Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, July 09, 2010

Born to . . . Uh . . . Quilt? Write? Create!

by Kerry Blair

Oh, dear! There I was, sitting at the sewing machine, stitching together gorgeous fiery batiks when it suddenly occurred to me that today is Friday.

About half my problem with blogging consistently is an inability to keep track of the days of the week. The other half is a serious lack of practice. Writing practice, that is. (A third contributing factor is sloth, but I hate to acknowledge that one, what with it being the Seventh Deadly Sin and all.)

But, since I have yet to convince Sariah to change the name of our blog to Five LDS Writers, One Quilter, and a Frog, let’s get back to the writing thing. Unlike most of you, I don’t write every day. Unless I remember to blog, sometimes I don’t write every week. But I do write. I used to be one of those people who believe that becoming a successful author takes 80% talent and 20% luck. After a couple of years out of the publishing business, I have converted to the group who believe that becoming a successful author takes 80% hard work, 10% talent, and 10% luck.

It’s not unlike quilting.

Almost two years ago, I went to a prestigious quilt show with my stitching-addicted aunt. It was creation as I had never seen it before. I was captivated. I wove in and out of rows of breathtaking heirlooms and thought, “I can do this. How hard can it be?” That very day my aunt gave me a discarded (albeit high end) sewing machine, fifty yards of fabric, and twenty pounds of books on stitch witchery. A quilter was born.

As it turned out, “born” couldn’t be more apt. You know how newborn people aren’t very good at it? They can’t walk or sit up or roll over or do any of those things even toddlers can manage. Newborn everythings are kind of that way, I think. My earliest efforts at fabric piecing resulted in a quilt top that looked as if it had been put together by a committee—of color-blind, one-armed chimpanzees hyped up on cold medicine and Diet Coke. I went ahead and finished it—badly—then “proudly” presented my very first quilt to the pit bull. She rejected it.

It made me wonder how dumb (read: egotistical) one person (read: me) could possibly be. Hadn’t I learned anything from that whole writing experience? (Apparently not.) For those of you not up to speed on my life: about ten years ago, my best friend was writing an LDS novel. I had recently been released from stake Relief Society and diagnosed with MS. (In other words, I was looking for something to do sitting down.) I observed Joan with envy for awhile and then thought, “I can do this. How hard can it be?”

I found out.

Writing is hard. It takes study and tools and, groan, practice. Lots and lots and lots and lots of practice. Quilting is hard. I suspect painting and composing and sculpting and violin mastery and rocket propulsion design . . . every worthy creative effort undertaken in mortality . . . are also harder than they look. (Even baseball is harder than it looks. Which is not to say that playing baseball is not one of the most worthwhile and, um, creative ways one can spend one’s life.) I suspect, in fact, that “hard” is part of the Plan. As newborn people we progressed little by little, with those who had superior natural gifts and/or greater drive and determination outpacing some of the rest of us. It just stands to reason that pattern would hold true through mortality—and beyond.

After many more fabric-related failures—and one or two reasonable successes—it finally dawned on me that I have no greater gift for quilting than I do for writing. Since music and art seem too hard, even for me, I’m considering trying my hand at brain surgery next. In the meantime, I continue to quilt for the same reason I continue to write—the deep joy and satisfaction I get from the process. Why abandon something I love due to despair that I’m not as good at it as you are? It’s too easy, in everything we do, to focus on the end result alone: to judge our creation by somebody else’s standard.* I will never be a star. I don’t have a single blue ribbon to hang on a quilt or even one award to stick on a book—and I’m okay with that. I have written stories to pass down that are very much a part of me, and stitched serviceable, almost-beautiful quilts for loved ones to wrap up in while they read.

Could it get any better than that?

*Admittedly, when it comes to brain surgeries, rocket propulsion systems, and their ilk, there should perhaps be a minimum standard set for the quality thereof. I'm just saying.


At 7/09/2010 1:24 PM, Blogger Daron D. Fraley said...

I personally think you are a wonderful writer. The two books I have of yours (Mummy and Ghost) are very entertaining, well written, and great examples for me of how to do characterization, sense of place, etc.

Sure, there may be readers out there who don't think your books are anything fancy... but I am not one of them. I am a fan!

I'll bet those quilts aren't half bad either...

At 7/09/2010 1:39 PM, Blogger Marta O. Smith said...

Did you know the Amish will make a mistake in every quilt on purpose to show that no one but God is perfect?

I have never seen one of your almost-beautiful quilts, but I would give you an award for your beautiful little book "Counting Blessings".

At 7/09/2010 1:49 PM, Blogger Jolene said...

Life is just so much more fun when you realize you can be not great at something and still enjoy it. Enjoy the process and enjoy the knowledge that with time and practice, you might get better.
Next time you post, maybe you could throw in a pic of a quilt?

At 7/09/2010 3:08 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I wish I could write as well as you, Kerry. I like quilts well enough, but I have no desire to make one.

Here's my advice on rocket science: light the fuse, then take a few steps back.

At 7/09/2010 3:41 PM, Blogger Paisley said...

I made a crib-sized quilt for my first child, and while it wasn't fancy, every stitch was sewn with that perfect love only a mother can have for the baby she carried for nine months. In my case it was closer to ten. And no, I'm not an elephant. I only felt like one at the time. He's twenty-six years old now, and treats that little blanket with tender care when he has to move it around in his cedar chest. I don't know what he remembers when he gazes at the little brown and tan quilt, but when I see it, the memories of his childhood are almost tangible to me.

I read your “Heart” series, and anyone who can write like that has more than 10% talent. I suspect your percentages are a little mixed up.

At 7/09/2010 8:06 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Thanks so much, all, for the very kind comments.

Marta: I'd heard that about the Amish. Let me assure you, practically-perfect Mary Poppins has no competition from me, let alone God! I think it's a charming thought, though, don't you?

Jolene - I tried to attach a picture this morning. Alas. (I won't bore you with the story.) Thanks for asking. I will try.

Daron & Jon: Some opinions count more than others. Yours, my friends, top the list. Thank you.

Paisley: Yes! It is The Little Brown and Tan Quilt Story exactly! Also a little Velveteen Rabbit, maybe. I mean, isn't it so much better to have something you can USE -- something made a little clumsily, but with great love -- than it is a masterpiece hanging in the state fair? This is true of writing as well -- I know it is!

Again, thank you all!

At 7/09/2010 8:38 PM, Blogger Mindi said...

OK, you are officially my favorite person EVER! I didn't realize you had taken up quilting too. I LOVE to quilt. I started when I had four kids and the quilt blocks were the only thing still done at the end of the day. :-) And your books are still among my favorites - if only I could remember who I lent "Closing In" to! I've rambled enough now, go back to your batiks and next time I get to AZ, we'll have to go quilt shop hopping and then to Matta's.


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