Tag Archives: memory

The power of stuff to undo us

The Weight of Things, Part I

Look at the lovely Rosenthal platter — that flourish along the scalloped edge; delicate blue flowers draping off the rim. I have service for eight plus another smaller platter, a casserole, a tea pot (squat and round) and coffee pot (tall and slender), plus matching sugar and creamer, candlesticks.

They were a wedding gift from my mother.

Recall this: Mother is back from a trip to Germany with her second husband. They are seeing the world! While on the continent she buys an entire set of china for her daughter who, at the age of 33, is at last engaged to be married.

When Mother hands Daughter the crumpled brochure, Daughter doesn’t bother to hide her dismay. Are the dishes too feminine? Is she inclined toward blue these days? Such a fraught exchange!

They’ve been here before. A history of thwarted choices gives Daughter an unhealthy sense that she’s entitled to sour incivility. So many items ticked off! How much did Mother spend, exactly?

There will be a cost to Daughter’s wounding response and she knows it. It’s no longer a gift-giving occasion. It’s all about Mother’s hurt feelings. Daughter’s cooing and back peddling will be accomplished with a combination of guilt, annoyance, and compulsive, middle-child diplomacy. Of course the dishes will be beautiful! It took a second, is all! Of course, it was a generous gesture!

They’ve been here before, too.

Does it matter that I love the dishes now? That as I wash off the residue from last night’s dinner, I do so with care, knowing how inconsolable I’d be if the platter broke — my mother dead and gone these 22 years past. Stuff has the power to undo us sometimes.

The Weight of Things, Part II

We’ve purchased a shed in the sorry acknowledgement that our belongings have outpaced our capacity for sorting, disposal, or storage. The garage is packed: sports equipment, gardening tools, lumber, Christmas decorations, craft booth panels, two table saws, bikes and chairs. There’s beer brewing equipment, scuba gear, coolers, kayak paddles and beach chairs. At least three complete socket wrench sets, possibly more.

img_3262Now picture Son moving to Parts West with two suitcases. His entire apartment is boxed up in the garage, too. Now what? Most is too heavy to ship.

Too heavy indeed! Here are the pots and knives Mother purchased in such industrious cheer — the dish towels and extension cords, an array of spices! He’ll make curry and roast chickens! He’ll eat on Mexican dishes while looking at the spectacular skyline. Oh that view, Mother exclaimed, that view!

And then there was the dreadful pick up eight months later. Utter disarray.

Seeing these things makes for uneasy recollection. For some reason it is the contrast between the early optimism and the later despair that gets to me the most. I don’t know why. The hard questions arise, prime among them — how could I have missed so much?

I know how — because I wasn’t even looking.

It’s a little better now — maybe you can build up an immunity to memory by repeated exposure to triggering belongings. Things have resumed their status as objects. They are once again problems to be solved — sell? donate? keep?

The iron skillet is coming in the house, but — anybody want a waffle iron?

 


9/12

I was meeting with a fellow landscape-volunteer for the elementary school when her husband called. “Turn on the TV. Turn on the TV.” The friend said, “it’s Osama bin Laden”. Believe it or not, that was the first time I’d heard that name (an unthinkable state of ignorance now, with FB, twitter, etc.). We watched the towers go down in real time.K was sent home from work, the office closed. There was the fear of more planes, more death.

Because the boys were young (7 and 5), we didn’t watch the endless replays. We had a camping trip planned for the weekend and were glad to have a reason to interrupt routines, but actually drove down into North Adams at one point to buy a newspaper. A couple of times while the kids bombed around on their bicycles, K and I turned on the van engine and listened to the radio in a state of shock. I remember feeling a sense of kinship with our grandparent’s generation, listening for news about the war, huddled around a radio.

I remember how startlingly blue the sky was on 9/11. A perfect fall day. I remember reading an email from the school saying, “we have not told them.” I remember calling a friend over before I walked over to pick up the boys, embracing her and crying, “what kind of world are they growing up in?”

