Category: Breaststroke

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.

Healed

I’ve been trying to go to yoga in a regular way for about 3 months.  The love affair began at a studio a couple blocks away from my apartment, where I obtained a 2-week free trial that I blabbed about to anyone who would listen.  During my trial, I was treated like a goddess of health and flexibility, given towels and water bottles by the front desk to create and consequently soak up my goddess sweat.  The classes themselves were wonderful, varied in difficulty and focus, and the studios themselves are kept at such a temperature and light level that you literally feel like you are back in the womb.  But the very best thing of all – at the end of class, when you were slipping all over your mat and ready to curl up into a ball (which you got to do), the instructor surreptitiously left the room and returned bearing a tray of cool lemon-lavender washcloths.  She proceeded to make her way through the room, priestess-like, and gently place a cloth on each forehead, one at a time. You were then welcomed to stay as long as you liked on your mat, resting beneath your cool crown in the dark, in the warm.

My 2-week trial has since ended, so I am now left attending the one free community class that takes place on Wednesday nights.  So many people show up that there’s often hardly any room to lay your mat, much less receive a lavender towel seemingly from thin air, but I’m happy as a clam that I get to go at all. It’s nice to be in a room full of people breathing together.  The goddess glow has faded, and instead I am surrounded by people who are generally just trying their best and often laugh while doing so.  We have the same teacher each week, and she’ll call us out by name to tell us that our pose looks better this week, or that we’re clearly moving more deeply into our practices.  She speaks softly and laughs with us, taking our time to go from one thing to the next.  The lights are brighter so she can help us out, but the warmth remains.

This last week, the typical instructor was not there, and was replaced by someone who ran a slightly tighter ship.  I could tell you about the class, but what I want to talk about is the towels.  For whatever reason, at the end of this community class, she made the since-forgotten gentle announcement that she was leaving to fetch us lemon-lavender towels.  I’m pretty sure steam was actually radiating off of my body at this point, and that I may have even let out a little yelp of excitement at the prospect of a former luxury returned.  She slipped out, I curled up, breathed, and waited.

When she came back in, I heard her way making her way through the mats.  I tried to gauge based on sound reflection how close she was getting to my own mat, dead center in the middle of the room.  I thought I heard her nearby more than once, and felt my forehead involuntarily tilting ever so slightly to meet her. “Bless me! Bless me!” A full two minutes went by, and even though I hate to spoil surprises, I couldn’t resist opening my eyes to see where she was.  To my surprise, she was looking back at me, not with a towel in hand, but with her teeth clenched and a shrug mouthing, “Sorry.” She had run out of washcloths.  I looked around the room.  There were white cloths, impossible even in the dark to miss, sitting on everyone’s foreheads but mine.  Just one short of a full bag.

Outwardly, I instantly mouthed back, “It’s fine!” and made a similarly clenched expression to convey how silly the whole thing was.  “So crazy! One towel short! What are the odds! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Internally, the stages of swift and sudden crying began.  I waited for her to look away before I closed my eyes and let my mouth do the strange, blanched, trembling thing it does when I start crying without warning.  I kept it subdued until I left the studio, after which I cried in earnest, swift guttural gulps, on my walk home.  I didn’t want to figure out why so I just let myself cry until I got back home and eased back into whatever I had been doing before I left for the class.  I actually felt a little embarrassed, which almost never happens when I’m crying, because it seemed like a small thing to cry about, even to me.  Not small.  Childish, maybe.  Like I came to the ballgame with my glove and got sent home.  Either way, I felt silly, and just wanted to hurry up and get the crying over with so I could go back to being the bastion of strength that I am.

