Keeping Dreams Alive Charity Gala 2017

“Making dream catchers is fun!” is what I thought about this year’s charity gala for South Suburban Family Shelter’s Keeping Dreams Alive charity gala for 2017. At first, I wasn’t planning on going, but my schedule opened up.

I will admit the prospect of making dream catchers became another appeal of going this year! This was my first time making a dream catcher. Oh sure, there are books that detail how to make dream catchers, but we allowed ourselves to have a “creativity workshop” so to speak, before the event to let our imaginations soar!

We had yarn, ribbons, gold hoops, satin flowers and doilies all around us, in addition to banana bread, pizza and great company to further fuel our imagination. I made the Purple Heart dream catcher. It was not easy. I wanted for the yarn to be all over the dream catcher in a web like pattern with the only hollow part being the heart. Well, that didn’t work out.

As a matter of fact, it kept not working out for three whole hours! I had the choice to either give up or come up with a new, improved and simplified design. What can I say? I love making things, so I came up with a new design: Place yarn on the heart only. Then use purple ribbon on the bottom. No one but me knows how much I had to use the glue gun and two sided tape, like one layer after the other, to make that yarn stick to the heart and the entire hoop to hold together and not fall apart. There now! Problem solved! Actor Samuel J. Jackson said, “Sometimes we suffer for our craft.”

Don’t I know it. . .

The people who had an easier time had the crochet dollies to tie onto the gold hoops. They were done with those dream catchers in thirty minutes. They were smart. Now why didn’t I think of that?

Anyway, it was a fun time as usual. I volunteered for the event. The tables looked lovely with their dream catchers. There was a dream wall with requests of needed items for the shelter. The wall had clouds and stars. There were written descriptions of our “Wall of Dreams” on each table.

Within the current political climate and our resources dwindling, our dream came true to continue to keep going, even for a night.

My Handsome Prince Tribute Quilt!

This grandmother’s flower garden quilt was actually influenced by three of Prince’s songs. Although each song was featured on different CDs during his career, all of the songs carried the theme of spirituality that can be found within his music. The first song was “The Digital Garden” on the Rainbow Children CD. I listened to that CD a lot while making the quilt. It is both an artistic and spiritual song about the blossoming of creativity and the burgeoning of spirituality within lyrical metaphors of a blossoming flower garden. I was inspired to create a pattern of purple roses that blossomed from the inside out with the light, medium and dark colored fabric framing one another. The second song was “When Doves Cry” from the Purple Rain soundtrack. Doves represent spiritual awakening. The border fabric has a purple background featuring white doves with the word “peace.” The third song was “Seven” from The Love Symbol CD. The song was about the symbolism of the number seven within the Bible. Prince was very emotionally connected to his faith, so I used seven rows of grandmother’s flower garden blocks appliquéd to the dove border fabric.

One of the Best Days of My Life

I had my bass lesson today. It was everything and nothing. I had the day off. I practiced my bass. I exercised. I rarely wear makeup, but today, I put some makeup on my face and a nice outfit instead of living in my nursing scrubs. I generally do not do this, but now I have more often. It is so unusual, that I am running out of makeup foundation. I ate stir fry for dinner. I came home. Believe it or not, it was one of the best days of my life and I want to have more days like today.

Since I ran the Chicago Marathon and resumed contrabass lessons, everything has changed. I have always been interested in writing, music and nursing since before I even started attending college. I just didn’t know how to pursue them all, so I did it one at a time. So far, I have pursued nursing and writing.

Music? Not so much? Even with doing The Artist Way weekly since 2012, I simply could not fully accept myself as a musician. Maybe it was previous negative experiences trying to play a contrabass, but finding it difficult to get appropriate mentorship. Maybe it was the upheaval, both personal and artistic, I knew would come to my life by taking it on again.

However, ignoring and denying my desire hasn’t been enough to silence my dreams. Now that I have resumed my bass studies, I am asking myself why didn’t I do this sooner?

I gave myself the chance to find a quality instructor, but now, I want to go to my local community college and take courses for an associate’s degree in music performance. Even if it is one to two classes at a time until I am done, I am more than willing to be patient and do the work to get to my goal.

One by one, I am coming across stories of late bloomers, but I need to hear about them. I once met a woman who said it took her 14 years to complete her undergraduate degree because she had to work a regular job to support herself and her children. She said she did one to two classes at a time and she took the summers off. She received her undergraduate degree anyway.

