Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Gift

It was summer when I submitted the forms. It required a lot of thought, a lot of writing, and a visit to a local print shop to make 8x11.5 card stock images, because the people viewing them wanted to really view them. In their hands, so they could pass them around. I picked out the pictures I felt best represented not only myself as an artist, but also my life as a person. One of the ones I chose was Mother/Child Song.

I had wanted to submit art to this project for years. Why I waited so long, I don’t know, but I’ve come to learn that divine timing does exist, and it operates independently from any logic or reasoning that we might want to bestow upon it. I mailed the package off an address in Oregeon, and waited.

I waited a long time. When December rolled around, I was exhausted. 2012 had brought many lessons. Patience was one of them. You see, I’m very impatient by nature. When I want something, I want it immediately. I don’t want to wait for divine timing or for things to fall into place. I want to put them into place. I want to be the catalyst that sets things into action, not simply wait for them to unfold.

Oh, but yoga is a wonderful thing for the impatient. As is knitting. You can’t rush either of these practices. And I’ve learned many lessons in patience from both of them this year. Yoga has taught me to be in the moment, present, and patient. Knitting has shown me to rush is to re-do. To make something beautiful is going to take time, simple as that. If you mess up, you can put it down, take a break, then come back later, unravel it all, and try again. Or you can move on to a new project. It just depends on what you want…as most of life does.

In December, I got the letter. They wanted Mother/Child Song. Not only for the datebook, but for the 6 pack card set. I'm honored by this. Thousands of art images are submitted: about a hundred are used for the datebook. Out of that small number, only 6 are chosen for the card set. For years, I've used these datebooks. I've loved the art inside and dreamed of seeing my own there. Now it was going to happen..
I learned how good it feels when a dream is realized.

Here are a few other things I learned during this most amazing year...

