The Blossoming - (Week 25)
"Stop holding back the blossoming!
Quit shutting eyes and gritting teeth,
curling fingers into fists, hunching shoulders.
Lose your determination to remain unchanged.
All the forces of nature
want you to open,
Their gentle nudge carries behind it
the force of a flash flood.
Why make a cell your home
when the door is unlocked
and the garden is waiting for you?"
(Excerpt from "Jailbreak" by Maya Spector)
The studio has been in a transitional space this week. Since I have the fabric for the rest of Molly's quilt blocks selected, I've been organizing and putting away the fabric I pulled for her quilt - and pulling fabric for my next project, a commissioned quilt inspired by a Puerto Rican beach scene (more on my design here).
This next project has 4 distinct sections: beach (sand, rocks, shells, pebbles), greenery (+ flowers), surf, and sky, and each will be sprinkled with rays of sunshine, as if peering out from behind the quilt blocks. I already had plenty of beach and greenery fabrics - but I needed more sky and surf fabrics, and since I had a short list of other supplies I needed for my long-arm studio and other emerging projects, it was time to fabric shop! Hooray!
My favorite place to fabric shop is S.R. Harris fabric warehouse - fabrics are all half-off retail price, so you can get good deals on high quality stuff. Also, I love the feeling of the place - fabric stacked floor to ceiling - it is truly a wonderland, and one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon.
This quilt will be made up of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 12" blocks (with one 16" thrown in to keep it fun). The 2 and 4" blocks will be just cut pieces of fabric, but the larger blocks will be pieced. This quilt will have a lot going on, so finding creative ways to unify and settle the visual impact is important - and I decided to make all the blocks of each size in the same design (i.e. all 6" blocks in the same design, from different fabrics + colors depending on whether they are beach, surf, etc.). Also, the 6, 8 and 12" block designs will all speak the same visual language, ideally reading as variations of one another.
So I sat down with these parameters and my vintage traditional quilt books for inspiration and figured out the details of my three block designs: a churn-dash for the 6", a shoo-fly variation for the 8", and an hourglass variation for the 12". Then, I worked out my strategy to construct each design, including doing a bunch of math to figure out a plan to cut fabric so I can use it most efficiently, with as little waste as possible.
Next, I'll make one in each size/design to make sure my plan will work! I'm sure I will make lots of adjustments at this stage, but then comes the fun part - putting blocks together and beginning to see this beauty come to life.
Of course, I've also been spending time with the new purple lady in the basement studio, practicing my free-motion long-arm quilting skills. A few experiments from this week that feel like they might be going somewhere:
My slice of a mini-memoir, Collage - A Personal History, continues this week with...
Chapter 5: Holy Time
(If you're just joining us, check out Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4)
In addition to its rigor and intensity, my Wildflower time was also expansive in so many ways. Being a part of that community, grown from our values of connectedness and growth, pushed me to unlock new capacities within myself, and in the process, added new material to my collage-making kit.
First came embodied mindfulness. One of our core values at Wildflower is connectedness - both to one another, and within ourselves. An important component of our network's culture from the very beginning was regular community meditations at all gatherings. This practice started in teachers' weekly faculty meetings in our first community of schools in Massachusetts and grew from there. I joined Wildflower at the moment the Wildflower Foundation was being born - a nonprofit organization supporting the startup and operations of our growing school network (11 schools then - 59 now!). As our Foundation team grew in those early days, we needed a way to practice this part of Wildflower's culture in our own team meetings and gatherings - and our community asked me to lead meeting openers and meditations as the cornerstone of this work.
I said yes, but I didn't have any idea what I was doing - I didn't have my own mindfulness practice and was very new to embodiment practice and meditation myself. But I grew up in a prayer-based culture, I understood the power of words to shape people's experience of their internal world, and beyond that I knew intuitively - from a deep gravitational pull in my gut - that I was the right person to do this. An experienced embodied mindfulness practitioner was a phenomenal guide - coaching me on how to make myself into a tuning fork for communal experiences of presentness and honesty, how to guide people out of a mind-based experience of analysis and self-criticism and into an embodied experience of non-judgment, observation, and curiosity.
