From The Kerfuffle, 2015

Sewing Blind

[First published at Quail Bell Magazine]

My blind sewing adventure began about seven years ago when on a whim I searched for, and found, sewing needles at, a website that sells disabled people gadgets. As with so many of the great things that have happened in recent years to enhance my life as my sight fails, the technology inspired the activity and the activity inspired creation.

I bought two kinds of needles. The first I use all the time for general sewing they come in a rainbow pack of sizes, but each needle, from fat to skinny, share the ingenious feature of a slit at the top wherein you push the thread and it gets trapped by a little hook. The other needle is perhaps more clever but less sturdy and more prick-prone. It is called “Big-Eye” and this is not false advertising. The eye of the needle splits the slender flexible steel from one sharp end to the other. This is the needle to use for beading and the like because it is so skinny, but of course it tends to get bent out of shape with little provocation. With these two needles and my dress form, I have made all my best loved dresses.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and say that nothing I’ve made has turned out a sequined monstrosity, or deny the sad existence of more than one vintage-lace carcass, seem ripped beyond all repurposefulness. But there are a solid handful that have been successful enough to garner many compliments and become staples of my performing life.

The Little Black (Furry) dress

One of my first major successes was the little black furry dress AKA the sexy teddy bear dress. If you want to be petted, this is what to wear to your next cocktail party! Because of course, in the end, it’s all about texture.

I whittled away countless hours of listening to epic novels while creating this one, which consists of individually knitted patches of black eyelash yarn sewn onto a dance dress. You can see it in action in the behind the scenes portions of the Proto Trailer for The Star of Happiness, my one woman show about Helen Keller’s time on Vaudeville. Yes, it’s true that Helen Keller spent four years performing on the vaudeville circuit, but that’s another story…

The burgundy corset Ensemble

Worn by Marie Antoinette in The Spectator and the Blind Man, my play about the very sexy history of the invention of braille, and removed by her over the course of her heart-breaking monologue, the Burgundy Ensemble has had a lot of performance wear. Come to think of it, it is not only my clothes that get repurposed. I refashioned Marie Antoinette’s monologue into a flash fiction piece called Nothing Can hurt Me Now, which has, I’m delighted to say also been published at Quail Bell! The burgundy corset dress also features in the short film The Kerfuffle in which I play Sam, a blind floozy who gets busted for two-timing a couple of amputees… Oh just watch it; it’s cute! Even my mother thinks so.

The materials at hand, whether tawdry or elegant, shiny or shabby, provide inspiration for my sewing creations. In this case, several gorgeous yards of butterfly and flower embossed satin, given to me by my best friend when I visited her in Memphis, presented the impetus. The ensemble consists of A corset top and skirt with enormous pockets. I put pockets in all my designs because girls should not have to be encumbered by purses! For the underskirts and halter ties I used some opaque burgundy curtains I’d purchase years before. (It is likely that Scarlett’s green “Curtain Dress” in gone With the Wind is a significant design influence!) Finally, in an adventurous mood, I bought a handful of rhinestone flower ribbon decorations on EBay which cost $2.50 and took three weeks to ship from China, but which worked perfectly as accents on the bodice and the skirt.

The top’s foundation, an old an unattractive corset , came into my possession during an unfortunate performance on a boat in which I did not win a certain “Miss Demeanor Pageant” despite my first round sweep and my lovely assistant Millennium, my black lab guide dog! Anyway, somewhere in the madness of the dressing room I ended up with someone else’s corset that became the shell for my corset top. I draped and sewed the burgundy satin over that top and over a little side zipped skirt that I used as the skirt base. You see, I am a very lazy sewer. I like to do the fun pretty draping designing stuff and the mindless stitching, but refuse to waste my time putting in zippers!

In fact, I think that even if I’d not lost my sight, I would not have kept up with the conventional sewing I learned in grade school. I could see quite well back then and, although I made a few cool things, the precision and patience of patterns and darts and button-holing was just not for me. So, oddly enough, I think that my blind sewing is something I’ve come to as a culmination of who I am as an artist and a blind person, not as an approximate adaptation of the former behavior of my sighted self. The spirit of blindness infuses everything I do and makes it, if not always better, at least more interesting.