On Facebook yesterday (it’s 9/12 now), I watched a video clip of tolling church bells on the campus of UMass/Amherst. Not only was it a haunting sound, but the comments rolling underneath gave me chills, especially the ones saying things like, “my son was in kindergarten that day and now he’s a junior at UMass”. And then there were comments simply saying what they were doing that day. Where they were or who they lost. We will all remember.

It took days to find out if my brother was okay. He had been scheduled to fly from somewhere in Europe into D.C. to give a lecture. All the other doctors (sensibly) cancelled, but he was adamant about showing up. He first flew to somewhere in the Caribbean and next to Canada where he rented a car.

My brother, like my son, went to McGill and had crossed that border many, many times without incident. But this was post 9/11. Because he was coming from Europe, he had multiple currencies on his person — suspect. It was a one-way car rental — suspect. And then there was the Irish surname — also suspect given the long and troubled history with bombs (my sister maintains we’re related to Timothy McVeigh, but never mind that).

The police at the U.S./Canadian border thoroughly took apart the car. I don’t mean pulled him over to inspect the trunk and open a few suitcases — I mean, unbolting door panels, ripping up floor mats, lifting seat cushions.

I may have gotten some of those details wrong, but you get the gist.

What I don’t remember — is what we said to our sons, our young and impressionable and fairly innocent sons. What did I say?

 

P.S. That’s a SoulCollage card referring directly to the attacks of 9/11 and also referring indirectly to my maternal grandfather (using magazine images), who came to NYC in 1923, spent decades working in the bowels of ships while raising a family in Park Slope, Brooklyn, before moving up to Newburgh, NY.

P.P.S. The creepiest local connection was that the Boston hijackers spent their final night on this earth in a hotel less than a mile down the road. The place has since been razed and an apartment building sits there now.

P.P.S. A good friend of mine move to Battery Park sometime later and when we visited her, we went to Ground Zero. It was awful. One of the worst things? Looking at the dust on nearby building knowing that it had DNA in it.

Chores and light

Every season there are surprises that I’m not sure should be surprises — things that make me ask, did this happen last year? Or ever before? This spring I am astonished by how many dried catalpa pods littered the yard. Were they ever this plentiful before, requiring five or six large barrels? Perhaps I forget year to year.

And, in other Aprils, I don’t remember the late afternoon sun being so glorious in what we call “the new room” (it remains “the new room” even as it ages through its second decade). Lately, the light has honeyed the walls and furniture in a way that gladdens me so much you’d think I’d remember. But I don’t. It seems novel and remarkable.

 

I don’t perform an itemized spring cleaning, but I do find myself taking toothbrush and Comet to windowsills and slate on a more regular basis than I might during the winter. Since C is graduating in a few weeks (with a BS in Chem, in case you want to be impressed), I want his room to be nice. Or at least, clean. The old windows in our house collect dirt and insect husks and paint chips in a way that require some real elbow grease. It is kind of gross how much of the filth comes off, but ever so satisfying to watch it go. And yes, the photo is an ‘after’ shot – you should have seen it before.

Now, do you see the black form under the yew bush below? Left side? There’s Finn sniffing along the fence. His insatiable joyful need for ‘fetch’ has a lot to do with the state of our backyard.   We are considering a combination approach: rolls of sod, pea stone, and slate. Using what we had on hand, K and I got a pretty good start on a patio at the garage end. The midsection would get the sod (too much shade to grow grass from seed) and the back third, the pea stone. We’ll see. Right now, half of our dog training goes to getting Finn to sit and then stand while we wipe his paws at the back sliders (he’s pretty good about it). I’m waiting to see if any of the trampled ostrich ferns come back. Fingers crossed.

Collage to quilt

playing with paper

You can click on pictures for larger versions.

("doesn't SMELL like fish!")

stitching paper to paper

letting images direct where piece is going

making marks on back with oil pastels while wondering, what is left of an experience years later and how do we mark it in consciousness?

More marks.

