Work In Progress: May 2021

One of the many happy privileges I’ve enjoyed in nearly four decades as a full-time writer is the ability to choose my own work. Nobody has ever tried to tell me what to write. Well, maybe some, like those who don’t like China Bayles’ liberal opinions and want to tell her what to think. But aside from those few, my writing projects have been of my own choosing. That’s also pretty much true about the way Bill and I have lived, here in our quiet corner of the Texas Hill Country. And how many people get to say that about their lives and their work?

Which of course doesn’t mean that I enjoy everything I do. Or that sometimes, sitting down to the computer to work on the current book isn’t at the very tip-top of my fun-things-to-do-today list. Or that I always feel I have made all the right choices when it comes to this or that. But it does mean that I’m usually pretty well satisfied with what I’m doing, and that–once I’ve chosen a project and its well underway–I’ve learned to love it for what it is, warts and all.

And because my mother, God bless her, always told me to finish what I started . . . well, I did.

Until my latest cross stitch project. As you may know, cross stitch is one of my  passions. I’ve been doing it for a couple of decades, more seriously in recent years. I always have one big allover project underway at a time, sometimes alongside other smaller projects. These projects often take 12-15 months to complete–a lot longer than a book. And of course, once I’ve invested four or five months in a piece, I’m fully invested. There’s no turning back.

Until the current project You can read about “Canal Home” in a mid-March blog post, when I was only a couple of months into it. Even then, I was beginning to have some doubts, because the colors didn’t seem as bright as they are in the photograph of the painting on which the design was based. And because the chart called for so many colors (and so close in value to one another) that the work seemed to go slower and slower, until finally it seemed to be going nowhere at all.

So I set it aside. Which is not to say that I’ve abandoned it. I haven’t gone that far yet. But I’ve taken it off the frame and packed it away. And I’ve started a new project, based on a 1924 painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, called “Red Canna.” Sixty-some colors, plenty of shading, many challenges. It’ll keep me busy for the next 12 months. I love O’Keeffe’s work (I once thought of writing a book about her) and I’ve already gotten a good start on “Red Canna.”

I’m sorry, Mom, to disappoint you. But I think you’d like this one, too. Red was always your favorite color, wasn’t it?

Reading Note: Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over.–Guy Finley

P.S. For a deeper, more expansive look at the idea of incompleteness, of unfinished and ambiguous endings, take a moment to read Gwen Martin’s comment below. Unfinished work, she says, encourages us “to engage with the ending’s various possibilities. The flow of energy from creator to receiver. That is what keeps things alive…ever flowing, never static.” This reminds me of one of my favorite novels, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles, which offers us two endings to a complicated story. Thank you, Gwen, for your reframing.

P.P.S. Thanks for your comments about a Georgia O’Keeffe book–much appreciated! I considered writing about her later life, but after digging deeply, I decided against it. I admire her art and her lifestyle choices and loved my visits to Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu. But I couldn’t admire her as a person enough to spend a full year with her.


28 comments on “Work In Progress: May 2021

  1. My great-grandmother, born in the 1800’s. left several quilt tops to be finished
    I shared some with a family member to finish. We have had pleasant times thinking of her as we worked on our quilts. We had never met her but had heard many stories about her, My mother wrote many down,for she was an indomitable lady who always made the best of difficult situations .Your “Darling Dahlias” bring her to mind – even though she was a Pennsylvania dressmaker and farm wife. Don’t fret. Projects have a life of their own. Live in the moment,

  2. Since I found your books I became addicted..I have read by now all of China Baylesones and a few of the Darling Dhalias..I live them all .I am Brazilian,journalist,I was a police reporter in my country and I’ve been living in Florida for the last eight years and I can understand you so well I crochet and I am always crossing two,three things at the same time..We crocheters call them WIP..- work in progress..So,I just wanted to say I live your books and pleasure some more about China.💙💚💛🌱🌳🌾

  3. I likewise love handwork. I prefer needlepoint. Instead of Christmas ornaments for kids, grandkids and 1 great grandson I am going to stitch leather key fobs with their initals. Some already don’t “do” Christmas, but I hope they will have wheels and a froninitials. And, Christmas is only once a year. I hope they will think of me more than that. LOL

  4. Oh, yes, getting them framed! I used Michael’s in Austin until Covid. Now that I’m ambulatory again, I realize how much I hate to drive in Austin. So the framing is backed up. I think I’ll try DIY.

  5. My husband and I are addicted to Diamond Art since being introduced to it last Labor Day weekend by our son. Since then we have completed over a dozen paintings but the problem is getting them framed and finding enough wall space to hang them.

  6. Yay! So happy you moved on to a cheerier piece. As a Texan, you should “know when to hold’em and know when to fold’em.” You chose correctly. 😉😊 Georgia O’Keefe? Yay to that too.

  7. Jo Anne, when I’m working on a book, I’m a one-project-at-a-time writer. Cross stitch, the same. I like large projects because when I get bored with part, I can move to a different one.

  8. Another vote for a book about Georgia O’Keeffe!!! You have a way of writing biographical novels that would bring a new slant on her life. Better than a straight biography.

  9. I too am a cross-stitcher and I have several WIPs (works in progress) which is very common for needleworkers to have. I also have taken up needlepoint since I retired and have been making Christmas ornaments for my three grandchildren. I hope they will keep them to remember me by when I am no longer here on earth. I do plan to finish at least one of my cross-stitch pieces before my eyesight deteriorates. If and when I do, I will send you a photograph of it.

  10. I would absolutely love it if you wrote a biography or a novel about Georgia O’Keeffe. When I first moved to the Southwest 34 years ago I immersed myself in all things O’Keeffe. I still enjoy reading and learning about her. Maybe as you work on your new project you might reconsider??

