Category Archives: creativity

How do your memories influence your fiction writing?

“Any sorrow can be borne if it can be made into a story,” said Danish author Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa). 

8_Wells-LiteratureEmpathyMany of my friends are writers. Most of them I know very well. Well enough that when I read some of their work I occasionally recognize autobiographical events, people or places, but these “true” events and such have been fictionalized and told as if they have happened in the lives of the story’s characters. Every author writes from his or her personal experiences, and I believe the more you know about an author the better you can understand that author’s perspective and ideas and what they may be trying to get across to the reader.

In my experience, I’ve never written a story or novel from a preconceived outline or plot diagram. Things change too rapidly, and life may give me another idea that will work better, and the story writes itself like a runaway train. Cities and towns have souls and memories and stories just waiting to be mined.

I am guilty of stealing other’s life experiences as well, and giving them to my characters, changing them up a little.  A red-headed male friend once told me about being chased by a rooster every time he stepped foot in his grandparents’ yard. Seems the rooster was after his red hair, and his grandma shouted to that rooster, “Don’t you spur my baby you peckerwood”. That ended up being in the history of my protagonist in a manuscript – the red-headed boy was too easily remembered.

Humor is everywhere. My daughter’s boyfriend was learning to tie a necktie, and the stress he put himself through developed into a short story. He asked me if I knew how to tie a Windsor knot and I said to look up ties in the Encyclopedia (this was  in the olden days before Google) and he returned, downtrodden, and told me, “it said ‘see railroad'”.

My husband and I walked around Jackson Square in New Orleans late one evening. Fortune tellers and tarot card readers sat around at tables draped with fabric, candles burning, as they lured customers to their tables for readings. Suddenly a young man rounded the corner and had a python wrapped around his body. We walked a little faster around the Square, the man and python following us for a long while. This experience gave me a short story series.

Sadness and sorrow, as well as shock, are always singed in our memories. In my childhood I remember a little friend drowned in her father’s minnow trough. She was about 5 or 6 years old, as was I. My parents went to the wake and took me with them. I had no idea what had occurred until we arrived at the ramshackle house on the outskirts of Hattiesburg MS and saw people peering into a long wooden box on the dining room table. Children climbed on chairs to have a look. I did not want to miss out on whatever they saw in there so I mounted a chair and looked in and was stunned to see my friend, her little body perfectly still in a pretty pink dress, her lips blue, sleeping in that box. That scene will never leave me. I’ve included the scene in one of my novels.

There are so many scenes from my childhood that I’ve used in numerous places in fiction, hiding them in different places than they occured, most times, or they hide themselves, or take a turn you did not expect. When you are going in one direction and think you know where the characters are headed, they just may surprise you and hop on a freight train!

What are some of the events tattooed in your soul? (I promise I won’t steal it, although I may change it up a bit so you won’t recognize it!)

Moving: New Venues & Adventures!

After 4 delightful years at the little shotgun house on Magazine Street, Uptown Needle & CraftWorks is MOVING!

Our last day of business at 4610 Magazine will be October 6. We are moving in a couple ways — temporarily to an online shop, as well as to new venues for workshops. You will hear more about this exciting news in weeks to come as we transition to this new phase.

We will be offering workshops and our products in Covington and at the Backroom on Bourbon (part of Jezebel’s ). We will also continue to offer workshops at 4610 Magazine with the new tenant, Home Malone, where owner Kristen Malone represents over 80 artists and features fabulous products made in the Deep South. Kristen plans to open her 2nd location in January 2019.

Many of you know that my magical husband/partner Robert has been living with “metastatic carcinoma of unknown origin” for over a year and a half.  Even though he has cancer in his bones, he felt wonderful for over a year now – riding his bike 10 miles a few times each week, planting a garden, teaching and working in the shop.
Fast forward to July of this year and weeks of physical distress for R. Thanks to the wonderful doctors at Touro Infirmary, the origin of those cancer outliers was finally identified. Robert has a port (he calls it his USB) and will begin chemo this week with a mixture of chemicals that will attack those renegade cells with the fury of a bad storm.  He has documented his journey thus far on his blog here.
We are very excited about this transition, and I am pleased to have the freedom to focus on my husband and our life together. I will keep in touch through my blog and through email newsletters about workshops- and perhaps a “reunion” soon.
When we opened our shop in 2014 the #1 focus was never on selling fabric, yarn or handmades. It was on building community through community engagement. You have created a wonderful community that today totals over 3500 strong! We thank you for sharing your love, support and creativity with us. We will miss you all more than you know.
See you soon at a workshop near you, or through your orders online! If you have not checked out our online shop, please do!
Peace be to all, and please keep us in your prayers.
Emma & Robert

 

AND WHAT’S A MOVE WITHOUT A SALE?
Up to 50% OFF* 
ENTIRE STOCK!

