A Patchwork of Stories



My guest this week is Gwen Plano, who writes most eloquently about the way in which writing enhances our understanding of and appreciation for our own life stories.


patchwork quiltWhen I was a young child, countrywomen gathered to sew quilts for special events. My mother took us with her when she met with her friends in the basement of the local rural church. Sometimes I snuck under the stretched material on the large wooden frame and listened as the women stitched and knotted. They talked about their families, about their hardships and about love. When they cried, I cried–even if I did not quite understand. It was their emotion that spoke to me.

The cloth leftovers rhythmically sewn one to another helped me see the interconnectedness of life. And as I began writing my memoir, I realized I was creating my own quilt of sorts—through a patchwork of stories.

Even before I put pen to paper, I was awakened in the early morning hours with scenes, faded by time. Drawn into the story they revealed, I began to write. Soon pages of text accompanied these reveries and though I captured some of these glimpses of insight in my writing, others hid and waited—for yet another night. My crowded desk of post-it notes became my companion and sometimes friend, helping me bring the pieces together.

This process, unexpected and bewitching, guided me through the corridors of my heart, where I wrestled with haunting flashbacks and elusive threads of connection. The years of abuse were long past and in tow—its numbness. I could feel again; and, the tears and gasps came and went—because they could.

One story after another unfolded on paper, as sections from frayed journals and yellowed family photos came alive and spoke to me. The dramas that once controlled my life and held me captive were but ailing memories, soon to meet their demise. And as I gazed upon this human collage of struggles and apprehensions, I was humbled by another story that emerged.

I realized that my journey was everyone’s journey. I had thought I was alone.

The person I was decades ago lives only in ashen memories. Hardships have carved the landscape of my youth, shifting dreams and opening horizons. I barely know the adolescent me who trekked unburdened by reason. But as I look back over the years, I now see the terrain she must travel to become who I am today.

Through choices, some chilling but otherwise ordinary, we find our way. While I might take one road and you another, we all face adversity, and we all experience sorrow, fear or regret at some point in time. And, don’t we all go through life trying to make sense of it all?

It is only in retrospect that I have come to see how the journey we travel is both universal—and circular. Life’s summit is elusive because the terminus is also the starting point. Ultimately, any life path we choose brings us full circle. When we meet ourselves again, our joys may have expanded and our hearts may have softened. And then we begin again. We travel until we find the one love we all seek; only then, do we rest.  

T.S. Eliot, in his last verses of the poem “Little Gidding,” wrote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning…


Writing Letting Go into Perfect Love was an integrative process for me; because, as I wrote, I began to understand; and, as I understood, gratitude emerged—for the trials and tribulations, for the sorrows and the joys, for the friends and the foes … for the preciousness of life. For you.

I sit in awe of my traveled life and marvel at its relationship to the whole. Perhaps we’ve met along the way. I wonder which quilt block is yours and what its story might be.


Gwen - patchwork quiltGwen Plano spent most of her professional life in higher education. She taught and served as an administrator in colleges in New York, Connecticut, and California. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in nutrition from San Diego State University, was awarded a Master’s Degree in Theology from the University of the State of New York, and then completed a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Iona College. Finally, she earned a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University.

Plano is also a Reiki Master and a Certified LifeLine Practitioner.

Letting Go Into Perfect Love (She Writes Press) is Plano’s first book.

Find & follow Gwen online:





  1. This is a beautiful post and one I’ll keep as I work on my own memoir. Thank you.

  2. I had Aha moments on almost every line of this exquisitely written post. As a former Mennonite, quilt patches are very familiar to me as is the journey we circumnavigate toward home. Like Eliot I am “recreating the voice of the hidden waterfall /And the children in the apple-tree” just beginning my memoir.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Hi Marian … I liked the image of circumnavigating to home … but I was also struck by finding the pattern of the journey you travelled to make you who you are today. When I thought about my future at age 22, I had no idea what I would do with my life, but you had told me — a shy and introverted bookworm— that I would travel the world, and work with big corporations in many countries, I would laughed out loud at the ridiculous of it. If you told me — a shy introverted bookworm with little capacity for playfulness or imagination — that I would be the author of two books, I would have laughed even harder.

      And yet, looking back, I can see every fork in the road, and know why I made each choice when I did.

      I guess the answer is that you can only see the narrative in retrospect.