- No matter how much we care about another person, sometimes they just don’t care about us, no matter what we do. It’s awful; we hurt…rejection is hell. But it works in the reverse too, and can sometimes be an even tougher pill to swallow, because..
- No matter how much another person might care about us, sometimes we just can’t make ourselves feel the same about them, no matter what they do, how much sense it would make, or how much we might want to. It’s awful; we hurt…but for an entirely different reason. This leads me to the next lesson….
- We need to be more careful what we do. That little voice inside, that ‘inkling,’ that intuition…it’s worth listening to. We know what we want, 99.9% of the time we know it the minute it presents in our lives. A lot of time and energy and grief in the world can be saved by simply honoring what that little voice is telling us is – and isn’t – right for us. But sometimes life can surprise us, as I learned a few weeks ago when I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded that…
- I love, love, love hockey. I have missed being a hockey fan tremendously since moving back to SC from Detroit 10+ years ago (Go Red Wings!!!) When given the chance to supervise/substitute coach a child’s hockey match, I got so caught up in the game I hated to leave the auditorium when it was over. So I’ve checked into the local schedules in Greenville, and made plans with a friend to attend a game soon. Because…
- I love trying new things, of course, but sometimes it’s nice to revisit old things. Simple things that we have always enjoyed and still enjoy can help remind us who we are. Hot dogs (turkey franks only now, but still, a dog’s a dog); movie theatre popcorn; Law and Order SVU; long phone conversations; high heels shoes; red nail polish; funky tights; being realistic and practical; occasionally swearing for shock value; solitude; my plain over-the-shoulder purse; reading all day; afternoon coffee and chocolate. These things are not exotic or uncommon, but they are still pieces in the complex puzzle of me. Such simplicity, yes, but…
- I’ve learned that simple things, ultimately, are where it’s at, and nothing is usually as glamorous as it seems. Yes, it is a tremendous thrill to me that my art will be featured in the 2014 edition of We ‘Moon, but the simple reality is that same art has hung on the wall of my son’s room for years, until he recently decided he was ‘too grown up’ for it and asked me to take it down so he could hang a Star Wars poster there instead. This is what I mean by being realistic and practical. Perhaps it’s what some people would call level-headed, but I think it’s just a form of wisdom. Or maybe it’s just that…
- I don’t like being the center of attention. Ever. I don’t do anything that I do –write, paint, etc. – to garner attention to myself on purpose. I seem capable of getting attention without seeking it, and I’m very uncomfortable in the spotlight. This year, I did what would become my last public speaking engagement, and the entire time, I felt ridiculous. Perhaps its maturity - I turned 39 this year, so it’s high time…which brings to mind another reality…
- Staying fit is just paramount to staying happy and healthy as one grows older, and is not something we can avoid doing if WE want to be happy and healthy as we grow older. Yes it takes effort, but most things worth doing do. Yoga, walking, running, and eating responsibly are ways I avoid the fate I have watched befall too many of my family members. My struggle with accepting their ‘fate’ is that it is an entirely avoidable one. Why on earth anyone would not strive to avoid it is beyond me, and ultimately just another way that…
- I am utterly and completely different than my family of origin. This has always been in evidence, but is somehow strikingly obvious now that I have a child of my own. I don’t know how or why I ended up the odd one out, but that is the way it is, and I’ve accepted it. I don’t try to change them. I wish they would not try to change me. Because…
- To try and change another person, even if it’s just over to your way of thinking, is a form of control…and there is nothing worse, I’ve found, in life than one person’s having control, or even trying to have control, over the life and/or will of another. Even if your intentions are noble, people have to come around to things in their own time, and they will, because...
- We cannot truly live if we live guarded. It’s an impossible paradox. It’s necessary to take risks, and chances, and sometimes we are going to lose. Sometimes we're going to look or feel like fools. But sometimes, we win. There are no such things as big or small risks…risks are risks. And it’s time I took a big one, because…
- My son and I are falling all over one another in this small space. It is time for a different home, a bigger home. I’ve hesitated to buy another place because I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be. The chance for a bigger house falls into my lap, but it's right up the road. Do I want to remain here?  Not really, but every time I look at moving, every time I consider relocating to somewhere better suited for me, I get sick, or some emergency happens, and reminds me that…
- It pays to have ‘people’. Friends, neighbors, family close by. This happened again in autumn, as I was contemplating a job offer some distance away. I reconsidered moving off on my own with a child when I could not get out of bed one day for illness, and had to call on someone else to assist me with getting him to and from school, dinner, etc. It reminded me that maybe, just maybe, I have a good life here. And whether or not this is the place I want to be, it is the place I am, and I’m not keen to leave because of another thing I’ve realized this year…
- I like my job. I really, really enjoy my work. It is not always easy, and some days I’m ready to peruse the want ads, yes. But this is true of all and any job, I believe. Teaching is the first career that has ever given me a sense of purpose in the world. My daily actions matter, and have an impact on the feelings and perhaps even the lives of others. Through teaching, I have a chance, every day, to live my message, to be an example of compassion and love, while opening the eyes of children to the personal joy of creating. It took me a long time to get into this zone. Teaching is tough in many ways. But after 8 years, I’m finding the rewards far outweigh the stresses. I’m not in a hurry to leave a job I enjoy, but…
- I am branching out into another field, because I believe we should always be learning and growing. This involves another degree, but is still in the field of education. This is something I’ve needed to do for a while, and have put off because I was busy doing other things. Now it’s time, and I realize there is nothing wrong with creating new goals. I’m blessed to have the chance to achieve them, and to have the education and opportunities that I’ve had to make my life possible. And this leads to the most important lesson, which I was blessed to experience many, many times this year…
- Gratitude is everything. I could easily write more about the many blessings carried on the winds of 2012, but there is no need. I hold them dear in my heart, even what is lost to me now, and I’m grateful for the experiences, even the ones that hurt, because they came with lessons, or because I was brave enough to take a risk. And this is what I want to share with you, as 2012 draws to a close. It’s not my personal wisdom that I’m sharing, it’s wisdom that we all have. I’m simply voicing it, so that you might be reminded to be grateful at this end of one year and beginning of another. Both endings and beginnings are auspicious, because they are one in the same. Be grateful that you dared to dream, to love, to live, to care in 2012, and continue all of these into 2013. We cannot be truly alive in the world and not feel, love, take risks, be ourselves... even if we don't know the outcome.

