Saturday, 28 February 2015

Process or Product?

Process or product: which is more important? Writing this blog is a process. If I actually get something written, that is a product. Experts make a pile of bucks trying to help people be more productive, developing charts, giving seminars, etc. I'm examining the issue for free!

Take my blog: every week, for the more than 80 weeks, I've been focusing on productivity. But the process is important, too. The process for writing goes something like this: On Sunday, I rest! I check my e-mail and Facebook to see if I have any comments on my last posting. I’m kind of shameless that way.

On Monday I begin opening my ears and eyes for the next “hook” that will get me off and running. If I can think of an idea early in the week, so much the better. It gives me time to ruminate – did you know that the word ruminate comes from the Latin word ruminan, meaning to chew the cud, as a cow does? One dictionary defines it as “to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed.”  Yup, that’s what I do!

The ideas don’t always come quickly. Sometimes, it takes quite a few days before a little light bulb goes off in my cranium. But when I do get the idea, I begin writing a “beginning”. If it works, it’s easy. The words and ideas flow, and all the neural connections are firing.

But sometimes, the writing is heavy lifting. Maybe I collect and ruminate on a number of ideas before something sticks. Then I write, but nothing sounds right. Or, the days are filled with “stuff” that gets in the way, so I have no time to write.  

Perhaps you may have guessed that this is what is happening to me right now. Earlier in the week, I began thinking about the process/product idea because I was working on a quilt/art project that’s been years in the making. That's a long time to process something before a product results.

Our son and his good friend Mark painted this "en plein air" in the Edmonton River Valley back in 2004. I thought it would make great fibre art. I tried making it once in 2008, but the "product" ended up in the garbage.

It's seven years later. In the meantime I went through a process of learning. Now I think it's working!
I knew it was going to be a busy week, so on Monday, instead of writing, I chose to work at my art and quilts. On Tuesday, I had very important things to do: a meeting of a group of quilters, and a walk in the sunshine, followed by tea with a friend. On Wednesday, I was an Oma instead of a writer or quilter. Our 6 year old grandson has made it very clear to his parents that he is not yet ready for all=day schooling, so he’s home for another year. On Wednesdays, we get him hanging out at our place. (We should pay the parents for the privilege, but don’t’ tell them that!) Instead of writing my blog, I baked with him, played games, sat down for our ritual eggs and bacon breakfast, etc. On Thursday, the resident sweetie and I were traveling to visit the other grandies. When we arrived, believe me, there was no time to write. We cuddled, ate,  snuggled, read stories, cuddled, laughed, and caught up on what we’d missed since we’d seen each other last.

Now it’s Friday morning. I got up early so I could be alone for a bit to write my blog, but the kids beat me. They don’t have school today (PD day), so they’ve created a schedule of activities for me. We will be making pillowcases and other crafts together, and this evening there’s a concert we’re attending together. Ditto for Saturday.

So I’ve given up. I left them to watch cartoons on TV, while I set up my computer on the kitchen table to write this up as quickly as possible. I'm eager for a product. But even as I’m writing, they’ve joined me here with a bunch of recipe books, and lots of ideas on what we will be cooking up for breakfast – french toast and fruit kebabs. It seems the product -- my blog– has been co-opted by the process of being with my loved ones this week.

And yet? I'm laughing all the way to the craft room. The blog, it appears, has written itself.

Conclusion: Process or Product -- they're both important. That's my two cents worth!

The goal was making colourful pillowcases. Job done! And the process of making them was terrific, too. The girls decided the picture needed to include the quilts I've made for them over the years.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Clean Gene

 February 16 was “Clean Monday”, a national holiday in Greece and Cyprus. On that day, citizens enjoy outdoor excursions, feast on shellfish and unleavened bread and fly kites. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, it’s followed by Clean Tuesday and Clean Wednesday – in fact, the whole week is called Clean Week, a week designated to give your home a thorough cleaning.

I say unfortunately, because if there is a gene for clean, I don’t have it. There!  I have come out of the closet and admitted that I have been fighting all my life with cleanliness and its cousin messiness. What a relief to let you in on this hidden problem.

I love clean: clean white t-shirts, shiny kitchen stoves, dustless light fixtures, and sparkling windows you can see through. I do my very best to keep our home (kinda) clean, but I do not have that clean gene that shows me where the dirt is. I just don’t see it until it reaches out with its sticky fingers, grabs me by the neck and  throttles me so I have to pay attention.

 “They” say “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” But I say, “Cleanliness is next to Impossible.” The Dutch have a saying I’ve been hearing all my life: Opgeruimd Staat Nettjes. Literally, it means Neat and Tidy looks Good. I’ve heard it all my life, true, but until scientists learn to insert a clean gene in my DNA, neat and tidy is a constant struggle.

I am fascinated by people who have clean genes in spades, the ones who see the spider webs in the corners, the dust under the buffet, and the stains in the teapot. You can step into their homes any old time, and all will be lovely and serene and clean.  I see those imperfections, too, but generally not until I know that guests will be arriving imminently. Funny how that gives you a new way of looking at your surroundings. Company’s coming? Time to call Molly Maid! (I wish!)

