Friday, May 20, 2011

Getting Over Yourself

I've never been the kind of person to toot my own horn, but that doesn't have anything to do with how I actually feel about my talents and abilities.

Like most creative people, I have a love/hate relationship with myself. There are times when I wonder how I manage to put one foot in front of the other.  But then there are times when I think I truly am the "bees knees."

It's very difficult to formulate a realistic and unbiased opinion of yourself and your talents.  We've all seen those American Idol auditions when people who can't carry a tune think they can win it all.  Of course, they're all young people and frankly, getting your bubble burst is part of growing up.  If you haven't been humiliated a few times by the time you're thirty, you aren't trying hard enough!

Getting to the place where you can be truly honest with yourself is a difficult and time consuming process.  Sometimes you'll encounter a very young person with that capacity, but mostly you find it in middle aged and older folks, those that have been around long enough to be "up" and "down" and who know that nothing lasts forever and change is normal, and that a good kick in the pants now and then isn't necessarily a bad thing.

For artists it's more complicated.  It's only in the arts that someone's emotional life is so tied up with ones "work" life.  Those of us who do art for a living aren't just dealing with nay sayers that annoy us, we're dealing with critics that pay our bills.  It's a different dynamic.

Which is why it's important to develop a thicker skin.  Dealing with criticism is part of life but dealing with it well is an art form in and of itself.  Truly successful people in the arts are those that can take the criticism, examine themselves and their work honestly, then make adjustments as necessary.  Not all criticism is meant to be hurtful, it's often meant to be helpful.

Of course, when you're the one being criticised it's natural to take it personal.  For years I rolled my eyes at my mother's insistence that I need to be a better seamstress.  My ideas were great but my execution really sucked.  However, I was young and just wanted to create, I didn't think the way I did it was so bad, and I wasn't interested in taking the time and the effort it would take to improve my sewing skills.

Over time I realized that my lack of sewing skills made it difficult for me to do what I really wanted to do.  So, I took several classes and then spent years perfecting my techniques to where I'm now at the point that I'm comfortable doing anything with a needle and thread. 

After all these years I give my Mom the credit for criticising my work.  If she had been the kind of mother who praised me no matter what I did I might have continued living in my delusion and wondering why I wasn't getting anywhere as a textile artist.  Even though I thought I was ignoring her criticism, it was always there, niggling at me, and I'm so glad I finally paid attention. 

Even now as a middle aged semi-successful artist, I still struggle with getting over myself.  I have to fight the "it's all about me" reactions I have to things.  When my work isn't accepted with overwhelming joy I have to fight the urge to not take it personally, and when I have some success I don't work too hard at patting myself on the back...although I do enjoy it.

Creativity brings joy, but it can also bring heartache.  It's difficult to find the middle ground, where the heartache is minimized and the joy is tempered with the realization that it won't last forever.  There's always another challenge, and I think for us artists it's as much about facing the challenge as it is about meeting it.

So, if you're a beginning quilter, try not to let the critcism get you down.  Learn what you can from it, and enjoy your successes.  Try to be realistic about your skills, and don't expect too much from yourself.  It's a process that takes time and practice.  So get over yourself and have some fun!

And don't let the turkeys get you down....

Susan

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Expectations vs Reality

First of all, Hi Everyone!  I'm so sorry it's been so long since I've posted.  It's been a very crazy time for me but I'm hopeful things have settled down to the point that I can start finding time for things like blogging!

Which leads me to the topic of this post...

Whew!  Who hasn't had a problem with high expectations meeting reality?  It's one of the more difficult things to work through.  The hardest part is finding the happy medium between having really high expectations and expectations that are so low that it becomes a "why bother?" situation.

Those of us who've had our share of reality "smackdowns" know that what is real is real and no amount of wishing can change it.  It's how we react to the realities of life that decide the quality of our lives.

Many quilters suffer from high expectations.  We select a pattern, buy fabric, put all the effort into a quilt that we expect to be a masterpiece, (heck if we're putting that much effort into it, why not?), only to have our "baby" not make the cut in a juried show, or get dissed at a guild meeting, or worst of all, not be appreciated by our family and friends.

It hurts to have one's work torn apart, but it hurts more if we have too much invested in it emotionally.  It's easy to fantasize that the quilt you're working on will end up on the cover of a magazine, but is that realistic?  How many quilting magazines are there, and how many total issues a year, and how many million quilters?  Let's face it, the odds aren't in our favor. 

But is that why we quilt?  To be recognized, to have our quilts praised, to reach some kind of exalted place in the world of quilting?  I don't think most of us do it for those reasons.  We do it because we love it, and because it makes us happy.

As an artist I've struggled with people not liking my work.  I've endured criticism about my color choices by people I know are colorblind, comments about my sewing skills by people who can't sew on a button, and disparaging remarks by other quilters who are just plain mean.  It comes with the territory.  When you put yourself out there it isn't going to be all roses and lollipops, there are going to be those that don't like your work or who don't like you and there's not a lot you can do about it.

Lately I've been involved in a business venture where I've been creating multiple graphic designs.  I love them all but my partner has his favorites and we don't always see eye to eye.  At first I was a little sensitive about it, but that's emotional me feeling that way.  Business me knows better.  Everything I do is not going to be loved by everyone and the thing I like least may be the thing others like most.  It's one of those things!

So, it's OK to have high expectations just make sure they're ones you can control.  That means make your expectations about something you do, about how much you're going to enjoy making your quilt, and about how much you're going to learn making it, and about how happy you're going to feel when it's done.  Then if it doesn't make the cover of a magazine you've still fulfilled your expectations for it.  And if it does, nothing but gravy!

Happy Stitching!

Susan


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Setbacks

In a previous post I wrote about disappointments and how they can affect you.  Today I want to discuss setbacks.

Whew!  We all hate it when things are going along just fine and then powee! we get slapped down.  Unfortunately, things running smoothly is not the way the world works.  If we could control every aspect of our lives we might be able to keep setbacks at bay, but the reality is that we can't and they keep cropping up.

Of course there are levels of setbacks.  A minor cold that keeps you from running your errands is a small setback, a diagnosis of a major illness is another.  The one thing that's consistent for all setbacks is that they're usually out of your control.  It's very frustrating!