There’s a game I used to play in my days of college theater.  In the exercise, you simply lay down on your back on the ground and imagine that somewhere vaguely near your right hand is a warm washcloth.  Perhaps it smells like lemons, perhaps it’s just clean.  Slowly, slowly, you pick up the washcloth (which, of course, isn’t there) and you place it wherever it is you need to be healed.  That’s the whole game.  More often than not I placed it on my heart or my head, though on occasion I’d place it on my stomach or crossed hands or my feet on days when it felt like every part of me required any and all physic, that I myself was a sickness and required everyone else’s cloth, too.  I don’t think I ever cried doing that, perhaps because it is consistently difficult for me to imagine an object being some place it isn’t, but almost every time we played it I would hear someone nearby losing it, completely sobbing under the weight of their washcloth.  The object may have been imagined, but the reality of healing was almost too much to bear.

I don’t think these two washcloths are the same.  I think the reason I cried when I didn’t get a towel at yoga was perhaps more primal, a physical response to being the one have-not among the have’s, an unfiltered need to be comforted in physical distress.  But I’m happy it led me to the healing washcloth, because now all week I have been wondering what it looks like to walk through the world as healed.  That’s what we would do, after we got up from the ground and had used the washcloth.  We would walk around the room as healed.  I don’t know a better way to say it than that; I don’t mean to be vague or esoteric.  Perhaps it’s best left unadorned anyway.  Or perhaps it’s very simple: walking around as being rid of whatever afflicts you.

What does a body look like that says, “I have not been hurt. I am without blemish, spotless, made clean. I am well.”  Of course I won’t know this side of eternity, but I can’t shake the thought.  How does a body walk as healed?

Our frames carry so much of what has happened to us; our muscles literally carry memories in them, to the point where it requires great effort – conscious or otherwise – to be rid of them when we need to be.  This sounds obvious, almost commonplace when typed out, but it’s so difficult to put into practice in the day-to-day.  How can I walk through the grocery store as healed? Even when, especially when, I feel the total opposite?  How do I sit in my car, make my coffee, trudge through snow as healed?  Can I walk around as something other than who and what I am? It’s not even necessarily about being healed, but imagining that it could be so.  Imagining that it’s possible, that not everything must be with me always.  That whatever is keeping my shoulders clenched halfway up to my ears can be let go for a moment, that I can be otherwise.  I saw Call Me By Your Name earlier this week – an essay unto itself for a later time – and while it is chock full of many beautiful things, there is one line in particular that I can’t get out of my head: “Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once.”

Once.  Just once.  Is it the same one the whole time?  And if so, how much of its mantle must be carried every day?

I suppose there’s no real hope for healing, complete or otherwise, without a full embracing of the wound to begin with.  You can’t get through the gate to the pool at Bethesda unless you know you’re sick.  Even then, there’s no guarantee of getting into the water, I suppose.  And so many wounds are inflicted by someone who will never apologize, leaving us with more broken parts than we had to begin with.  But I just want the option.  The option of walking around as healed, the option of permission to start over at any given time, the option to be new.   My body, beaten up as it is and lugging around this particular mortal coil, is only given to me once.  Can it yet be new?

 

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…

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…

Island of Madness

“A woman carries her inner life–lugs it around or holds it in like fumes that both poison and bless her–while nourishing another’s inner life, many others actually, while never revealing too much madness, or, possibly, never revealing where she stores it: her island of lost mind. Every woman has one. And every woman grins when the question is asked, “what three items would you bring to a desert island?” Because every woman’s been, by this time, half living there.” 

This passage is from a book called Too Much and Not the Mood, by Durga Chew-Bose. I read it first on a Chicago bus on my way to work when I worked at the marketing agency sewing canvas bags. This is from the first essay in the book, which is altogether captivating. This passage grabbed me enough to make me stop reading and pull out my phone right away on the bus to copy it down into my notes app, and then copy and paste and send it swiftly to Jessie, who responded with something like, “YES.”

