Tag Archives: Trust

Body Armor

While touring Edinburgh Castle, Jim and I encountered a man describing medieval arms. He demonstrated the long bow and the crossbow, detailing differences between them. One of the great benefits of these weapons is they could be used from a distance. Closer contact between enemies was dangerous for both.

He showed us a gambeson, or quilted coat. It looked remarkably like the coats worn by many in the audience. Its purpose, though, was not warmth, but protection. It could protect the skin from cuts and tears rendered in close combat.

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Docent with audience volunteer. She is wearing the gambeson, quilted body armor, and a helmet and is holding the crossbow.

The demonstration reminded me of an essay I wrote a few years ago, while at the tail end of recovery from depression and anxiety. Excerpts from it are below.


BODY ARMOR

This morning I awoke thinking of body armor. Imagine the padded chest protectors used by umpires, or those worn by fencers. These carry on a design idea with ancient origins. In the Middle Ages, thickly padded, quilted material was used to make body armor. It protected the warrior from blows of early weaponry.

Body armor, a means to protect oneself from attack.

The quilted armor, torn through all three layers, tattered and frayed. Underneath the skin is mottled, bruised, still tender. It heals, but slowly. My armor, variable in heft, could not protect me. I sit, needle in hand, pondering how to mend it, reinforce it.

I have mended quilts before, but never all the way through. Repairs can be simple enough, depending on the nature of the rip. If threads are loose at a seam, tuck them back in and stitch, following the same line. If the fabric is rent, darning or patching may secure it. These tears, though, and there are many, these will take time.

***

We all carry armor. For some it is thin, easily penetrated. Others have thick, sturdy armor that lets nothing in. And we all have potential sources of attack.

Clubs, chains, arrows and swords, most of the danger came from close combat. It still does.
Usually the risks are emotional rather than physical. Most of us have people in our lives who provide a continuing stream of negative emotion. A co-worker’s tone of voice, gossip, or undermining; a family member’s repeated reminders of mistakes made, or warnings of those yet to be made. Besides things done “to us,” we have loss, worry, hardship. All can take their toll, leaving us damaged and weakened. We are vulnerable and hurt and afraid.

We’ve all been taught to be afraid of strangers, replacing potential trust with suspicion. We’ve all been cautioned about sharing too much personal information, especially in the age of identity theft and cyber-stalking. We hide ourselves from others, careful not to reveal facts or feelings. If they don’t know what hurts us, it’s less likely they will.

***

“God has given you one face and you make yourselves another.” We all obscure ourselves with masks, partly in the roles we play. Mother, spouse, employee, brother. We create contracts with others based on these roles. As a mother, I hesitate to share my personal concerns with my children. As a mother, I should be strong, helpful, wise.

Last year my mother-mask dropped. The year was a journey through dark and uncomfortable places, with an anxiety disorder that came from nowhere and took over my life. Self-criticism replaced self-confidence, tears replaced contentment, withdrawal replaced responsiveness.

My already-thin armor was shredded by a swirl of unceasing questions, by panic that left me gasping for breath. One day in March I entered a campus office to pick up exams. Before I could speak, my emotional strength left, puddling on the floor, leaving me fully exposed. There is no armor, no safety when you are doubled over, panting and helpless. The only defense then is the compassion of others, those who would protect you when you cannot protect yourself.

Characterized by powerlessness, self-doubt, and confusion, my anxiety was evident to those who knew me best. Those, except my children. With none of them at home, it was easy to hide the damage at first. Eventually, they all could sense my unease and unhappiness.

Besides the roles we play, other masks are those of personality: funny, patient, kind, verbose. Some put on a happy mask, or a calm mask, suffering the slings and arrows while pretending they’ve done no harm. We hide the wounds, we hide our true selves by presenting a false persona. If you think I am funny, must I always be funny? Even when I am in pain? Class clowns and comedians have the reputation of hiding their pain, anger, and anxiety with laughter. Surely they are not the only ones.

