Today I took probably my last finished quilt photos in this beautiful place. They have served me well, those hills. But after 12 months or so of knowing this wasn't a long term gig, of wrestling with our future, our identity, we finally have a way forward. It's kind of terrifying, after working with a Christian organisation for over 10 years to ask, "What do you want to do?" Even more terrifying to realise the answer isn't 'religious work' or 'helping the poor' but making quilts. I started this blog 6 years ago to process the place of creativity in my life. A true idealist, and never a pragmatist, I could have easily chosen a life of heroic, ill-fitted but self sacrificing vocation. Orphans in Eastern Europe. Teaching in disadvantaged communities. But then I had children. And to be honest, they were all the ill-fitting and self sacrificing I could muster. (I do love my children, I promise.) Not only that, but the niggling realisation started to grow within me that it wasn't enough, it wasn't its own reward to self sacrifice (as much as I wanted to believe it). Idealism didn't come built in with it's own satisfaction that no matter how hard, I was making good choices. Perhaps the largest gift of motherhood was to discover that if I was going to love these strange aliens, and love them well, and be able to wake up the next day and do it again, I needed to figure out who the heck I was so I could love that too.
The answer to the "who am I?" question was a surprising one to me, because it had never occurred to me that one could be a quilter. About 15 years ago, a book became popular in the Christian circles I hung around that promoted the idea of doing what makes us come alive, that this would be the really good thing we could offer to the world. Back then I wholeheartedly agreed. And I did probably what a lot of good Christians did. I read through the book twice, recommended it to my friends, talked about it over dinner and rested in the knowledge that what makes me come alive is working with the poor or raising orphans. Imagine my shock when I went to Russia with my husband several years later only to discover that I was incredibly uncomfortable and unsuited there. It took me years to admit that though. And I am still filled with shame and denial when I write it. Surely not. Surely I just could have gotten used to it. I would have learned the language and been in my element. And anyway, those girls. Those beautiful, broken, vulnerable girls. Who cares whether it 'fitted' me or not. There was work to be done!
But then, as I said, we had children. Tully, our surprise boy (surprise as in unplanned, and surprise as in how terrifyingly difficult I found the whole experience) derailed our Russia plans and forced my field of view to narrow right down, from a whole world of possibilities and adventure and service, to me and him. How were he and I going to live together?
I grew up with the longing to be creative, but with the screwy idea a lot of us conclude, that creativity is for the experts, the super talented, those that started young and can make a living with it. Anything else is just wasting time. But in my new little life with my little boy, creativity became not a professional pursuit but an act of survival. It began with going back to university and mulling over how to create the most beautiful history essays with crafted sentences and well chosen words. I tried knitting, I crocheted, I made a quilt, sewed clothes, decorated our house, planted a garden (that totally didn't survive, but hey, I tried) and made another quilt. And another.
I wrestled with the extravagance, the selfishness, the indulgence. The wrestle was painful and loud, but some teeny tiny part of me (or, perhaps, of the one who made me) kept quietly but firmly pushing back. Keep going. It urged. It was incredibly uncomfortable, quilting first, sorting out all my reasons and answers later. But sometimes reasons why can never be fully articulated. They are like a secret, that if shared, loses it's magic.
In the middle of that wrestle, we moved out here to these beautiful hills. The time here has been challenging, fraught with anxiety and loss and conflict, but also incredible beauty. From my house, we watch the sun shine its last each evening over this view. It has made me completely rethink my narrow ideals that told me the only meaningful way I could contribute to this world was by fixing things that were broken.
This year I read another book about desire and vocation. "Let your Life Speak" by Parker Palmer is an wonderfully honest book about the way our life speaks to us about our longings and calling. His wise and personal reflections were borne out of a deep depression, the result of long wearing, ill fitting but self sacrificing work. And as I read it, I felt it pierce right through all the self-righteous, but also self-damning, bullshit I'd been lugging around since my idealistic twenties. It's an extremely humbling experience to stop and listen to the 'universe' tell you it wants you to be a quilter. A creator. Not a politician or a doctor, not Mother Theresa. A business owner, and a maker of beauty, and hopefully, joy. But it's also so very wonderful to hear that voice and think, "Oh Yes! Yes please! Really?!"
Just a little over a month ago, on my way to the Modern Makers Retreat, we drove through the beautiful little town of Castlemaine, about half an hour south of Bendigo, and an hour and a half from Melbourne, in central Victoria. It's one of those great towns where creative people have been allowed to come and breathe their life into it. The old Fire Station, the old Woolen Mills, the old hospital, they've all be 'upcycled' into new and thriving places for creative business, cafes, and vintage bazaars. Within 3 weeks of driving through, of feeling a little spark between us, of letting it grow and seeing where it goes, we enrolled our homeschooled kids into the local Steiner school, secured ourselves a rental, and are now in conversation with the folks that run the old mill and the old hospital to get a commercial lease for our English Paper Pieces manufacturing. We're hoping to get a space that will be suitable not only for running our online shop full time, but also for open days and classes. We move in one week!
I'm so grateful for our time here in this rich place. It hasn't always been easy, but sometimes it takes some discomfort and golden hills to help you steer in a new direction. I'm grateful for space for my kids to run wild, for safe and generous neighbours who've let them drop in and play. I'm grateful for my artist neighbour who paints prolifically and unapologetically. For friends that have supported our start up with volunteer work and offers of babysitting and truck loads of encouragement. And for Russ and Makayla who have helped us create a fun and productive work culture, and helped us chaotic, creative entrepreneur types to form systems and routines that make everything chug along nicely, and give me more time to sew!
I'm glad I was able to photograph my finished Clover Quilt here before we leave. A hand stitched quilt is slow and deliberate and meditative, and those hexies hold with in them many wonderful memories of our time here, including all these ideas we've been processing. Having Tim hold it up towards the setting sun this afternoon made me feel like somehow I was in partnership with these hills. That I was co-operating in their task of making and growing and shedding light and seeking out the truth. That what I made could add to their beauty and them to mine. And that my quilts and their stories have something to offer here.