The island of lost mind. I’ve taken recently to streamlining it to “island of madness,” which is the same but different. I must have misremembered the phrase at some point and let the misremembered version stick. Or I let the “never revealing too much madness” seep in. At any rate, I understood exactly what the author meant. You’ll find me there, on my island of lost mind, of madness, at least half the time. I’m there right now, hormonal me, giant full moon above and menstruating and not afraid to tell you that, here today, because why not since we are all here together talking about my secret island — not so secret anymore or probably ever. It’s always strange when, every four weeks, I have to write an essay on a Sunday night that is right in the midst of a huge hormonal upswing, something vastly out of my control, that is so arresting for my whole body as well as my mind and soul that it sends me packing, riding a dinghy out to the island, relieved once I’ve gotten there where it’s warm and I can stretch out for a bit in the quiet and not be asked any questions except for the ones that lap at the shore like waves without my being able to stop them. Every four weeks I spend my whole Sunday feeling like I have nothing to write about, because I don’t, and then I show up to write and I write something that feels to me like it is so deliciously mad that I have to just impulsively send it out into the ocean like a message in a bottle. I am so delighted in those moments to be so utterly alone on the island in myself. Delighted and bewildered — fully aware that the dinghy won’t come back to pick me up again until the captain brings it back. Good thing I brought snacks: corn flakes.

I think I probably reveal my madness — but I think it is true that I keep it in a remote part of me. The island. I send postcards, but I never invite anyone to join me there, not even Isaiah, though sometimes it seems like he swoops over in a low-flying plane, perhaps to investigate or maybe even to scoop me up. My inner life is mine. I own it. It is precious to me, warm heat at the center, sometimes heavy and sore. On my island, I curl up in my inner life, let it unfold around me. I slip my arms into it, a coat, and walk around. I dance, I twirl, I kick around the sand. I swim for hours, remembering. It beats quicker and harder than my heart. It’s a tremulous and terrible thing, often kept sort of locked up for safe keeping, kept at the center of the crystal castle where God is also, hard to get to, remote. Except when I’m on the island, which is remote too, so all is well. All of me, remote at once. Hard to get to. Far away. Apt to jump up and down or snap or shout or close my eyes and breathe deep.

Hello! Hello from my island! The weather is sometimes stormy and sometimes clear, and I am fine with either since I have fantastic shelters I have built, full of quilts, piles and piles of them, the ones I make in my mind.

How’s the weather where you are?

I’ve been sewing all day, nautical signal flags. I’m tired — exhausted — and I wish I had another whole weekend in which to sleep, mostly, and read and think and spend a while longer on my island. The dinghy is coming back for me, I know it. That’s what Mondays are all about, the long dinghy ride back to wherever. You don’t get to stay on your island when you have to do such pedestrian tasks as going to work or talking to people who expect you to act normal. Sometimes I manage to talk to people while I’m on my island, which I’m sure is stranger for them than for me. For me, it feels like playing telephone, the kind with a tin can pressed to my ear and someone far away on the other end, sort of fantastically garbled. For them, it must feel like talking to someone either very distracted or very boring. I am sure I am both when I am on my island of madness. It’s awkward when I’m on my island and also in public, but I try to handle it gracefully. I keep quiet and watchful, try not to make any waves like the ones I stand in. I make it work, I come back slow, summon the dinghy, sail home without a fuss. Or stubbornly dig my heels into the sand, tie myself to a tree. I can’t really plan ahead or expect what I will do, it all unfolds so smoothly, gut-forward, propelling the fan-boat through the everglades toward the island or back home again.

I can do what I have to do. I can set my inner life aside for a while — lug it around and hold it in, and goodness knows let it bless me. I can leave it on the island, safe, till I come back again, get lost in the jungle, talk on the telephone with my sister and try to tell her what I know, make something to eat, slip on my inner life, silk lining slipping across my skin. Pure silk, dyed with indigo and madder root, painted with root systems and petals.

Hello from my island of madness! This via airmail, carried to you by a bird with much plumage. I’ve done so many things here, thought so many thoughts that I may never tell you about, or maybe I will. I’m productive on my island, and I dream the sorts of dreams that take years to unfold, I worry the sorts of worries that have flaky layers like a croissant, I imagine what I would wear to x, y, z and then wear it a while on the island, feeling so very beautiful. I carry every sort of writing utensil and coloring marker in my bag while I tromp and dance, stopping to mark something down for later. I shout to and at Isaiah in his low-flying plane, shaking my fists and then doing funny dances, singing songs that he might like. I catapult up a piece of toast with jam for him to eat if he wants. He catches it in his fist out the window. I throw a fit, I weep a while, I take long showers where I stand perfectly still. I work, hard. I close my eyes. I smile.

