Like Rose Petals, or Why The Paperless Society Is A Terrible Idea

August 20, 2018

I routinely make a note to self to check old to-do lists when I remember that I’ve forgotten an important task. That I forget tasks often is a sad commentary on my attention span, but that’s not the point. The point is, I would be lost if I didn’t scatter notes to self all over the house like rose petals at a wedding.

Yes, there are reminder apps on my phone and email, but they require thought and planning. Notes to self only require scraps of paper and something to make marks. Pencils, pens, crayons, soot from the fireplace, finger paints, blood from the paper cut you got tearing off the scrap of paper – any of these will do.

When you’ve written your note, you can be sensible and place it where you are likely to find it. That place will not include your desk, because it is already filled with other things. It should not include the freezer, even if that is where you generally find your coffee mug (admit it, the mug ends up there when you think about your latest plot twist while looking for something for dinner at the same time). My preference is to create a personal, private treasure hunt of notes to self. The surprise of finding a reminder to pay an important bill immediately can often shock my little gray cells into remembering what my character’s arc was supposed to be before I wrote that last chapter that changed everything.

Go ahead, regale me with stories of perfectly organized electronic calendars and to-do lists. Brag about never missing appointments and always being on top of events. Just leave me with my scraps of paper artfully decorating every flat surface.

Filters Wide Open

August 15, 2018

I was listening to an NPR show explaining how we evolved from the primates who tended to be jumpier when hearing rustling in the leaves. This is important to understand, that we are the offspring of the ones who wondered if that was a predator rather than the ones who thought it was just the wind. Our genetic heritage to evaluate sensory input on many levels, including through the “how could this possibly end” filter, promotes survival but can also lead to a form of paralysis if one’s filters are running at full throttle. I started thinking about wide open filters in relation to my art, and wondered if I couldn’t use this information to help overcome the fear of starting something new.

Two years ago, I bought this kit in Maryland. It is part of the 2016 Row By Row promotion. I also bought a couple of Row By Row kits from my local quilt shops, because I thought they would go together well. Then I put the kits in a bag, and let them marinate because I was nervous about making the heron from the Maryland kit. Until I heard the story on NPR, I thought I was just a fraidy-cat. Now I know my “what could possibly go wrong” filters were in overdrive. I could imagine all the ways I could destroy that heron, ruin the quilt, bring about the collapse of the entire quilting industry, and end Western civilization as we know it. “Self,” I said, “it is time to ignore those potential futures and see what actually happens.”

The heron came out okay after all. So did the rest of the row.

Luck and wisdom!

When Life Gets In The Way of Writing

August 13, 2018

getting-in-the-way-plant-8-13-18

There are days when I feel that the universe itself is reaching out to pull me off my path. Whether I’m being sucked into a thicket of daily tasks or surrounded by a hedge of small crises, the result is no creative activity that day. I can work myself into a full-blown pity party in no time, wailing that life is getting in the way of writing (or quilting). Then I come across someone who faced real thickets and real crises.

getting-in-the-way-text-8-13-18

This is what Chiura Obata wrote for the exhibit of art he created while in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans. This is the painting that went with the words.

getting-in-the-way-painting-8-13-18

I’m not going to promise that I’ll never feel sorry for myself again when life gets in the way of writing, but at the very least I’ll try to make it a short whine.

Read Carefully!

August 8, 2018

You know one should read directions carefully. You think you have. Guess again.

The Progressive Party project I’m working on this month will end up being a full-size quilt. I read the instructions and saw “make a floral block.” So I did.

The Batchelor’s Button block

The next day, before I finished the last seams of the block, I read the instructions again. This time I noticed that we’re supposed to attach our floral blocks as shown in the diagram. Where was that line the first time I read through it? Okay, it was in the same place and I didn’t notice. Lucky for me, I started the project early and had plenty of time to make the fill-in blocks that go with my floral unit. Also lucky for me, I chose a block that goes into a unit that someone else had started.

My unit, finished and ready to go

The good news is the person after me won’t be shaking her head at my inability to read a simple set of instructions.

Luck and wisdom!

Rage Against the Portrait

August 6, 2018

Being a writer isn’t all about putting words on paper. Artists of any kind also have to be marketers, and that usually means selecting one’s public image. I really hate choosing portraits. The problem isn’t that they don’t look like me – the problem is they do (and yes, I rage against my mirror as much as I rage against my portraits).

At least I’m smiling

This month has been particularly taxing. I’ve been lucky enough to be interviewed by a local newsletter about Tri-Valley Writers, but that meant finding a picture for the article. I’m also taking on the role of president of Tri-Valley Writers, and that means finding a different picture for our newsletter. Then I noticed that my WordPress photo is woefully out of date, as is my photo on the Tri-Valley Writers website. I’m tempted to put in a picture of something else, but that’s not what a sensible author who actually wants to sell some books would do.

Or is it?

