Author: Amy

You can get through the ice.

Friends, I’m all used up. I’ve been having some weird days where I’ve had to cook food for 150 extra people, retreat guests here, and my brain feels like it has literally been cooked along with all the breakfasts and lunches. I don’t have anything clever to say. So instead, some almost-lists. “You can get through the ice”, that’s what I’ve been telling myself as I get home from work and get in bed and stay there for the following hours. You can get through the times when it feels like all that was working before isn’t working anymore, when your head and heart both feel frozen, when all your normal projects feel stuck. I know it will all be okay. I know it is fine for me to stand still for just a little while. So I am letting myself, not pushing too hard to get going, being soft with my tired body and heart. I’ve been here before, in winter’s iciness. I know what comes next.

A perfect pink chair in Jessie + Emma’s apartment because it has nothing to do with where I am and what I’m doing right now, and that’s sort of a nice thing.

 

Movies I’d (somehow) never seen before that I watched in the past two days and ABSOLUTELY LOVED and want to watch many, many more times:

  1. Steel Magnolias
  2. Mermaids

 

Movies I need to see but haven’t yet because I don’t like movie theaters:

  1. Lady Bird
  2. Call Me By Your Name

 

Sweaters I’d be knitting if I weren’t knitting the two I’m knitting this year:

  1. Flaum Cardigan
  2. Wooly Young Thing Cardigan

 

Feelings I have:

  1. So tired.
  2. No good ideas.
  3. Am I stuck?

 

Questions I’m asking myself:

  1. Am I growing?
  2. When should we have our first baby?!? YIKES.

 

Fears I have:

  1. Stomach flu.
  2. Car sliding on ice.
  3. Leaving stove or iron on.
  4. Yeast infections.
  5. Mass-shootings.

 

Things I’m angry about:

  1. Mass-shootings / gun laws
  2. Things being not as soft as you thought they’d be
  3. Being so often afraid

 

Stuff I’ve been listening to:

  1. Frank Ocean’s “Moon River”
  2. This album of amazing piano reimaginings of all of Sondheim’s best.
  3. All three recordings in existence of Merrily We Roll Along, ad nauseam.

 

Flavor of La Croix I like the best:

  1. Lime

 

Thing I like to eat the most besides corn flakes and pizza:

  1. Tortilla chips

 

Places I would like to go:

  1. The Jampot – Jam made by monks in the Upper Peninsula, sold in a little shop near the monastery.
  2. Textile Discount Outlet – Discount fabric warehouse in Pilsen, Chicago, YES PLEASE
  3. The treehouse back behind wagon circle, but it requires a lot of snow trekking.
  4. Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, once we move there

 

Ideas I’ve had recently:

  1. Patron Saint applique series
  2. Learn how to screen print ASAP
  3. Wool felt applique
  4. Needle felted pom poms
  5. Book about Gov School (weird high school arts summer camp I did and then forgot about for years)

 

Book I read recently and loved:

  1. Irma Voth by Miriam Toews

 

Book I’m reading right now that is extremely devastating:

  1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

 

Celebrities I’m interested in having a conversation with:

  1. Orlando Bloom (just cuz)
  2. Meryl Streep (re: Mamma Mia)
  3. Lin Manuel Miranda (re: how do you write a musical, plz?)

 

TV Shows I wish I could watch a lot of right now but don’t really have access to:

  1. This is Us

 

Things I wish I owned:

  1. This serger. 
  2. Blocking boards for knitting. 
  3. These pants, dang it!
  4. World’s most perfect pink jacket from Madewell.

 

Artists I admire the most right now:

  1. State the Label, her painted clothes especially
  2. Natalie Ebaugh‘s quilts-to-wear
  3. Shelagh Jessop‘s amazing needle-turn applique work

 

Things I’m happy about:

  1. Isaiah snoozing beside me in bed
  2. I know things now that I didn’t know a year ago
  3. To everything, a season.

 

Merrily

Pick yourself a road. Get to know the countryside. Soon enough you’re merrily, merrily practicing dreams.

I’m sitting in Oak Park, IL in an artistic haze, with Jessie across from me eating a muffin she was given for free. This day feels out of time, like a whole different life could grow out of this day if I let it, all the while knowing it won’t. Isaiah is far away, across the ocean (in Rwanda of all places, which is a whole story in itself), so I am alone in a way that makes me pay more attention to myself differently than I am used to. I feel exposed, vulnerable, like my skin has been peeled away and I’m supposed to account for how pink I am, how raw, how soft.

When was the moment?

Last night, Jessie, Margaret and I saw Merrily We Roll Along at a small theater in Chicago. If you don’t know about it already, it’s a musical by Stephen Sondheim, a true patron saint to both myself and Jessie, that moves backward in time through the lives of three friends. At the beginning of the play, they are in their forties, successful, sort of not friends anymore, and wildly unhappy. At the end of the play, they are eighteen or so on a rooftop with their eyes wide open and the whole world stretched out in front of them, everything just beginning. So much happens in between, so many choices made, so many feelings both expressed and not. At intermission I crumbled into a little turtle of a person, folding into myself, bent from experiencing the heartbreak of a skewed dream, friendship marred, what could happen. And also crumbled in the dreams, for the dreams, knowing what was to come at the end of the play, knowing where I am standing in myself right this second. There’s a song, the second-to-last, called “Opening Doors,” which is essentially about being a young artist with a thousand dayjobs and a ton of hope. Here are some of the lyrics:

We’re opening doors,
Singing, “Here we are!”
We’re filling up days
On a dime.
That faraway shore’s
Looking not too far.
We’re following every star.
There’s not enough time!

