Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I always remember Elsa's birthday at the end of April, probably because mine is a bit sooner in the month. I spent mine in the community garden, taking photographs and planting onions and barely survived it. Actually I thought my daughter would forget it, but I've become so emotionally deadened, that it wouldn't have bothered me, not like the way it bothered me when my father forgot it, but that was because he was getting so old and losing track of details he'd never lost track of. If Krissy had forgotten it, I don't think I would have minded, but she didn't. 
 So, when I got an e-mail from Elsa asking whether my birthday had already happened, I said we should have lunch and she said yes and we had lunch on HER (this really deserves capitalizing) birthday! What could have been better. I got to redo my birthday and we had sushi (she says I take the best food pictures, but they are on another camera so you will not get to see how she art directed the photographs of our respective and gorgeous plates of vegetarian sushi) and she took a Polaroid 20x24 of us in her studio.

She is the goddess of this huge camera, and instrumental in lobbying for the continued production of the film and chemicals. And she loves this monsterously large machine which is so expensive to use. But actually fits her very well. I'd prefer to travel with a camera, but she has made a home for the Polaroid, a studio with lots of photographs on the wall and postcards, strobe lights and background paper, and the essence of Elsa's ability to make anyone comfortable with her questions and conversations as she potters.
After I was back in the studio,  I remembered that some years ago I took a lot of video footage when Elsa took photographs of us and included Krissy and Bogie....that was one of those many things I do which I love doing and then forget about even though they are actually very precious. What could be more interesting than having taped the whole process as Elsa measures where we're standing, disappears behind the camera, stands with us, talking all the time about something or other.
 I love listening to her. She would be an excellent person to accompany someone to a doctor visit, though I don't know if she likes doing this. But she's so pragmatic and matter-of-fact and would say, "Well, that's not good news. But let's look it up and see other ways of handling it (acupuncture and herbs in addition to traditional medicine). And you've had a good life and should get a few more years of it, so make the best of it."

I am very good at going to the doctor with people and always glad to do it. I'm quite non-reactive and useful under those circumstances, but I don't do the afterwards research that she does...and probably am not as comforting because I look so damn forlorn. I was actually extremely happy to be with Elsa, not the least bit worried or fretful, but I look miserable. When she's thinking, her face closes up, but she doesn't look as if it's the end of the world.

Elsa's a grandmother! How can that have happened? I asked her a question could we have gotten so old... and she said, "Well, we weren't hit by a car when we were crossing the street and didn't die of some disease or get in an accident," and I said, "No, I meant how did so much time go by," and she said, "Oh, that's a different question." But how did so much time go by? How is Isaac married and a parent and living in San Francisco? How did Elsa and I get to our ages? The memories are so vivid and seem so recent that it's absolutely peculiar. But that is a different question.
I love Elsa and always feel so much better when I see her. That's a fact. But why haven't I seen her for well over a year? It's that sort of slippage, the not paying attention to those who matter and what's interesting, not making the effort to call, or e-mail, to get together. Every time I see her, I swear that I'll lobby to see her once a month. And then don't. What I liked about those olden days, in New York, when I was scrabbling around, were the long afternoons of just hanging around with a friend, talking. Then I moved up here and met successful people and learned that having a friendship means having lunch every now and then. But now that I'm retired, I could make it mean more than that. Or happen more often. That's one of the benefit, if I'll only take advantage of it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


 All last night, I was lost. Somehow my ex and I were in separate hotel rooms, but when he left, I didn't know where my room was, there was one of those elevators that go round and round, shaking, stopping at half floors, in a castle that's a hotel, where is floor 5 and 1/2, and where is the room, and why are papers torn all over the floor, and my daughter's toys broken, and all that jewelry, and why can't I get to my parents' house in Nova Scotia and, oh, isn't this a fascinating idea, a plastic box with sand and jewelry, just shake it and a new image is revealed, quite beautiful. It was casually put together (held by tape) by a young college girl at the Rosenberg's house, where are Marv and Lilliann? And more, much more of these dreams. It was awful to be asleep.

