The Love We Need Right Now

 

Searching for those Small Acts

The last several weeks have been hard. I’ve limited my social media time, and limited my news-watching time. There’s an awful lot that feels like it’s spinning out of control, and there’s a lot happening in the world to feel angry about. Some days I feel overwhelmed, like the anger isn’t on the fringes any more, and it’s lodged itself inside me like a parasite. I’ve always tried to see the good in the world—the beauty and the love—but some days it feels like that’s getting harder and harder to do.

But you know what? I have to look for the good: the beauty, the compassion, the love. Otherwise, I think I’d just give up.

It’s hard to find it sometimes, but it’s still there. Sometimes I have to scroll through a lot of garbage on my Facebook or Twitter feed to find it. Sometimes I realize I’ve spent a half an hour scrolling through posts that are making my cheeks burn with rage, but then I land on a post about a kid doing some awesome, like this one, who wrote a letter to her mail carrier and it sparked boxes and boxes of letters of gratitude and love that circled the world. And then I’m glad that I waded through all the nonsense, because it was worth it to find that gem. (That feels like the pattern on a lot of days, but in the end, i keep telling myself that those moments, the ones that make my heart swell, they’re worth the struggle to find them. They make it easier to find more like them, and they make me look harder for the good in the world and less likely to dwell on the horrible. Because let’s face it—if we want to have less horrible, we have to all be better together.)

It’s times like this that I have to surround myself with love stories—all different kinds, not just the romantic ones—because they’re out there, even though on some days it feels like they’re buried deep. It’s not hard to be good to each other. It’s not hard to be kind, to tell someone thank you, or to let someone know—even a stranger—that you appreciate them, that you care. That their story matters, too.

I strongly believe that we all just want to be loved, and valued, and appreciated. And sometimes, the world is moving so fast, with all of its complicated moving parts, that we forget to stop for a moment to connect with each other. We get so caught up in our deadlines, our work, and our own personal battles that we forget to stop for a second, and say “thank you” or “I love you” to that person in our life who really needs to hear it. And the thing is, you don’t always know who it is who needs to hear it—so why not give these words freely? It certainly doesn’t cost us anything. That’s why I’ll continue to sew masks and ship them to folks who I’ll likely never meet. It’s why I’ll keep hand-writing notes to people who buy a simple greeting card in my Etsy shop. It’s why I’ll keep shouting “Thank, you, we appreciate it!” to the FedEx and UPS carriers when they scurry up the walk to leave a package at the door. Because sometimes we have to slow down long enough to show some love. And if this time is encouraging us to do anything, it’s that.

Need a Good Love Story to Inspire You?

Some days I have to give up on being productive. And that’s ok. We can’t be productive all the time, and we can’t expect ourselves to be “normal” during a time like this. Some days feel like a roller coaster of emotions in my house, and I know I’m not alone in that. Some days, I need something to inspire me to focus on the good, to keep looking for the beauty out there. So where do I find these things? I’m one of those folks who turns to books and movies pretty often to get inspired and sucked into a good story. Here are a few I’ve found recently that have given me a good dose of dopamine, and hope. If you want to escape for a little while, check them out.

  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). A sweet, funny, heartfelt coming of age story directed by Stephen Chbosky, based on Chbosky’s 1999 novel of the same name. Stars Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, and Paul Rudd. I can’t believe it took me so long to watch this movie, but it was fantastic. On Netflix.
  2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016). A fabulous comedy-drama written and directed by Taika Waititi (you’ll know that name from Jojo Rabbit), whose screenplay was based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. I laughed. I cried. I felt hope again. It’s on Netflix.
  3. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. It had me at this excerpt: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” asked the mole. “Kind,” said the boy. A friend posted photos of the illustrated pages each day, and I had to get a copy of my own. I’m so glad that I did. Not only are the words beautiful, but the 100+ illustrations are, too.
  4. Night on Earth (2020, Netflix). A pretty amazing documentary that uses special cameras to get crystal-clear video of what happens on this planet at night. Fair warning: it’s addictive.
  5. Upworthy.com. It’s a good antidote to the other daily news. They delight in sharing the good, the kind, and the heartwarming.
  6. Never Have I Ever (2020, Netflix). Created by Mindy Kaling, this series reminds me a little of Freaks and Geeks, and has all the feels: heartwarming, funny, and smart. I’m trying not to binge-watch.
  7. After Life (2019, Netflix). Hands down, the best thing I’ve seen Ricky Gervais in. It makes me laugh, and cry, and laugh again. It’s the story of a crotchety widower who’s learning how to keep going, and keep looking for the good in spite of losing his love. Season Two just started.
  8. I also follow illustrator and all-around inspiring person Emily McDowell on Instagram. If you like things that will warm your creative spirit, you should, too.