At intermission, I couldn’t help but remark, “What a show to see with your friends!” with a sort of wild and terrified look in my eye. And it’s true. It’s a musical that has within it the dissolution of some beautiful friendships. It is a cautionary tale, but there is much more to it than that. When you really look at it, it is an ode to youthful hope, which is really one of the only things that is nourishing us right now in these strange days of unsuccess and endless ambition. The play isn’t about the fact that things didn’t turn out well in the end, it’s about the origin, the purity of the original intent, the way that life gets in the way. It didn’t have to happen how it did, but it did nonetheless.

It doesn’t have to happen that way.

 

I’m not intending to be successful and deeply unhappy in my forties. I’m not intending or expecting for my life to bear a resemblance to Merrily We Roll Along, and that’s not why it’s affecting me so much. For the whole play, I was bracing myself for the hope part, the way the musical ends and the story starts, hearing it echoed lyrically and musically throughout the meandering way to there, waiting for it, craving it. The last song of the musical, where the lyrics are quite literally, “Feel the flow, / Hear what’s happening: / We’re what’s happening. / Don’t you know? / We’re the movers and we’re the shapers. / We’re the names in tomorrow’s papers. / Up to us, man, to show ’em ?
It’s our time.” It’s hope, clear and true, and that’s where I’m stuck. I’m stuck in the hope part. I’ve been stuck in the hope part for SO LONG, and in some ways it feels like I’m almost about to step out of it, like things may start to happen for me, like success may start rolling my way, and then where will I be? Where will I be when there’s less to hope for and more to do? I’ve been stuck in “Opening Doors” for, it feels, forever, but what will I do when the next thing happens? What will I do when the song changes?

Right now, I’m back in a city that was my home for six years up until a mere six months ago, so it feels like an optimal or even necessary moment for reflection. Things are hinging. In May, I’m moving away, far away, in a more permanent way than any other move has felt. I’m starting to make choices with my work that feel like actual “career choices” whatever that means. I think more clearly now. I have a point-of-view, things to say. My “yeses and no’s” fly out of me more easily than they ever have before. I hope I am growing into the sort of person I hoped I’d be when I was eighteen, the sort of person I promised my friends I’d be. I’m growing up, that’s what’s happening. And I want, somehow, to hold onto the hope, to keep living there even when there’s a lot piled on top of it.

Despite the hinging, I still feel a little like a broken record. I am a broken record. The thing is that things don’t change as quickly as you expect them to, even when they’re changing all the time. Your brain gets stuck, caught in a groove. As much as things are changing, or seem to be changing, I’ve also been in the same phase for a while, a long time, sometimes feeling on fire with nowhere for the fire to spread, sometimes feeling stuck in the ice. Moving endlessly forward while also feeling utterly stuck in the mud, waxing and waning, the paradox of this season. You start to feel like maybe nothing will ever change. You start to feel like maybe you’re crazy, you were crazy to dream and hope and think of what could be. You consider quieting down. You question all that you thought might happen.

But then you’re sitting in a theater in Chicago watching a musical written by a genius about the very problem you’re trying to work out, the very dreams you hold in your gut, the way it feels to be eighteen or twenty or twenty-four on a rooftop or in a crummy apartment or in the woods or in a small carpeted room with windows in the west suburbs talking about what you will do, what you must do, quite literally dreaming. Someone is standing in front of you singing, singing! “It’s our time.” And your eyes are full of tears and you have to keep yourself from standing up and singing too, and you know that there is truth in the room, the gigantic presence of it, the way it makes your chest tight and your heart so full it might pop. You sit in that room knowing you have to grow up, knowing you will do things, great things, that some of the things you hope may come to pass, knowing that things will change, friends will change, I will change, our dreams will change, and it may not always be so pretty, but maybe it also will. The possibilities, endless, with the work as the only real thing. But for now, you’re just in a room where someone is singing. For now, you get to be back on the rooftop.

In the room where we met to practice life and theater in college, “Setzuan”, we called it, there was a plaque on the wall with lyrics from the last song in Merrily We Roll Along. “This is where we began being what we can.” That is what it said, and that was all I could think of during the curtain call last night, when the singing had stopped. That room, my own rooftop, the place where I got to dream with other people, the way those dreams have been carried with us down the road a little way. No matter what happens, no matter what success or unsuccess comes to me and my friends, I will always be thankful to have been in that room, to have dreams that don’t just leave me alone within myself. Things will not always be wonderful. I know this. I know that life is endlessly complicated, that hope in its pure-ness is not all. I know that growing up is what is happening and what must happen, and I am okay with all of this. No matter what is to come, I know where I’ve been and I know that I’ve been hopeful for a long, long time, and that is something to sing about.

You must change your life

I’m watching the Superbowl in a room full of people. I’m the lame-o typing on a computer, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I have something to tell you, and it would be probably best to do it straight out. We are moving. Again. In May, we are leaving the woods and moving to Pittsburgh.