I take my new 2013 We ‘Moon datebook and card set out of the envelope, and smile, thinking how next year, at this time, I’ll be seeing my own art here. “You need to let the paper know,” a friend says. “That’s newsworthy.”
Maybe. But it would also garner attention, which I’d prefer to avoid. Still, as I smile at this dream realized, I don’t miss the truth behind it (because I am, at heart, far more logical than I am dreamy) - I could not have painted the picture they chose to use had I not had the experiences that caused the emotion I was expressing through paint the day I created the work. And I could not have had those experiences if I had been afraid to feel those emotions, hesitant to love, or guarded from intimacy in any way in the time leading up to the creating of this work.

In other words, this dream of mine could not have came true this year had I been afraid to feel, love, or take risks at any point in the past.
I consider this realization to be the last gift from 2012 to me.
And I am truly grateful.

For more information on We'Moon, visit

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Memory Book

Every Christmas, I make a gift for my son. I do this for a couple of reasons – first, because I feel nothing says love like taking time to make something that is special, unique, one-of-a-kind. And second, because it would be hard for me to encourage him to make gifts for others if I was not demonstrating the true value by making gifts for others as well. Every year, this is a fun process for us. This year, we made gingerbread cookies for our neighbors, ornaments and cards for friends and family, and all-natural body scrubs, which were a huge hit. And, in keeping with the tradition I started several years ago, I made my son a gift as well.

But I also gave him something more than the traditional knitted item…

this year, I gave him...

 ...the memory book. Or rather, the memory books, as what was meant to be one became three.

The day after Christmas finds me cleaning up, honoring Boxing Day, a tradition I began to observe while living in Michigan, close to the border of Canada, a country where that holiday is important enough to be featured on calendars. I like the idea, however, of something being over when it’s over. Christmas has ended for us. There are no more family coming, no other presents to expect, no more dinners to prepare or attend. There is, to me, no logical reason beyond sentiment to keep decorations on the mantels; to keep the tree up; or to keep the Christmas décor in my yard on display. When a thing is over, it’s over. Letting go has never been an easy thing for me, and sentiment makes it harder. So I shrug it off, pull out the Rubbermaid storage tubs, and get it done. By noon on the 26th, my house looks like Christmas never happened.

But it did. That’s the thing about life…what happens did happen, regardless of whether any evidence that it ever took place remains. Whether we stop and think about it, or remember it, or have mementos strewn around to remind us of it…it did happen. This is what inspired the memory book, this and the fact that life can go on for years in pretty much the same way…and then suddenly, like a magic wand was waved, everything changes at once.

And of course, the picture...

I came across the picture by accident. It shows my cousin Robby and me, on the porch of the house I grew up in, the house where my parents still live. We’re blowing bubbles. I’m five years older than Robby, so in the photo, we’re likely about 10 and 5. Or maybe 9 and 4. It’s hard to tell, and the photo isn’t dated. But I cannot recall the last time I actually looked at a photo of myself as a child. "It’s too confrontational," a friend once said to me, when I asked if she had any old photos of her childhood self. And I understood that completely. Still, this spilled out from a file while I was searching for something else, and I couldn’t help but stop and look.

I’ve not seen Robby for a long, long time, even though growing up we spent nearly every weekend together at either his home or mine. My other cousins, well, I could count the times I’ve seen them over the last 5 years on one hand. Aunts and uncles I see by chance, often out shopping or dining, or at funerals. And yet, they used to be as familiar to me as my own parents, an extentsion of them, somehow.

What happened? It’s hard to say, because it happened over time, not all at once. Divorces, remarriages, people moved, I moved, new family dynamics swooped in and took place of the old. Alltogether, it has culminated in today’s an adult, I rarely see my extended family, and I hate it. My son barely knows them at all. This isn’t ideal, and it sure as hell isn’t my ideal. I want for my son what I had growing up, a circle of family, a foundation of people who I knew were 'mine.' I was proud of my people, and loved introducing them to friends and boyfriends. They reflected who I was, where I came from. Now, it’s just easier not to think about the past, or why the seemingly never-ending party of family faces, food, and fun I grew up enjoying every weekend and holiday are not part of my son’s childhood as well.

Which begs the question…what is?

