Can Poetry Save Us?

I should be sleeping. I could be, were it not for two things that have kept me up into the dark start of the new day:

  1. I finished my friend’s quilt
  2. I read a post on Facebook that won’t let me go

The post was shared by an acquaintance of mine, and it described one man’s habit of sending out postcard poems. My friend’s comment: Can Poetry Save Us? I was surprised to see that the first two responded with an emphatic “No.”

Now I am the first to admit that I am both a total idealist and a blind optimist with very strong thoughts on this very topic (note the name of my site), but since I do not know the poster well, I responded with a simple “of course it can,” but the bigger, truer answer is still spinning inside of me and it is this:

Of course it can. It must. The only antidote for destruction is creation. The only antidote for hatred is love. The only antidote for ugliness is beauty. The only antidote to war is art.

Our government is broken. Our corporations are broken. Our economy is broken. America is broken. And in deep opposition to my strong inner Pollyanna, I do not believe that they can be fixed–at least not from within. I believe that the only solution is revolution, but not the kind with bullets and guns. The revolution we need is already in progress as more and more people opt out of our consumerism-driven train wreck of a culture to focus instead on quality of life, on health, on time to grow healthy food, to cook full meals without cans, boxes, or microwaves, to say no to the mountains of waste produced daily by transforming what other people think of as garbage into usable, functional objects, by transforming it into art.

So yes, I believe poetry can save us. In fact, I believe that it is the only thing that can. And by poetry, I mean art, the act of creation, be it an actual poem, a painting, a photograph, a bracelet with a baby’s name on it, a space opera, a gadget built from discarded parts, a quilt… I have to believe. If I didn’t I could never have spent all those many hours over the last several weeks stitching my hands numb to try and make a difference in the life of a woman fighting a potentially deadly disease. I have to believe that somehow, this fabric, this thread, each thought physically sewn into the pattern–clear lungs, strong bones, body of light, surrounded by the healing power of love–chanted in my mind with each stitch, will make a difference. Because it does. I’ve seen it.

Art saves one life at a time. Start with your own, then move out from there.

Making a Difference

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do with this site, this blog, this quilting life. I obviously had intentions when I named my previous website Quilts of Change. Something about making the world a better place. But it can be easy to get overwhelmed by that kind of pressure. The world’s problems feel so big, and what really can a quilter do? It’s so easy to feel like it’s all just a drop in the ocean, of little or no account. And then something happens…

That something was learning that a friend and neighbor has been diagnosed with cancer–late stage and hard to fight. She sent us a note saying she doesn’t need anything. She has a plan. She has a loving family. She has a good dog. Which is wonderful, but I have to do something. Anything so I don’t feel so incredibly helpless.

And so I quilt. And I ask myself: Will this crazy, stripy mess with its random scrawled words really make a difference? Will it really change anything? Sure, it will keep her warm when she is cold. It may remind how much she is valued and love. And there may come a time where it can lend her the extra strength she needs to make it through. It’s a lot to ask of a few scraps of colored cloth, but then again, that’s what this cloth was made for. And thank God, because suddenly, fabric in hand, I don’t feel nearly as helpless anymore. Change is a two way street. It has to start with ourselves.

‘Tis the Season for Year-End Donations

Give us this day...
Photo by Mr. Kris (

As if holiday gift-giving wasn’t challenge enough to navigate when you’re sustainability-conscious and on a budget, December is also the time of year that non-profits bring out their full-court press to drum up tax-deductible donations. Just about every museum I’ve ever been a member of, every medical group I’ve ever visited, every cause I’ve ever donated to has sent me an email in the last two weeks. Some have sent snail-mail as well.

In the past, I’ve been happy to give. In fact, in the past, I’ve made sure to give to at least one charity in each of my three key cause categories: Education, Preservation/Conservation, and Food Security. Some of my favorite non-profits include:

Unfortunately, having just seriously downsized my career, I just can’t do it this year. Not like that, anyway. But if giving is still important, and I believe it is, that begs the question: What does one do instead of gifting cash to all these well deserving organizations? And if you do give, how do you narrow it down to one or two?

Here are my basic guidelines on how to choose:

  • Pick one cause — animal rights, the environment, education, whatever it is that most pulls at you. If your are flush with time and/or money, consider choosing more than one cause or donating to more than one group within the cause you choose.
  • Narrow to one specific aspect of that cause — I love Seed Savers Exchange for their work in preserving biodiversity to help ensure food security. But supporting the local farmer’s market is just as important. Choose what calls to you.
  • Can’t decide? Consider donating to a group with a broad foundation like the Sierra Club or Red Cross.

Once that’s done I begin to look into specific organizations, asking myself:

  • Can I support an organization with a membership instead of a donation? Membership support an organization plus gives the member free or discounted access to a world of inspiration — a win-win.
  • Can I donate time or goods instead of cash? Can I make or serve meals? Donate from my overfilled closets? Sew pillowcases or holiday placemats?
  • Is it local? Do they help and employ people in my immediate community?
  • Where does their money go? Is it 100% to the cause or do they spend a lot in overhead and administration? Sometimes those hidden costs are necessary. Sometimes they’re less so.
  • What are their mailing policies? Sending out direct mail seems to me a waste of resources, time, and money better spent on the cause itself.

That last one may seem a bit silly, but for me, it’s a sore point every time I open a letter. And that’s the whole crux of this, you have to feel good about what the organizations you support do, otherwise you may not feel as good about giving to them, especially when there isn’t much to go around.

So, who made my list this year?

  • Museum of New Mexico Foundation (membership) — Membership and donations provide the support necessary for education and outreach to thousands of New Mexico students, docent and volunteer training, research materials, conservation, acquisitions, exhibitions and special public events.
  • Upaya Zen Center (membership) — Upaya Zen Center is a Zen Buddhist practice, service, and training center which focuses on the integration of practice and social action in the areas of death and dying, prison work, the environment, women’s rights, and peacework.
  • Quilts of Valor (quilt creation and donation) — The mission of the Quilts of Valor Foundation is to cover ALL combat servicemembers and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.
And what about my big three causes? Well, they’re still important, and I will remained very focused on them in the coming year, both in my personal life and in my blog. But this season of giving, the two things that hit the strongest chord in me were art/creativity and peace — for all our sakes, especially for those who are sent out to fight for it.