Archive for the ‘essays’ Category

Last month my grandson responded to my post about the counter-culture with this message:

“In your post on the 60s counter-culture in your blog, you mentioned the feminine point of view. I talked to a couple of my female friends from school a few months back, asking what they thought it means to be female. I thought two of my more staunchly feminist friends would have a good idea, but I got the impression that they denied gender differences rather than embraced them. I suggested that they might come to a new answer once (or if) they became mothers, but I was just speculating. Gender roles are what people make of them, but, in my experience, the idea of masculinity is a meaningful one. So what do you think the feminine qualities are?”

I responded with a brief essay to which Luke sent this response. When I wrote back to him (my-response-to-luke), addressing some of his points, I said that I wondered what his female friends think.

He gave my essay to a young woman friend of his and she has written her response.

If you have been following this discussion, you will want to read what Stephanie has to say, and you will not be disappointed. Her brief essay is brilliantly written and passionately thoughtful. I was excited to find a young woman who identifies herself as a feminist and explains why other girls dissociate themselves from feminism. Her response is here.


After reading what Stephanie had to say, I couldn’t resist letting her know my thoughts, which you can read here.


It has been a delight for me to have this conversation with Luke and Stephanie. I hope some of you will enjoy our exchanges, too.

By the way, the book by Doris Lessing that I referred to in my message to Stephanie is titled, The Cleft. What an image, eh?

Okay, now that I’ve taken care of that, I really can get back to stitching.

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For those of you who are interested, you can read my 17-year-old grandson’s response to my essay here:


The IB classes he refers to are International Baccalaureate courses.

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When my grandson asked me what the feminine qualities mean to me, I responded that I had been thinking, reading, and writing about this topic since I was 14. It has been a big issue in my life. So I wrote him a short essay in response.


When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s (I was 13 in 1950), being a woman and femininity were considered to be synonymous, and it mainly meant domesticity and subordination to men. Women were expected to be wives, mothers, homemakers, as well as attractive to and attentive to men. Women were expected to WANT to be and to ENJOY being “feminine” in these ways. Other options for women were extremely limited. Let’s just consider bright, healthy, educated, middle-class, white women in this discussion—women like myself and, I assume, your female friends. Such women were rarely admitted to PhD programs or to professional schools (medicine, law, business). If they had to work for a living or if they chose to work outside the home, they could be nurses, teachers, secretaries, laboratory assistants, and social workers. Otherwise, they could be volunteers in the community. Women in professional or management capacities were very rare, almost invisible. Woman’s place, in those days, was in the home.

The role models I had growing up were first, my mother and maternal grandmother, other female relatives, and family friends. My mother and grandmother were contented women who created happy family lives. They were wonderful mothers, wives, and homemakers who always seemed to enjoy their activities. I grew up in a very nurturing home. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to have children as well-cared-for as I was. I wanted to create just such a good home life.

At the same time, I was attracted to women who did unconventional things and I read every book (the handful that existed) about such women. I wanted to be like my mother, yet I didn’t want to live my mother’s limited life. I wanted a different kind of role model.

In my teens, I wondered whether I had somehow gotten the wrong genes, because I had so many characteristics that were not considered feminine. I was a leader, not a follower. I had courage. I was strong-willed. I spoke out. I knew I was smarter than most of the boys in my classes, but I pretended not to be so that I could be popular. When I went to Goucher, which was a women’s college then, I saw women in leadership positions; and in all-girl classes, I could express myself freely. I felt liberated. But I still wanted to be a wife and mother. I loved biology in high school and chemistry and physiology in college, but I chose not to be a science major because in my sophomore year, I was already pregnant and married and knew I could not spend the required hours in a lab.

What I discovered after having four children and keeping house, at home almost all the time, with virtually no time to myself, (doing exactly what I thought I wanted to be doing), was that I didn’t like being a wife and mother and homemaker. I didn’t like taking care of young children. I hated housework. I cooked and sewed because I had to. I didn’t like being dependent on a man. Therefore, I believed that I was not a “real” woman. Becoming a mother made me (at times) sorry I was a woman. Once again, I thought there was something wrong with me.