For years I've worked in the world of event graphic design.  This type of work requires working with a varied group of clients on all different kinds of jobs.  The one consistent thing about it is that it's inconsistent!

In order to maintain what sanity I have left, I learned a long time ago that the first thing you have to do when you experience a setback is to accept it.  The major mistake many folks make is to ignore it or get angry about it.  Neither strategy works.  It is what it is.  You have to deal with it.

In many ways it's similar to disappointment although I think setbacks are different in that there's still a chance to make things right.  Disappointment happens at the end of a road, setbacks are obstacles in that road.  How you handle the setbacks can make it possible to avoid disappointment.

I'm currently involved in a new business opportunity that has been chugging along just fine until....you've got it.....setbacks!  I will admit that giving up crossed my mind for a moment, but I still believe in what we're doing so I'm not going to give up.  Instead, I'm going to look at the setbacks as opportunities.

It's frustrating to not be able to have things the way you want them, but sometimes I think setbacks happen for a reason.   Perhaps you didn't think something through well enough, or you fell in love with something that you are stubbornly refusing to give up, or maybe it's just not the great idea you thought it was.  It's easy to fight against the inevitable, but impossible to win.  Better to stop, think, adjust, and move on.

I've had so many setbacks in my quilting life.  My UFO stack is full of them!  Sometimes I was overly ambitious, attempting something I wasn't quite ready for.  At other times I tackled something without enough materials on hand, or fabric I didn't have enough of.  My sewing machine has broken down, I've had irons die on me, I've even mislaid important parts of a project, only to find them tucked away somewhere else years later.

Every setback has been a learning experience, and the most important lesson for me is to not let them get me down.  Setbacks are annoying, and sometimes heartbreaking, but you can't let them deny you your dreams.

So, next time something goes wrong, deal with it and move on.

Happy Stitching,

Susan




Sunday, March 13, 2011

Time Flies.....

                        
Today is the day that most of us in the U.S. lose an hour. 

When I was a child the day we lost the hour was the worst day of the year.  My father worked long hours and his main pleasure was sleep.  He loved to sleep, and the thought that he just lost an hour of it was too much to take.  Of course, until we were teenagers we actually thought that the day we got the hour back in the fall was a national holiday.  Now that's a great day!

Isn't it interesting how when you are young time seems to go by so slowly?  I remember wishing that time would go faster so it would be summer and I wouldn't have to go to school.  Now I'm at the point in my life where time goes by so fast I can almost feel it rushing past me.  The hard part is that although my body is older, (and boy do I feel that when the weather gets cold!), my mind is still young.   So, my mind wants to do all of these things, but my body and my adult responsibilities mean I often have to put things off.

I hate that!  I'm one of these people who used to pride herself on doing two or three things at a time. As moms we do it all the time!  When I was younger it was easier, but now that menopause has settled in, I've found that I'm not so quick on the uptake and am more likely to forget one of my "multi-tasks" as I'm doing it.  Not particularly efficient.

I've been fighting this for a while, usually by piling more stuff on my plate, thinking that if I have more to do I'll find a way to get it done.  Not!  What I ended up with is a few things done OK, more things done halfway, and a lot of things completely forgotten and not done at all!

Lately, my design business has picked up, and I've been dealing with family illnesses, and my son's school and sport obligations.  For a while I tried to do it all, all at once, but it didn't take me long to accept that it's just not possible.  One of the things I had to cut back on was my blogging, which was hard for me.  I enjoy writing, and it's fun hearing back from my readers.  I also didn't want people to give up on me, or think I'd disappeared.

The fact is that I've had to make choices, and unfortunately they haven't all been about what's fun for me.  I guess that's what happens when you have a family; you can't live without them, but having them in your life requires a certain amount of personal sacrifice.  Sure, if I didn't have my parents, siblings, husband, son, and friends, I could get a lot more done.   But who would I share it with?  Like so much in life dealing with how you spend your time is one big compromise.

I haven't done any sewing at all for a few weeks.  I managed to get a quilt pieced and started on it, but then I got sidetracked and haven't even looked at it for a couple of weeks.  Fortunately, for me, these non productive quilting times usually end up with me having a spurt of new creative energy.  I hope I have some spurts left!

The point I want to make is that as much as we love quilting, sometimes we have to take care of other things first.  Even if we have stacks of fabric waiting for us, (and we feel guilty about not doing anything with them), we need to accept that sometimes we won't be in the mood, or have the time to do it.  Life has a way of getting in the way of our best laid plans.  As long as we aren't using what happens in our life as an excuse to avoid sharing our creativity, it's Ok to take a break now and then.  Sometimes you have to put your time on "auto pilot" and just let it fly.

Happy Stitching,

Susan

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dealing with the Downside

Wow, I'm really terrible.  I'm so sorry I haven't been posting.  I have a business opportunity that's taking too much of my time, and I also was working on my son's basketball team's end of season DVD.  It takes me a full week to get that done, along with the posters I make for each kid.  It's a lot of work, but so worth it for the boys and their parents.

I've been thinking a lot lately about disappointment. A lot of it had to do with the fact that my son didn't get back on his old baseball team this year.  Of course, his coach tried to get him, but at his age the kids all have to go into the draft and my son did great at tryouts.....so, he got picked early.  Since his coach had to take two kids with his assistant coach, (brothers), he lost his first pick, and by the time his chance came around again, not only was my son gone, but a lot of his teammates as well.

When I got the call from his "new" coach's wife I was so disappointed.  My son is 13 and was in one of those, "everyone hates me, nothing goes right for me, everything is horrible" moods.  I was so worried that when I gave him this bit of news he'd whine even more than usual, and I just didn't want to hear it! 

Well, he was upset, but accepting.  We knew all along it was a long shot, so by the time we saw his coach at basketball practice that night we were in the mood to give him a hard time, in a good natured way.  His coach was upset, but sent my son's disappointment into pride when he told him he'd been picked in the first round.  I think that meant more to him than anything, and we're all proud of him for handling the disappointment as well as he did.