Hello from my island of madness. Thank you for reading what I write. I write a lot on the island, it’s where I keep most of my thoughts, the real ones anyway. Hello. Hello. Do you see me waving my arms!? That tiny speck, it’s me! Hello! I’ll be back soon, don’t worry too much.

Here’s to all the half-crazy women. I know how to live on the island, and by now I have learned, too, how to come back.

{P.S. If you’d like to order a set of hand-made-by-me nautical signal flags like the ones so masterfully spoken of in this essay by Merrit Tierce, and like I wrote about before and have been talking about nonstop pretty much ever since, send me an email ASAP at amybornman@gmail.com to ensure pre-Christmas delivery. I’m making them as fast as I can because I want folks to be able to own them and use them and love them like I love them. Signal flags to say how it is from your island to someone else’s, two ships in the night. Trying to say what we mean with what little we have, some flags, our storm-tossed bodies, our hands. When you email me, I’ll send you back a long list of fantastic phrases like “All well,” or “I will carry a light,” or “Weather is good,” or “The whole body is affected,” and you can choose what phrase-set of flags you’d like to wave. Only $20-$30 per set. I’ll be making them after Christmas as well, so no hurry if you’d like some flags for yourself. No better way to communicate how it is on the island today, how far away it feels from everything else, how much you want to say with so few ways to say it. It’s all connected, ourselves and our strange journeys within our own selves and our strange journeys to and away from each other.  Email me and I’ll come back from my island and I can make you some flags and we can talk all about it. “I am dazzled by your searchlight!”}

Clothed with the Sun

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” (Rev 12:1)

This, from the most mystical book of the Bible. This, returning to my mind day after day after day. A woman clothed with the sun, a woman clothed with the sun, a woman clothed with the sun. 

Earlier this past week, as I was returning to Chicago en route to Thanksgiving in Indiana, Jessie and I together found ourselves at the mall. We were there to fulfill a necessary errand but also we really like the mall sometimes. By and by, we went to Madewell. Oh, our hearts! Oh, our tender hearts! The problem with Madewell, silly silly Madewell, is that it ignites all of the envy and discontent our small bodies can hold. The problem with Madewell is that we like almost everything we see there, and we cannot afford even, really, a pair of socks. We walked through the store fairly briefly, allowing ourselves to touch and consider only a few things, looking at each other with bewildered, crestfallen expressions, basically speechless, retreating before our hearts wept too openly. We left feeling way more off-kilter than when we walked in. Full of hope, perhaps? That’s too generous. The feeling was  much closer to dread. It’s a feeling I’ve felt before, many times, while shopping at shopping malls or window shopping online. That vague, deep, confusing blueness, that dread. Why is it so hard? We laugh off this kind of sadness, this kind of confusion, but it’s a serious thing, I think. What is that melancholy I feel at the mall? That true sorrow? Seeing so many truly beautiful things, clothes that would look good on my body, whole other lives I could live if only, if only. It’s light, yes, just shopping, no big deal. But it’s also heavy. I feel this light thing heavily. Heavy for so many of us. We are young and poor, and yet everything tries to tell us to strive for the life we could buy with more money. We all know that this is a problem. We all, all of us, have this problem. But it eats at our hearts a little bit. We participate in it without even trying to. We go to the mall, even so! 

My clothes affect me deeply. Getting dressed is almost always fraught, almost always involves all of my feelings and senses. I am almost never satisfied with my closet, with what I own. I want my clothes to be as magnificent as my heart, I want my outward appearance to match my inward depths, I want to only be in the world in the fullness of myself. But we are so restricted by what we own, what is possible, what the day holds. I get so stuck in my days, so I get confused about what to wear. Because we talk about most everything, Jessie and I have talked about this before, finding common ground on two fronts: 1. That we almost always hate what we put on in the morning by the middle of the day, and 2. That we often find ourselves in seasons of wearing almost the exact same thing every day. Because nothing else will even remotely do. 

