ragged stitches


It’s counter-intuitive, to sew ragged stitches along the raw edges of fabric scraps. Everything I know about sewing (and I am careless enough as it is) tells me to do this differently, to apply the patches of various silks and cottons and linens in the way I’ve always done: sewing the wrong side of the scrap to the body of the quilt and then turning it, ironing it flat, using small regular stitches to quilt the layers together. But this time I am exploring imperfection. Here’s one example I keep in mind as I sew, a boro quilt of ethereal practical beauty:


What is perfection anyway? I think about that when I swim. I am clumsy, awkward, but I swim a kilometer three times a week and it feels wonderful in the moment, and after. My writing is always raggedy-edged, unfinished (in a way), shape-shifting as it goes along. There’ve been times when I was courted by bigger publishers, hoping for a book that would sell. I remember having lunch with one and coming home in great excitement to tell John what suggestions had been made (I’m being careful here!) to turn something I’d already written in something else. I could do this, I said. And he said, Yes, of course you could. But would it make you happy? You’ve already written the book you said you wanted to write. When I thought about it, I realized I had. My happiness with it had been in the process of writing, of following the beautiful thread that led me along roads I’d never known were there, into mazes and out again, not knowing the destination. What had been suggested to me was a trail well-mapped, direct, not exactly full of possibility, but maybe interesting enough. I’d know exactly where I’d arrive before I even began. Did I want that? Even if I could make my sentences as bold and as strong as I could? It turned out I didn’t. I’m curious enough and stubborn enough to want to do things my own way. It’s not that I think everyone should follow this process. I’m really glad that others don’t because in books, as with quilts, I love the huge range of texts and textiles that result from all kinds of approaches and pursuits. I think there’s room for them all.

It’s counter-intuitive, to sew ragged stitches along the raw edges of fabric scraps. But I’ve got these new needles, sharp and true, and it’s a pleasure, though sometimes a nervous-making experience, to run them along and through a small scrap of blue cloth. What will this become? What will I become, making it?




who knew they were waiting…?

Last night we arrived home from Ottawa — a long day, with a stop in Winnipeg, and then the Canada Line from the airport to downtown, followed by the Horseshoe Bay Express bus to the ferry (which mercifully was late so we were able to catch one around 7:45 rather than having to wait for the last one at 9:15. Our car was in the lot on the Langdale side and we got in, put on some sweet jazz, and drove the dark highway home, tumbling into bed around 11, which was more like 2 a.m., body(Ottawa)-time. It was wonderful to spend time with our new grandson and his parents. They were very good to us and picked us up from airports, train-stations (we went to Toronto for a few days), cooked lovely dinners for us, and generally made room in their lives and household for us. And Forrest even let me use his computer because, wouldn’t you know, I found myself heady with ideas for my current work-in-progress. I had my little tablet with me but I can’t “write” on it. Lord knows others could and perhaps I’m just too much the diva but somehow my thinking goes as cramped as my fingers when faced with that tiny screen. Most of what I was doing was working with existing pieces which I am trying to “knit” together and so although I had a paper copy of one of the essays which I scribbled on and over and through on the flight from Vancouver to Ottawa last week, I couldn’t really “see” the changes until I’d entered them on the typed file. Everyone has a different way of working on drafts. Some people write them long-hand, some type every word, some keep careful notebooks. My own process is a mixture of these, a funny patchwork of idle scribbles on whatever paper is handy, then typing, then making revisions on paper copy, then — well, you get the idea. Or maybe not. But I’m convinced there’s no single template for writers to use, no manual to follow, or system to incorporate into your day. The only constant is that writers write. They find a way to do it. And sometimes they’re writing even when they’re not. Sometimes they wander through the world accumulating, absorbing, and when the time is right (though it will often not be convenient), they use the materials to make something of their own.

I read an interview with the American writer Mary Ruefle (http://www.divedapper.com/interview/mary-ruefle/) this morning and how sane she is!

Whichever way it takes, the lesson in all of this is patience. For instance, the story of my not being able to read for three years and then encountering a book of poems on a sale table leading me back into reading is typical for young writers who can neither read nor write.     Not being able to read or write can coincide, or they can be separate. I do know in the period I was unable to read, I was still able to write. But, you know, it’s all patience. It’s learning that there are cycles and you have to go through them and it has to do with faith. Patience has to do with the faith that you will go back to reading, or if you have some kind of writer’s block that you’ll go back to writing. I never myself suffered from writer’s block for more than an inconsequential amount of time, but it’s all patience and faith. Wasting time has to do with the patience and faith of knowing that it’s essential. Wasting time—I write when I waste time. But there are no rules. Sometimes we write when we’re at our busiest and think we have no time.

I’ve just had nearly two hours at my desk, reading the interview, fiddling with some images central to this essay, and actually writing a few paragraphs which feel like they’ve come out of thin air. Who knew they were there. waiting? Not me. But this morning, wrapped in the old familiar scent of woodsmoke, a cup of very dark strong coffee beside me, I found what I was looking for, hoping for. Sometimes I hold the words in my hand like my grandson’s tiny fingers, amazed at them, in thrall to them. I love what Mary Ruefle has to say about the waiting. And also the wonder: “You’re there to engage your own sense of wonder and curiosity. There is no substitute for wonder and curiosity in a life. It’ll take you a long way.”