The Crocheted Chimera

My 2015 outfit of the season is comprised of no fewer than seven clothing items from decades of life and death. It began with fashioning the lacey waist-cincher pocket accoutrement out of several items bestowed to me by my mother’s friend who died and left me all her clothes from her seventy odd years of collecting/hoarding. I fastened that odd device, which on its own looked a lot like a holster, to a knee length circle skirt to which was added the real bells and whistles of the ensemble: a gold-threaded crocheted wrap that, although very glamorous, had always been too scratchy to use. I wear the skirt with a lacey crocheted top kept from my long ago wild days in New Orleans whose sleeves were cut for the heat. But, hot as NYC summers may be, one must have some portable sleeves to beat the arctic AC. Et voilà, enter the slightly bell-sleeved black crocheted half sweater with iridescent threads that ties under the boobs.

The whole ensemble looks good enough that I’ve adopted it as my audition outfit. Good enough to prompt an ABC Primetime casting director to say when I walked in the terrifying audition room, “What a beautiful dress!” Good enough to momentarily disconcert her, and boost my confidence, when I said, “Oh thank you. It’s my latest creation.” Herein lays the joy of wearing clothes made by you when you are a blind person: it confuses sighted people, which is often just what’s needed to refashion perceptions!

Why Do NaNoWriMo?