I just saw a concert at City Winery of Sonny Knight and the Lakers. He was an ex-Vietnam veteran and a truck driver who is now retired and working with James Brown’s old musicians on his CDs. Although he is working with musicians half his age, his musical and life experiences make him the most interesting member in the band.

In the book Daughters of the Moon, Sisters of the Sun, I read that Anisa Romero of the musical group Sky Cries Mary started her musical training at a local community college when she received a breast cancer diagnosis.

Why do we wait for things like this to shake us into “pursue your dream with gusto” submission? Her story always stayed with me and I had visions and dreams for years of going to my local community college for music performance.

I’m serious. I’ve been trying to “practice containment” as Julia Cameron has advised and I have talked to no one, but my local community college about my desires.

These Are the Times When I Wanted to Play My Contrabass Again Part 2

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17.I attended “It’s Your Move,” a fundraiser for my local rape and domestic violence shelter in May 2016. They had a big band with a contrabass player. I sat there transfixed on that contrabass while they performed, remembering what I had lost.

18.After speaking to some people in PAQA (Professional Art Quilters Alliance), they told me to try to find a community ensemble and try to play contrabass again instead of longing.

19.There is a woman in my textile arts group who plays both piano and violin. Anytime I saw her, I remembered when I played piano and contrabass. And my heart longed for my contrabass. I told her about my abandoned contrabass dream. She told me to not beat myself up because actually things had gone better than I had ever thought. She has acted as a music therapist for me, patiently listening as I detailed my previous experience. She helped me to trouble shoot what went wrong, what went right and what I could do the next time to assure success in playing contrabass again.

20.I lived down the street from an Annie Lee store for years. I remember seeing pictures and statues of “On Q.” I bought a statue of “On Q” at the African Festival in Washington Park when I first started graduate school, as if to reassure my heart to keep hope alive. I kept thinking, “One day, all of what is “required” of me (get an undergraduate degree, get a graduate degree, etc.) will come to an end and I would play my contrabass again.

21.When I was taking writing classes, I cannot tell you how many times I heard about “getting in touch with your true voice.” I thought, “I write, make textiles and play contrabass. That should be easy with me being me.” I HAD to go back to contrabass again. My writing depended on it.

22.Shortly after Prince died, one of my evening shifts ended at work. As I was walking to my car, out of nowhere, I had this agonizing thought: “DO YOU REMEMBER PLAYING CONTRABASS AND LISTENING TO ‘STARFISH AND COFFEE?!?!!?’ I MISS ROSIN!!! I MISS MY BOW!!! I MISS THAT MONSTROCITY OF AN INSTRUMENT!!! I WANT MY CONTRABSS!!! I WANT MY CONTRABSS RIGHT NOW!!!”

23.I saw contrabassist Mimi Jones live at the Currency Exchange Café in Chicago during the summer of 2016. I loved these intimate settings for live performances. I took a list of questions to ask about playing a contrabass and she graciously answered each one. As I have been listening to her sound recordings, I have thought, “I want to play my contrabass again.”

  1. I saw someone at the music store in Chicago called A 440 who talked to me about the best rosins for contrabass. I was so excited that I bought all three: Nyman, Pops and Samuel Kolstein. No one told me this when I first started playing contrabass in high school. I placed one on my bookshelf in the house, one in my purse and one in my cup holder in my car, as if to communicate to the Universe and anyone who was listening that I wanted to play my contrabass again. I was confident I could do this again.
  2. I came across an online community known as Contrabass Conversations. I could have used this in high school. I have been soaking up every word like a sponge since I discovered them and thinking, “I want to play my contrabass again.”
  3. I went to the Music Institute in Evanston to watch the jazz jams all summer. I didn’t ever realize that three hours had passed. I wanted my contrabass. I met a contrabass teacher named Stuart Miller. I told him about my previous contrabass experience. “You walked around with a naked bass?” he asked. “That says you’re determined. This is good. You’re going to need that.” He told me to take the time to look around for a contrabass for myself, get a proper padded carrying case.

