Tag Archives: friendship

SPROUT! Encouraging Other Artists

3 Apr
Artists of every botanical species can sometimes feel alone in a cold, harsh world.

Artists of every botanical species can sometimes feel alone in a cold, harsh world.

Seedlings come in all varieties. Whether newfound ideas or individuals, they are important artistic sprouts for us to encourage. When either a creative project or a creative person is first placed into our lives, we as artists—regardless of where we are in our own journey—can help both them and ourselves grow by our openness, attention and support.

In the past week, I’ve met not one, but two amazing women. For the sake of privacy and universality, let’s call them Young Sprouting Artist and Young-at-Heart Sprouting Artist, or “Yo” and “Yah” for short. If either reads this post, she’ll know who she is.

In each instance, a casual conversation quickly escalated to an immediate connection. I had a hunch I knew the reason, and in both cases, my artistic intuition was subsequently confirmed. After a group exercise class at the gym, stay-at-home mom Yah eventually shared that she is a prolific painter who longs for her first art show exhibit spot but feels discouraged by obstacles. Under even more unlikely circumstances that I won’t detail here, young elementary school teacher Yo eventually shared how she longs to write a Young Adult novel but also feels discouraged, perhaps by her own inner critic more than anything else.

I wanted to reach out and hug Yah and Yo. Mind you, my artistic journey is far from its own apex. Nevertheless, I was overcome with a desire to encourage and support each of these beautiful women. In those honest moments, my artistic soul screamed within, wanting to affirm to them: “Yes, you are an artist! And you are not alone!”

That’s how and why we 4 Chicks dreamed ourselves into online existence. The support and love we experienced for each other’s creativity was so powerful in changing our own lives that we wanted to share it with others. But before all that, we were four extraordinarily ordinary moms who giggled at calling ourselves “artists.” Here’s a quick Chick Quiz to give you an idea of our transformations over the past three years:

  1. Which Chick has written four YA novels? (Hint: the first one, Olivia Twisted, comes out November 2013 from Entangled. Oh, and this fabulous, funny Chick also won a prize at the last SCBWI conference for her costumed impersonation as Honey Boo Boo.)
  2. Which Chick has written multiple picture book manuscripts, finished one novel and started another, while taking on exciting new roles as a college professor and seminar leader? (Hint: she never has a bad hair day. That should give it away.)
  3. Which Chick won a national contest to have a children’s book published and is working on an historical novel based on the life of a female pirate? (Hint: she wrote Addie and Ollie in one evening but has been writing the novel on and off for…much longer.)
  4. Which Chick edited our theme song video, started running triathlons, marathons, Tough Mudders, and is currently studying to be a nutritionist and personal trainer.  (Hint: her muse name comes from all the creative parties she throws at her house and also for hosting our monthly meetings. Yes, her rattan pool furniture is our “set.”)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Like healthy grass, the roots of healthy artists grow horizontally, strengthened by the support of other shoots and reaching out themselves.

Tomorrow I’ll be at a nearby community college, where I was asked to attend a fine arts student expo to speak casually about the blog, blogging and freelancing with those looking to pursue artistic careers. Coincidence? No such thing. After being so deeply inspired by Yo and Yah, I’m more excited than before to share whatever artistic seeds I’ve learned along the way.

Have you met someone recently who could use your artistic love? Or is it your own germinating idea? Either way, cherish your sprout and help it grow together with you.

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TANGO! Dance around the bullies and be your creative self!

22 Feb

This is an odd way to relate to this month’s power word, TANGO, but it’s something I feel pretty strongly about.

Recently, someone close to me experienced bullying at his middle school. Remember middle school? I do. I hated it. Well, that’s probably being a little harsh, since there were many things I enjoyed. But most of my friends weren’t in my “block,” and I had scoliosis, which means I had to wear a brace for a year and a half of the junior high hell (the brace wasn’t visible, but I felt like it was).

To show him he wasn’t alone, I asked the Twitterverse to share stories of bullying experiences in middle school. And WOW was I surprised when my Twitter feed blew up and I received over a hundred responses to my request. From editors to authors to even a rocket scientist, many had felt the sting of being the “odd one out.” And a common theme—many times the bully was getting bullied herself.

Then a friend sent me an email about how her previously trusted group of peers had been talking about her behind her back and treating her poorly (since she’s one of the sweetest people I know and considering her situation, I’m thinking it could be a jealousy thing). She decided to break with the group, but it wasn’t easy. They had been together for years. It made her question her own self worth, and that, to me, is unacceptable.two young girls laughing behind another girls back

When bullying rears its ugly head beyond the primary school years, how do you handle it?Maybe it happens when an artist perceives himself as blocked, as if blocking others leads to revelation or success for himself. As in middle school, sometimes it’s the bully who is getting bullied. As adults, though, it surprises me still that this happens. Why hinder when we should be supporting each other? I can’t think of anything more detrimental to the creative self than being dragged down by naysayers.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve learned to keep circles of trust around myself. No one gets into the circle unless invited—no one tangoes with me (no one puts Baby in a corner?) unless I really, REALLY trust them.  They’re the only ones who can actually affect my perception of myself. I don’t have energy for the rest.

