Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Who's Got the Face?

Doug Snelson, the author of the poem I posted last time “I agained a friend,” has also written a wonderful children’s book about a dog called Face. You know, as in “Who’s got the face? Who likes to chase?”

A dog story—who can resist? (Okay, maybe me less than certain other people [ahem, my sister Linda]?)

Anyway “Who’s Got the Face?” is adorable. The copy really captures the joy of having a dog to come home to and the drawings are fabulous.

The book is a real testament to passing creativity down through the family: Doug wrote it, his daughter illustrated it (wow!), his son designed it, his daughter-in-law helped to edit it, and his wife helped to publish and market it. Doug’s been going to schools and other sites to read the book to kids and gets a great response every time (I can just imagine him doing it, in his inimitable enthusiastic way). And he even lists all the dogs (and they’ve had many) who have had “the face” (and yes, they’ve got a Zoey among them!).

You can get a copy at or the usual outlets like and

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I Agained a Friend

Remember the work reunion I wrote about a few posts ago? My old boss, Doug, recited a wonderful poem he’d written way back when that really touched me—in fact, I loved it so much I asked him if I could post it on my blog. He said yes, so here it is…


I agained a friend,
which is nice.

We talked until two and each one of us knew
a friend is only once, never twice.

I agained a friend,
which is bad.

We both spoke of our hell and to him I could tell
the heaven of life can be sad.

I agained a friend,
which is rare.

We rehashed those old times of some wild oats crimes
and how easy it is not to care.

I agained a friend,
which is grand.

We thanked friend in the sky that we’re friends til we die
and we thanked one sweet word, understand.

I agained a friend,
which is nice.

We talked until two and each one of us knew
a friend is only once, never twice.
--Doug Snelson

PS: I “agained a friend” too—and very happily so! Thanks, Doug.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Prismatic flowers and Barb Olson

I spent the past couple of days at a quilting workshop with members of The Rhododendron Needlers Quilt Guild in Massachusetts. Our task: making a small appliquéd flower composition.

The teacher was Barbara Olson (, an incredible quilt artist whose “In the Beginning” quilt—a huge spiral on a black-and-white-box background with an Escher-like feeling of depth and dimension to it—was included as one of the 100 American Best Quilts of the Century in 2000. Talk about exciting! She’s also the author of an inspiring book that I’ve owned for a few years (I’ve actually DONE some of the exercises in this book) called Journey of an Art Quilter.

I had a major “a-ha moment” during the workshop: Barb says she’s what’s called “a naïve artist.” She didn’t have any formal art training. The lesson: Talent helps, but it’s really practice and perseverance that make the artist! Barb grew up sewing, but is a self-taught quilter who designs by trial and error. She said that she wasn’t a natural machine quilter, yet her quilts are intricately adorned with thread embellishments. She made herself do it, she says, because it was expected of a quilter. But she didn’t get really good at it until she relaxed into the process, remembered to breathe and loosen up, and started to enjoy herself. She says the trick is to set your hands on the quilt like it’s a musical instrument and get into a rhythm (the key to crafting to heal!).

I also loved Barb’s teaching method: Her appliqué techniques are simple, yet difficult to master, and they can be frustrating. She had a lovely, gentle way about her that gave us a safe environment for creating. She also had a knack for revealing the perfect snippet of information at the right time to clarify a particular quilting dilemma!

It was also wonderful to be with other quilters, talking and working all at the same time. It was the very essence of crafting to heal—sharing, growing our skills, spending time with like-minded people! Plus, I sold three books quite by accident when I mentioned the Craft to Heal concept (thank you, ladies—you made my day!).

Sunday, April 12, 2009


A few days ago, I went to a reunion of PW Communications, a medical communications company I worked for in the 1980s—a very unique and close-knit group of people.

I was just 23 and trying to be an actress in New York City, so I needed a paying job I could work at night. I perused The New York Times’ “Help Wanted” ads (does that work anymore?), and found a position for a freelance word processor. I fibbed about my ability to use a computer—one of the only fibs I’ve ever told when seeking a job, but it was one that paid off because they offered me training. It was on the Wang System—great name, huh?—an obsolete computer program that was kind of fun to use. Anyway, I took a typing test and got the job. (It always bugged me how girls had to know how to type. My first job out of college I failed a typing test and was forced to teach myself how to type. I covered the keys on a typewriter keyboard and every night I’d type away. Soon, I was typing in my sleep, typing the dialogue in my head of the words in movies I was watching, typing, typing, typing. It paid off, because I finally got a job, but I never knew a man who was asked if he could type. Hopefully, today, THAT'S changed since everyone now types on computers.)