***

Threading my needle with a sturdy strand, I begin on the outer layer. If I can fix what people will see, the rest will not seem as urgent. First I slide the thread into a hole, leaving a knot within the layer of batting. Out again, I take neat stitches, pulling the fabric taut. As each tear is mended, I bury the knots inside.

Each stitch I take is a breath, each breath a question with no answer. Though I’m accustomed now to the absence of answers, my discomfort is palpable, physical. Each stitch is a small stab that brings both healing and pain.

The smaller rips go easily, receding into the whole. The larger ones leave evidence, with stitches crossing the grain of cloth in multiple directions. The worst area, above my heart, is a mess, still visible to all. Perhaps an appliqué in cheery print will distract from the damage done.

***

Physical barriers can protect us, too. Fences, imposing homes, possessions, excess weight, can be ways to create a moat between us and others, or between us and what else we may fear. Those who overcame poverty may fear returning to hardship. They may calm those fears by owning things, assuring themselves of their relative wealth.

Sweet may be the uses of adversity, but few of us will embrace it gladly. It’s easy to remember Scarlett O’Hara’s triumphant moment, raising her face to the sky, “As God is my witness … I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” Her fear of want overwhelmed her ability to make good judgments. Her armor grew tougher and thicker than ever in her quest for security.

While most of us put up fences, some are open. We are open about our pain and about our joy. We tell people when we care about them; we tell them what we value about them. It is a vulnerable position to take. The risks are even greater pain, both from the actual blows, and also from humiliation. Must everyone know the arrow’s tearing of flesh? Yes. When you are that open, yes, they will know.

***

Early this year, I suffered another heavy blow, this one from outside myself. Tearing out the back of my armor, the knife stabs hit over and over, taking advantage of my weakness. The wounds are deep, their scars still scabbed and stiff. Reminders of the attack come as I move through each day, my routine altered by injury. “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”

Though I hadn’t finished repairing the previous harm, this new destruction takes precedence. I must decide whether to reinforce the armor, or merely repair it to its earlier strength.

***

My armor has evolved. In my teens and early twenties, I was one of those known as a “good listener.” Others shared their stories with me, but I rarely shared my own. Now I disclose, but I do not burn bridges, I do not name names, what I reveal is about myself, not about others. That is for them to reveal.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” Trust is my challenge. Part of my anxiety last year centered on how my judgment could be so faulty, my trust so badly placed. The most recent attack showed me again that trust should be carefully allocated. As I rebuild my armor, it is thicker, heavier than I want to wear.

And still I love, and still I trust, though not as readily.

I am open. I see it as a feature, not a flaw. Yes, it has its risks. Still, they are risks I’ll choose to take. I get to choose, and I choose to be open. I get to choose, and I choose love.

Power Builders 03.06.15

This is Week #5 of my Power Builders creative links. If you’d like to see last week’s, you can find it here.

I call this series “Power Builders” because that’s what these little items do for me. They make me more powerful in my art and in my life. I hope they do the same for you. Some of the links will be about how other creative people use their time, structure their work, find inspiration. Some may be videos, music, or podcasts to inspire you. Some of it will be directly quilt-related but much of it will not. What you see in Power Builders will depend on what I find. Feel free to link great things in comments, too.

1) I’ve seen this announced in multiple places. John James Audubon’s Birds of America displays the beauty and artistry of these Audubon prints. They are also available to download for free in high resolution. Here is my lovely catbird:

2) Here’s an interesting post from Hyperallergic. It discusses research into the colors that are shared most in Pinterest photos. Admittedly Pinterest may have a unique demographic. However it’s worth considering what impact colors will have on your audience.

3) And in a related note, take a look at this link to see how many different colors you can identify. It may be an indicator of your sensitivity to color, including how many receptors you have.