I heard about NaNoWriMo for the first time a couple of weeks back while perusing an online magazine (Quantum Fairy Tales) and saw a post on why NaNoWriMo matters. What the heck is NaNoWriMo? I read the post and learned first what it stands for–National Novel Writing Month, and next what it is essentially about–discipline. The importance of planning, prioritizing your writing, and writing consistently among other writerly behaviors can all be practiced by participating in NaNoWriMo. I was intrigued . As the November 1st start date was not far in the future or in the distant past (as so often happens with randomly found blog posts), as to make waning excitement or forgetfulness stop me, I decided to do it. After all, the only requirement is that I write 50,000 words in the month of November which breaks down to about 1667 words a day. As a writer, I should be able to muster that (in the month of November and beyond), right? And besides that, I’ve got a novel idea just waiting to be birthed!
So tomorrow begins the challenge of writing a novel in a month–a short novel to be sure, but nonetheless a novel of at least 50,000 words–which is as the NaNoWriMo Wikipedia page tells me is the approximate word count of such notable novels as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World and The Great Gatsby. I believe also that it is the approximate word count of one of my all-time faves, Heart of Darkness but I have to check on that, hold please…
Oops, I was off! It looks like Heart of Darkness is really a novella of 30,000 words. Damn. Novellas are not given the respect they deserve. In fact I read on theNaNoWriMo website that 50,000 words is closer to novella length–most submissions for novellas suggest that 40,000 is the upper limit, but that novellas are less impressive and in the end, the point is that a significant swath of writing, novel, novella or something non-fiction or, gasp! Poetical, can be written in a month. Fifty thousand words sounds like a lot if you have a full time job or kids or what have you. However, when you break it down to one thousand six hundred and sixty seven words a day, it seems more manageable. And that is really the point. It is doable.
[Word count: 434]
Or not. Geez. It’s 10:14 AM on the scariest day of the year and I’m all dried up, finished. I got nothing. Shall I quit? Shall I give up this ridiculous task of writing 1667 words a day? I could legitimately procrastinate! For instance, I’ll start tomorrow. Tomorrow I can start writing my novel and that will be easier. I’ll not run out of things to say with that. Ah ha! I’ll tell you about my novel to come and thereby generate some more words. I’ll not give up!
Operation Second Sight, my science fiction spy novel, is the novel to be. I’ve been putting it off ostensibly because of the research involved. I would need to study spy craft, not just read le Carré novels as I’m wont to do, and I need to study some hard science about the eye, not just read up on future cures for my own eye disease (of which there are currently none), but also research the near-future probable and possible. There is also one other line of intelligence I have to research but it’s a secret since it relates to the twist in the novel, so SHHH!
Full disclosure: I have tried writing a novel before, but who hasn’t? It turned out that my novel was really just the retelling of a myth, which is not so marketable, and though nobody likes to write for the market, it is hard to get excited about something, which, in the writing world at least, seems rather overplayed and done. That said, several stories have birthed from Metamorphoses of Tiresias and, more importantly, it started me on the path to being a (fairly) diligent writer and submitter of stories, but I’ve not tried my hand at a novel again. In fact, I’ve been rather a chicken.
[Word count 737 (almost 50%!)]
Being a person who tends towards self-examination almost to a fault, I think (in order to fulfill today’s word count requirement, which, you may have surmised, looms large) I will (as such things seem to be all the blogging rage) make a list. My list pertains to the Obstacles I’ve found in my way of committing to writing my new (and sure to be best-seller) novel:
1 I love novels. I read a lot of novels. I read good novels and bad novels. I read plot-driven novels and character-driven novels, I read classics and just released, and so it often happens, that I read in order to avoid writing.
2 I read a lot of novels (see above), and so deciding what to write and how and in what way and with what gusto feels crushingly limitless.
3 This should probably be number one insofar as it is fierce, but on a daily basis, it is not always obvious: fear. Fear of failure in one’s own eyes or the eyes of others, fear that it will not be nearly so good as it had seemed in utero, fear that it will not get done and will remain a spirit trapped between worlds, left to wander and haunt the liminal space between idea and finished object. FEAR FEAR FEAR
[Word count: 972 (I surpassed 50 percent! I can do this!)]
4 Resistance. I steal this term from Steven Pressfield who is perhaps most famous for writing The Legend of Bagger Vance, but is known to me by his ancient-times novels such as Last of the Amazons. He wrote an entire book on resistance called The War of Art, a tactical guide to combatting resistance, and from which I could steal my entire list, but for which I will give him credit here. In particular, I take from him the idea of daily resistance, I might even say mundane or quotidian resistance. It’s the little things like starting to write in the morning, just like you are supposed to and then getting a phone call from a collections agency about your student loans in default, or starting to write, needing a drink of water, going into the kitchen, being aghast at the dishes piled in the sink and doing them all the while cursing all those inhabitants of the household who did not do their dishes. Starting to write and remembering that you forget to respond to an email, text, call, Facebook tag, IM, etc., etc., etc., and open the can of worms in question and drowning in the slimy critters that are modern communications. It’s also opening up your computer with the best of intentions and editing instead of generating new, or sending stuff out instead of writing, or looking at likely places to submit and all the other things that feel like you are promoting the well-being of your writing while neglecting the writing itself. This last is the most insidious because it may not even appear as resistance and, if you are a good editor, can take weeks away from your writing without even promoting guilt.
[Word count: 1265 (the home stretch!)]
As I near my goal for the day, I realize that this word count thing is very good for one important reason: after a couple hours of work, you have something to go on. I now have this silly article about writing and not-writing that I will post on my blog for no one to read (after much diligent editing of course) that I would not have had if not for what I will call the NaNoWriMo effect. And, it is 11:17 AM so now I have all kinds of time to do other things like research and read novels and pay bills, but the goal, having been met for the day, I can go about all these things with a lighter heart.
[Word count: 1391]
Shit. I feel like I just wrote my conclusion and I still have 310 words to go. Now what do I do?
Oh, I just realized I left out what is probably the worst and most crushing obstacle to writing a novel:
5 The worry that you are, in fact, not a writer. If you are writing every day–not editing, not submitting, not doing dishes and thinking about writing, then in a beautifully literal and unarguable sense, you are a writer. Though it may not satisfy your mom or dad or partner or best friend, though it may not even satisfy the dreadful cocktail question or what you are up to these days or even your own inadequacies of existential import, writing every day with the intent of manufacturing a certain amount of words that, as they grow in quantity are inversely less likely to have been written before or the likelihood of being written again, by you or anyone else, you make yourself a writer. And, as this optimistic rant must continue till 1667, I conclude thusly.
Writing in the literal putting words down on paper, of the chemically treated wood pulp or virtual varietals, is the ONLY thing that is in your control. You cannot bribe or threaten the editors at The New Yorker or Asimov’s or the Paris Review or AltHist, and you cannot, no matter how much you try, get anyone you love to read as much as you do or to care as much as you do about literature or writing (specifically your writing), and though you cannot will yourself into the hearts and minds of millions or onto lists of best-sellers or even to win a coveted prize or contest, YOU CAN WRITE.
[Word count 1689]