I’ve been having a hard time at my new job for a couple of reasons, and I think I’ve identified one of the biggest problems. I work in an active kitchen; I have to wear t-shirts every day. I get dressed in the morning and I have no space, really, to choose. I have to put on a clean t-shirt in some array of terrible bright cheap-cotton-knit colors and the same food-splattered jeans as the day before. I feel gross before I’ve even walked into work, a shadow of myself, someone else entirely. This wears on me. It shouldn’t affect me so deeply, probably, but it does.  I knew it would be a problem for my heart the minute my boss mentioned a loose dress code, the moment I realized that working in a kitchen restricted my clothing options. I knew it would be a problem, and it has been. 

It feels so silly that I’m troubled by the fact that I have to wear t-shirts to work. That I look at my closet full of clothes and still sigh with discontent. That I even walk into Madewell in the first place and look, outwardly, like I belong there. Such privilege! Such frivolity! I critique myself for my own feelings, I judge the things that catch my heart. I tell myself, “get over it!” But when the funk doesn’t pass, when the feeling comes every day, the shame I wear, for some reason, with the t-shirt, it becomes worth thinking about a little more deeply. This won’t go away, I guess. I have to wear clothes. This is something I have to reckon with and continue to reckon with day after day after day. 

This is something I want to pay attention to. 

Late in my college years, I almost completely stopped buying clothes from normal retail stores because it was too expensive and because I found that I liked thrift shopping much better – the challenge of it appealed to me. Since college, I have made “no new clothes” my standard, with just a few exceptions (#underwear), because shopping at thrift stores and making my own clothes is better for me in every way. Better for the earth, better for other humans, better for my heart, better for my creativity, better for my bank account. I’m proud of myself for keeping this up, and also astonished at how acutely weird I feel at places like Madewell. How deep the want is, how deep the roots of consumerism grow in me. How do I undo these things? How do I rewire my brain to be content with what I have, to wear things because they are beautiful and comfortable and hurt no one and nothing else? I work really hard at thrift shopping, keeping my high standards, searching the racks for natural fibers, paying close attention to fit and quality and wear, mending or altering what is torn or amiss. I am proud of the wardrobe I have created with almost entirely secondhand pieces, and yet. And yet. I still frown at my closet, I still want to change after half a day, I still yearn, I still feel microscopic in a room of beautiful new clothes. 

I don’t want to feel like that anymore. I refuse, or am beginning to refuse, that feeling I felt in Madewell. Extreme as it sounds, I think I need to make some decisions, even more strongly, more intentionally, about what I will and will not wear. If my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and I believe that it is, then my clothes should reflect that. My clothes should be clothes of joy, not clothes of confusion or sorrow. Clothes as vestments, as temple garments. Clothed with the sun. 

Keep reading…

Laps: November 15

7:30a – Wake, in current attempt to wake up at same time every day to combat continual lethargy.  Allow myself one snooze on timer before opening flurry of texts sent by my mother from previous evening.

7:39a – Hop out of bed.  Take my hair out from braid in light of bathroom mirror.  Marvel at cleanliness of own hair, marvel at how it falls just so when on so many days it doesn’t.  Toss it this way.  Toss it that.

7:44a – Make breakfast of sausage and eggs.  Realize sausage has gone bad and I failed to cook eggs fully, because all things are inherently imperfect and I am unable to contribute anything otherwise at times. Throw out rotten breakfast.  Make toast instead, which is what I wanted all along.

8:07a – Read today’s allotted Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner.  Kelly texts me moments after I finish with picture of same passage.  Feel warm knowing we are waking up and reading same thing, far away as we are from each other.

8:14a – Read section from one of five scenes that needs memorizing for Chekhov class.  Am pleasantly surprised that I know some of it.  Read it again.  Try to let it just be words and not all feelings that accompany it.  “Where is it? Where did it all go?”