  11. Never mind the lovely needlework you have begun; from a stunning painting. PLEASE reconsider a biography on Georgia O’Keefe? You would do her justice, Susan. It would be a joy to read.

  12. It would be wonderful if your needlepoint of Georgia O’Keefe’s painting inspires you to write a book about her. But I’m glad it’s already inspiring your enjoyment.

  13. I used to do cross stitch and needlepoint, but it’s hard to thread needles and tie knots now so I knit instead. If something isn’t going the way I want I put it aside for awhile and then usually take it apart and make something else. The yarn doesn’t care

  14. Back when the pandemic began, I returned to old jigsaw puzzles with an almost desperate sense of relief and reassurance. Something beautiful, which I could contemplate as I “worked”, but most importantly, something over which I had some small measure of control in a world that had spun out of my hands. Of course, one is never genuinely “in control” anyway, but covid fronted that fact, stark and unadorned.

    When I’d gone through all the ones I already had, I bought half a dozen new art puzzles, mostly Impressionists, and worked my way through them. It became an enormous satisfaction — until I hit Van Gogh’s “Almond Blossom”. I loved the painting, but it simply didn’t progress, and I felt a huge amount of guilt as I put it back in the box unfinished and turned to other, less impressionistic Impressionists. From them I learned a keener discernment of color and shape, but I also learned how to slow down. What was my hurry, anyway? Time was something that I had in abundance, and I wasn’t in competition with anyone — except possibly myself.

    Having made my way through all the others, I came back to “Almond Blossom” — and I am loving it. It’s already taken me longer than any of the other puzzles, but each piece in place is a particular joy. If ever I see this painting hanging on a museum wall, I will have a far more detailed knowledge of it than I could have had before. It will be an old, and a dear, friend with whom I have spent many nights over many months. I’m glad I set it aside until I had an eye for the nuances, and the deepened capacity for contemplation, to really enjoy it.

  15. I love Georgia O’Keefe too, and think it would be great if someday you wrote a novel involving her. Should you need more encouragement to do that, a visit to her Ghost Ranch, in Abiquiu,
    New Mexico might do the trick! It’s even better than I imagined.

  16. I, too, am both an avid reader and a cross stitcher. Please don’t fret about setting aside your work or your stitching. My late daughter was also a cross stitcher and years ago she had started a project for her aunt, my dear sister-in-law. Unfortunarely, she died before it was completed. So I took it upon myself to finish it. (I really think she knew I would do that.) I then presented it to my sister-in-law with a letter describing the entire issue. She and my brother were thrilled. They had the cross stitch and the letter framed together. Although my duaghter died 17 years ago I still have a chest that contains some of her unfinished projects. Now I’m trying to figure out what to do with them. Any suggestions? I can still do some projects but as I have AMD my eyes aren’t what they once were so I must be choosey. I do love your books so keep up the good writing. Fortunately, I am able to read, I would be ready to hang it up if I couldn’t enjoy my books.

  17. Setting “Canal Home” aside seems a brilliant move. To go on when you are not pleased with it, would be a bit like finishing painting a room with a color that was not what you were expecting and then living with it day after day. No, better to stop and give it a rest. Lovely that you have a wonderful new project that is lighting your fire! Enjoy!

  18. While I would never attempt to tell you what to write, you should kno that part of me yearns for more volumes in the Robin Paige series. Enjoy your challenging iterlude with the Georgia O’Keefe tapestry.

  19. Susan, no judgment here! I’m a quilter who has MANY projects going at once…some I’m passionate about and others I’m just slowly working on because I don’t want another UFO (Unfinished Object) and I might have a bit of $$ invested. And some have been started and will never be finished – not by me anyway. What was passion and excitement at the beginning of a project can fade after a while. So while I don’t like having unfinished or unworked on projects, I give myself permission to put it aside and work (or start) something else.

  20. I don’t do cross-stitch, partly because my mother made me do it a a child. But Bargello needlepoint gives me enormous pleasure — and in fact your Red Canna immediately started me thinking about how to translate those colors into a Bargello design. And knitting — again it’s color that drives me , color that transforms a design.or a pattern.
    As the others have said, yes, please, a book on O’Keeffe would be a delight.
    And don’t let anyone move China away from her liberal opinions!
    — with admiration and affection —

  21. I too love Georgia O’Keeffe! Before I read I said to myself that looks like a G. O’Keeffe painting! I’d love to read a book you might write about her! I LOVE your China Bayles books the best!

  22. I would love to read your ‘possible’ book about Georgia O’Keeffe. I have read every book you’ve written and enjoyed them all. Your book about Laura Ingalls Wilder was an eye opener. I especially love China, she is so real. Keep up the good work.

  23. You know, Susan, perhaps there is another way to ‘frame’ your unfinished stitch-work. Everything we do embodies the energy of our creativity and sensibilities. The projects we finish send that energy fully wrapped, as it were, out into the world. But those we leave incomplete, such as Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures (the figures half-emerged from the marble), have their own special energy: a sense of infinite potential for the involvement of others’ energy. Either through finishing the project themselves or engaging with the sense of what might have been or could happen. Think of Chekhov’s short stories, many of which have an ambiguous ending. We the readers are left to ponder, to engage with the ending’s various possibilities. The flow of energy from creator to receiver. That is what keeps things alive…ever flowing, never static.

  24. That should be really lovely. Seeing her paintings was always one of my favorite things to do when visiting Santa Fe. Enjoy!

  25. That is incredible! Show us the finished product when you’re ready?

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