Inspiring Individual Spotlight: Georgianne Rollman

Georgianne Rollman (or “Gee” as she’s affectionately called) exudes kindness and embodies an intelligence that comes from a life lived fully with open mind and intention. Our paths cross a lot; we both had pieces in the Denver Community Museum’s “29” exhibit; we each shared stories during Teacher’s Pet at Buntport Theater; Gee generously made one of her famous hand sewn quilts for my husband and me when we got married. Her daughter is one of the creative masterminds who started and runs Buntport Theater; I saw Gee there recently and she made a comment that I found inspiring. She was talking about how being a parent to her grown children has a different dynamic than parenting growing children—and recognized that the shift is a healthy thing. I’m grateful Gee was up for an interview, her insight made me laugh and cry. Please enjoy:

 
When did you start quilting?

I learned how to sew by hand when I was literally sitting at my grandmother’s knee. I’ve always loved textiles in general and quilts in particular. I liked the idea of making something useful and beautiful from scraps. But I didn’t actually start quilting until I was in my early forties, about twenty-five years ago.

 

What do you enjoy about the process of quilting? 

I love the way you phrased this question because the older I get, the more I realize how important “process” is to me. If it’s not fun while I’m doing it, why bother? When I first started making quilts, I thought I’d like the design aspect best. What I’ve discovered is that I love the meditative quality of hand quilting, and the feel of the design taking place under my fingers.  That, and the fact that it gives me an excuse to watch television!

 

How many quilts have you created?  Do you have a favorite?

I have pictures of 91, from small wall hangings to queen-size quilts. I’m sure there have been some that I forgot to document. I used to make them because I loved doing it and when I had a stash, I’d give them away. Occasionally I’ve been commissioned to design and make a quilt, but it’s not enjoyable for me; I worry too much about the finished product. Lately, I make quilts only if I have an occasion to work toward: a baby shower or wedding. I’ve become much more interested in hand-building ceramics, although I like to always have a quilting project on hand.

My favorite quilt was made for a Foreign Service friend who asked me to create something out of the leftover silk from shirts he’d had made in Thailand. The result looked like jewels. It’s the only quilt I’m sorry I couldn’t keep.

 

Are you part of a quilting community?  If so, will you describe what is unique about that community?

I don’t belong to a quilting group now. When I first started I was part of a very active group. My husband, David, had joined the Foreign Service in the mid-’80s. Twelve years and four tours later, both of our children were away at college and David and I moved to Seoul, South Korea.  We lived in an Embassy compound on an Army post in the middle of the city. The first friends I made were other Foreign Service spouses who were part of a quilting group run by the military wives. I joined and not only learned to quilt but met a lot of wonderful, strong women. Quilting is a good hobby for people who travel because you can find fabric in every corner of the world.

 

What is the most challenging part of being a parent?

For me, discipline was always a challenge: how, when, what… It helped when my pediatrician said that consistency is the most important thing. “Be strict or not. Just don’t keep the kids guessing.”  So I gave myself permission to be consistently lenient.

I also had a hard time putting up with the bickering that took place when the kids were little. My brother and sister are eight and nine years older than me, so I didn’t have much experience with sibling rivalry. I can remember pleading with the kids to “Stop fighting!” David—who’s one of eight—would just look at me, shake his head and say, “You call that fighting?”

 

What is the most rewarding part of being a parent?

My children are my heroes. It’s indescribably rewarding to have raised children who are smart, tolerant, talented, good people! They’ve made fulfilling lives for themselves. Now that they’re grown I try to stay out of their business, but I hope they know I’m here if they need me.

If I could give advice to young parents, it would be to actively listen to your children when they say something, regardless of how young they are.  And read to them.

 

In retrospect, what stand out as the most meaningful moments in your life so far?

Aside from giving birth, there have been many defining moments in my life. Some were huge, like losing both of my parents by the time I turned fifteen. Most were simple, like watching the sun rise over the Euphrates valley from a mountaintop in Turkey or holding my grandchildren for the first time. But maybe the most long-lasting impact was made when I was in fourth or fifth grade and my best friend got mad at me for something awful I’d done to her. I can remember standing in her kitchen trying to tell her how sorry I was and hoping she would forgive me. I felt the pain of having hurt her so strongly that I told myself, “I’m never going to be mean to anybody ever again.”