8: 42a – Finish up writing Just the Facts. Am shocked that it’s second hour of day and have managed to not fall behind.  Enjoy watching Bruce Springsteen music video at 9am, and that it’s thing I get to do.

10a – Begin freelance publishing work.  Spend whole hour wishing I was packing up my car to head out on more exciting part of day. Remind self of bank account in order to rally.

11a – Put on makeup to sounds of Leon Bridges.  Enjoy taking my time to do so.  Locate sample of Smashbox Primer that really is as miraculous as advertised.

11:33a – Pack up various outfits for film shoot per Annie’s instruction. Pack bag, pack up Annie’s stuff left at apartment from overnight stay, pick up check from Boss #3 from mailbox downstairs.  Walk 3 blocks to where car is parked because it’s what I have to do on Tuesday nights.

12:04p – Head to first Kohl’s.  Listen to Showstopper podcast, because it is my ideal job.  Enter Kohl’s for first shopping trip for Boss #1.  Uneventful, but notice how much fun I have doing this particular job, which is objectively absurd.

1:12p – Put in second Kohl’s address in Google Maps.  En route, am arrested by sounds of Dog Days Are Over playing from radio.  Am always struck afresh by jubilance of said song. “Happiness hit her like a bullet in the back.” Have known that feeling.  Is miraculous.

1:17p – Stop at gas station because it’s right there and, well, I need gas. Head inside to maybe grab bottle of water, but store portion is roughly 20 square feet and has no water bottles, only bottled Starbucks frappes.  Finish pumping.  Back en route.

1: 32p – Enter second Kohl’s.  As I search for cart, old man working at register calls across foyer to me, “Welcome back!”, even though I have never set foot in here before.  He is in middle of transaction with other customer, but follows up with, “You light up the whole room!” which is arresting both in loveliness and unexpectedness.  Simply smile back in wonder.

1:37p – Am accosted by two old women in toy section, who ask me what appropriate clothing size is for 3-year old male toddler.  They clearly are aware that I don’t work here as I have cart, but ask me with full confidence as if I know answer.  I don’t.

2:22p – After locating what I came for, get in line.  Am helped by woman named Raj, who insists my coupons aren’t real but scans them anyway.  Look at her nametag and see that she has been working here since 2006.  Ask her where good place nearby is to get cup of coffee.  She conspiratorially tells me Whole Foods is nearby.  Best news.  Coupon kerfuffle forgotten in wake of coffee camaraderie.

2:34p – Head to Whole Foods.  Hear Whatever You Like on radio.  Love radio version, because actual version makes me blush.  Am hopeful to be subject of hip hop song at some point in life.  Am doubtful.  Wonder how many songs are written from experience versus wished experience.

2:38p – Arrive at Whole Foods. Have exactly 20 minutes before needing to leave for call time on set.  Head in, in search of Nitrobrew.  Am stalled by Califia Farms stand with Peppermint Mocha cold brew, which I promptly decide to buy on way out (and subsequently marvel at complete lack of self control that always comes over me at Whole Foods).  Find coffee stand.  Am directed to refrigerator. Locate Nitrobrew.  Pretend to have debate with self over absurd cost of coffee (exacerbated by fact that favorite cup of coffee is found at Fresh Market for literally fifth of price) all while knowing I will of course buy it because I came here for it and I feel slightly glamorous at prospect of going to film set.  Stop by cookie table, which I also never let myself do.  Pick up mysterious cookie that looks beautiful.  Make purchases. Head to car.

