Building community in unexpected ways.

Watching the sunset on a summer evening.

Every night my family sits down for dinner and we ask “How was your day?”. Before the quarantine, shelter in home times, the question was sufficient to elicit a decent enough response from my boys and husband; we all got a good sense of everyones’ day. Now, the question can seem hollow and insincere since we’re all together all the time, by the time we hit the dinner table we already know how everybody’s day has been. Still we all crave the ritual, the sense of normalcy it provides and the connection it delivers.

This also happens with the different knit and friend groups I talk with via one of the many online options available to connect. People want more than small talk. They want real connection, genuine conversation and to feel kinship, even if it’s through a screen. But the screen is the hard part. At least at the dinner table I can see my family in real time and we can (generally) read the body language and know when one of us is going to speak. It’s hard to develop that online. So how do you create community and connection through the screen?

Before Covid hit and demanded we stay at home, I hosted a couple of in-person knitting groups. I’d meet a friend for a sewing date, a walk or a meal. Occasionally I’d have a chance to take a fiber class. By most people’s standards I was moderately social; loved seeing people and going places, loved staying home.

Now, many months into this, I’m finding what ways are best to connect with my family and friends. The key element is having an activity to go with the conversation. It helps our brains relax and our hearts to connect. Before, if I talked on the phone, I most definitely was doing something else as well like weeding, cooking or knitting. Now that many conversations and activities have moved online, if there is an activity to go along with the conversation, we’re able to be present and engage much more deeply. It’s hard for our brains to read all the non-verbal cues that we need to connect in real time over a screen. If we have something to do, it kind of tricks our mind. We stop looking at ourselves on the screen and focus on what’s in front of us. For family gatherings, we often play a game. My knitting groups have transferred quite nicely to being online because we have needles and yarn to keep our hands busy.

A silver lining is that we don’t all have to be in the same place to participate in these online gatherings. In my knitting groups, a good friend can join from Australia and another from New Jersey. I’ve “seen” my family all together more times than any other year. I’m able to continue to challenge myself and actually sew through my sewing dates with another good friend. I was able to be part of an amazing retreat that was held on the East Coast, something I wouldn’t have been able to join had it been held in person. Traveling at the beginning of a school year is not possible. And I’m finally able to teach folks how to knit via online classes.

Getting ready to teach my Learn to Knit class.

To be honest, I’m warmed and surprised how these different groups have been able to thrive within these limitations. I’m equally saddened about the connections that are no longer growing because of them. Nothing takes the place of in-person conversations, gatherings, celebrations, walks and hugs. I miss hugs. There’s no replacement for any of it on an online format. It’s not the same and part of it is letting go of the expectation that be the same. We won’t ever go back to the normal we knew, we’ll just arrive at a new normal. Now is the in-between time, the hardest place to be in any journey and we’re being forced to think, relate, connect outside of the box, outside of our norms. We all are navigating through it as best as we can. And so I keep committing to creating and holding space for community where I can, seek out new ways to connect with my people when I can and find joy in the ways that it works, right now.

The summer of day dates…or not.

We decided over 6 months ago that this would be the year to take our kids to Taiwan for language summer camp. It’s a dream my husband has had since they were born. And we are set to leave soon. We’ve imagined the summer as one where the kids would do the camp and my husband and I would use the days for day dates. We haven’t had much time just the two of us since our kids were born. This would be our first opportunity for extended time together. Exploring, eating, talking, relaxing and seeing all that Taipei has to offer.

Enter fractured ankle, crutches and The Boot. Oh, and a scooter.

So yeah, I fractured my ankle recently. While walking. Every plan we have for this trip is being re-examined, changed and many things have to be let go. (Right now I’m on a long, long hold with the airline to see if I can get more leg room for my boot and crutches. Ever been on a plane with crutches? I wonder how small the bathroom will feel now!).

It’s so hard to let go. It’s so hard to rest when you have to do it. It’s so hard to be dependent on others.

