de(tales): word quilt
Jamie and I have known each other online for some time. She is a gifted writer, a truth-teller, and a fierce defender of those she loves. I hope you enjoy this de(tale) about honoring every part of her, even the shabby bits.
I have always been fond of the arts in all varieties; they are part of my identity. As a child, my sisters and I put on many plays for our parents. It took a lot of imagination to put together story, costumes, scenery and props in our small family basement; and we loved every minute of it. Then, in my early twenties, I participated in a small college stage production. I played an old storytelling pioneer woman named Sarah, as well as a few other roles switched around improv-style.
The play was a musical titled Quilters. It portrays a patchwork of stories pieced together to form a picture of authentic pioneer life for women in North America, and how the art of quilting gave them hope and purpose to carry on through the hardships.
It was an eye-opening event for me: immersing myself in tales of tragedy, triumph, faith and family. Many of these stories are of women who experienced heart-rending loss and other facets of their harsh reality, yet they found their peace in the daily labor of quilt-making. It was their coping tool, and the glue that held their community together. It was part of their identity. I’m sure it was no coincidence they referred to their finished product as a “comfort.”
I identify with these women as I, too, need a daily anchor to keep my emotional health intact. But in this season of life, quilting is not the answer. In fact, it has been many years since I picked up a needle-and-thread to craft a quilt for my first baby. I took my sweet time, and my grandmother had to finish it since I went into labor sooner than expected. As a mom to a newborn, quilt-making was no longer a priority.
The nine years following my fling with quilting have been consumed with parenting. For a while, I had no time for myself, and in consequence felt like I had lost my identity. I was feeling disconnected from past and purpose, and I was anxious about the future: was there space for me and my dreams? One Saturday, I was having a particularly desperate moment where it seemed like a good idea to hide from my family inside the hall closet. It’s a walk-in, and not the least bit soundproof. But it still felt like stepping away from the stress.
I decided to pull out a box of keepsakes in an attempt to regain that feeling of personal identity carried in my memories. As I fingered the jagged edges and scraps of ephemera from my past, I felt more at peace with my present. I found an old newsletter in which my words were published for the very first time as a cover article. I had forgotten all about it. I read through and saw the girl I used to be held in tension with the growth I had experienced since that time. I highlighted words that were especially meaningful to me; words that reminded me how much I mattered regardless of where I ended up in life. I cut out the highlighted words and placed them together, and they read like a poem. Finding these old pieces of myself and putting them together in new ways reminded me of The Quilters and how they did much the same thing with the many pieces of fabric infused with their memories.
Sitting there in the closet surrounded by various boxes of valuable clutter, I turned to the concept of piecing words like one would piece a quilt. Blending together elements of old to make a beautiful new. I see quilting as a timeless picture of life, made up of tiny scraps of moments and memories; little stories in the big picture. It is the same with found poetry, which is the name given to piecing cut-out words together to create a new story through imagery.
Inside a quilt nothing is wasted. There is room even for the worn or the ugly. Each piece is a part of the quilt’s identity. Nothing is too shabby to be redeemed. It is all made into a colorful collage of personal history. In found poetry, I have uncovered a new kind of art to appreciate: the art of rediscovery.
The quilters made each story of their lives into a piece of art they could view every day. Why not do the same with printed words? Among the boxes of old letters, journals, and articles about my past, there are stories and prayers waiting to be pieced together into poems. I may have lost touch with identity for a time, yes. But I am reclaiming it, piece by piece, while adding new stories to the picture. I have a whole journal designated for this now. Instead of keeping all my memories collecting dust in boxes, I am putting them to good use by creating personally meaningful art. I look forward to rediscovering myself again and again through found poetry: the quilting of words.
Jamie values connection, energy, empathy, freedom, and happiness. She believes in the lifelong pursuit of dreams, and will write her heart out to that end. Flowers delight her and trees are her people. She’d love to bond with you over tea and pie, and awkward jokes. You’ll find her writing her heart out at jamiewrightbagley.com, and @jamiebrightley on Twitter.
You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.