The Magpie Manifesto.

Dear friends,

breathenoticelove

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s a sign of the times, but some days I am tempted to jump headlong into the pit of existential despair and allow myself to be swallowed by irrevocable disheartenment.

I know. Not exactly the maxim of the Gratitude Girl.

This week I was grievously buffeted by the news around me. One corporate leader is going to jail for 28 years for knowingly selling tainted peanuts that sickened and killed people; one corporate leader admitted his auto company created an emissions system meant to defraud consumers and evade environmental regulations; one corporate leader defended his “market based” rationale for buying a life-saving drug then increasing the price 5000%. Meanwhile, many of our presidential candidates are appealing to the basest human instincts, including an exclusionary, belittling, deceitful and winner-takes-all doctrine. And if that wasn’t enough to discourage us, millions of human lives are at stake as Middle East conflicts continue to escalate and those seeking refuge are literally washing ashore.

Really, how does a tender and seeking soul find its way in the midst of all this?

The other night, Mr. Mom and I discussed at length the Syrian crisis. Mr. Mom said he’d be willing to “adopt” a refugee family, where adoption means bringing them into our home and sponsoring them financially. He asked if I would be willing and I said yes, but our conversation went nowhere because how does one do that, anyway? I even spent some time researching the topic, seeking out online information and resources about the United State’s program to accept (in my opinion, far too few) refugees. I found no path for taking concrete action beyond contributing to various charitable organizations, which seems like my reflexive action far too often when I am moved by the need around me. I work in philanthropy so I will never disparage the role it plays in improving our world, but so often I’m yearning to do more than write a check or endorse a cause but am somehow stopped short of translating my passion and my compassion into something that feels more like direct action.

Yesterday I heard a newscaster say one of the Pope’s messages during his US visit will be to encourage others to “serve people instead of ideas.” This hit in me the gut in a way only a moral authority can provoke. I’m not Catholic and I’ve never looked to the Pontiff for guidance, but I’ve found Pope Francis to be the kind of leader our world desperately needs. His words made me ask myself how many times have I served ideas instead of people? (Maybe just as importantly, how many times have I reduced people into mere ideas, especially people I think represent ideas I find distasteful?) How have I actually, tangibly served people beyond my family, friends and colleagues? Honest answers elude me, as does the conviction that I am one person who can make a difference in the midst of so much human suffering.

In times like these, I look inward. I examine the roughest clods of my intentions, determined to unearth bits of beauty and grace that only the divine can inspire. I seek solace in what I know to be the kindness and love that live within all of us. I face myself and the universe with a tenderness that is both terrifying and necessary to take another step, to wake tomorrow, to confront the world and my place in it with hope as my shield against the outrage and cynicism that dog us all.

Many times I reiterate – sometimes to myself, sometimes to others – my values. Doing so sometimes makes me chuckle as I think I sound a little like Aibileen Clark in “The Help.” “You is kind, you is smart, you is important,” I mentally shout to myself and to the unseen broken hearts around me. Inevitably, I end up meditating on the two pieces of wisdom I find most centering: the Buddha’s “Do no harm” and Jesus’ “Do unto others.” I wonder if earnestness counts in the face of human frailty as conspicuous as my own as I seek a path lit by altruism and look for even a single hand I can hold along the way.

I don’t pretend to have answers, dear friends. Some days I ache with the knowledge that my time is short, my focus too self-serving, and my reach barely beyond my nose. I struggle to find substance in the paucity of my effort. Some days I even shake my fist at my God-given sentience, an existential ingrate prone to irritation by the spiritual chafing of an examined, some might say privileged, life.

And then, just when the despair threatens to swamp me, I somehow quiet. I remind myself to trust in all that is larger than me. I let go of the corporal and rest in the discarnate, in the mystical psalm that connects you and I to each other and sings the praise of a love that is universal and unending, even as I struggle to understand it. I offer three words of encouragement, to myself first, then to whoever is closest.