The first medal I ever won got its own quilt

By the way, here’s where you can find my latest book, The Chenille Ultimatum, written with Ann Anastasio.

Flowers for Fall or Flamingos

August 1, 2018

I needed to make a technique demonstration for the Block of the Month, and didn’t have any of the fabric that we used for the kits, so I decided to use my scraps. I found a collection of fall colors, but then realized I had to make four iterations of the square flower to show how to manage a half-finished seam. I didn’t have enough scraps, but I was already looking forward to seeing how the fall fabrics would play together. I made the block anyway, and will finish it for a Display Block.

A flower for fall

As I was searching for a backing, I noticed a plastic bag filled with flamingo fabric. I am a sucker for novelty fabric. I never know what to do with it, but I buy it anyway. “Self,” I said, “make your four blocks from this novelty fabric, then use the rest of the fabric in the bag to finish it off for a Community Quilt. Some kid is bound to like the flamingos.”

A flower for flamingos

Don’t you just love it when a simple task turns into a relatively simple project that will clear out your stash and benefit someone else?

Luck and wisdom!

Misdiagnosing Your Writing

July 30, 2018

Is it time to fix your words?

It isn’t often that a misdiagnosis helps my writing. A few years ago, a new doctor decided that the colleague who diagnosed the rash on my palm was mistaken. “The good news is, what he prescribed didn’t do you any harm,” she said. The better news is, I decided I could make that work for me.

Stay with me here. Diagnosis is hard, and diagnosing skin issues is one of the hardest. It’s the same with writing. You know something is wrong is with the story, but what? Is there a hole in the plot? Are the characters not playing together nicely? Is the subtext fighting with everything else?

Now comes the real hard part. You ask people you trust for help, but what if they misjudge the problem? What if you’re advised to rejigger the plot, but that doesn’t solve anything? Back to square one with different advisers?

I can’t tell you what the solution is for your problem piece. I usually let the words rest long enough that my inner critic shuts up and the inner genius can get busy (I’ve had one piece resting for six years now, so this isn’t exactly a quick fix). In the meantime, nothing I did has done any harm. Tweaking the plot, changing the characters, revisiting the subtext – that’s all important work which will help me be a better writer for the next project.

So, thank your advisers, beta readers, and critique partners for all their misdiagnoses. In the end, it’s worth it.

Surprise Blocks

July 25, 2018

Once again, the Unfinished Quilt challenge has shown me my innermost soul. It is cluttered and completely random – my innermost soul, that is, not the challenge. I found these blocks in a bag that was supposed to contain fabric for a wheelchair lap quilt.

The purse collection – don’t ask me why

Why would I think these paper-pieced blocks would work well for a lap quilt, something that would need to be washed often in very hot water? Why would I think they would go well with an orange plaid flannel back, which is the other fabric I found in the bag?

Fortunately, I found some forest fabric in green, yellow, and orange that will go very well with the backing. It will certainly be more appropriate for a lap quilt that will probably be used by more than one person (the project will eventually go to a nursing home). It may have taken me years to finish this quilt, but sometimes it pays to procrastinate.

Luck and wisdom!

Thrift and Character Development

July 23, 2018

Noah Longshore, my dad’s father, supported a wife and four sons as a coal miner during the Depression. What he didn’t know about thrift from being the youngest of twelve children, he learned in the ’30s, and the lesson stuck. He journaled throughout his life, but would be mindful of the paper.

Lani Longshore Noah's diary

Noah’s diary

This page contains entries from four different years. Noah would use the same journal until most of the pages were full. Reading his diary was a completely new experience for me, since I am used to seeing only one year at a time. I wondered how much of what he wrote on any given day was shaped by what he had written the year before, or the year before that.

Then I wondered if this might not be a fabulous technique for character development. What does it tell you about your character if he saves paper as if it were a treasure (which, of course, it is)? What does it tell you about your character that he can review his life in chunks if he so chooses? What questions would it answer about your character if you put together three (or more) events spaced over several years on one page? Let me know if you find the idea intriguing.

Chiura Obata and My Fabric Stash

July 18, 2018

I have no problem choosing a book by its cover, such as Chiura Obata: An American Modern by ShiPu Wang. The cover is a watercolor of the Grand Canyon. It spoke to me because I have fabric in my stash that matches those colors and textures.

Art doesn’t have to match my fabric collection to intrigue me, but it certainly helps. Here is another watercolor that I adore.

This piece cries out to be translated into beads and embroidery.

Obata was born in Japan in 1885 and moved to California as a young man. He died in Berkeley in 1975, having lived through two world wars and the Japanese internment in this country. Neither his fame as a graphic artist nor his teaching position in Berkeley spared Obata from three years imprisonment in a camp in Utah. He set up art classes while in the camp, continuing to produce drawings and paintings despite the injustice of his circumstances. His art is poignant, soothing, and – when you know his story – incredibly optimistic. He is just the role model I could use when life becomes overwhelming.

Luck and wisdom!