27.During the summer of 2016, I went to the music stores recommended by the Music Institute in Evanston and my textile arts group. I saw a laminated contrabass right before the Fourth of July holiday and thought, “It’s beautiful!” This time, I obtained padded case to go with it. I cleared a corner in my bedroom for my contrabass and my music stand. I have been getting up before the start of each shift to play, even before my 16 hour double shifts. I have loved every minute of it. I was asked by a friend if I would give my contrabass a name. I said I am going to name it, “Baby, Baby Baby” after the verse in the song “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince. I tried to not talk to too many people anyone outside of them because I learned over the years, as Julia Cameron has said in The Artist Way to “practice containment.” I didn’t want to be talked out of it. I have been working as a nurse for 15 years. Part of the reason why I took this job, aside from my volunteer work in high school with medically compromised children, was to pay for my artistic pursuits.  I increased my work load not only to pay bills, but also to pay for a contrabass and lessons (which is why I haven’t posted as much as I used to).

28.The Universe began giving me the right people to talk to. I was told by two musical families to check out Guitar Center for contrabass lessons, which I did. I started them at the end of August. I have been delighted ever since!

 

These Are the Times When I Wanted to Play My Contrabass Again Part 1

The death of Prince has had a MAJOR effect on me. I will admit that I had no idea of how much I loved him until he passed away. I have heard other people express the same thing. I also had no idea of how much of a musical influence he had on me when I first started playing music instruments in high school.

My first experience playing contrabass in high school left something to be desired. In the interest of “practicality” and taking “college preparatory courses,” I gave it up, but not without considerable heartbreak on my behalf.

I TRIED to be like everyone else and just pick and choose one interest or better yet, nothing at all. Just go to work, interest myself with Netflix and the next strip mall opening. But the truth of the matter is that I am an interdisciplinary artist: writing, textiles, and music. It has been this way for me all my life. And the past four months, this has become obvious for me. I’ve played other instruments before, but the contrabass has always captured my heart.

The past few months made me remember my never forgotten dream to play my contrabass again, just like I did in high school orchestra band. I am grateful for my textile arts group. Next to books by Julia Cameron and Elizabeth Gilbert, they have been more valuable than words could ever say for helping me to recover my creativity. I wrote out for people who may not know the times I noted in my mind where I wanted to play my contrabass again and what I did as a direct result of this desire. This series is numerous, but this is Part 1.

 