I know that we all deal with disappointment on a regular basis.  Things just don't always go the way we hoped and/or planned and we find ourselves fighting against fate.  I know my first thought when I got the call was to try to find a way to make things the way I wanted them to be, even though I knew that wasn't possible.  When I called my husband to give him the bad news, his mind automatically went in the same direction.   The only one's who didn't was my son's.  He expressed his disappointment, and then started asking me about his new coaches and who else was on his team.  He moved on so much more quickly than we did.

What is it about us that makes us challenge the disappointments in our lives?  I know that in some cases it's because we have a fantasy about how things should be, and when things don't live up to our expectations we get disappointed.  Sometimes, I get mad at myself because I can see clearly that it was a decision that I made that led to that disappointment.  But most of the time, life just takes a different turn and we have to deal with it; usually it's not anyone's fault, we just have to learn how to accept.

In the case of the baseball team something happened that very night at basketball practice that made me realize that I'd just escaped from a situation that was dangerous for me.  As a menopausal woman I can get very upset and although I handle it pretty well, if I'm pushed, I'm not always sure about how well I'll deal with it.  Suffice it to say I realized that there was a parent that was going to be on my son's old team that I've had run-ins with before.  When I found out her son was going to be on the team, I realized that my son's move to the "Angels" was a good thing.  I don't want to fight with this person, but she's one of those people who pushes my buttons and I'm so glad I won't have to deal with her on a regular basis.  Hallelujah!

Once my mind turned in that direction I realized that avoiding this person wasn't the only benefit.  Since we don't know anyone on our team it's an opportunity to make new friends, for my husband and myself, and for my son as well.  Also, since no one knows me, no one knows that my husband is a great photographer and I'm a graphic designer who knows how to make team DVDs.  That means I won't feel obliged to do it, and that will give me more time to devote to my business venture, and my blogs!  It also means that my husband and I can sit together at the games now since he won't be walking the sidelines taking photos.

I went from picturing myself feeling lonely and uninvolved, to kind of liking the opportunity to enjoy baseball afternoons with my husband and our dog; just hanging out at the ballpark enjoying the game and not worrying about anything else.  What a blessing that will be!

As to how this applies to quilting, well, who hasn't been disappointed in the quilt you just finished, or in not winning any ribbons in a show, or in not getting an enthusiastic response to your new quilt at a guild meeting?  It's hard to deal with disappointment, but in my experience there is usually some kind of silver lining.  A quilt that didn't turned out as you planned is a learning experience of what "not" to do.  Not winning any ribbons in a show is tough, but look at your competition.  If you want to win ribbons you may have to step it up a notch or two, or enter a different kind of show where your style will shine.  Besides, more people left disappointed than not, you can't win every time!  Most importantly, if you don't get an enthusiastic response to your quilt at your guild meeting there are a few things to consider.  First of all, does it deserve a great response?  Sometimes what we think is fab in the comfort of our studio doesn't show as well outside of it.  Secondly, are you showing a Civil War quilt to an "art quilt" type guild or vice versa?  Knowing your audience is key.  I think the most important thing to learn from this is whether or not you're in the right guild.  Maybe the people are too self centered to be generous, or too structured to be accepting, or just downright mean.  Any of those reasons would be enough for me to look elsewhere.

I can't promise to post more than a few times a week or every other week for a while.  Once things settle down into a more regular rhythm I'll be able to write more often.  In the meantime, please check in when you can, and know that if you love what you're doing, it's always worth it!

Happy Stitching!

Susan

Friday, February 18, 2011

So Much To Do, So Little Time

 
I've been behind in my blogging for a while now and I was doing so well there a couple of weeks ago. 

It got me to thinking, what was I doing with all of my time?

I don't know about you but there are times when I get resentful of the demands placed on me by others.  It's one of the reasons I don't have a lot of really close friends.  They might have expectations of me that I can't and sometimes don't even want to fulfill.

My husband and I are impressed by the amount of social activity engaged in by our friends.  They're busy all the time with one activity or the other.  Fortunately, he's like me in that he admits to being selfish about his time.  The thought of going out several nights a week, or spending every weekend hanging out with friends overwhelms us.  We both need time to do the things we love, the things that recharge our batteries.

For him it's working in the garden, hanging out and doing sports with our son, fly fishing, and music.  For me it's quilting, art, and writing....and of course, hanging out with my family.

What I find frustrating is when I get so busy doing things I don't really want to do but are commited to doing, that I can't find time to do the things I really want to do.  Of course, one of the main things is housework, which like most women I hate.  It isn't that it's difficult or not satisfying, (everyone loves a clean house!), it's just that it's too easy for me to find an excuse not to do it as often as I should.  And you know how that goes, putting cleaning off just makes it worse, and then you have a real mess to clean up which just makes you hate cleaning even more than you did before.

When I worked full time and had a young son at home I somehow managed to get more done.  Part of that could be that I was younger and had more energy, but I think a large part of it is that I had to manage my time better, so I did.  Now that I'm home all the time, I find it more difficult to separate my "work" from my family and my fun.  I find myself writing articles while everyone else is watching TV, or working on designs when I should be cleaning the bathrooms, or checking email when I should be chatting with my son about his day.

I've been making more of an effort to schedule my days so I can get everything done, but the days seem to be getting shorter, or I'm moving slower, or I'm procrastinating more than ever, so I keep sliding back into my bad habits.

Those of us who have lives we're trying to lead while trying to make quilts often have a hard time reconciling the two.  There are some things that I do that work, and others I need to work on.

I don't bring sewing or reading with me in the car anymore.  I used to use trips as a way to clear away some work, but now I treasure those trips as a great opportunity to chat with my husband while my son listens to music on his i-pod.  It's "alone" time we don't get enough of.  I also make a point of not bringing work along to my son's sports practices and games.  I usually spend that time watching him and chatting with the other parents.  I find it recharges my batteries and sometimes I get great ideas while I'm sitting on the grass watching the boys take batting practice.  We all need down time so try to find some activities you have to be a part of and just enjoy them.  Grab those moments with family and friends when you can.

I do need to work on wasting too much time on the internet.  I tend to get lost sometimes, something pops into my head, I search for it, then I end up going off on all kinds of weird tangents before realizing that I just spent an hour doing nothing productive.  I don't watch TV much, but I think I need to get off the laptop more often, it can be just as addictive.

Today I'm going to post the latest chapter of "A Piece of Work" over on http://www.quiltlit.com/, check my email and then shut this laptop down and clean my house.  Whoopee!!!

