Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Man! There is a lot of hateration for Lena Dunham out there in the world. It's interesting the amount of vitriol she can provoke. I am a little baffled as to why, in truth. I'm guessing that beyond the NYC area, most of America is indifferent to her and her show, Girls. I'm guessing most of the country doesn't check in with Gothamist daily. Probably not? But here in NYC, she definitely occupies a not small amount of brain-space for a particular segment of the population.

In the months preceding the start of Girls, there was a pretty aggressive ad blitz in NYC. Posters in train stations, on buses, at bus stops, billboards, ads on NYCcentric websites like Gawker and New York mag, etc. I remember being sort of aware of the buzz when it started because I had seen and enjoyed her film, Tiny Furniture. Which I was aware of only because I was familiar with her mother's work. Which anyone studying photography in the eighties/nineties would be, because she was part of the big deal Cindy Sherman Metro pictures scene.


I didn't have a huge interest in watching the show. For one thing, we didn't/don't have HBO. For another, I hardly thought I was the demographic the show was aimed at. Lena Dunham was born in 1986, my sophomore year in college. The buzz was that the show was like Sex and the City for Millennials, and I had hated SATC. So I figured, not for me.

But then there was so much freaking talk about it - and the conversations/articles circled around stuff close to my heart, like feminism and personal agency and body acceptance and trying to make art and also make a living, and so on. So, when it became available online I watched. And it hardly seemed like revolutionary stuff. Not exactly reinventing television, or feminism, or anything, really. But it was interesting to me. And funny. And I was surprised to find myself, if not identifying directly, then certainly being able to recall a time in my life that looked and felt a lot like what she was putting on the screen. It felt very. . . familiar.
During the time I was in art school and grad school - 1984 thru 1994 - I seemed to always have some friend going through a performance art thing. And for a girl/female, performance art always seemed to entail nudity in some form. In graduate school, where I studied photography, more than half the grads were doing nude self-portraits. Which is to say, people being naked was just a standing feature of my young adult experience. Additionally, I always had one or two friends who tended to drop their clothes at the drop of a hat, so to speak. Doesn't everybody have that one Naked Friend? The one who wakes up and answers the door half-asleep but fully undressed? Who spontaneously pulls off her shirt on a hot and sweaty dance floor? I definitely did. Which is just to say that Dunham's character's nudity on the show seems all of a piece to me. And I do find it pretty awesome to see a female body onscreen that looks a hell of a lot like the bodies I'm familiar with, including my own.

Additionally, the criticism about the narcissism of the characters seems absurd to me. Of course they're self-obsessed. They're 24 years old. And, yes, they are sort of awful, but people sorting out their shit at that age are often kind of awful. I'm pretty sure I was. I think I can add that everyone I knew at that age was as well. We were all competitive with each other - for admiration, for a professor's attention, for lovers, for opportunities - while also being fiercely loving and supportive of one another. I can remember feeling such intense pressure - to sort it out, to make a plan, to achieve, to not make any missteps, to calculate every decision with an eye towards the future. It was a time of so much fear. There was a line from a poem I had memorized in high school that would constantly recur to me during those years which really encapsulated that fear:

"...that no one, in the end, would grant them time to prosper or endure."

It's part of a poem by Jay Parini titled "After the Summer Lovers" or at least I think so, I can't find it online. At any rate, I remember it because it articulated the strange sense of panic that time held. So many decisions to make and the feeling that the clock was ticking. The irony being, of course, that at that age one's life was just beginning to unfold. I wish someone would have told me to take a deep breath and relax already. That I could trust myself and the world, that everything would unfurl in due course.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


I think I have quite a few unfinished quilts. Unfinished in the sense that they are just the tops (albeit tops that are finished). I say I think I have quite a few because I haven't really counted them for a while. I know I have at least 2 that could be sent to the long-arm ladies today - I have the backs made and the stitching and thread selected and the order forms filled out. They are still sitting in my closet, not sent, for a couple of reasons, one of them being financial. I am reluctant to spend the money to have them finished since I am between paying gigs right now.

The other reason is that I don't have any specific plans for them, and therefore nothing particularly compelling me to finish them up. Additionally, although I find it very satisfying to complete a quilt (I actually enjoy hand-stitching the binding), the part I like best is making the top. I have a sort of ridiculously big stash of fabric so it's not any extra expense to just keep sewing so right now I am content to just keep cranking out tops. Since finishing my first 10 or so quilts, it has become more about process for me anyway, the enjoyment of working out certain ideas on my design wall.

My background is in the fine arts. I painted for years. I still sort of think of myself as a painter, even though I haven't picked up a brush for over 5 years. The way I approach quilt-making is not so different from how I used to paint. You try a little of this, you try a little of that, you stand back and evaluate it, add a little red here, pull a little yellow out over there, maybe turn the whole thing upside down and see how that looks. I know many quilters have backgrounds in the arts, so I suspect that my experience is hardy unique.

