Sunday, a smorgasbord

Yesterday was day 1 of my reboot, and I’m declaring it a simple success. Were I to take a more complicated view of the day I would call it so-so, but in those cases where a reboot is so desperately needed, I’m willing to go with the simple tale. It was a simple success. I took my watercolor class, with my friend Deb. I shopped for good, healthy food afterwards, and didn’t succumb to buying anything else. I made my dinner even though I got sidetracked by a 1.5-hour-long conversation with Marc and then felt almost frantic with hunger….but I made my healthy, wonderful dinner. I didn’t walk or do yoga, nor did I drink lots of water all day, but I’m happy. Today is a gorgeous, sunny day. I’ll take a walk, drink water all day, see my super-intelligent book club tonight, it’ll be good.

And as Paul Harvey used to say, here is the rest of the story:

My version — and should you think it’s tacky (I do!), you should know that it’s pretty close to what she did. That’s not a good yellow branch, hers was definitely better, but this is like hers. SIGH.

The watercolor class was a BUST. I was hoping to learn a few techniques that are helpful in painting flowers, blossoms, blooms. Instead, it was a watercolor version of Painting with a Twist. The instructor placed a print that she had made on an easel, and we all had to paint that. It wasn’t a print I would ever buy (or hang, if I’d received it as a gift). It wasn’t attractive in composition or flower choices, and it didn’t even look like she had much talent. So there we all were, being walked through “now make coral tones, like this, and paint this part of the flower exactly like this.” She wasn’t very articulate, and she wasn’t very confident for someone who teaches this very class as often as she does. It

hers!

cost a lot of money out of my super tight budget so I was deeply disappointed. Still, it was nice to do that with Deb, and to go to a part of town I rarely visit (OH the hipster facial hair! My god! Will that trend never stop?), and to play with color. I’m calling it a simple success because I didn’t back out, I didn’t hate myself for my effort, or feel shame, and I just let myself play. Success!

 

I made a chickpea salad for dinner because I was just craving chickpeas for some strange reason. I also bought ingredients for a great-looking Sriracha Rainbow Noodle Salad, which requires an avocado, so I decided to add an avocado to my chickpea salad. Success! Such good food, so healthy every last bit. I went on to eat the whole thing (it should’ve made two meals for me), but I’m calling it a simple success. I didn’t buy Peeps (which are still available), or a beer, or grocery store sushi because I was famished and tired. I cooked for myself, which is something I’d stopped doing and missed terribly. I made a healthy meal, for myself, and it actually worked — which my creative efforts have not been doing since November. I rubbed my eyes with jalapeno-juiced hands, BAD BAD BAD, but otherwise success!

My knitting has been failing BADLY, except for the last thing I made which was a scarf using the wonderful Zauberball that my darling friend Becci sent me. I need to take a photo of it, it’s gorgeous and it worked. (It’s the simplest knitting, but lately I couldn’t even pull that off.) So, emboldened by my successful reboot day and the Zauberball scarf, I cast on a new project using a yarn I’ve got in abundance, a very pale shell pink (tosh merino light, porcelain). I was very disappointed by the color when the yarn arrived in the mail, years ago, so I set it aside. SO pale. Almost just a dirty white, in some light. And pink is complicated — at least it has been for me. It’s too associated with little-girly and I have zero interest in that. But I’m considering a rapprochement with pink, so I cast on a pattern called Yoga Shawl (link for Ravelers), basically a large rectangle, stockinette in the middle, chevrons on both ends, and buttons/holes along all the edges so you can wear it lots of different ways. Last night I got several rows completed while I watched an old Richard Pryor stand-up film on Netflix, from 1971. His brilliance and vulnerability were right at the surface, then, and at times he was almost frightening to watch, always compelling, and just so moving. The last part of the show is essentially a one-man performance of a play with several characters. SO, success there too, a friendliness to pink and my knitting, and time with an old love.

Because pink is beautiful

Isn’t it amazing? Really, stop to think about that. Look at that tree, nothing unusual, a cherry tree in blossom — but TREES bloom out in these delicate FLOWERS. Trees cover themselves in blossoms, just for a while. All the pinks, there. It almost makes me cry.

I guess I offer this post to those of us trying to find our way back. Claim success, even if its imperfect [it is, anyway]. Let the rest go. You can try to add the rest on as you go. Reboot, day 2, I see you waiting for me and I welcome you with a smile.

***

THIS BOOK!!!

Real quick, before I go, let me make a book recommendation! Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. From the very first sentence I was in it, even though I was exhausted and bleary-eyed and that can be a hard moment to start a new book.

Wow. It’s not like anything else I’ve read. The word most often used for it is astonishing and I think I have to agree. Here is the description from the book’s Amazon page:

“The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.”