 

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Sewing was Practical; Now it’s an Act of Love

My sewing station, aka the living room.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been sewing fabric masks. This is not something I ever expected I’d do in my lifetime, but here I am, buying up fabric and spending my free time sewing pleats and curves, and trying not to stitch my fingers together. At first, I thought having all of this time at home would mean lots of time to say, write my next book. But you know what? I can’t concentrate on writing. I can’t even think about a book right now. What I can focus on is trying to do something useful. Practical. Beneficial to someone else.

Then: A Corduroy Alligator

Years ago, my mom taught me how to sew. Just like my grandmother taught her when she was a girl. Over the years, I fumbled my way through a few dresses, some skirts, some tote bags—nothing too fancy. My skills were limited. (I vaguely remember my high school Home Ec class, in which I sewed a wonky apron, a quilt square, and a tie snake with buttons for eyes.) In my thirties, I took a quilting class and made a pretty awesome wall hanging that has the most crooked seams you ever saw (remember Frankenstein’s monster? That’s the kind os seams we’re talking about here). As it turns out, I’m better at making “artsy” things, where it doesn’t matter if the seams are straight and there is no need for things like darts and gathers and zippers.

My mom and my grandma both sewed partly out of necessity, partly out of practicality, but mostly out of love. My mom made most of the dresses she wore in high school and college (and she’d kept some, which she showed me once, and nearly caused my head to explode). She used to wait for patterns the way we wait for a new album to drop. When I was a kid, she made clothes for me, too. (I didn’t always like them, of course, but in retrospect, the fact that she made things like pants and blouses is seriously amazing to me.) But the coolest thing she ever made for me was an alligator costume made out of green corduroy one Halloween. (I think I was about 8, and I’d give almost anything to have that costume now.) It was two shades of green, and she used a sharpie to draw on the scales, and I thought it was the most awesome thing I’d ever seen. And I kinda wanted to wear it all the time.

My grandma did the same thing. She made her own clothes, and like my mother’s, you couldn’t tell they didn’t come off a clothing store rack. That is to say, the seams were perfect and the clothes fit their owner like a glove. My grandmother sewed my mother’s wedding gown, and her veil. It’s still hanging in my parents’ attic, and I’m still amazed every time I see it.

My granny sewed too—what I remember most is the quilts she made for everyone in the family (and y’all, we had a big family so this lady was BUSY). She was always trying out new quilting patterns, and I remember finding her quilt frame set up in a spare bedroom once—I was baffled by the contraption, and couldn’t wrap my head around how she used it. But when she presented me with a finished patchwork quilt, it was magical. To this day, I feel like a part of her is with me in that quilt.

In my family, the ladies sewed partly because they didn’t have the luxury of buying in a store. But really, they sewed out of love. Because we make handmade things for the people we care deeply about. We hunt down the right materials (the ones that suit them just perfectly), and we take our time to learn the pattern or create one especially for them. Then we take our time in making this thing, and we fill it with love because we’re thinking about that person the whole time we’re making it, imagining their face when they see it, how they’ll use it, how it might make them happy, how they’ll always have this part of us with them.

All those years ago, when my mom taught me to sew, I just thought maybe I’d make some cool dresses. Maybe a quilt. I never thought that I’d be sewing hospital-style masks, hoping that it might protect someone, or save a life. Sewing was just this novel thing for me, but now it’s something entirely different.

Now: A Different Way to Show You Care

Now, as I’m sewing these masks, I’m thinking of the doctors who have treated me over the years, the nurses who cared for my family members every time they were admitted into a hospital; the nurses who cared for my mother and grandmother as they were dying of cancer; the therapists who helped my grandfather; the caregivers who showed such kindness and compassion to my family members (and remember, we were a big family, so that was a LOT). And that’s just my tiny window of experience: if you take those people and multiply their number by ten thousand, or a hundred thousand, or a million, then you approach the number of health care workers who are on the front lines—right now, today—fighting to keep us alive. And that’s not even touching the all of the others out there protecting us—because there are so many of them, in so many professions, going to work every day to help someone else, and hoping they don’t come home and infect their loved ones.