At my parents’ house, a few weeks ago, I took my son and nephew on a walk through the backyard in the same manner I had combed it in childhood. Many landmarks are the same, although the old school bell I used to sneak and ring in a neighboring yard is gone. The sawgrass patch where I foolishly tried to hide from my sister once, only to end up with the equivalent of a gazillion paper cuts, is still there, as is Mrs. Hagan's swing, where I sat and drew and wrote and dreamed as the preteen years came on. She never minded my presence there, but the new neighbors step outside and ask, "Can we help you with something?" The place where I held imaginary meetings with animal friends in my ‘Forest Club’ is overgrown, but can be found if one knows where to look. The place where beloved pets were buried has been lost to memory and foilage, but remnants of the old chicken coop remain, as well as the green 'dungeon door' on the side of the house, a door of childhood fear and mystery due to the fact that it was always locked, and my dad always had a tall tale to tell as to why.

Inside my parents’ home, I notice things that I’ve spent years not paying attention to. The Home Sweet Home sign that my father made the year my mother gave him a wood-burning set still hangs above the heater, where it has been for over 30 years. The bookshelf he made by hand and assembled in the bedroom still hovers like a mammoth, too big to be moved, bearing books I perused voraciously as a child. Encyclopedias from the 1970s that opened my eyes to the greater wonders of the world still remain, informationally useless in 2012, but visually as interesting to me now as they were then. The section on Native Americans is dog-eared, and there are pencil-written notes on the pages that describe the Navajo Nation. I close the book quickly. My friend is right; revisiting childhood is confrontational. Still, I’m left wondering what my son’s favorite childhood memories will be.

I’ve parented now for almost a decade, and like most parents, the birth to five year scrapbook stopped receiving updates at about age 2. And I’m not a big picture-taker, either. I’m just not. I always appreciate when I go on a trip with someone, and they break out a camera. It’s a relief; I don’t have to do it. I failed to see the purpose in collecting multitudes of photos after I’d moved a few times, hauling fat photo albums I never looked at from one closet to another, back and forth across the country. I never looked at them, or felt compelled to. They were in boxes, forgotten. At a certain point, I just quit taking more.

When my child was born, I reconsidered the value of photographic momentos. And now, faced with a crossroads, I have a couple of choices to make…two forks in the road. The only choices I cannot make are to remain standing, indecisive, or to turn around and go back. Our time here, at the home we’ve loved for eight years, will most likely draw to a close in 2013. I’m as sure of it as I am that the Cedar Waxwings will pass through in a few months, and that the buds on the Bradford Pear trees will burst into life in 10 weeks time. I’ve been offered a deal on a house that’s too sweet to pass up. And there’s another option as well, one that seems like a fairy tale come true, but in my heart, part of me knows just…isn’t… least not right now.

Bugger, but it’s hard to ignore the heart, or make it feel something it just won’t feel. Or ignore the fact that it’s my son and I living in the new house that seems to be the most logical, sensible decision. And as much as I’d like to be flippant, free-spirited and dance through life unaware the way people think that I actually do, truth is I’m bloody logical and practical. It’s a side most people don’t see, but I began college as an accounting major. I planned on pursuing Criminal Justice studies as well, because of my love of detective stories, but ended up getting an engineering degree instead. Two decades later, I’m happily teaching art to elementary school children and enjoying crime dramas when I have the chance to watch television, but this would-be accountant hyperventilates when it’s time to balance the checkbook. How things change.

Change. Ugh. I talk about leaping, but fear change like anyone else. Moving and/or moving on signifies the end of a phase of life. Moving into this new house, if all goes as it could, ends the life my son and I have known here. It ends him running out the door to play with the neighborhood kids. It ends the ease of friendships that form when one can simply walk next door for conversation and coffee. It ends spontaneous walks in the woods, picnics by the creek, or bike rides on the trail. It begins a new phase, yes…but it ends the idyllic life we’ve know in this sweet, safe place. God, we’ve had it good here. Did I ever realize it until now?

Probably not; I don’t like to stop and think too much. But something about the picture of my cousin and I made me do just that. And so, in the weeks proceeding Christmas, I took my phone to Walgreens and, for the first time ever, proceeded to make prints from the 1351 photos stored on it. Almost 3 years worth of photos flashed before me there on that kiosk screen. I alternated between laughter and tears, then remembered I was in a public place and got my act together. In the end, hundreds of photos were printed. Hundreds. It was just too hard to pass on any of them, and the beautiful, handmade dolphin covered book I purchased for my son’s one memory book became three instead.