That makes it sound like a history lesson, or like one of those horrible museum dioramas or something, and it’s NOT. It’s so alive (as far as I’ve read, which is only about 5% of the book) and it’s just not a story I’ve read yet. What a gift, when a book does that, when it kind of slaps your face and wakes you up. Unless it’s 3am when it does that, but whatev. 🙂

potluck

Just an assortment of things, almost all beautiful:

  • Since I won’t be here on Oliver’s third birthday because I’ll be in Bali that day, I spent a few hours with him yesterday. I had some kind of seriously awful gut thing going on so it wasn’t as long as I’d have liked, but it was so wonderful being with him. He and I went to one of the neighborhood parks, the one on the elementary school grounds where he will be going in just a couple of weeks. He played on the equipment, we blew bubbles even though it was too breezy to make chasing them much fun, he ate lunch, and he ran around. I watched him wandering around, running, talking to himself the way he does, and my heart ached so hard. Oliver has something going on — the current educational diagnosis is in the autism neighborhood — but most difficult is his pretty profound speech delay. So I watched that beautiful, darling boy running around, in his own world, and I cried pretty hard because I so want to know him. I so want to share things with him, know what he thinks without guessing, hear his wonderings and his wants and his needs and his funny. At the moment that’s not how it is to be with Oliver, but I know it will be one of these days. I don’t think he feels lonely; he seems keenly aware of how much he is loved. One fun thing to do with Oliver is to look at the phone together. We had the camera on and turned to selfie mode, and he was grinning as he held down the button for dozens of long bursts. He caught the really beautiful shot I included here. See the delight on his face?
  • My dear, dear friend Becci (hi darling Becci!) sent me a Crazy Zauberball. I have always wanted one, and somehow she chose a colorway that I always wanted, too. The other day I opened my mailbox, expecting the usual day’s allotment of junk mail, and instead there was a nicely wrapped box, fit snugly into the mailbox with my name facing outward. I had no idea what it might be, even when I saw Becci’s name and address in the top right corner. I literally ran into the house and unwrapped it (even more nicely presented inside the outer brown wrapper, with a “just because” note) and when I pulled out the ball I jumped up as if I’d been electrocuted. It was the last thing I expected, and I instantly started crying with all the joy — the joy of having a friend who would do such a thing (and just because), the joy of her thoughtfulness and knowing, the pleasure of the long-wanted yarn, and the delight of finding just the right project for it. I decided on a project that others have made with the yarn, a scarf called Baktus, because it looks amazing and it’s a simple knit—I want to make it on my upcoming trip. In the way these things work, forever more I’ll feel all the love and joy when I wear it, remembering Becci, remembering making it in Indonesia. That’s one thing I love about knitting, it holds the space for all of that.
  • I can’t properly talk about how humiliated I feel over having that hangover on Tuesday. I feel such shame about it. I’m 58, I have so many ways to manage upset, and I drank enough to have a hangover? It’s hard to talk about it but I feel like I must — maybe this is some kind of self-flagellation, maybe I shouldn’t, but shame and humiliation is exactly what I feel. I mentioned that feeling to Nancy, and she looked puzzled, which puzzled me. Shouldn’t I feel shame? I talk relatively often about AA, which I only know about because of my husband; I know that they believe self-loathing doesn’t get you anywhere, and certainly not to the same place that self-compassion will take you. I’m trying that, trying to have compassion for myself that evening, acceptance of myself and what I did. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again; I sure learned a lot, including the fact that a hangover can be a really terrible mood, which I didn’t know. I’m sorry I did that — I say that out loud, and to myself. It’s funny; I even find this beautiful, even though it’s such a dreadful feeling. But it’s beautiful to stumble along, fall down and get up, bruise yourself, heal yourself, and be helped along by others. I think that’s really beautiful.
  • We just lost Derek Walcott, a poet whose words have meant a lot to me over the years. I first encountered him in 2001, when I knew a poet who loved him. I’m sorry this is in a jpg instead of text, but I can’t find it copy-able and I don’t want to type it all out. This poem relates so beautifully to the end of my last bullet point:

  • Tonight I will sit with the women in my book club to talk about this month’s book, which I didn’t like at all I’m sad to say (The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood, review here). But I will love being with the women, who share my political world view and who are SMART, screamingly smart, and compassionate. We meet at Joyce’s house tonight — she picked the book — and she’s making us a vegetable pie and salad, and I’m bringing Topo Chico and dark chocolate, and I look forward to the communion with all my heart. For now, though, I pack for Indonesia. Happy Sunday, everyone.

seeking the mechanism

Since November 9, 2016, all my creative efforts have failed. All my cooking has flopped. My baking, just awful — even things I’ve been making for decades and can make in my sleep. Knitting? Fail, fail, fail, frog frog frog. My writing has been clenched and just kind of awful, though I have had a couple of things that worked, inspired by deep veins of emotion about my family, in one way or another.

Why is this? Why has the election of this monster (and the assumption of complete power by the evilest group of politicians that have ever skulked in the halls of power in our country’s history) had this particular effect on me? I wonder about it all the time, because cooking and baking and knitting and writing are such common activities for me, things I do for comfort, for pleasure, for myself and others, and for a creative outlet. But even uncreative things are failing too, like housecleaning. I bang into things, drop things, break things, knock them over. Putting the dust mop away, I realize there’s a wide swath of dust on the tile in the small hallway, how could I even have missed that, anyway? Like, how would it even be possible, given the width of the Swiffer and the narrowness of the hallway?