 

Color copy of new version - with B&W figure in lower left. Abandoned brick/grape leaf background.

Using inkjet printer and prepared, commercially available fabrics - I print one copy on cotton; one on polyester organza.

love this

Placed sheer version on top of partially quilted opaque version

This corner is too dark - so paint and ink to the rescue

Made 'suckers' from erasers out of the junk drawer

Scary to mess about with this much time in, but stamped with copper ink and white paint

Finished piece is edged with striped linen and stapled to wooden frame - you can't really see the quilting or the layering effect in this light

Octopus on the wall.

saved backing sheet to use under fabric as stitching guide

Backer sheet is below the green wool. I stitched from back, following lines. Very messy because toner is not set on page. To be continued.

P.S.  Hope to fix picture resolution issues ASAP.  I have been wondering why my pictures are defaulting to a 72 pixel resolution and looked and looked at my Photoshop settings, but it now dawns on me that perhaps it is a setting on my CAMERA that I changed (the file size while noodling with something else – will check and hopefully fix.

One poppy to remember, another poppy to forget

Just added another poppy to the Cement Sack quilt.  This one is ON TOP of the tulle.

Transferred two black and white xeroxes onto coffee-stained muslin.  The trombone did not come out so well, but a trident on the same page did.  Both are in the upper left.

Here is that figure that has shown up in the Witness quilt and the wet-paper-basement-calamity collage.  She is the one who dreams, who has seen, and who seeks to go beyond all that lodges in the past.  She is part of all of us.  This recent posture is one of burdened grief, but she has other moods as well.

Perhaps “moods” is the wrong word — “patterns of consciousness” more like.

And speaking of drugs (the opiate reference in the title), here is the holder of my current drug of choice — a coffee mug!  Suitably chipped, stained, and very much in use.

A busy day of gardening and travel ahead.  A good thing.  A change of perspective and some fresh air will definitely do me good.

Daffodils for a grey day

This is how it looked here yesterday.  Many branches down this morning on account of the wind.

Ken wishes it was snow, but I don’t.  I could actually smell the earth yesterday, and after months of cold, what could be better?

These daffodils made their way to my sister’s bedside yesterday, but I (and Ms. Goosey-Goose) got to enjoy them first.

Cleaning up more than anything else around here, which means little sewing.  But one space I cleared now is full of collage activity.  Here is a photoshopped collage of one of the collages.

Jumping In

Season's Greetings

boys running in the dark

boys running in the dark

Pin Board

Pin Board

Three images to start.  How does one start?  Always a question.  “How does one finish?”, also happens to be a question that plagues me.

Starting in the middle, or wherever one is, seems like sage advice, and I didn’t make it up.  See Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing or just about anything by Pema Chodron.

We have snow and it is hanging onto the rooves and curbs, in spite of rain.  At least we have power, unlike many in New Hampshire, or even just west of here in Worcester.

I would like to work faster and larger.  The whole business of quilting takes a long, long time.  It is a wonder I do it at all.  But water?!!  Brushes?!!  More crap in the basement?!!

Last night a scary dream about becoming disoriented… unable to tell which way I came in, I turn, go some distance, turn again, go some distance the other way, hoping something will jog my memory.

Many of my quilts address the uncertain business of memory.  Here is one from awhile ago, from a whole series that I made using poppies as the central image.  Poppies are an apt symbol for our flawed process of collecting bits of ourselves in memory, because they both signal remembrance (popularized during World War I) and forgetting (think:  opiates).   The fragmentation of the design is no accident.  One thing making quilts about memory, and even painful memories, has taught me in a graphic way is that the pattern of a life makes for beauty, no matter what the components.

Quilt

"No Memory Poppy"

Julia Cameron says, “…by claiming our own memories, we gain access to the creative energy that they contain.  Memories become a source, not only of inspiration, but of fuel.”  In this quilt, I cut up a family photo (transferred onto fabric) found in a second-hand store.  I wonder how the whole process would shift were I to use a photo from my own childhood.