December 2014

Orange Twist, Jean Stamsta (1970)

This past weekend, I went with friends to see an exhibit of fiber art at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Whereas the quilts we’d seen at the Museum of Fine Arts this past summer were two-dimensional, hanging like tapestries on the gallery walls, the woven, stitched, and crocheted works currently on display at the ICA are billed as sculpture, a medium that exists in all three dimensions.

Elsi Giauque, Élément spatial (Spatial Element), 1979.

Sculptures are inherently pedestrian, inviting viewers to walk around and view them from multiple angles. Whereas a painting has only one good side, sculptures have many. Most sculptures are solid and substantial things, their shadows being the only part of them that potentially moves. But fiber sculptures are knitted from the negative space between individual strands, and this gives them an opacity that solid sculptures lack. Looking at a woven work, you’re simultaneously looking through it, your fellow museum visitors becoming part of the piece as they stroll past or linger to look.

Françoise Grossen, Inchworm, 1971.

Whenever I linger to look at fiber art, I experience two complementary impulses. The first is an almost irresistible urge to touch the piece, using my fingertips to read its texture like braille. To me, textiles are inherently tactile, so there is something inexplicably cruel about an exhibit that asks you to admire fiber sculptures with your eyes alone. The second impulse I experience when viewing sewn, knitted, or woven works is the urge to make my own. If curators won’t let me touch what others have made, then the only way to satisfy my eager fingers is to keep them busy with work of their own.

Ernesto Neto, SoundWay, 2012.

I never learned how to knit, but I was a crafty kid during the heyday of both macrame and latch-hooking, and in college a roommate taught me how to cross-stitch. In each case, I enjoyed the calming repetition of each individual knot or stitch following the next: a meditative monotony I practiced long before I knew what meditation was. It’s been years since I’ve either knotted or stitched: whenever I’m tempted to begin again, I remember all the projects I started but never finished, my interest in textile arts focused more on the process than the finished product.

Hooked and Twisted

When I started cross-stitching in college, I’d often do it while watching TV with my roommates, the predictable parade of one stitch following another fitting nicely with the desultory conversation that good friends enjoy over an interesting show. I particularly remember cross-stitching while watching CNN at the start of the First Gulf War, my roommates and I having friends and classmates who had been called up to serve mid-semester. It felt like our civic duty to watch the news even though there was nothing tangible we could do to help, and cross-stitching gave our nervous hands something to do that felt productive.

Xenobia Bailey, Sistah Paradise’s Great Wall of Fire Revival Tent, 1993.

These days I read during the hour or so I spend after taking the beagle out and getting settled for the night. While J readies dinner, I read with the TV in the background, the sounds of sports or news serving as a sonic backdrop. I could, in theory, spend this time knotting or stitching, but for the time being I enjoy reading, my particular talents leaning more toward texts than textiles. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate fiber arts with the vicarious joy of someone who can remember herself doing something similar.

Click here for Leslee’s account of our trip to the ICA. If you’re in the Boston area, this week is your last chance to see Fiber: Sculpture 1960-Present, which is on display at the ICA until January 4. Enjoy!

Teddy bears' interview

Last night, I gave consulting interviews at the Cambridge Zen Center: a chance for practitioners to have a one-on-one conversation with a senior teacher.

Teddy bears' interview

One of the best bits of advice I ever got about giving consulting interviews came from Zen Master Bon Haeng (aka Mark Houghton), who sat next to me the first time I gave a round of interviews. Consulting interviews, he explained, aren’t about answering questions; consulting interviews are about sharing an experience with the person sitting across from you.

I think of Zen Master Mark’s advice whenever I ring the interview room bell to signal the next person to come in and sit down. If consulting interviews were about answering questions, I’d have to worry about knowing enough to say the right thing. But since consulting interviews are about sharing an experience, I don’t have to know anything to give a good interview: I just have to show up, sit down, and be present for whatever arises.

Zen Master bear with Zen stick

These three guidelines–show up, sit down, and be present–are the same whether you sit in the teacher’s or the student’s seat: these three guidelines, in fact, apply to pretty much any face-to-face encounter. And as if to underscore that point, last night when I walked into interview room, I found it was already occupied by two plump teddy bears sharing a face-to-face experience that transcended human words.

Snow on oak trees

Last night I (finally) ordered the 2015 photo calendars I give to friends and family for Christmas. Although I typically don’t get around to mailing out calendars until after Christmas, I enjoy putting them together each year, as it gives me an excuse to review the photos I’ve taken over the previous twelve months.


This year, I chose my calendar photos by scrolling through my Flickr photostream while watching TV, bookmarking my favorite photos and then going back and choosing the thirteen I liked best: one photo for each month, plus a cover. Some years I go with a theme–in 2013, for instance, all my calendar photos came from a single visit to Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens–but most years I try to include a variety of seasonal images: snow in winter, changing leaves in fall, and plenty of flowers in spring and summer.

Sunny idyll

The past few years, I’ve struggled to find eye-popping snow shots for December, January, and February: this year, we’ve barely had any snow in December, and when we did get snow this past January and February, I didn’t take many calendar-worthy photos, just the requisite cellphone shots of our buried backyard. But I did ultimately choose a shot of snowy oak trees for January, a snow-frosted blue spruce for February, and the Quincy Market Christmas tree for December: a three-month nod to winter that makes you feel like you’ve earned the riot of spring color I chose for the cover:

Multicolored tulips

Click here to see the full set of photos from my 2015 calendar, or click any of the following links to see calendar sets from previous years: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Enjoy!

Kind of blue

I first blogged this photo of empty seats at Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium in June, 2009, after J and I had been to a New England Revolution soccer game there.

Primary colors

When J and I had Revs season tickets in 2010, there were always lots of empty seats, Major League Soccer not being a big draw. But last weekend’s MLS championship game–in which the Revs lost to the LA Galaxy in extra time–was watched by nearly two million viewers. This suggests soccer in general and Major League Soccer in particular are both becoming more popular in America, making it easier for the Revs to fill those empty seats. That’s nothing to be blue about.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Blue.