The Making of Things

By bringing positive intention to the making of things and creating to soothe our own as well as others’ emotions, we can discover what it’s like to create for the greater good.  By making intentionally ugly things, we question conformity to media beauty standards, and we can see how difficult (and important) it is to create without pure aesthetics in mind.  Finally, by following our roots and connection to the DIY ethos, we see how our own work can unfold and allow us to find our best selves.

—Betsy Greer, Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism

Operation Overflow

There’s a mermaid who swims laps in the local rec center. I see her some mornings when Stephan and I sit in the hot tub. I’ve never felt the need to engage her in conversation, to ask her name, or compliment the green of her tail. I just appreciate her presence, the little boost of magic it gives to the rest of the day.

I feel the same way about our morning visits to the rec center’s gym. Or, more precisely, I feel that way after our visits.  Getting there is a struggle: the cold, the morning, the constant reminder of things to be done, they all work against me making the trip.  Stephan goes most days, taking Ben along so he can take advantage of the free childcare on site.  When I do make it, though, I am always happy that I did.

We have a week to go until Wizard World’s Fan Fest.  It’s our proof of concept convention: where we will peddle our wares to a larger audience than before.  We’re excited and nervous and scrambling to take care of the final details.  In all the hustle and the bustle it would be easy to loose sight of why we are doing this.  I’ve been there before, so wrapped up in getting to the convention that self-doubt gains a foothold when I’m not looking.  The next thing I know I’m heading to the event convinced I’m going to fail.  It’s a mindset that not only undermines my ability to sell, but it makes me miserable the entire time.

To combat those negative thoughts and feelings I’ve adopted a new strategy: Operation Overflow.  The idea is it fill our lives with so much joy and positivity there’s no room for negativity to flourish.  I have made an effort to concentrate on what is going right in our lives, to keep the house lit with candles and clean and good smelling, to feed us food that is good and warm.

It takes a concentrated effort to remain positive, while also working to get ready.  It’s an effort that has paid off so far.   The atmosphere in our home has been relaxed and happy.  We’re looking forward to the event, rather than dreading the looming deadline.  Even facing uncertainty as to whether this plan will work or not, our confidence has grown.

Over the next couple of days, should I lose that positive state of mind, I’ll head over to the rec center and watch the mermaid swim.

Making it Work: Being a Pain in the Butt

We don’t have to be heroes to be stubborn. We can just be pains in the butt.—Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

In therapy last week the topic of self-esteem came up.  My therapist asked me to make a list of twenty positive qualities about me.  I got three down before I gave up.  Most of that has to do with my abysmal self-regard, but I also felt put on the spot.  When I showed her my list she zeroed in on the first word: Stubborn.

Surely I meant “perseverance”?

No. Stubbornness.

We spent the rest of the session talking about why I thought of stubbornness as a positive thing.  She couldn’t quite wrap her head around the idea, and my arguments didn’t sway her.  I understand, though.  She is right that to be stubborn is often seen as a negative trait: to continue on against the advice of others out of misplaced pride.  And her suggestion of perseverance makes sense … just not for me.

I’ve always felt that perseverance was a word for those on the outside and after the fact.  We say someone persevered, not that they are persevering.  it is a word to describe the struggle after it is over, not while it is ongoing.  And when you are slogging through the shit on a daily basis, when you are struggling to keep your head up, when your goal has been obscured by all the obstacles, perseverance is a euphemism, wholly unsuited for the situation.

I’ve spent most of my life stubborn, in ways great and small.  Sometimes it has bit me in the ass: I stayed in my previous marriage well past the “Use By” date, for example.  But more often than not it has been armor against those who told me what I was doing was stupid/rash/foolish.  The ability to say, “Oh yeah?  Just watch me,” when told I couldn’t do a thing has propelled me through several tough times in the past.

