An Idea Whose Time Has Not Yet Come. Or . . .

“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” ― Eckhart Tolle

Carra making a baby quilt (pinwheel).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wish I could say that the picture on the left is me at my sewing machine. But I can’t. Wikipedia doesn’t have images of me in its database. At least, I don’t think it does. Anyway, it’s not me. I don’t have a sweater that color. And I’ve spent so little time at the sewing machine lately that there is likely no photographic evidence of such an event..

What’s wrong with this picture? If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I love quilting.Yet, in spite of my desire to quilt, something isn’t working. I’ve noticed lately that whenever I do have a few minutes of “discretionary” time, I am always torn between quilting and some deadline or task that is clamoring for my attention. When I do have a few minutes to relax, I pick up things that only take a few minutes. This happens even though I have a relatively dedicated sewing and cutting area.

I had also noticed a few potentially bad signs. For example, the last time I sat down to sew, I only completed a couple impatient seams. They didn’t line up quite right. That made me impatient. It had been a few weeks since I had sewn anything, so I couldn’t put my hands on the seam ripper. My somewhat minimalist approach to keeping a sewing area did little to stem the slow tide of teaching and research clutter that often became entwined with my quilting. I began to wonder how–in one year–I had gone from daily work on Mr. Logan’s quilt (see here) to the upcoming semester break with no real prospect for time at the sewing machine or cutting board.

Quilt Block #1

(Photo credit: emily.bluestar)

Maybe it has something to do with the constant visual reminder. For starters, it gives me the mistaken idea that I can quilt anytime. The problem with that situation is that all my other projects are also in my visual radar, but they have more priority. Quilting will lose every time. But more than that, it was a constant reminder that it was losing every time. After all, if I really wanted to quilt, I’d just do it, right? This kind of thinking becomes a little dangerous for me. I began to think the best solution was to pack up the quilting one more time. I could still look at books, play with fabric and patterns, and make plans for when I can make the time to quilt.

Then came the 30 day moratorium for January 2013. When I decided to try that out for the new year, I had already decided to pack up the quilting stuff. But that didn’t stop me from becoming overwhelmed by the other stuff that was still left for me to catch up on and bring closure to before I can pursue the things that interest me the most. For the time being, responsibilities and obligations have become the headliners.While I knew the moratorium was the right thing to do, and that mapping my way out of the avalanche of projects was imperative and worthwhile, I still had a nagging feeling about the quilting. I mean, I do know I can’t do everything, but I forgot one important thing!

Quilt notes

Quilt notes (Photo credit: duien)

Life is not black and white!  Most people who know me marvel at my ability to be flexible and to brainstorm lots of options about any given problem. So, why did I limit my choices to having everything out in the open or packing it all up? I finally remembered something from thirty years in my past. I used a responsibility-free weekend to set up my own personal quilting retreat. The boys were visiting their father for the weekend, and I took the weekend off from work. I can’t tell you what project I worked on that weekend. But I cleared the dining room table, and brought out the sewing machine and ironing board, the cutting mats and fabric, and I spent a weekend doing nothing but quilting. It wasn’t just the weekend itself that was great, it was the anticipation leading up to it and preparing for the time when it came.

I can’t tell you why I didn’t continue the tradition. Oh yeah, life probably got in the way again. And at the time, I wasn’t strong enough to identify what I wanted and schedule it in. But now is the time to resurrect that custom. After all, quilting in my life has never been a constant. It has always found its way into my life in specialized containers of time. So I am now planning Quilting Day 2013. It’s the perfect time for a quilting retreat. I have four weeks with no classes. I have worked out a schedule to map out the tasks that need to be done. But most importantly, once I set the retreat dates, there is minimal chance of interference with the plan. The moratorium is in effect. Instead of a couple hours a day that I had hoped for during the semester break, I will take a two-day mini-vacation and spend it playing with color, fabric, and pattern. And in the process, I’ll have a less cluttered work-environment overall.

What started out as a potentially negative decision has brought new options. If I hadn’t been willing to pack up my quilting, I would have continued to encounter the frustration of never getting to the machine. I wouldn’t have rediscovered the alternative of setting up compartments of time that are totally dedicated to quilting as a workable solution to the problem. While some may think this seems like a negative change, I am reminded that a weekend once or twice a year is considerably more time than I get throughout an entire year. I can capitalize on the moratorium, begin to manage the backlog, move my projects forward, and anticipate a creative getaway to energize myself. When the sewing stuff comes out, it will be a visual and tactile picnic. And maybe the start of a new tradition.

Cocoons: Then and Now

On cold winter days, I like to curl up with a journal and a steaming cup of tea, to sort through the mental keepsakes I have collected over the years. Even though I can indulge in this pursuit anytime, there is something about an overcast sky that brings out my tendency to turn inward and begin the act I call cocoon building.

Like the caterpillar that spins his cocoon in a particular season, certain events and situations often precipitate my inner work. It could be something specific, like a job loss or leaving grad school; or it could be something more nebulous, like the feeling of losing direction or recovering from a period of depression. Sometimes, I thrash around–literally and figuratively–for quite a while before I begin the cocoon-building process. But it is when I take that step that the healing taking place. Within my cocoon, I can explore the ins and outs of my pain. I emerge stronger, willing to take risks that lead me in new directions, often beyond what I thought possible.

cacoon拷貝The first time I consciously explored the cocoon idea, as I wrote in Cocoons and Coffee Houses, the process moved me across the country from Seattle back to Michigan. Twenty years later, another cocoon experience would lead me halfway around the world. This time, I was exploring options after leaving graduate school. A ready-made cocoon came in the form of a three month house-sitting stint. With many of our things in storage, I focused my creative energy on cooking and crocheting as I explored job possibilities, while preparing applications, teaching demos, and lesson plans.

While lining up my references, one of them suggested I come to Taiwan to teach for a year or two. While I appreciated the idea, I was quick to discount it, at least in my own mind. It was too crazy. It was too far away. I was too old to live in a foreign country. I had lots of reasons why it couldn’t work. I thanked him and told him I’d think about it.

I had been to Taiwan before, so it wasn’t totally unknown to me, but the idea of leaving my family, my friends, my country–seemed to be overwhelming. Eventually, the moment came when the only thing keeping me from this opportunity was my desire–a STRONG desire–for certainty. I agreed to a phone interview. And then a second one with several committee members. I talked to my family. I updated my passport. My husband and I made plans for me to go for a year to test the waters. I prepared for my new adventure.

Well, this is year four for me, and it’s the second year for my husband. Now it’s time to build a new cocoon. My time here has been filled with projects and activities that I never could have imagined. And while I love many of them, I now fly from one thing to another, with little time to think or create or just be. I need to slow down and think about what I really want; how I want to live my life in the next few years. Become intentional about what I’d like to have happen next in my life, rather than getting up each day and going from one deadline to the next.

This time, my cocoon holds new ideas about how to organize my time, ideas, and space. I feel a pull to move inside, an invitation to stay indoors, think about a way to channel my creative energy into my quilting, and work on a new cocoon. And fix myself a cup of tea.

The drawings in this post are done by Rena Chen. She has a BA in Applied English from Ming Chuan University in Taiwan. She enjoys arts, crafts, movies, and surfing the Internet. She is currently preparing for the government exam for cultural administration and hopes to one day work either in a museum or in a county cultural affairs bureau.