Category Archives: In the Company of Cloth

notes from a quilter, collage artist, fabric collector

Flash fiction found cleaning up today


Crossing the parking lot closest to the barber’s, Marianne walked through walls of smell. Non-natural. What was it – Desitin? So definite and remembered, nothing comparable — a chalky scent with overtones of cherry life saver. Couldn’t be, could it?

The heat of the three previous days had subsided but not the mugginess. A mass of grey cloud signaled rain, but so far, it held off. The traffic at the corner was obscene — a re-vamped right of way gone amuck. People were up in arms, zinging emails through neighborhoods and sponsoring data collection after the fact. The mayor was gonna have his head handed to him.

In the crosswalk, Marianne looked up to see the clouds spreading out. Or were they gathering other clouds into their mass? Church bells peeled. There was a sense of drama.

Was it just 24 hours earlier — her face crumpled in grief, the vet kneeling in sympathy — that she’d received the news about Ursula’s cancer? Even overwhelmed with the kind of unmitigated sorrow we can only feel for our animals, Marianne recalled her sister’s aggressive question from the day before, “What makes YOU cry?”

Marianne had been tightly unresponsive knowing that any answer would’ve been employed in the undeserved campaign to prove her failings. But she’d also been unable to recall a single instance of recent tears.

“Probably Stage IV,” the vet was saying.

“THIS makes me cry,” Marianne thought, “this.”

Just a few minutes into the wave of uncensored grief came the discomforting certainty that, to put it simply, cost would be a factor.

After hearing the price for chemo, Marianne wailed, “We have two kids to put through college!” The two vehicles in need of repair were not mentioned. The vet continued to kneel and nodded without judgment while Ursula sat between them in a quiet sphinx-like pose. Was the dog merely relieved the muzzle was off and the prodding over or did that posture now include a dignified toleration of pain?

The next day Marianne headed back to the van and wondered how long Sam’s haircut would take. Some days they took you in five minutes. Other days, thirty. That was the summer she coached the boys to say, “I want to wait for Sal.” No one should get a terrible haircut out of polite deferral to the random order in a barber shop.

The rain started its slow pelting after Marianne reached the mini-van. The heat being what it was, she sat with the windows open, letting the splatting drops moisten her shoulder and the window berm.

“What makes YOU cry?”

School had ended, finally, last week. Sam took himself to the barber routinely now, so why was Marianne offering rides and waiting, as if he were twelve? “The spiral of development,” her psychologist friend, Winnie, would chuckle. “Not just the kids regressing before transitions.”

Marianne rejiggered the bounds of dependence in both directions. ‘Here’s a credit card.’ ‘Let me pick you up.’ There was a haunting finality to those weeks between high school and college.

White clouds billowed above maple trees to the east, their curves almost precisely replicating the scalloped canopy below. Then the rain came down in sheets.

What would it be, then, this summer? The sad and inexorable cancer vigil, each night wondering if Ursula would still be breathing come morning? Indulging in trips to the beach, determined to make the summer worthwhile, unsettled by the knowledge that the dog was at home trying to breathe? What comfort could the crashing surf offer when the decision about euthanasia hung above the beach like a scythe and flashed in the summer glare?

They went to the White Mountains in July. Ursula’s last outing. The guys all hiked, while Marianne read a Franzen novel at the picnic table and fed Ursula chips of bacon. If it had been any other year, they would have boarded the dog. Now such a decision struck her as incomprehensible, just as how, at this distance, preschool seemed so radically unnecessary.

It killed Marianne that all those white haired women at the supermarket had proved to be right in the end. How she’d gritted her teeth hearing advice that was as predictable as it was intrusive: “Enjoy it while you can! It’s over before you know it!” Yeah, lady. I’m just trying to get through the next hour, she remembered thinking.

The next hour and the next hour adding up to an entire childhood. The penultimate haircut before college.

What makes you cry?

“The dog will let you know when it’s time,” the vet was saying. Marianne doubted her, but it turned out she was right. Ursula did let them know. The medication helped for six weeks and then it didn’t. Just like that.