When I was still painting regularly, people would sometimes ask what I was going to do with them (the paintings) when I was done. Which is a reasonable enough question, I guess, but I still found it a little annoying. Like, if I didn't already have a gallery or a buyer lined up for them I was wasting my time. Maybe I was a little over-sensitive in that area (probably because I didn't, in fact, have either). But it was never about what might happen when they were finished - it was about making them for myself, first. Working out whatever idea I had in my head that I needed to make actual. I make quilts the same way, mostly. I've made specific quilts to give to specific people, but that's always a little hard. A lot of guessing at what might please them. I think that's why I've stalled on my quilt for Lily - in my mind I am trying to work out how to make a quilt I think her mom would approve of, that I would find interesting to make, and that she will want to hang onto after she's grown. That's a lot for my pea brain to juggle.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

you gotta work, work it girl, do your thing

So I'm in the process of putting together my portfolio. Something I haven't done for 14 years. Things have changed a lot since then (I don't need to tell you that). Anyway, it's hard. I've been in the process of it since early November when I was told that my position was being eliminated. I've had a couple bursts of energy since then that I have used to try to make some headway, but frankly, it takes a lot of concentration and detachment to sift through everything I've done for more than a decade and objectively curate a small mountain of stuff into a concise and elegant display of 10-12 projects. I'm getting there, though, I think. It does confirm a long simmering (festering) idea I have that the capacity to critically assess and dispose of images/objects efficiently is going to become an ever more in-demand capability. The future will belong to those that can ruthlessly and eloquently edit.

cover design for business we didn't win. not likely to make the cut.

Monday, February 10, 2014

mind the gap

Sometimes there is a gap between what I want/intend to make and what I actually end up making. Sometimes it is only a small gap, but sometimes it is a chasm. Sometimes I am fine with this, and sometimes it makes me mental. I think this surely must happen to other quilters, too?

One of the few quilts I've made that I feel unambivalently pleased with is this one:

I didn't have a specific "vision" for it at the outset, just a lot of red scraps I wanted to use up and a desire to sew mindlessly. By the time it reached a certain size I knew I would "resolve" all the crazy interior energy of the red and white checkerboard with a more consistent border. I considered adding another row or two to the outside edge, but a combination of laziness and a (rare) sense of wanting to leave well enough alone kept me from doing so.

I debated the back fabric for a while, however. Pretty early on in the process of sewing the top I had thought that this bright green fabric from my stash might just work a treat. It's actually a tablecloth I bought when I was in India several years ago. When I realized it wouldn't be quite large enough for the back, I felt quite sad. Figuring out a quilt back is actually a pretty involved process for me, I give it a (ridiculous) amount of thought. I auditioned a few alternative back treatments but kept circling back around to the tablecloth. I decided I could extend it by inserting two solid green panels, and that that would give it enough width for the ladies who long-arm my stuff. So I did that, but then I started feeling uncertain about having cut up the tablecloth to insert the panels and had to fold up the whole mess and stick it in my closet for 6 months. When I finally pulled it back out again, the extended back looked just fine to me, and I shipped it all off to Michigan to be finished. I'm actually really happy with the finished quilt - it has sentimental value for me as well as serving as a reminder to me to trust my initial instincts.

Which leads me to the quilt I've got in progress on my wall right now (top of this post). I'm not sure I'm totally loving it. Which is a bummer because it's pretty much, almost-ish, finished, I think. But somehow it's just not quite what I had hoped it would be. How did this happen? Maybe more importantly, how CAN it happen, if I am working truly improvisationally?

Answer: I guess I'm working only sort-of improvisationally.


I always start with SOMETHING when I start a new quilt. It's usually pretty loose - a shape I want to work with, or a combination of colors, or even an emotion, but there is always something. But not a predetermined end result (or only rarely). I guess I am only now realizing that at some crucial point I stop improvising in a "pure" sense and start making more deliberate decisions. At some point I must  develop at least an unconscious vision in my head? Maybe it's not possible to do otherwise?

 I don't know. Maybe I just need to balance out some of those blacks and then I'll be happier with it. We'll see.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

happy valentimes!

Valentine's Day.

In grade school it was awesome. A couple of days before the holiday, during class art time, we would make and decorate a big manila folder sort of thing - a "mailbox" of sorts - which we'd then attach to the front of our desks with a couple of fat strips of masking tape. On the day itself, there would be pink cupcakes with red hot hearts on them that someone's mom would have brought and red kool-aid in pink plastic cups. At the appointed hour, we would commence shuffling about the classroom dropping Valentines in one another's manila folder mailboxes. The expectation was that you might give some special friends special cards/extra sugar hearts, but that nobody would be left out. If there were 25 kids in the class, you arrived with 25 Valentines to share. Once everyone had made all their "deliveries" there was the sublime pleasure of spilling all the little envelopes out onto your desk and opening each one to see what it said and who it was from. Always hoping there would be some special message on the cards from the boy(s) you thought were cute and looking for meaning in the words written on the little sugar hearts enclosed.

Valentine's Day soured for me during high school. One of the fund-raising activities at my school involved selling and sending carnations during class on Valentine's Day. To walk around without a handful of red carnations on these days meant that nobody cared enough about you to send you any flowers. Or that you had not had foresight enough to arrange with a friend to send them to each other. I didn't really date in high school. I maintained a pretty aloof posture and self-defensively considered myself too cool for all the typical school bullshit like dances and pep rallies and such. So I was one of those pitiful souls who spent the day carnation-less, and feeling pretty unloveable.

As an adult, I've reclaimed Valentine's Day. I now view it as an opportunity to celebrate love in the widest sense - not just romantic. I try to make room at the end of January to hand-make a handful or so to send to family, friends, and people I think might appreciate receiving one. It's become my favorite holiday, actually. It combines crafts and sweets, two of my most favorite things. And I like the kitschy, over-the-top aspect of it - all that pink and red, and cherubs, and lace, and nonsense. It's fun to mess with it a bit, see how exuberant and silly and extreme you can make it. This year is a bit of a repeat from last year's version - a simple heart shape cut out and sewn together on my machine. Last year I included a bit of an E.E. Cummings poem, this year it's Langston Hughes:

"I play it cool, I dig all jive,
That's the reason I stay alive.
My motto,
as I live and learn,
Dig and be dug
In return."