Have a great holiday weekend!

Susan

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Spam

I'm sure you're like me, you hate spam!  Now, there are probably some of you that like the meat "Spam," ( I know I had my share of it when I was a kid), but what I'm talking about is that ubiquitous onslaught of email that clogs up inboxes and annoys the heck out of everyone.

A couple of weeks ago I lost my 12 year old hotmail account because someone hacked into it and started sending out spam messages to all of my contacts.  It's embarrassing and a real hassle to deal with.  I finally just copied my contacts and let the account die.

Since I've started blogging I've had issues off and on with spam.  Lately, it's been an avalanche.  Now that I have 3 blogs, I'm constantly checking and deleting.  The unfortunate thing is that I had to set up "anonymous" as "spam" so if you comment anonymously your comment won't show until I have the chance to go into the comments section and allow it to post.  It's a pain!

As usual, one annoying thing leads to another and I got to thinking about why spam bugs me so much.  For one thing a lot of it is obscene, (which is disgusting), but mostly it's just unwanted and unwelcomed communication.  So, "spam" doesn't just have to be an email, or a comment, or a tin of meat, it can be any kind of unwanted communication.

How many times have you been near a quilt at a quilt show only to overhear people making snarky comments about it, or little asides during a meeting, or a brazen barrage of critique and unwanted "advice" from another quilter?  We've all been victims of these kind of "spam" attacks.  It could be that people mean well, but frankly, attacking someone elses work, is never a good thing.  And those that want to offer unsolicited advice?  Who needs them.  If you want advice ask someone you trust who you know isn't there to bring you down but sincerely wants to help.

I can't tell you how many times I've encountered this kind of "spam."  As an artist I'm constantly being criticized for one thing or another.  "I don't like that color."  "Why didn't you put that over there instead?"  "You really need to work on your technique."   On, and on, and on.

For some reason, whenever you put your work out there others think they have a right to anaylize and criticize, when, really, all you want is to share what you made.  It can be daunting to a new or a less confident quilter.

OK, now I'm going to contribute a little "spam" of my own.  There's no way you're going to avoid making some people unhappy, or keep them from giving you unwanted advice, or even stop them from criticizing your work.   What you can do is be gracious, and then forget it.  Don't allow the spammers to control how you feel about yourself or your work.  Picture in your mind selecting and then deleting them, just like you'd delete spam from your email.

Oh, and while you're at it, maybe you can "unsubscribe" from a few as well.

Send them to the Recycle Bin!

Susan

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Modesty vs. Humility

Sorry it's been a while between posts.  I was sick last week and when Monday came around I had to catch up on all of the things I wasn't able to do the week before.  So, as you can imagine, Monday and Tuesday were spent cleaning, doing laundry, grocery shopping and all of the other little things I wasn't able to do before.

Then, Wednesday afternoon, my son got sick again!  Another totally different flu bug with a high fever, chills, and body aches  Poor kid was suffering Wednesday and Thursday, then we thought he was getting better on Friday and the fever jumped back up again!  So, he's still lying on the couch and I'm still trying to take care of him, my lingering cough, and do everything I can to keep my husband and myself from catching this latest bug.  It's been one of those winters!

Even though I haven't been posting I have been thinking about it.  When I saw this graphic it made me think about modesty and humility.  The big thing now is "self esteem" which for years educators thought was so important to inculcate into our children.  Well, now they've discovered that it might not be the be-all and end-all they thought it was.  Turns out the people with the best self esteem are in prison!  So much for that concept.

I'm not particularly ancient, but I remember being taught modesty and humility.  Modesty is a difficult concept for many people.  It isn't about knocking yourself down, it's about knowing your worth, but not bragging about it.  A person's modesty about their acheivements isn't an indication that those acheivements have less value.  It's actually the opposite.  A person is modest because they're pleased with themselves but are polite enought not to lord it over others.  A modest person will accept compliments easily, but won't go on and on about how great they are.  They're confident in their abilities and let them stand on their own without embellishment.

Humility is different.  One is humbled by the realization of their good fortune.  If, for instance you're involved in a quilting competition with many talented artists, you may be humbled by being chosen as the winner.  Humility comes from our very real human sense that we are not entirely responsible for our good fortune.  That's why when someone wins an award they thank others, and sometimes God for assistance to get to that place.  So, we're humbled by our feeling that "we're not worthy" because we appreciate the talents of others and all of the help we've received to get where we are.

My son loves to watch the American Idol auditions.  In past years I thought they were exploiting people and making fools of them, but this year the tone has changed a bit.  We have noticed that whenever there's a contestant who is convinced they're the next American Idol, they usually have no talent at all.  It's generally the quiet ones who come out and blow everyone away. 

I believe that there's a difference between those who are gifted and those who are not.  A gifted person views their gifts as part of themselves, they may struggle with how to deal with the results of their gifts, but the gifts are accepted by them for what they are.  It's those that don't have those gifts that have to puff themselves up and make pronouncements about how great they are.

That's why you'll notice that the least talented people are the most vocal about their talents, while those who are talented take it as a matter of course.

Remember this when you're dealing with other quilters.  If you're the timid sort you might be intimidated by the loudmouths, who always know better, and always have something negative to say about everyone else's work.  These people are rarely talented.  They may be able to execute well, but it's doubtful their quilts "sing." 

It takes a modest and humble heart to receive the gifts of inspiration.  A person who is always tooting their own horn is usually desperately trying to get the attention they crave.  Let your work speak for itself.   That doesn't mean that you have to sit there quietly and let others walk all over you.  It means that you can hold your head up, confident that you've done your best, and humbled by the other real talent around you. 

Quilt on!

Susan 










Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Embarrassing Moments

I love this cartoon because it reminds me of my worst nightmare.  Now, you might say, why would you love it then?  Well, it's because it makes me laugh about it!

I don't know about you but it's been many, (and I mean MANY), years since I've gone to school.  Even now, after all this time, I still have those school nightmares.  You know, the ones where you discover you have a final in a course you didn't even know you were taking?  Or, when you discover you've been sittiing in the wrong classroom for months, or you're naked, or you just realize you're supposed to be at school and you aren't?  This cartoon reminds me of all of those dreams, along with the real life experiences I've had of discovering that I'd completely misunderstood something.