Every morning I wake up I have to re-calibrate, find perspective and determination to start the day. Showers: a feat in balancing. Going downstairs: only one trip with all I need in my backpack. Cooking: takes 10 times as long. And every morning I’m trying to start with gratitude. Gratitude for exceptional kids who are stepping up; an extremely positive husband (who can be more of a pessimist in real life); an ankle that will heal. That we can afford the medical bills. A 100% survival rate. Thankful that I’m a stay at home mom with no directing job at the moment so there’s no worry getting to work.

To be honest, I wish it wasn’t so hard. I kinda feel bad that it does feel so hard. I want nothing more than to be completely content with knitting, mending, and embroidery while sitting on the couch, kids swirling around. And I am, for the most part.

But I’ve even had to let go of my original making goals for this trip as well. And while that may seem trivial to some, making is very much what helps me keep a healthy mental outlook.

My idea was to sew a mini capsule wardrobe complete with a loosely structured color story: black, white, navy blue, rust and coral. I had a few things made but was waiting until after Squam and the end of the school year craziness had passed. Gypsum skirt, Wiksten shift dress and tank top, black linen shorts and a Willow tank were on the list. It was ambitious but when a deadline is looming, I work best.

Needless to say there is no capsule wardrobe coming to Taiwan in the way I envisioned. It will still a capsule of sorts with a mix of handmade and ready to wear, but curated to make sure it works with crutches and The Boot. I had to order a million shoes to find two that would work with The Boot. (Thank you Zappos!)

This past week, the illusion that sewing could be accomplished still tugged in my mind. I really didn’t want to let it go. But reality is that my ankle needs to be elevated for most of the day not pointing down while I negotiate the sewing machine foot pedal or going back and forth between the ironing board and sewing table with crutches.

I guess I need to remember to be kind to myself. It’ll take some time to get on board with the current reality, especially when it’s so different from what I had planned and imagined. I’m not the best at being flexible. It’s the re-adjustment phase that’s most difficult.

So once I move through this most difficult transition from what I thought the trip would be like to what it really is, I hope to be able see what our day dates might look like with crutches or the scooter. Maybe bubble tea downstairs, maybe across the street for lunch. Maybe just the apartment. Not dressed in my “Taiwan Capsule Wardrobe” but in the “The Boot Wardrobe”, it’ll still be in clothes that feel good. Letting go of what is no longer possible and being open to what may be revealed under these new circumstances is the goal. Most likely there will be other trips to Taiwan were I can run my feet to the ground all over the city. This trip is about being present and letting go.

At least one suitcase will be packed with far too many knitting projects and supplies for an embroidery idea waiting to come to life. Plus reading! When have I had a chance just to knit and read the day away? It’s sounding better already. Day dates with my husband and….myself.

Process/Product

IMG_2599

A bit of radio silence here. Happy Spring!

I finally finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Actually, I thought I had finished it a long time ago; it being started it right after her appearance at Seattle Arts and Lectures. The bookmark was peeking out of it as it was being put back onto the shelf and it revealed there were a few chapters left. Sometimes you read things right at the right time. She talked about following your curiosity in times of creative drought. In this season of child rearing, theater, my chosen creative profession, seems far out of my reach. Inspiration calling on others who are able to answer it. Handcrafts, knitting and sewing specifically, have sparked my interest but it it hasn’t fulfilled me in the way that I expected. And maybe that’s because I’ve been too caught up in product. Somewhere along the line completing a project has become the only measurement of success. The number of creative things completed equates to my ability/productivity/talent. To a certain extent that’s true. I’m both a beginner sewer and knitter and the time to work on projects is so fragmented that most of it is used re-learning what I was doing in the first place. The sweater is being knit one slow row after one slow row. Instead reveling in the fact that I finally learned how to pick up a dropped stitch, the focus is on the fact that it’s been 7 months since it was cast on. It’s hard when your mind works much faster than your hands; when your days are filled with countless worthy (and not so worthy) tasks. I’ve been toppled by a wave where product means everything and process nothing. This is the place where the craft ceases to be easy or rewarding; where it’s harder to push forward and easier to veer away from it- sometimes to pick it up again, sometimes not.

