When one word can be pronounced in two different ways and each pronunciation determines what the word means within a particular context, it’s referred to as a heteronym. There are numerous examples of this phenomena in English, and I give a shout out to Dr. Martin Adam from Masaryk University for first drawing this to my attention. For example, you record your favorite song. And if you are sufficiently old or sufficiently cool or happen to be both, you might have a vinyl record. At the moment I am not focused on music though, but on tears. Tear is another heteronym, which I was reminded of when reading The Typography of Tears by Rose-Lynn Fisher.

That tear can refer to the salty drop sliding from your eye, down your cheek and also refer to what one can do with material such as paper or fabric makes utter sense to me today. Even though these two tears are not etymological cousins, they feel related. Tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of sadness, tears of gratitude, tears of frustration. Although there have been many instances for me in the last three months that produced tears of gratitude, there have also been numerous ones that produced tears of frustration and pain. January 6th was the day I heard the news Georgia was sending two Democratic Senators to Washington, and then I watched in disbelief as insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol.

tears of grief

Now in Montana, while I wait for weather to turn warmer and Covid numbers to drop so I can take my bookstore out, there are numerous occasions for tears and tears. A friend’s new grandbaby, the season’s first crocus, someone who had a dark period of grief is gently pulled outside to start gardening, the older women I quilt with are all in good health and vaccinated. And then there is the situation in Helena where my local state representative gave a speech encouraging an increase in the cost of childcare so women would be more likely to stay home. Or the current Montana governor who killed a wolf near Yellowstone Park without cause. The state legislature chips away at funding for suicide prevention, public education, and mental health services, also restricting LGBT rights, while expanding rights to carry guns, as though everyone carrying a gun is going to be the solution for societal challenges.

So I cry. And I tear with rage the newspaper that covers the stories of this year’s state legislature because I can’t believe what some of those people are doing. I tear fabric to make Covid quilts because this pandemic has taken too many people from us, kept us apart from too many whom we love. I tear paper to create artist books. And I read. Which is how I came to rediscover Rose-Lynn Fisher’s book on tears.

Sometimes there’s a benefit in reading a book that brings tears. It cleanses your eyes, provides an empathetic release as you turn pages. Just in case you are in need of this therapy…

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

If you are more inclined to want to tear things to release tension or frustration, I suggest piles of newspapers waiting to be recycled.


Quilting words

It is a slow season for a traveling bookstore in northwest Montana. The snow is starting to settle in and the pandemic has settled heavily in these parts as well. So the bookstore is parked. Occasionally locals stop by and I put a bag of books together for them. It is a very good season to be reading.

Besides my own reading, there is also quilting. Some years back, I began going to a group that meets every Friday to hand quilt in an old schoolhouse. Their efforts bring in funds to support the local museum. Not a person who sews by nature, I mostly wanted to be with these women who knew the history of the valley and who lead by example. They told me I needed to quilt if I was going to hang with them on Fridays so gradually I learned how to make small(ish) stitches, how to attach quilt layers to a frame.

stretching back of quilt on frame

This year in an attempt to make the physical and mental adjustments to Covid, I began creating three quilts. For me, quilting is collaboration. There really isn’t any way to imagine doing it alone. I asked people for fabric, I asked for gloves – as the one quilt features gloves and how our sense of touching others changed during these times. For another quilt, I wanted faces so a friend, Shirley Jacobs, began helping me produce wood block portraits of twenty individuals who passed away over the last six months. Another friend who is a remarkable quilter helped us piece the portrait quilt together. And this week, the women began the process of putting it on the frame to quilt.


Thinking about this and the wonderful children’s books available about quilts, I decided to put together a list just in case you need ideas for holiday shopping. Of course, you can order any of these from independent bookstores.

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Quiltmaker’s Gift by J. Brumbeau and Gail de Marcken

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson

Quilt Story by Tony Johnson and Tomie de Paola

Quilts of Gee’s Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin


To sew is to pray. Men don’t understand this. They see the whole but they don’t see the stitches. They don’t see the speech of the creator in the work of the needle. We mend. We women turn things inside out and set things right. We salvage what we can of human garments and piece the rest into blankets. Sometimes our stitches stutter and slow. Only a woman’s eye can tell. Other times, the tension in the stitches might be too tight because of tears, but only we know what emotion went into the making. Only women can hear the prayer. from Louise Erdrich’s Four Souls. HarperCollins, 2004

Yes, it is summer so I read. And I take the traveling bookstore around to events in northwest Montana where mostly I set up at farmers markets. When not reading or doing the traveling bookstore business, I work on a quilt these days. I am not a very experienced quilter so it feels a bit odd and definitely awkward. It could be called an art quilt although that seems pretentious. It will be a quilt that can cover someone’s bed, can be wrapped around you on a chilly evening as you read. It is made from fabric and gloves people gave me. I am trying to get the stitching right.

It made sense at that beginning to call it a pandemic quilt. That doesn’t capture it all now as I sew. Initially the idea came from gloves we wore to keep ourselves and our communities healthy, and also the stark physical isolation as many people stopped hugging, stopped shaking hands. Yet circumstances unfolded – or became more vivid. At the beginning it was about a virus but expanded into a lack of leadership and into Black Lives Matter and then older women linking arms to protect protestors. My neighbor across the street put a “Faith Over Fear” sign in her front yard. A thirty-year-old Congresswoman gave a speech that spoke to power. Many foreign borders are now closed to Americans.

I sew a quilt. I make books available to people. I hope for the best, but know we each must contribute to make that happen.