Quilting a Life: A Conversation About the Value of Making Art

“Everything you can imagine is real.”

 Pablo Picasso

My daughter-in-law and I chatted all weekend about the creative life, raising children and genealogy as somehow connected to our life’s purpose the last time she was up for a visit with my son and grandson.

On this visit Sam brought along a current project she is working on; a quilt that she estimates will take her at least two years to complete because she is doing it totally by hand. I had mentioned that my sister had just crocheted an amazing blanket and that I wanted to buy it from her.

“Well, no matter how much you pay her it would probably still be too little,” Sam said as she sewed little hexagons together.

I nodded in agreement.

“When I finish this quilt there is no way I’m selling it. I may show it somewhere, but I’ll never sell it. It will be a family heirloom.”

Her words struck me. Whenever I get into a panic about money (for no good reason usually) I flit off in seven different directions trying to make things to sell in a hurry. Yet I’m unable to mass produce things of quality and soon lose interest in those projects because they were ushered in under the wrong spirit.

Why, when my nieces come and fall in love with a doll I made, do I think this object would be better left in the hands of a stranger? I own a little set of drawers my great-grandfather made, and I cherish it. How much could he have sold it for?

This is not to say that one should never be paid for their work, but it left me wondering how often I rob myself of joy by considering how much cash I receive from a creative endeavor as the most important indicator of its worth.

I wrote and published six books without taking a breather. The process of creating was extremely joyful, but as soon as I published the books, I became obsessed with sales.

In the wrong spirit. It came from a place of needing so much validation. One, ten, one hundred reviews — when would it be enough? I used the process to beat myself up for not marketing correctly (instead of taking a deep breath and maybe learning one thing at a time and enjoying it).

Perfectionism creeps so easily back into my psyche.

Yet here was an extremely talented artist, Sam, at peace with making an heirloom.

I realized that I did not celebrate for even a day, a moment, after my books were published. It was almost as if they had fallen into a black whole of an evil marketing god of my own creation. After six books I acted as though I was at square one again, as if I had never written anything and now my worth was back at zero.

All of this was going on as we were caring for the unhinged foster kid, expanding our little farm and caring for my husband’s dying father. While we were sleeping in our basement in a crowded house with alarms on doors so the foster kid wouldn’t escape all I could do was beat myself up for poor marketing (maybe it was a bizarre form of coping).

So last week when I was feeling a little under the weather I decided, you know what, I’m taking some time to see how I feel about my books, to be with them, to flip through the pages and possibly enjoy them as future family heirlooms.

Here’s what I’ve discovered so far:

THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD

This book is my soul. I still ache for these characters. Maybe it could have been tighter, maybe not. I love it as is.

I look at Katherine now and realize that I was writing about how her early trauma made it so easy to fall for and be confused by her addicted husband. I hadn’t realized I had been just as confused and frightened by an unpredictable world as she was as a child and how that would affect children like her son William.

WEARY OF RUNNING

Sadly, I think this book is the weakest in the series. It’s too bad because the story builds well from here, but writing is a learning process. It reads more like a screenplay and it takes a bit long to disclose that Buck is worth caring about. Yet the whole point in writing this was exploring the reasons why a person would build such self-destructive walls to keep people out. Again, I’m obviously interested in capturing the impact of abuse, but also redemption.

THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY

I wish I hadn’t had to chop Buck’s hand off by an Apache Indian to get him back east, but people back then did go up against some tough living! I found myself smiling a lot with this one. A reviewer once said Buck’s behavior at the utopian community was ridiculous, but I was basing it upon a lot of my behaviors in my twenties! I hung around a lot of socialists and was pretty desperate for their approval. Buck’s sister marries a man she doesn’t love because she’s lost and doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. Textbook me. I’m not going to lie. I loved writing and reading this book.

Forgive me for being so self-indulgent here. I needed a break from the ADOPTION STORY. I still have three books to sit back and enjoy (hopefully), but Sam has taught me a valuable lesson (one that should have been obvious maybe). Doing what you love has to be its own reward even if you plan on marketing it later. Taking this time has reminded me of the fun I had working on the covers (with Sam who designed them) and going back and forth with KEVIN BRENNAN my editor (once I finally valued myself enough to have my work professionally edited) who had to live with my characters for close to a year and was an amazing encouragement!

I never had a party or popped champagne for these books. I should have. But it’s fine. As I sit NOW with Buck and Thankful and all the rest, I am rewarded discovering that I like my writing. I’m proud of it. When I was that traumatized child (the person I carried well into my middle years) I never would have imagined I’d have the courage to write books. I never imagined I’d be able to write the exact books I so much enjoy reading! It’s like being a child again but without the messy trauma.

How do you celebrate your accomplishments? Or are you like me rushing on to the next thing all the time?

2 responses to “Quilting a Life: A Conversation About the Value of Making Art”

    • I’m reading book four now and it feels like visiting old friends. I find myself looking forward to free moments to get back to them. What an enjoyable experience! I waited well into adulthood to answer the creative call. So glad I finally did!

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