So I dove in - feeling so awkward and vulnerable leading this practice in my first few meetings, but eventually it began to feel like a secret language I knew so well that I was creating it as I spoke. I developed a personal meditation practice to sustain me through the wild days, and as we embarked on challenges together as a community, I found myself creating my own prompts and guidance, bringing my own quotes and poems and wisdom to help us center ourselves and connect.
And throughout the weeks and months our community grew together so beautifully - in ways I had never experienced before, in ways I didn't know were possible for colleagues. The depth of our conversations, the respectful ways we engaged one another through difficult challenges, the quality of our questions, the expansiveness of our problem-solving, our authentic care for one another - all rose to a level of authenticity and openness I had never experienced before. Our efforts toward individual and communal regulation made us function so much more effectively - as individuals and as a collective. After experiencing this change, I committed to myself to weave this practice into all groups I led from that point on. It was just so much better.
Over the years that followed, I continued to face myself, embraced new challenges, learned new dimensions of my own gifts, and I gradually became a kind of spiritual anchorpoint for all of us. I felt it happen. And as our work deepened in complexity and grew to include more and more people, this anchorpoint role I grew into continued to evolve.
Our work was ambitious and required a lot of us. On the surface, our work was about Montessori microschools - but underneath, in order to operate with values-driven alignment and integrity, we were upending multiple cultural paradigms at once... including domination-oriented thinking in many forms (including, importantly, racism), our assumptions about organizational culture and traditional management, socialized power differentials, the confines of our current educational institutions and laws, American traditional schooling ideology, etc. And it was extremely demanding - each one of us went through our own undoing and relearning along the way. And as we struggled through it together, people began to seek me out for advice, for coaching, for help navigating their own struggles with all the beautiful and painful things that emerged within and between us.
Through it all, when we came together, I held us - to one another, to reality, to the promise of our potential, to the present moment. Through dark moments, I knew I was keeping the light - the hope and promise that we could do this - alive for us. I knew I could hear the song in a way others couldn't, or couldn't yet, or couldn't consistently - and it was important that I keep us moving together with the guidance of that heartbeat.
And then, the world changed. COVID drove us apart from one another, locking us in our houses in fear and uncertainty, for months. And in one disastrous weekend in May 2020, Justin found himself in the ER with a panic attack, I broke my leg, George Floyd was murdered, and my city began to burn. As summer began, I found myself isolated, my world shrunk down to the space of just a few rooms, often alone, as the world screamed in pain and fury around me...
One night, with my broken leg propped up on the ottoman and my broken heart aching in my chest, I heard a song I hadn't heard in years. It pummeled through me like a spear of light, dropping me into my heart and waking up all my pain and fury and hope, igniting a pool of love for my people and the world that felt bottomless and like the truest thing I knew.
And I got an idea: maybe we could hold one another together through this, maybe we could be our best selves, maybe we could heal, maybe we could face hard things and find our way through them, maybe we could learn how to be brave - if we were together. And not alone together, but together with beauty, with the sacred. If we came together with the truth of life and called our act of gathering Holy.
I did my best to explain my weird idea and I sent out an invitation, and at that first Holy Time gathering in July 2020, 7 of us showed up. I led us in a guided breathing meditation to get us all into the present. We sat quietly and listened to that song that had pierced through me so strongly together. I read two poems, and then we sat together in open silence, welcoming anyone to speak who felt moved to do so. And then we extended blessings to one another - "May you laugh," "May you eat a delicious meal," "May you get a great night of sleep" - and after 45 minutes, we said goodnight.
I didn't realize it at the time - but it was all coming back, all coming together as I created Holy Time. The mixtapes, the spoken words of live performance, the curation of elements - both auditory and experiential, the sense of transition and flow - of creating an experience, the gathering of pieces and turning them into something new, the embodied mindfulness, the commitment to connectedness, the spiritual anchor, the light.