  

* ALL Fabrics & Pre-cuts 40-50% off regular prices. PLEASE NOTE:
Our website cannot offer the 40% fabric discount through the regular purchase platform; however, you may certainly browse through our fabrics here, make note of what you would like, call 504-302-9434 to pay by credit card. We will be happy to mail your order for our flat rate of $9.99.
* Handmades, Bags, Clothing 30% off
* Notions, thread, patterns, trims & kits 40% off
* Scrap Paks 50% off

* Sale now through October 6 only!

 
We are selling some of our furniture/fixtures and class supplies as well, so if you’re in the neighborhood – stop in! You’ll find some funky stuff! We will be at this location through October 6, then packing for the move.

 

Little Boxes, Filled with … what?

A couple of months ago, my husband R. was diagnosed with Metastatic Carcinoma of Unknown Primary. At first we are numb. Walking around staring at each other, trying not to get teary-eyed, but doing it anyway. Now, a few weeks down the road on this new journey, we’ve moved into another phase. Not acceptance. It’s something else for me. R. has an “attitude of gratitude”, and I’m into some other twilight zone of feeling I have not quite owned up to. I’m dealing with this new circumstance as I deal with most others.

I’m making things, keeping my hands moving. Yes, I’m escaping in a sense. Sometimes escape and denial is necessary to get you through. I’m making tiny houses. What is a house but a place where a soul resides. Little doorways. When I’m stitching, I do not have to think so much about the fact that my husband will gradually disappear from this life. But all these thoughts jump back into my stitches. I pray for him to not have pain. I try not to think about how lonely I will be in the future in this house.
I try not to think a whole lot about what I’m doing and my mind can wander off down the endless avenues of my brain. Every stitch a prayer. Going down one way I think of the beauty of the fall season here in New Orleans, which is the cooler temps. Then my thoughts take off another way and wonder about that hurricane that is forming and heading our way.
But with each stitch, each pull of this deep purple thread tightening that little doorway, I am thinking of what these cancer cells are doing to my husband day by day. And that I can do nothing to stop them, nothing to stitch those cancer cells up in a little box and burn them – and my scissors cannot cut off their threads of multiplication. It’s going to be a long journey.  Over time, about twenty minutes into my little house, my brain settles into the rhythm of my stitching, and I am once again in a meditation zone. I’m not in charge. And every stitch is a prayer.

The Contemplative Nature of Hand-Stitching

There’s something I love about hand stitching. Actually several things.

  • The stitcher must slow down and focus on the work at hand.
  • There are choices to be made (threads, colors, designs), or not – free your mind and choose intuitively and quickly, with no plan.
  • The mind opens to dimensional possibility (beads, buttons, tassels)
  • Stitches, colors, shapes bring memories of past projects, events and people
  • Thoughts and feelings, sometimes about others, are incorporated into the stitches

When I stitch I do not always plan the colors or stitches. I like to see what develops as I go along. I add dimension as I stitch, and use a variety of stitch styles and a variety of cords and threads. Today, I used wool felt squares and DMC #8 cotton embroidery thread – my fave. These are what I call Prayer Flags. I know, there are prayer flag traditions all over the world. And each style is unique. Mine are a little unorthodox and wonky, but meaningful to me. I stitch tiny pockets on the back and write names of people, events and such on small papers and tuck those into the pockets as prayers. As I complete each set of 5, they represent time spent in conversation with the creator of the universe, and a time spent not thinking about myself.

As I stitch each ‘flag’, I may go back and forth between them until I’m satisfied that the square holds all the stitches (prayers) it can hold.

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The chaos of every day.  How do I focus on each one? Do we need to? should I prioritize?

 

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And then there are the storms. Do I cause the storms? Am I in the middle? the sidelines? Am I being injured by the swirling winds? Can I escape? Where can I hide?

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Roots run deep. What you see is only the tip of the iceberg. Patience is the gift of the gardener. Nurture the place where you are. Can I really do that?

 

 

 

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Do I struggle to open the door to something different? Why is the door closed? What is hiding there?. Is it locked? Perhaps it’s the wrong door.

 

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Am I in a precarious place? Should I run away? Or should I stay? There is comfort in a safe secure place. Remember, the ship that never leaves the dock does not experience adventure. Fly. Fly Away.

 

 

Done.
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When do you find time to think of others – of their pain, their needs? How do those thoughts manifest in your life?

A New Year Begins

Like many women of a certain age, I’ve had a few past lives. When we lived in Memphis I organized a non-profit literacy program focusing on creative writing. It was called WriteMemphis. We had 27 volunteers working with inner-city teen girls in several Memphis locations. These young writers created awesome poetry and prose about their lives in Memphis – from the strong women in their lives to gunshots through the front door to becoming teen mothers. When I left Memphis in 2014 I gave the program to Literacy Mid-South, which was a natural fit for the life-changing work they do.

Fast forward to where I am today. New Orleans. New business. New home. New life.

I miss writing. I really do. Even though I love the work I do every day in our shop I miss the creative energy of word to page. I have resolved to make more time for writing in 2017. And in celebration of that promise to myself, I want to share exciting news! One of my essays is included in a new anthology (slated for March publication) edited by my friend Susan Cushman,  A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We are Meant to Be.

