Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Andrea Flint, The Wisdom of Spear Grass


Andrea Flint


a cover of Sarah Minor's essay "A Log Cabin Square"


(click to expand, or click here to download a pdf)


I don’t have many vivid memories of my childhood. Mostly, I remember a sensation that used to follow me around like a needy puppy—that things were not what they seemed, that there was a disconnect between my perception of reality and reality itself. 

I also remember the relief I felt when, on hitting school-age, it began to dawn on me just how powerful the mind was. Soon I learnt to override my feelings. Unlike emotions, elusive and fickle like swallows flitting across the sky at springtime and gone by winter, the brain could always be relied upon to make and preserve meaning. 

But no matter how hard I tried to hold on, I felt as if something was terribly off—as if my perception of the world was, somehow, defective.

I have learnt that unacknowledged traumatic experiences can do that to a person. Dissociation is a powerful survival tool, one where flights of fancy can lord unchallenged over a cruel reality to protect ourselves. Only when the veil lifts, does the impact of this alienation become apparent. Suddenly we are hit with the realisation that our ability to listen to our body’s wishes has been impaired to an extent that is commensurate to the strength of our denial. It’s as if the superhighway that connects body and mind has been lost to an enemy that has been residing undetected inside us. 

There is no way to describe that time in my life other than I fell spectacularly apart. Though outwardly I was functioning by dint of a peculiar mix of willpower and habit, inside I was scrambling to gather the pieces of me that a nascent, frightening consciousness had ripped apart. 

"The Wisdom of Spear Grass" was born out of this grown child’s irrepressible desire to make meaning—to join the dots out of the muddle of memories that were emerging from deep freeze during the hazardous process of therapeutic recovery. 

It was around this time that I first came across Sarah Minor’s "Log Cabin Square". For the first time, home didn’t have to be something neat, monolithic to be called home. Home could be a collage, an amalgam of fragments whose meaning is revealed only when juxtaposed to other seemingly randomised tassels and enjoyed from the safety of distance. 

As I tried to process the tangle of feelings the image of “horses on fire circling back to their bright home” stirred inside me, it struck me that the power of Minor’s Log Cabin Square rested on its ability to summon complex feelings that couldn’t be expressed in any other way. It’s this connubium of form and text that creates meaning. The latter—her essay reminds us, doesn’t exist in isolation, but as part of a whole that stirs our senses and tugs at our soul—our personal and collective mythologies. It cannot but be fragmentary. And that’s all right. And plentiful. And beautiful. 

Though quilt-making has not infused the Italian psyche in the same way it has across the pond, from the outset this art & craft struck me as so intuitively right I didn’t hesitate to borrow its form. If cultural appropriation is a sin, then I hope to be forgiven. 

Soon I discovered there were myriads of patterns and combinations—one for each life event, special occasion, celebration, even political causes. But I kept returning to the log cabin. 

The idea of the hearth—of home inherent in its squares—spoke to me in ways other patterns couldn’t. Even though its nucleus—the central square around which all the others corral, kept eluding me, I knew I had found my container, one that was both physical and metaphysical. 

The idea that a lowly weed—one that is regarded as a pesky nuisance in my ancestral land, could function as its organising principle felt as fitting as it had felt serendipitous. Gramigna has threaded its way across three generations of women on the maternal side of my family. It carries within it the wisdom of sharecroppers of whom my grandmother had been one—a lithe six years old, who had to learn fast not to take love for granted. 

Suddenly a pixilated picture of me within my extended family—atomised but undeniably truthful, bobbed to the surface. For the first time, perhaps ever, I felt moored. I had found my quilted hearth, its faintly smouldering embers beneath the seams radiating just enough heat to keep me going. 


Born in Italy, Andrea Flint is an emerging writer based in London UK, working in Creative Non-Fiction as well as poetry and short stories. She is currently working on a hybrid memoir around the themes of identity, trauma, and heritage. 

"The Wisdom of Spear Grass" was written during her time on this year’s Spark Your Story Intensive programme. Andrea is especially grateful to Nicole Breit and Rowan McCandless for their wisdom and mentorship—and for showing her the way to creative non-fiction heaven. 

The Wisdom of Spear Grass is her first publication—something that makes it all the more special.


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