I’m less interested in suggestions to fix the problem (except for complete overthrow of our government and restoration to sanity), because I feel like I know the things to try, and have been trying them: I slow down, take a deep breath, create a setting that’s conducive to my enjoyment of the task, be present, note each step, take my time, etc., and still it’s all failing. So, OK. I don’t assume this is some kind of brain damage that’s happened inside me, I assume it will pass somehow. But I am interested in the mechanism, in finding some kind of explanation for it.

I’m sure it will notch right into a larger question that’s also confusing me: why am I this devastated? My own very specific life is not affected, if by “my own life” I draw the circle tightly around my personal physical boundary and don’t include “my care for vulnerable people.” Setting aside my real and surely justifiable fears that the Monster-in-Chief will get the world killed in a nuclear holocaust, this too shall pass, and we’ll get him and all his cronies out of office and if we have learned nothing else, we’ve learned that rules and norms don’t matter one bit and that one person can just sit in the chair and on day 1 sign a bunch of papers to completely change everything. So, OK. We’ll set it right, and in the interim it’s just going to be hard going. Why am I this completely devastated, four months and three days later? And of course it’s not just me, we’re all still shellshocked, pulled inward, trying to figure out how to take the next step. We’re mobilizing, fighting, having small victories and planning big ones. That feels good, it allows for the idea of the possibility of perhaps a spark of hope. (Note the distance to hope.)

But why? There are parts I get; I learned that there are enough people in this country to have fallen for his monstrousness and cast their votes for him, and that shocked me. They walk among us too. I knew they were here, I guess I just didn’t realize how many there were. So is it simply that? I don’t live in the country I thought I did? They aren’t just the fringe lunatics? That’s destabilizing I guess. But it doesn’t feel like the answer.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been running sweeps all around the country, snapping up hardworking people, splitting up families — kids come home from school and their parents are just gone. That’s devastating to know about, it goes against everything human and humane and that I care about. Just typing those two sentences made my breath get stuck, brought hot tears into my eyes, and gave me a kind of panic. But that response feels like a symptom not the cause, and it’s the cause of the enormity of my despair that I’m struggling to understand.

Then I look around the world and see this virus of hate spreading from one formerly tolerant country to another. There was a terrible-wonderful passage in a book I recently read, Ill Will by Dan Chaon. One character in the book, Russell, is an agent of destruction, and the scenes that describe the abuse he had suffered as a child were almost impossible for me to read, even though they were presented in a peripheral vision kind of way, hinting and just letting the taint seep into you through your eyes. When he’s in prison later in life, a counselor says to him: “When you’ve been abused in the way you were, you have a virus. And the virus will demand that you pass it on to someone else. You don’t even have that much of a choice.” Russell thinks, The idea that I passed on a virus, and the virus would turn around and it was my own doom? That was so fucking funny. That was so sad and so funny. [Do read Ill Will, it’s powerful. Here is my GoodReads review.] But YES, a virus. It feels exactly like the world is being infected with a murderous, deadly virus, and I hope it’s not fatal. Maybe that’s why I feel sick.

You don’t have the answer either, I don’t think anyone does. Mark Halperin (senior political analyst for MSNBC and Bloomberg Television and contributor and former co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics) said the election has “convulsed the country” more than any event since World War II, including the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. I agree with him. I guess we’ll all grapple with this until we get it figured out, and that is likely to take a long time because every single day the administration hurls more horrors at us. Every. Single. Day. It’s so disorienting.

I want my pleasures back. I want to knit beautiful things again and not have to just rip everything out.

I want to bake sumptuous cinnamon rolls for people. I want to make really delicious vegetarian food for my dinners again. I want to make.

Even though I’m not asking for answers, I am wondering: is this happening to you too? Is it still happening to you?

five things: 12-16-16

    1. just married, and just barely 21

      Thirty-seven years ago today I got married to my first husband. My truest belief that day was that I’d be celebrating this anniversary with him, with whatever family we might create, and that I would be with him until we died. My intention was true and real, and my love for him was true and real and permeated into my marrow, and he was absolutely the right person for who I was then — broken, fragile, scared, in need of safety and care — and still we were just so very wrong for each other in just the right places. We hadn’t been married even a month when I lay awake one night thinking, with a kind of horror, about how much smarter I was than him. And the horror was from being willing to say that about myself, and about having that matter to me. It horrified me, I didn’t want to notice, I didn’t want to care. And honestly, I wouldn’t have, but the dynamics of our relationship (him benevolent father, me fragile child) resulted in his complete inflexibility, he was always right. I feel very sad about it all, sad that we were both edged into the places we were, and I think it definitely changed him. He has always been the kind of person who wanted to save people anyway, but he became too grounded in the paternalistic role. But I never would’ve even gone to college had we stayed married, and I never would’ve found myself. Today I’m thinking about all of that, but I have less than no desire to speak to him; he became a right-wing Tea Party bunker-desiring nut job, not to put too fine a point on it.

    2. I started re-reading Loitering, Charles D’Ambrosio’s extraordinary collection of essays. (Here is my GoodReads review.) It circles around twin themes of the difficulty of life (including suicide) and the truth of ambiguity, uncertainty, and the unresolvability of anything approaching “truth” without those elements. I’d never read D’Ambrosio when I heard about the collection, and his is a startling mind. The collection was on sale yesterday, $1.99 Kindle, so I shared that on Facebook and decided to re-read it and it’s as wonderful as I remember. A couple of quotes:

      “The canker of self-consciousness has been long in me, so like a lot of writers I not only do a thing, I see myself doing it too—it’s almost like not being alone. That morning our hero skipped in his skivvies down to the shore of the sea . . . it was dark . . . the fog . . . Storytelling!”