So now I’m re-learning all the tricks my mom taught me (a piecing chain, making bias tape, clipping the curves). I’ve watched tutorials, I’ve joined some groups, and I’m still struggling to sew straight seams, but I’m getting better. I bought fabric online, on sale, and I’m fortunate to have a little money that I can spend on cloth, elastic, and thread that won’t melt at high temperatures. I’m extremely lucky that I can work from home, and stay safe and isolated, and sew for a few hours when my regular work is finished for the day. I don’t have kiddos that depend on me for care, and so I have this luxury of a little extra time to spend on something else that is deeply personal—and some days feels like a tiny drop in the bucket, but still feels like the one thing that I can do to say thank you to some folks taking care of all of us, and pay it forward—just a little.

My little sewing machine has seen more action in the last three weeks than it’s seen in the last twenty years. Partly, I’m sewing out of practicality, but mostly it’s out of love. And gratitude. And hope that we can all have a little more compassion for everyone around us, and do our part to protect each other.

Because it’s up to us. We’re in this together.

***

>> If you’d like to sew some masks to donate to hospitals or clinics, check out Relief Crafters of America, where you can get patterns, tutorials, and information about shipping your finished masks to folks who will send them to areas that need them the most urgently. (Different groups have different patterns that hospitals have requested, so be sure to get that info before you start sewing.) There’s also Sew. Some. Good. based out of Greenville, SC and the Carolina Mask Project. And these are just a few that I’ve joined—there are tons of groups out there you can join, and if you don’t sew, you can donate fabric or supplies. Every bit helps. Every way that you help matters.

>> If you want to make a mask for yourself, or for your friends and family members (because yes, we should all be wearing one if we have to go out in public—it protects you, but also everyone around you), then check out these two easy tutorials for a pleated design and a curved design with a pocket for an additional filter. Here’s another with fabric ties instead of elastic.

Let’s Make Art Together

Like many of you, I’m feeling a bit lost right now. I’m holed up at home, grateful to be here with someone I love. I’m able to work from home a little. I’m also making more time for art every day, because it’s fun, and it’s calming. I’m fortunate to be part of a really amazing Facebook group where lots of artists have gathered for an online course, and the support there is truly incredible. (If you’re curious, check out Lilla Rogers’ MATS website, where she’s got some amazing classes. And some freebies.)

This is a hard time for everyone. It’s a time when we need to stick together, and be good to each other, and care for our community. It’s also a time when we need to reach out to one another, and be there for each other, and know that we have a support system.

I feel like I’m not in a position to do much, but here’s what I can do. I’m drawing every day, and I’m sharing some coloring pages that you can download, for free, every day that I can. (I’ll shoot for every day, but I might miss my deadline now and then. Life’s a little bananas right now. But I’ll do my best.)

Click here to download your first bird pages.

Each day, I’ll post new coloring pages on a special webpage on my site. I’m also going to post updates and other useful links over on my Facebook page. (It’s my artist page, not my personal one.) I’d love to use that page as a creative space where we can talk about the fun, inspiring, creative things we’re doing and making with each other in the coming weeks. (Did you color a page? Share it! Did you find a link to an awesome learning tool for kiddos? Share it there. And come say hi–I’d love to hear from you.)

I know some of y’all are looking for fun, free activities for your kids (and for you, too!) to keep calm and have a little normalcy right now. I’ve been seeing some great resources in the last couple of days, like virtual tours of museums, free art museum coloring books you can download, and even celebrities reading our favorite books. I’ll post those things on my Facebook page, and you can post what you find, too. I’d love to use that page as a place where we can share resources, talk about creative things, and support each other.

The next few months might be really, really hard. Harder for some of us than others. We might be in isolation for a little while, but we don’t have to be alone. Come check out my page, and let’s make the most of this together.

🦊  🌿  🦊  🌿  🦊

SEPTEMBER UPDATE: Thanks so much for visiting here! I’ve left the first free download to coloring pages in the link above. After lots of drawing, and lots of free downloads, I’ve collected my favorite 10 pages into a bundle that you can purchase over on my Etsy page. I’ve also added some other fun downloads there, like color-it-yourself birthday cards that you can print yourself, and some colorful Zoom backgrounds, and some cute illustrated letters about animals and their weird little habits. Your interest here inspired me to keep drawing through a really difficult time, and inspired me to design more greeting cards and make more prints (I had not done that in a while—sigh…). I’m so grateful for all of you who visited here, and popped over to my Etsy shop, and bought cards and other pieces of art to support my small business. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 💗

Carving Out More Time for Art

It’s been a while since I wrote a post. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, and in a funk. I’d spiraled down to that place where I walk around in my slippers muttering (or hollering), “Why do I DO THIS? Why do I bother with ANY of this?!”