I’m not expecting this to mean a lot to you. It isn’t monumental news — just two twenty-four-year-olds packing up their things and looking for jobs and being hopeful, same as everyone. All it means is that you can change your mind, you can change your life. All it means is that you can move back to the place where you grew up when you are twenty-four and haven’t lived there in seven years. All it means is that moving across the country is a thing you can decide to do, and it might even be the right thing to decide to do. And anyway, it’s all I can think about today, so I guess it’s what I have to write about.

{P.S. Multiple Superbowl commercials have already made me cry, which may or may not be because I have my period}

I think of when we decided to come here, to the big woods in Wisconsin, how sure we were, how we had to. I think of us now, of how sure we are of Pittsburgh, that it is the place we must go. We weren’t wrong! We aren’t wrong! To choose to go somewhere and then leave is not failure, it’s forward momentum. To choose to change your life is always something energetic, positive, buzzy, I believe that. There is something to be said about patience, yes, but there is also something to be said about saying a thoughtful “no” followed by a thoughtful “yes.” We had to leave Chicago and go to the woods to choose to go to Pittsburgh. Isn’t it amazing when your path is made straight, all of a sudden, in ways you didn’t expect? I wonder if maybe I knew all along, just barely, that this is how it would happen. There’s so much I had to come here to find out, and there are so many reasons to move on. Is this what our twenties are about? Making one choice just to get to another, skipping down the cobblestones, never resting anywhere too long?

The thought of Pittsburgh now is so comforting. A return to land I know. After seven years of pine forest and prairie, finally hills and creeks again, finally maples and meadows, rivers, goldenrod as far as the eye can see. I’ve been yearning for the topography ever since I left, consciously and unconsciously, so it feels like a treat almost too rich to vow to return. I’m almost afraid that it won’t feel like home anymore, but I know it will. Isaiah and I will turn it into a new home, something different than my childhood, something new like the way the city is new, more and more every day. It can’t be the same as it was before because it is different and I am different.

When I left for college, I felt some complicated pride in my going far from home, as if it made me bigger than I was. I don’t know if it made me bigger, but it did make my world bigger, my circles wider, my sense of space and home more spacious and various. And helped me notice what I was missing. Helped me see what was glorious about the place I left. Each time I would return to Pennsylvania, as soon as we made it to a stretch of highway I recognized, my eyes would be glued to the window watching the hills rush by, a weird euphoria spreading in the core of me. I’d think, shouldn’t I be cooler than this, more sophisticated? Now I know that this is so beside the point. I left so I could come back wider. I left so I could see the land that raised me with new vision, new hope, new ways to give back what it gave to me. After six years in Chicagoland, we didn’t want to live there anymore. After seven years away from Pittsburgh, there is nowhere else I want to live.

This is a really sappy post, but it’s a really sappy thing to do to move back to your hometown in your twenties. And I have my period! It isn’t my fault! This is how it is for me. This is where my heart is, in yearning for home and meeting that yearning with action. In being prodigal. In changing my life, again and again and again.

From the last two stanzas of Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo”:

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

You must change your life as many times as you can, as many times as you must. When the time comes, there’s no way really not to. What a comfort, the inevitability of things sometimes. What a comfort, the way we try to solve all of our problems ourselves but all we really have to do is keep walking forward. What a comfort that we can leave and come back. I don’t know if we will live in Pittsburgh forever or even for a long time, but I think it doesn’t matter. We are moving forward. We are doing what we must.

Dayjobs

I’ve had a dayjob nearly constantly since leaving college. I don’t think it’s really an option for normal non-trust-fund folks in their early twenties to not have a dayjob, though it feels like it should be. We are all paying our dues, hitting the pavement, getting rejected again and again, staying up late and giving our precious time off to the un-paid work of writing or sewing or what-have-you (things we LOVE), spending our days wearing shoes that don’t fit till our feet are all blistered and blue and we’re crying in our kitchen at night. It’s hard out there! Let me tell you, it’s been hard! And my dayjobs haven’t even been especially terrible! But none of them have been the right thing. All of them have been utterly exhausting for both my body and my spirit. When your vocation is to be an artist/seeker/something, there is no dayjob in creation that can contain that mission. I’ve been a nanny, a barista, a teacher sort of, an office-person, a bag-sewist, and a camp cook. In every situation, I’ve spent a good fraction of my every day on the job wondering, genuinely, “what am I doing here???”

Running this blog, though very job-like at times, is one of my and Jessie’s many passion projects. There are a lot of things we are doing, giving as much of our energy to as we can muster, purely because we love them. I’ve begun to become more and more suspect of capitalism as I’ve grown, finding myself, or training myself rather, to care less and less about money. But even with that mindset, I can’t say it isn’t difficult to show up week after week to a passion project with no compensation in sight. In our culture, it is our hope that our work will be rewarded with money. It’s hard to break out of that cycle and do work for nothing, to intend to work just because you want to. I recently finally launched an etsy shop for the flags and quilts I spend most of the hours of my free-time to make, and even that feels complicated and strange. How do I price these things I’m making? Wouldn’t I rather just freely give them away to anyone who needs them? Is my time worth money? I’ve made it my business to continue my other passion projects without pay for long as I need to, to work for free, to teach myself, to make my dreams come true even if I don’t have the money-success to prove it, but this means I still have to have a dayjob. This means I will always be coming at the things I love to do with depleted energy, a kink in my spirit, many of my hours given away to something very beside-the-point. This conversation is prickly, complicated. Money is hard to talk about, but we all deal with it so we might as well start. I would love to be paid for the creative work I do. That is beginning to happen, but it is an extremely slow and often discouraging process where you have to just keep showing up and doing the work whether any money at all is coming in or not. But the fact of it is that I do it because I love it. I write and sew whether I receive anything in return or not, whether anyone else’s eye see it or not, and that’s how I know it’s worth doing. Dayjobs are a different story. I do those purely for money. Money to live on. Annoying, annoying, money.

