Blanket

By | September 20, 2018

Guest post by Kara Thompson

At the outset of this project, when someone would ask me, why write a book about blankets, I found the negative construction easier to manage: No, I don’t make quilts or blankets; I don’t collect them either; and I am not a textile historian. But the more I explained why I wouldn’t write a straightforward book about blankets, the less I wrote. I finally had to set a goal to write 1000 words a day, no matter what, and hope that the sheer exercise of my fingers to keyboard would bring something into being. I wrote in the mornings, my post an austere wooden table with a wooden bench for a seat. The word count grew by increment. But I recently looked back at some of the early drafts, and remembered that some days I had to cheat a little. There are paragraphs that detail birds who must have landed near the window view, or these nine words: “I have no thoughts in my head about blankets.”

One morning, desperate to fill the self-imposed quota, I remembered a certain blanket from childhood—not one of my own, but one I came to know well. So I began to write about it: a brown, yellow, and beige crocheted blanket, made by my grandmother. It was the unexpected start to the memoir sections in Blanket, to the blanket’s becoming a kind of character witness to a long process of mourning, and to my queerer curiosities. I turned the question from Why write about blankets? to How far could I push the form, the blanket object, or even the writing itself, before it breaks? But that’s the thing about blankets and language: they just unfold into different shapes, and in the unraveling, undoing, the coming apart, blankets come to life, even when writing about death.

I wrote most of the book in Los Angeles. My reward for reaching 1000 words was often to visit galleries and museums to see art, like the Hammer Museum, where I saw Jeanine Oleson’s Conduct Matters (2017). The woven blanket at the center of the installation, entitled Perspectus…a…um, refers to the declension of the Latin transitive verb perspicio: to see through, to examine, to observe. Blankets may be opaque objects, but the stories and histories they carry, the ways they come to signify security and comfort, or their sheer utility as objects of survival, mean that blankets also help us to see through, to examine, to observe worlds beyond their surfaces. To write about blankets, I had to turn the blanket form over and around. I had to teach myself what a blanket looks like from a slightly anamorphic angle. So I stood all the way to the side of the blanket, and scenes of grief, pleasure, and death began to emerge.

On writing breaks, I also took walks on uplifted sidewalks and faultlines, and traversed the folds and tinder of golden hills. These unscripted engagements and earthly surfaces found their way into the book to the point that I wonder what I would have done without the setting of Los Angeles, a city at once so confident and vulnerable. It was in LA that I realized how the writing process runs on the push and pull of confidence and vulnerability. Blanket is the result of my charge, and my willingness, to pull the covers aside.

Kara Thompson is the author of Blanket in Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series.

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