11 May

The Uncomfortable Zone

The quilt I’m working on right now has got me out of my comfort zone, and not in a way I expected. The long story:

In 2003 (or maybe early ’04) when my hubby returned from war, we marked the event by getting tattoos. Cliché yes, but we did it. His is army related, mine’s just pretty. Knowing he’d eventually deploy again, I naturally wondered if we’d get more tattoos. I figured that I’d go more literal the next time and get a simple “War Sucks.” Straightforward and pretty much applies to all wars, and to all sides.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when a quilted version of the statement came to me (probably in the shower — it’s where I get most of my ideas. I am a walking cliché.). I started piecing bits and scraps together . When my mom came to visit, she asked about the depressing, fractured, army -related bits in progress on the design wall door. When I explained my concept she confirmed that she was getting exactly that vibe from my preliminary patches.

This week I was working on the words. I used my computer to “set type” and create templates for each letter. At the same time I was packing up a care package for Mr. Incredible. My daughter asked if she could make something for daddy on the computer using words and “paint.” Sure. I got her started in Photoshop and showed her the text tool (she’s already pretty proficient with the paintbrush, lasso, and eraser tools) and left her to her own devices while I continued my momentum on the quilt. When I returned to check on her, she’d written “war sucks” in some nice typefaces and bold colors. I gently told her that the quilt I was working on was for me, so I only needed to worry about what I thought of it, but if she was making a picture for daddy she needed to think about how he’d feel and he probably didn’t want the message “war sucks” while he’s sitting in the middle of it. She was understandably upset and ultimately lost interest in the project all together. In retrospect, I realized that she was picking up on my playing with typography and I probably should have stopped what I was doing and sat down with her to find more appropriate words to use so she could enjoy the process as well.

The episode got me thinking. Should I be working on art like this with impressionable kids around? Should I not deal with sensitive issues at this point in my journey? Should I sequester the art so the kids don’t see it? Should I let them see it and just use it as a talking point? (They’ve already seen boobies and a vagina in my 12×12 pieces, and either didn’t get it [the latter], or didn’t care [the former].) I also realized at that point that I would not be taking this quilt to “Show and Tell” at the Hawai’i Quilt Guild. It would fall under the umbrella of dinner party subjects not to be brought up in polite company.

These are concerns I have never had to worry about with my pretty little houses and German landscapes. I’ve never been much of a “statement” person. While I have very strong opinions, I generally keep them to myself and a small group of friends and family (and kick myself on the occasions when I’ve let someone push my buttons at a party or other gathering). In general my public voice and my art hope to be more diplomatic and universal, or at least more subtle in their subversity. I wonder if people who regularly make bold statements with their art have moved beyond the squirmy phase I’m feeling now, or if part of the excitement of making the art is knowing it will bring viewers’ reactions to the surface. I don’t know if I’ll be making more protest quilts or not, but right now, I’m actually looking forward to returning to the nice acceptable roots and houses in my queue.

16 thoughts on “The Uncomfortable Zone

  1. My 2 cents: I think it will be a powerful piece, especially since you are affected by the war first hand. It would be a shame to hide it away, but I also understand why you might be inclined to do so. You might explain to the kids about journaling and using the journal to express one’s feelings via words/pictures. Also explain how this art work is like a big journal that you are using to express yourself and your feelings towards war. By including them, encouraging them to journal their feelings, and talking about how they feel could lead to some ah ha’s for all of you. Challenging yourself into a new area usually produces the squirmy feeling, but that is how you grow! (I am great at giving advice, not so good at following it my self!) Wishing you a creative week. Cheers.

  2. I am of the camp that sensitive subjects should not be hidden away from children, but addressed head on in terms they can understand. It’s not like this is something truly inappropriate, but a strong opinion on something that affects your entire family and thousands of families around the world. It seems like an excellent opportunity to teach them outlets for their anger, worries and fear that are healthful and safe instead of self destructive. I say run with it.

  3. I first thought is that my Stephanie because I totally agree with her. I never sheltered my kids and now they are great independent thinkers. They are not going to get this any place else. Public schools are too pc.

    Can’t wait to see that quilt.

  4. You’ll be happy to know that my questions about the kids were largely rhetorical and I have continued to work on the quilt out in the open at home. I do really like Jeannie’s connection between journal and quilt though. I’ll have to present them with that.

