Monday, September 23, 2013

'she's a machine,' or, a simple life

Yesterday afternoon I was showing off my most recent knitting projects to a fellow knitter and dear friend, and I found myself feeling embarrassed at how prolific I've been in the last few months. Just since June I've finished two marigold shawls, three seaglass shawls, one mohair ivory shawl, one tussah silk bridal shawl, one rose and gold shawl, and this scarf and this scarf and this scarf.

I, only half-joking, said, "Clearly, I have no life these days."

She, in her ever supportive way, said something along the lines of, "Emma, don't say it like that! You're making these beautiful things."

Later in the afternoon another knitter friend joined us and we spent a lovely couple of hours drinking tea and chatting and working on our various projects and I found myself saying the same thing again. And again I was embarrassed, though this time not about how much I've been making, but rather about how I was portraying myself -- as this person with no life, with something to be embarrassed or ashamed of.

Because the thing is, right now, I am truly loving the life that I have, in all its quietness, in all its creativity, in all its solitude.

This past Saturday I got up at 6, met a neighborhood friend in the gorgeous early morning and walked up to the farmers market.  I bought maple cotton candy, bags of apples, a pound of honey, several ears of fresh corn, and a bagel. We walked back through the park and home, and it was lovely. I spent the rest of the day at home finishing that second marigold shawl and working on a chuppah, and having a really good telephone conversation with my brother.

Sunday I also got up at 6, worked on the chuppah and drank tea, and eventually walked up to Marble Hill to meet a friend for breakfast. We made our way back to my place and spent the afternoon knitting and and making apple sauce with all those farmers market apples, and then by 4:30 I was alone again.

This week I have plans two evenings after work, lunch plans in Brooklyn on Saturday, and a photo shoot for an hour or so on Sunday. And the rest of the time, when I'm not at work, I will be reveling in this alone-ness. I will be working on beautiful things and drinking tea and rereading stories written by friends of friends.

Next time I have bags full of shawls to show off I will not say I have no life, but rather will say quite honestly, "Clearly I'm on a roll these days."

And tonight? Well, as my dear boy recently put it to a friend of his who was inquiring about how finish shawls so quickly, "She's a machine. Give her bad TV and Chinese takeout and whammo."

Friday, September 20, 2013

thwarted, sort of, but not really

I've gotten into a nice little morning routine these last few weeks. The alarm goes off at 6 and I reach over to the bedside table to get my glasses. As I do that, the cat jumps up and goes racing out to the kitchen. I stumble out to the kitchen too, put the kettle on for tea, put food and fresh water in her bowls. As the water comes to a boil I empty the dish washer or putter around straightening in the kitchen. I pour the water and put my meditation cushion on the floor and start my meditation timer and then just try to breathe. Simply, lovingly, in the early morning quiet before the city truly begins to wake.

And then, after those fifteen minutes, I add honey and milk to my very-strong, long-steeping mug of tea, and I read my emails and check the weather and eventually shower and am out the door by half past seven.

Except this morning my simple, living, loving breathing was abruptly interrupted by a huge sneeze. And that huge sneeze freaked out the cat, who then came over and started yowling in my face. At which point I got the giggles and practically fell off my meditation cushion and finally just thew my hands up in the air and turned around to check the timer.

There were only a few seconds left anyway, though, and all in all it still seems like a good way to start a beautiful September Friday morning.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

confessions of a soapaholic

I was writing a silly story in my head the other day about turning my boyfriend into a soap snob.  It didn't really go anywhere but it still makes me smile in its small, silly way.

I am a soap snob. I love handmade soaps, and pretty much won't use anything else these days. Every time I find myself in Anacortes I swing by the farmer's market and stock up on these lovelies.  I spend way too much time browsing Etsy in pursuit of the next soap. Some have been awesome. Some have been iffy. Some are still on the ever-growing wish list.

And then there was the one that my boy deemed just about the perfect soap. I was not so secretly thrilled to have converted him into a soap connoisseur, and returned to this shop again to stock up on this particular body product perfection but only managed to snag two more (the woman had decided to move on to other endeavors and was selling off the last of her stock):  one for our showers those last days before he left for greener, more western pastures; the other to be tucked into his backpack for use on the far side of his travels.

Two weeks ago he asked me for the shop link for the perfect soap and for some reason it made me sad to have to tell him there was no more. But I did have a recommendation for him (my new favorite bar, acquired during my summertime travels to his neck o' the woods at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op): Samish Bay's delicious lemongrass & oats soap.
I had forgotten about this exchange until, a week or so later, he told me a story about being out with a friend buying beer and finding himself wandering the soap aisle, having remembered my suggestion. And he found it! And what's been making me smile these last few days is the thought of us thousands of miles apart, hours and hours apart, using the same damned soap.

And the thing is, I've been feeling closer to my boy lately than I have in a long time. Not just because of the soap, obviously, but it's funny how this distance -- all these miles and miles and days and months of ambiguity -- may just prove to be a clarifying experience.

I was talking to a friend about this over Labor Day weekend, well before the soap -- about how I've been missing him more than I'd expected. She just smiled that shy, knowing smile of hers and said, "Well, that's a good thing, isn't it? Now at least you're sure."