 

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

David and I do yoga stretches together to a Rodney Yee tape. Oops, it’s a CD; I forget sometimes that I live in the modern world!

 

What’s the last thing you do before going to sleep?

I always read in bed for as long as I can keep my eyes open.

 

Do you consider yourself spiritual?  If so, what do you do to encourage your own spiritual growth?

Something in your earlier interview with the young comedian named Kristin Rand resonated with me. She said her philosophy of dying is that “energy changes forms but it’s still there.” I think this idea best describes my own spiritual life. I believe in energy and I surround myself with people who feed my positive energy, then I try to share it in small ways. I like to avoid negative energy, but it’s a challenge; there’s way too much of it in the world.

 

What’s your philosophy when it comes to living?

I think the most important thing is to be kind to others. Kindness is underrated and some people seem to equate it with being weak, but it’s the opposite. I think it takes a lot of moral strength to be kind in difficult circumstances, or to ask forgiveness when you’ve done something wrong.

That being said, we shouldn’t let others take advantage of our kindness. I remember feeling that I was finally grown up the first time I said no to something I didn’t want to do. I just hope I said it kindly.

 

What’s your philosophy when it comes to dying?

The thought of Death itself doesn’t frighten me: it’ll either be exciting or nothing. The thought of dying scares me, though. I’d rather not be in pain and I’m not ready to do it yet, but I suspect there will come a time when Life will no longer be “better than the alternative.” I hope I’ll be able to die with some sort of dignity.

 

Describe the last time you felt inspired.

I don’t think this is quite what you had in mind because I wasn’t inspired to write a poem or take a picture or design a quilt, but I found your questions inspiring. I don’t often make time to be introspective.

 

What are you grateful for these days?

Certainly for my wonderful family and friends. I’m grateful, too, for every sunrise, for laughter, for solitude, and for the fact that my poor old hands can still make things and my legs can still walk.  Oh, and I’m grateful for wine and cheese!

 

What are you working on letting go of these days?

I’ve been working my entire life on trying to let go of the feeling that I’m responsible for the whole world. I have to recognize that I can’t fix much, if anything. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to do what little I can, though.

 

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

I believe I am who I am right now partly because of everything that’s ever happened to me, both good and bad.

What’s reincarnation?

IMG_6971We will all die. How many of us believe we’ll be reborn? I’m reading two books about death right now—Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. Both books came into my life at the same time I received news that my uncle died; some might say this is coincidental. I tend to believe there’s more to it, even though I can’t prove or define what ‘more to it’ looks like.

My mom tells me that I talked about reincarnation when I was very young, and that she was shocked to hear me use such a word. She doesn’t know where I heard it. I don’t remember thinking about it much when I was young, but I’ve been thinking about reincarnation a lot the past few days. In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche recounts a few examples of individuals who actually remembered their past lives and suggests that if you want to come to a serious understanding of rebirth, “You investigate this open-mindedly, but with as much discrimination as possible.” Yes, there are frauds out there. But such is the case with many things.

I believe reincarnation is a possibility, not an absolute. I like how Sogyal Rinpoche explains it in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

Most people take the word “reincarnation” to imply there is some “thing” that reincarnates, which travels from life to life. But in Buddhism we do not believe in an independent and unchanging entity like a soul or ego that survives the death of the body. What provides the continuity between lives is not an entity, we believe, but the ultimately subtlest level of consciousness. The Dali Lama explains: According to the Buddhist explanation, the ultimate creative principle is consciousness. There are different levels of consciousness. What we call innermost subtle consciousness is always there. The continuity of that consciousness is almost like something permanent, like the space-particles. In the field of matter, that is the space-particles; in the field of consciousness, it is the Clear Light…The Clear Light, with its special energy, makes the connection with consciousness.

Regardless of whether or not you believe reincarnation exists, I know that the spirits of the departed live on through the people’s lives they touched. In a way, those who have passed on are reborn again and again when we share stories about them.

If you know of anyone who is scared of death, I highly recommend they read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. People with different spiritual beliefs have said that the book strengthened their faith in their own tradition. For me, it has proven that one’s spirituality is central in how accepting of death they are; in today’s world, spiritual nourishment can be hard to come by.