Like everyone I know, I cannot stop reading, watching and listening to news about the flood. It’s just so depressing. That’s an understatement. Even the understatement is understating it. Having just read Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” and having just finished (at midnight last night) “Tomorrow Now” by Bruce Sterling and having just read (Bill McKibbon's article) in Grist Magazine, I just…I’m so terrified and disillusioned and resigned and sad about the future of everything. I didn’t realize until I was over forty what a precious and fragile thing CIVILIZATION is. Civilization: I’ve taken it for granted for my whole life. I’m fairly pessimistic about the future of us humans, but I think I was hoping that I would live through the last vestiges of the beginning of the end – I wouldn’t personally see it start to totally unravel. I know it may seem like I’m overreacting. I know that people had the same feelings in the 50s with the bomb and at the beginning of the industrial revolution and probably at the dawn of every new age time and again. I know that I may reread this in the future and sneer at my hysterical negative self. But still, it’s three forty-five in the morning and I cannot sleep. And it’s because I feel so sad about the future of our planet, the future that my daughter will navigate. There’s so many bad signs: a terrible government who wages senseless, needless wars, a government who uses religion to scare people and simultaneously make them more complacent, a government who actively tries to mislead or keep quality education from the masses, environmental disasters, poor planning for the future. We are Easter Island, carving oversized statues – making war with the tribes nearby and cutting down our last tree. What’s next? The Avian flu – some pandemic of some sort? The San Andreas fault ruptures? Oceans rising, millions displaced?
Yesterday, I went to Space.com and watched the little movie taken by the (space probe) headed to Mercury. Watching it was comforting and troubling. We are so small, such a little small blip. We are so teeny and vulnerable. And we aren’t that smart and we’re really violent. I mean, we are creative and lovable and joyous and mad. But oh jeez, calm planning is not our strong suit. Oh god, this all sounds so portentous – I must stop writing this. All these grand “we’s” and “our’s.” What am I, WHO am I to be -- generalizing and philosophizing on such a grand scale? With enough arrogance and authority to actually type it?
But still, this is what I’m thinking about all the time. This is why I cannot sleep tonight.
I am funneling all my anxiety into quilting these days. My friend Julia got me into it. She bought all these old quilts on E-bay and restored some of them. She gave us one that is now on Mulan’s bed. Its all hand stitched, made from feed sacks, and made in the thirties or forties. It’s gorgeous. Then Julia organized this quilting class that I’m taking at the Sewing Arts Center.
Now, our teacher, Russell is a major part of my life. There are three of us women in the class, Val, Maria, Julia and I. We are all nearly the same age, three of us are single, two of us have children. All of us are finding new meaning in life through quilting. (Maria’s not all the way there in her commitment, but I have faith in her.)
I made a small quilt for Mulan’s favorite stuffed animal: a blue-green elephant named Eddie. I am almost done with it. I machine stitched the two-inch blocks and then am hand stitching the quilting. The batting is rather thick and stiff and I have to jab-sew the stitches which makes them awkward and uneven and it’s a chore. But still. I want to do almost nothing else.
In the meantime, I lost my mind and bought almost fifteen quilts on E-bay! I spent over a thousand dollars on quilts and quilt tops. Most were about a hundred dollars apiece. I couldn’t stop myself, I was obsessed. I should have been giving that money to victims. I mean, I DID give money to the International Medical Corps Hurricane Katrina fund, even…almost the same amount that I spent on quilts, but I should have given more. I admit my petty personal obsessions, my lack of total generosity. It seems like the more bad news I hear, the more fearful books I read, the more I need to… to…own handmade quilts made in the thirties! Depression quilts. I like to run my fingers over the hand stitches and imagine the woman who made them. I’ve learned all the names of the patterns: Old Maid’s Puzzle, Grandma’s Flower Garden, Pinwheels, Nine Patch, Irish Chain, Drunkard’s Path, Flying Geese, Bowties, Courtyard Crosses. I dream of buying a nice sewing machine.