I’m currently stuck in the middle of the camp-cook dayjob. Forty hours a week, these days, I’m trying to make food at a camp (where I also live) for all the people around. I’ve learned a lot, mostly that I don’t want to be a camp cook anymore, but also how to cook. So that’s one good thing! Below, a conclusive list of what I’ve learned at my current weird cooking dayjob but also everywhere.

Scones I made at my dayjob!!!

But before you read the list, read this: I am so proud of us. We are all (those of us who have not yet hit our stride) stuck in dayjobs, hoping for a unicorn or no dayjob at all. We are all just trying, TRYING, to figure out how to make it, something, work. Someday, really, I think we will all have jobs that we are proud of, things that make money that also make sense to us. Someday, the way the work-economy of the world actually exists in a healthy way will come into focus for us. But today is not that day. We are the victims of a system that is built to diminish and punish us, the small people, the no-experience-ers, the hopefuls, the lovers. Capitalism is brutal, really. No matter how brilliant we are, we have to push through the crap. And I am so proud of us for showing up to our dayjobs every morning wearing the outfit needed to get the job done. I am so proud of us for self-teaching and apprenticing ourselves into REAL SKILLS. I am so proud of us for keeping it going. That is no small thing. This life, the waiting life, is still our life, and it’s still beautiful. I’m glad we get to wait together.

Things I have learned at this dayjob / tips for whoever comes after / general musings on being an artist with a dayjob:

Keep reading…

From the notebook: if I were to write a book

On August 16th, 2016, I started a Google Doc called “If I were to write a book.” I added to it a few times between August and December of that year, and then left it to languish in my google drive until now, a little over a year later. Here, a call and response between me then and me now. A transcription of my very own words, reimagined, rediscovered, grief and truth anew in my reading them at twenty-four instead of writing them at twenty-three. These years have been so WIDE. So wild and wide and fascinating and endless and terrible and wonderful, and I am entirely different than I was in college and just after but so utterly informed by what was planted in me then. Just now sprouting, roots having gone very deep. Original text normal, new text in red italics. Call me crazy, but this secret forgotten google doc may be one of the most true things I’ve ever worked out for myself. I think I was saving it for later, thinking it wasn’t time to share it yet, but I’m not sure what that even means. No time but now, especially given how much things have changed in between (but also how much they haven’t). 75% of me still right in the middle of these words, and the other 25% is confidently sewing on her gorgeous Juki in the woods, sure of one thing but one thing only. 

Things written on different days separated by little dotted lines. My own heart, separated by little dotted lines, all of the versions of myself, all the women I am and have been, each fear and thought spinning still. I am on fire. You can get through the ice. Those are the flags I must wave, and do. That is all I know. 

This, a secret I’m ready to share. 

Me, August 2016, in my favorite chair before it was really, really my favorite in our apartment on Damen Avenue. 

Keep reading…

Clothed with the Sun, Part II

{You can start with Part I from back in November if you’d like, here, for some background on why I’m thinking about all this in the first place.}

I’m sitting here with one hand-knit sock on one foot, and the other still beside me, half-finished. This year, I’m making my clothes. At least, I hope I will be. I’m planning to. We are halfway into the first month of 2018 and all I have are lofty plans and a nearly finished pair of socks that I’ve been working on for far too long. I’m exhausted, overworked, feeling out of sorts in almost every way, but I have plans, oh I have plans. And I intend to try my best to keep them.

Right now, I’ll be honest, I’m very tired. I’ve worked in the kitchen all weekend because we are in the busy retreat season at HoneyRock and there are 100 extra people to feed here than usual. I’m right now the sort of tired where you just feel like crying for no reason, where you end up staring into space for a while. It’s the sort of tired where you worry that you will always be as tired as you are, that this is it for you and the energy is never coming back. That’s how this whole season feels. The amount of time I have to spend in the kitchen is extremely disproportionate to the time I have to spend on what feels like my real work, sewing, designing, thinking, feeling, etc. Which is why I have my high hopes, why I’m holding them tightly even on my most tired days.

It feels good to have plans. No, it feels amazing. Even though my eyes are crossing as I try to look at the computer screen and type comprehensible sentences, I have PLANS. And I’m here today to tell you about them, to say my plans out loud so as to encourage myself to keep them and maybe also share the wealth. The wealth, that is, of being clothed with the sun, of dressing for work, real work, of finding out that you have agency in the areas of your life that make you blue, the big ones and the small ones, and then taking that agency and running with it.

Clothes feel like much more of a challenge than quilts do to me. When sewing an article of clothing, I often feel impatient. Quilts are such a big process that you get lost in the length of it, not expecting to finish anytime soon. A garment feels small, simple, like it could be done in an hour or two, when really it needs more like four or five. I want to practice patience. I want to not make sloppy mistakes. I want to finish all my seams beautifully, to make clothes that will last a very long time, to do as good of a job as I know how to. This will be difficult. But it will also be worth it. It will be worth it to adorn my body, to treat myself with respect. I want to sew the clothes from the patterns and then make them even more special, with embroidery and applique, tags and topstitching. Small things to add up to something big. Clothes made by myself for myself.

