If only I drank beer…

…my life would be totally different.

That’s my  Deep Thought  for February.

Because if I drank beer ( a beverage I still can’t stand the taste of) when I went to Ireland, I would have spent more time in pubs getting drunk and flirting with black-haired blue-eyed Irishmen and less time doing this:

(Note: clever use of tea cup instead of Triscuit.)

For those of you reading along, we are in the Febraury chapter, page 31, of When Wanderers Cease to Roam  but don’t worry if you’ve burned your copy of my book in protest of Vivian’s Big Head /Who The Hell Does She Think She Is [art journalers can be so mean!]. If you have my book, this is Back Story Stuff  but if you don’t have my book, well, then, this is Story Stuff.

I wasn’t always an immensely talented watercolor artist. Once upon a time I worked my magic with needle and thread: I was a dedicated embroiderer. So, when I was in a panic about turning 30 [in 1986] and I bought a one-way ticket to the most outlandish place I could think of — Ireland — (I was a big U2 fan) of course I packed about 100 skeins of beautiful French embroidery floss.

Starting in Galway I moseyed up and down the countryside, hitch hiking about thirty miles or thirty minutes a day. I was in no hurry and, as I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, had no preference for one part of the country over the other.  I’d stick out my thumb (it took about a week to stop feeling mortified every time I did that) and where ever the driver of the first car that stopped was going, that’s where I was going. I was never, and have never been again,  so . . .    [I want to use the word "spontaneous" but that sounds like I was having too much fun: half the time it was a daring adventure, half the time I was too depressed to care...is there a word for that?].

In Galway I bought some muslin: I had not brought any muslin — my embroidery canvas — with me from America because I thought it would be so much more authentic to buy some great Irish fabric in Ireland. Turns out that in Ireland the pickings are slim: there’s either linen (a fabric I don’t like, especially for hand sewing — please don’t send me nasty emails about how I am such a creep for disliking linen, how dare I, etc…) or a choice of inferior muslin. I  ended up with a light-weight muslin that gave me problems, but which I stubbornly refused to stop sewing on.

And that’s what I did on my down time  in Ireland: I sewed. I sewed on park benches, I sewed (one memorable rainy Bank Holiday in Roscommon) in the waiting room of a bus shelter for eight hours, I sewed in the evenings in the common rooms of youth hostels. The above Celtic sampler is what I sewed. It took me six weeks. I made it up as I went along — that’s why it’s such a jumble. Also, I did say that I was a mite depressed during this time; maybe that also shows in the wayward looks of it.

That bird in the lower right corner is the bird that is was the Irish pence coin at the time; the harp of course is a national symbol; the creatures hovering above the letters “e ” and “f” are, I believe, from the Book of Kells, and the various knots are various knots.

That piece of embroidery shows up in my book on page 31:

You will never believe how I got that stitch work onto the page:

I took my embroidery to Staples and I laid it down on a color copier. Then I cut up the color copy and taped bits of it along the edge of my journal page. That ratty taped-up color copy is what I turned in to Bloomsbury when I gave them my manuscript; Bloomsbury is such a high-quality printer that what they give you in the book is their scan of my color copy of my embroidery and you can still see the stitches!  (It’s all chain stitch, by the way.)

Also, if you look carefully, you can also see the way the light weight muslin puckers around the stitching. That’s why the entire piece had to be sewn onto a heavier, cotton backing when I was finished with it.  (Which I did six months later when I got to the Middle East — buying that one way ticket to Ireland was the start of a 12-month road trip. Long story. Not here.)  And that’s why my husband has never seen this piece until I got it out to show you all today – I think it is an inferior work of embroidery because of the crappy muslin I used for it and I’ve kept in folded up in my closet. Inferior compared to the stuff I’ve won awards for. [ Awards: possible future post.]

But let me tell you, if you are a solitary traveler and you spend any amount of time sitting in public places with a piece of embroidery that relates to the foreign country you are in (did I say that right?)  you will attract attention. Most of it — oh hell, all of it — GOOD. I can’t tell you the number of conversations and invitations and supplications I got as a result of people passing by who stopped to ask what I was working on, and who I was, and would I join them and their families for dinner, and would I show them how to sew their name in chain stitch if they took me to a Wolfe Tones concert, etc.  

Well, I could tell you…but this post is already too long and that might have to wait for Wednesday, when I tell you about my encounter with U2 and that night at Regine’s   [Remember her? She had a disco on Park Avenue in Manhattan in the 1980s?] that made me realize I had to get a new life by buying a one way ticket to a place I’d never been before.  That on-the-verge-of-30 desperation makes me smile, now that I know what 40 and 50 are like.     You all know what I mean.       Right?