What I think is most telling about this is that although the student with the play-dough is obviously mortified, none of the other students seems to notice.  That's the way many of our most embarrassing moments have probably played out, but we were so upset that we didn't notice how little other people cared.

I got over being embarrassed years ago when I had a problem with my balance.  When I was in Junior College one of my ears completely plugged up.  Since it came upon me slowly, I didn't really notice the lack of hearing, but after a while it began to affect my balance.  I'd never been particularly clumsy but all of a sudden I was falling over and as young people do, just assumed that I had embarked on a new stage of my life, clumsy Susan.

Now, this happened to be going on during the Olympics and for some reason I started giving myself points for my falls.  It became kind of a running routine, if I fell, I'd say "that was an 8.7" and everyone, including myself, would laugh.  Once I had a fairly spectacular fall where somehow I managed to do a full turn before ending up on my back. For that one, I got style points!

Now, if I was falling like that now I'd be in the hospital, but I was 18 years old and just jumped up and dusted myself off.  I realized that the people around me were usually concerned if I was OK, and then we'd all have a good laugh together about how "graceful" I was.  It was then that I discovered that being able to laugh at myself was my best weapon against embarrassment.

Once my ear problem was resolved I stopped falling over all the time, but I transferred that way of dealing with it into other aspects of my life.  I won't say that I haven't been embarrassed since, but it's become a lot easier to deal with it when it happens.

I've also come to the realization that, just like the other students in the cartoon, many times the people around us don't think twice about our "embarrassing" moments.  People have their own lives and troubles, and tend to forget about what happens to others to focus on their own "embarrassing" moments.

So, if you're afraid of being embarrassed about something, just laugh it off, and remember, everyone, I don't care who they are, have had embarrassing moments too.

So, try not to dwell on it and it will soon be forgotten,

Susan

 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Creeping Out of Our Comfort Zones

After spending most of the last week in bed, I'm very familiar with a "Comfort Zone."  It's nice and cozy and warm, and I don't have to push myself to do anything.  That's one of the few attractions of being "under the weather," people don't expect a whole lot out of you.  You do what you can, but if you want to get back into bed and go back to sleep, no one's going to hold it against you, and it will make you feel better.

The problem with comfort zones is that they're comfortable.  It's like your bed or your favorite chair; it's all broken in, the sharp edges are dulled, and it's a perfect fit.  It's so great there that once you get in, you don't want to get out.

So, what's wrong with that?  Why can't we just stay in our comfort zones?

Well, you can if you want to.  The problem is that most people are comfortable in their comfort zones only because they're afraid to go anywhere else.  "I'll just stay here," they say, "in my little corner.  The world can pass me by, opportunities can be lost, but that's OK, because if I stay here, I'm safe."

Ah, safety!  It's so seductive!  Haven't we all grown up with "it's for safety," the safety patrol, even the proverbial parental cry, "Be Safe!"?  So, safety feels great, but don't you remember when you were a kid and your mom wouldn't let you do something because it "might not be safe"?  I have a friend whose mother wouldn't get her a 10 speed bike because the wheels were narrow and if she rode it just so it might get caught in a sewer grate.  Yikes!  The odds of a kid doing that are slim to negligible.  And if it did happen, what would be the result?  A scraped elbow or knee? 

The point is that sometimes being "safe" isn't a good thing.  Think about it, if people only did things that were "safe" we'd still be eating cold raw meat and living in caves, (and that's not particularly safe, come to think of it!).

Pulling yourself out of that nice comfy zone is a hard thing to do, and the longer you sit there the harder it gets.  The thought of putting yourself "out there" is terrifying, and all you can think about is the bad things that could happen.

Don't I know it!  I can't tell you how many times I've had opportunities that I haven't taken because I was scared.  I still regret when I was too shy to be the lead kid in the kindergarten Halloween parade, or the time I passed on being Mary in the church Christmas pageant, or the time I was asked to help teach a bunch of guys to quilt because they wanted to make memorial quilts for their friends, (yes, that would be the famous AIDS quilt!). 

I wonder how my doing even one of those 3 things could have changed my life. There's no point in dwelling on the past, but do I want to risk losing what could be an interesting part of my future?  In my case, no!

So, today I stepped out of my comfort zone and began running my serialized fictional story, "A Piece of Work" on http://www.quiltlit.com/.  It was scary pushing that "publish post" button, but if I want to move forward I have to be willing to take the risk of making a fool out of myself.

I hope that you'll all think a bit about your comfort zones and make small efforts to break free.  No one expects anyone to go out and go crazy, but if you see an opportunity to widen your horizons, grab it.  Even the attempt is a victory.

I may not make the "end zone" with my foray into fiction, but heck, it was worth a shot.

Now, go "zone out!"

Susan

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wallflower



My husband bought me a Nook for Christmas.  For those of you who don't know, it's an e-reader, with the capacity to hold hundreds of digital books.

I love to read!  I'm always reading at least three or four books at a time, mainly because I read so fast that I alternate books to prolong my enjoyment.  The Nook is great because of all of the free books you can download through Barnes and Noble's but also through other websites.  These books aren't the latest titles, but mostly classics that the copyrights have expired on. 

That's great for me because I love old novels.  I just finished reading Elizabeth Gaskell's "North and South," (talk about romance... and it was published in 1857!).  There's a BBC production of it available on Netflix on demand so I've got to find some time to watch it.

Currently I'm reading "Alice Adams" by Booth Tarkington.  It was published in 1922, and was famously made into a movie with a young Katherine Hepburn in 1935.

The reason I'm writing about this particular book is that the main character, Alice, is constantly trying to be someone she's not and in so doing makes things worse for herself.  The saddest thing is that she would be fine if she could just be herself, but she's so insecure that she puts on all of these affectations that just turn people off and make her a bit of a joke.  I'm not sure how this story ends, but as I'm reading it all I want to do is shake Alice and tell her to cut it out!  Just be yourself and you'll be fine!

Of course, we've all heard that advice.  The question is, who am I and how do I know I'll be fine being me?

That's a huge question and one psychologists have been making livings off of for years.  It's easy enough to say, "be yourself," but quite another to do it.

