Digital/Virtual World · Guild Visits · Something to Think About · Zoom

To follow the notes of a disappearing bird

I work upstairs in a bedroom at the end of the house in what used to be my daughter’s room, before this penultimate child burst out into the world, leaving home at twenty, coming back only for visits — an ending I didn’t see coming, for sure. In that room, my sewing machine sits on a desk that runs underneath a double-wide window, and my view is visually sheltered there by the boughs of a silk oak tree, like a frame.

Just below the window, and sometimes climbing up the screen, is an enormous wisteria vine — no it’s really two vines — stuck in the earth some thirty years ago when we moved to this house. In the spring it’s an uncontrolled explosion of heavy blossoms, followed quickly by incessant leaves and sinewy vines and tendrils, climbing, growing, spreading, taking over the old arbor full of termites and carpenter bee holes, and reaching over the pathway to the silk oak.

Two days ago I was startled by a squirrel that leapt from the roof of our house onto the silk oak limb, and as the wisteria has its tendrils wrapped around that one, too, the whole green carpet above and just below my window was set into motion with the squirrel’s landing, a rustling that kept me watching until everything stilled and the squirrel descended down the trunk and onto to other things.

I took a leap of sorts last year when I figured out how to do everything Guild-related from this desk in front of this window: videos, Zoom lectures, demos with two cameras on camera stands that I always have to wrestle into submission for at the time, I was unaware of the fancy ones that moved at the touch of a finger. I loved the Zoom teaching, especially.

I loved all the students in their places and their spaces, their fabrics right at hand, the mess underfoot, the walking back and forth from cutting station to ironing board to sewing machine. It was a rich, varied tapestry of individuals all honing their craft, this pattern they’d chosen, and we worked together as a very long-distance team. Most of the time.

I had a few failures, when I couldn’t reach through this digital space to show them how I trimmed, or to look at the blocks arranged on a wall that was in the hallway just around the corner, with no way to show me. I’ve had classes where it was deathly silent, everyone on Mute, watching my class videos or just being extra-respectful to not bother everyone with their usual noises: phone calls to friends, TV on for company, or the singing along to the radio. I could see them having a life, but there I was at the desk, sipping my water: the girl in the digital box.

Concentrating on getting the talk set up

I loved the Guild Presentations, too: the rows and rows of shining-faced quilters, and before I start, we are all expectant, all of them present in their easy chairs, propped up against their pillow towers on their beds, or the living rooms where husbands/friends/children/dogs wander through, and at the kitchen tables, all of us beaming at each other.

As you know, I recently taught a second class for the Santa Clarita Quilt Guild and my husband asked me if I had any repeats from the first time. I hadn’t looked up the previous class, but when I saw one student’s beautiful wall, I knew she had taken from me before. The space was familiar, for, in a way, I’d spent several hours there last year.

I now have two lectures, four online classes, but almost no gigs lined up. Is this an ending? I love teaching, but maybe it’s time to take longer to watch that squirrel with her descent or
“To follow the notes of a disappearing bird
out into the trees, up and out along the farthest / branch…”

I don’t know. Maybe it’s not?

I pinned all the Blossom quilts on the design wall before class.

I recognized an ending last time I came to this familiar junction. And I recognized when I had written everything I needed to say at another place in time. But this is all sort of unfamiliar to me now, for I don’t think I’m done, but yet somehow it feels like it might be that way. Or, it might not.

I gave the final scheduled lecture for 2021 last week. It was a hybrid: with a small cohort in their Guild’s usual meeting place at the Fellowship Hall, and the rest of us on Zoom. It was an interesting push-pull, a tension between the recent months of Covid and our isolation and this guild meeting was kind of at the reverse place — wanting to get out, but also wanting to stay in.

I recognized the impulse. Here in California we are all feeling sort of safe with masking in place, numbers down, vaccines in arms, and so we are venturing out to normalcy. However, I figured out some time ago that I would never visit a Guild in person again to teach or give a talk, much preferring the Zoom format. So perhaps this hybrid meeting was the opening of that proverbial door, the notes of that disappearing song beckoning me to the edge of a different wood, in a different territory.


I’ll still be quilting, I’ll still be writing here on this website. I have a thousand-and-one projects lined up, and I may yet figure out how to schedule my own classes, turning students loose in my videos and handouts and structure. And I know Santa Clarita wants me to come back, too.

Stay tuned.

