I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.
Words have always had an outsized place in my world—reading, hearing, pondering, analyzing the words of others while using, manipulating, playing with words myself.
In college, I was a member of a competitive debate and public speaking team. We traveled the Northeast, competing against other college teams and spent all our time figuring out ways to use our words more effectively.
In grad school, I studied rhetoric and public address, the ways humans use language to shape ideas and other humans.
As an academic, my field of study was the power of protest rhetoric, especially the uses of protest song, to advance a cause.
As a college prof, my focus was teaching my students the skills to critically evaluate the persuasive messages directed at them, to recognize why some messages moved them and others failed to.
This love of words didn’t end with the speaking of the words or the straightforward writing of them. One other way my fascination with words was displayed was through calligraphy—the actual “swing and swirl” of the words as they go onto paper.
I can remember practicing my handwriting as a child and teenager, wanting to make it more interesting.
I picked up little flourishes from writing I saw and made them my own, the most self-consciously cutesy of which was this:
But I didn’t stop with my everyday handwriting—more formal calligraphy took up a lot of my time. I had all the fancy pens and parchment paper and inkpots.
I practiced incessantly and I did pieces for family and friends.
When I needed my Master’s thesis typed, I made a deal with a friend. I addressed about 100 wedding invitations in my hand lettering for her and she typed my thesis.
The first gift I gave my husband, when we were dating, was calligraphy. He had a grown-up job and loved spending money and gave me expensive gifts. I was a grad student and poor so I made do.
I haven’t done any calligraphy in years. I am quite certain I couldn’t do it very well now because my hands are far creakier than they once were. The only calligraphy that’s still in the house is that little framed piece I did for Don.
I have found a new way to indulge my love of words, though. The hand embroidery I’ve been doing for the past three years or so has had a heavy focus on words. First, the cot to coffin quilt, with the multi-stanza song, and now the women’s rights quilt with embroidered quotes.
Calligraphy and hand stitching are slow. Both provide the time to focus on and think about individual words and their meaning and their power.
I like thinking about the ways the words were used, the alliteration in the use of the “b” sound in Sojourner Truth’s quote, her analogy of the ballot box to a glass globe, fragile and transparent and perfect.
I think about why some sets of words persevere, catch our fancy, live on beyond the lives of the speakers.
I am inspired, motivated, and always moved by the words.
But, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. How do you like my calligraphy and embroidery?
And what about you? Is there a theme or a kind of subject matter that you can see in your artwork or creative expression that has remained constant over the years?