I don't pretend to know what the future holds, or where any of us will be a year or two years or ten years from now. But I do know that I've found surprisingly sweet pleasure in having him ask me for soap advice, going to him for yarn advice, sharing our small daily tales of triumph and woe. And maybe, at least for now, that's enough.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

commemoration gone wrong

Yesterday morning those of us crossing campus along College Walk were confronted with a crop of miniature American flags that had sprouted over night.  At first it seemed sweet to me, this commemorative display in honor of 9/11, but the more I thought about it, the further along College Walk I got, the more uncomfortable I began to feel.

This was different from the University flying its flags (the American flag and the University flag) at half mast yesterday, which of course is a common occurrence when honoring the dead.  The lowering of our flags was a collective acknowledgement of the huge loss we suffered twelve years ago now, and a collective demonstration of remembrance. These little flags festooning the greenway, though, were clearly meant to represent the individual people who died on that day. Even without knowing then, as I found out later, that there were in fact 2,997 tiny flags, it was clearly an attempt to individualize our collective grief.

In theory this seems like a worthy idea -- it's important to remember people, to not lose sight of individual experiences. Except that this display completely whitewashed individuals into all being exactly alike -- American -- ignoring the fact that at least a couple hundred of those 2,997 lives lost were not.

9/11 may have happened on US soil, but it also (mostly) happened in one of the most cosmopolitan, one of the most international, cities in the world. It was, in fact, a global event, with global losses and global ramifications and global grief, and was spoken of as such in the days and weeks after that day.

I won't go into my whole diatribe about all the false patriotism that bloomed so horribly in the months after 9/11, but I will say that yesterday's display, while nice in theory, had an unfortunate jingoistic flair to it that left me unsettled.

It somehow didn't surprise me at all, this morning, to discover that the flags were the brainchild of the Columbia University College Republicans.  At least it wasn't the University itself, which makes me feel a little bit better about the whole thing.

For quite a lovely take on a sadly common ambivalence about the flag, check out this beautiful piece.

Monday, September 09, 2013


I fall in love with autumn every early September: the crisp blue air and the high clouds and the sadness caught in the shortening of our days.

I finished a shawl this past weekend with the intention that it be the first in a set for a bride to give her bridesmaids for her wedding ceremony. It is the most beautiful yelloworangegold you'll ever hope to see, saturated and rich and cheerful.  Perfect, I think, in the exuberant leafy pattern I chose for it, and I would love for it to go to a joyful, lucky bride to wrap around her dearest women.

I can't help imagining it in the dusk of early fall in the botanical gardens, catching and glowing and emanating love in the last of the evening's light.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

coming clean

I failed to go to a wedding last weekend and have been floundering in a morass of guilt and relief ever since. It was a wedding for a woman I adore, and though we have never been particularly close I am pretty sure, in my less insecure moments, that this adoration is mutual. But I had been dreading the wedding all summer.

My own partner is several thousand miles away finding himself, and while the summer has in some ways been very good to me, it has also been very difficult. And then this late summer wedding weekend began to get complicated, with trains to catch and uncertain places to sleep and rides not as forthcoming as originally hoped.

I had lunch a few days before the wedding with a dear sweet friend about whom I've written before.  This time she brought me a little organza bag filled with a couple ginger candies, a worry stone, and two klonopin. And it struck me, in those days leading up to my abrupt failure, that perhaps it wouldn't be so horrible to bail on something that had me so tied up in knots as to be craving a klonopin or two.

And so I didn't go, and instead caught MetroNorth up to Cold Spring and spent a few hours with my Cindy, my grounding, my home away from home.

This morning I finally allowed myself to look at some pictures from the wedding on Facebook, and of course there was the ex-boyfriend and his lovely wife. It's been awhile since I've seen pictures of him, let alone him in the flesh, and I was taken aback at the way my heart clenched up, the way my breath caught in my throat. But of course there it was, the underlying reason behind my last-minute wedding freak-out.

I've been working hard these last eight months to find an inner peace, and I am beginning now, after a winter and a spring and a summer of trials, to feel it within reach. I couldn't let an uninvited run-in with a man I spent five years in a twisting spiral of mutual drama and abuse upend this thing, this feeling, that I so want.

And yet, upon seeing these pictures of him this morning, my heart seized and raced and I felt so unbelievably angry with myself for still reacting this way. And so I decided to sit, to find my breath in the silence of my home, alone, surrounded by some of the many things I love, by some of the beautiful things I have made.

And strangely, magically, in the middle of my fifteen minutes of meditation (specifically focusing, this morning, on the words of forgiveness*), I felt a warmth -- for my partner three thousand miles away, for that former partner in all his beauty and intelligence and rage, for my lost self, the angry hurtful woman I so often was with him -- that I had not expected, and a calmness spreading outward and quieting my racing brain.

Later, in the warmth of this early September afternoon, my mother and I were chatting and I told her about the pictures and my shame at this still physical, visceral response. She, ever the calm and supportive one, just chuckled and said something to the effect that we can't always help what the body does, how the body responds, and she knows and I know better.

And it was nice, so nice, though I won't dwell on it any more than that. It was nice, and I am grateful for it, and though I still feel badly about missing my friend's wedding, I am hoping that she will find it in her heart to forgive me. (I've already got something gorgeous planned for her wedding present. Maybe that will help...)