During Ursula’s final moments, Marianne fed her nearly a pound of bacon. Her husband choked back tears. The sweet-faced Corgi was lying on a towel the vet had given them in case the dog emptied her bowels at death. Ursula was eager for pork one second and gone the next. Just like that. They wrapped her and the towel in a large swath of red silk. Then the vet showed them a private exit through the lab as a courtesy.

Her husband buried Ursula under the pin cherry out back. They used half of a broken paver stone Marianne and the boys had made ages ago for a marker. The shards of crockery and marbles had been stuck into concrete not quite mixed to last.

And here came Sam at last, looking dapper and ready to meet the world, impervious to the rain.

* * * * * * *

 Note: This is a little too long to be flash fiction.

On another note, I consolidated the plot map into one board. Turns out, it was hard to read over two panels and too much light was being blocked.
And, I did finally manage to download a countdown app. The home screen icon (lower right) gets a red number, as noticeable as the number for unread emails.

If I click on the icon, I see this:

(Those are slave cabins at McCloud Plantation). I still can’t really tell if this is a do-able amount of time to finish. Truly. But it seems to be helping me stay focused, so I won’t dicker with it.

After being called into service to help my sister supply the Salem housing authority with a bunch of documentation on Monday, I worried I might have to move the deadline. Fortunately, the task was a lot easier than expected. When and if she gets subsidized housing, I’ll let my brother pay for movers.

Next up. I plan to break the sections on the board into four chunks. Each will then get roughly twenty five days.

Pinning a plot


This morning I pinned half of my manuscript’s 156 chapter titles to design boards. I’m really hoping my cut and paste exercise exemplifies what success-guru Tim Ferriss calls, ‘taking weaknesses and turning them into competitive advantages’ — but I’m not sure, for you know, the Time Waster has a lot of guile at her disposal.

I am a visual/kinetic thinker with ADD — making me long on intuition and creativity and short on finishing and organizing skills. The one is as glorious as the other is treacherous. Some days all I can ask myself is — what good are these creative gifts if I don’t finish a fucking thing?

In college when I had a paper due, I got busy rearranging the furniture. Although the tactic took up a fair amount of time, it wasn’t pure procrastination — some important visual and kinetic organizing was taking place. I couldn’t explain it then and can’t explain it now, but it still makes total sense. Maybe pinning a plot to a design board operates with the same inexplicable logic?

With 156 chapters committed to word files, plus another 50+ scenes typed up and housed in word files I call, Silos One through Five, plus stacks and stacks of notebooks holding scenes that have not yet been typed up, plus stray pieces of paper notating important revisions arising from ongoing research — I am way past the point where my pea brain can easily remember, study, or evaluate what I’ve got here.


After a week away, it can be hard to get back in and for this reason, I turned to colored pencils. Anything involving colored pencils can’t be that bad, right? I added quick stripes of color to the chapter titles: Melody — green; Saffron — orange (naturally); Eliza — purple; omniscient narrator — blue; Mo — yellow paper. I love tricking the Time Waster with a wily maneuver of my own.

I’m pretty sure the plot-pinning on design boards does not constitute procrastination, but writing this post does, so let me share two very brief and immediate confirmations — and then, back to it! Each column tracks a character — Saffron on the left, Melody in the middle, and Eliza on the right. If you’re invested in Melody’s character, you will be disappointed and if you take umbrage at the amount of content devoted to the only white main character (Eliza), then you will be annoyed. I want to carry my readers along, not disappoint or annoy them! I have ideas about how to fix this.

The exercise also confirmed that I have too many many opening scenes, one of them coming at about chapter 25. This cannot stand. Some movie reviewer lambasted the most recent Batman movie for having seven opening scenes and I really took note of the critique at the time because I had a hunch it applied here. How to fix this problem is less obvious, but I suspect it will involved ruthless editing.

May you also turn your weaknesses into strengths this week — and, if you have a notion of how to do so, or how you’ve done so, I’d love to hear about it. 

