Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cleaning Out Our Attics

These are fish napkin holders. They arrived in Saturday's mail, carefully wrapped and shipped USPS Priority Mail. Inside the box was a note from a dear college friend I had seen earlier in the week. She was in town from Paris visiting her elderly parents, and they had been cleaning out the attic of their family home. The never-used fish napkin holders, gifted to her parents long ago, had sat boxed up in the attic for years, waiting to be re-gifted to someone who still uses cloth napkins. That someone would be me, the recipient of a sweet and thoughtful gesture from a friend and her elderly parents, all of whom I adore.

This entire episode reminded me that we, 'we' meaning my husband and I, my siblings, my colleagues and all my friends in their fifties, we are all in a "cleaning out the attic" stage of our lives. The attic-clearing can be literal: passing long things we've held onto over the years, but no longer need or want, to someone else.

When my children left home, out of my house went extra furniture, dishes and pots and pans. Now that they both own homes, I have a list in my mind of special family heirlooms or otherwise valuable items in my attic and closets that I have now decided they are "old enough" to value and take care of. By becoming homeowners and parents, they have attained a certain level of stability in their lives at the same time that I am in the mood to clear "things" out of my own.

My 'baby' sister and I this summer, during her visit from Italy

My entire summer has been a more metaphorical cleaning of the attic. I have been acquiring new roles, such as "grandmother of three," "college buddy now in her fifties." I have also had the pleasure of not only forging fresh relationships with new grandbabies and old college friends, but of reconnecting with high school friends on Facebook and my own siblings, all wrapped in a parentheses of the music being created within my own family unit.

At this age, relationships become even more important, as they are my fuel for being an artist. Over the past decade, I have carefully swept my attic clean of unhealthy, one-sided relationships. I find I no longer have a tolerance for being with people who have nothing to give back in return. Instead, I have focused on my family, and building new and stronger relationships with our artist friends and musicians, all of whom provide deep love and support, shared experiences, and new ideas that find their expression in a cleaned out attic, where there is room to grow.

In July my tArty friends, a local artist group, met at my house to share their new work. It ran the gamut from exciting commissions, new, mind-blowing sketchbooks, and ideas developed into artwork.
Christy's commission sketches

Jill's sketchbook drawings

Christine with work inspired by her sketchbooks

In my own work, I have spent the summer working on designs for my new line of Magic Baby clothes. They have been selling as fast as I can get them finished and photographed. Now I am gearing up for Fall and Winter, with new editions being created in soft flannel, knitted fabric and baby cord. I am also trying to work out some baby boy designs. I need to come up with something very cute and very unique, but not "girly." My 'clean attic' and supportive relationships give me the support and space to let my mind have room to think.

Please don't get the idea that my house or my work space is literally clean. Quite the opposite. In my writing studio, every shelf is covered with research materials, my manuscript pages and files, and accented with piles of finished artwork, TagTalk cards and the like decorating the floor.

In my art studio, a too-small bedroom filled with a Pier 1 dining room table converted to a work table, fabric and works in progress are everywhere. It looks like a mess, but this is how I work. I have my fabrics organized in ways that I can find just what I am searching for. My trims and notions are organized in containers and boxes that fill the space under my work table. The lighting is terrible, but this is the space I have to work in, and this is where I work. Every day.

My point in showing this to you is that the "cleaning the attic" analogy has nothing to do with literal cleaning. It has everything to do with clearing out our lives so that we can focus on our passions. For those of you who haven't found your passion yet, I suggest the technique of attic-clearing to help you make room for finding it.

Another artist group I am participating in, Compositional Conversations, was formed online by my colleague Terry Jarrard Dimond. You can check the links in my sidebar to some of the artists who are also participating and writing about the project. Terry, an amazing artist, invited 16 artists to participate in a conversation, both in writing online and responding, but also by agreeing to be recipients of an art piece begun by her with a single piece of fabric which is sent to each artist respectively to be added to, considered, and conversed with. It's an intriguing exercise for the artists, and a chance to respond to the choices other artists have made. My turn to receive the artwork-in-progress is fast approaching. Each week, as I see the pictures posted from the other participants, my heart starts to race in nervous anticipation. Clearing out my metaphorical attic has made room for these new experiences and artistic conversations.

If you regularly follow my blog, you may have noticed that I have been absent for awhile. I have been really, really busy working, and have needed to focus on that. Somehow, though, the fish napkin holders arriving in the mail following six weeks of reconnecting with old friends and loved ones got me to thinking about the past, about attics, about relationships, and about making room for what is important. I hope, perhaps, my thoughts will jog your own in the same way. Time to clean your attic.


  1. Gayle,
    It was nice to visit your blog as I hadn't yet had a chance to catch up with all of the Compositional Conversation participants. Your Magic Baby line is adorable and I can see how you constantly sell out. Especially with the reversible dresses. Great idea!
    I also really appreciate your input on my contribution to the conversation and look forward to each week to see the addition. I also have a blog; that is updated fairly often with studio news, artist recommendations and more.

  2. Great post and fabulous napkin rings. I too am a cloth napkin user and I too am cleaning out the attic as it were. Very thoughtful and I am glad to have YOU in my life.

  3. I don't use cloth napkins, but those fish are just too cool no matter what. I too have been cleaning, need the space for the new energy to come in. :D

  4. Gayle, loved reading your blog about cleaning out the attic! Having just spent a year cleaning out my parents home, made me go home and go through my house thinking about what was really important and what was not. For me, it is about the relationships (although to look at my house you would never know it!) Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Looking forward to seeing what Shelley does with our "Conversation"
    Beth Carney

  5. Thanks for giving me your blog link, Rebecca. I added it to my list. Any readers interested in watching the evolution of an artwork, check out the Compositional Conversation blog posts and pix. You'll love it!
    So, I guess the vote is one more cloth napkin user, one not, but likes the fish anyway : ) Isn't it funny how seeing something like that & knowing the story that came with it can send the human down its own path of memories? Andi, I love how you describe the clearing of space to make room for new stuff. That's exactly how I see it, too!
    And Beth, I can't even imagine what it must have been like to spend a year through that process. Hopefully, it was a healing time, too. I resonate with your though that it's about the relationships. Objects are objects that, like artwork, take on meaning through the owner, viewer or participant. That's why we artists need an audience.
    Thanks for all of your comments.
    Beth, your experience

  6. Cloth napkins! Cloth cleaning rags! Cloth paint rags! Cloth for everything it can be used for!
    Thanks for the long blog entry, Quatty. It's really nice to think about the attic metaphor! I will take time today to literally sort out something and toss tho, as I need to do the real thing! Love, Pomme

  7. The "thing" about saving and then discarding stuff is truly interesting. For me it represents movement through time. I had the honor of cleaning and sorting the contents of one set of my grandparents after they passed away. They were each born in the late 1890's and each lived until their 80's. It was a great ride looking at things they had saved during lives packed with change. I learned more about them during that than I had ever know plus I was living in the house while doing this sorting. A very emotional experience.

  8. It seems my thoughts about cleaning out the attic struck a chord with many of you. Pommie, the actual cleaning mimics the metaphorical cleaning, I think! I used to get itchy to clean things out that way, going through piles, opening long-closed boxes, re-organizing. Terry, I can imagine what your experience was like. How could that not remind you of an archealogy of their lives? And what is it we will leave behind as clues for those who are left to clean out our attics when we are gone?