That’s the beginning. If you’d like to read more, you can find it here: what-the-feminine-means-to-me2

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At last, I have finished my essay explaining why William Blake is important to me. I wrote it for my grandson after I sent him my college papers on Blake, but it is just as much written for me. I wanted to articulate for myself what Blake means to me but I sure didn’t intend or expect to spend five months doing it! It’s been well worth it. I got so much out of it, including a great deal of pleasure, as I spent hours pouring over Blake’s art.

Blake’s painting, above, of the Angel of Revelation, shows Blake seated between the angel’s feet, recording his vision of the apocalypse.

If you like, you can read the essay, and even if you’re not interested in Blake, you may enjoy seeing the pictures. why-blake-is-important-to-me_0001.pdf

Before I can go back to stitching, however, I’m going to read granddaughter Michelle’s 163-page manuscript of a novel. She’s 18, a freshman in college, and this is her third novel. But while I’m doing that, I may also show you some previous needleart in a day or so.

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I was asked what the ME stands for. This is the new name being promoted for CFS. It stands for myalgic encephalopathy and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is endorsed by the leading researchers and clinicians in this malady. Myalgic refers to the muscle aches and general flu-like achiness of this condition. Encephalopathy means a disorder of the brain and central nervous system, a neurological malfunctioning. I have had ME-CFS for 15 years.

In 1991 I began breaking down, but I continued to work, growing ever sicker, with no diagnosis, until I collapsed, unable to stay out of bed, in January 1993. Finally, in 1997, a Social Security disability judge ruled that I was “totally and permanently disabled.” Since then I have been housebound. It was becoming disabled that led to my life in stitches, the main subject of this blog.

You can read the whole story in this article I wrote for The Embroiderers’ Guild of America in response to a call for writing about how stitching had helped you recover. Well, I hadn’t recovered. Instead, NOT recovering had led me to stitching. This essay was published in Needle Arts magazine.

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Take a Stitch Tuesday

When TAST ends at the end of this year, I for one will be glad. It has been an exhilarating challenge, which I have greatly enjoyed; but it has felt like a race to me. Too fast. A stitch a week was too much for my slow pace. Of course, I didn’t have to keep up. I didn’t have to work each stitch. I just wanted to. Unable to resist the challenge! Not to mention how motivating the feed-back I got was. TAST participants are a wonderfully supportive group that has provided such enthusiastic encouragement. And now I’m out of gas and gasping for air and ready to stop.

When I began the challenge, I did not decide on a standard format to use. Well, I didn’t have enough time to think about that! I took a deep breath and started in on the first Tuesday of the year. Each week I worked the stitch in whatever format immediately came to mind. Some weeks I just worked a few samples on a practice cloth. Some weeks I worked a design. Some weeks I improvised. Different fabrics, different sizes and shapes of format. I’ve ended up with a mish-mash that will not fit into any method of organization I can think of, other than a pillow case. 🙂

Just recently I had occasion to review the workshop materials I prepared for the stitch-in with my granddaughters four years ago. For them I worked a sampler of the stitches I planned to introduce. I wanted to give them some ideas of how different stitches looked and what you could do with them.


This sampler resides inside a plastic sheet protector in the workshop booklet I made for the girls.

Ah hah! Here’s an idea for what to do with TAST. I could make a sampler like this one for each TAST stitch and store it in the binder following Sharon’s pages for each week. I could take my time, which I couldn’t do as I ran to keep up with the weekly stitches, and develop each of the stitches in an orderly way. I could research the stitches in my stitchery books. I could review the samples of other members of the TAST group and reproduce some of their ideas. (Do go to the TAST Flickr site to feast your eyes on some beautiful and often distinctly original stitchery.)

Will I do it? It would make a terrific resource, wouldn’t it?

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About Charlestown

A few years ago our retirement community held a day of celebration of the community. Residents were invited to submit short essays about life at Charlestown to be published as a booklet. Mine won the prize. You can read it here.


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