A little get away goes a long way

img_3729One hour south & a lifetime away! A seventh annual gathering. I knew this’d be a tribal exercise — all of us women of a certain age, many lawyers, all engaged & smart sharing an exuberant relationship to food. I didn’t expect to find more profound tribal bonds in the realm of heart ache. Without getting into the details, let me just say: what a lot of familial misery between the nine of us!

I went to the first gathering and missed the intervening six. It was useful to acknowledge what prevented attendance in those years, but listening to others describe challenges and interventions for sons, siblings, & parents, I couldn’t help but wonder what I might’ve learned or employed to good effect had I managed to show up.

Put that wonderment in the category of ‘parental hand-wringing.’ Reflexive regret doesn’t get a free pass around here, just so you know. I’m working on it.

I should have handled it differently. Is that true? Not sure. Not definitively. When I think, “I should have handled it differently” I feel bad and there’s no good reason to hang onto the thought. If I turn it around here’s what I get: I handled it just right.


I don’t beat myself up for being an introvert anymore, but I live so privately these days that I have the luxury of forgetting how my style of communicating comes across. It’s not that I forget how interruptive, easily excited, and opinionated I am. It’s that I forget that for some, this is off-putting.

(“I’d rather need modulating than feel compelled to shush people,” is something I would never say.) 

Anyway, it was no big deal. And one guest informed me in her quiet way in the kitchen yesterday that she appreciates ‘direct people’. . . likes ‘knowing where she stands’. It was nice to hear, but also just weird to even be thinking about: ‘I’m this. I’m that.’

I’m glad to be home, that’s for sure, nice as it was, even though it is cold and rainy again. I have the heat on. Just a little. No apology. 


The doctor’s office called. The test was negative for shingles but probably is shingles given the presentation. My brother seems pretty sure that the reason it doesn’t hurt is because of the recent vaccination. Maybe that foiled the test, too.

Whatever else this diagnosis says about my stress-level, chocolate consumption, or immune system, it feels appropriate that my cheek is weeping. Weep, weep, weep. I keep wishing I could go somewhere and cry but I can’t or won’t, so maybe this’ll have to do.

If it weren’t for a phone call with my sister, I would say that today is a very good day and even with a phone call from my sister, the day rounds into new territory. Less hostile, that is. Calmer. Rain or no rain: mine. Blame and vitriol or none: mine. Weeping blisters or none: coming ’round the bend.

I always think I’ll be back sooner than I am, so in case I’m not — will you watch the Comey hearing on Thursday? I will and in real time, with friends.

Decline and Breakthrough

Another cold and rainy day. There was the weekly 1/2 hour indivisible group phone call at eight.  Two check in calls with my sister. Two ventures out with Finn. Daily pages written by hand early and chapter revisions done later on laptop. 

Yesterday was busy and draining. I took my sister to an appt and out to buy booze and annuals. The limitations imposed by recent weight gain seem to be the new normal (she can’t use any of the three methods of transport I’ve arranged for her anymore; severe shortness of breath when moving; increased difficulty dressing and bathing). Very discouraging — more for her than for me, but also for me. Came home and planted my annuals — coleus, sage, and rosemary. Cleaned up. Grocery shopped. And then spent the rest of the late afternoon wondering why I was so tired?

Finished this vertical denim backed piece yesterday — well, almost. 

I’m loving how it came together, what it came together with, and the result. Such a rarity! But maybe I’m on to something? For such a modest little piece: it feels like a breakthrough. 

Pull up the storms!

The windows are open. The temperatures rise. I rake the ground with bare fingers, gloved hands, and big or small rakes, depending. Everywhere, flora pokes up.

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Here’s a good question: to whom are you accountable?

To children, husband: yes. To creative source and self (overlapping, but not the same): yes. To my dog: yes. To God: no (even on a believing day, my god isn’t hands on enough to be keeping score). To my moral conscience: yes.

To my sister? Not absolutely. Not what I owe both of my boys or what I’d owe my parents were they still around. And, I am not accountable to my parents on behalf of my sister, especially since some of her problems are their fault. Today I separate what I might owe her as my sister and what she thinks I owe her.