Twenty-five years later, seeing some of the same faces I remember from so long ago, I realized this company had a huge influence on my personal and creative life:
1. I met several very close friends through PW, people who continue to be my friends today. I also met my career mentor, a man who taught me to value myself and the skills I bring to the table.
2. I discovered the concept of being a freelance writer, something that I didn’t even know about when I graduated from college. I’ve been a freelancer ever since, to the point now where I can’t imagine having a regular job anymore and sitting through meetings or showing up at a specified time each day! And thanks to the scores of people who left this company and went on to build their own companies, I’ve rarely had to pursue work…it’s typically come to me instead, so I don’t think I’ve even had a typical freelance career. Yes, I’ve gone out and made many opportunities for myself—pursuing consumer magazines and book contracts and speaking engagements and all sorts of things like that—but I’ve always had a great deal of stability and a fairly stable income. And I’ve never been laid off, something I am so thankful for today.

So when I get to thinking about how I "hate" my job, I try to remember how lucky I am to work from a home office with my faithful dog Zoey by my side, making my own schedule and picking and choosing among jobs offered to me.

And I think about my 10 years at PW. Funny, all those “older” people who seemed so intimidating back then turn out to be, well, just people too.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Art of Taking Classes

The summer workshop season is approaching, and taking classes and workshops is de rigueur for most quilters and other crafters in the never-ending quest to advance our skills, improve our technique and expand our horizons.

So you’re perusing the course catalogs. You might be looking for something to do with computer-based quilting, mixed-media collage, wearable art—or marketing your quilts and designs. Whatever the subject, you can find a course for it. But as a veteran of continuing education classes, I know how easily and widely these classes can miss the mark. Here, some sage advice, based on hard-won experience, on how to get the most from a class:
1. Be choosy. You don't have to say yes to the first class you find. All sorts of places are offering extended-learning classes today—from universities to professional training schools to craft centers and your local community school system. Before you hand over your credit card, figure out why you’re taking the class, what you hope to achieve from it (more knowledge, a chance to socialize, better technique, the opportunity to relax, a certificate or degree), how much time you can spend on homework and what kind of amenities you’re looking for. For some people, a bare-bones classroom is okay, while others are looking for more refined environs. I recently took a $2,000 class at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan (the school where Bravo TV’s Project Runway is filmed) and I was horrified at the sorry state of the classrooms—most notably the stools with no backs, which we were meant to sit on for three hours at a time! And always, always try and find pictures of the projects you’ll be making and the teacher’s work (on the Internet or in books and magazines): I’ve taken several classes where I’ve made things I’ve hated, simply because I signed up based solely on the catalog description.
2. Google the teacher. I’ve had more than one class go amiss due to an incompetent instructor who excels at doing but is terrible at teaching. (That old maxim, “those who can do, those who can’t teach” is misleading—when those who can also teach, they are often lousy at it or distracted by their day jobs.) At the Boston Museum School, I had an art teacher who was a wonderful artist herself, but lazy about teaching. And at Parsons I had an instructor who, though well intentioned, taught by being overly harsh and even humiliating in her critiques, which served to be demotivating rather than inspiring. As a result I’ve learned to do some research on potential teachers and ask other students what they think of instructors before I commit. You want to find a class and teacher that mentors you, not squashes your natural inclinations—a teacher who allows you to express yourself, rather than dictates you do things his or her way.
3. Glean what you can. Even though I’ve taken classes where I’ve hated the projects, I still try and lean some new techniques and be open to new ideas. For instance, in one class, I found myself making the ugliest dolls I’ve ever seen. I just knew I’d never use them (nor would I be caught dead giving them away!), but I tried to absorb some of the painting techniques the teacher was sharing, discarding what didn’t apply to my goals or feel right to me.
4. Drop out if you have to. It’s your free time and it’s precious, so don’t waste it if you’re not getting what you want from a class—and don’t let someone else waste it. A friend of mine took a Japanese-technique watercolor painting class, but dropped it due to the excruciatingly slow pace of the lessons. I myself finally dropped the Boston Museum School art class when the teacher, rather than bringing one in to show us, suggested that we go to the library to find a color wheel.
5. Take advantage of class connections. One of the great bonuses of taking continuing education classes is meeting people who share your passion for creating. Another is networking about potential organizations, events, other classes and even jobs. I’ve made some long-term friends during classes I’ve taken, people to laugh, problem-solve and shop with, friends who share my enthusiasm for fabric and quilting. And what could be better than that?