So tango around those who aim to hurt you. Create your circles and block the bullies. The dance will be much more enjoyable for it!

What’s Your Block?

29 Dec

I'm somewhere under this monstrous pile, sewing the joining seams on my Mom's quilt in 2009.

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part Three)

In the past, the assembly of a quilt has been by far the most difficult for me. It seems easy enough in theory to join together the three layers: pieced top, backing and middle batting. But in practice, I’ve tried sprays and pins each time but ultimately been forced to manual basting–sewing loose lines–as the only effective way to prepare the layers for actual quilting.

Quilting connects us to women throughout the centuries before. Jen and I go way back, but not quite that far.

Additionally, for these final connecting seams, I’ve always selected patterns that allowed me to stitch in the ditch. (That means you simply sew the three layers together along your top seam lines.) While perfectly effective, this limits your joining pattern to simple squares and rectangles. The only alternative would be to hand-sew a decorative pattern one taut quilt hoop at a time, the way my Great Aunt Jo and women throughout the ages used to do.

I, however, have an irrational fear of this level of hand-sewing and the incredible additional work it must involve. I salute those who have done it this way, much as I admire women past and present who have been able to give birth naturally. Nevertheless, the process involved even to machine sew for this last phase in the past has proved traumatic enough to prevent me from enthusiastically taking on a new quilt. In short, assembly had become my block (pun intended), that is, until last fall.

After recently moving to a new city, while on a paint run to Sherwin Williams, I stumbled upon an unassuming quilt shop window. Something beckoned me to look inside. When I did, the first thing that caught my eye was a giant machine humming busily in one quadrant of the store. I instantly recognized its purpose and nearly shrieked at the nearest shop employee, “You can assemble quilts!” I was so excited at this discovery that I resolved to make my dear friend Jennifer a quilt in that very moment.

Call me lazy. Maybe this IS a big cheat. But back to the birth analogy, I had two C-sections; does that make me less of a mother? And while I happened to breast-feed, if it hadn’t worked out, would I have starved my child? No, of course not. If I had needed to bottle-feed, whether by choice or necessity, that would have been okay, too. What’s important is ensuring your baby gets the nutrition and sustenance it needs, right?

The completed quilt top!

Creative babies are no different. The important thing is to keep them alive. Might a modern Michelangelo have used computers to assist his Sistine Chapel paintings? Verily!

Nevertheless, my personal guilt was not alleviated until I learned of the long queue of quilts awaiting their turn at the long-arm Gammill Statler quilting machine. Not to stereotype, but I’m pretty sure most of them were put there by far more veteran quilters– women (and some men!) who were savvy enough to utilize the latest technology while freeing up significant chunks of their time and creative energies.

The finished quilt should be ready in 6 weeks.

When I ventured back to Cornerstone Quilt Shop, the girls there (as their emails are signed) reminded me of Designing Women, interspersed at their stations in the shop. To get a photo, I had to explain how I had been blogging about the process. One beautiful white-bobbed sewer looked up from her machine, seeming amused. “Welcome to the club,” her warm smile said.

“You’ve done well,” the lovely woman who was walking me through arrangements reassured. After picking out the joining thread and stitching pattern, I asked my helper’s name (partly to be sure in whose hands I was leaving my baby). “Jenny.” The name of my lifelong friend, the quilt’s soon-to-be recipient.

So it is that the quilter’s hoop has come full circle. This final, painful phase has been turned over to experienced midwives. And I now need only wait for our shared baby to be fully delivered.

See also Who’s Your Fire Escape? (Part One) and Pieces of Us (Part Two).

Pieces of Us

21 Dec

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part Two)

My 17th birthday. Jen shared in my excitement over my OWN cordless phone.

Selection, cutting, piecing and assembly. These are the four main phases in the fabrication of a quilt. Or a friendship. Over the long course of each, great care (and luck) with the first two phases affect the rest.

These pairs of strips were cut to form the smallest "stair" blocks of the pattern.

I’m always reassured when I still love my chosen fabrics throughout and beyond the tedious process of working with them. Some become favorites, like the most cherished characteristics of a longtime friend. Others serve to bring harmony and balance–in color, pattern and scale. I like a mix of each.