      His childhood was as difficult and violent as mine, and his brother committed suicide (a theme he pokes at throughout the collection); I think this quote alone will tell you why the collection is so powerful to me:

      “If I could intervene and change my own particular history would I alter past events in such a way that I’d bring Danny back to life? Would I return the single rimfire bullet to its quiet chamber in the gun and let the night of November 26, 19__, pass away in sleep and dreams or drink or television or whatever the anonymous bulk of history holds for most people? Would I uncurl the fingers from the grip, would I take away the pain, would I unwrite the note and slip the blank sheet back in the ream and return the ream to pulp and etc., would I exchange my own monstrous father for some kindly sap out of the sitcom tradition, would I do any of this, would I? And where would I be? Would I be there, in the room? Would my role be heroic? And where exactly would I begin digging into the past, making corrections, amending it? How far back do I have to go to undo the whole dark kit and kaboodle? I mean, from where I sit now I can imagine a vast sordid history finally reaching its penultimate unraveled state in the Garden, under the shade of the tree of knowledge, raising the question of whether or not I’d halt the innocent hand, leaving the apple alone, unbitten.

    3. Tonight I’m having dinner with my friend Lynn and her boyfriend because he’s going to backpack around SEAsia for a couple of months and he wants to hear my stories. It’s funny; SEAsia is my very favorite place, and I can’t get back there often enough, but I don’t know that I have stories, and I’m a little anxious about it. I can tell excitedly about the places I’ve been, tell my impressions of the places, but I’m not sure what I will convey except for my enthusiasm for the places. And then I give myself a little shake and remember: Lori. You don’t have to plan out the “successful” conversation in your head ahead of time. You’re seeing friends. You’re eating Indian food. You’re talking about a place you love. Relax. Are you this way?
    4. I want to see Manchester-by-the-Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan. I read a wonderful article about Lonergan that made me want to see it, but then I read a review that bemoaned yet another movie about an emotionally stunted man. Here’s the NYT review, and here’s the trailer, and I want to see it anyway.

5. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where there is little as pleasurable as making a very nice meal for someone I love. Preparing the meal for my poetry group made me SO HAPPY (and it helped that the food all came out the way I wanted it to come out!). It took me a long time to get to this point; while I often enjoyed making meals that my kids enjoyed, and especially making treats for them, the tyranny of dinner-every-night-no-matter-how-I-felt took the joy out of it. I’m making a meal for someone I dearly love next week and the anticipation of that, even the anticipation of planning the menu, is delicious all by itself. Yet another toast to the pleasure of keeping on living.

Happy Friday, everyone. xoxo

the hard work of fun

I assume there are plenty of people who very easily have fun, who don’t have to work at it (which is a strange-sounding thing, I guess). I’m not one of those. There I’ll be, doing something I am doing for fun — like my morning drawing, and I’ll come back to that — and I suddenly realize that I’m clenched and tense and needing to “do it right.”

poisonNeeding to “do it right” is fun poison. My entire life has been organized around this principle, and I’ve been tense throughout. Oh, I’d smile and toss my head and laugh a bit when other people outside my family failed to operate on this same principle, but inside I’d be filled with anxiety. Something is going to go terribly wrong! She/he isn’t doing it right! I sure hope my brain surgeon, my oncologist, my plumber, my airplane pilot all do it right, but in the scheme of my little life, there’s actually very little that’s going to crash and burn if I don’t do it right. Over the last year I’ve gotten much better about this, but it’s an ongoing effort.

One thing I’ve realized is that fun comes with a loss of self-awareness; maybe that’s a prerequisite, for that matter. A release from self-observation (“Watch…watch…..are you doing that right?”). I most easily lose my self-awareness when I’m talking to someone I really love or care about. My family, my dear friends. Lunch with beautiful Nancy on Monday? No awareness of myself, I was just sitting in the middle of our conversation and enjoying getting to be with her. Time with Katie and Oliver, my weekly conversation with Marnie? No self-awareness, just living in the midst of being with them, my true loves.

On Tuesday night my poetry group friends came over for a casual party(ish) — a homey kind of happy hour to give us a chance to talk to each other about something other than poetry. The conversations rambled from the place of poetry in our lives and what drew us to it, to movies we love, to the documentary film one member is making, to film philosophy, to books, and finally to politics. We’re all like-minded, politically, and almost all of us are native Texans. We talked about southern culture beyond the hatefulness of that horrible Confederate flag: graciousness, food, a sense of connection to our land, the deep meaning of family. We talked about so many things and for the entire 3.5 hours, I had no sense of myself at all, no observation of myself, no scanning what I was planning to say, no nothing. Just presence and being in the moments with these lovely people. I HAD SUCH FUN.

