I read this article, “Resolving to Create a New You” in the New York Times last week. I cut it out, kept it by my sewing machine and read it all week long. I read it again today and finally, finally, I think I understand it (the author, Ruth Chang, is a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University). It helped that I listened to Ms. Chang’s TED Talk about “How to Make Hard Choices” (take the time–it’s enlightening).
Resolutions, even those quilting resolutions of Finish A-Longs and their sort, have a problem because basically we are trying to (as Ms. Chang put it) “to steel our wills to do what we already know we should be doing.” Yes, I know I should finish Quilt XYZ and yes, I still make myself a list of quilts every quarter and hang them on my cupboard door. Sometimes they are helpful, like when I don’t feel like doing much. It can give a goal and a direction. But I have two quilts I have had on that list every quarter for the past two years. They are hard quilts. I don’t quite remember what I want to do with the “Good Luck Quilt,” one that I dreamed up but now have no idea what I mean, nor do I know what I want to make with the fabric that I spontaneously bought in a stack from an online quilt shop one summer’s day (and which I call “The Mexcian Day of the Dead Quilt”). Each quilt has its appealing qualities. Each is a quagmire. And every quarter I resolve to finish them.
Ms. Chang says instead of looking at resolutions as just another set of Things To Do, we should view these as opportunities “to create ourselves anew.” Each of those hard choices between two sets of alternatives, gives us a chance to “make ourselves the authors of our own lives. Instead of being led by the nose by what we imagine to be facts of the world, we should instead recognize that sometimes the world is silent about what we should do.” Nobody cares if I ever start my Good Luck Quilt. Or cut into that layer cake or jelly roll. And even if you do make it and post it on some blog and someone has rounded up prizes for what you finish, you aren’t winning a prize because a quilt has taught you a new skill. You aren’t winning a prize because you spent more time on the borders that you did on the quilt (like my current tortuous creative project). You are only winning a prize because you finished something and your name was selected by Mr. Random Number Generator. And if you ask me, an online app that can “lead us around by the nose” is probably NOT the best way to develop yourself as a quilter.
Instead, Ms. Chang suggests, by making hard choices, “we not only create value for ourselves but we also (re)create ourselves. . . . to reflect on what kind of person we can commit to being when making those choices.” So whether it be challenging yourself in a new quilting endeavor, or resolving to become the kind of person who would rather go on a walk than eat a brownie, or the kind of person who can set aside the digital screens of her life in order to concentrate on the small people near her, if we can commit to that task, generating our OWN reasons for choosing that direction, we “make ourselves the authors of our own lives.” We won’t just make another “Scrap Vomit” quilt because everyone else is. While we might choose to use up our scraps, we’ll do it in a way that suits us, that refines us, that contributes a little bit of something to the inside of us.
She ends her article by saying: “So in this new year, let’s not do the same old, same old; let’s not resolve to work harder at being the selves that we already are. Instead, let’s resolve to make ourselves into the selves that we can commit to being.”
Dive into the quilt quagmire and make that hard quilt. It may take you three months or three years, but you will have become a different and better self for having tried it and finished. Use that pattern in the drawer, but make it up in fabrics you envision. Go ahead and make a quilt that mimics the one online, but make it better. Make it different.
Make it yours.