For this quilt, my fabric selection included red as base (and backing). This is the primary color of both the elementary/middle and high schools to which my friend Jennifer and I attended together, which despite such extended exposure, remains the dominant hue in both of our home interior color schemes. The shimmered gold sun fabric was an exciting find, which I opted to employ as the “stairs” in the pattern. It reminds me of our coinciding faith in a saving God, who has always been and remains our ultimate shared fire escape.

A quilter's tools: rotary mat, cutter and edged ruler.

Precise cutting is critical. As I plodded through this repetitive phase with my handy-dandy quilting tools, the numbered inches on my rotary mat took me back to well-grooved positions in the timeline of my and Jen’s lives.

  • 2: We, the inseparable pair in high school. Two siblings in each of our families. Our marriages. We each have two kids.
  • 6-1/2: The age we first knew each other. Carvel ice cream parties. Our well-loved first-grade teacher, Miss Highland.
  • 12-1/2: Middle school drama. Bible confirmation. Our well-loved eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Marsh, who taught us both how to write.
  • 18-1/2: College roomies first semester. Jen made me a neat-freak. We part ways to attend different schools.
  • 26: Jen has her first son, and I become a godmother. We’ll switch roles two years later.

The piecing stage takes the longest, although in my opinion, it’s the easiest. If you’ve cut right, sewing pieces together is pretty straightforward. If you watch this video, you’ll get the picture of how it goes. And goes.

Iron out the wrinkles and lay seams flat as you go along.

Right sides together, always.

As with any sewing, most everything in a quilt happens behind the seams. The pretty fronts that the world sees are placed together, face to face, and pinned at intervals along straight edges.

So, too, of a deep friendship. The real action takes place over hundreds of points of connection–those humorous, awkward, painful, inspiring stories behind the stories–conversations and confidences known only to you.

Preparing for the final seam, joining together the two sides.

For ease of sewing my 10 pieced columns, I decided to first attach the lengths within the two groups of five before combining the resulting two big pieces. I realized, in doing so, one more eloquent attribute of this pattern. The quilt can be divided in half, with the vertical patterns of the left repeating, though in opposite order, on the right.

I smiled again at the fortuitous symbolism. Jen and I: two halves of one enduring friendship.

Look for The Big Reveal next week in Part Three.

See also Who’s Your Fire Escape? (Part One).

Who’s Your Fire Escape?

17 Dec

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part One)

This month, the Chicks and I have been mulling over Chapter 8 of Julia Cameron’s Walking in This World. It’s all about what Julia calls Discernment, that is, learning to “name our true supporters more accurately.” The task: Make Something for Someone Else, Not to Be Somebody.

Jennifer and I have been having "Field Days" for as long as we've known each other.

In truth, I bought the material for a new quilt months ago and have wanted to make it for much longer. Maybe since I was in first grade. That’s when I first met my friend, Jennifer, although I wouldn’t know for another decade that we were destined to be BFFs.

For thirty years, Jennifer has been my fire escape. And I think I've been hers, too.

When I picked out the pattern for the quilt I wanted to make Jennifer, I saw the word fire and thought I might name it something like “The Flames of Friendship”. But when my tweenage daughter, who’s much more observant than I, looked at the pattern picture last week and said “Oh, I get it. The little squares are like stairs,” I looked more closely at the name: FIRE ESCAPE. Huh. I didn’t get that before. At any rate, I decided it was the perfect (what else?) metaphor for our friendship.

My 16th birthday at Medieval Times.

Although sharing so many similar experiences together at St. Mark’s Lutheran School in Hollywood, Florida (tragically closed just last year), we didn’t grow especially close until high school. I was the loud and outgoing one. She was the quiet and disciplined one. But as we faced the daunting perils of pre-adulthood, our differences became complements. Our strengths and weaknesses fit together, like well-cut pieces of fabric.

My last quilt, made with love in 2009, was for my mom.

This will be my fourth quilt. Wanting to give something special to my sister, niece and mom were my motivations before. My favorite part of making a quilt is the stream of brainless mental wanderings that occur over the hours of cutting, pinning, sewing and ironing. It’s impossible to put so much into a gift without thinking fondly of its future recipient.

Good friends meet equally, at right angles.

Right Angles: One of my ethereal epiphanies came as I was cutting. We all have so many people we call friends, don’t we? The onset of Facebook and other social media has further eroded the term, which used to be a step above mere acquaintance. Perhaps the litmus test is this: is your friendship cut at right angles? Some relationships just aren’t. One person gives more than the other, making them (wait for it)–obtuse.

Before I became one of the 4 Chicks, I was the "co-owner" of a cutting-edge fashion enterprise. We paid for these labels with babysitting money.

But the fundamental starting point of any quilt is right angles. Meeting equally at a point. Over and over and over. That’s the first step of a friendship, too. More about both to come.

See also: Pieces of Us (Part Two) and What’s Your Block? (Part Three).

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