Handling disappointment

My adoration for the quilts of Bisa Butler and the pandemic began at roughly the same time. If you haven’t discovered her yet, you must, because she is a once-in-a-generation quilter.

Butler’s work is absolutely stunning, in construction, scale, color, and subject matter.

Her quilts document Black life with exuberant patterning and such an incredible ability to render faces and clothing without resorting to paint that she continually reminds viewers that they are 100% cloth. You squint agog wondering, How on earth does she do it?

She’s like Kehinde Wiley on acid.

Not that long ago, I vowed to myself, “When this is all over, I’m gonna see her quilts even if I have to travel to Chicago or Memphis to do so.”

So it might surprise you to learn that I just ordered a book showcasing her portraits rather than truck a few miles down Route 9 to see one of her pieces. A neighbor even lent me her MFA member card so that I could be admitted at no cost.

And still I’m not going.

Is it yesterday’s colonoscopy stopping me? Maybe. At the endoscopy center, there were half a dozen nurses, several doctors, an anesthesiology assistant or two, secretaries, and other patients. They managed risk expertly — everyone wore masks, curtains divided the gurneys, a careful protocol determined who came into the building and when. Still that feels like enough potential exposure for one week.

(P.S. Everything’s fine).

More delays in the editing process mean that I will finally spend two solid weeks polishing a query letter (not like creative writing at all!) and building a functional list of agents. I should have done this a year ago! I signed up for QueryTracker and will look into Submittable and Duotrope, two other literary submission programs. I’m going to be ready to aim and fire the second I get the last batch of edits.

Otherwise, I’ll just kill myself. I can’t keep doing this.


The situation reminds me of something I read in some book or other on happiness. It has really stayed with me, unlike the author and title of the book. It said something along the lines of this: except for the loss of a partner or a child, almost no disappointments result in significant changes in happiness five years out.

So in other words, if this book never sees the light of day, five years from now I’ll be dead — oops — I mean, my happiness quotient will be roughly the same as it is today.

This reminder is oddly comforting and in no way promotes defeatism.

All of this today makes me feel the fragility of life. It’s so important to breathe, and to be kind to one another, and to make haste slowly.



11 thoughts on “Handling disappointment

  1. Tina

    YES Bisa .. I have been following her a long while and was so excited when her work would be shown in Chicago. Like you I was scared to go but am hoping for future shows .. really hoping her works will show here in Milwakee. Years ago Gees Bend quilts were shown here .. can’t remember why I missed that one too but it’s always been a regret.
    Glad your procedure went well and that you’re home again ready to tackle another step towards getting your novel into all our hands.

  2. Nancy

    Oh thank you for this introduction. Her work is truly amazing! So glad all went well for you, with good results. These things mean a lot, yes? And you upcoming book…can’t wait. That quote is great and so true! I’ll remember and share that one.

  3. Marti

    First and foremost, whether your novel sees the light of day, and I know that it will, I also want you to step back, take a deep breath and realize that you already have accomplished something so rare, incredible, inspiring, moving and simply outstanding and don’t ever forget it…your devotion to your work, the integrity of your subject matter, is simply transcendent.

    To be able to take cloth and pulse it with life as Bisa Bulter does with her quilts is extraordinary. The closest I have come to experiencing something like this was on Sept. 2008 at the Museum of Art in Knoxville, TN. I had read that a modified Gee’s Bend exhibit was being held at the museum so off we went. The exhibit focused mainly on the work of Mary Lee Bendolph and her family. It was titled, Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee’s Bend Quilts and Beyond. To stand in front of her quilts, to breath in the color, to try to understand the life story for I would not presume to know how it was to grow up as she did, was the closest I have come to sensing the “Pulse” of cloth.

    One of my favorite quilts of hers was composed almost entirely of worn denim, it was called Work Clothes Quilt. I bought the book of the exhibit and Work Clothes Quilt is described in this manner:

    “…her recycled-denim quilts continue to evoke the same notions of loss and redemption, despair and deliverance. In an especially intriguing example from 2002, Bendolph created a brooding patchwork composed almost entirely of worn blue jean scraps. but here and there within the dark, heavy field are passages of brilliant red. Even more paradoxical is the appearance of a few other squares of cloth printed with a delicate pink flower pattern, a symbol of regeneration”

    For as Bendlolph herself said of her life, “she sees herself as a survivor.” In her words, “some people have a good life. But I had a rough life…I thank God that he helped me come through.”

  4. Liz A

    on handling disappointment … many many years ago, in a grad school class on library reference services, the prof began the first class by reviewing the syllabus … something she said stuck with me to this very day

    “if something comes up that conflicts with coming to class, just imagine which of the two will make the most difference in your life five years from now … and choose accordingly”

    that simple statement has guided me through many choices …

    I’m glad you chose to write … and to write about the writing here … your choices have made a very positive impact on my life and I thank you for that


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