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A California State of Mind

 I’ve always loved that Billy Joel song about a New York state of mind, and frequently find myself humming the tune, especially since I no longer live up East and sorely miss The City.  Lately, however, I’ve found myself ushered into a “California state of mind.” 

     California often gets a bad rap, I think, especially in these days of such divisive politics. Red state politicians like those in Texas are always threatening voters that if we don’t vote for x-y-z, we’ll turn into California. Hmmm…is that a threat or a promise? Such comments immediately make me think of Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968), her famous collection of essays about the California lifestyle and the connection between identity and place. Could she have been a progenitor of identity politics?

     Didion, who was a major influence on my own early non-fiction writing career and whose work commands a whole shelf in my home library, is sort of how my current California state of mind began. You see, I was reading her latest published collection of essays, Let Me Tell You What I Mean (2021) when she died last December. In my sadness, my thoughts went back to those early essays of hers about her home state (she was born in Sacramento), and so I retrieved my copy of Slouching to enjoy once again the inimitable style and unique observations that had made her famous and become her hallmark. 

     I have always had a fondness for California, probably because Los Angeles was the very first big vacation my Mother and I took after my father’s death when I was a kid. (I have written about this before in this blog, particularly in posts of May, 2017.) North or South, San Diego or San Clemente, whenever and wherever I go there, being in California always makes me smile. Which is how my husband and I started to think about possibly visiting San Francisco sometime this year to see dear friends, a trip that we had to postpone from 2020 because … well, you know.

     In the throes of yet another Covid wave this January, however, I was looking for inspiration for a new art quilt project when I discovered, or should say re-discovered, the work of California artist Wayne Thiebaud and his “confections” series. In a delightful coincidence, our own McNay Art Museum here in San Antonio was hosting an exhibition of his paintings and prints organized by the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, where he lived and worked,  to celebrate the artist’s 100th birthday. The exhibit was fabulous and inspired me to create my own small art piece of Dairy Queen delights in homage to Thiebaud. (See post of Jan. 11, 2022.) Two California artists, both with Sacramento ties, had given me hope and inspiration for the new year and made me smile.

     The next thing that happened was that I came across a call for submissions to a special exhibit titled “Hooray for Hollywood,” at the International Quilt Festival opening in Long Beach in August. Having finished my “Thiebaud in Texas” piece, I was ready for a more challenging  project, but one that would keep me smiling. Being in that California state of mind, I immediately recalled a favorite photograph of mine pf the Paramount Pictures Studio taken on our last visit to Hollywood. I had considered replicating this photo in fabric before, but could never quite find an appropriate showcase. Now, here it was! A show made to order for an appliquéd art quilt representing the only remaining, working major picture studio in Hollywood today. It took me three months of dedicated, daily effort to complete it in time for submission, but I got it done. I call it “Lights, Camera, Action!” (pictured above, 36” x 40”), and I JUST got notified that it has been juried into the show! I am packing it for shipment now and smiling all the way to the UPS store.

     While working on these quilt projects and waiting, hoping, for Covid to subside, I also got news that a dear old college friend of mine was relocating to the San Francisco area from the UK, where she had been living for the last 20 years or so. Needless to say, that was happy news, and all the more reason to make plans for that trip we had been considering. Once I found out that we could fly non-stop to San Francisco from here, that sealed the deal, in spite of my misgivings about air travel sans mask mandates.

     As you might have inferred from my last post about our recent stay in Galveston, we—I—remain crowd averse and travel wary after over two years spent almost entirely at home. However much I may miss my friends and our near-constant traveling lifestyle, I do not believe Covid is over, nor do I believe that merely wishing it were will make it so. But I also don’t think that any of us can live the rest of our lives in total seclusion. So, we get our vaccines, wear our masks, assess our risks and try to navigate this new world with some good sense and reasonable safety. 

     And we go to California expecting to smile.


  1. Diane Thiel

    Joan Dideon is one of my favorite authors and a Netflix documentary written by her nephew, “The center will not Hold” is worth the watch. And California is the most glorious state, north to south, with its coastlines, mountains, valleys and farms and vineyards. Enjoy your venture there, all your reunions and best wishes for a prize for your quilt. We hope to return to CA ourselves, but not until late august. Sorry to miss you.


  2. Yes, I too have seen that documentary on Didion, as well as others over the years. She really made her mark on American letters. Looking forward to visiting some of her old familiar places.
    Appreciate your good wishes on my art quilt, but unlike traditional quilts in traditional quilt shows, art quilts are displayed in curated exhibitions around a common theme, like art exhibits. Being juried into an exhibit over many submissions is itself the prize.
    Thanks for your comments.


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