The fact is that by the time you're an adult you've had multiple unwanted opinions and expectations of who you are.  The impatient teacher who treated you like you were a moron, the boss who screamed at you for no real reason, the coach who put you down in front of the team, the siblings who mocked you, the parents who compared you to everyone else's kid....

So, by the time you're grown up you've received all kinds of information about who you are.  Some of it good, some not so good, but all of it absorbed by you and reflected in how you interact with others.

The problem so many of us have, (and I'm one of those people), is that we have a hard time separating who we are from what other people think we are and/or expect us to be.  One thing that many people never realize is that it isn't always in the best interest of others to encourage us.  Some people are stronger personalities that overwhelm less confident ones.  They tell us we're slow, or stupid, or unimportant, not necessarily because it's true, but because putting us down makes them feel better about themselves.

Yes, Virginia, there are people who build themselves up on the battered egos of others.  If the world were fair they'd be the ones sitting by themselves, feeling left out and sad.  Unfortunately, the world isn't fair and those of us who've been their victims are usually the ones who struggle.  It takes time and effort and a dose of reality to get yourself out of that victim mode.

The fact is that you are going to run into people who are smarter, prettier, and better quilters than you.  And, some of those people are going to let you know it. 

So what?  If you let other people define who you are you aren't being the real you.  Do you want to be the person they've made you out to be?  Or do you want to make what's left of your life, "your" life and not someone elses?

It's a difficult change to make, and as someone who's been working on this for years all I can tell you is that you have to get stubborn about it.  When things are said about you or you're made to feel a certain way, don't take it at face value.  Think about it.  Does this person have an ulterior motive?  Are you the only person they pick on?  Do they pick on stronger, more confident people?

If by putting you down this person makes themselves seem better, if they pick on other people, and if they never pick on stronger personalities, what you're dealing with here is a bully.  The problem is with them, not with you.  However, if you are allowing them to bully you, you need to work on building a backbone.  Sometimes it's easier to just get away from them and start associating with kinder people.  If you can't then you have to act like what they say doesn't bother you and just keep doing what you need to do.

So much of how we behave is habit.  If you're in the habit of being grumpy and sullen, it's hard to break out of that, and if you do, be prepared for people to be confused by it.  You will have people mock you for it, mainly because they're in the habit of dealing with surly you, not sweet you.  This may very well rock their world.  You have no idea how many people say, "At least I'm not as cranky as so-and so!" but when so-and-so isn't so cranky, then what do they do?

Start thinking about little habits you can change. They may seem small but they can really make a huge difference in your day.  One of my favorites is to make sure I'm smiling when I leave my bedroom in the morning.  It can be a fake smile, but at least I'm working on it!

Do any of you have any little habits you'd like to change?

Susan


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Letting Go of Baggage

Everyone has their "baggage."  It can be anything from memories of a bad childhood to a reluctance to let go of simple things we regret.

A few years ago I read a wonderful book called "Knitting: A Novel" by Anne Bartlett. 

                                                            
It's currently available at Amazon, or you can pick it up at your local library. 

Now, I know how to knit but I would not call myself a knitter by any means.  It's one of those things I like the idea of but I don't have the stamina to actually knit anything.  Accomplished knitters are amazing, and I really have to give them credit for creating such beauty with a couple of pointy sticks and some yarn.

The reason I'm bringing up this book isn't because of the knitting angle, it has to do with the way one of the main characters handles her mistakes.  I don't want to go into too much detail about the plot but it has to do with two widows, one a professor-type, Sandra,  and the other an eccentric but extremely talented knitter, Martha.

Sandra is impressed with Martha's talent and decides to mount an exhibition of her work.  So, she is constantly hassling Martha about getting things done.  The fact is that Sandra doesn't realize how fragile Martha is and how much her art means to her.  To her it's something to be displayed, but to Martha it's much deeper than that.

So, Sandra gets frustrated and Martha starts to fall apart under the pressure.

The most interesting thing about Martha is that she always carries these big heavy bags around with her.  The bags are mentioned but not really explained until it comes out that whenever Martha makes a knitting mistake, she puts it in one of the bags.  Her penance for making a mistake is to carry those heavy bags with her everywhere she goes. 

It's a literal representation of what many of us do, except in our case the baggage is in our heads or tucked away inside a closet somewhere.

This aspect of the novel has haunted me ever since.  Everyone talks about "baggage" but to see it so explicity shown as a bag you can open up and look at was enlightening to me.  After all, what was it but pieces of unfinished knitting, and yet it held such power over Martha.

When I think of how baggage affects me as a quilter I think back on those projects I bought fabric for but never made, or got halfway done with and set aside, never to finish.  We choose what to put in our "bags" and the thought of carrying around all that unused fabric and old patchwork does not appeal to me at all. 

A couple of years ago I purged my fabric stash in a huge way.  I got rid of several large boxes of odds and ends, unfinished quilt tops and blocks.  I gave them to a quilt guild a friend of my mother's belonged to and they went about using the fabric and blocks to make charity quilts and to sell at their bazaar.  I feel a lot less guilty about those unfinished projects now. 

That doesn't mean that there aren't times when I flash back to a project I wish I'd finished, or get on my own case about fabric that needs to be used.  The guilt never completely goes away.

However, carrying it around with me all the time seems like a huge waste of energy.  I think it's time to lay those bags down.

Let go and lighten up!

Susan

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Quilt Anxiety

Have you ever experienced Quilt Anxiety?  Well, if you haven't then I'm very impressed!  For me it's an everyday occurrence.  I'm constantly questioning everything I do, and when I can shut up that annoying chatterbox, I still have an underlying tummy rumbling, (not related to that beefy bean burrito!).

Anxiety can take many forms.  Some people get sweaty and clammy, (OK, that can be a hot flash as well!), some get fluttery tummies, some start to chatter and chatter and chatter, and others just throw up.   In my case I tend to get the tummy thing.  It's the same feeling I get when I go to the grocery store nowadays when I see the prices.  Yikes!

You wouldn't think that we'd be anxious about something we do for enjoyment.  However, I've discovered that those things we count on as enjoyment can also cause the greatest anxiety.  Our expectations are higher and then when we don't have as good of a time as we thought we would, we feel let down.

