I believe the best thing you can do for yourself and everybody else is to make something.
In 1979, when I was 25, in the middle of the sweltering summer in New York City, I decided to make a quilt. Don’t ask me what got me started. I don’t remember. I do remember that once I got a Big Idea to make a queen-sized quilt, nothing could stop me. I bought fabric from a teeny packed store on First Avenue run by a small, stooped man. I took the fabric home, and cut and sewed all day and some of the night. At the time, I did not sew very well, but I did not let lack of skill get in my way. Occasionally, when I had to leave my apartment for food or some other inconvenience, I always hurried through my errand so that I could return to the quilt as quickly as possible.
When I thought I had completed the top, the quilt disagreed. Wait, it seemed to say, You think you’re finished, but not so fast, missy! It had big, open off-white squares between nine-patch blocks. What did those squares want? Color. They were asking me for color. I stuffed some money into my shorts pocket, grabbed my keys, and ran back to First Avenue to buy some bright blue fabric. I did not know how to add more fabric to something that was already sewn together. So I developed my own unorthodox method of after-the-fact appliqué. Then I quilted the thing. I bound the edges. It was finished! It was not perfect: There were puckers. Some of the corners didn’t match up. And there were those extra blue squares. But if you stood back and squinted, the quilt had a cheerful overall pattern, and it could cover a bed. Right up until it wore out completely, I could look at that quilt and think with satisfaction, before I got my Big Idea, that didn’t even exist!
From then on, whenever confronted with a daunting task, I reminded myself that I had once made a whole quilt and lived to tell the tale. And the quilt allowed me to experience the magic of art, that thing where your project starts telling you what to do, instead of the other way around.
Make something. Get your supplies together, take a deep breath, and get to work. Do you remember the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind? He had that mountain in his head, and it drove him to create it again and again. He couldn’t stop himself from making that thing. Let your project do that to you; let it take you over and push you to the point where you surprise yourself. Your project may not always be easy, predictable, or even cooperative. But if you let your creation take you where it wants to go, it can transform you.
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