I wake up exhausted. But I was exhausted yesterday, only revived briefly by the Zumba class.

Last Friday and Saturday, I put together two videos -- one from the community garden and the other of the Fiesta de las Mariposas. Though I know how to edit with Final Cut Express, I don't know how to edit with it and am not entirely sure what I'm doing. So it takes longer. But it takes a long time, anyway. And my body hates sitting. But I couldn't get up. I even lost track of time and was almost late to lunch with a friend, that was followed by tea with another friend.

Graciously, Margaret checks the Mariposa Fiesta video and informs me that the title is incorrect in Spanish and she changes it to Fiesta de las Mariposas. This time I didn't give her editing credit because that was my only mistake. Last time, she got the editor title for Carmen demonstrating how to make butterflies with wire and netting. There was a tiny bit in there about something or other, me and the camera, etc.... Margaret is the important ingredient in these videos with Spanish speakers, but she was also important on Sunday afternoon because the one about the first two days of work in the garden made her happy -- all those folks working, able to see themselves on Chelsea Cable TV, all those kids playing and shoveling.

(One sterling quality about Margaret is that she laughs out loud when she's happy. I almost never laugh out loud. And besides, without Margaret, I wouldn't have gotten in the Senior Citizen Center, video taped the quilting ladies, etc, etc...........)

Now my problem is printing titles on the 7 copies that I made of the Mariposa Fiesta. I'm determined that what I'm now doing about events in Chelsea, (additionally trying to get as much of the oral history as I can) will go into an archive. When I moved here in 1985 and did a photo project with oral histories, there was no place to show the framed photos except at a local branch of a state school. So they've all been dispersed. Fortunately, I found out that the local library does have an archive. Though it's an attractive building, it has no charm for me since you can't walk into the stacks. But at least it has a room where boxes of old photos are store.
The next video that will need Margaret is of the women actually making the butterflies, most of them with recycled paper and glitter that was actually made in America, it's that old. I was very grateful that the women allowed me to tape them. I even taped hanging the butterflies in the large all-purpose room, but my daughter somehow taped over the first half, so all those hard-working ladies have vanished, leaving Carlos on the ladder, hanging butterflies from the ceiling.

What I love about it all is that sometimes the women start singing when they are making butterflies, and some of them dance when they are handing the butterflies to Carlos who dances a little while he's hanging them. Two women even sang unaccompanied solos at the Fiesta. (Spanish and English)

I'm trying to learn bits of Spanish -- oruga = caterpillar. Da Nada. Deficile (that's useful for the exercise classes which really are difficult.

When I was in Tucson, and listening to Nance giving English lessons on the phone or through skipe, I heard lots of laughing. She's another person who laughs a lot. I though about giving similar lessons, but I'm not a good phone person. If a person was actually around me, she or he could at least tell that I'm reasonably friendly in a calm way. But I'm not very conversational and I don't have that wonderful ability to laugh.

Lucky Nance. Lucky Margaret. Lucky Krissy.
Lucky me for different reasons.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


So, here is the scoop, but not the only reason I haven't been caring for my blog. I seem to have been spinning around since I got back form Tucson, always busy, busy working, making busy work. But here's the first quilt I made after I joined, yes joined, the Empty Spools Quilters on Friday mornings at the Chelsea Senior Center. After making a video about them, hanging around all those weeks, drinking coffee and eating cookies, they invited me to join and make quilts for babies in the Intensive Care Unit of Boston Medical Center. I couldn't resist. I'd fallen in love with these ladies, all of them in their eighties, some in their upper 80's... (I am particularly fond of Helen, a tiny woman with the eye of a hawk, telling me what I've done wrong and insisting that I rip the stitches out. "You don't have to go so fast. Slow down," she says.)

