the power of keeping

e.v. de cleyre painting MFA boston

Lately, I have a hard time writing. Not like those horror stories of the world’s worst writer’s block, where you can’t read or sit down to write without a migraine or severe vertigo. More like I don’t know how I want my words to interact with the world, which seems to change so quickly, and also I know that I can’t possibly control how those words will interact or be received.

Instead, I sew. Yesterday I stitched garment tags into the pieces I’ve made these last six months, which felt like a huge accomplishment but also very silly, reminding me of how my mother wrote my name into my clothes before I went to camp one summer (which reminded me how she did not write my name inside my underwear [thankfully, because one day I dropped a pair of dirty underwear in the middle of the cabin, on my way back from the showers, and when everyone saw it before I did, they demanded to know whose underwear it was, and only a fool would have said “mine”]).

Maybe this is what makes up a life, or art: a series of remembrances, seemingly unrelated, seemingly forgotten until drawn up like water from a well.

As I stitched garment tags, I listened to a Have Company podcast. I’m not really that into podcasts. I tend to open up the app on my phone, browse, feel overwhelmed, and sit in silence instead. Yesterday, though, this interview with Molly Schaeffer kept me company (pun!), and I enjoyed her thoughts on creativity (and Marlee’s refreshing candor), particularly the last little bit, where the two discuss Schaeffer’s lack of a personal Instagram.

Marlee asks, “when you make stuff, where do you put it?”

The whole answer is worth listening to, and I won’t relay the conversation that ensued, only note that I admire Schaeffer’s apathy in the face of Instagram, which (arguably) seems to encourage her prolific creations (though most of us may not see the results of it via the internet).

I’m more interested in the question than the answer: “when you make stuff, where do you put it?”

I’m stuck on the idea that what I make (write) needs to go somewhere or be something. If I write an essay (this essay), should I put it on a blog, send it to a literary magazine, or sit on the idea for a year before I finally let it go and pursue another subject?

Instead of writing, and deciding where to send said writing, I sew (and joke that it’s an outlet of creativity that does not involve rejection), but I’m reaching the point where I could probably sell things—not that what I make is that good, but that it is starting to accumulate, to become more than one person could wear.  Or, if not sell, I could post an image on Instagram, connect with quilters and designers, and receive “likes.” But all of that sounds like an awful lot of work, and sometimes I want to create something and just be okay with the fact that I created a thing—feel safe in the knowledge that the act of creation is intrinsically successful, as opposed to the sharing of the act being the part that validates its existence or ensures its success.

“There’s power in the keeping.” Marlee adds.

Sometimes it’s nice to just make something and keep it. Or give it away. A friend of mine who knits exquisite scarves and shawls and sweaters for herself recently gave me one, because she makes so much so quickly she can’t keep it all. She is a designer, but stopped selling things, no longer interested in making art for money (which is another essay altogether).

I wish I didn’t adhere to this commonly accepted assumption that the places we “put” the“stuff” we make need to be sanctioned, endorsed, or validated spaces—literary magazines and journals, galleries, brick-and-mortar or online shops. Sometimes it feels better to give a creation to a friend who will cherish it, someone we know will appreciate it, as if these are our little handmade babies we need to lovingly re-home. Sometimes it’s really hard to give something up to the world. Sometimes it’s difficult to release a work into the wide, wild world, especially via the internet. Sometimes it’s okay to keep it to yourself.

(However, go listen to this episode of the Have Company podcast for reasons why artists and creatives need to share their work with the world:



  1. It made me smile and wonder why I create quilts, wall hangings, floor ruggs, clothes and other things. I always felt relieved when I finfshed. Like I was giving birth to something. Interesting.

    On Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 5:23 PM, e.v. de cleyre wrote:

    > e.v. de cleyre posted: ” Lately, I have a hard time writing. Not like > those horror stories of the world’s worst writer’s block, where you can’t > read or sit down to write without a migraine or severe vertigo. More like I > don’t know how I want my words to interact with the worl” >

  2. I relate to your post very well. I quilt and I write. My words come with difficulty these days, especially those about quilting. It seems so trivial in the face of turmoil. At the same time, perhaps the focus and care that go into a quilt (or an essay) need to be shared, especially in the face of turmoil. I enjoy sharing both physically and virtually. At this point I have so many quilts and fewer places to give them. (Yes, there are umpteen charities that would love to use my quilts. No, for the most part, my quilts are not donation quilts, though I donate quilts, too.) But my children and grandchildren and friends and siblings and in-laws all have quilts… Sharing virtually these days is easier than sharing physically. Either way, I need to write, and I need to quilt. I will continue to do both as I can. Thanks for the post.

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