Emma & Robert
* Sale now through October 6 only!
* Sale now through October 6 only!
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.
There’s something I love about hand stitching. Actually several things.
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.
The chaos of every day. How do I focus on each one? Do we need to? should I prioritize?
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?
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?
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.
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.
When do you find time to think of others – of their pain, their needs? How do those thoughts manifest in your life?
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:
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:
Mark Your Calendar – Tuesday December 27th, 5:30 – 8:30 pm
To launch our 2017 creative actions:
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.
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.
Merry Merry and Happy New Year!
Emma & Robert Connolly and the Team
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.
I have a difficult time throwing away small scraps of fabric. Among other things.
What do you have a difficult time throwing away?
[I hope you enjoy these as much as I did – I love these “9 Learnings from 9 Years of Brain Pickings” – I believe these are essential for the creative life – Emma]
1. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right – even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.
2. Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. As Paul Graham observed, “prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night – and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.
3. Be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.
4. Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.
Most importantly, sleep. Besides being the greatest creative aphrodisiac, sleep also affects our every waking moment, dictates our social rhythm, and even mediates our negative moods. Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities. What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity, from which all else springs?
5. When people tell you who they are, Maya Angelou famously advised, believe them. Just as importantly, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.
6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living – for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
7. “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.” This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy. The myth of the overnight success is just that – a myth – as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.
And here are the two new additions:
8. Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Patti Smith, in discussing William Blake and her creative influences, talks about writers and artists who magnified her spirit – it’s a beautiful phrase and a beautiful notion. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.
9. Don’t be afraid to be an idealist. There is much to be said for our responsibility as creators and consumers of that constant dynamic interaction we call culture – which side of the fault line between catering and creating are we to stand on? The commercial enterprise is conditioning us to believe that the road to success is paved with catering to existing demands – give the people cat GIFs, the narrative goes, because cat GIFs are what the people want. But E.B. White, one of our last great idealists, was eternally right when he asserted half a century ago that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down” – a role each of us is called to with increasing urgency, whatever cog we may be in the machinery of society. Supply creates its own demand. Only by consistently supplying it can we hope to increase the demand for the substantive over the superficial – in our individual lives and in the collective dream called culture.
… so from me – What are YOUR learnings from life so far?