And so I come to drawing. I’d been trying to draw and my efforts were so terrible I was feeling horrible, crying, finding it hopeless. So Marnie and I had a 30-minute Skype session doing something called blind contour drawing, which means you place a relatively complex object in front of you (a teapot, or even your hand turned palm up with your fingers lightly curled inward) and then you draw it without looking at your paper. You keep the pencil on the paper, don’t lift it, but you never look at your drawing. You only look at the object. No one’s drawing is going to be fabulous, so it’s a ground leveler, but even more important, you really and very quickly learn how to look. How to see. The contours go where they actually go, not where you think they go. And when you look at what you drew, you see places of real truth. That spout, that’s actually good! And the curve of the handle, and the bend of the thumb, wow. Look at that.

It surprises me just how much that one session with Marnie helped me draw in a way that doesn’t devastate and humiliate me. I’m not good yet, but I’m 100% better than I was before that exercise with her. Now my eye follows the contours of the thing and glances down at the paper to be sure I’m in the right place — but it spends more time following the contours. If I keep doing this every day, I will get better. I don’t have a clue how to draw living things, people or animals, so for now I’m drawing objects as an exercise. After our Skype session, Marnie sent me a gift bomb: a set of good pencils, a moleskine, and a set of very fine pens. (There’s nothing like getting love and encouragement from your child, I’m telling you.)

Each morning, my day begins with my most cherished ritual — making my delicious coffee and slowly enjoying it to ease into my day. I love this part of my day so much. Until now I usually drank my coffee and read, or wrote. Now, though, I draw. Each page of my moleskine functions like a visual diary, so I begin by drawing the panels I’ll fill.

usually there are 4 panels, not just 2, but I'm trying to learn how to fill different shaped panels.
usually there are 4 panels, not just 2, but I’m trying to learn how to fill different shaped panels.

For the other days, each day held four panels and I drew an object — my French press, a dress I love and wore that day, my red glasses with wet lenses and my iPod on the day my walk turned into a walk in the rain, etc. Marnie suggested I start drawing metaphors and similes, so when that works I can’t wait to try it. Today I feel like …..

But the relevant point for this post has to do with having fun. The first day I did this, about 3/4 of the way through I realized I was clenched and tense and focused so hard on doing it right. I was not having any fun. I was grim about the mouth. I laughed at myself and shook my hands out — have fun, Lori! And so I did. The next day I realized it earlier and had fun until I slipped back into my grim mouth, reminded myself again and had fun the rest of the time. It does all come together: when I am not having fun drawing, I’m focused on myself and how I’m doing. The shift helps me feel lighter, have fun with coloring, go into my imagination, play.

Who cares if the proportions are wrong, who cares if the French press gets a bit wonky there on the left (but hey, I really did a great job on the handle!), who cares if the lettering size is all over the place? Next time I’ll know to draw light guidelines so the lettering is more uniform. Now I know  to look at the left side of the French press a little more closely. The next time I draw a square bowl filled with cherry tomatoes, I’ll know better how to capture the proportions. I learned something, how to look a little more clearly, and I had so much fun doing it. And the more I do it, it’s not just that I will get better (though I surely will), I’ll also find my own little drawing voice. And maybe someday it will get to be a louder drawing voice. I want to draw to satisfy myself, only; I have no bigger aspirations than that. I want to draw on vacation, because I know that something different is captured through that slow, close looking than is captured by the hundreds of digital pictures I take so quickly. I want to satisfy myself and have fun, and I’m on that road. Thank you, dear Marnie.

I wonder if this need to get outside of one’s intense self-awareness to have fun is common, or if it’s just me…..I wonder if it’s true for you too.

Anyway. Thursday, a beautiful day. In my life, today will bring drawing and coffee, a haircut, work, and dinner with my dear girlfriends at a place I’ve been wanting to try. And packing for NYC and Norway, where it’s going to be cold. I hope Thursday brings you something lovely and something that makes you feel loved and special. xoxo

 

play

When I was a very little girl, the story goes — as narrated by my mother — that one day she was so frustrated with me for just wanting to read that she put me on the front steps with a bucket and shovel, shouted “PLAY!” and locked the door behind me. The story continues that I just sat on the steps crying and sobbing for a couple of hours until she finally let me back in the house in frustration. I never played with dolls because it felt so silly; I knew that it was just me making stuff up, moving the doll here and there, and that made no sense to me.

Then when I had little children, I so wanted to play with them because I knew that was important, but I couldn’t figure it out. I was more comfortable with things like Lego and K’Nex, and puzzles, and board games — rules and order, you know.

I think this part of me is a perfect match of person and environment. It was definitely not safe enough where I grew up to let down your guard, even for an instant, and play needs that kind of abandon. But it’s also just kind of who I am, too.

Most things I want to do, I can easily learn how to do. I taught myself to knit and weave and spin and tat and quilt and make bobbin lace and do woodworking and make croissants from scratch. I painted a couple of abstract canvases I really liked. Taught myself to smock little dresses for my girls, taught myself to sew. Taught myself to pick guitar, banjo, ukulele, and to play piano with two hands. Really, there was nothing I ever wanted to do that I couldn’t do — or that I even assumed I couldn’t.

Except one. I wanted to draw. I’ve always wanted to draw, kind of desperately. Like, I’d crave it in my muscles. There’s a great passage in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter where the girl, Mick, is sitting underneath the open window of a house in her neighborhood listening to the classical music coming from the radio inside, and it fills her with a feeling so huge she has to stop herself from clawing out her thigh muscles. This, I get. My longing to draw gives me that same feeling.