That's why I think it's important to look at how you approach quilting.  Is it fun or a chore?  Do you do it because you want to, or because you feel you need to because of all the money you've spent on materials? 

I enjoy parts of the process but hate other parts.  So, I try to do the parts I don't like when I'm in the mood to be busy.  When I'm in the mood to have fun I tackle the fun parts.  This way I don't feel as let down.  I can't imagine being in a fun mood and having to press fabric in preparation for cutting, (I hate that!).  I also don't want to waste a busy mood when it wouldn't bother me to press fabric, in order to so something I want to save for a fun mood.

When I was working in an office I used to keep a folder full of mindless tasks.  When I had spare time and needed to at least "look" busy I'd tackle that folder.  It was usually things like filing, updating contacts, data entry, you know, boring stuff.  But boy did it make my boss happy to see me working away.

I have a similar system for quilting.  Right now I have a stack of fabric I need to press to cut into strips.  Whenever I have a little spare time I tackle pressing a few pieces.  It's not a lot but over time it adds up.  At my current pace it'll take me a couple of weeks to get it done, but I won't feel dragged down by it.

Try being honest with yourself about what things you love and hate about quilting.  If you're like me and you hate pressing, set up your ironing station so when you have ten minutes to kill before picking the kids up from school you can press a few things.  If you hate cutting, keep your pieces on the cutting table and take a few minutes now and then to get it done.  For some reason it's not so overwhelming when you do it in bits and pieces.

Now, get busy!

Susan

Monday, January 24, 2011

Putting It Out There

One of the things I love most about blogging is working on my writing skills.  I was fortunate to be taught by a master.  My high school writing teacher took a decent writer and turned her into someone who could write away on any subject without breaking a sweat.  Of course, it helped that I had some innate talent, but as I keep telling my son, writing is about being organized, and shaking things up.  You can't write well and start every sentence with "I," and, if your thoughts are disorganized no one will be able to follow what you're saying.

What's the point of writing something if no one understands it?

I've been struggling for years with my two competing passions; writing and quilting.  I love them both equally but it wasn't until I started my original blog http://www.thecrankyquilter.com/ that I combined the two.  It's been fun playing with words again.  And, when I turn out a post that really sings, it makes me feel great!

Of course, when you write as much as I do, you have those days when nothing sounds right.  Sometimes I'll sit down and knock off two or three posts without stopping.  Other days I sweat and strain over every sentence.  It can get very frustrating!

In one major way, quilting is like writing.  You have to exercise the muscle to be able to do the task well.  If I don't write for a while I have a hard time getting back into my rhythm, and it's the same with quilting.  Once I start tackling a blog post or a piecing project it comes back, but it can be a struggle, mostly to get started.

And, of course, there's another major way these two disciplines are alike, they both involve exposing yourself to praise and ridicule.  (Notice I put "praise" first....wishful thinking!)  

Remember when you had to ready your essay out loud in class?  It was bad enough that you had to stand up and read it out loud, but having to read your own words and thoughts....wow, that's a big "out there"!

So, I'm putting out another challenge to you.  Those of you who wish to can send me contributions for my new blog http://www.quiltlit.com/ to susan@quiltlit.com.  I know it can be scary to put it out there, but I'd love to see what you have to contribute.  I'm looking for book and magazine reviews, and for original fiction with a quilting theme.  The fiction can be in the form of short stories, or I can serialize a longer story on "Fiction Friday."  I can't pay you anything for your work, but I happen to know that I have some readers who might be interested in publishing your work, so it's worth a shot. 

So, send me what you have.  As editor I will have final say on what's published based on content, appropriateness, and writing style.  If I can't accept your contribution I will send it back to you with my comments.   It's usual for professional writers to go through this process so don't be intimidated.  I'm not here to bring anyone down, that's for sure!

I hope to hear from some of you, and in the meantime I will be putting myself "out there" by publishing my own reviews and fiction......so scary!

Write on!

Susan




Sunday, January 23, 2011

I don't know about you but sometimes I feel like I've lost whatever brains I had!

I think as we get older we have so much to remember that it's not surprising that somethings fall through the cracks.   I know it's true in my case.  I used to be one of those people that no one would play Trivial Pursuit with.  All kinds of unusual facts were easily recalled, even things I didn't even know I knew!

Not so anymore, I'm always looking for my glasses, my keys, my marbles....I know I left them somewhere....

You know it's bad when your son can finance his college education with the dollars you give him for finding your glasses!

You younger folks also have too much to remember.  It seems like life is so much more complicated than it used to be.  Just think of what you have to know to use a computer.  It's like a whole other world to those of us who grew up with manual typewriters and rotary dial phones.  My son still can't comprehend the 3 TV channels we had when I was a kid, or the fact that calculators cost $200 when I was in high school.

I know that forgetting things is a pain.  Especially when quilting.  I know that I've forgotten that I wanted to cut 2.5" strips instead of 2" ones....only remembering after they were all cut.  Duh!  Not to mention confusing row orders and trimming off too much on finished blocks.  I try to "idiot proof" everything in my life as much as possible, but even that doesn't always work.

It's frustrating when you make mistakes because you "forgot."  It happens to everyone but it isn't the end of the world.  Heck, sometimes the only laughs I have are at myself and the boneheaded things I do.  It's like one long Three Stooges cooking tutorial.  You never know what I'll get up to!
The only advice I have for you is that if you do something boneheaded or forget what you're supposed to do, just laugh it off.  Life's too short to beat yourself up too badly.  Besides, think of the great story you'll have to tell at the next guild meeting!

Try to remember to laugh it off!

Susan

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fighting It and Winning

What is "It'?  For me "it" is when I can't get excited about anything and everything I attempt doesn't work out.

I'm sure it happens to everyone at one time or another.  It's horrible for me because there's nothing worse for me than being bored, and when things don't work out, it's depressing.

Fortunately, I know that it's just a temporary state of mind and odds are that soon I'll be back to my semi-supercharged self.   Years ago I came up with some tricks to get me back to normal, here are a few of them:

1.  Wallow in "It":  Sometimes you need to just fully experience it to get tired of it and move on.  I love the saying "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."  Sometimes if you just go with the bored, sad state you'll get tired of it and pull yourself out.

2.  Do Mindless Tasks:  This is a great time to sort buttons, clean out a cabinet, or untangle that jumble of threads.  Doing "something" will sometimes jumpstart you.

3.  Go Shopping:  I'm not talking about going out and spending money.  In my case, I like to peruse the quilting fabric online stores and see what catches my eye.  It's a great way to get some creative mojo going.

4.  Forget About It!:  Sometimes you just have to get through it.  So what if you don't feel like quilting today.  It's not like it's the end of the world.  It might be a great time to take a walk or watch that movie you've been wanting to see.  We all need to recharge our batteries.

So,the next time you're feeling "it" remember it won't last forever!

Feel it and then recharge!

Susan

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Testing Yourself

I was a bit of a freak as a student.  I actually liked tests!  I know, I am crazy, but for some reason I always found them enjoyable.  It's kind of the same thrill you get when you answer the questions on Jeopardy correctly.  Of course it helped that I was the kind of student who studied and was always well prepared.

As a quilter I also like to test myself, to see how far I can take things.  In the same way I studied for tests, I also make sure I'm prepared to tackle whatever quilting project I'm taking on. 

I think it's important to challenge yourself, but there's no quicker way to get discouraged then to tackle a project that's well beyond your current skill set.  A realistic assessment of where you are as a quilter is important information for you to have.  If you're just starting then it's obvious that you're a beginner and you should work on those kinds of projects until you have the basic skills down.  Then slowly add more challenges as you get involved in more complicated and difficult projects, making sure that you take your time to conquer each challenge as you move forward.

It's important to be prepared and confident as you continue to challenge yourself.  Take classes, read books, and ask questions of more experienced quilters.  And, above all, don't get discouraged if a quilt doesn't work out as planned, every quilter has unfinished quilts, it comes with the territory!

So, be prepared before you test yourself, and odds are you'll pass with flying colors!

Feel the fear, but do it anyway!

Susan

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Making Mistakes

“If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down.”     - Mary Pickford


I'm like everyone else.  I hate mistakes!  I hate them when I make them, when my son makes them, when my husband makes them, heck, I hate them when anyone makes them!

Mistakes are a real pain and it's easy enough to get really upset with yourself when you make one.  Perfection is impossible to maintain, and frankly it's not very open to creativity.  So, if you want to be a creative quilter then you have to be able to deal with the dark side of creativity....mistakes!

While I was working on my Tufted Tweets quilt I made 3 different mistakes in the piecing and cutting;

1) I cut one of the sides of a block at the seamline not the cutting line. So, I had to recut all the pieces and remake the block.
2)  I stitched one piece to another with its' right side out.  Duh!
3) I used a long strip where I should have used a shorter one, and ended up having to cut another piece Double Duh!

These are the more major of the many minor boo boos I made, and that's just in putting together a 24" x 16" quilt top.  Can you imagine how many I would make on a full sized quilt?  Now you know why I don't make them anymore.  Frankly, just the thought of it gives me a massive headache!

My point is that I've been quilting since the early 70s and I made that many mistakes on a simple piecing project.  I'm very cautious and try very hard to make sure that I'm doing things correctly, but even I screw up, and on a fairly regular basis.

However, just because I made a mistake it doesn't mean that I failed.  It also doesn't mean that I'm an idiot.  It just means that whenever you do anything the risk is there that you won't do it perfectly.  Big Whoop!

All I can say is that if I quit quilting based on my mistakes I wouldn't have finished one piece.  I probably would have given up in 1975.

That's what I love about the quote from Mary Pickford shown above.  Failure isn't based on your mistakes, it's based on your inability to rise above them.  So what, you made a mistake, fix it and move on.  If you give up because something's too hard then you'll never conquer it, and in so doing prove to yourself that you really can do it after all.

I grew up in a house where there was a lot of music.  My brother played piano and would practice for hours, the same piece, over and over again.  In the beginning there were tons of mistakes, with lots of cringeing from the rest of the family.  But then, as he worked through the piece, he conquered the mistakes, one by one, and after hours and hours of practice he could play the piece perfectly, (until he made a mistake).

It's the same with quilting, we spend years practicing and honing our skills.  We figure out how to fix our mistakes and avoid them in the future.  We read books, attend classes, and talk to other quilters.  We amass tips and techniques, and all the while on a steady basis, we continue to make mistakes.  I would bet you that if you asked any highly regarded celebrity quilter, (who was honest), if they still made simple mistakes, they'd laugh and say, "everyday!" 

I love the old saying that if you aren't making mistakes then you aren't trying hard enough.  So, go out there and make some quilting mistakes today, fix them, move on, and make some more! 

Feel the fear, but don't pay any attention to it...it stinks!

Susan




 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Follow the Signs!


I have a road themed post over at http://www.thecrankyquilter.com/ so I decided to continue the theme here with some fun road signs. 

Now, who can resist the bright green "Go" sign?  It makes me want to get up and Go!


Ok, now that we're off and running it's probably a good idea to warn those around us.  Quilting can be dangerous; the pins, the needles, the scissors, the expletives, the rotary cutter blades.  Yes, I think people should be warned of the danger, not only to themselves physically, but also because they just might want to start quilting too!


Before we can really start moving forward we have to let go of the burdens of our past.  If you have W.I.P.s (works in progress), that you know you'll never finish, this is the time to let them go.  Donate them, toss them, have a bonfire in the backyard....it doesn't matter.  The point is to learn how to let go of our learning experiences without guilt.  It isn't necessary to complete every project, sometimes they're just there to teach us something.  So, toss without guilt and move on down the road.

This is a Work in Progress sign.  It looks like this person is shoveling something, perhaps scraps from a marathon rotary cutting session?  Gotta clean up the work space!


 Remember it's always forward, keep moving forward, don't give up!
Even when the road is rocky and there are lots of unexpected obstacles in your way.

Don't even think about making a U-turn.  You're on the road Baby, you're getting there!


Yield to no one!  Snarky comments?  Ignore them! Self doubts?  Kick them in the behind!



Now you've run the course, you've won the race, and you're ready to take your quilt on the road.  Remember not everyone comes out on top, but you can still win if you bet on  "Win, Place, or Show."

Feel the fear, but kick it to the back of the bus!

Susan