Making Fire (Week 24)
"...no person, trying to take responsibility for his or her identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors...
I think you thought there was no such place for you, and perhaps there was none then, and perhaps there is none now; but we will have to make it, we who want an end to suffering, who want to change the laws of history, if we are not to give ourselves away."
(Excerpt from "Sources," by Adrienne Rich)
This beautiful monster of a long-arm sewing machine was officially installed in the Betsymade studio this week, and she makes beautiful stitches.
All of my studio time has been in the basement this week, learning how to load the layers onto the rollers, how to wind bobbins and thread the machine, and practicing various free motion stitch patterns.
Organic, flowing shapes (leaves, roses, waves, circles, etc.) come most easily to me. I am going to need more time practicing my straight lines, consistent arcs, and other geometrics... but I'm enjoying the practice quite a bit, and just got a new bolt of muslin and a 30-yard roll of batting, so studio time is totally on.
My slice of a mini-memoir, Collage - A Personal History, continues this week with...
Chapter 4: The Persistence of Light / Adulting
(If you're just joining us, check out Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3)
I got all emotional thinking about writing this part. Because looking back on it now, the 12 years I spent in this season feel, in a way, like a long, dark tunnel.
Coming out of it now - despite all the beautiful gifts those 12 years gave me: financial security, the opportunity to do meaningful work alongside people I respect and admire, all the countless, irreplaceable ways I have grown and become more free in myself because of the challenges I've faced and obstacles I've overcome and the people I've learned from - what stands out to me now is the overwhelming feeling of suffocation. Of being crushed. The relentlessness of the work, the way I gave myself to it so completely, the neverending churn of way too much to do and not enough time, the constant stress and revolving door of crisis and struggle... it almost feels now like it was trying to crush this spark.
Like through all the wildness of ambition and conviction and collaboration and leadership and innovation and problem solving - I almost forgot. I almost forgot that I have this thing I can do that is really special and magical. That I can create meaning and beauty.
But I didn't. Making quilts kept that light alive in me, through that tunnel. Quiltmaking space became a part of my life that was an explosion of light and joy. It kept my brain light, supporting me through each twist and spin in the wild journey of supporting our family and, eventually, growing into a confident middle aged professional badass who knows I can do pretty much any challenging job I might try.
And who knows now, for sure: being a CEO - or chief anything really - is not what I want.
I know that now.
And I have not forgotten the collage artist in me - because of quilts.
I made this one when I was a Staffing Manager for a national public education reform nonprofit organization, while I was learning how to recruit extraordinarily talented people and how to coach executive leaders in making the best possible hire - even sometimes building whole teams from scratch.
I made these two the year I was promoted into my first management position, when I consistently worked 70 hours a week. I managed a team of 12, coordinated an org-wide restructure that included layoffs of my own team, and navigated multiple leadership changes in my department, including some that infuriated me so much that Justin and I went out to the Workhorse in Austin where I pounded so many Jamesons on the rocks that I fell off my bike more than once before we got home.
I made these two as I slowly realized that - after so much hard work and sacrifice - opportunity had dried up for me... or at least, there wasn't really anything for me to do at TNTP after 6 years, and though I couldn't picture life after or outside of that intense craziness, I knew I needed a change. I opened up some doorways, had some phone conversations, and eventually found myself interviewing with DeRay and Maggie for a job at Minneapolis Public Schools.
While I redesigned and led the hiring process for principals and assistant principals at Minneapolis Public Schools, coordinated searches for cabinet and executive district leaders, supported the school board in hiring a new superintendent, and designed new systems and technology to support effective matchmaking between leaders and school environments - and generally struggled against and within the bureaucracy of an organization that had to follow 17 different rule sets in order to support its 17 different groups of unionized staff, I made these:
And then, Wildflower called my name. During those first few years at Wildflower (my very heart), the most intense of my life, in which I raised $700K, recruited a hundred teachers, developed a framework for school startup for the national Wildflower network, created and explained our first affiliation agreement, learned a whole new way of working together that upends everything we know about control and power and ourselves... and internalized it so deeply I taught it to others, built a team from scratch, created a charter school and got it on its feet, navigated countless challenges and met so many people and lied awake many nights knowing so much depended on my success or failure and that this all might fail - it all might fail and it might be my fault, I made these:
And then, the first Minnesota Wildflower schools opened and something in me cracked a bit. First, apart - and then, open. And I began the downshift again... Began to experiment, again, with a pieced together life. As I moved down to 3 days/week at Wildflower - and in the subsequent years, created and led Wildflower's strategic planning process, wrote and facilitated a new adult learning curriculum to support Wildflower's unique ways of working, coached Wildflower leaders across the country and navigated countless crises and conflicts... some that I thought might break my heart in two - I made these:
And by that time, when I had mustered my courage to figure out a different kind of life for myself, the light in me was burning bright again. Because of quilts. But not only because of quilts.
To be continued, in the next chapter: Holy Time.