    My main reason for posting is the odd experience of being caught outside my comfort zone by creating something that brings up these kinds of questions. I can answer the ones at home, but it’s very different for me to consider hiding my art away from the general public. I’m used to forging ahead without a care in the world, and now I’m finding myself thinking, “hmm, this might offend XYZ…”

  5. And yet… you put it all out here on your public blog that is read by hundreds of people. You shared a peek at the dark quilt. You share parenting regrets and successes. You share personal losses and gains. I think it is fascinating that you (and I) have found a forum to cut all the small talk and preconceptions and expose ourselves in a way that feels comfortable. Though you might not bring the quilt to your local guild or freely discuss your family situation in passing with neighbors, it feels just right on the blog. People who read my blog know me better than some people I go out to lunch with regularly. I suppose you might say the same.

    I know that’s not really what this post was about… but it’s what came through for me.

    Of course, I love the snippets of text on the quilt. I’d love to see more.

  6. Truer words were never spoken with regard to war. It might be wise for your daughter to sit down with her and do another topic using the method she came up with so that she will be encouraged to keep that part of her creativity going.

  7. And, for the record, war does suck. The trick seems to be in finding agreement on just what that word means (war, not suck).

    And did you cut up one of my (serviceable!) army combat uniforms?

  8. Sometimes when you pick a topic close to your heart your work is bound to make a statement, and war as a topic is always going to be very intense.

    Even the small section of the quilt you showed looks amazing – I’d love to see more of it. Think it’s going to be a very fascinating piece…

  9. Because war affects you in a way that is hardly ever discussed – at least in Germany – I think you get to communicate about it in a manner that suits you, for example through your quilting. In fact, I think it is important for you and other soldier families to do so because as society in general we need to be a lot more attentive in terms of what we can do for the service men and women who give large chunks of their lives, if not all, for a cause that concerns us all.

    As for feelings and challenges, I think it is important to address them with our children. They will notice anyway and by addressing them in an appropriate manner, a family has the chance to grow together. Sharing shows our children the respect and trust they are due and will hopefully encourage them to follow our example as they grow older. That is my hope, that by sharing I can set an example of how to tackle challenges and I can build a foundation from which they feel confident as they grow up.

    Thank you for bringing up this interesting and universal topic. I’m hoping that TWGHATS (is that the right acronym?) will return safely and as unharmed as possible! Until he does so, I will keep you all in my thoughts!

    I’m also very interested in seeing your quilt.

  10. Here is my two cents… The trick about the kids is you have to find what works for YOUR family. In my family I would sequester (and do) sensitive subjects because K is too young and G is VERY sensitive to those matters. I am sure he hears me talk about them when I am on the phone though – I do try to not talk about certain things when they are within earshot. For my family this works. It probably does not for yours.

    As far as taking it to the guild… some would get it, some won’t. I do know – our bee would definitely get it and understand (and we love your work!)

  11. Looks like you are doing what you must do–express yourself through your art. It is possible that K seconds your sentiments. I see it as a defense against the “unraveling” that would take place if you didn’t have this outlet. I think it is ironic that you are cutting up the combat uniforms. If we all did that would soldiers still be able to go off to fight? I prefer the expression on fabric to skin, but I’m a mom.

  12. isn´t that what art is meant to be? Bringing the inside out?
    It sounds like a fantastic project to me and cutting up uniforms and reusing them is a great idea!

  13. I am a daughter of a career military man who served in Korea and Vietnam, and I went through high school and college during the Vietnam War. Just because we have strong feelings against war doesn’t mean that we don’t support our country or the people in uniform. While I was a teenager I was encouraged to understand the war protests and to come to my own opinions (and actions) on them. Communicating with my parents about how they felt about the Vietnam War also helped me formulate my opinions. I suspect that you have a need to express the feelings in this quilt right now, and you are voicing them in the medium that you know best. If your children want to discuss this quilt and your feelings with you, it may be that they are at a place where they want to understand and form their own opinions on this subject.

  14. Go on Kristin, you don’t have to show the piece to anyone (not yet), but you obviously have to let it out. This is what making ART is about. You only do it for yourself!!!!!! Making art is not about having fun, it’s about struggle.
    No problem making pretty stuff next to it too. You need a safe zone too, to get a rest, and just have fun.
    I am very impressed by what is happening!!
    love, Mirjam

  15. I appreciate you sharing your deep thoughts here…my youngest is 17 and at this point I’ve learned to forgive myself with the knowledge that whatever I did right or wrong as a parent (the verdict is long way off) I did with the sincerest integrity I could muster at any given moment.

  16. I love the way your strong opinions are coming out in this quilt… it is quite different from your “pretty” work, although those are just as strong. There is no reason why these very different expression can’t coexist.. and now I wonder if one day i express my strong opinions in my art, will my children notice? will anyone notice?
    keep going!

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