Reflections from a Creative Life

An author, wife, mother, and quilter comments on creativity

Thursday, January 26, 2006

More Lessons From a Quilt Square

My quilting project this past Sunday was part of an ongoing adventure with our local quilt store. Every other week, the owner doles out little brown bags with two bits of fabric and a pattern in it. Our job, as quilters, is to add the third piece of fabric, and turn all three into the square represented by the pattern.

When I first saw my two "bits" for this week, I wasn't at all sure they would work. One was a beautiful purple plaid with bits of green and a peachy colour in it. The other was a purple background with purple flowers. The floral was not a piece I would ever have purchased on my own. However, I managed to find a lighter peachy fabric that picked up the tones in both of my "given" pieces and off I went to my sewing room.

I loved the pattern we were given this week. As I cut out the pieces, I could envision a wallhanging made of these fabrics, in this pattern, hanging above my fireplace. I was ready to rush right back to the quilt store and buy a metre of each fabric, including the one I didn't really like. But it was Sunday, and the fabric store was closed. Besides, my goal for the day was to finish the square, not spend more money.

The pattern turned out to be more fiddly than I thought. There were lots of points to match up, and edges to trim. Still, I felt pleased with what was happening beneath my fingers.

The strangest thing happened as I finished. Though I looked at the completed square and smiled over my accomplishment, I realized I'd never be happy looking at that colour scheme as a wallhanging. What seemed like such a good idea in my imagination turned out to be less appealing in reality.

That's one of the hard realities of creativity. Not all of our ideas survive the harsh inspection of daylight. Whether it's a quilt square, a story idea or a new recipe, there's always the potential it won't work out quite as well as planned.

That's why being creative can be anywhere from slightly scary to downright terrifying. Each idea carries with it the potential of failure. How I respond to that failure determines whether my creativity grows or withers. If I blame myself for something which didn't live up to my expectations, I build barriers against further ideas. If I accept that the very nature of creativity is that some ideas succeed brilliantly and others don't work at all, then I leave my soul free to keep exploring, keep experimenting, and keep listening for that nudge of inspiration.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Lessons from a Quilt Square

Yesterday I had the joy of sewing a quilt square.

No, I didn't say a square quilt. What I sewed were the little bitty pieces that combine to make a single square. What's the big deal, you ask?

The big deal is this -- in my current phase of life, my quilting often gets short shrift. I'm rarely happier than when I'm in my quilting room, putting little bits together to make a symetrical design of colour and pattern. But I rarely do it.


It's called the Tyranny of Should.

I don't know whether I was trained this way as a child, or it's just part of my genetic make-up, but I have a really hard time doing anything for pure enjoyment unless my to-do list is mostly done. Of course, items like "sew on a quilt square for an hour" never make it onto the to-do list. Sadly, The List is comprised only of items I don't particularly enjoy -- fold laundry (again), clean kids' bathroom (again), etc.

I encountered a quote the other day which is slowly changing my thinking. It goes something like this, "You'll never be caught up." At the moment, I don't remember the rest of it, and I'm too comfy in my recliner to go looking. However, those five words have given me a new perspective.

Rather than waiting for my fun until I'm "caught up", I grab my fun with both hands whenever opportunity presents itself. Yesterday my son was invited to go tobagganing, and my daughter was having fun with play-doh. My husband was on his way to the other side of the country. In other words, no one needed me for anything.

Yes, the dining room floor is still sticky. The back entry really needs to be swept and mopped. We need muffins for snacks and lunches.

But I went downstairs and lost myself for a couple of hours in cutting and piecing together an intricate pattern. It was fun. Oddly enough, when I was finished, I felt rejuvinated. The cleaning chores didn't seem nearly so overwhelming. In fact, I knocked a couple of them off while waiting for my children to finish their baths.

Perhaps that's my resolution for this year -- ignore those "shoulds" which try to tell me my to-do list is more important than having fun.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Butterflies and Snow

Saturday afternoon, it started snowing. By Sunday morning, there was enough snow on the ground to thrill my children. At 7:30 am (yes, you read that right) my youngest was outside, rolling snowballs, building snow forts, constructing snowmen, and generally having a blast.

Five days later, the snow lingers in little patches. Most of it is gone, but in the mornings, the puddles are topped with ice.

Are you getting the picture? Here in northern Alberta, it's cold.

Tuesday, I had to go to a doctor's appointment, and decided to walk the 20 minutes through the municipal district park that borders our subdivision. It's a gorgeous walk, despite the chill. To my amazement, a butterfly flitted across the path. Then another one.

I could hardly believe my eyes, even while I felt the grin spreading across my face.

I love butterflies. They are a personal symbol of regeneration, of hope, of unexpected beauty.

I carried on to my appointment, only to be deeply disappointed by what I found there. No, my health is not in danger.

However, our town is so small, and so far north, and so far from amenities that it's really hard to get and keep good medical personnel. There are currently two doctors taking new patients, and only if those patients have recently moved to the area. In other words, there's no such thing as shopping around for good medical care.

The doctor with whom I had to consult seemed to have made up his mind what my ailment was within five minutes of my walking through the door. He wasn't interested in listening to my symptoms or my experience in dealing with them.

Since I had an absolutely wonderful doctor in the town we've lived in for the past four years, meeting up with this new individual was particularly discouraging. The bounce had definitely disappeared from my step by the time I left the clinic.

Up to this point, I've loved our new community, our new house, our new lifestyle. As I shuffled home, I felt like all the joy in my world had been sucked away.