“Some Ants for Henry,” by Ralph Black
To begin each day among the weeds, crouched
   and hungry for a sign of complete desire, this
is my small prayer. To pull a blade of grass and watch
   a single globe of dew fade and blink out.
To follow the notes of a disappearing bird
   out into the trees, up and out along the farthest
branch, laying my fingers against the pulse
   of that blue-fletched, warbling throat.
Such moments can kill a man, or startle him back
   to his senses. [….]
(from here)

16 thoughts on “To follow the notes of a disappearing bird

  1. So interesting… your thoughts about not teaching in person again/remaining virtual. Not having adopted a virtual method for teaching (home opposition to the idea) myself, I am more than ready to return to in-person teaching, hoping that we’ll gradually return to normal again. Things are definitely looking up for that eventuality here in Florida, so I feel optimistic. That said, for 2022 our local MQG chapter is planning a combination of workshops. Members did NOT adapt well to Zoom, so in-person workshops are being planned, as well as a few virtual workshops with instructors who are too far away to bring in. So maybe we won’t return to the “normal” we once had. I enjoyed your squirrel story, imagining him/her as a trapeze artist dropping into the net. So fun! Keep enjoying your beautiful outdoor view.

  2. Interesting observations. Or guild is not fairing well this year. It started out well with virtual lectures and workshops, but now less than half the membership logs on for the lectures. Members are not filling positions. Not really sure what’s going to happen going forward. Our membership is definitely on the older side, so that may be part of it.
    I guess it’s a wait and see kind of thing.

  3. I found your post so interesting and it made me look a little deeper at how the pandemic has effected my thinking and feelings. I recognized many years ago that I am an introvert and I realized that was just part of my personality and I am ok with that. What the pandemic has done is make me more of an introvert and I find it much harder to socialize and that is not so good. So many changes in a world in such a short amount of time with no real knowledge of what the final outcome will be.

  4. Elizabeth,
    Beautiful reflections on the inner dialogue that many of us are experiencing. When we seem still, or sitting at our machine, our mind is busy…trying to figure it out. The deadlines can shift. Don’t rush yourself to know until u truly know…if you ever truly know. Just go with the flow and we will go with you, as we go with our OWN flows. So many things to think about. Meanwhile, we are connecting and that sense of community is SO uplifting. 💙

  5. Lovely post. I think a lot of people have re-thought things during the pandemic and will not be going back to the same old ways.

  6. I hear you on liking having moved in to the Zoom space (and that workshops are occasionally a bit too quiet), and I am also unsure of what comes next. All along I figured we’d have a lull when things swing back to being in person, but I think the future will hold some options – it’s a lot cheaper to have a Zoom class than to pay for travel to have in person events. My last guild lecture on Wednesday was hybrid and there is definitely some learning for us all to adapt for that, but my guess is that it will continue to evolve and we’ll find our path in it. ❤

  7. Hi Elizabeth. Today I read your blog post on 6/6/21. I clicked on the link for your quilt Riverside Sawtooth and the post many years ago on 5/7/2016 popped up. I could not find the pattern on Craftsy or PayHip. Is it possible to purchase the pattern?

    P.S. I’m happy you haven’t closed the door completely from doing Zoom presentations or classes. I know Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr are continuing to use Zoom during this crazy time. Probably many others too.

  8. I’ve read this post several times now and the word that really has a pulse, for me, is “perhaps”. And in the early light of day it occurred to me that perhaps your teaching could be directed at those who don’t know how to sew. You love to teach and you love to sew. I mean, here we all are, aging quickly and quite likely taking our talents, and our collections of machines and fabric, to the grave with us. Surely there has to be a way to speak to those who want to learn – regardless age, sex, nationality – and a way to harness a portal for all these wares and talents that we might well let go of!!! There.

  9. I think you have hit the proverbial nail on the head: the old normal is no longer, but will there be a new “normal”, or will there simply be a hodgepodge of new things to deal with? It feels so often like a teeter-totter (to use a word from my childhood) – how do you keep your balance? You ability to pivot this year (notice the use of the “buzz” word) has been impressive, but it’s also all right to sit still for a while. You have found your path at other points in your journey, and I believe you will again, when it’s time. In the meantime, I personally am benefitting from your musings and your wonderful photos, and just know that you are still being creative. It gives me hope for my future, too.

  10. I’ve admired how you moved so easily into the digital teaching. I guess I am the type of person who prefers the in person relationships and was never interested in moving the other direction. I hope eventually our guild will go back to the “old” ways. In the meantime, I’ll pass on the classes, lectures and workshops. It’s just not my thing. It will be interesting to follow along and see where you go with your teaching. I know you will make the most of whichever path you take.

  11. What a lovely view from your studio. I hope you’re not done teaching because I can only imagine the energy you bring to a class situation. But mostly I hope you find what’s right for you. No pressure to be anything other than yourself. My new norm is back to solitary quilting and less social media. I’m ok with that. It’s not because I’m Covid hesitant because I think we all need to get back out in the world and lead normal maskless lives. It has more to do with a renewed sense of priorities. I don’t want politics in my quilting world. I can find that elsewhere when I choose. Quilting is where I turn for creative expression and relief from the world at large. I also have new distractions and interests that have higher priorities, namely a new little life to cherish and snuggle. Life is good.

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