Is it easy?  Hell no.  Every day that negative self-esteem eats away at what little self-confidence I have.  I am assailed by doubts all the time.  “Am I really doing this?  Is this the right path?  Do I actually know what I am doing?”  Mere perseverance  would tear like tissue paper under the weight of my insecurity.  Only pure stubbornness has provided me with the strength to carry on.

At the end of the session, my therapist remained unconvinced.  She didn’t dwell on it, though.  Instead she gave me homework: to come up with seventeen more qualities.  My Jerk brain has been whispering to me that I won’t be able to finish the list because I don’t have any other qualities to write down.

“Oh yeah?” I tell Jerk Brain.  “Just watch me.”

Setting Fire to the Past

I’ve made so many moves over the years it’s hard to keep track of them all.  Besides the physical moves I’ve made—from Wyoming to Chicago and various suburbs thereof—I’ve made personal, emotional and relationship changes.  It is surprising how much distance one can cover without ever having to take a step.

Through all these moves I’ve carried a trunk with me.  It was a high school graduation present from my grandparents.  The trunk has been a bench, a footstool, and a table, as well as being the holder of those things I couldn’t bear to toss, but had no need to be out in the open.  Journals, letters, cards, old ids, and other ephemera.  For the past couple of years it has sat under my desk, home to the garbage can and a laptop that I don’t use any more.  I haven’t opened it, partly because I haven’t had anything to squirrel away (e-mail, Facebook and WordPress has digitized much of my correspondence and thoughts); but also because it is full.

In mid-December I dragged the trunk out.  I was looking for a notebook, and was certain it had to be there.  This happens on occasion. I’ll be seized by a need to find something and I tear apart the house in search of it.  Usually, I fail to find whatever Lost Ark I’m chasing; if it were still around I would have found it easily.  I’m then stuck with a mess and a heavy weight of frustration that my quarry managed to escape the nets of my organization zeal.

This time was no different.  The notebook, and the information therein, was nowhere to be seen.  In my digging through the trunk, I flipped through the dozen-plus journals there.  They were varied: cloth covered ones bought in a three pack from Sam’s Club in the early 90s, spiral bound ones from Borders, “leather” covered ones, five subject Mead notebooks, even a manila envelope stuffed full of loose-leaf paper.  This represented more than a decade of my life: from about 1995 to 2005.   There were some random pages from earlier and later, but the bulk of my regular journaling ended shortly after Charlotte was born.

As I flipped through the pages all I read was misery.  Every randomly picked page was a chronicle of how desperately unhappy I was.  Did I write only when I was upset? Or did I only write of my unhappiness because that’s all there was? I think a little more of the former than the latter, but there was no denying that what I had committed to the pages was unpleasant.  I wanted to reach out to my past self and tell her that it was going to get better … in a way.  I can’t reach her, though.  She is in the past and trying to cast back would only slow down the momentum I have gained.

But I didn’t have to keep carrying the millstone of unhappiness.  What did I gain by keeping these journals around? Evidence of my unhappiness during that time?  Did I really need it?  I had my memories, if ever I wanted to revisit them.  Which, again, wasn’t going to help me move forward.  I had learned all I could from that time.  There was nothing more these journals could tell me about myself.

I grabbed two cardboard boxes and filled them.  The letters, cards, notes, pictures and miscellaneous bits and bobs stayed.  The journals went.  For the first time in years there was room in the trunk.  Room for more pleasant keepsakes: love notes from Stephan, birthday cards from my children, perhaps even a letter to my future self, telling her that I am okay.  She can let me go and move on.

The first of January I took the journals out to the fire pit and burned them.  The day was sunny, if cold, and windy.  Despite the helpful nature of the weather, burning a decade’s worth of misery isn’t easy, even when it is bound in paper.  You can’t just set fire to your past and walk away.  You have to tend to it, or else it won’t be fully destroyed.  Blackened bits of paper constantly tried to escape, flying high and forcing me to run around the yard to catch them.  Some were still burning and had to be stomped out.  I had to open up the journals with a poker to make sure all the pages burned.  I got a surprising, and disturbing, insight into just what goes into a book burning.