  1. In elementary school, I made my own makeshift contrabass with rubber bands and card board boxes. Even though I didn’t know any bass players, I told people, “I’m going to play a bass when I grow up.”
  2. My father had an impressive jazz LP collection when I was growing up. He had everything in his LP collection, but the jazz was phenomenal. There were jazz clubs all over the South Side of Chicago and my father attended them frequently to listen to live music. Anytime I heard the jazz artists in his LP collection when I was growing up, I thought, “That sounds like fun. I want to do that.”
  3. Anytime I heard anything by Prince, especially the string arrangement of “Purple Rain,” I thought, “That is so heartbreakingly beautiful. I MUST learn how to play it.”
  4. One day I was walking around Downtown Chicago and I saw some vendors in front of Daily Plaza. One of them sold a pair of silver earrings in the shape of a contrabass with an amber stone in the middle. I still have those earrings. Each time I wore them, I said, “One day, I will play my bass again.”
  5. Anytime I heard the string arrangement of the reprise version of “Human Beings” by Seal, I thought, “That is heartbreakingly beautiful and I want to learn how to play it.”
  6. I saw the Uptown String Quartet live at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. Watching their amazing performance, I thought, “One day, I am going to play my contrabass again.”
  7. When Transitions Bookstore was still in business in Chicago, I came across a book called, Music for the Joy of It by Stephanie Judy. Next to The Artist Way by Julia Cameron, this book has saved my life. I knew I would go back to my contrabass some day.
  8. When I started working as a nurse, I met someone who quit a high stress corporate America job to take another job that allowed him to practice with his band after work. I thought, “This person has the right idea.” And I remembered how I wanted to play my contrabass again.
  9. When I worked as a nurse in a long term care facility, I had a patient whose great grandchildren had formed a string quartet. Their performed Beethoven for their great grandmother as a Christmas present. They sounded so beautiful I literally wept for my contrabass in the medication room.
  10. I work as a pediatrics nurse. Needless to say, Finding Nemo is an all around favorite cartoon. Anytime I heard the string arrangement to the songs or even the jazz song “Beyond the Sea,” I thought, “That is beautiful I want to learn how to play that.”
  11. For years, I have literally had nocturnal dreams of myself where I saw myself with my contrabass again. These were some of the best dreams I have ever had.
  12. Anytime I saw Rhonda Smith, a female bassist, perform with Prince, I thought, “I remember when I used to play a contrabass.”
  13. One of my aunt’s friends got us tickets to a jazz concert at Millennium Parkway in Chicago. The group was from New York. I stared at the contrabass player, thinking, “I want to play my contrabass again.”
  14. When I met Zhena Muzyka, an editor for Simon and Schuster in Ojai, California, I went home the day after the Grammys were televised. I happened to walk around LAX and see people carrying cases for their French horns, guitars, and of course, a contrabass. Again, my heart swelled, ached and longed for my contrabass.
  15. I never dated in high school. I didn’t even get asked out to the prom, but I did play my contrabass, write for the yearbook, sit under my family as they made textiles and volunteered helping medically compromised children, a precursor to my future self. The person who taught me how to play didn’t remember how to play a contrabass and kept switching around my notes, which became confusing. I couldn’t afford decent contrabass class instruction. I used violin rosin on my bow. I wasn’t given a choice with my contrabass. I was just handed a contrabass that was too tall and too wide for me. Still, I hung on. I was not provided with a case for my contrabass. Instead, I walked around with a naked bass, but I guarded it with my life and it never needed to be serviced. People disturbed me when I practiced my bass at school. “Maybe this experience isn’t ideal,” I thought, “But I am getting exposure musically and when the time is right, I will work as a nurse and use my money to finance my own creative pursuits.”
  16. When Prince died, I remembered when my high school orchestra band went to perform at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign for a weekend. Needless to say, we performed classical. Still, every teenager on that bus had Sign O’ the Times by Prince on their Walkman. With so many diverse people, it was interesting to note our collective love for Prince. Our favorite song was not the more profane ones or even the more popular ones played on the radio during that time. It was “Starfish and Coffee,” a jazz number. We paid special attention to the chord progressions, trying to figure out how to play it. I ate vegetarian Gyros and French fries that weekend at a local Greek restaurant all weekend. I bought the 12 inch dance version of “Desire” by U2 at a local record shop. I stared into the windows of the local bookstores, begging God to please bless me one day by becoming a published author. I played until the tips of my fingers had blisters that popped and bled. Afterwards, the skin became smooth, but tough. Later when I worked as a nurse, I found out that construction workers get these same blisters. I didn’t care. I kept playing anyway. Later our orchestra band teacher played the sound recording of our performance back to us. We sounded awful. It didn’t matter. It had nothing to do with money, fame or being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine one day. I was still happier in that weekend than I could say I was with the things that I was told would make me happy, but didn’t: romantic relationships, careers, etc. And I listened to “Starfish and Coffee” by Prince all weekend on my Walkman, confident that one day, I would learn how to play it and play it right.

MAC’s Guo Pei Makeup Collection

MAC Guo Pei CollectionI know this is coming late, but I have to mention MAC’s Guo Pei makeup collection! Guo Pei is a fashion designer in China who made dresses for both Rhianna and Zoe Saldana for the 2015 and 2016 Met Galas, respectively.

I really appreciated Guo Pei sharing that she had been influenced by American Westerns, especially the petticoat designs. No one was there to teach her how to make them, so she learned how to make them herself through trial and error. Hearing that story made me feel better about the 1,200 inch and a half hexagon pieces I went through trying to learn how to make grandmother’s flower garden quilts.

MAC’s Guo Pei makeup collection is stunning! With the packaging being in silk fabric, I had to support someone who was making textiles as art!

Fashion as Art

Finally! The discussion I have been waiting for! Is fashion art? Or more specifically, can textiles be classified as art? If you’ve been reading this blog, I’m sure you know what my answer is to this question. I am glad that the New York Times took on this topic. I know when I was growing up, textiles, particularly those having to do with fashion, was HUGE!!! People respected their seamstresses and their beauticians.

When I was growing up, I saw women who did not make it to the covers of Vogue, but Vogue was the one missing out on seeing some truly beautiful women. They could be seen walking through a store, immediately look at something on a rack, say, “I can do better than that.” And within less than a week they had either sewed, knitted, crocheted a piece that was better than what the local department store had on display.

Sometimes they used a pattern and sometimes they didn’t. They walked with their heads held high and they did not let themselves be defined by other people’s standards of beauty and art. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be just like them.