How young he looks in the early ones! How much he’s matured, and how much all the neighborhood kids have matured! There are friends he’s grown up with, friends we’ve not seen in a while, and friends we don’t see any more at all. Daytrips and play dates, making pottery and cookies and Christmas cards, all at the kitchen table, that force the family life seems to eternally whirl around. There are pets that are gone, and pets that are new to us, and pets we've had for the duration. There are parties and social activities, vacations and just images of daily life. Truth be known, I’d not seem many of these pictures for years, and many were taken simply to send via text or email to someone else. Now, they constitute our life here, in this place. I spend many an evening hour as my son sleeps arranging the images into the binders. When the task is 100% complete, I wrap the gift up. It's a total Christmas Eve hit.

My son loves pictures, and has always loved looking through other people’s photo albums. Why I never thought to give him his own, until now, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s another rule of parenting that I’ve violated; God knows there seem to be dozens. Still, what matters is I did it this year. Christmas 2012 will be remembered as the year of the memory book, possibly the beginning of a new tradition. As he turns each page, in rapt awe at all the life laid out before him in full color, I decide I will take more pictures, and make more books like this for him, because unlike me, he is sentimental, and I want to nurture that. Perhaps it wasn’t nurtured in me, or it was lost over the years as my extended family broke away and fell apart. I don’t know. Perhaps it can be rekindled. As my son grows older, I notice life is slowing down a bit more now, the blind haze of parenting an infant-toddler-young child alone is allowing more and more moments when I can  stop, take deep breaths, breathe, relax, and remember.

And what will he remember, when he is my age, and a photo falls to the floor while he's searching for something else?

I wish he'd had what I had growing up, the constant stream of family verses the unusual and difficult-to-understand-unless-you've-lived-it one-parent, one-child dynamic, which allows for a lot more intensity than people with spouses and/or other children can possibly understand. But what we have is what we have, and looking through the memory book/s, I feel a sense of love and pride...because while it is different than my own childhood in nearly every possibly way, it's still pretty doggone good. He’s looked at his books many times now, wanting me to tell what was happening in each photo, or tell him how old he was, or what happened to the toy he had in that picture, where are the people now who were with us in this picture? There is so much, within these books, to look at, talk about, and remember.

 “It goes by so fast,” he says, of Christmas, now that we’re boxing up all the decorations, and the hype has subsided to a dull roar, and he's eaten most of the gingerbread house that we made just yesterday morning.

“Remember that,” I tell him as I wrap another nutcracker doll in tissue paper. “Because it certainly does.”

Friday, December 21, 2012


A friend called this morning to tell me about an interesting article she'd read. "I know you enjoy thinking about philosophical things," she said, and then proceeded to tell me about how the author of this article makes the claim that being busy all the time is, in actuality, a form of laziness. "He implies that we stay busy as possible mentally and physically," she said, "so we don't have to actually think."

As I listened to her phone call, I was loading dishes into the washer, had a load of clothes going, lunch on the stove and was still wondering what I was going to do with the rest of the day once the immediate tasks were complete. This was Friday, day 3 of a two-week vacation. And good heavens, did I desperately need something to do, because since I walked out of school on Tuesday afternoon, at almost 5pm, I have done  nothing but think...

…and it's unsettling. Really. I believe the guy who wrote the article my friend referred to might be onto something. On the whole, my life is good, and I can't really complain. But at the same time, 2012 was not my easiest year. I handled the tough things in my favorite way - staying busy. Busy as a parent, busy as a teacher, busy here at home. Since summer ended, I have painted most of the walls of my house and did a faux-rock finish on my patio. I've caught up on home repairs, tackling most of them myself because I'd rather pick up hot coals than ask for help. I've completed a ridiculous amount of writing assignments and an insane amount of knitting projects. I've built Lego structures with my son that the company would probably patent if they saw. And that's just during the weekdays. The weekends become a whirlwind of activity, day trips and overnighters.

It’s a flow, and I’ve been going with it. Until now.