And then, once I make the clothes, I want to wear them. Perhaps even almost exclusively, we’ll see. It’s an experiment in joy, in doing what I set out to do, in practicing what I preach and paying attention to myself as I do. I’m sure I’ll still cringe when I walk past a Madewell, I’m sure I’ll still windowshop online, imagining all the women I could be in all the beautiful clothing. But maybe I’ll also feel a little more confident about the woman I am, the things I carry around within, the plans I make and carry out, little acts of bravery, of power. I hope that will be the case, but for now all I have are the plans. Plans and my own tired body, clothed in something not-quite-bright, yet still luminous. A tiny sliver, like the morning moon I’ve been seeing as I make my sad frozen walk toward serving breakfast. Morning moon, shocking against the blue of dawn. The moon is clothed with the sun, quite literally lit by something outside itself, waning and waxing, full and new in turn. That is how I want to be. That is how I will be. That is how I am. A season for everything, for the moon and the sun, for making your clothes and buying them, for mending and tearing. For making plans and carrying them out. Stepping out in bravery with an armload of fabric, a needle and thread, your own living room, a stack of papers, and hope.

Read on to see what I’m going to do:

Keep reading…

figure-eights

Today I went skating at golden hour alone. I went knowing, or thinking at least, that I’m not a good skater. In almost every instance I can remember I’ve felt the whole time like I was about to fall, wanting to leave after ten minutes of wobbling around in pain somewhere around my ankles, bracing myself for impact. I don’t think I’ve ever before skated by myself. It’s one of the crazy graces of this year in the woods, this strange, singular year that we have found ourselves in (since we have decided that we will not be staying for the three we originally thought), that I can quite literally walk one minute from my door to an idyllic frozen lagoon of my very own. Or I can cross-country ski on untouched snow through well-loved wilderness any day of the week. I grabbed my skates on a whim today, practically running out my door, a sudden impulse to try again. It’s too beautiful here, so much that it doesn’t really compute. All the snow, the pines, the sun in all seasons. I hardly know what’s beautiful anymore, what’s real, where my body really is, how to move through it all. I live in these woods, this is where I am, there are other people here too, now in 2018, but I am alone within my own woods, cavernous, different with different light. My own lagoon, not even borrowed, owned.

I took off my mittens to strap on my skates. Cold hands. The way down the bank of the lagoon to the ice was slippery and uneven, treacherous, I’d call it. I fell right away, the sort where both feet fly out from under you at once. I landed squarely on my tailbone. It felt like a bad omen, it made me sigh and think myself silly. I was thankful every minute that no one was anywhere near the lagoon, greedy for silence and space, the romance of it, the chance to fall and not be seen. I expected to fall more, to not stay very long, to change my mind and go home.

Once on the ice, I just began. Small steps, just practice, my mind graciously clear. Short, slow glides, one foot then the other, finding where the ice was the most smooth, thankful for Greta who had cleared some of the snow off the lagoon yesterday when she wanted to practice her hockey. I found a little lane to stay in with a few clear cracks shooting across it, ominous but seeming to be relatively sturdy. I skated, rocking my arms back and forth, surely looking clumsy but with no one to see.

What amazed me was that I didn’t want to stop. Never once. I just kept skating, back and forth, back and forth, up and down, always deciding to double back and go again. Time was gone, my phone dead in my pocket within moments of stepping out on the ice. Me, be-mittened, wearing a sweater I had knit myself, favorite blue jeans, vintage parka from the Rhinelander goodwill, Isaiah’s hat, perfectly-fitting skates saved from the lost-and-found, radiant in the golden hour sunlight, absolutely alone.

At some sort of midpoint in my practice, I recalled figure-eights, remembered they were a thing to try, a thing skaters did sometimes. A circle that goes round about itself. I made one, a slow, lazy loop around and around, then another, then another, with the curves as the best part, but maybe also the straights. No clear place or reason to stop. Infinity to trace over and over again. I noticed my skating getting more sure, my body relaxing, my heart softening behind the zipper of my coat as I looped.

I thought of nothing, and when I did think I thought just about skating. Simple thoughts. I imagined myself a different person entirely, Hans Brinker or Jo from Little Women or a girl with a pond that freezes over every winter in her backyard throughout her childhood. I thought of professional figure skaters and their mothers. I felt like I was doing, suddenly, something I was born to do. A body made to glide, to spin when she chooses, to stop and look. Someone weightless, cutting, making lines on the ice. A beautiful woman alone. I looked as the tracks multiplied, as I cut through fresh snow straying further and further, making perfect curves around, right and left. Pure comfort, joy.

I was in the middle of something I knew I would remember, the sort of thing you think about when you’re sad, thinking “if I could only go back there, to the figure-eights on the lagoon.” I thought of another time like that, a time under a willow once in Chicago, when I didn’t want to leave, felt almost like I couldn’t, like there would never be a right time to leave that place, that moment. Another infinity. It happens to me sometimes, rarely but surely, getting caught in loops of grace. It’s almost a sort of mania, a wonderful kind, where there is no better thing than the thing I’m doing, no happier thought, no reason in the world to stop or leave. I become a sort of madwoman, skating or sitting under a willow, back on my island of madness which is a sheet of ice or a shelter made of leaves. Trapped and happy, arrested by the moment, pinned down by something outside of myself, playing out something planned long ago, an ancient thing. Being in exactly the right place, making loops, in motion. It’s possible that I am making something big out of something very small, but that’s what makes it so cutting, so deep. It is a feeling that absolutely cannot be manufactured or chosen or created by me. It is a feeling that is entirely a gift, a gift preceding all action. That is not a small thing–eternal life suddenly on earth, gently, carried for a minute by me, a clumsy girl alone on skates. Incarnation.