My “joke” about myself has always been that I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. And you know, it’s kind of true. The ruler slips, my fingers extend out enough and the pencil slips over them, making little scallops. Oops. I’d try to draw, on occasion, and be so mortified by the awkwardness of the first lines that I’d put it away, deeply embarrassed.

she drew these trading cards, exquisite in every way
she drew these trading cards, exquisite in every way

Luckily, I always thought, even though I cannot draw I gave birth to an artist, my daughter Marnie Galloway. OK, I thought, I don’t get the pleasure of doing that myself, but I get the huge pleasure of watching her draw, of seeing worlds appear at the end of her pencil, mysteriously. That line here, an arc there, what’s she doing……oh! Now I see! How did she know how to do that, I would never have started like that?

Recently I told her again how much I wished I could draw, and as the conversation progressed something she said, the way she said it, was a tremendous gift — something about the difference in doing a representational drawing and doing a comics-style drawing. And I knew all this, but hadn’t made the connection to it being something possible for me. It has nothing to do with a second choice for someone who can’t draw representationally — it has everything, instead, to do with the thrilling possibilities of that form. You have to think like a movie maker, really — visual perspective, the way you pace the story, huge worlds of considerations inside those elements. Even the lettering, for heaven’s sake, another choice. Comics are about skill, absolutely, but they’re at least at much about having something to say. There are beloved comics artists and much-loved comics that don’t feature the kind of beautiful drawing that my daughter does. (For example, xkcd relies on stick figures, which even I can draw!)

a bit of Lynda Barry
a bit of Lynda Barry

And so I listened to Marnie’s advice, which included, among other things, a recommendation that I look up Lynda Barry and begin with one of her drawing exercises. She likes to have students draw monsters, which I figured I could do. So you get a regular piece of paper (preferably one you were going to throw away anyway, she says), and you fold it into quarters. Then, in each of the quarters, you draw a line. A squiggle in two, and a closed shape in two. Then you get two minutes per square to turn that squiggle into a monster. Only two minutes! Hair, eyes/ears/mouth, hands, etc. Two minutes, one line, a monster.

After that, there are a number of variations. In one, you write a real to-do list for your day (mine was 1–take a bath; 2–roast the beets; 3–do yoga; 4–do laundry) and then assign each task to a monster. Instant funny! In another, you write a list of four questions you’re thinking about. In another, you then draw the parents of each of your monsters.

And so I did that on Saturday. I put on some music I enjoyed, set myself up at my table, set the timer on my phone, and drew monsters. It was so much fun. And what Marnie told me yesterday when we were talking about it was that she was happy because I was playingI had not realized that until she told me, and what a gift that was.

I was playing. I played. I was playful. I can play. I want to play some more.

Life is hilarious, really. Such a scream. I never knew how to play, never could draw even though I desperately wanted to, and then I gave birth to someone who draws so beautifully, who taught me that I can draw, and that I can play. Thank you, life, for being long enough. Thank you, my life, for helping me learn so many things and for bringing me to this place. Thank you Marnie, for giving me so much more than I ever gave you (except for the birthing part of course). Thank you, life, for giving me my beautiful daughters, both of whom give me riches beyond compare.

I’ll leave you with some great Lynda Barry links, in case you too want to draw:

It’s nearly summer. Y’all go play.

O-knitting

For a few years, I was a frequent knitter. When I lived in New York City I nearly became “addicted;” it’s all I wanted to do. I knit sweaters, hats, scarves, mittens, socks, shawls, blankets, Christmas gifts, all kinds of things. I’d knit socks standing in a subway car, oblivious to the crowds around me and to the swaying car.

ball of yarn under my arm, four needles in my fingers, sock underway!
ball of yarn under my arm, four needles in my fingers, sock underway!

Here’s a little sample of some of my projects; you can click one and then scroll through them if you want to see them (then just hit the escape key to come back).

The last thing I was actively working on was Grace’s Christmas stocking, on the way to and from Myanmar in October 2012. Oh, I had other projects on the needles — they are still there, as if under bell jars — but Gracie’s stocking had all my knitting focus. It was October, and she needed it for Christmas. When she died I put down the needles and haven’t really had it in me to pick up my knitting again. Oh, I made a big leaf-shaped blanket for Oliver, a quick project, but I was distracted and worried and made it without a whole lot of focus.

wrap it around, button it side-to-side (that's a button on the left) and tuck the stem up underneath
wrap it around, button it side-to-side (that’s a button on the left) and tuck the stem up underneath. the color is more vivid in real life; I couldn’t capture the green in any light.

Now that he is there, though, I find myself with itchy fingers. Hey, I have this little guy to knit for, to make things for. Little kid projects are fun because they’re fast. There’s a great site called Ravelry, a kind of social networking site for knitters/crocheters, and you can ‘favorite’ patterns you like. Katie had made a little wish list of projects for Oliver, and I picked this adorable little cardigan to make:

I'll make this in charcoal gray
I’ll make this in charcoal gray

The name of the pattern is “Oscar,” which delights me because their dogs’ names are Oscar and Penny, so making a sweater called Oscar feels like a nice little bit of synchronicity. Since Oliver’s just born and weighs 8.5 pounds, it’s hard to estimate how big he’ll be when the weather turns cold enough to wear a little cardigan. But I so look forward to the pleasure of making something for someone I love. Of course I also have to knit his stocking (and Tom’s, too — Marnie’s husband — eek!), so there is plenty to do. It’s nice to feel like making things again.