Keep reading…

From the Notebook: Land Gap

[Amy in the passenger seat of a blue car, with Isaiah driving and three people from their HoneyRock Fellows cohort asleep in the back. The soundtrack from The Big Chill playing on a bluetooth speaker propped up against the dashboard, since the car is borrowed from camp and only has a cd player. Driving away from Wheaton, after a short weekend visit to officially learn more about Wheaton’s grad programs, and unofficially to visit all of the people and feel all of the feelings. Writing with a wobbly cursive in journal because computer is dead, trying, desperately, to figure out what to write about for the blog tonight, getting it all, everything from the weekend, out of head and onto page, realizing half-way through that maybe the writing was already happening. Rain on the dashboard, so cliche, so fitting. Husband beside, nothing necessarily right with the world – in between two places, really just nowhere. Life caught in a land gap, making a home there, making it beautiful, letting even the traveling feel a little like standing still.]

 

Is it possible to live in two places at once? Still so loved by people in Wheaton, but living, really, in Wisconsin. Where does that put me?

WHAT DO I WRITE ABOUT?

New dansko clog mary janes, thrifted across from apartments I used to live in but don’t anymore?
The rain?
How joyful it is to get to see children grow?
Measure for Measure?
Women and weakness?
Women and weakness in Shakespeare, specifically?
Land gaps? Land Gap Junction? Prof. Samuelson and everything she did for me without even meaning to at all?
All the things Jessie and I talked about in the Jewel Osco parking lot under the moon on Thursday night–things I can’t even remember now?
Walking down Michigan Avenue, feeling the most like a city girl I’ve ever felt?
That perfect cappuccino?
The Rainbow Connection?
Mechtild of Magdeburg?
Lincoln Park?
Ice?
The land?
An ode to Blackberry Market?!
An ode to Trader Joes?!
How handsome Isaiah looks in his new thrifted red sweatshirt?
Travelling?
“In the middle”?
“Despite my best efforts”?
Nearness?
Female saints – the way they speak / write?
“May what I do flow from me like a river” – that Rilke poem?
How it feels to know how to navigate in a place, though you don’t live there anymore?
Hand-quilting?
The Joan Didion documentary I watched on Netflix?
That tug in my gut I felt when we drove past my old office building?
How The Big Chill has probably the best movie soundtrack ever?
Land gaps – a lot like driving between places and being no where.
Where do we bend?
Seeing people who love me and still feeling loved by them even though I don’t live near?
Competent traveler / helpless traveler?
How my sister and I are so the same and so different?
Vivian Maier’s photographs?
How nice it feels to sit in the passenger seat with Isaiah driving?
How nice it feels to be with people who can take my incoherent answer to the question, “how are you?” and know exactly what I mean amidst my rambling?
Mark’s November marble?
Workout – standing in the window?
The tree, gone?
How much I like knitting?
How very many quilt ideas I have?
Chef’s Table: France?
Watching snatches of The Sound of Music with five-year-old Charlotte, watching her dance like I used to dance in front of the television?
That perfect ochre suit Julie Andrews wears in the film when she and the captain return from their honeymoon?
The confusion I feel about whether I really want to live in Wheaton or if I really don’t or how it doesn’t matter at all right now because I live in Wisconsin and will for a while, probably?
How much I hate “probably”?
How much Charlotte loves “probably”?
How I just dang miss Chicago, like I knew I would?
How we almost slid into a ditch on our way out of Three Lakes Thursday morning?
About angels? Annunciations? Advent?
How I want to try screen printing?
What I want for Christmas?
How much I LOVE Christmas?
Wisdom, feminine / Proverbs 8?
How I inexplicably also miss New York?
How I think I’m going to re-attempt a Tartine sourdough starter, ASAP?
A gift guide? Too silly?
About Mary?
How inter-generational relationships are actually possible?
How sometimes things really are special? How things don’t actually end?
How I’m glad we didn’t go near our old apartment this time?
Jesus, in the present?
How I’m so bad at being in the present?
How I will ALWAYS miss EVERYTHING?
Something about divine appointments?
Sitting with Jessie in Mark’s office? The rocking chairs?
How I REALLY need to make more clothes for myself but I just don’t have time?
Should I run a church some day?
It’s the greatest story ever told?!
How annoying it is that my phone is ALWAYS out of storage because I take so many pictures?
How I feel like I’m floating in time, moving quickly, never really on the ground?

 

Write about all of it, forever, right now.