Life comes to a screeching halt somehow when the biggest demand of one’s time – work – is suddenly absent from the day. I’ve finished the holiday shopping. All of the presents are wrapped. I’ve not been asked to contribute anything to the Christmas dinner (huge surprise there, as my culinary skills are far from renown.) So there we go...all that actually needs doing is done. My son plays with friends and I sit, keeping watch. The sun dips behind a cloud, the wind scatters leaves, and my mind wanders. I call to my son, and we take a long walk in the woods we love. When we get to the pond, we sit a while. The geese we knew as eggs are adults now. We throw them bread. They know us on sight and come running when we appear. Next year, they’ll leave this place. Only the parents will remain. For some reason, this saddens me. Summer was long. The young geese are familiar.

“What’s the only constant in life?” I ask my son. “That things are always changing,” he responds. We go see The Hobbit. I love, love, love going to the movies, simple pleasure that it is, and I especially love seeing fantasy movies with my son, because as a child, these were my favorite films. Amazing scenery, storylines loaded with villains and heroes, traditions and histories and loyalties. In movies like The Hobbit, the loss of a friend is not something to be taken lightly. I think on this a while. But mostly, I think about the opening lines of the film, when the main character, Bilbo Baggens, is reflecting on his youth. “In those days I was always on time. I was completely respectable. And nothing unexpected ever happened."

I’m rarely ever on time. I think I’m respectable, or try at least I try to be, given my profession. But my life’s been full of the unexpected, one twist being that I’ve no real idea anymore what I want. Or rather, I know what I wanted, but I think I’ve pretty much blown all and any chance in hell of having it. So what now, I wonder, sitting outside on the longest night of the year. What does one do with hard-won knowledge?

I found out two days ago that a piece of my artwork was selected for use in an international datebook and calendar that is sold and distributed all over the world. I submitted to this back in summer, and had completely forgotten about it. I’ve loved this publication for years. It’s a tremendous honor to know my work, Mother/Child Song, will be in the 2014 edition.

But until the writing of this blog, I’ve only mentioned the accomplishment to 4 people. They congratulate me, not having any idea how competitive this process actually is, or that this year was the first time I had nerve to actually submit my work. I don’t make a big deal out of it…truth is, I dislike the spotlight and don’t desire it at all…something it’s taken me a long time to learn. I’d prefer to be behind the scenes, behind the curtain, watching someone else enjoy the spotlight. I don’t want the Oscar anymore…but I’d very much like to be thanked in the winner’s acceptance speech.

And that’s it. So simple, like most of my dreams always were. In my blind and passionate pursuit of them, I should have taken time to examine them more closely. At the beach, on my birthday, I picked up dry sand and watched the wind sift it out of my hands. One tiny, stubborn grain remained. I closed my fist around it. Hope, I thought to myself.  Try as I might, I could not let it go.

It’s dark, and I need to go inside. I don’t like thinking so much. I finish up knitting a hat, a clever design of my own, a hat altered so that it will fit my hair when I have it up in a bun.

I think about the handmade yarn swifter that I want so much. Then I remember Christmas Eve is in two days, and I’ve not done the holiday cleaning yet. So I start making a mental list of all the things tomorrow will involve…shampooing carpets, washing walls, getting our lovely home ready for the New Year.

I’m looking forward to it. There will be a sweet Zen to all the scrubbing, shining, and polishing we’ll do. Not to mention there likely won’t be a moment of downtime to dwell upon what tiny grains of hope remain and how they persist...even when nothing unexpected happens.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

All I Want for Christmas......

I'm gonna skip over all the general things we all want, like world peace and causeless joy and unbridled happiness, and get right down to the gritty nitty. Because, let's face it, there is some special present that we all want, some 'thing' that we long for, some item that we want to see under the Christmas tree each year. It's different for everyone, which is good, because we are all different and it stands to reason that we won't all desire the same things. Last year, for me, it was a Keurig. Of course, I was far from the only person who desired it. Several of my friends desired - and recieved - them. And I did recieve mine, in time, from a most unlikely source (thanks again, Jan Smoak and family!!!) so I've learned to believe in the power of stating what one truly wants, in the moment you actually want it, to the universe...or at least the readers of your blog.