The whole process took three or four hours.  As I worked I kept thinking, “This is who I was, but it is not who I am now.”  As the paper turned to ash, I felt the truth of it more and more. I returned to the house cold, smelling of smoke, my hair peppered with ashes.  I can’t say if I have completely divorced myself from the misery of those past years.  However, I won’t have those words sitting at my feet, their ambient unpleasantness influencing me.  And if that isn’t a solution, it’s at least a start.

 

Examine your patterns.

Examine your patterns. Consider first if the pace and the pattern of your life are of your own choosing.  Take the measure of your life, honestly and logically.  Determine which patterns are imposed upon you from external sources and which are self-imposed (or self-inflicted).

Make an honest assessment of what you have to do, what you don’t have to do, and of what you have consciously chosen to do, regardless of whether it is required or not.

Now reach a little further within to take a deeper measure of your personal life patterns. In doing so, realistically determine what it is you are striving for. Reexamine your life patterns in the clear light of personal truth and choice. Ask yourself what it is that you truly want from your life, from yourself.

If you are fairly clear on what you really want, then you can effectively determine whether or not your life patterns are structuring your success.  If you are uncertain about what you ultimately want, then you must ask yourself who or what is actually determining and managing thee patterns of your life for you and why.

These are hard questions, but necessary ones if you want to take more power over the patterns in your life. Know that you do have the ability to choose far more in the matters of your life patterns.  The first step—and the last—is taking your personal measure.

Amber Wolfe, Elemental Power

Backyard Garden Project: Harvested Goods

The thing about yard clean up, the kind that involves cutting branches and hauling stones and pulling down fences, is that you end up with a lot of stuff. Most of it gets sorted into the compost heap, or rubbish bin, or stacked up for use later on. Some of it you look at and think, “I bet I could do something with that.” You might not know what, exactly, you could do. But you decide to set it aside just in case. Continue reading Backyard Garden Project: Harvested Goods

Backyard Garden Project: Raised Beds

The idea started off simply enough: to turn the backyard into a garden.  The indecision, however, is in the details.  While we could, theoretically, pull up all the lawn and plant right into the ground, we have two dogs who have no regard for boundaries.  Enya, a German short-haired pointer, will trample over plants, push over fences and chicken wire, and steal cucumbers right off the vine.  We also have our share of rabbits who trek through the yard, despite the wooden fence and the presence of the dogs.  I’ve lost more pea shoots than I can count to bunny thieves.  Taking all of those factors into account, we decided raised beds throughout the backyard would be our best bet. Continue reading Backyard Garden Project: Raised Beds

Backyard Garden Project: Woodpile & Compost Heap

In my quest to create a backyard garden (as opposed to a garden in my backyard) some things had to be tidied up.  November was going to be that month.  We knew we had to work quickly as possible since winter seemed on planning an early arrival.

Nightshade Covered Woodpile
Nightshade had taken over the wood pile. Pretty, but smelly, and got in the way of getting to the wood.

The big projects for the month involved trimming the branches from trees, the woodpile and the compost heap.  Trimming the branches would give us all sorts of wood for the fire pit next year.  Alas, the wood pile was still filled with branches and wood from previous years. Continue reading Backyard Garden Project: Woodpile & Compost Heap

Gardening as a Radical Act

My grandparents’ house stood on an acre of land, half of which was given over to gardening.  Most of it was taken up by vegetables: peas, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, even a few pumpkin plants for the grandkids come Halloween.  There was a small strip that I always thought of as The Orchard: an elderberry tree, pear, apple and cherry trees, as well as a few grape vines.  The perimeter of the area was ringed by berry bushes: gooseberry, currant, Chinese cherries.  Having raised five kids on little money, my grandparents, my grandmother in particular, had the cultivation and production of foodstuffs down to an art.

Continue reading Gardening as a Radical Act