A Second Blooming includes work by fabulous writers – Mary Karr, Anne Lamott, Beth Ann Fennelly, and my friends Ellen Prewitt, Susan Marquez and Nancy-Kay Wessman – twenty-one in all! I am in awe of these fabulous women and I am honored to be among them. Readings and signings are scheduled in Memphis TN,  Jackson MS and soon in my home city of New Orleans.  I’m so excited I’ll let the world know when that will be! Here’s the catalog page from Mercer Press:asb-mup-catalog-page

Calling All New Orleans Creatives!

TO LAUGH, LEARN, CONNECT, AND BE EMPOWERED

Over a 12-week period this fall a group of creatives met each Tuesday evening for a couple of hours at Uptown Needle & CraftWorks to discuss and act on Julia Cameron’s book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again.  The volume follows the basic formula presented in Cameron’s ever-popular bestselling, The Artist’s Way:  A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  Through a set of exercises including morning pages, artist’s dates, memoir writing, and weekly readings the participants embarked on an exploration of their creative selves that in some cases had lain dormant for years.

At the end of the 12-week period in late November, those present wanted to continue the process and also invite others in New Orleans’ rich creative community to join.  Here were some of the group takeaways from the fall experience:

  • We liked the reflective practices such as morning pages, memoir writing, artist’s dates – and the opportunity and freedom to share (or not share) them in a group.
  • We liked the camaraderie of spirit in going through the process, making friends with other creatives, finding common interests, and acting as an incubator for ideas often bubbling in our heads for a while.
  • While we enjoyed following the pattern and content in Cameron’s book, we wanted a bit more flexibility in going forward and to place a greater emphasis on creative actions.
  • We also envisioned a process where folks could pick and choose those sessions they wished to attend and not feel the need to commit for a 12-week, 12-month or any other set timeframe. Rather, we envisioned participation to be guided based on interest in a particular planned creative area.
  • We wanted input from other creatives who might offer their insights, experience, and passions in the next phase.
  • Some of the creative processes suggested for the spring include making and exploring masks, encaustics, fiber arts, sculpting, headdresses, or anything else in which a group might like to participate.

Mark Your Calendar – Tuesday December 27th, 5:30 – 8:30 pm
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To launch our 2017 creative actions:

  • On Tuesday December 27th we will meet at Uptown Needle & CraftWorks from 5:30 – 8:30 pm for a brainstorming session on our next phase.  The get-together will be an opportunity to gather in an informal setting, visit, snack, drink, and most importantly consider the wants and needs for creatives that can be accommodated at the Uptown CraftWorks venue.
  • On the 27th we will also explore and create bullet journals as our first session activity (7:00pm-8:30pm).  This tracking/scheduling process is formally defined on the Bullet Journal website or more informally on Buzzfeed where we learn that Bullet Journals are good for:
  • People who have a million little to-do lists floating around
  • People who like pen and paper to-do lists
  • People who are into goal-setting and habit tracking
  • People who like stationery, journaling, scrapbooking, beautiful pens, etc.
  • People who really love planners
  • People who want to really love planners, or who want to be more organized
  • People who would really like to keep a journal/diary but are having trouble sticking with the habit

We had a discussion of bullet journals in the fall and wanted a return opportunity when we kicked things off this spring. We invite you to join us on Dec. 27th to visit, drink a glass of wine, meet with other creatives, and share your ideas on where this collective experience might go.  Though not required, consider joining us for the bullet journal exercise as well, or just come to visit and share your ideas.

We’ve created an Eventbrite private meetup for the gathering above. If you can’t make it to this event, please email us  (info at uptowncraftworks.com) if you’d like to know about future meetups.

Makers that we dream, plan, and collaborate with are doing some amazing things in New Orleans. Others with latent creative genes are ready to dip their toes in gently swirling creative waters. It is by supporting each other that we unite the head, the heart, and the hands.

In the New Year, let’s be a force for good.

Please forward to your creative friends that you think may have an interest.
Thank you,
Merry Merry and Happy New Year!
Emma & Robert Connolly and the Team

Culture of Lack

My husband Robert and I have worked together in Honduras and Panama. One of the things that impressed us was the resourcefulness of the people in recycling goods. There was very little trash. They used up everything they had. Picked up used nails. Wove baskets from weeds, stitched clothing from scraps. We could not help but think of all that our culture of abundance throws away.

My mother was born in 1915. May father in 1912. Depression era mentality. Culture of lack. My father never threw away anything. My mother used to melt together the leftover small slivers of soap. I have stories.

Today I completed a hand-stitched quilt made of throw-a-way fabric. Small pieces of linen leftover from garments I have sewn. Small lengths of embroidery threads. A small piece of loosely-woven multi-color cotton homespun-type fabric I’ve been hoarding for a long time.

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front – embroidery and hand stitching

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back – We are all made of stars

 

 

I have a difficult time throwing away small scraps of fabric. Among other things.

What do you have a difficult time throwing away?