It is a frequent grief of mine to feel out of place. It’s been plaguing me often lately, a thorn in my flesh. The feeling that something is not right, that I am not right, that I shouldn’t be where I am but there’s nowhere to go. That something is cosmically wrong, that I have nothing to say, no choices to make, no doorknob to turn. Friday night that is where I was, feeling very, very anxious, absolutely trapped, like I was caught in a bad loop, one I couldn’t get out of, seeing weeks stretched out in front of me full of things I didn’t want to do, places that weren’t the right ones. If only someone could have told me, “but you’ll do figure-eights on Sunday.” If only I knew of the grace to come, of the way it always, always ebbs and flows. It is a flaw of mine to continuously doom myself to things I’m not doomed to, forgetting that there is both doom and glory, that one is my inheritance and one is just a sometimes-place, a momentary affliction, a byproduct of something in me that isn’t actually mine, not anymore. Glory is mine, eternal, doom is just sometimes. This is what I always forget. This is what I need to be reminded of.

It takes me to this, to a psalm, to “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”  Lines cut into ice, walking on water, heart full of light, mind full of peace, clothed with the sun. That is who I am, who I was created to be. I started 2017 in Rwanda, of all places, sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat in front of forty kids, saying those words out loud to them, with them. “The lines have fallen for me…” We lay on our backs and traced lines through the sky with our feet, we practiced closing our eyes and looking at the blackness, making symbols out of the things I wanted to remember, hoping it would be good for them too. Then I said those words at Annie’s wedding, shared them with Margaret and Jessie, the four of us joined together in declaring hope for ourselves and for Annie’s marriage, for each of our lives and the ways they were changing, feeling tears leaking from our eyes, speaking the truth with full voice in front of other people. I have carried those words in my body through unbelief and fear and sadness and shocking anger, through long days that didn’t feel right, that made me want to run away and never stop. And now it is a new year and I see now that the lines are figure eights, always have been, pure grace, my body gliding, unearthly. It is the answer to the question I shout at the sky over and over again, “where will I be safe???” In the figure eights, under the willow, right in the middle of the grace, its endlessness. I’m knocked over by the gift of feeling it, of knowing it to be true, of finding myself caught in the best sort of loop, a strange mirror to the loops of anxiety I have come to know better and, sadly, to expect. Feeling myself somehow right within lines drawn by God, heavenly eights. The shock of promises actually being kept. This is a sign, this is a wonder, skating in January in Wisconsin. What wondrous love, where the thunderous things are silent, where the mystery is what is true, where time stops and shifts, where the doom is momentary but the grace goes on and on and on, round about itself, infinity. The sort of thing you didn’t even know to yearn for.

I stopped skating when some other people came to skate. I think it had been an hour, maybe more. I wasn’t angry that they came, I just knew it was time to go. I did one or two more loops then I waddled off the ice, made small talk, felt quietly transformed. I went home and grabbed my computer to write. I knew exactly what I wanted to say.

I know that I spend more time thinking I am caught in doom than reveling and breathing in grace. I know that one day’s skating will not solve tomorrow’s fears. I am not out of the woods yet, nor will I ever be. But now there are the figure-eights to remember, to revisit when I need to. A new holy thing, a new thing to practice, a brand new sacrament belonging to me, something so ordinary turned into fire. Something I couldn’t forget if I tried. I have it in my mind now to try to skate every day while there is ice on the lagoon, which I am sure I will not do. I will definitely decide not to go, be tired, sad, misremembering how it felt, living in doom instead of light, thinking a big thing small. But the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. I was made to glide in grace. I am in infinity. This is what is true. This is what my body knows, and can now remember in a new way, forever.

Joni Mitchell’s “River” has been my favorite song since the moment I heard it. I discovered it in high school, used to listen to it over and over. It is the one song I would keep if there could only be one song to listen to for the rest of my life. If you don’t know it, the refrain is, “I wish I had a river I could skate away on.” In a strange sort of fever-dream, I made a theater piece about it in college, a sort of dance piece where I wore roller skates and made for myself a path made out of light. I performed it only a few times, chose it as my final farewell to the theater that had meant everything to me, to a place that felt something like heaven. That theater piece is one of my favorite things I have ever made, something that carried its own sort of holiness, something entirely without rationality, a thing created by my spirit instead of my mind. For all my loving “River,” I never knew why. I couldn’t articulate it, except that my body knew it somehow, that I carried that song in my soul, that it somehow belonged to me. Prophesy, strange and ordinary! Now I know why. It makes me shake my head to think of it, the uncanniness of it, that clear connection years in the making, something so simple, so almost silly. A deep, personal promise planted in me long ago and now fulfilled, still so cloaked in mystery. Small things made big! Towering! Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? I cannot attain unto it! I’m suddenly at the peak looking out, but only for a tiny moment. What does it mean, except that everything is connected and I am a part of that? What does it mean except that I have a river, a beautiful inheritance, and the lines are in pleasant places, loops of eternity? What does it mean except that the earth is mine to skate on even though grief is all around, and I am made of golden light?

