March 20th, 2008

Making an Omelette

There are plenty of things I enjoy about sewing. Most of these involve actually stitching things together. The cutting and ironing and pinning and ripping out of faulty seems, I am less enthusiastic about.


But you can’t have one without the others.


I recently started a quilt—my first in a couple of years. (Well—to be fair—they are very big projects!) And I am way excited about it. It’s a maple leaf pattern, with green and gold leaves, and though I went fabric shopping in February, I managed to find a completely perfect autumn leaf fabric for the borders and backing. Despite the hours of cutting and the steamy bouts of ironing I have already undertaken, my enthusiasm remains unflagging.


One of the other things I like about sewing is that when I sit stitching at my machine, my mind drifts free—much the way it does when I’m driving on the freeway. (Do not in any way interpret this as an admission that I am a terrifying driver.) The characters of my YA (unless it’s MG) fantasy manuscript twist themselves into problematic situations, and then together we try to wrestle them free. I work through challenges I’ve encountered in my short stories, and brainstorm query ideas (and sometimes blog entries).


And then sometimes, I go on a philosophical bender.


The most recent one started out as a good ponder about the nature of sewing. I bought yards of a beautiful fabric—picture perfect from the bolt. And what do I do to it? I hack it up into little pieces, and sew it to some other hacked-up picture-perfect fabric, and then I brutalize the seams into delightful flatness, and stitch the blocks to each other, and then sew the resulting rows to other rows, until it looks to me like I am holding nothing more than a collection of tiny rags in my hand. (That’s from the back side, of course. The front side looks very much like a maple leaf.)


From there, I thought about writing. Because isn’t the process very much the same?


In my mind, I have an idea or an issue—connecting with other people, or growing up, or figuring out one’s place in life. I have a character in mind, and a path for that character to walk. And what do I do? I pull that issue apart, and spread it over a couple hundred pages; I break up the character’s path from A to B, strewing it with detours and difficult situations and characters. I withhold information from the reader until I reach a place in the plot where the revelation of that information is going to make the greatest impact.


I chew up the truth, spice it with lies (who is it that said fiction is a lie that tells the truth?) and regurgitate it on the page, configuration completely altered—but more beautiful, hopefully, more meaningful to the person who reads it, just as my little quilt blocks are more intricate or interesting than a piece of plain fabric on the bolt.


And what of cooking? We take blocks of perfect baking chocolate and melt them, mix them with milk or butter or flavored extracts, and then combine them with dry ingredients for cookies or apply them to a cake. We chop up perfect vegetables and sauté them with spices, or add them to stews, or mix them in a salad. And painting—all those tubes of glorious color, squeezed out onto a palette, combined with other colors to make still new colors.


I still don’t like cutting or ironing—just as I don’t thrill to outlining a plot, or rewriting wonky manuscripts. But you can’t have a quilt without chopping and pressing, and you can’t have a perfect story (or nearly perfect, anyway) without preparation and revision. Dang it.

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