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  • Writer's pictureBetsy Grace

Improbable Beautiful and Afraid of Nothing



 

It's been a strange winter with many mild days and ash-colored skies. Though spring is sprouting around us now, my heart feels suspended and confused, craving the comfort of a quiet snowy evening and the catharsis of the thaw at winter's end.


Though my brain has been quite lively lately, I am persistently melancholy. But the laughter of my friends, the sweet sounds Dottie makes, the cozy snuggle with Justin every night, many delicious meals and the reliable company of good books, good music, and many new and interesting films keeps me moving ever forward.



Making


It's finishing season! Which is always thrilling.


First, Playa de la Alegria - the quilt inspired by a Puerto Rican beach. She came together in pieces slowly over many months and then at the end, all at once, and it was such a joy to pass her on to her new home.



This is a Betsymade original, a 100% custom design. The traditional quilt blocks are variations on a churn-dash in three sizes (6, 8, and 12-inch). I filled in the gaps with squares and rectangles of various sizes, pieced her together in 16 sections, and quilted her with bubbles and waves. For the most part, she turned out how I imagined (and hoped!) she would. I am especially pleased with the gradation of the sky, the pops of passionfruit sunshine, and the integration of the corals and magentas in with the sand and stone tones of the beach.


Here are a few more photos, including my original design drawing from almost exactly 1 year ago:




 

In the time since I last wrote, I made a baby quilt from start-to-finish. This one was based on a pattern from Jen Kingwell's book, Quilt Recipes. I gave myself permission to use whatever favorite fabrics grabbed my attention, cut and pieced from templates, and experimented with some straight-line geometric quilting. She's a sparkler!






 

My Mom and I also recently finished assembling, quilting, and binding the quilt we've been working on together for my sister, Molly. For this collaboration, we agreed on a color palette and then both made half the flowers. We chose this pattern by Sew Kind of Wonderful so that we could work on our curves, and we were both so impressed by their smart pattern design - and the GREAT ruler that goes along with it.



 

I've also kept the longarm warm with a couple projects for friends. Though time-consuming and a little fiddly, straight-line quilting sure is pretty. (NOTE: Longarming services are open for business! Refer your quilty friends to Betsymade for Quilt Finishing. More information here!)





 

And so begins the season for starting new projects. Of course, I have a few in the works! More to come as they grow.



Writing


I started writing what turned out to be a series of 4 short reflections on chaos and order last September. Ooof, it's hard to share what you write. But here they are.


Chaos Insight 1: Chaos is part of life. You're not doing it wrong.


The sage Pema Chodron filters chaos through the lens of Buddhism and emerges with the transcendently wise When Things Fall Apart, a book that should be read slowly and repeatedly, through many seasons of your life. She reminds us:

"Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that."

I definitely grew up believing that if you're doing it right, your life will be happy, smooth, and easy. Any other outcome means you're doing something wrong. I suspect the culture of the 80s and 90s are partially to blame for this. It was a relentlessly positive and optimistic (and destructive, turns out) time in American life: fueled by economic prosperity, saturated with advertising constantly reinforcing that the good, easy, happy life was attainable if you have that thing or look that way. For me, this background noise was amplified by the conservative family values culture I was nestled in - in which wealth and love and beauty seemed to all be a reward for righteousness. So many people I grew up alongside presented as pristine, unblemished families of beautiful, tan, white-teethed smiling faces with enormous houses and gloriously decadent swimming pools, who lived every day with kindness and grace, genuinely pleased with their lot in life and so sincerely grateful for how good they have it. They made all the right choices, they keep doing the right things - and were rewarded with everything someone might wish for in a smooth and happy life.


As a 1 on the enneagram, I have weaponized this totally bogus belief system against myself more times than I can count. When I struggled, when I was messy, when people got sick, when I hurt, when I felt confused or sad, when life was frightening - somewhere deep inside I believed that I had done something to deserve feeling so bad. So not only did I feel the hard feeling, I also blamed myself for it.


So it has been deeply healing to learn that pain is just a part of life for any human being alive on earth. None of us escapes without it because life demands it. Things do fall apart because everything is always changing, and sometimes that really hurts. But pain is just pain. It is not always our fault - sometimes it is just part of change, part of the cycle of disintegration and chaos that is fundamental to the experience of being alive. Being a living, changing human. The only time we are not vulnerable to constant change is when we are dead.


Life is change - and change isn't often tidy. It is usually chaos, and chaos can hurt.