New

I’m writing this on the last day of 2017 but you’ll read it on the first day of 2018. Quite the span, or so it feels. Hard to know which side to write for. Maybe better to span the line, straddle the divide, stand in both at once. Hello, goodbye.

This morning, I sat on my couch with my coffee and my quilt reading Ecclesiastes in The Message. It’s one of my many goals for 2018 to read through the Bible again, this time in The Message, Eugene Peterson’s often frustrating but also endlessly fascinating modern translation. Reading in The Message helps me to get out of my head, my trying to decode meaning. It helps me move more lightly through, grasp what’s happening and see throughlines rather than get tangled in language, in poetry, in symbol–which I love but sometimes find cumbersome. In The Message, I get tangled in language in a different way, often feeling at-odds with Peterson’s choice of word, wishing to write it myself instead, wondering if maybe I should. (A project for my forties? Fifties? Seventies?) It will be interesting to try to read the whole book this way. I wonder if I’ll make it or if I’ll get fed up somewhere in March. We will see. The promise of a new year, new things to commit to and put aside. A time to tear and a time to sew.

Here is what I read this morning, on the last day of 2017:

“What was will happen again,
what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth.
Year after year it’s the same old thing.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, The Message)

Not quite encouraging as we stand in hopefulness at a crack in time, after a year full of injustice and weird people in charge and confusion. That is how every year is. That is how every year will be. Every person, every generation, lives in a world that does not make sense and never will. Like it says in The Message‘s Ecclesiastes 1:15, “Life’s a corkscrew that can’t be straightened, a minus that won’t add up.” No one knows what the heck they’re doing. No one feels 100% safe or sure or calm. We are united with all of history in our flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, making choices that feel uncertain, opening doors to passages what lead somewhere unknown.

Right now we are all reflecting on our year, who we were, what we did, and looking forward to who we want to be and what we want to do. I look back at 2017 and the year feels LONG. For much of it I felt like I was slogging through the same old crap, the same old dragging days. Isaiah and I keep saying that it feels like we can’t catch a break, and honestly it’s possible that this year had more of that than past years. But maybe not! I could look at each year of my adulthood and see multitudes of times when I couldn’t catch a break. When you couldn’t either. Every year the same old thing, nothing new on this earth, under the sun.

Except.

So many things happened to me, things I’m surprised at now but that didn’t feel all that surprising at the time, while I was walking through the muck feeling like I couldn’t catch a break. I traveled across the world. I quit jobs and started new ones. I said goodbye to dear friends. I learned things about my past that I didn’t know. I made a TON of quilts and became a pretty dang legit sewist. I decided to start a small business sometime soon. I wrote a lot of blog posts right here. I started journaling again. I bought an expensive sewing machine with my own money. I moved to the woods. I battled anxiety and depression and then got better. I became even better friends with my husband. I wore clothes I made myself. I wept and danced, alone and with others. I said “no” a few times that I should have said “yes.” I talked with God.

None of these things are new things. None of these things have never happened before on this earth. They’re happening all the time to all the people. But here’s where I start to push against Ecclesiastes (or maybe line up with it perfectly). Though none of these things are new in the world, they are new to me. All of life is new to me! Every step, every mile, everything that everyone in all of eternity has had to deal and will always have to deal with is absolutely new to me. Life in its slog is full of freshness, of joy. There are quilts to be made, songs to be heard for the first time, things to discover and uncover and claim as my own that don’t belong to me at all. My life is borrowed, I can say that confidently, and I am endlessly grateful. I stand in the face of my own groanings of “I can’t catch a break” with colorful cotton all stitched together, beautiful music, books to read, things to laugh about with my husband, friends! Life is the same as it’s always been for everyone and I get to try it for myself! Magnificent! That alone makes me hopeful for a new year. That alone makes me thankful for the year past. Nothing new but everything new to me. Every day, hard and soft all at once.

But there’s something else too. The whole time I was reading Ecclesiastes, I kept thinking, but wait! But wait! There, right in Isaiah, and honestly all over the Bible:

“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands.”
(Isaiah 43:19, The Message)

Here it is! God is doing a new thing! Something actually new! Something actually paradoxical! It’s the thing at the center of me that feels like fire, the holy mysteries, the part of the world that doesn’t add up and shouldn’t! The things we actually have yet to experience, the things that will literally crack us and our world in half. Roads through the desert, rivers in the badlands, water where there shouldn’t be water at all. We say, “there’s nothing new” and God says, “there is where you’re human, there is where you’re wrong!” God is new, and we get to live in God. 2018 will be another year of this impossible earth, the same as any other, but we, in God, get newness. Fire within us to change us, rip us out of the monotony, show us impossible things that we can’t make resolutions about. God is making the whole earth new, which includes us and our very own souls, the contents of our years, our days. It’s slow and fast, big and small, and we get to be a part of it if we want to, if we are willing to let go of the slog that sometimes feels like the only real thing. I’m not good at this, not at all, but I want to be better. I want to be better at keeping my eyes open, at not dooming myself to things I’m not doomed to at all.