So much to do, so much to work on, and as always, not nearly enough time. What a LUXURY problem. A very lucky luxury problem. xo

waiting for Oliver

Generally speaking, I write my posts the day before they publish, and schedule them to publish at 7am the next day. I’ll definitely be doing that when it’s time to go to the hospital to await Oliver’s arrival in the world. These last days carry their own worries, but I believe with all my heart that he will get here just fine and we’ll all cry and cry and cry with joy and see that our worries and anxieties — though understandable — were all for nothing. My sweet Katie and Trey, and my sweet little Oliver, a newly constituted family of three. And me, Pete. (People are asking me why he will call me Pete. My beloved grandfather, Big Daddy, called me Pete — my last name at birth was Peters — and that name just means so much love to me. My kids’ dad called me Pete, some of my friends call me Pete, and years ago I realized that I wanted my grandkids to call me Pete because to me it means love, and it circles back to Big Daddy.)

ANYWAY. In earlier versions of my life I made a lot of stuff. I was a weaver, a spinner, I used natural dyes to dye the yarn I spun, I quilted, I tatted, I made bobbin lace, I made all our clothes, I smocked dresses for the girls, I knitted, I made small pieces of furniture, I baked all our bread and made all our jams and generally speaking, if it could be made by hand I made it by hand. Picked around on a banjo, picked around on a guitar. But then I started college, and then grad school, and then very busy jobs, and then I moved to New York and had zero space for the accoutrements of a making life. I kept up with knitting and knitted a bunch of sweaters and scarves and socks, stuff like that, but didn’t do much else.

When Katie was pregnant with Gracie, I made a little quilt for her. As I’d always done, I hand pieced and hand quilted:

I’d never machine quilted a quilt, partly because I take such pleasure in making tiny, perfect stitches. And I love the way hand quilting looks. I was probably 80% finished with Gracie’s quilt when we lost her, and the quilt sits in the top of a closet, unfinished still. I’m going to finish it soon for Katie and Trey.

So the time came to think about Oliver’s quilt, and Katie found a pattern she just loved. It’s very bold and graphic, abstract animals made with the drunkard’s path pattern if you know that one. As always, I hand-pieced the top, including all the sashing strips. I embroidered the little black eyes and noses on the animals, and then it was time to quilt it. Partly because I was running out of time, and partly because of the style of the quilt and blocks, I decided to machine quilt it. I WAS TERRIFIED. I was afraid I’d ruin it, that all the hours I’d put into it would be for nothing, that Oliver wouldn’t have a quilt (at least at the beginning, I could always start over). For this quilt, I thought a meandering free-form style of quilting would be good but I am not a meandering free-form kind of person. I like straight lines, square corners. If you knew how many hours I spent floating in anxiety about screwing up this quilt, you’d pat me on the head and hand me a glass of wine.

My sweet friend Karyn invited me to her house to use her sewing machine, which had what I needed, so off I went with gratitude for her ongoing and deep generosity. The quilting was so much fun, now I want to do that kind of quilting again. You should know — and you’ll see it if you know the first thing about quilting — that I have NO idea what I am doing. I always just teach myself as I go, and there are certain parts of the process that I have no idea how to do so I flounder ahead and do my best. Maybe I’ll take a class.

too lazy to remove the platform around the machine to fix the bobbin. sheesh.
too lazy to remove the platform around the machine to fix the bobbin. sheesh.
those yellow gloves have little knobs of rubber-type stuff that helps me grip the quilt to move it through the machine
those yellow gloves have little knobs of rubber-type stuff that helps me grip the quilt to move it through the machine
and here it is -- a blurry picture because I was holding the phone over my head and trying to shoot straight down to get the whole quilt in the shot
and here it is — a blurry picture because I was holding the phone over my head and trying to shoot straight down to get the whole quilt in the shot
and this little label on the back, For Oliver <3 Love pete.  It makes a little pocket, because little boys love pockets.
and this little label on the back, For Oliver <3  Love pete

And so there it is. My first grandson’s first (made-by-me) quilt. Except for my anxiety about ruining it, every minute of making it was so much fun. The day I quilted it at Karyn’s (Tuesday) (and thank you again, Karyn, for your generosity and for being part of this quilt), I stayed up until 2am to finish it. I had to tie off and hide knots, I had to embroider and attach the label on the back,  and then I had to cut, prepare, sew on, and then hand-finish the binding. So much work and so very many hours spent, each one imagining that little boy, each hour spent with a heart full of love for this rainbow child, this precious boy whose life is going to be drenched in love.

It’s Thursday, it’s nearing the end of March, and today is the first day of Spring. With all my heart, I hope this new season sweeps away the various hardships of our long and hard winter and brings renewal and joy to your life, as it is going to bring to mine. xo

blissless

this picture has nothing to do with anything, but I love it so much!
this picture has nothing to do with anything, but I love it so much! Bliss on a boat off Bali.

