwart, fearless ways! And I am so touched that you picked up on the fact that I am not authoring her, I am just following her. She is such a surprise to me! And I think I’m starting to enjoy not knowing where in the world I am going. I love reading your blog ~ you are so wonderfully honest and forthright, and you care deeply about so many things. xo Kari

  14. deemallon

    kari, blogging IS different isn’t it? There’s something immediate and journal-like about it. I find sometimes that if I jot things down for ‘another time’, I often have lost interest in talking about whatever it is, because its time has past…

    So! I’d be interested to see how your writing sounds when it is more literary… I’ll have to explore your links more.

    And, btw, I don’t mean to imply that it is WRONG to plan or outline, rather that it is PAINFUL to try to create in ways that are anathemas to one’s basic self.

    Lastly, I want to write that being ‘lost in the woods’ is probably just the state that most produces work of interest… so — here’s to not knowing what we’re doing!!!!!!


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