January 2020 • Road to California, where I showed Jen Kingwell my completed Small World Quilt
February 2020, QuiltCon: Shown here finishing my first block in Yvonne’s class (QuiltingJetGirl)
March 2020 • Quilt Guild Lecturing and Teaching
And then March 19, 2020, I post up the Milmore Memorial, as all of a sudden we are aware that the Angel of Death, bearing her poppies, will be stopping many of us mid-gesture.
March 31, 2020 • This becomes my nightly reading. Covid is real, even though we hardly know what it is.
All these musings were inspired by three things: a few random “Where were you in March 2020?” Instagram posts, my friend Laurel sending me a picture of her Small World quilt, newly hand-quilted and finished that very night, and an article titled “Three Years into Covid, We Still Don’t Know How to Talk About It,” by Jon Mooallem and published in the New York Times, the place that was kind of the horrific epicenter to the quake that still rattles the United States.
“The [NYC Covid-19 Oral History, Narrative and Memory Archive] makes clear that, with respect to Covid — with respect to so much — we are a society of anecdotes without a narrative. The only way to understand what happened, and what’s still happening, is to acknowledge that it depends on whom you ask. People’s experiences were affected by their race, ethnicity, wealth, occupations, whether they had children at home. But they also turned on more arbitrary factors, or even dumb luck, like if someone happened to be living with a sort-of-annoying roommate in March 2020…. A man compared the pandemic to a game of musical chairs: The virus shut off the music; you were stuck where you were stuck.
Now, it’s as though we’ve been staring into a fun-house mirror for a long time and our vision is correcting — but it’s correcting imperfectly, so that we may not pick up on all the bulges and dents. We are awash in what [Ryan] Hagen referred to as an “onslaught of narrative repair,” scattershot attempts to clarify or justify our experiences, assignments of blame, misunderstandings and misinformation flying in all directions. It will play out and reverberate for years or decades.”from here
I don’t have any brilliant thing to add to this article (which, you should read, all the way to the end, even though it has a slow start), but it made me realize that we’d all been through this incredible experience — or experiences (as everyone’s was so individual) — and unlike those in the article, I realized quilters (who by our very natures are the type to sit inside away from everyone and sew) might have their own dialogue to add.
“At first, the pandemic seemed to create potential for some big and benevolent restructuring of American life. But it mostly didn’t happen. Instead, she said, we seemed to treat the pandemic as a short-term hiccup, no matter how long it kept dragging on, and basically waited it out. “We didn’t strive to change society,” she told me. “We strived to get through our day.” Marooned in anomie and instability, we built little, rickety bridges to some other, slightly more stable place. “It’s amazing that something this dramatic could happen, with well over a million people dead and a public health threat of massive proportions, and it really didn’t make all that much difference,” Swidler said. “Maybe one thing it shows us is that the general drive to normalize things is incredibly powerful, to master uncertainty by feeling certain enough.”
(see above for citation)
I got through my covid days by quilting, and it was instructive to look back through the pages of this record, to see how I tried to “build little rickety bridges to some other, slightly more stable place.” I generally was very lucky: a lovely home, with lots of supplies, a supportive husband, and an ability to isolate away until the vaccine came (for me) in January 2021, a relief and a welcome day. Maybe quilting is well-suited to helping us cope with our “drive to normalize things” — cutting patches, sewing them together, using the well-established tools of social media to keep us connected on one level, even though all the social aspects: guild meetings, classes, retreats, and sewing groups went by the way.
Their use of the word anomie is intriguing, and loosely, it can be defined as “normlessness,” meaning “that the underlying rules are just not clear…Anomie sets in when a society’s values, routines and customs are losing their validity but new norms have not yet solidified. “The scale is upset,” [the early French author] Durkheim wrote, “but a new scale cannot be immediately improvised. …The limits are unknown between the possible and the impossible.”
When Laurel sent me her photo Thursday night, she bridged a time from 2015, when Jen Kingwell’s pattern was published in QuiltMania, to September 2019, when Paula James (@the_secret_sewer) and Nicola Kelly (@nicola_picola_) challenged us all in to finish these quilts, leading a quilt-a-long on Instagram. I finished mine in time to post with Jen Kingwell (top of the post) just before we were all slammed.
I like to think of our quilts as those bridges, helping find our way back to civility, to health, and even to mask making (our batik fabrics were champs!). I hope we continue to figure out how to write and think about what we all went through, sharing our individual experiences with acceptance and kindness. And I hope we keep quilting!