Plague Diaries #12

It isn’t really a tale of the plague, this entry. This story goes back much farther than that. A year, in fact.

In March of 2019 we moved from a 1400 square foot duplex into a 900 square foot condo. We did A LOT of downsizing. We had to practically get all new furniture. I spent weeks assembling flat pack tables, dressers, night stands and bookcases. (A weird side note: I adore assembling furniture. It’s like a really neat puzzle that you put together and then you end up with something useful. My husband thinks I’m bonkers.)

Before we moved I had a lot of space of my own. I had my own office with all my own books in my own cases and odds and ends littered about. In the garage I had my mosaic studio where I would spend Saturdays piecing together glass treasures. I had candles, and pictures, and figurines, lots and lots of rocks (been collecting them since I was a kid) and for over a  year now, they have sat packed away in boxes. Because there was no place to put them out. My mosaic tools are trapped in our outdoor storage space. My knitting supplies are crammed in under-bed boxes.

We have two bedrooms in our tiny new place. One of them is obviously the bedroom. The other is the library where most of my husband’s books and things are. (Greek helmets, a bust of Brahms and one of Homer, Greek vases and all of his fountain pens.) He has his computer on the desk in there, and the blue recliner where he reads and does crossword puzzles.

Since he’s retired and I have the car all day it seems only fitting that he should have the space as his own. He spends more time in the condo than anyone else. Over the past year, when I’ve wanted to relax, I’ve mostly spent the time in bed watching stuff on my iPad or reading.

These past two weeks off have been a breakthrough. One of the things I did as a therapeutic act for myself was dig out my knitting. I hadn’t really done any knitting since my Mom died, since that was ALL I did in the hospital. I got rid of a lot of my yarn stash when I moved, but still have all my grandmother’s knitting needles and quite a bit of yarn. I told my dear friend who is treating me with acupuncture that I would knit her a pair of socks and she was delighted. And then I came up with a brilliant idea: Frankensocks.

In all my years knitting (and it’s been over fifteen) I’ve knitted dozens of pairs of socks. It is a truth universally known that Floridians don’t need scarves, hats or mittens, but there are a few months out of the year when a pair of hand-knit socks are a most supreme pleasure. With every pair I’ve knit I’ve had leftover yarn which I have put in its own separate Ziplock (to keep them from mating like Christmas lights) and shoved in a canvas bag that I keep in my closet.

As I was considering what color socks to knit my friend, I came across that canvas bag of remnants and the idea hit me: what if I knit ALL THE COLORS? What if I knit an inch or two off each little ball I had remaining, switching them up and sort of patch them together? And the Frankensocks were born.

Frankensocks

I had real joy in knitting them. Each stripe represents a pair previously made socks and I remember each pair and who they were for. You might think that a little bonkers but knitting a pair of socks is an investment of time and they don’t just fall off the needles in a couple of hours. You get intimate with the yarn and think a lot about the person you are knitting them for as you are creating them.

As I was knitting these socks I was also looking around our apartment. The walls are still bare because we haven’t hung any pictures. Most of them are sitting in the bathtub in the second bathroom. And I decided that it was damn time we did something about it. So we hung pictures, we hung a clock, we hung mosaics I had made. We’re not done yet, but every day we do something more around here that makes the condo seem more like home.

As these two things sort of came together I started to realize something. All of my things (my candles and pictures and figurines and rocks) were still packed away in boxes and I was staggered all at once with how much I missed them. A wise friend said that when you are home and don’t see yourself reflected in it, it isn’t really home. There are things my husband and I have together, but my things, MY THINGS, were missing.

So I made a plan. We have an empty corner of our bedroom and I am getting (Lord, help me) one more IKEA bookcase (which will make seven). It will house the books I use for writing and research, and it will hold my bowl of rocks, my statue of Kuan Yin, picture frames and candles. It will be my space reflected back at me. I will truly be home.

And I wonder if this whole meltdown I had didn’t have something to do with these things. I am sure they were a part of it.  Yes, the pandemic has scared the bejesus out of me, but I have to go one with life. I will take all the precautions I can and let it be. But I will no longer be a stranger in my own house. I am going to set up my mosaic station on our lanai. I am going to arrange my precious items and see them when I walk in the room.

Maybe, as I begin to carve out the creative life I used to have (piecing glass together in mosaics and knitting and journalling), things will shift back to where they used to be. I’m already on the way.

This wasn’t something I did in a punitive manner. I did not go about to make myself miserable by packing away my life and leaving it in a closet. But getting it back is like getting out of jail. The air is a little sweeter, the sun a little brighter.

And as I move forward I know that writing mojo is going to return. I just have to find a new space to do that. Before, I was going to a coffee shop in the evenings and writing. But now, maybe now with my stuff back out I will feel more comfortable writing at home.

It’s taken a year, and it shouldn’t have. But what are we as human beings if not constantly learning lessons?

Excuse me, I have to go knit something.

The Joyful Artist

As I’ve been writing the first draft of my new novel I have been having a ridiculously good time. It is so much fun to set my characters up in a world and then throw things at them and see what they do. I have a daily goal for writing: 2000 words a day. For the most part I have kept to that goal. I started writing this book on September 8 and I am maybe now two thirds of the way through. Plot twists! Murder! Romance! Intrigue!

big-magicThis year the most influential book I read was Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. In it she talks about what it is to be an artist (of any kind, really) and how to get around what is blocking you and create without fear. It is an amazing book. What’s more, she does a podcast called Magic Lessons where she talks to ordinary people about their creative process and helps them get around their fears. It is really interesting and much of it I can apply directly to me.

 
Towards the end of the book she writes a lot about trusting your creativity, and the topic of the Tormented Artist came up. Gilbert believes that suffering does not make on a true artist.  She says, “…I do not deny the reality of suffering–not yours, not mine, not humanity’s in general. It is simply that I refuse to fetishize it. I certainly refuse to deliberately seek out suffering in the name of artistic authenticity.”

I used to romanticize the idea of the Tormented Artist when I was younger. I thought that pain could produce something achingly beautiful. Thank God for therapy! Because today I have to tell you that writing and creating in general is one of the biggest joys in my life. I still have to work a full-time job, yes, but I live for the time I carve out for myself where I can create without interruptions. It is as vital to me now as breathing.

Some attribute the following quote to Ernest Hemingway: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” But I wish to remind everyone that yes, he is respected as one of the great writers of the twentieth century, but he also committed suicide. I posit that it is entirely possible to be happy and still produce great work.

Elizabeth Gilbert also reminds us in Big Magic of a quote from Wendell Berry: “To attribute to the Muse a special fondness for pain is to come to close to desiring and cultivating pain.” And in the same breath I quote Yoda: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. ” I know you just read that in his voice, didn’t you? But more importantly, why would you suffer unnecessarily? Because you think you are supposed to?

 
I’m not saying I refuse to suffer pain for the rest of my life. I know there will be times that will be more difficult than others. But I do not have to welcome that pain into my center of creativity. It can visit, but I will not allow it to unpack and make itself at home. Writing is my joy and I will not let it be corrupted.

amplified