Then I saw it -- another butterfly dancing in the breeze.

That's when I made up my mind -- if the butterflies can survive sub-zero nights, I can survive an uncaring doctor.

Thank God for the butterflies!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Life's Unexpected Turns

You know, I have the best of intentions about this blog. I truly don't plan to have two or more weeks go by between entries!

One of the things that keeps making me forget to update my blog is life's unexpected-ness. Ever hear the saying, "If you want to hear God laugh, just tell Him/Her your plans?"

Here's another version: "Every time I pick up a pencil to plan my life, God gives the table a good shake." (This from fellow writer, Bill Kritlow.)

My last three weeks have included a trip to visit inlaws, my husband's six-day trip for work, a BBQ related to his work, dance lessons, registering my children for fall activities, and to top it all off, a torn shoulder ligament.

That last one turned a magnifying glass on my daily life. For three days, I could do little but lay in my recliner and try not to move. It gave me time to think about what keeps my days so busy. It also gave me time to just enjoy being . . . or at least as much enjoyment as one can have while in pain. I feel like the enforced rest gave me a chance to catch up with myself, as it were.

Instead of going flat-out continuously, I spent three days living in the moment, just getting from one hour to the next.

I feel like I reconnected with my soul. I didn't have any life-alterning revelations. I just spent time with myself. I enjoyed it.

I think I'll make an appointment to do it again . . . this time without the pain.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Looking at a Storm

Being a writer is an abyssmally sedentary occupation, so I try to begin each day with some exercise. I've found this is one of the best things, so far, about living in the town of Cold Lake -- taking a walk is so much more interesting than in the city.
For example, this morning my dog, Mystery, and I went for a walk in the provincial campground that borders our subdivision. It's near the end of camping season, so there wasn't much activity.
Except, that is, for the wind soughing through the trees and the waves splashing on the shoreline. This campground is on the edge of the body of water for which our town is named, and the personality of the lake is beginning to impact my daily life.
Before moving here, the advance of rainy weather always troubled me. For one thing, I'm solar powered. When I get exposure to lots of sunshine, I'm happy, energetic, and ready to take on anything. Take away my sunshine, and I wilt.
The other thing about approaching rain that I used to hate is the wind. In a typical city, you can hear the wind whirling around buildings, creating strange noises, and in my case, creating just a general feeling of unsettled-ness.
But out here, on the edge of the wilderness, the wind feels natural. I not only feel it, but I also hear it in the trees. There's something oddly soothing to me about the wind in the trees.
And then there's the waves. They were building some impressive whitecaps this morning, and even beginning to crash a bit on the beach. The build-up to today's expected rain felt right, completely natural.
Which brings to mind what's never far from any of our thoughts these days -- the devastation wreaked in the Gulf States by Hurricane Katrina. That's nature gone on a rampage, and something I wish I never had to hear about ever again. The toll in human suffering, the thought of the lives completely uprooted and forever wounded, is more than I can bear to contemplate for long.
Yet there's a lesson in there for me. My creativity can be a force for inspiration or for destruction, depending on how I use it. I can create images of horror, concentrating on the worst the human nature is capable of. Or I can create images of redemption, showing how Grace is bigger than man's depravity.
Just like the stories from the southern US of people risking their lives, extending themselves beyond what it seems a mere human is capable of just to provide safety and solace to those who've lost everything -- those stories give us hope, give us a sense that life is still worthwhile in spite of nature's capricious destruction.
That's what I want to do with my stories . . . provide inspiration and comfort to those for whom daily life contains more challenge than they want to face. Just like the sight of a butterfly can stop my children's play while they observe the wonder, so I want my stories to give "a pause that refreshes" to those who read.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Author, wife, mother and quilter Posted by Picasa

The First Day

Today is a big day for us . . . my youngest child begins school full time. I spent literally hours yesterday labelling everything, right down to the last pencil crayon (at the school's request). Made me wonder what I was thinking when I gave my children multi-syllabic names!

This also means a new beginning for me . . . the beginning of an opportunity to focus daily on my writing. I have three novels in various forms of beginning, and for months now, I've been looking forward to being able to work seriously and consistently on them.

So what are my greatest enemies as I face this change?

#1 - Perfectionism
#2 - Distraction by what seems urgent
#3 - Not taking time to nurture my soul

Stay tuned, and I'll explore these themes in greater detail in the days to come.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What to Do When You're Tired

This morning my energy level is low. Really low. I had a good night's sleep last night, but today I just feel like doing nothing. (Those of you who are mothers will appreciate just how much "nothing" I'll get done today!)

For an accomplishment-oriented person like myself, doing "nothing" is sometimes more of a challenge than getting the next item on my "to-do" list crossed off. I have this sense that I shouldn't rest until that "to-do" list is empty.

Ever notice how unrealistic those little voices in our souls are? You know, the ones that play the messages which have been influencing your life from as far back as you can remember. I don't know about you, but the little voices in my world have two main subjects--my flaws, and all the things I should be doing other than simply enjoying life.

For today, I have a new kind of goal. #1 - I'm going to finish reading Coffee Rings by Yvonne Lehmann. It's a wonderful story of three friends bound by a secret. Last night I found out what the secret was. Today, I'm going to find out what they do with it now.

#2 - I'm going to spend some time in my children's world. I might build with Lego, or I might watch Springtime with Roo.

Life's not worth much if we don't enjoy it.