Without the clean gene, things often go awry when I do get down and dirty on the dirty. Washing windows results in streaky panes; the crumbs I swept out of the drawers hop right back in when my back is turned. A week after I’ve cleaned out the fridge, the RS shows me a dish he found there that contains what he diplomatically calls 7 Layer Dip (the first 6 layers being mould.) Where did that come from?

Yesterday, I got out the vacuum cleaner to clean out the sewing machine (it was overdue, long overdue.) Not only did the vacuum do a good job on the thread barf and dust bunnies, but it also sucked up some essential working parts. I ended up having to disembowel the dust bag, spreading out the grimy entrails on a newspaper to retrieve the missing parts. For some people, clean is easy. For me, it’s a full time job.

In the absence of the clean gene, I have learned to live with, and be grateful for, the genes that I do have. I like this plaque, also Dutch:
"Creative people don’t have messes; they just have ideas laying around all over the place."

Then I look at this poster that trumpets a pretty strong message:

If I believed that, I'd be doomed. But I realize that just because someone says something strongly doesn’t mean it’s true. Cleanliness is good, and we do the best we can, but it isn’t everything. In the long list of attributes that reflect the Creator’s handiwork, I’m guessing that cleanliness is far down the list, coming after kindness, compassion, mercy, love, hospitality, joy,  and yes, creativity as well.

It’s good to remember that the Greek celebration of Clean Monday originated in the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar. The Sunday evening before Clean Monday, parishioners go to church and observe the liturgy of forgiveness. As part of that liturgy, they bow down to fellow worshipers and asked for forgiveness for the times they’ve wronged or hurt each other.

Opgeruimd Staat Nettjes – Neat and Tidy looks Good. But even better is cleaning up the insides of our lives and creating harmony in our communities: it doesn’t take a clean gene-ious to do that!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Loose Ends

How do you feel about loose ends?

a few of the loose ends adorning my studio worktable
I ask, because it is the name of the challenge that our Small Worx group has been given. We are to create a piece of fibre art that explores the theme of Loose Ends. We were also given a picture frame which we have to incorporate into our art.

Hmm. How do I feel about loose ends? I look in the dictionary to give me some food for thought. Loose ends, says one dictionary, generally refers to “a minor unresolved problem or difficulty, especially a final detail preceding the completion of something.”

I know about those loose ends: clothes that need mending filling a basket in the closet; spring cleaning that should have been done last year; boxes of stuff  that need to be brought to the thrift store, and cartons of bottles and cans that should be recycled; another report to be filed.

About those kinds of loose ends I feel annoyed with myself. Why don’t I just pick up my “to-do” list and get it done? The energy it takes to suppress those loose ends while I embark on new projects is much greater than the energy it would take to get the jobs done first. Grrr. Based on those feelings, my “loose ends” piece will feature a tangled mass of threads messing up the fabric of my life.

Another definition of loose ends is “unfinished business.” This sounds more serious. I have those kinds of loose ends in my life, too: words that I’ve said that I need to retract in a conversation or letter of apology; my dad’s incomplete biography, which I promised before he died, that I would finish; deciding what to do with all my crow pieces (a book? A show?)  It's unfinished business. A piece of art work based on this definition would look more like a ragged wall hanging with gaps throughout.

There’s also the phrase “at loose ends,” which has a different meaning altogether. People who are at loose ends are bored, purposeless, without direction. A piece of art based on the idea of “at loose ends” would give off melancholy vibes. It might be composed of long strings in browns and greys of varying lengths laid out on a dull piece of fabric There would be no center of focus in such a piece.  I have days when I feel at loose ends, but thankfully not too many. When I feel at loose ends, it’s a good idea to get out of my own way and turn my eyes outward to see what I can see.  This world is full of things to explore and try, to learn and to practice.

When I checked to see if there were any quotes that used the term "loose ends", I found this: "She was a loose end. I like mine tied up." - from The Vampire Diaries. Okay, I’ll leave it to your imagination what that piece of art would look like. I don’t want to go there.

Actually, sometimes I love that there are so many loose ends in life. We make our lives by taking the threads that are handed to us, and weaving them together. Hopefully, we create something beautiful, but there will always be a few loose ends that still need to be incorporated into the weaving. One of the questions in my current course on end-of-life issues is this:  “Do you have any unfulfilled goals or dreams that you hope to fulfill before you die?” Well, duh! I guess so! Imagine if you would answer, “Nope. It’s all done! I’ve ticked in all the boxes on my life list, neat and tidy. All my loose ends are tied together.” Well, then, what would be left to do? Rest  on your laurels and watch the world go by until you die? Most people, when asked, would say they hope they die with their boots on, busy tying up loose ends -- and leaving a few for others to pick up and carry on.