More information about each (well, most) of the quilts - how I made it, who it was for, etc. - above is available by clicking on the images.
Hamlet (2023): I know this space is usually for movies, but this week J and I went to the real, live THEATER. Hamlet is playing at the Guthrie Theater through May 21... definitely recommended if you can get there. The cast's use of the language is generally fantastic, especially the lead, Michael Braugher, whose beautiful voice makes a dynamic instrument for the poetry to play on. Laertes and Polonius were also great. Unfortunately I was not vibing with Gertrude or Claudius at all. Ophelia was alright, I think, but the direction didn't give her very much to do... which leads to my biggest gripe: the production feels a bit cold, stuck in its own head. The play itself is dripping with lust and rage and the kind of despair that makes a person lose their mind, so I found it so odd that in this production, there just wasn't really any heat. The staging seemed intent on holding the actors back from touching one another. My minor grip is that the costumes were weird - a strange mish-mash of fashion trends picked from various eras in the 20th century, making the whole thing feel kind of vaguely out of time (which I don't think helps at all with the play's sense of urgency) and some of Hamlet's clothes were so poorly fitting it was downright distracting.
But the headline is that I enjoyed it a lot - we had a fun conversation about it afterward - and live performance is such a profound act of generosity and communal humanity and trust. I should go see a lot more plays.
Top Gun: Maverick (2022): It's hard to go wrong with hot people who have great tans, gorgeous California sunsets, an impossible mission, an aging G.O.A.T., and thrilling fighter jet maneuvers - but I'm sure it CAN be done, so kudos to the Top Gun: Maverick team for pulling this off. As Justin said, it would've been better if the whole cast of Everybody Wants Some! had joined Glen Powell as the crew of young upstart fighter pilots (what would McReynolds' call sign be!?) and I couldn't agree more.
Also on-screen this week:
I've been kind of obsessing over Diane di Prima's Revolutionary Letters (full text of the 3rd edition available here). di Prima, the only woman the beats let into their group, first published Revolutionary Letters in 1971 with Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights publishing house. She added more and more letters over the years, the most recent edition published shortly before her death in 2020, includes letters as recent as 2017. Here are a few I keep re-reading:
REVOLUTIONARY LETTER No. 1
I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over
the roulette table, I recoup what I can
nothing else to shove under the nose of the maitre de jeu
nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag
this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with
this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move
as we slither over this go board, stepping always
(we hope) between the lines
REVOLUTIONARY LETTER No. 29
beware of those
who say we are the beautiful losers
who stand in their long hair and wait to be punished
who weep on beaches for our isolation
we are not alone: we have brothers in all the hills
we have sisters in the jungles and in the ozarks
we even have brothers on the frozen tundra
they sit by their fires, they sing, they gather arms
they multiply: they will reclaim the earth
nowhere we can go but they are waiting for us
no exile where we will not hear welcome home
'good morning sister, let me work with you
good morning brother, let me fight by your side'
From REVOLUTIONARY LETTER No. 63
Every kid in school a political prisoner
Every lawyer in his cubicle a political prisoner
Every doctor brainwashed by AMA a political prisoner
Every housewife a political prisoner
Every teacher lying thru sad teeth a political prisoner
Every Indian on reservation a political prisoner
Every black man a political prisoner
Every faggot hiding in bar a political prisoner
Every junkie shooting up in John a political prisoner
Every woman a political prisoner
Every woman a political prisoner
You are political prisoner locked in tense body
You are political prisoner locked in stiff mind
You are political prisoner locked to your parents
You are political prisoner locked to your past
I am political prisoner locked in anger habit
I am political prisoner locked in greed habit
I am political prisoner locked in fear habit
I am political prisoner locked in dull senses
I am political prisoner locked in numb flesh
Help to free me
Help to free me
I burned through Crown of Midnight, the 2nd novel in Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series, and it was fantastic! If it wasn't already clear (to me, to everyone), I am a Maas-verse convert, 100%,, give me everything you've got, Sarah J. Geez.
This book has got me thinking about responsibility - what does it look like, what does it take, to fight courageously for something better in a horrifying, hopeless world? When is it right to choose your own joy, in order to muster the power to be brave? When is it necessary to sacrifice your own happiness in order to fight for others? ... And, about how love acts, what love does... about how important friendship is. My heart hurts from all the bruises of this book, but I'm still with you Celaena! Lead on into the unknown - Heir of Fire is next.
Habitation, by Margaret Atwood
Marriage is not
a house or even a tent
it is before that, and colder:
the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn
the edge of the receding glacier
where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
we are learning to make fire
Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the day J and I decided to publicly and legally and in all the ways declare our committed love for one another, and establish a new family unit through our marriage. It is a day that always makes me quiet, tender, and so grateful.
Beyonce - "All Night"
Florence & the Machine - "Morning Elvis"
Muscles - "Ice Cream"
What you are making and reading and writing and doing? What is inspiring you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.