Wednesday, August 10, 2016

She's Come UnPun; or: Reading Kaffe Fassett's "Dreaming in Color"

This summer I read some excellent books for school, including We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

But before I did, I needed an education of a different sort, so when I ordered my children's summer novels, I included a treat for myself: Kaffe Fassett's marvelous autobiography Dreaming in Color. I've wanted to buy this book for a couple of years, but only when I had the proper amount of time to devote to it. And I am so glad that I had a summer week and a pool to myself, because this book was so much more "glorious," to borrow a favourite adjective from Mr. Fassett, than I had anticipated.

What did I love learning about? Certainly Fassett's childhood in Big Sur, and his family's fabled restaurant Nepenthe; his years in mod London (even appearing in a scene of Blow-Up--the one where Verushka says, "I am in Paris"); his discovery of various arts, from painting to knitting to needlepoint to mosaic to quilting; his great friendships with men and women, most of whom were his creative peers.

I loved Fassett's adventurous spirit, whether for travelling, for taking chances with people, for ignoring "rules" of art, for both making patterns and for ignoring patterns. I also learned that we have a mutual friend in common.

Just today I pulled my well-loved Glorious Knits off my shelf, now knowing the back story to many of the models within as well as the photographer and the locations. And I even learned something that I'd completely forgotten: a dear girlfriend from grad school had given me this book as a gift in the 1990s, and I reread her sweet inscription.

I actually became undone a few times when reading Dreaming in Color, so inspired and excited was I to begin thinking in color again (more prosaic academic activities have been occupying me). And if I think about it, I taught myself to quilt and embroider back in the mid 1990s after completing my PhD qualifying exams. Instead of beginning my dissertation immediately, I took a quilting sabbatical and made a queen-size kaleidoscope quilt. I needed to think and feel in colour, not words and literary theory. The same thing happened, in shorter form, this summer.

But how did I become unPun? I know well how to pronounce Kaffe Fassett's name (think "Safe Asset") but thought visually instead, thinking of inviting readers to a Kaffe klatsch. I hope he would not be too annoyed.

And his author's photo in that indigo shirt? I can't help but be reminded of a younger, creative self who loves colour too. (We even appeared in the same issue of Selvedge not too long ago.)

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