When I was in graduate school, however, I was continually bombarded with standards of “high art versus low art” when I told people I was a textile artist. Eventually, I learned that quilts and clothing were major exhibits in art museums around the world, which made me wonder about the people I met in graduate school who sought to demean textiles.

I must admit not everyone in my graduate school experience created these lines of demarcation. I had a professor named Michael McColly who encouraged me to enter my quilts into community art exhibits. I am very grateful. One opportunity led to another. I picked up with my love of textiles right where I’d left off after graduate school. Eventually, I exhibited a quilt at Macy’s on State Street in Chicago.

I was SO EXCITED to hear that Guo Pei made Rhianna’s dress last year for the Met Gala! I related to her when she said that she had a hard time learning how to sew petticoats. She was highly influenced by the clothing she saw in American Westerns, but she had no one there with her in China when she was in design school to teach her how to make them. So, she did it by trial and error as we all do. I went through 1,200 pieces of a grandmother’s flower garden quilt before I learned how to make them correctly. I especially loved her makeup collaboration with MAC Cosmetics last year!

To the outside world, this type of attention to fashion, makeup and hairstyles may look like low self esteem. However, from the point of view of textiles and textile artists, I believe that a redefinition of both art and self esteem is in order. If nothing else, I am also grateful that most major museums across the country have a textiles section and they decide what to put on display:

 

https://www.yahoo.com/style/is-fashion-art-161301666.html

Quilter’s Trunk Sew In

It’s only a couple hours a month, and I arrive haphazardly, but I must say I am restored to sanity afterwards. I attend the Quilter’s Trunk Sew In on the fourth Thursday of every month. The chocolate covered licorice and pretzels is always a winner with us. We do show and tell of the textiles we’ve made. And the stereo speakers play the soothing sounds of Nora Roberts and other musicians we all enjoy. The CD Come Away With Me reminds me of when I was working full time as an LPN, attending RN school and studying for RN boards. I was trying to make it here, this night, literally 15 years ago, knowing my day job was a vehicle to the life I have right now, wanting a more creative life, but not sure of where I was going or what I was going to do next. I recognize that this is the moment I was working towards and I am glad about it. I always leave the Sew In satiated in spirit and trying to figure out how I am going to survive another month without thisSew In 1Sew In 2.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Good Mama's QuiltSingle Irish ChainBoth my maternal grandmother and my maternal great grandmother used to sew together. When they learned that my mother was pregnant, they made a single Irish chain baby quilt for me. I still have it. When I became an adult, I took formal quilting classes. While I was doing a mystery quilt, some familiarity came to me about the piecing. Soon, it was like I was not actually making the quilt. It felt like I had help from another source that I could not see. There was literally a light, rush of energy within the room. The pattern looked familiar. When I compared the quilt to the baby quilt my family made, I realized the design was a single Irish chain! I’ve gotten lots of requests to make this quilt. Some people who are actually Irish have said they have never heard of the design and become excited about it. The Quilt in a Day Irish Chain in a Day-Single and Double by Eleanor Burns’s book and DVD are a favorite of mine for obvious reasons! The Irish chain is one of my absolute favorite designs for sentimental reasons. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

 

World Quilt Florida

World Quilt Florida 1 World Quilt Florida 2 World Quilt Florida 3I worked all the way through the holidays for this moment-Thanksgiving eve Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day. While everyone else was enjoying themselves, I was dreaming of World Quilt Florida right after the first of the year. I RAN OUT of Chicago’s Midway Airport just as soon as I could. I dreamed of sugar plum fairies and Pat Yamin’s hand quilting class in my head. It is hard to be a hand quilter these days. People look at you as if you’ve lost your mind OR they have to tell you about the best model of the newest Bernina sewing machine (as if you didn’t know about it already).

I try to take as many hand quilting classes as I can to learn what I didn’t learn from my maternal great grandmother about the craft when she was alive and I was too ignorant to ask the right questions then, so now I have to scramble all over the place learning what I need to learn.

I also took the Intuitive quilting course from Carole Shaw Lyles and learned a lot. The local PBS television station taped everything. I delighted myself with French crepes for lunch. I haven’t had them since high school when I took four years of French classes.

To complete the experience, I sat outside with the Orange County Convention Center’s panther and manatee statues, I just closed my eyes to pretend, imagining what it would be like to eat crepes and do hand quilting in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was a lot cheaper than getting on the place and going to Paris.