I’ve started a new quilt. It’s an avoidance tactic. Whenever the list of things I need to do becomes longer than my arm, I usually wind up in my sewing room closet, picking fabrics and combining them and deciding on patterns. Dusting off my 50-year-old Singer. And creating something solid and tangible out of what appears to be nothing if I don’t look at it too hard. My twenty-year-old fabric stash (that’s how long I’ve been collecting fabric, not how old all my fabric is) enhances that particular optical delusion, as my father used to say. Never mind that I’ve probably spent several thousand dollars collecting it over the years. It’s nothing, really.
That’s how I feel about writing fiction sometimes, too. As if I’m creating something out of nothing, as if the lifetime of experience gathering and imagination sits in my brain as magically as the fabric appeared in my closet. Writing used to be an escape, too. Until the moment I sent out my first query and began to hunt for an audience for the stories I have to tell, it was a joy, an act of creation, something full of potential that others would see as having value. The tangible result of my existence, a legacy to leave behind.
But you see, I can call myself a quilter. I’ve been quilting for almost half my life. I’ve never sold a quilt, although I’ve bartered a couple. As a matter of fact, I’m trading the wallhanging I started piecing yesterday for a hand-knitted sweater with an internet friend halfway across the world. But that isn’t necessary to the purpose of being a quilter, or to claiming that part of who I am.
I’ve been writing for at least half as long again as I’ve been quilting. I started writing fiction not long after I started writing, period. I have completed seven novels in the last fifteen years alone. But it was the moment when I began the effort to find an audience for my stories that I realized I could not be an author without being read. That in fact I have very little control over whether I will ever be able to claim that title, at least in a traditional context. That all I can do is keep trying to find an audience, in whatever way possible, no matter how frustrated I get.
And that’s why writing is something I have begun to use quilting to escape from.
Because I am a quilter, even if I’m the only one who ever sleeps under my creations.