This = write books, paint birds, make art.

We have those days, we creative people. I know I’m not alone in this. But it still sucks. Sometimes it feels like you’re just shouting into a void, posting photos on social media and checking to see if anyone saw them; checking traffic in your Etsy shop to see if anyone is looking; following your Amazon author page to see if anyone else has discovered your book and (GASP) perhaps written a nice review to give you a nice, “Atta girl.”

But there are lots of days where it feels like shouting into a void. And if you’re an introvert like me, doing things like “being active on social media” is pretty dang hard—or at least, it’s hard to do it in an authentic way that is more fun than walking over hot coals.

So here’s what I decided: I needed a new creative outlet, and I needed to make more things. I needed to get my hands dirty. I was frustrated with painting, and I was damned tired of staring at a computer screen. (Spoiler alert: I write novels in my “free time.” My day job, graphic design, consists of me staring at a computer screen all day. I started having headaches recently, and felt like my eyes were going to actually fall out of their sockets. When I took some time to think about how many hours a week I was staring into a computer screen, I kinda had a fit.

Ergo, the tantrum in the fuzzy slippers.

SO. I decided to sign up for a pottery class down the road at our community college. Y’all, I hadn’t made a piece of pottery in somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 years. I pretty much sucked at it back in the day, but it was fun. And since then, I’ve seen some other artists making some awfully cool things (just check out #ceramicartists on Instagram, and you’ll see) and I found myself thinking, “Hey, I could do something like that. Maybe.”

So I did it. I signed up for a pottery class. And I tried to throw on the wheel again, and it was an absolute fail. I made awful pots. (And ok, “pots” is being generous.) I smushed them and made some other things instead, like birds that started out looking like sweet potatoes.

Then I took another class, with a teacher who was really great. He’s like this blend of Yoda and Bob Ross and Dorothy Parker. I made some crappy stuff, but it it felt great to be building something with my hands, even if no one outside that classroom would ever see it.

And then something cool happened. I took the things I loved about carving woodblocks, and took my sometimes snarky sense of humor, and just started making some things that made me laugh. Like these bonzai/succulent pots:

And since the wheel is not my friend, I kept hand-building things, including a couple of cups. (There’s this shape I really like, but these aren’t quite it. I bought a cup when I was in the Outer Banks that the potter said was the same shape as the cups that were on Blackeard’s ship. Obviously this cup was decorated with Blackbeard’s insignia and was super cool, which is why I bought one—but the shape is perfect for your hand, with a slight taper at the top. I have yet to replicate it, but I will continue to try.)

These cups are my most recent: they will be perfect for holding coffee. Or wine.

I first saw this sgraffito technique years ago, done by artist Kathy King, who is a total badass and one you should google immediately. I thought her work was amazing, and thought, “Maybe someday I’ll try that with clay.” And then I forgot about that, for a long while. I did other things, like day jobs, and got lost in this space where I thought I didn’t have time for art.

But here’s the thing: that’s always our excuse. “I don’t have time.” And it feels 100% true when we say it, like the world is closing in, and we’re juggling all these balls and they’re about to come crashing down and boy it’s going to be hell to pay when they do. But really, you have to create time for what’s important to you. It’s more like what author Nora Roberts said at a reading: “Some balls are made of plastic, and some are made of glass. If a plastic one drops, it bounces; if a glass one drops, it shatters.” The key, she said, was to know which balls were which, so you can prioritize. And that’s what it’s like when you try to make time for all the things you love. After lots of jobs and shifting priorities, I’ve learned that my life is better when there’s more art in it. That’s a priority I can’t drop.

So when I got this wild hair a few weeks ago, and wanted to try ceramics again, I decided I would not fire these things in the kiln unless they (a) were useful or (b) made me smile. I didn’t want a whole bunch of ceramic tragedies sitting around my house or being tossed into the garbage. I would kill darlings, and it would be a good thing.

So here we are. My hands are dirty. They ache a little, but that’s ok. My eyes hurt less, because I am spending fewer hours staring into a blinding computer screen. I’ve experimented. I’ve made birds and smushed them, failed and failed better. I made a few pieces that I liked, some that might be gifts. I gave myself permission to play, and to just enjoy making things again, and it feels incredible. I feel more creative, and more inspired, and less like a person slogging through her work week. I have something new to look forward to, and am carving out more time each day to make things. Sometimes it’s just an hour, and that’s ok. I’m putting less pressure on myself these days—and that’s part of the balance, too.