some of you know this story well, some of you (more recent followers) do not.
almost two years ago i lost a friend. he was my friend, my partner, my no-label relationship, my confidant, my secret keeper. he was someone i hiked with, cooked dinner with, drank with, watched sunsets with, talked about life and hopes and goals with, slept with, camped with, adventured with, roadtripped with, laughed with, made love with, made plans with. he was someone i stretched my limits and boundaries for. it was not all good and there were many many many confusing and difficult parts to our story.
we both traveled a lot, and his travels took him away from the town where we lived down the street from each other (me in the green house with the green mailbox), for a while.
then, we planned his trip back. i readied the new house i was staying in, filled it with flowers and herbs and food, my housemate took off for the two weeks to california, and he started making his way here. staying with friends across the country on the long trip back, he was headed for utah the day or two before he was to land safely and quietly and welcomed to my home in AZ.
it was in utah that day that he had a rock climbing accident and left this bodily version of himself. my home was ready, and as i was on vacation from my dayjob at the time, i waited. patiently at first, then as a couple of days passed, more panicked. we knew so much about each other and our patterns and needs and wants and behaviors (good and bad) – but i knew before i found out a few days later.
the grief and trauma i experienced nearly pulled Me out of My body.
as hours, days, weeks, months, and now years have passed, i am revisited often by the aftermath of putting myself back in. the trauma and grief does not leave you, you learn to live with and around it. and as the time has passed, and the living happens, i have found new pieces of myself (and of him) that didn’t exist before.
and this is where it comes from. the drive to create. the sleepless nights of writing down ideas and getting out of bed to pair fabrics in the middle of the night. the motivation to make the best work possible. life is short and there are gifts to share.
i quilted long before i met him. i even made inspired intuitive projects before i met him. but he was the first to support them in the way that i needed, in an understood and sometimes unspoken way.
but more than that, it was in finding my way back to my creative voice after he passed that was a turning point for me.
the quilt i had made and given to him was returned to me after his death. this was the first part. i suddenly understood what it meant to receive a quilt, having always been on the giving side. i suddenly understood the energy, the warmth, the comfort. i cried so many times into that quilt, until i folded it neatly and put it in the closet with my linens – after some time i needed its comfort less and less. there are some days, still, that i take it out to revisit it. i remind myself why i offer what i make to anyone who may need or want it.
i agreed to take on the task of making four clothing quilts from his belongings for his family. six months after he passed, the big box of familiar shirts and pants arrived at my house and i began deconstructing everything piece by piece – removing seams and buttons and pockets and logos. i struggled for seven months to finish the four individual and unique projects, sometimes feeling connected and other times disconnected to the work. i put it all back together with more fabrics and love and exhausted emotions than i thought possible.
grief and trauma affect everyone differently. some let go easily, some move on quickly. some have nightmares and are reminded frequently, triggered by moments they don’t expect. (i’ll let you guess which side was me.) some close off, while others open up.
regardless of how i felt on the inside, i outwardly brushed off – i showed up to work every day (sometimes needing a break to cry, but i showed up) – even if i had not slept. i moved not once, not twice, but three times – and to a new and bigger city. i got a great new day job, made new friends, and i even dated a bit. i went through all of the motions of making a new life for myself and getting myself the things i needed to survive and succeed…
but it wasn’t until i finished the clothing quilts and packed them up and sent them off, that i was able to look around my space and see what was missing. i needed to be making in a more cohesive way.
i made a quick quilt for a “friend” and delivered it personally, knowing full well it (meaning whatever we were doing) probably wouldn’t last. but i needed that creative jumpstart and distraction, and my heart believed that it would be well-received. it was. (we no longer talk. but i know the quilt will continue to do its job, without me. that is what they do.)
i’ve not always made the best choices, but they were the choices that i made. and they all become works of art long after the dust settled.
i started the Sunset collection almost immediately after. i photographed it in joshua tree, put it up in my shop, and watched it sell out. i did the same with a handful of quilts, the Desert collection, and Lovers + Landscapes. i will be doing the same with the new e x p a n d i n g collection in a couple of weeks.
and throughout the designing and making of every project that followed the clothing quilts over the past year, i have been reminded where it comes from.
in the early days of my grief and trauma there was no room for creation. i could barely remember to eat, let alone wrap my mind around shapes and design. i focused more on writing, and began piecing together a quilt for myself that remains unfinished. once the space started to open up, it was slow and hesitant. but when i really allowed myself the permission to try to fully regain my creative voice, i was so surprised to see how it arrived – full of color. coming out of the darkest place i had ever been, i was met with a special kind of light within myself. and it was received by my customers and friends and fans in such a beautiful way.
visually, it was as if while hibernating, my heart had saved up all of its (good) dreams to share when it woke up.
emotionally, it was still tougher. still navigating the initial loss, life continued on and changed and expanded. i gathered new stories and experiences and people.
in the coming and going, i realized i did not know how to now grieve someone else who may disappear from my life but is still alive. how do you mourn something still living and breathing? i realized i only understood the worst. full ends of the spectrum but it was the murky middle parts that were harder to make sense of. i had to constantly remind myself not to compare. not to project. not to drown in things that were tolerable. i had to redefine what “normal” felt like – ever changing every day. and i found that in this new normal, i needed to map out what i wanted my work to reflect. as you may have noticed, i chose to focus on the sights i was experiencing around me, mostly on my long drives and road trips which had become my therapy. as the roadtrips started to include other people and friends, so did my work. there are stories hidden in plain sight in each.
it was so nice to see and feel that no matter what the days brought me, there was still beauty around me, and coming out of me, even if i myself did not feel beautiful. now that i know my path is bumpy and slightly unhinged, i’m better prepared. and i’m embracing my work with my whole heart – even the parts that still feel empty.
i know that in the midst of my grief and often public sharing of such, there were people who didn’t feel like i was doing it the “right” way. that i was feeling and saying too much. that i didn’t deserve to feel such loss. but i’ve learned that we feel what we feel, and there are very few ways around it. i felt human, down to my core, and i hoped that in sharing this unravelling it would possibly show others (and myself) that it’s ok. it’s ok. and that having an outlet to push some feelings out through is important. i had days that i wasn’t sure my creative voice would ever come back, let alone come back stronger than ever. and these days it’s not necessarily grief that’s shining through – it’s me. in all of my forms. this is where it comes from. it’s messy. life is messy. there are highs and lows, and it can all be inspiring if we let it. i am not ashamed of what i have felt, and i am proud of what i have been able to turn it into this year.
heading into a new year, there are some of the same feelings and new ones manifesting their way out into the world. when it feels hard, i step back. when it feels good, i pummel ahead full speed. i am not afraid to take note of where the inspiration comes from, and i am not afraid to share it. vulnerability can be friendly, just as it can be a stranger. my art may be subjective, and you may see what you want, but inside of it is a much bigger story being told little by little.
for me, this is where it comes from. this is where it has come from even before i knew where it was coming from. from that place of realness. from my soul that sometimes lives a different life than i do. from the stuff no one likes to talk about but so many of us have experienced. from loss and love and everything in between.