Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Celebrating Friendship

Last year I started thinking about making a Friendship Quilt for the Storm Riders. This group of women came together online in late 2008 and since then have supported, and continue to support, each other through the storm of breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and moving beyond into the land of New Normal. In part this was done through a frontier-style scenario so the making of a quilt seemed to me a suitably fitting way to celebrate and commemorate our friendship.

I rejected as impractical one traditional method of constructing such a quilt; that of each person piecing her chosen block to a given size and then collecting and assembling them.  Instead I have asked each person to sign a square and then I will embroider the signatures and piece them into a quilt.

Contrary to all the advice given in quiltmaking books, I did not start by planning out the design. This was primarily because I wasn't sure just how many would be returned to me ... What I did do was to use the idea as an excuse to visit my local textile craft shop, which specialises in patchwork and quilting supplies. I then had a thoroughly enjoyable time selecting a series of fabrics that seemed to be in keeping with the scenario, including a pale one for the signatures. I suspect I won't use all those I bought but there were a couple that I just couldn't resist!

Whenever a few of us have been meeting I have taken along squares to be signed and am posting out others to people I'm less likely to see. Fortunately the idea has been received with some enthusiasm on the part of most people. I started embroidering the first batch when I was on holiday last year. Obviously the precious squares travelled in my hand luggage while the needles and scissors went in the checked baggage.

This is a long-term project and one of many occupying my time so it will be a while before it is completed. The Aromasin makes my hands rather stiff at times and so all handwork now takes longer than it used to take. It is, however, a most enjoyable project and it feels a lovely way in which to celebrate an amazing group of women.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Pink: to reclaim or not to reclaim

There has been a bit of discussion, blogging, etc. recently around those issues I think of as BC politics (lower case 'p'). I'm thinking of the whole Pink (upper case 'p') debate, questions of language and terminology. One of these - on language - has come from my old school friend, the Feisty Blue Gecko and the other - on Pink - from a newly found friend, the Accidental Amazon.

It isn't unusual to find that someone with a strong opinion on one of these issues also has a strong opinion on the other. Surprise, surprise, I have strong opinions on both! Starting with Pink...

I have no problem with pink as a colour, but I do find its connotations of "sugar and spice" etc severely irritating. Pink as a colour can be strong and vibrant, but oh no, instead it is used to imply giggly, girly, trivial and often more than a little weak and feeble. These implications are totally inappropriate for those who have been/are being treated for and/or are living with breast cancer. These are strong determined women and men who have dealt with and are dealing with the difficulties of treatment and the implications of living with a life-threatening illness from which there is no magical "all clear".

Inappropriate as that may be, when taken into the sphere of campaigning and awareness raising this type of Pinkness can be positively dangerous. All too easily breast cancer can be trivialised into an entertaining, amusing and not really serious disease. It leads people to think that it is okay as cancers go; something easily "cured"and no longer life-threatening - which we all know is not the case. Yes, there have been great improvements in survival thanks to new more effective treatments, but far too many women and men still die of this disease. And for most of us, the treatment is hardly easy (let alone amusing) and learning to live with the uncertainty can be difficult.

There is a school of thought that says that all publicity is good publicity and that if Pinkness helps raise awareness in just a few women or can raise any money for cancer charities, it is a Good Thing. I am not at all convinced by this. My thinking is that all the Pink Trivia can detract from the serious business of investing in long-term research into prevention or ways of controlling the disease for a natural life span. For many women living with breast cancer the Pinkness is irritating at least and often trivialises their experiences.

Personally I am thoroughly uncomfortable with the image of people in pink wigs brandishing pink feather dusters and shrieking around. I'm really not convinced that their antics generate sufficiently significant funding for the image I find far more comforting and exciting - that of people in lab coats working away on the long term research I mentioned above - to make up for the lack of respect their attitude to the disease engenders.

I feel that I would like to reclaim the colour pink; emphasising the strong and vibrant. Rather in the way that some Black and Gay communities have reclaimed words with negative connotations. I'd love that to happen, but I fear that it will prove very difficult because the Pink Trivia is so firmly embedded in popular culture. Looking back at the 1980's Women's Movement I wonder, how on earth did we let this happen? Is it possible to reclaim pink, or is it forever blighted by sugar 'n' spice 'n' all things silly?

We don't have people wearing red wigs, waving red feather dusters and generally being silly in December, yet the events held are usually good fun while at the same time raising funds and awareness. So why can't breast cancer fund and awareness raising be as dignified as that for HIV/AIDS?