I have resolutions and goals for 2018 like everyone else. I want to write a haiku every day, I want to design new quilts nearly every day too, I want to quit my day job and sew full time, I want to make so much more art and tell more of the stories I have to tell, I want to be more available to the people I love, I want to be stronger and healthier, I even maybe want to become a vegetarian. But I feel reluctant to even commit to these things, to say – “this is my next year, this is what I will make it be.” Instead, I want to open myself up to new-ness. I want to feel everything that happens to me as something fresh, mine. I want to experience life as something beautiful and precious though it isn’t novel or special or unique at all. I want to mark what is new, say it out loud, point at the mysterious things and call them holy, God’s. I don’t want to presume what God will do. My wish for this year is for something new. For things to happen to me that I don’t expect. For angels. For wisdom. For fear and trembling and thankfulness and joy. For more life. I want to hear God say, “Amy, I’m doing a new thing in you,” and, more than anything I want to respond with a whole-hearted, “Yes.”

December

{I’ve spent this month of December writing a haiku every night (per @inandof‘s work and idea), and I think I may continue on through 2018 if I can. A resolution of daily making and remembering, celebrating and standing on my own feet as much as I can. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, friends. Jessie and I are so thankful for you, for all of us living our little lives, walking softly, measuring heaviness and lightness, regarding the moon and weather.}

1.
I said just what I meant,
then two eagles fighting, loud,
above as I left.

2.
Sewing flags on my
island of madness while I
go slowly insane

3.
Oh that you would rend
the heavens and come down, or
else what will I do?

4.
This morning, got so
mad that I threw an eggshell
at the floor, cracked more.

5.
O magnum myster-
ium. Danced in my kitchen,
I know every phrase.

6.
Maybe if we wait
it will happen without our
even trying much.

7.
lassitude: (noun) a
state of physical or men-
tal weariness. Me.

8.
Late night drive to Trig’s,
snowy, and I just want to
drive with you always

9.
What if snow was blue?
we wondered as we walked, im-
agining new worlds

10.
Where do the deer go
at night? Snowy nest? Cold earth?
Invisible house

with shutters and a
place to wipe their hooves before
coming on inside?

11.
I want just to break
open my alabaster
jar over God’s feet.

12.
I don’t know what to
write because I’m tired from
my crazy flag days.

13.
We sat on the bed
and talked a while because we
hadn’t talked all week.

14.
Leaving for Christmas,
pressed the “defrost” button in
fridge–anxious mistake.

In trying to make
something better, I maybe
made something worse–wet.

15.
Husband beside me
in childhood bedroom, and
maybe I’ve been moved.

16.
Being surrounded
by great clouds of witnesses
may be the best thing.

17.
Found an apartment
that I want to live in but
cannot live in yet.

18.
Talked about light and
dark in a room with other
artists, full of hope.

19.
When in your hometown
for Christmas break, avoid the
mall like it’s the plague.

20.1
My first biopsy
making me repeat again
“My God is faithful.”

20.2
The old familiar
sadness covers me up like
quilts I’ve made myself

20.3
But where are we now?
I couldn’t point to it on
a map if I tried.

21.1
Pennsylvania,
where I came from and where I
also am going.

21.2
Five dollar pizza
with the couple-friends we need
in Philadelphia.

22.
Sometimes the sadness
you can’t shake off sits on your
shoulder, heavy friend

23.
A light shines in the
darkness, and we are starting
to see through the clouds.

24.
Every Christmas
Eve of my life I’ve slept in
this room, feeling small.

25.1
All eternity
on the head of a pin, and
me, baffled, singing.

25.2
How silently, how
silently the wondrous gift
is giv’n forever.

 

 

From the notebook: Magnificat

{An Advent poem, the moment after annunciation, scrawled in journal in bed in Pennsylvania childhood bedroom with sleeping husband beside, 1 am}

 

 

 

 

 

 

My soul doth magnify that which
now is encased
in it. My soul doth–
When did I open my mouth? It hangs ajar.

My soul doth
weep
and scream–contained in pin-point eternity,
the knife of this moment,
slit.
I’ll never leave this room again without being torn in two.
And my spirit doth
hang open like an empty bag,
the fruit having all tumbled out
when over my shoulder I saw
something out of place–moon and stars in full day,
a thick shadow, crack in
the floor where I tumbled too.
I am alone, I am undone, divided by euphoria,
sliced by my own unblinking answer to–

Oh, please come back. I am the handmaiden of
I am that I am that, please. I’ll say yes
a thousand times, don’t mind my trembling if
you’ll only come back.
Regard me more. It hangs ajar.

I’m sitting in the dirt.
I’m sweaty with colors behind my
eyelids and terrible ringing in
my ears and I’ll feel this way forever,
how could I not? An apple, bruised,
rolled far under the table and it’s all I
can do not to crawl to retrieve it and
put it back, to put all of them back
and then crawl out the door with
them–stand up and run.

Or leave the apples to rot. What do I sing?
Where do I write it down, what is there to say with my dry mouth, thick tongue?
Skin soft and inside-out, unrecognizable, glowing.
When did I open my mouth?

My soul, my soul, my soul, my soul doth
open wide, and I don’t know any other songs.
I’ve already forgotten the me I’ve been
because I can’t be anymore. This is
where I live now, in
this body full of fire.

I sit still on the floor the rest of the
afternoon, practice breathing, watch
the sun disappear, see a candle flickering
on the table, a candle I did nothing to light.

 

(Study for a Panel, 1890/1897, Charles Sprague Pearce.)