Being with them, I realized that in the past I'd find a way of inserting that I have an inter-racial daughter and wasn't married to her father in conversations when I met a new person. That set up my political and social stance so that I never had to say much more. People, more-or-less, knew what was appropriate to talk about around me. And it wasn't negative racial statements. I haven't done that at the Senior Center, so sometimes I hear, "My mother wanted me to marry anyone, just to get married, as long as he wasn't black, of course." And I don't flinch. These are ladies who've grown up in a poor, close knit community, haven't gone to college (I don't think any of them have), worked in factories, are Catholic and think about going to mass and who has just died, some friend they've known all their lives. In other words, I don't wave my usual political banners, but fly under the radar and am, actually, quite happy there. Except that something I'm doing bothers my back horribly.  I leave there at noon on Friday, barely able to walk because my sciatic nerve has kicked in. My daughter says I'm crazy to go somewhere, do something, that makes me feel to rotten afterwards, but I love being there. I just HATE making quilts.

In the olden days, when it made sense to do it because I was too poor to buy many clothes and when cloth and yarn were so cheap, I made wrap-around dresses, long three-tiered skits,  Krissy's jumpers and long skirts, and knit sweaters. It no longer costs less to do that than to buy them. It's a luxury to knit yourself a sweater. A simple one costs, maybe, $90 in yarn...   But I sewed. And was terrible about finishing anything. I hated to hem, but eventually I got everything done....after much stalling around.

At any rate, I just wanted to make a red quilt, red and red and red. And didn't think at all about how the squares would fit together. It took three of us to find a decent pattern so it looks alright from a distance, not that any mother wrapping her baby in this will ever see it from a distance.
I thought that if I finished a quilt, about 40"x40", I was done. But oh, no, you've got to make a back for it. Naturally there isn't enough cloth to easily find a whole piece that will look decent with the colors of the front, since the cloth is all donated...  I was crushed when I had to make my first it is.

Then, damn it all, you've got to cut a batting to put between both of them. And then you have to pin it all nicely so that Mary can sew the quilting...she takes it and whirrs it through the sewing machine. That was once done by hand, women sitting around the frame, finishing a large quilt. Quilting the quilt. Or perhaps they stretched it on a table in the kitchen and sewed alone...but I think that much of quilting had a component of shared work, like raising a barn. So, here are the components of my first quilt which is now waiting for Mary.

All this reminds me of my friend, Marion, who made many quilted photos based on specific, historical patterns when she was getting her Masters. (I was very impressed by her premise.) She has always been interested in women's work and must have read a great deal about the history of quilting, the origin of certain traditional patterns...a long, unrecognized, but important form of creativity, decoration, art. I've always admired her ability to delve into what's behind the surface of what I notice -- oh, a nice quilt on the bed -- and then don't bother to think about. This was long before quilts, like those of the women from Gee's Bend (is this right?) were shown in museums and became high-priced collectors items.

And it reminds me of how often she and I laughed about our projects all those years ago -- those patterns, those damn dresses, that fabulous fabric store on Second Avenue and 5th (?) Street, all that earnest work we did.
This is my second quilt. I knew that I didn't want to sew so many 4" pieces together so I made 5 squares of four inchers...then used for solid 8" pieces and then the larger 16" pieces. When you've sewn together 4 little squares,you have to cut them all down so that they're the same size. I didn't know that...this involves a rotary cutter, a cutting board and a clear, heavy plastic gismo with measurements on it... so for the first quilt, I had to do quite a bit of cutting down.

Yesterday Eileen put together a quilt that I liked, but she didn't. But it doesn't matter to her whether she likes them. She just zips them together. I could't do that, though I haven't been making baby quilts for 31 years like she has. Maybe I'd just work on whatever is available, have the philosophy of using up squares that have been hanging around...  Well, anyway, I liked what she'd put together.
So, then I was done with the front and started the back. No easy thing since all the fabric is donated and there aren't necessarily pieces large enough for a back. Therefore the back for the purple quilt was pieced...five strips of fabric that I found by rummaging in the backstairs closet, taking out the big roll of batting, and various plastic boxes, digging around. 

But, by the time I got it pieced together and held it up so that Eileen could take this picture, they decided it will work well for the front of a quilt. So, next Friday, I will have to find TWO backs, put batting between them, tape it all down, pin it and I'm done with three quilts...