But Chodron reminds us that we get to choose how we experience chaos and change, even when it comes with pain. We have choices about how we relate to ourselves in moments of turbulence. We can experience all of the wild feelings that come with chaos, moving through them, and trust that no matter how much it hurts right now, that feeling, too, will change. Chodron writes:  "The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."



Chaos Insight 2: There is always a pattern if you zoom out wide enough, for long enough.


Someone else I've been re-reading lately is Margaret Wheatley, particularly her ponderings on the poetry of strange attractors and the lessons chaos and order have to teach us about how to stay in relationship with our lives, our work, and other people from Leadership and the New Science (not a great title IMO but a true treasure trove of insight and wisdom). 


Strange attractors are a phenomena of what Wheatley broadly calls "new science." Basically, they're patterns. Quite beautiful, spiraling patterns of light that emerge from mapping a random data system - something like weather changes or traffic flow  - in three-dimensional phase space, which as far as I understand it is just an abstract digital void. Each point of data - each temperature change, each gust of wind - becomes a point of light in the void. At first, they appear out of nowhere, totally unrelated and unpredictable. But if you map enough data, over a long enough period of time, eventually a pattern will emerge. But not just any pattern - a known pattern, one of about two dozen that scientists have discovered. Every random set of data in the known universe will eventually organize itself into one of these shapes. I like to believe that scientists call them strange attractors because they're spooky. I mean seriously - what the fuck, this is wild.


An Example: The Lorenz Attractor

When all we experience day to day is the individual points, the moments we live, it can feel like chaos is winning. Terrible things happen. People get hurt or die for no reason that we can see or discern. We try to consistently model our values with our kids and they dismiss us. Our houseplants die. We get stuck in traffic. People we trust - people we love - give up on life. It is too much and we numb out so much eventually we get lost.


But chaos is never the full story. Chaos is a partner to order, and one cannot exist without the other - they are opposite aspects of the same phenomena of existence, like darkness and light. They are inseparable, forever in relationship with one another.


We are always participating in bigger patterns, in systems of order and meaning that we may not be able to fully see or understand and certainly can't control. No matter how unpredictable or random or strange or meaningless our lives and experiences might feel day to day, we are participants in this world, so are always contributing to the bigger patterns that define human life and existence. Every word, every action - a point of light in the void. Nothing that feels random is truly meaningless; everything is part of the macro view.


And yet, we have choices to make. It is up to us to decide what we will do with our experiences - how we will respond, what actions we will take, how we will use our voices, our resources, our energy, our life. And the choices we make - no matter how small or insignificant - are always shaping the much bigger pattern of humanity's future forming in the connections between us.


Chaos Insight 3: Know what season you're in, and what it demands of you.


Middle age is such a cliche, but there's a reason people talk about it so much. When you round the corner into your 40s, shit gets real. Seriously, people you know start dying. Marriages end, families change. Friends get sick or get hurt or lose their minds or become strangers. Toddlers are suddenly college students. Our bodies start to show signs of wear and we begin to wonder what kind of quality of life we should expect in our twilight years. As Star says in one of my favorite movies about middle age: "We go through stuff."


But there are some remarkable gifts in this season of life too. As the inevitability of death becomes so much more real, the thrill of living takes on a new kind of shine. Really good days - where you laugh so much or have so much fun or bask in perfect weather or breathe deep in a beautiful place or where you achieve something with your body or through your effort and hard work - are truly special. And the little everyday glories - the way the afternoon light shines through your favorite window, the smell of autumn rain, the sound of your friends' laughter from another room - reveal themselves as meaningful, as precious.


Of course these gifts are available to us in any stage of life if we're paying attention. But a unique gift of middle age is that most of us have survived many kinds of change by this point in our lives... often life-altering, sometimes transformative. We have been through the cycles of chaos and order, of things falling apart and back together - again and again. And with those experiences can come inner fortitude, resilience, and the seeds of wisdom.


Both kinds of seasons - chaotic and ordered - can be a struggle. So much structure and routine can feel oppressive. So much dynamic change can be overwhelming. Either can be isolating and painful - especially if we are unaware of ourselves and fighting against the reality of our lives. A season of chaos demands something different from us than a season of order and stability. Developing awareness of where we are right now - and then the ability to adapt our attitudes and actions to meet the challenges of each season - is the magic that can transform our struggles into learning, renewal, discovery, metamorphosis, and joy.


