Fundamentally Contrary to Human Nature

Creative-writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers. . . The workshop is a process, an unscripted performance space, a regime for forcing people to do two things that are fundamentally contrary to human nature:  actually write stuff (as opposed planning to write stuff very, very soon), and then sit there while strangers tear it apart.

I cackled to myself while reading this snarky introductory paragraph (italics mine) to Louis Menand’s essay about creative writing programs in the summer fiction issue of The New Yorker, particularly the last sentence, as it was so apropos of my recent reluctance to blog. Because I have indeed been planning to write, very, very soon . . . for at least the past three weeks!

I have been hesitant to write of my recent personal goings-on (largely internal and emotional as they are) with too much explicitness, or indeed, at all, on this website. Part of it is that I want to “retain my reticences” about certain things, as Anne Truitt puts it, and another part has to do with the fact that, although I have never been much for journal writing, or journaling as people call it these days—a noun-into-verbage that I particularly dislike—whenever I have reread things I have written in the past at times of stress or unhappiness, I have cringed. I find it terribly embarrassing to relive the travails of my earlier self. It all seems so hot and heavy and labored, and I can’t believe, now, that I got so worked up about it, having passed through whatever it was that seemed so all-consuming at the time, relatively unscathed, or at least enrichingly scathed.

So I haven’t written here in a long time because I haven’t known what to write about if not what is truly going on in my mind and heart, which has been much painful wrestling with the role painting plays in my life and work, and how I might decide to make some changes to that, which has been hard to think about and scary to talk about. When you've invested 10 years of your life and your whole identity into one thing, it's both liberating and gut-wrenching  to contemplate loosening your grip on it, even a little. I’m not so much incorrigibly honest by choice as bad at dissimulation by nature, a characteristic which is occasionally inconvenient, but on the whole it’s more comfortable to be truthful, I find.

At any rate, as scary and potentially regret-inducing as writing candidly and exposing oneself to scrutiny on a blog is, one potential upside is the effect that the medium has on the writing process, in that that it forces me to write more carefully and to analyze my own emotions more critically, to not simply succumb to the gush and flow of uninterrupted id as one can do in a private notebook. To be, in effect, a tad more dispassionate about the facts of my own life, a detachment which, if it can be attained, I find beneficial. To basically get over myself, maybe a little tiny bit.

But while I’m working up to writing about all this, I might also mention that I haven’t been paying my studio practice very much attention recently because I’ve become completely obsessed by a new love.

Vintage Singer Sewing Machine

I’ve been cheating on my studio with my sewing machine, a sturdy vintage Singer, made between 1958 and 1962, bought for $20 on Craigslist, and going strong after a bit of a tune up. It occurred to me one day that I really liked quilts, and that they didn’t seem that different from paintings, actually, in that they have the same lowest common denominator:  fundamentally, they are arrangements of colored shapes within a rectangle, whether constructed with fabric or painted with pigments. And I thought, I could do that. And decided to learn.

So I found my sewing machine, and then before I could decide on a quilt pattern I fell in love with this fabric, and decided to make a dress.

Patterned Fabric

This has eaten up the past several weeks of my life, because I have had to teach myself sewing from the ground up, with the aid of several reference books and my laptop open next to the sewing machine so I can google things like “how to cut out a pattern” and “how to gather” and “seam-allowance” and “fusible interfacing.” I was saved from much unhappiness by my mother’s suggestion that I make the dress first in a cheap muslin before cutting up my pretty fabric. This proved invaluable, as I had to remake every part of the dress several times before I understood what the cryptic pattern instructions wanted me to do. BUT . . . I am almost done! And it looks pretty good. The final hurdle is the installation of an invisible zipper in the back of the dress, a feat which I plan to attempt now that I have my new zipper foot.


We live in a teeny doll’s house, and for the past several weeks my sewing apparatus and accoutrements have utterly overtaken the all-purpose front room and strewn it with detritus. My sweet husband, who is generally the non-neurotic member of our union has just one phobia:  a fear of stepping on sharp objects, which is justified by his several experiences of stepping on glass and needing stitches in the soles of his feet. And as they are an unavoidably necessary component of sewing, there are a lot of sharp, pointy pins scattered around our house right now. I have tried to keep track of them, but Moby-the-cat just loves to play with them and bat them around.

Anyway:  Dave, Painting:  the dress is almost finished, and life will return to normal, pins safely back in their lidded container, and me to my studio.