A loose end--I painted it on silk last year, and then put it away.
If you've read this far, dear readers, thanks for listening to my musings. Now that I’ve explored the challenge pretty thoroughly, I actually do have some ideas about what I'd like to do with this piece of art, and I’m eager to get to work on it.

But first, I have a few loose ends to tie up!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Old Dogs, New Tricks

I read this on the internet the other day: “It was bad enough when your parents signed up for Facebook, but now the wave of social media confusion has swept up your grandparents. It’s estimated that 22% of grandparents are now using social media, and probably 90% of them are using it horribly wrong. Prepare thyself, it’s only a matter of time before nana announces in all caps on your wall that’s she’s eating more fiber and regular again.” They could have added: "Why won't they just learn?"

Oh, I’m learning, all right. I’m learning that it’s not cool to use my son’s wall to ask why he’s posting when he should be marking students’ papers and exams. I’m learning that sometimes when you see what your nieces and nephews have been up to on Facebook, you wish you hadn’t looked. (Not you, Gini.) I’ve learned that you don’t sign off a Facebook post to your grandchild with the words, “Love, Oma xxx”. I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary: stalking, trolling, unfriending, and an alphabet soup of capital letters: LOL, LMAO, and WTF (although grandmas shouldn’t be using those last three letters, ever – who knew that it didn’t mean “We Think Fast” or  “Waiting for Tea”?)

Apparently, the youngsters who wrote the beginning paragraph think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Facebook, Twitter and the like is beyond oldsters, and WTH, let’s add cell phones to the list. The old crows buy their cell phones, then walk around the mall with the Hallelujah Chorus emanating from their handbags. Eventually, they realize someone is calling them, but by the time they get their phone out, the caller has hung up. There they stand, helplessly squinting at the flashing light on the screen, wondering how to retrieve the message. A mailbox? A password? Do I swipe left or right? Why won’t this ##@@%% thing work? (True confessions time: guilty as charged.)

 “Why won’t they just learn?” ask the digitally savvy.

In one respect, they’re right.  Sometimes we think because we know about phones, how different could it be to operate the latest model? But the people who know all about cell phones and can make them dance, sing, and even cook dinner, maybe,  had to learn how to use them once upon a time. “Why won’t you learn?” they ask. And gerontologists point out that sometimes, we “people of a certain age” just can’t learn well anymore because we’ve stopped cultivating the habit of learning. We’re coasting on our past accomplishments. @TEOTD*, we’ll B LFT BHND BCOS we’re 2LZY 2 KP up. (I’m making this up as I go along, but it sounds good. I’m tempted to say I’ll cross stitch this reminder and put in on my fridge, but then again, perhaps I should get with the times (GWTT) and store it in a digital file.)

However, there is good news, friends! Hurrah! Studies (well, at least one study, which is what I choose to believe) says that OH YES (caps mean I’m shouting this), old people can learn new tricks. They just don’t do it as fast as young people because – get this! – they have so much more information tucked away in the grey matter that needs to be filtered and evaluated. The phone rings: my grey matter immediately zings back and forth between old memories of the wall box where you had to lift the receiver and talk to the operator; the rotary dial phone that hung on the wall in our hallway; the push button bedside model; the first remote models, that you could take outside with you (but not too far, or you’d lose the conversation.) And don’t get me started on numbers: the first phone number I memorized as a kid – LE 7-7778; the party line we had out in the country: 987-2488; the number we had for 22 years in town ... etc. etc. That’s a lot of stuff  that young folks don’t have stored, nor do they need to remember, because it’s all in their digital directory (but one day they’ll be sorry, because the phone will die, and they’ll be lost.) Do I hear an AMEN! PREACH IT, SISTER? Oh, sorry, got carried away. The bottom line is, we haven’t lost much – just speed. And when you slow down, you learn something of an entirely different sort.

You learn that hanging out with your 6 year old grandson for one day a week is delightful, even if you don’t get much done. He has young knees, so he’s good at picking up pins off my studio floor. Once, he found 52 of them. For my part, I’m the moneybags: I pay him 2 cents per pin. We’re both happy. I’m learning that without all the gadgets and electronic doodads to distract me, it’s easier to be present in the moment, enjoying the small things life has to offer: a cup of tea in the afternoon, the sound of birds in the garden, the squish of wet grass under your feet.

You learn that life is shorter than you think, so you take a deep breath and savour it. You learn to  appreciate the people who invented Facebook, and Skype, and perfected a cell phone that takes photos, and who keep pushing boundaries. They’re teaching us that there are so many things out there that are exciting, and that if we try, if we keep on learning, we too can join that select society which  is IMing and LOL.

*@TEOTD = at the end of the day.

PS: I blew it. In 2014, I declared January 19 Wholly Crow Day (See post for Jan. 18, 2014). I forgot to remind you a few weeks ago to celebrate that important day.  If you need a reason to have a party, Wholly Crow Day might be a good theme. Better late than never.

I decided to update the Wholly Crow poster by giving the bird a cell phone. She's a quick study; it will be no problem for her.