Simple Math




"My head is broken," she said.

"Too full?" I asked. She had complained about that before. Her head was simply too full of quilting information.

"No. I have plenty of room now. It's just broken."

I looked at her head. I walked around her looking carefully at her from every view, front, back, both sides, the top, the bottom. "Your head or your brain?" I asked, wanting her to be specific. Her head looked just fine.

"Inside," she said. "Part of my brain. Can't you hear the rattle," she asked. She shook her head side to side and up and down.

"No rattle," I said.

"Well, nevertheless, it's broken," she insisted.

"Which part of your brain?" I asked. Sometimes, I have to find the right question to ask.

"The vision part," she said.

"Ah," I said.

"And the math part," she added quickly.

"You're having problems seeing numbers?" I guessed.

"I can see all right," she said.

"I don't understand," I said. As a retired man who pays no attention to time, I had time to be patient.

"Pieces of my brain are broken," she said. "It's a simple thing to understand."

"How did they break?" I asked, taking a new tack.

"Being creative," she said.

"Ah," I said. She had spent the evening before and most of that morning working on a new quilt. She had decided to let herself go, to let the spirit come into her, to take a leap into her own imagination. "You're having a difficult time with the new quilt?" I questioned.

"I'm not good with math. I can't figure out how many inches and half inches and quarter inches in a fat quarter or a half yard or a yard," she said.

"You usually manage," I said.

"That's when I know what I'm doing, when I'm following a pattern, when someone writes down how much fabric I need and what size seam to make and how large to cut the square. It's impossible when I'm on my own."

"Show me," I said.

"It's not just the math," she said, as she led me back into her sewing room. "It's the color and the design and everything else. No one told me being creative would be this hard."

In her sewing room she pointed to her design wall. I looked to see nine squares arranged to form an Attic Windows design, a tropical scene of palm trees and sunsets and ocean. The effect impressed me. "That looks great," I said.

"It looks good but it's not good yet. I have to figure out the sashing and the borders and the binding. And I don't think the bottom row looks right, so I'm thinking of adding something or taking something away or changing it. Do you think it needs boats," she said.

"What do you think?" I asked. I am now experienced enough as a quilting spouse not to be sucked down that drain. The last time I answered that question, and the many times before, she had laughed and said, "Oh, what do you know?" and went on to do it her own way anyway. But I was glad she asked. It gave me some hint as to how frustrated she was at that moment.

"Every creative bone in my body is broken and every cell in my brain is splitting in two like some amoeba."

"That sounds serious," I said. "Do you want an aspirin?"

"I want to be more creative and know color and style and design and how to draw in perspective and know when I have something that looks like a quilt when it's done."

"Anything else?" I can't draw at all and I don't come close to knowing how to read a pattern or sew a straight seam, so I understand her pain.

"I want to be able to come up with new ideas, to come up with something that's mine, to take an ordinary quilt and make it extraordinary."


"Remarkable, exceptional, fantastic, stupendous."

"That describes you," I said.

"I'm talking about my quilts," she said, but she took the compliment and smiled.

"So I need to work on being more original, more colorful, and I need to work on my problem with math."

"If a farmer has a haystack in one corner of his yard and two haystacks in another part of his yard, and three more haystacks in another part of his yard and he puts them all together, how many haystacks will he have all together?" I asked.

"Is that a math problem?" she asked with a tiny glare in her eyes.

"You want to work on your math, don't you," I said. I smiled at her and looked back at her design wall and the work she had already done. It all looked good to me, and it was creative and imaginative. "You just need more confidence," I said.

"I'm making a quilt, not a haystack," she said.

"Is that your answer, a haystack?" I asked.

"Whatever," she said gloomily.

"That's right. See you are good at math and you can make a great quilt and there's nothing wrong with your creativity."

"What's right?"

"One haystack. If the farmer puts together all the haystacks on his farm, there can only be one haystack. One big haystack.

"That's a trick problem," she said, half a smile curling one side of her face.

"Yes, it is, and it takes a creative person to get the answer, and it takes a creative person to finish the quilt that you're making, and from what I can tell, when it's finished you'll have one very nice haystack."

"It's a sunset scene on a tropical island," she said, the rest of the smile forming and locking into place.

"And it's your sunset," I said. "So do you want an aspirin for your broken head?"

"No, but you can take me out to dinner," she said. "It takes a lot of energy to be creative."

"My treat," I said.

Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

Back to Home Page  *  Top of Page

E-mail Popser if you'd like.