Breathe. Notice. Love.

Breathe. Why do I forget this simple instruction, which is the easiest way to reboot, to extend myself a kindness?

Notice. I will not sleepwalk through this day. I will take note. I will acknowledge. I will honor that from which some turn away. I will praise and affirm those who inspire it; I will grieve for and hold those who need it. If nothing else, I will bear witness.

Love. Because that is the beginning. And that is the end.

With gratitude {for three simple words, the best I can do in these times},

Joan, who got some very good news yesterday and so is reminded the sun will come out tomorrow

The 5 stages of quilting.

Dear friends,

quiltcu2

I finished my latest quilt on Saturday. It’s my sixth since I started in April. I continue to learn a little more each time I try a new pattern and/or a new technique.

The primary lesson I’ve learned is that quilting is a lot like grieving in that it has five distinct, emotional stages common to all projects. By describing them here, I’m hoping my experiences will resonate with others and that the legions of lonely and despondent quilters around the world will find solace and acceptance here.

The first stage is Glee. This stage is marked by restless anticipation and unbridled excitement as the quilter selects her fabric and plans what she is convinced will be the BEST QUILT EVER. The quilter in stage one will appear giddy and may babble uncontrollably. This stage varies in duration, especially if the quilter is a frequent fabric shopper and, therefore, is subject to regular fabric highs. (Fabric highs are followed by inevitable fabric crashes when the thrill of a recent fabric shipment wears off. This high-low cycle is the reason many quilters horde fabric as they seek to satiate their cravings.)

The second stage is Frustration. This stage is marked by annoyance and short tempers as the quilter actually begins her project. This stage typically commences during the cutting process, particularly if the quilter is weak in math, and often extends well into the piecing process. A sign that the second stage has commenced is frequent outbursts of negative exclamations, such as “This is so stupid!”, “I suck!”, “Why did I pick this <expletive> pattern?!” and “&%$#&**#!”

The third stage is Fear. This stage is marked by extreme anxiety prompted by the quilter’s sense of impending peril. She begins to imagine she will irrevocably ruin the project, waste her money, embarrass herself in front of her family and friends, and fail to complete a recognizable quilt. It is typical for a quilter experiencing this stage to retreat to a dark room, turn inward, and question her purpose in life. Some quilters consume alcohol during this stage as a method of self-medication.

The fourth stage is Despair. This stage is marked by depression and lethargy as the quilter is certain she is an utter failure. She may lose interest in other activities, such as eating and grooming. It is extremely important that the quilter’s loved ones encourage her to keep sewing through this stage. Frequent verbal affirmations may help propel her toward completion of the project, and expressing interest in any aspect of the quilt — such as the color palette, fabric selections, or pattern details — provides an important distraction to her despair. It is rare for a quilter to successfully endure this stage of quilting without outside assistance.

The fifth stage is Acceptance. This is the final stage of quilting and is marked by the quilter’s calm concession that she has not made the BEST QUILT EVER but has completed a worthy project and is better prepared to tackle the next. Signs that this stage is fully realized are verbalizations or behavior that may indicate the quilter is planning her next project. If these behaviors are noticed by loved ones, they should continue to encourage the quilter with affirmations and expressions of admiration for the quilter’s talent and fortitude.

If you know anyone who is experiencing the five stages of quilting (which, by the way, are almost identical to the stages experienced during a DIY project), please refer them to this post. And, most importantly, be gentle with their fragile, creative souls. Hugs are always in order.

With gratitude {for self-administered self-help, including all varieties of wine and healthy doses of humor},

Joan, whose most recent quilt pictured above and below was the most challenging and despair-inducing project so far

***

In case you’re curious, here’s a photo of the front. I used 21 shades of blue fabric and created the pattern myself based on this inspiration photo.

quiltfront

And here’s a photo of the back. The backing fabric is one of the most cheerful prints I’ve ever seen. I love it!

quiltback