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If one form of accountability cancels out another, I must resolve in favor of self. Period. Period. You have no idea how difficult this is. I am not seeking advice or sympathy but hoping to strengthen resolve by marking a change of direction.

 

Good news!

THE SUN is OUT!

I got my NEW GLASSES! They were so INEXPENSIVE!  I got TWO PAIR!



YARD WASTE pick up resumed! I LOVE RAKING!





This potted beauty was $14.99! I should have gotten TWO!

I’M GATHERING info about impeachment for my group. I’M DOING something! Learning! Networking with OTHERS! Remembering the only thing I ever liked about the law (i.e. applying constitutional principles to right wrongs).


I LOVE TWITTER, because I find funny things, too!

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MY NEW Endocrinologist IS A DOLL! He TOOK AN HOUR to explain things to me! It’s like the Universe SENT HIM A MEMO on how to perfectly offset the behavior of DR. ARTURO, of Boston– an unprofessional, condescending, cavalier prick who dwells in a grubby office and actually hung up on me a few weeks back. I GIGGLED ALL THE WAY HOME!

And get this, my new AMAZING doctor recommends using FOOD to feed the body calcium not supplements!  GREENs — I love them! Beans, yogurt – real FAVES of mine! BYE BYE ridiculously EXPENSIVE HORSE PILLS!!



Working on chapter summaries and it FEELS LIKE PROGRESS! Also, read part of  TERRIFIC ARTICLE ON CULTURAL APPROPRIATION (to be shared later — regarding the Emmett Till painting controversy). IT gets added to my ‘I HAVE PERMISSION TO WRITE A STORY SET IN SLAVE TIMES’ file (Yes, I have such a file). YEAH!!!
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The BLM activist who wrote an article about how thoroughly and completely white people ruin the movement for racial equality IS OFFERING TRAININGS IN BOSTON NEXT WEEK! HER ARTICLE RUINED MY DAY. I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HOW to say so without evoking #whitefragility and #itsnotaboutyou but I DARED TO anyway to a BLACK FB FRIEND. We’re still friends.

I’M GONNA GO! (Am I foolish to think it can’t be two hours of telling white people how much they suck?) I FEEL BRAVE! I FEEL GOOD ABOUT TAKING RISKS WHERE IT REALLY MATTERS!

Organizing on [Safety] Pins & Needles Level I & II @ 24 Farnsworth St, Boston, MA 02210-1211, United States, Boston [from 11 to 13 April]

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Have a nice weekend everyone! And I won’t blame you if you decide to skip the “Bad News” post that’s already forming in my head.

Out and about

A trip to upstate New York. Hours spent in the rehab wing of a nursing home to visit my father in law. Thoughts about care: his, my sister’s. Unavoidably depressing.


The weekend also featured a 60th bday concert (for my brother in law, who’s in the band). Pretty amazing to get out on a Sat. night and well worth the effort. It was really fun.

More generally, drab weather has conspired with the news in maintaining a grim outlook. Day after grey day of clouds and rain and cold. Day after day of astonishingly bad news.

But! While sweeping out leaves and dirt from the garage on Sunday (because making decisions about STUFF was beyond me and because I needed a job with tangible results), I listened to a freakonomics podcast about the psychology of gratitude. Take away: we tend to notice headwinds more often and more readily than we notice tailwinds. So, notice the tailwinds. Interestingly enough, it’s not the same as cataloging things one is grateful for. Try it. The practice dovetails with attending to white privilege, if that’s something you’re thinking about.

And there was this, too: sitting next to my father in law in his wheel chair, watching the AHCA go down in flames (yeah!), knowing he hates Trump as much as I do (yeah!). And yesterday, there was the morale-boosting weekly teleconference call with my small Indivisible group. We offer each other accountability and support.

The free form appliqué experiment (“keeping to the original idea”) has turned surprisingly disappointing. Turning over the question, ‘why?’

I pinned up two little house quilts last night that may be reactionary. They offer straight lines and recognizable forms — pleasing, even if trite and familiar (or maybe because they’re trite, familiar?).

It’s all a process. I’m curious and engaged.

Could really use a day of sun.