Then Julia got a quilt top, an unfinished quilt top that she is finishing for her son: Will. That means that the fabrics were pieced together and sewed, but it has no batting or backing. I kept imagining the woman who made the quilt top – long dead – and now, fifty or sixty years later her quilt top is getting lovingly finished by my friend, Julia. I was so moved by this act. Julia said, “It’s sort of like Mulan, in a way – you’ll never know who her mother was, it’s this unknown person who created this wonderful thing, but you are finishing it.” Maybe this is true, but I find this completing-quilts-started-by-others oddly and yet deeply spiritual. Wow, getting quilt tops and then finishing them! I never knew. I never knew that was even a thing to DO! What was the quilt maker thinking while she stitched? Did her daughters or sons help? How did she decide on this fabric here and that fabric there? Was it even a woman who did it? Was the fabric from dresses that meant something? Or feed sacks long saved? You start to see how some people have an eye for color and fabric combinations and others just don’t.
So, anyway, I now have bought about eight or nine quilt tops! I have two years of quilting to do before I’m done and I have only three beds in my house! What am I doing? I’ve gone batty! Worse, in the end, now that I have eight quilts in my living room and seven or maybe eight more to come, I think I should have just spent that amount of money on two really fantastic quilts. Still, I feel I’ve rescued the quilts I did buy somehow. Some seem like they weren’t appreciated – one has a rip that makes me think it was on a pullout bed and it got caught in the hinges. I will repair it and make it nice. I will make that long dead grandma proud. It’s impossible not to imagine her smiling down on me.
I listen to NPR while I quilt. I broke into tears the other day when I heard about the nursing home – why do I say “the” – I think there were several…where a woman was dead, clutching a piece of paper where she’d written the phone numbers of her next of kin. I couldn’t stop thinking about her – what were her joys in life, what did she create, what did she cook, when did she laugh so hard she couldn’t stop, when did she climb into bed with her parents after a bad dream? Was she a quilter????
Oh jeez, I sound so melodramatic. But I can’t help it. I can’t stop getting teary and even crying when I hear the stories. What a horrible way to die – waters rising, hope receding, a lifetime of thought drowning in mucky, oily, bacteria-filled water. Dogs and cats dying, scratching and whimpering, gulping and gasping, letting it go, stopping the fight for life. The kids trapped in attics. It’s just too much. One guy who drove a helicopter said over half of the three hundred people he participated in rescuing were children. He said that even though he feels he did help save these kids, he knows there were many more times that number out there who didn’t get saved. Who just waited and waited. He described flying by one house and seeing a little hand, a teeny little hand waving from an attic vent. Oh my god, now I am crying again. Jeez. What a disaster! And a gutted Fema run by a republican crony who used to raise Arabian horses and all our manpower trying to secure our rights to oil in the Middle East. And then…it’s oil here too that’s the problem. Those vast streaks of oil. It’s like the oil is our dark side, and now it’s seeping out all over the place. It’s like the old bottle of bourbon hid in the toilet and it broke and now everyone’s just staring at it and it’s all out there in the open and mixed up with our regular old poop. And Bush thinks this is a good time for another tax cut! He wants to make the estate tax permanently gone – a tax that benefits only the rich. We’re making all the classic mistakes. We are not unique – other great powers have descended into dark ages. The way to descend has earmarks: heightened religiosity, greater divisions between rich and poor, it’s a formula and we’re right there on that path. Oh, it’s time to just listen to some music and look at the stars and try to calm down.
Now it’s five a.m. I am going to go watch the Jon Stewart’s I have on TIVO and quilt until Mulan wakes up. Only now I feel almost...tired after writing this. I think maybe I could go back to sleep. I think I am relaxing. Good night. I mean, good morning.
I just listened to This American Life – the flood episode. It’s so sad. We lost total control. And it was totally our fault. There was no big plan. There was no real plan at all. I have absolutely no confidence that our government would protect anybody from and through a big disaster.