11 comments to If only I drank beer…

  • EMBROIDERY TOO?
    I knew you painted; I knew you wrote beautiful stuff; I knew you knew how to art journal.
    Now this!!! On the debut of your new blog, I say ” great”.
    Wisdom woman was about a HAND PUPPET
    talking about menopause. How to do a garden, and the owners’ ideas on how to stuff things into a book, and call it ART.–o, excuse me; Art Journaling.
    Now I MUST buy your book. I’ve been reading the blog only. NOW I MUST HAVE THE BOOK.
    Barnes & Noble, here I come……

  • Shelley

    A one-way ticket to a 12 month road trip sound fantastic…wish I would have thought of that when I was 30…well, I probably did, but I already had a good start on being married forever, so it wasn’t really an option. Damn!

    Fast-forward 26 years, and it’s still sounding mighty good, but definitely not a viable option what with the husband, the house, the job, the cats etc. Double-damn. And I even like beer!

    Oh well, next best thing is ready about your adventures, and hopefully learning to view my daily life with a traveler’s eye too somewhere along the way.

  • Shelley

    That should say “reading” about your adventures! Gotta learn to proofread before sending.

  • Janet

    On-the-verge-of-30 desperation . . . oh, to be that young again and so sure life will totally pass you by you’ll quit your job, pack up what little you have and hit the road. Then you thought nothing of traveling with only a couple of changes of clothes, little if any real money and no itinerary. And 30 years later, the spark of wanderlust is still there — and so is the capacity to talk yourself out of just up and leaving. Now it’s working around the upteen things that demand your attention to find two or three weeks that you can steal away for your carefully planned and now expensive vacation, for you tell yourself there is no reason to deny yourself a room with a fabulous view, meals in mega-star restaurants and all the other trappings of a trip to a place you likely will not have time to visit again. I miss the me that lived in a VW bus for months in the 70s never knowing where she was going, but I must say I have held on to the me who still gets a thrill from arriving at a place I’ve never been and all that goes with it. One of the side effects of reading When Wanders Cease to Roam is how it helps you shift perspective — now there are days when I look at my hometown as a new place I’ve never been before. Maybe I’ll take up sewing so I can meet a few more of the locals . . .

  • Rachel

    We’re all in our places, with bright shiniing faces…

    My computer has been in the shop and only recently returned home, having had a lobotomy. We are getting re-acquainted. Then I was away this weekend on a wonderful retreat about Women and Change (just change, not THE change.) So I fired up the ‘puter and looked for you this morning and was shown *FORBIDDEN* YOU CAN NOT VIEW THIS BLOG ON THIS SERVER, or some such nonsense. Apparently I had missed your *Change Of Address* announcement.

    What a relief to find you again, (I went to the Wanderers blog and snuck in via the old secret doorway.) It is so good to see that you are still gluing Triscuts, taco chips, soy sauce packets and tea cups into your journals. :-) And if you want to learn the history of soy sauce packets, and all else about Chinese resturantiania, check out The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee.

    It is so good to be back with you and the gang.

    Hugs, Rachel

  • Sandy

    Ahhh to travel and recount vicariously!! I never had the guts to take off, I wonder who I’d be if I had? Now, I still dislike beer -love to travel And I journal about my home and life – so maybe we arrived at the same place via different paths? I think I like your path better!

  • Shelley

    I’m glad I checked in at your W.W. blog before the “Forbidden” sign popped up!

  • It was nasty of the previous Wonder Woman not to tell us how to access you.
    How can we email HER and ask to forward to you?

    I am working on May, and I just bought it yesterday. Vivan, this book is a treasure. I will buy one for every dinner party I’m invited to, every birthday , every special event., etc. etc.
    For “just because”.
    It’s a chronicle for every woman to read.
    Makes you “remember’ or “wish I had done that”…..

  • Jan @-->---

    Beautiful work Vivian. I’m a fellow stitcher too..but do more crochet now as it’s easier on my old eyes and hands. I still have tons of embroidery stash though, just in case.

  • Your sewing in public stories are similar to what I encounter when I knit in places I go. People stop and are interested, and that leads to nice conversations between people with at least one interest in common. I remember doing sewing on denim shirts, but never anything a big as the piece you shared in your blog. Seeing yours makes me want to do that again. On another note, I like that you keep your sense of humor in regards to the comments you’ve obviously had from some readers. I know it must feel crappy to get responses like that, but the rest of us are out there loving what you write. Thanks.

  • Barbara Lemme

    I recently found some pillowcases where I had practiced the embroidery stitches my grandmother was teaching me oh so many years ago. The pillow cases were shot but I cut off and saved the embroidery. As for meeting people while doing handwork, when I moved to Phoenix some years back, I met my first friend while sitting in the huge jury room. Yes, I was called shortly after we arrived here. Across that huge room I saw a woman pull out a quilt and begin stitching. As I was a quilter at that time, I thought I could at least watch and perhaps talk with someone interesting. I no longer quilt, but my closest and oldest friends here are quilters met through that first contact.

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