Seasons of order - characterized by predictability, routine, and structure - invite us to show up diligent, disciplined, resilient, reliable, responsible. They invite us to be still and watch how the world and the people we love are changing around us. They ask us how we can show up for others. They provoke us to pay attention and notice the world. They call us to comfort, to details, to long-term plans. They provide a reliable container to nurture small, delicate things - like new ideas and the very young - or very old. These are seasons for map-making and fertilizing, for organizing, for practicing, for strengthening.


Seasons of chaos, on the other hand, are characterized by flux, surprise, and disruption. They invite us to show up flexible, observant, responsive, open, loose. Like struggling against a swirling wind or a strong river current, holding on too tightly to what you know during a season of chaos will be strenuous, possibly painful. These seasons push us to loosen our grip, to surrender, to flow with the movement around us. They require us to flex muscles we may not have used in awhile - whether spiritual, emotional, mental or physical. They call us to stimulation, to the unknown, to big moves, to being awake and alert in the present moment. They stir us up. Through these seasons, we sometimes get a glimpse of the connecting threads of our lives - the way our roots grew into our present, toward the future that is beckoning to us.


Remember that chaos and order are always cycling, and notice: where are you now? What does this season call you to - and what possibility might be awaiting you there if you surrender?


Chaos Insight 4: Surrender and be changed.


This ever-churn, this dance of chaos and order, this primal paradox - isn't just an interesting quirk of existence. The balance of tension and motion between chaos and order is how everything new comes to be. As creatures of the earth, our lives are as it is in the natural world, and moving from chaos to order and back again and again is the magic spark that makes new life bloom. It is the process through which seeds and dead matter mix and new plants sprout, through which strangers become lovers and then family, through which wounds heal, through which policies change, through which bombastic new ideas push to the surface and change everything, again. The dynamic relationship between the wild motion of chaos and the stability of order is a fundamental, inarguable, unavoidable reality of anything that is alive. Life relies on this cycle to stay living. New life springs from it.


As we are living beings, we can trust both chaos and order to not only sustain us - but to keep us ever-transforming and becoming new. No matter how scary it is when chaos sweeps in to shake us to our core and drive us to our knees, we can trust that gale-force wind to deliver us to a new world and with it, a new self. No matter how restrictive the container of responsibility and routine can feel at times, we can trust that the security it creates is nourishing some new possibility yet to be born. And that neither will last. The storm will abate, the routines will dissolve. We can surrender to this season, whatever it is right now, and allow it to do its work on us - to change us, to move us along, to give new shape to our love and our power, to connect us to new sources of nourishment, to strengthen the bonds that steady us, to break the tethers that hold us back.


Chaos and order demand our respect and awareness - but never our fear. Living IS changing. And this dance is a dance of life.



Reading



 

For all you romantasy fans, I enjoyed 3 more novels in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series - and am nearly done with the 7th book in the series, Lover Avenged. The series definitely peaked with the 3rd book, but entries 4, 5, and 6 continued to be fun and sexy, with good character development always happening in the background. I also devoured Sarah J. Maas' latest, House of Flame and Shadow (Crescent City #3) and now that I've read every book she's written, I'm a little adrift, trying to figure out what to do with my life until I have enough distance from these series' to read them again.


And for the buddhists, I'm working my way through Sylvia Boorstein's guide to the paramitas, Pay Attention For Goodness' Sake: The Buddhist Path of Kindness. It's wise and amusing and lovely.



Watching


I recently finished a data project for Midnight Movie Train - The 100 Most Influential Films of 2023. Check out the post at the link, though as a special treat, I made a video this year! Enjoy the countdown.





Also


Our Bubbles - beloved friend for the last 12 years - left us suddenly a little over 3 months ago. My heart is still breaking about it, to be honest. I miss her every day.




And, I celebrated the end of my 42nd year and the start of my 43rd. Justin and I I got me a new wedding ring to celebrate.




Holy Time - Saving Your Self


We have had many beautiful Holy Time gatherings over the last several months, but slides from last week's experience--with words from Charles Bukowski, Sarah Ruhl, Joan Didion and William Bronk, video from Bleachers, and music from Cass McCombs--are available here.


Holy Time is a weekly online gathering - Thursdays, 8:45pm CT on zoom (https://zoom.us/j/94849428936, passcode: holytime).


All are welcome.


Contact me at bgmatheson@gmail.com with questions or for more information.


Soundtrack

 

What you are making and reading and writing and doing? What is inspiring you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.


Love,


Betsy

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