How about a little joy?
We have had such a long, bitter winter. But there are sugar snap peas and carrots coming up slowly in the backyard. Our front yard is full of tiny maple trees, outnumbering blades of grass, or so it seems. There are tulips and violets and forget-me-nots in bloom. And this past week some of our winter and early spring work blossomed too.
Fresh after taking the SAT, Kate is in the midst of AP exams. She had one in chemistry last Monday, and another (known as APLang, at least in these parts) on Friday. The latter had several essay questions, and she wrote in pencil for about three hours steady, dragging the heel of her left hand through the strokes of grey. Saturday morning, on our way to the post office to renew three passports (two expired, one about to – it has been a complicated season), she complained of an aching left arm even as she was bent over her AP US History study guide, gearing up for another long exam this coming Wednesday. The timing of what was to come next that day could not have been worse. Oh well. We do what we can and what we must. And when Kate has work ready to perform, she performs. Even in the midst of APs. She spent the afternoon away from home, participating in an organ rehearsal, a student recital, and a studio recital. More on the second two below.
I have been working on appliquéing large backdrops out of felt for a friend. These will be used at a local India cultural center in a pantomime which she choreographs and directs, and in which she performs. The three large pieces are 6’ x 6’ and the four narrow ones are 1’ x 6’. They came together slowly as I worked through how to begin them in my head for a week or a month. Time stood still there for a while – as evidenced by my lack of posting here, clearly.
First, three giant 12-spoked wheels of red, green, blue and orange. Then, contrasting petals of red or blue depending on their background. Those two steps were time-consuming, but not all-consuming. Then, the yellow bit near the tip of each petal. And something happened while I was stitching those on.
After making a decision, the periods of execution were long stretches of time for cogitation, thinking and dreaming about what might come next. Sewing 36 large petals to a 6’ square, wrestling each prickly, pinned beast through the narrow sewing machine space … let’s just say they forced me to be present, and to feel that I was attached – pinned, even – to each panel’s transformation from solid green to layers of color. One thing I dreamed of, as sharp pinpoints left marks and drew blood on my hands and forearms, was how it might be to work with a narrower piece of felt. And I cut out more of the yellow bits.
I had a week’s hiatus during Kate’s spring break. She and I traveled to five colleges and universities in five days, and the sewing machine and mound of felt stayed at home. My sketchbook and a sheaf of images-for-inspiration my friend lent me came with us, and one night in my pajamas while sitting on a hotel bed, I drew the repeating, reversing vine that I would cut out of light green when we returned. Another night I drew the center part of each of the large wheels-turning-into-flowers, and envisioned how I might ruche up one edge of wide silver ribbon to mimic shisheh.
Once home again, the work of finishing became all-consuming, and I quickly cut and sewed the felt for the vines and the centers. Or as quickly as one can cut and sew 24 sinuous vine segments. While sewing those, I realized that the narrow panels would need a bit more … something, and after experimenting with circles of paper, I cut out and sewed on 96 circles. Which led to more contemplation time at the sewing machine. And more circles. 360, to be exact. Counting the three in the very center of each large panel, that’s 459 circles. Yesterday at about 8 p.m., I sewed on the last of them. Done!
Watching these unfold and flower in my hands has been … thrilling? healing? painful? I cannot sum up which. To borrow from Ellen Bass (thank you, Robyn!): I began them in “an obesity of grief,” and it is nigh unto miraculous to me that they are done on time and that they are beautiful, even joyous. I am still wading hip-deep in grief by intervals most days, but still. Look what came out of me during it. Because of it? Despite it? I cannot begin to imagine. I am, however, looking forward to seeing them onstage.
Speaking of stages, I love listening to this piano, and the pianist. From the student recital:
And this from the later in the day studio recital. Not my favorite piano at Eastman, but one of my favorite bits of Chopin: