What Quilting and Embroidery Can Teach us About Narrative Form “Stitches Might Help Writers Break from the Traditions of Built Texts”

SARAH MINOR

Quilted Essays by Sarah Minor

Quilting is best known as a domestic art, but traditional quilts follow deeply coded patterns that communicate much more than comfort and artistry. A quilt’s surface can often be “read” through linguistic and graphic cues. In many cultures, quilts act as historical documents that preserve narratives about place and identity. The scholar Mara Witzling writes that quilts historically “enabled women to speak the truth about their lives” by joining many disparate fragments, which when read together make a specific and often subversive “utterance.” In 19th century America, quilts made many different utterances: they could transmit a local history, recount one version of a family feud, or physically connect living women to their ancestors by combining inherited fabrics. Before women’s suffrage arrived, American women also made quilts to express their political sentiments. Many examples of political quilts, like those credited with securing the presidency for William McKinley, joined campaign ribbons with fabric and other text-based materials. These quilts gave a voice to women who could not yet legally submit their votes.
Like every quilt I’ve started but never finished, many traditional quilted patterns begin in the middle. First, the quilter chooses the centerpiece and, then, works outward, attaching sections of fabric with even stitches as the blanket begins to expand. Colors, textures, and weights are joined gradually to develop a composite image. Quilters call this process “piecing.” As a material metaphor for nonfiction, writers interested in new forms might consider “piecing” sections of text as a means of working outwards from a kind of center. This center could be the most significant or challenging moment in an essay. From there, the process of “piecing” a text, rather than writing it in a straight line, could free the writer from concerns about repetition, foundations, and chronology. In a quilted essay, a newspaper headline might fall beside a personal scene, and beside other diverse materials that build gradually toward a larger complex “utterance.” To talk about a quilted text, we writers might admire the variety and contrast of the materials an author chooses or the way a writer situates sections carefully, in conversation, so we readers can still keep our eyes on the center.

http://lithub.com/what-quilting-and-embroidery-can-teach-us-about-narrative-form/

This fascinating essay came to me via Kate McCahill.

Photos of Chinese tribal dowry quilt, editor’s collection.

In Splendid Retirement by Miriam Sagan

“Retirement”—The First 9 Months

When I retired from my creative writing job at Santa Fe Community College last December, I made some firm statements about my plans. Those who know me well, however, will attest that I always sound definite even as I’m changing my mind. I said I would not:

1. Do home repair
2. Improve my fitness
3. Concentrate more on writing

That is, I wash’t retiring to focus on improving myself or anything else. I said I wanted

1. Adventure
2. To learn something
3. To understand death more

And, privately, I told myself to

1. Keep everything that was working
2. Add to that

I also wanted something contemplative, but I couldn’t explain what. I had started to think of myself as needing to be more of a “forest dweller.” In the Hindu approach, there are four life stages:
1. Student (check)
2. Householder (check)
3. Forest Dweller
4. Renunciate.
But what IS forest dweller? Me in my garden? Me and husband Rich in an RV? It needed exploring.

Some unexpected things happened. I’d decided to retire in August, 2016. By the following January, when the time came—

1. Donald Trump was president
2. My mother had died (so no more care taking or commuting)
3. Rich started to work “seasonally”—about half the year, with lots of overtime during that period.

So—what happened?

Well, I did do some home repair. I now have a pretty red concrete pathway and some hardscaping in my front yard. However, no new kitchen cabinets or much of anything else. I have been to one stretch class and 1/2 a zumba class—so I really haven’t improved my fitness. I’m writing per usual—emphasis on usual.
So I count this as—negative—goals met.

As to adventure…I’ve seen the total eclipse of the sun, the love fest of Twin Oaks commune’s fiftieth anniversary, the solitude of two weeks in a campground in Hot Springs, Arkansas National Park, and eaten the Chinese food of Vancouver.
I marched on Washington. I took a non-violence class. I had a rifle lesson. I lobbied at the Roundhouse.
I’m still learning to use a “real” camera, do suminagashi, monoprint, geocache, and install poetry text. And I’ve learned to knit a hat.
I’ve been working in hospice and teaching writing in that context.
And, I’ll be going to Japan.

However, I don’t really feel satisfied. That’s probably just because I never am. Should I be studying more in a formal context? Should some challenges be more physical (old and crippled as I am)? Or maybe I should learn ancient Greek. Should could would maybe…

I took poster board and mapped out everything I was doing. And perhaps more important—everything that feeds me. It says: solitude, community, love, literature, nature and more. It says “Investigation.”

I joined a Torah study group. The combination of prayer, study, and community has been challenging…yet elevating. It’s the Days of Awe. I could meditate more. I could write in my journal more. I could…

Go with the flow and see what happens. Ask each day what it wants from me. A few years ago I had an enjoyable practice: I gave each day a theme. It might be teaching or beauty or fiscal responsibility or fun or friendship.

I love my To Do lists. I found one from my teenage years that listed “tampax” and “Pablo Neruda.” That pretty much summarizes my approach to life. My current list has some mystery items on it. It says Detroit? and Start “Mosaic.” It says Chrysanthemums and Go to Ohio.

I’m on my way…to something or other…

Devon Miller-Duggan Takes A Fond Look At Her Readers

I’ve been thinking about who/where I imagine my readers to be. Maybe it’s a problem that I can’t come up with a clear picture. Maybe it’s not. I have zero opinion (a rarity) on where or how folks read my stuff. I suspect that some people who liked my first book might be a bit shaken by my second, which is very differently voiced, I think, and in that sense I find myself occasionally wanting to apologize to the folks who bought the second book thinking it’d be like the first one, which is a little silly. So far, I have managed not to do that. Mostly I just hope I have readers, and they’re welcome to read the poems however and wherever they choose. I remember reading an interview with John Grisham years ago in which he was asked how he felt about the various film adaptations of his books and whether he had a hard time seeing someone else’s take on his work. He said he liked the checks and otherwise figured they were out of his hands and not his problem beyond that. Minus the big, fat, lovely checks, I think that’s sort of how I feel. Once the poems are out there, I would very much like them to be read, but beyond that, they’re in other folks’ hands and hearts and heads and not really mine in some sense. Of course, I also assume that all my readers are smart as all get out, thoughtful, playful, and gorgeous, but that goes without saying, right? This whole question is interesting to think about in terms of Robert Frost, who famously fought against certain readings of some of his poems and carefully cultivated a public persona that was geared toward creating a very broad and affectionate reading public (this being back in the day when there were more than 2 poets in the country who could actually make something like a living as poets), but while he did not like the darker readings of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” I wonder how he’d feel about the consistent mis-reading, mis-teaching, and mis-understanding of “The Road Not Taken” as a simplistic, Kipling-at-his-worst, “buck-up sermon. Maybe he’d have been fine with it as long as it got the poem enshrined in the cultural consciousness and brought in royalties, maybe he’d be repulsed, maybe a bit of both. I doubt I’ll ever have that sort of problem. It’d be nice in some ways. But mostly, I’m just very fond of my readers, whoever they are, wherever they are.

5 Tips for Applying to Writing Fellowships and Residencies by Danielle Corcione

I’m glad to be included here…enjoy.

5 Tips for Applying to Writing Fellowships and Residencies
by Danielle Corcione

If you’ve ever applied for a writing residency, retreat or fellowship, it sometimes feels intimidating to know your application is lumped into a pile with highly accomplished and well-established writers.
As a young writer, the application alone was a big enough barrier to scare me away from life-changing opportunities and thinking ahead in my writing career. For many writers like myself, it’s easy to fall into a hole of self-pity and invalidate our own personal achievements.
Luckily, the application process doesn’t have to be this way.
To learn some strategies about applying to residencies and fellowships, I reached out to a handful of writers who have been accepted to and completed prestigious opportunities. Here are their tips.

1. Communicate clearly in your application
Mailee Hung, a 2017 Bitch Media Writing Fellow, stresses the importance of effective communication in your letter of intent.
Your statement should “clearly outline what your project is, how you’re going to do it, [and] why that particular residency/fellowship is the best venue to do it in,” she says. “You need to state your claims early, if only to show that you’ve thought about it seriously and you know how to build an argument.”
Overall, you need to be ready to sell your best self.
Articulate why your work is particularly unique and special. Poet and former Artist-In-Residence at the Everglades National Park Miriam Sagan even recommends addressing some weaknesses.
“I heard through the grapevine I was once rejected for a residency because I asked for ‘too short” of a stay,” she explains. “From then on, I addressed my need for short stays directly.”

2. Understand your needs
Poet and teacher Laura Wetherington, who participated in residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre, recommends writers begin their program search by identifying their own artistic needs because, as you’d expect, programs can be very different from each other.
“Are you looking for a place to collaborate with other artists and feed off the collective energy, or are you looking for a solitary, quiet situation?” She says. “Do you need the internet, access to the post office or to bring a bunch of books with you?“
Knowing the answers to these questions will strengthen your statement of intent, because it provides you with a stronger connection to the program and its accommodations.

3. Go abroad
Sagan has completed more than a dozen residencies and fellowships, both domestic and abroad.
She says international residences are far less competitive compared to those within the United States.
“[International programs] cost about the price of a Motel 6 daily or less and tend to be government subsidized,” Sagan explains. “If you need funding, look at short-term Fulbrights for artists and other exchange programs. Look at your city’s Sister Cities too.”
For potential funding opportunities as a Philadelphia-based writer, I can look into my city’s affiliate Sister Cities, which include Tel Aviv, Israel; Florence, Italy; and Aix-en-Provence, France.

4. Fundraise as needed
“The slightly funded residencies are much more competitive,” Sagan explains. “Go for unfunded ones as well.”
Sagan recommends pursuing crowdfunding if you’re pursuing an unpaid residency and all other funding opportunities fail. “A GoFundMe campaign can get you anywhere,” she says.
She also adds to keep your expenses as low as possible. Minimize your luxuries by cooking on a budget rather than eating out, for instance.
Also, remember to maximize your time and use it to the fullest if offered the opportunity. Take advantage of the financial investment (especially if the program isn’t funded) you’re making.
After all, it’s unlikely that you’ll fit that much writing into your regular schedule without a residency or fellowship.
Think about what you can do with sustained time that you can’t do on your regular writing schedule, and prioritize that,” explains Gemma Cooper-Novack, a writer with a CV of over six residencies including the Betsy Hotel Writer’s’ Room in Miami, Florida.

5. Just do it
But most of all? “Don’t get discouraged!” Mailee adds.
Most writers will be too intimidated to even consider applying. Slap on some imposter’s syndrome and the application process becomes a nightmare. However, it’s important to just do the thing and at the very least submit an application.
The worst that could happen is, well, you won’t get an offer.
“Some of my most devastating rejections have led me to make the best decisions of my life,” she elaborates. Apply to anything you’re excited about, and know the value of your own work. There are a lot of reasons for rejection beyond “you just weren’t good enough.”
Plus, applying to programs gets easier over time.
“If it’s at all possible, I strongly advise taking the first residency you’re accepted to, even if you have to put down some money, get into one however possible,” stresses Cooper-Novak. “I do think that after I got my first residency [at Can Serrat in El Bruc, Catalonia, Spain)], other residencies started to look at me more closely.”
As you can tell from these writers’ advice, applying to a residency and/or fellowship doesn’t have to mean beating imposter syndrome. The process may still be a little intimidating, but not so much that it prevents you from actually submitting your application.
Take it from the experts: apply and apply again until you’re accepted.

***

https://thewritelife.com/applying-to-writing-fellowships/

Isabel Winson-Sagan Educates Herself To Fight The Power

Essay by Isabel Winson-Sagan

I will admit, I love school. So when Trump was elected as POTUS and I suddenly had a much more vested interest in protecting myself and my community, I started taking classes. So far I’ve done a wonderful self-defense course with IMPACT New Mexico, a non-violent direct action training run by local activists, and coming up I’ll be doing a gun safety lesson as well as a Red Cross CPR/first aid course. I am aware that this sort of thing isn’t for everyone (I mean, who loves school like I do? It’s a sick thing) but this has made me feel marginally better about being a person in our current world. The downside is that feeling like a more powerful agent and learning life skills is not exactly the same thing as activism, and I’m often plagued by wondering what else I should be doing. I’ve donated the max that I can afford to Standing Rock and Planned Parenthood. I’ve been to marches and protests. I will go to more marches and protests. I’m going to town meetings. I’m speaking up on injustice and prejudice whenever I see it, even having already landed myself in special “mediation” meetings with my boss to talk about their policy re: disabled employees. I already volunteer in my community, but I signed up for some extra work- like being a clinic escort for planned parenthood, even though it seems doubtful that my particular town will ever have a need for that.
 
It definitely does not feel like enough. It may never be enough. But I’m pretty maxed out. Even though I spend a lot of time thinking about how to be better ally, I am in several demographics that need allies themselves. I am not a poc or trans (this may be an oversimplification, but politically it feels accurate). I am a woman. I am emphatically not a Christian. I am queer. I am very disabled (not oh! My back hurts sometimes disabled. I’m not trying to put down that experience, but I am wheelchair disabled. I am last maybe 24 hours without medication disabled. I am it’s a bloody miracle that every day I can get out of bed disabled). There is only so much I can do, so much energy that I have. And deep down, I am tired. Beyond exhausted, really. Will taking these classes really do anything? Is making myself feel better even that interesting of a goal? I understand that self-care is important. I even understand that living your life, living it freely and proudly, can be a kind of political statement. But it doesn’t feel like enough.
 
I was speaking to a friend of mine on the phone after the election and he said, “Plant a garden. Buy a gun.” While I do not like guns and do not own a gun (I am in fact afraid of guns, hence the gun safety class), I do enjoy this perspective. I interpret it as “Defend your body, and the bodies of those you love. Live outside the systems of power. Live sustainably.” Maybe planting a vegetable garden is one of the most revolutionary things we can do in a time when big business and agri-business run our lives. As someone who basically lives within the health care system, I wouldn’t mind getting out of there too. Perhaps living within sustainable systems is what separates us the most from the grid of industry, the military, and Trump. I am not saying everyone should have these values, or immediately start doing what I’ve been doing. But I am looking for answers.
 
These classes, useful in the long run or not, have given me some skills on which I can base action. They remind me of who my community is and who I want to be when I grow up. But they can’t be an end in themselves. This is going to be a long fight (it always was a long fight). I’m trying to get ready. 

My Second Hand Books

I got a request from a reader to re-blog this–so enjoy! It’s from 2010 but still holds true.

Dear Diary: Second Hand Books
Posted on February 6, 2010 by Miriam Sagan

A friend and I were recently in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. We went into the Black Cat Bookstore and discovered a local author with an interesting book. We each bought one, and complimented her. She immediately told us everything wrong with the book.
“Just say thank you,” I told her. Bossy advice, I know, but still good advice. And advice I was given many years ago.
My first book of poetry had come out. My sister-in-law Suzi was dancing in dinner theater in Connecticut. A fellow dancer said she liked my book. I was so stunned I basically told her that wasn’t possible.
Suzi took me aside. “Say thank you,” she instructed me. I have been ever since.
We stopped in Albuquerque on the way home. My friend, a well-known writer, asked the bookstore owner if the store had any books of hers. The owner recognized her and was pleased when she signed books. “Do you have any books by Miriam Sagan?” my friend asked. “Sometimes,” the owner replied and I was duly introduced.
Who has sold my books back? It is disconcerting. I see a letterpress limited edition inscribed something like “To Becky and Paul, thanks for the wonderful day at the ranch and the great lunch. Love, Miriam.” Who are these people? Ranch? Lunch? If it was so great, why can’t I place them and why didn’t they keep my book?
I once got a note from Australia. Someone had bought a book of mine in a second hand store. He liked the book, but wanted to know about the affectionate inscription. Who was it inscribed to? Why had she sold it?
Maybe I am just too gushy. I feel bad if I don’t find my books on the shelf and bad if I do. Next time I give you a book, just say thank you.

Maternal Mitochondria: The Ghost Print

Isabel and I started off our collaboration in the new year by warming up–timed writing, suminagashi, and project overview. We’ve been using Korean acrylic marbling ink plus traditional sumi ink and turpentine. The effect is really changing and it is quite exciting. Essentially these look like modern monoprints, but they are pulled off of water.

getpart-copy

getpart-1

getpart-2

You can keep printing after the first–the effect is paler in all monoprints but with the suminagashi it tends to create the more usual ripple effect, which can be quite lovely.

Does writing have a ghost print? We figured not. Our timed writing a la Natalie Goldberg method is less organized than the finished product. In contrast, the sumi gets less organized, more chaotic, as it goes.

Think about this. In whatever art or craft you practice, is there a ghost print created by a second try?