It’s been a long cold lonely winter. Little darlin. But you know, it has.  I’ve had stress and anxiety weighing on my heart. The skies were often gray. I dutifully take my little Wellbutrin every single morning. I haven’t exactly felt depressed, but I haven’t felt a whole lot of big joy.

One of my favorite things about being me is my easy experience of joy. It’s not at all uncommon for me to feel bliss — in fact, I can get knocked back by bliss at least once a week, most of the time. For me, that means a heart SO full of joy that I almost cannot hold it, or hold myself; a heart SO full of joy that the edges of everything become indistinct, and I see how it’s all one thing; a heart SO full of joy that I kind of lose words, and am prone to cry at the tiniest little thing — a green leaf, a dead leaf, a breeze, a weed. That’s just a common thing for me, and I am enormously grateful that my software carries that programming. It’s such a gift.

But it’s been such a long time since I felt that. Actually, the last time I felt it was when I was in the river in Sri Lanka bathing that mama elephant. That was such an experience of bliss I completely forgot myself. But since then, I’ve made it through my days, I have been happy, wonderful things have happened, I’ve relished moments with my children, with dear friends. I’ve felt my community all around me, and me a part. I’ve loved my little home. I’ve shared good things and fearful things with all the people who love me, and been so grateful that I have them all.

But I haven’t felt joy, and I definitely haven’t felt bliss. Every morning when I take my antidepressant I think about that. I think that at least I am feeling other good things, at least the black hole is nowhere near me. At least it isn’t dark, even if the skies are dull and gray. But I miss my joy, I miss my bliss.

I’m sure this was a piece of it, but yesterday was a gorgeous and sunny day. Beautiful blue skies, 82 degrees, a little breeze, LOADS of sun. It felt so good on my skin, on my face. The heat soaked into my arms and shoulders and face. And while I was driving down to my friend Karyn’s house, I felt something starting to pulse inside me. I was anxious about whether I’d be able to do the quilting on Oliver’s quilt very well, since it’s free-form and I’m pretty rigid and uptight, and I was afraid I’d ruin the work I’d done. But still, it was sunny and I was happy and something was pulsing inside.

At Karyn’s, she set me up with her great sewing machine and wandered off to do her own thing, and I put a sample piece into the sewing machine — batting and fabric on either side, exactly as the quilt would be — and started sewing. AND IT WAS FUN. And I was doing it, free-form rambling, meandering stitches, loose and wonderful. And the pulsing started pulsing harder inside me. I picked up the quilt, 54″ square, and put it into the machine and took a big breath. As I pressed the pedal, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell started playing from the other room and I was quilting my darling grandson’s quilt and it was sunny and beautiful and Karyn’s home is so lovely and welcoming, and she was in the kitchen hand grinding spices for the wonderful lunch she was making me and the air smelled like spring and not at all like a city and I bounced all the way into bliss. My bliss, my old friend, so long gone.

It’s been a long time since I just had fun like I had doing that quilting. Rigid old me, not-at-all loose me, meandering and not planning anything and having a blast. Listening to banjo music and Karyn puttering around. It was a whole beautiful day, and when I left around 3:30 with my finished quilt and a full tummy and a bag full of vegetables from her garden and eggs from her chickens and her kiss on my cheek, I was so happy I almost couldn’t hold it all.

If you’re in a place where spring hasn’t really arrived yet, where the days are still gray and there’s a chill in the air, boy I feel you. (Well, a Texas version of it.) I hope the blue skies come for you very soon, and the hot sun touches your cheek and the air is sweet and your version of happy and bliss, whatever it is, wells up inside you.

what to do

One friend is having a medical procedure today and we are all hoping hoping hoping for answers. One loved one is very blue. One loved one is having to work all night this whole week, completely upending his and his wife’s lives and routines. After I read a collection of stories, I have no more work. Nothing waiting, nothing coming. Still no frogs or locusts, at least.

numnumAnd so today I will go up to Katie’s house for a while to be with her — a reliable spirit-lifter. We plan to watch The Party, that great old 1960s Peter Sellers movie (“num-num? Birdie num-num?”). It’s a movie that my kids’ dad introduced them to, at just the right age (though my kids were well-trained and got a love of jug band music, Betty Boop cartoons, and old music from the 1960s).

Now that Oliver’s name has been decided, I can start work on his stocking, but today my plan is to cut out the pieces for his quilt — I’ll hand piece the blocks, and then machine piece them together:

cool use of drunkard's path blocks!
cool use of drunkard’s path blocks!

I could machine piece the curves, but it’s quick and easy to handstitch them, and they’re portable. A week from Friday I’m back to NYC so I’ll stitch on the plane. And then I’ll show you the blocks when I get them done. It’s a really cute little quilt, and Oliver’s daddy came along to help us pick the fabrics so he’s right there in the quilt too — especially in what we’re calling the fox block at the top right. With such stylized animals, we’re imposing our own thoughts about some of them. The one in the middle of the bottom row, for instance. What do you think it’s meant to be? I have my own ideas…….

Happy Tuesday, y’all — I hope it brings a nice surprise to us all.