4) Austin Kleon again, this time with a post on how to draw, even if you don’t know how to draw! Looks like fun to do with kids, and even grown-ups should try it! (Scroll back to the top of the page, if it doesn’t load that way for you.)

What has inspired you this week? Let us know in comments.

Power Builders 02.27.15

This is Week #4 of my Power Builders creative links. If you’d like to see last week’s, you can find it here.

I call this series “Power Builders” because that’s what these little items do for me. They make me more powerful in my art and in my life. I hope they do the same for you. Some of the links will be about how other creative people use their time, structure their work, find inspiration. Some may be videos, music, or podcasts to inspire you. Some of it will be directly quilt-related but much of it will not. What you see in Power Builders will depend on what I find. Feel free to link great things in comments, too.

1) This story tells of one woman who developed her power through an outreach program at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Yes, women’s prison. The women had the opportunity to create quilts, expressing themselves in ways they’d never before experienced. Here is one woman’s story. Seven more interviews are available here.

2) A few of Austin Kleon’s comments about sharing your work, your time, your inspiration with others. My take: sharing is part of what makes you powerful.

3) Want to boost your creativity? Take a walk! Here’s a link to the research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. For a quick summary, read the news report from The Stanford Daily.

4) If you are a quilt artist, you may be familiar with Elizabeth Barton. She’s written two terrific books on quilt art design. I own them both and think they apply well to any two-dimensional design. This blog post of hers on dissonance discusses something many of us avoid: conflict. Yes, I avoid conflict in my personal life, but tension is essential in good design. Take a look.

5) My post from this week on trusting my own creative process.

6) And the quilt top that results from that process so far:

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It will get another border before it is finished. Current size is 44″ x 50″. The center panel was designed by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning fabrics.

 

Get inspired by the world around you! What has inspired you this week?

Tree of Life — Trusting the Process

I’ve been working on my Tree of Life quilt. The other day I showed you my second start at it. The first go was … worthy of trying. But it wasn’t working out for me. I count it as a successful experiment, one from which I learned a lot.

I removed the side borders and began again. I showed you this much already:
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The black strips in the picture above are attached now. That border took the finished size to 30″ x 36″. Those dimensions work well for a block border of 6″ blocks. Of course there are a lot of other ways to solve that problem, too.

I imagined the next border as an enclosure of variable stars with pale backgrounds, and centers and points of the same blues, greens, browns, and reds. With 6 blocks on each of the longer sides, 5 blocks on each of the shorter sides, and 1 in each corner, I needed 26 blocks. I wanted the backgrounds scrappy, too. Checking scraps first, I found pale golds and pale greens for backgrounds. I cut so there were an equal number of warm backgrounds as cool. I also cut points and centers with equal numbers of warm and cool. This technique works well for me when a quilt doesn’t naturally tilt to one side or the other.

After building 13 of the 26 blocks, I put them on my design wall around the center. Scary! They were so wild, so vibrant, I was afraid they would take over, overwhelming the beautiful center. I hollered at Jim to take a look.

“Looks like a celebration!” he said. We talked through my concerns, but that’s what I want — a celebration. So we agreed I should go ahead.

“Trust the process. Trust the process,” I kept muttering to myself the next day as I finished making those stars. “The process” is the process of experimentation, of taking a vision to its point of evident success or failure. I figured there was nothing lost by continuing to make blocks. If they wouldn’t work, I’d have 26 great blocks available for a different project.

And here is the work so far. Finishing at 42″ x 48″, it’s ready for another 1″ black line all the way around. After that will come its final borders, to finish at about 56″ x 62″.

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I like that the star backgrounds are paler than the pale caramel in the sawtooth border. The value contrast helps keep the focus on the center, rather than mushing it all out into a sea of mediums.

I trusted the process. I continued with my stars, knowing that I might not use them. But that lack of confidence did not stop me. Don’t let it stop you, either. Trust the process. Experiment. No bad thing will happen. Trust me.