I want a swifter for yarn.
And I'm gonna be nice enough, right here, to post the instructions for making it. Because I want it to be handmade. There is no gift, to me, as precious as one made by hand. And I know it's not likely I'll get a handmade gift this year. I may get something expensive, I may get something that would make any woman's eyes light up with glee, but if you know me, really know me at'll know how I might feel about something like that, deep down inside.

A gift that would make my eyes light up with glee would be this....right here.

And not only  because I need it, desperately, as these new, unwound additions to my stash prove. I can't knit anything until these skeins are wound, and I can't keep calling my friend to loan me her swifter, and the hard plastic models the shops sale are ridiculously expensive and somehow un-natural. My friend's was made for her by hand. There is a natural sense to it, a thought behind how the pieces were fit together, how they curve and move in unison to make sense of tangled messes. With a swifter, I can blend two skiens, create different weights, and salvage messy, twisted, loose fibers into something useful, something that will eventually be beautiful and functional.

I want this. I want to sit at my table in the evening with a hot cup of coffee and engage in the repetitive, meditative work of winding yarn. To do this with a friend, while we talk and while the children play. I want this the same way I want to look out of my kitchen window and see a scene like the one in the first picture posted - sheep grazing on a field that is my own. But that's in the far off, work-towards future. The swifter is in the now. And it's got to be handmade, it's got to be the one gift I get this year that is from someone's heart, that expresses I, too, am worth the time and labor it takes to make, rather than simply buy, something. And I want to think of it's creator every time I use it. I want to be reminded there is no gift like one made for by hand. I want to run my fingers down the edges of the plain, sanded wood (because I love it unfinished) and feel my heart healing. I want to know wrongs can be righted, that fences can be mended, that in the end, love can and does conquer all.

I want to hear, or read,  "I made this for you," just once, instead of being the one to say or write it all the time. (The wonderful handmade gifts my child makes me, of course, are always precious and treasured...and a tradition I hope he'll continue, even when the time comes that he could easily buy a gift instead.)

So that's my Christmas wish...right here, again in case you missed it the first time:

I hope my Christmas wish, and yours, comes true!!!

(and forgive any typos in this post. I'm writing from a non-typical location while being reminded every two seconds by an eager 8 year old that I'm supposed to be somewhere else....)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Need for Real

It was that Toyotathon commercial that got me thinking...the one where the young girl who is car-shopping refers to her 4, 076 friends.

"I'll be your friend!" the saleslady says.
"4,077!" the girl happily replies.

It's so easy these days, isn't it?

I remember reading somewhere that we are lucky in life if we find one real, true friend. I have over 300 friends on Facebook. At any given moment, I could log into the site and find some way to engage with another soul ‘out there.' There’s always someone to chat with, or a post I can offer some witty comment on, which will then generate a flurry of more comments that reading and responding to could easily be allowed to occupy my time for the better part of an evening.


With the exception of an occasional announcement or sharing a blog link, and of course the Fiber Goddi page created for my knitting group, I have pretty much disengaged from the Facebook community. It just, somehow, became too much.

“How can you live without Facebook?” a friend asked, wide-eyed and shaking her head. There was a time when I would have felt the same way if someone had told me they were pulling back. But I guess, for me, the novelty has just worn off. I’ve reached a point where I need to like things in real life. I shudder to think of time I’ve wasted scrolling through endless newsfeeds; the childishness of some of the discussions I’ve spent time and energy engaging in; and of course, the grand Pooh-Bah of social networking gestures – deleting/blocking those who offend me in some way.

But the most embarrassing and possibly grandest blunder that I fell victim to and have watched so many others succumb to as well is the bizarre need to offer unsolicited advice about living on a near continuous basis via wise and insightful status updates. My initial reasons for doing this were not without merit – I wanted to use the site to promote my art and writing. In other words, I had something to sell. I even took a course on using social networking to promote creative works. Image, image, image; it was all about the image. Always post something positive; be a guiding light; make people smile with your words. If they like you, they’ll want to buy what you are selling. They’ll want to be in your club. They’ll want a piece of your world.

