Chance favors the prepared mind.
Jim and I have been talking about how a moment in time can change the course of one’s life. A single decision, even if it doesn’t seem momentous when made, can alter the path taken. But often that single decision is preceded by a long set of circumstances. Often that moment is not in isolation.
On May 18, 1980, an earthquake triggered the collapse of the north face of Mount St. Helens, in Washington state. Along with the avalanche, the volcano exploded with magma and poisonous gas. Fifty-seven people died; homes, bridges, and highways were destroyed. In a moment, life changed irretrievably. But that moment was hundreds of millions of years in the making. And though the general public did not receive enough warning to keep hikers off the mountain, residents began preparing to evacuate weeks ahead.
At Mount St. Helens recently. You can see the north slopes of the volcano behind us, still mostly bare of growth, 38 years after the blast.
A few weeks after the volcano erupted, Jim and I met in a university cafeteria. Far from inevitable, our meeting can be traced to a specific decision I made on a specific day two years before. Meeting Jim changed my life forever, as did the accumulation of choices I made leading to that day.
Similarly, when our son was in college, a chance encounter with the campus AFROTC commander led to his joining the Air Force, and ultimately to meeting his new bride. But neither of these “moments in time” were only a matter of chance. For our son, his decisions were bolstered by a lifelong interest in flying, as well as opportunities to investigate the options.
Long ago, a university student accused me of putting her on academic probation, based on the “D” she earned in my class. I reminded her that a single grade did not do that, and her grades were her responsibility. While the change in status may have happened at a moment in time, there was plenty of tectonic shift leading to that eruption!
Examples like these are easy, aren’t they? Some catalyst flips a switch, but the conditions for change were already in place. I’ll bet you can come up with some from your own life.
In our creative lives, some of us find our niche and continue to create similar work. Others can point to a change in circumstance, an event, or a decision, that leads to metamorphosis. Henri Matisse suffered from abdominal cancer late in his life, leading to the paper cutouts for which some of us know him best. The cancer was the catalyst, but the collage art he made was only possible because of his prior work. “Only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated,” Matisse said of his later work.
“The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown 1943-4.” Maquette for plate V of the illustrated book “Jazz.” Art by Henri Matisse/Image by Centre Pompidou
In my quilting experience, there was a moment five years ago when I decided to focus on medallion quilts. I’d made medallions before then, but I’ve made scores of them since then. Each one teaches me something new. And now I’m shifting in a direction I’ve long wanted to take, towards quilts that tell a story. The shift intensified when my friend Janet asked me to make her a Green Man quilt, a project that includes story as well as extensive appliqué.
The quilts of Mary Lou Weidman, Roberta Horton, and Faith Ringgold — storytellers I’ve long admired — inspire me, but they will not define me. My quilts cannot be like theirs; they can only be mine. The expertise in medallion quilts is not for naught. It is part of me, of my preparation.
Two of my quilts you may have seen, which I consider story quilts, are below.
I Found the Housework Fairy But She’s Not Coming Back. 35″ square. Finished June 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.
Garden Party. 62″ x 68″. Center panel by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning Fabrics. Finished March 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.
I love both of these quilts, but I see them as antecedents, as preparation for what is to come. And what is to come, today I can’t fully imagine, anymore than I could imagine, 38 years ago, what my life would be like now.
Time, timing, chance, and preparation. Chance events, decisions, or circumstances can change our lives, our work, and our relationships. Everything we do helps prepare us for everything ahead.
What “moment in time” stories do you have? Has your artistic work changed because of a single event, class, or inspiration? Share in comments below.