And so it began - we gathered every Thursday night. Every week a new, live, experiential collage - for nearly 3 years now. I read poems and essays and showed videos. I choose a song for us to listen to each week. I ask us questions, and I hold space for us to sit in silence together.
And it has helped us, it is helping us. Tremendously, in transformative ways I could never have anticipated. Holy Time draws us to one another in real, honest ways - strengthening old friendships and birthing whole new ones. With every new horror the world has generated over the past few years, we absorbed it, composted it, together. We felt it - we are learning how to feel it - together. We cry, we struggle, we wonder, we question, we laugh together. We hold each other through loss - both cultural and personal. We face down our fear. We take deep breaths. We remind ourselves that we are not alone.
And week after week, we remember the life inside of us. Week after week, together, we stay awake and alive.
To be continued, in the next chapter: The Crystal Ball.... Maybe
BONUS: The ever-evolving Holy Time playlist, with all the songs I've played at Holy Time since that first meeting, is available here. A guide to many of the writers and creators who appear at Holy Time from time to time is available here, and all Holy Time slide decks - going back to July 2020 - are here.
Beau is Afraid (2023): Ari Aster's latest is more black comedy than horror, though experiencing the world - and especially his relationship with his Mother - through Beau's mind, plagued by anxiety, paranoia and fear, is equal parts horrifying and hilarious. Beau's spiraling odyssey unfolds in stages - like acts in a play - each more bizarre than the one before. Beau clearly wants to be on a journey, but unfortunately, he's walking in a loop - and somehow Aster creates in this film the feeling I often get in my dreams - of being confined and frustrated, desperately needing to find a way out, but walking in continual circles, never getting anywhere. I understand why a person would really hate this movie, I really do, but I thought it was extraordinary.
All That Jazz (1979): Hip gyrations, jazz hands and existential dread: an unexpectedly ideal recipe for a movie musical, it turns out. Bob Fosse's meta-biopic musical is really something - staring down the reality of mortality and insisting on the truth of eternal life through art, emphasizing the truth of unique genius and drowning in the reality that anyone can be replaced in the world of art-for-commerce. For all its brilliant ideas and fascinating technical choices, though, it's the visuals in All that Jazz that move me the most: the shimmering fingers of the chorus cattle-call, Ann Reitman's precisely controlled grace, the trembling feathers of the ghosts-of-girlfriends past, crooked knees and bent arms, beautifully lit in silhouette.
Also on-screen this week:
I spent some time pondering "Four Insights For Radical Organizing from the Mysterious World of Mushrooms" from adrienne maree brown... One insight that stood out:
"Mycelia see the potential life in everything. Everything dead and alive goes into the soil and gets processed into life. When we understand that our pain and grief are part of our aliveness, part of how we learn to be, and part of how we ultimately contribute to the life of our planet, we can learn to eat everything and make it fuel. We can recycle and upcycle everything, because it is all material, data, content, source. We can make death into life."
I'm almost exactly halfway through Heir of Fire, the third book in Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series, and I'm holding my breath as our heroine battles her own fear and grief and loneliness. She is struggling to keep her inner light burning at this point. It's rough. The catharsis and redemption that are (I'm hoping!) to come will probably make me cry, but we are so not there yet. This is a bottom of a well, dark night of the soul kind of moment. More to come.
Holy Time - The Blossoming
Slides from this week's experience--with words from William Bronk, Nick Cave, Charlie Chaplin, and Maya Spector; video from Sam Spiegel & Ape Drums and music from Joel Alme--are available here.
Holy Time is a weekly online gathering - Thursdays, 8:45pm CT on zoom (https://zoom.us/j/94849428936).
All are welcome--our next gathering will be Thursday, May 11.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or for more information.
Richard Buckner - Dents & Shells
The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine
What you are making and reading and writing and doing? What is inspiring you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.