And it worked. During the time I was very active on Facebook, I had a surge of art sales and more blog hits than ever before. But the truth I finally realized is who on this earth can honestly make the claim that they know more about living than someone else? We know how to live our own lives, based on our own values and our own experiences, but do we have any right to tell someone who has not asked that they are doing it wrong? I don’t think so. Although people enjoyed my posts and often shared them, liked them, and/or commented on them, there was no small amount of pretention on my part for believing I was somehow responsible for and/or capable of bestowing knowledge onto other folks. Perhaps I have some insight to offer - everyone does to some extent - but it is highly unlikely I needed to offer it to 300+ people on a daily basis.

“Facebook is my connection to the world,” another friend says. “If that site closed down, my entire social circle would crumble because all my old friends are in different places these days. It’s the only way we can keep up. I can let them all know something at once, it’s so much easier than before!” I refrained from suggesting that she make the effort to cultivate new friendships where she is living now. I also refrained from telling her that I still find time to write letters by hand to my oldest friends, find time to mail them and even time to pick up the phone on occasion and make a call. I have come to believe that while social networking might have a viable place in society, it often displaces by making it oh-so-easy to sacrifice the intimacy of close friendships with a few people for the ease of communicating simultaneously with dozens and dozens of people. What might take time, effort, and energy to have done before – maintain friendships despite being busy; miles apart; or in new phases of life – is reduced to a simple 'comment' that can keep hundreds of our closest friends up to date about our lives.We are able maintain cool online personas, cultivate new friendships and maintain old ones without having to put any real, actual effort into it. We can be social without actually making the effort to be social. In the virtual communication world, we can hide so much, because there is no body language, no eye contact. We are in complete control of how close people can get. We can control who sees what of our lives and how much of it they see. We can be friends with our friends' friends, friends with our frenemies, even friends with our friends’ frenemies.

Wonderful, right?

I, for one, am not so sure.

I have come to realize that while social networking has a place in most of our lives, perhaps we should consider how big of a space it is allowed to occupy. I want what is real. I need what is real. I do not want my friends to see me as a wisdom-spouting profile pic, but actually see me, even if in means seeing me in my home, wearing my weekend uniform of yoga pants and tank top, spreading peanut butter onto toast and talking about my simple little dream of buying enough acres of land to graze a few sheep and maybe have a big garden with a trellis for honeysuckle vines and a gazebo someone built for me by hand. I want to see a real person when I am talking, to use my voice, to laugh out loud and someone hear it, to look into my friends’ eyes when we speak, to know that I am the focus of their attention, not wonder if they are really present in our conversation or are simultaneously conversing with 5 other people. I want to actually host people at my home, to use my fancy wine glasses and new patio furniture. When I have good news, I want to call someone and share it with them, so they might know how special they are by my taking time to connect instead of making a blanket statement in a status update and hoping they see it. When I make a really cool display outside the wall of my classroom (while my son sits in the hall and completes his homework for the entire week, hooray!!), I want to share my picture of the scene with people who actually know me and will smile at what I created because they know I miss Northern winters. I want a real, actual letter to curl up in bed with and read on a cold evening, and I want to write a real letter in response to it, on colorful stationary to be mailed in an envelope with floral swirls. I want a phone call from a friend, not a wall post from a near-stranger, wishing me Happy Birthday. I want to enjoy events without feeling compelled to step out of the event in order to post on Facebook that I am participating in the event, which will lead to my constantly being taken out of the event by a flurry of comments asking about the event.

Most importantly, I want to simply live my life, in the best way I know how to live my life, without any need to tell others how I am living my life or how they should be living thier lives. I am no longer willing to sacrifice intimacy of deep commucation for the ease of constant communication. Is it necessary to tell 300+ people all at once that my son lost a tooth or that I am pursuing a new certification so that I can teach in a different subject area? No. I only need to tell the ones who truly, actually care about us what is happening in our lives. And I need to take the time, effort and energy to do this properly, because I have come to realize it's always worth it. I believe the connections we make to others are what define who we become. We are born into a family, but our friendships are completely of our choosing. They take some degree of work to cultivate and maintain. They can be messy. They can ebb and flow as we grow in different directions. They can bring us joy and hurt, they can teach us things about life and about ourselves that we might not have learned any other way. And they exist and continue with or without the element of social networking thrown in.

They have to.

Otherwise, one might begin to wonder if they ever existed at all.