IMG_2218
Maybe two Alice tops?

My son was gifted a book called Stardines, Swim Across the Sky and other poems by Jack Prelutsky. We love it for it’s word play. One poem stood out:

  PLANDAS sit around all day,planning what to do. Their plans amount to nothing for they never see them through. They plan to run a marathon or take a railroad trip. They plan to cross the ocean on a wooden sailing ship. They plan to learn to roller-skate, to juggle, and to fence.  They plan to go to clown school and cavort in circus tents. They plan to play the saxophone and form their own brass bands…But PLANDAS never do these things- they just keep making plans.

IMG_2082
I finished the hat; still working on the cowl.

Plandas are my spirit animal, in a way. Planning lands squarely in my comfort zone: imagination, creativity, grand ideas, courage with basically no risk (aside from a closet full of supplies). And while one might see failure in a plan never being put into place, in this case, failure doesn’t even have a chance. If you never begin the plan it still has worlds of potential. (The trigger can be pulled at at a moments notice.) And thus, you never get to the place where you’re stuck in process without product because you’ve never started in the first place.

Ah, but just being a planda isn’t really living. And just quitting when things get tough, when the real work begins, you never grow, learn, discover or improve. To finish the sweater, attempt colorwork, to take another sewing class to complete the dress; to continue to follow this curiosity of handcrafts is where life happens. Yes, it’s easier to plan or start and complete projects that have definite deadlines but much harder to sit in a sea of process.

Whether I guide the handcraft projects into the harbor of completion shouldn’t be the only measurement of success. Reading Big Magic served a reminder and encouragement that curiosity is valuable, just in itself. A meditation on the journey. A prompt to think how success is defined. A result, a finished object, is not required every single time a project begins. It’s a balance between planning (dream) process (journey) and result (destination). We can’t be in one spot for too long. A few dreams, a couple of journeys and a handful of destinations, all cycling at different intervals. It’s tempting to cut one or the other short, to camp out in one place for too long or forget to be present in whatever stage we’re in at the moment.

FullSizeRender(32)
The Staple Dress two years in the making.

So I guess I’ve been in the process part of my current handcrafts for a little too long and tangled up in what constitutes success. Maybe I’ll start a new project, pick up an old one again (I did just start a sewing lab class) or follow my handcraft curiosity to somewhere deeper. I doubt I’ll ever become an expert knitter, sewer or even theater director. And to be honest, that would be putting a a predetermined measurement of success on my curiosity. But if I don’t allow myself to continue to work, learn and create, no matter what pace or outcome, how will I ever know? There may be a day that I can say: I’ve been knitting, sewing and directing plays for 30 years now!

 

New/Old Wool Vest

There was a period of time in high school where I raided my dad’s closet. I was into the baggy/skater/slightly hippy look. I cut off old 501’s for shorts and took this rag wool REI sweater from who knows when. I always kept this sweater, long after I realized fitted clothes were much more flattering. This past fall I decided to transform this over sized sweater into a vest I could wear.

On the first try I just sewed a few inches in on the sides, following the existing line of the sweater. That didn’t give the fit I wanted so I ripped it out and then pinned a sweater from my closet on to the wool sweater. Then I sewed the outline of the black sweater. For the sleeve holes, I pinned back the sweater material, sewed and then cut the excess fabric to get the best fit possible. This is my first time altering a garment and it was a relatively quick project once I figured out the shape.

I can be pretty nostalgic about things but they do me no good when they sit in a box or drawer. It’s fun to wear this old/new vest, especially with the added meaning that it used to be my dad’s. Plus, it fits into my goal of a mostly handmade, hardworking wardrobe. Triple win!