Something is happening really amazing...

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Your heart refilled...

The circles on a grid sampler is slow going. Once the novelty of new stitches and yarn-instead-of-floss wore off, I started to find the coloring book quality of the project a little tedious. (I also finished my engaging plot-heavy audiobook and switched to The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, which I've read before and LOVE and RELATE TO, but will admit is light on the suck you in story side of things.)

Anyway, I don't like the idea of having given up on the project, so I picked it up this weekend and made a good deal of progress. I'm trying to remind myself of the reasons I started it. Learning new stitches was the main thing, and I've done that. Check out my French Knots and Chain Stitch, y'all.

Pretty inexpert actually...

There are a lot of things that I've realized I was doing wrong over the course of the project. Initially, I did the key in order, stitch by stitch and color by color. That's why you'll see that all of my Satin Stitches and Pinwheels are already filled in. Eventually, I reached a place where it made no sense to do the outside of a circle without having first done the middle, at which point I stopped and looked at the directions again and realized that I was supposed to go circle by circle. Dang. 

I'm not sure about the marks that my hoop is leaving. Am I doing it wrong? Will they come out? Can you iron this sort of thing? 

(Google solves all, and I just discovered that that answer to this problem is a product called Magic Sizing, which I am already well familiar with from my long ago days of wearing vintage dresses that I actually ironed.)

Anyway, expert or no, I have enjoyed the new stitches aspect of the project. I especially like chain stitch, which is mentally engaging enough that I can listen to music rather than books while doing it. (I confess, my enjoyment of music is too shallow for listening to it to be a primary activity. I need to be driving or cleaning or cooking, or, now, doing needlework in addition to keep from getting bored.) 

I'm obsessed with this song lately

I can't tell if I think its a sweet ode to the reality of long term relationships as opposed to the fantasy promised in novels and love songs OR if it's just some creepy stalker whining about being in the "friend zone."

Either way, "An ocean of whiskey and time..." Damn, that's pretty.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

I carried a watermelon.

I'm in the final quarter of my third year teaching. Although I still feel like a hopeless amateur, the contexts of my life as a teacher are becoming more and more familiar and comfortable. I used to stand at the front of my classroom, looking at the carpet with different primary colored squares, desks arranged into neat "pods," cubbies bursting with notebooks and papers, laminated posters of sentence starters for math journals and accountable talk written in my own still-shaky handwriting ... Sometimes, I kid you not, there'd even be an apple on my desk. I'd feel coldly out of place in these moments. Every detail so clearly spoke "Elementary School Classroom," and here I was, standing at the whiteboard with a marker in my hand, feeling not at all like the "Elementary School Teacher" that would complete the scene. It felt like I was in the middle of some elaborate playset, and if I could just close my eyes and remember hard enough, all the pretend would fall away and I'd find myself back in a "real" world  that was more suitable to the "real" me.

That doesn't happen as much anymore.

Yesterday (Friday) was a big day. J's band was playing for the first time in two years. I've mentioned some of the difficulties that we have getting out lately, so for him to have been able to attend a series of practices AND for us BOTH to be able to go out on the same night was a serious big deal.

The show was at a bar that he's been playing at since we started dating, 17 years ago, when I was only 21. If you want to talk about the "real" me in my "real" life, it doesn't get much more familiar than that booth at the front of the bar facing the right of the stage, where I've been sitting with different constellations of bandmember girlfriends (and boyfriends), acquaintances, and other hangers on for most of my adult life.

(The title of this post is what I would say to bartenders and sound people who, seeing me hanging around before sound check, would ask me if I was in the band. Really, all I carried were amps, and no one got the joke anyway.)

Friday also was the 5th grade dance at school. I'd kind of forgotten they were on the same day and ended up dashing from one event to the other.

At the dance, I jumped and bopped to the worst pop music in the world. I did "The Wobble." I raised my hands in the air and sang "Baby, you're a firework!" with crowds of ten year old girls. I clapped and stomped to We Will Rock You. I crowded around and applauded the groups of boys whose lessons at the local hip hop dance studio had clearly paid off.

At the bar, listening to some of my favorite music in the world, certainly made by my favorite person, I stood with my arms crossed, nursing a beer, and nodding at only the best, best moments of the songs.

The bar felt right and familiar, but these days, now, things that are vastly different and unlike anything that my past self who spent every weekend nursing beers at that bar would have been able to imagine also feel right and familiar.

(Oh, and these days, I have students create my posters. My handwriting never did start to look right on an anchor chart.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It's like middle aged livejournal in here!

I'm thinking a lot today about engaging with my own faults. Confronting my poorer traits instead of shying away from them. This is counter to my usual strategy for dealing with feelings of shortcoming. Normally I try to protect myself from any perception that I am deeply flawed. At some point, this self-shielding became defined as healthy behavior for me (It's important to have good self-esteem, right?) but I don't think it really is.

There's a science fiction short story, and I'm going to be utterly obnoxious in referencing it because I can't remember anything close to its title or author, and it's shelved somewhere at my condo too far away from me right now to look up. I'm going to talk about it anyway because it is an important reference point for me when I think about my own insecurities.

In this short story, there's a boy who has some dread disease of the brain. Miraculously, though, he gets an experimental treatment and lives. Unfortunately, his miracle cure leaves him completely unable to experience happiness. The part that is important for me is when the author describes the interactions that the boy (er.... man, at this point) has with others. Because he cannot process any positive feelings, all of his conversations with other people are tinged with a sense of disapproval and the perception that he is disliked. This struck me because OH! That's like me! Not all the time, of course, but sometimes I feel as though EVERYONE, from cashier to confidant, disapproves of me and is annoyed by my presence.

In the midst of these feelings, I cannot tell if they are periods of clouded vision or moments of clarity. Because I am too far down into it to refute the criticism I perceive at every turn, I turn to other strategies for preserving my sanity and self-esteem. Usually, I make plans to FIX and IMPROVE and THEN, once I have stopped "being horrible" or having qualities that inspire criticism, everything will feel ok.

(And when she is perfect, then she will be loved.)

(When this doesn't work, I retreat deeply into fantasy until it goes away.)

The problem with this is that no amount of self-improvement has helped, and even if I could become perfect, I suspect that this feeling would still come on sometimes, like a storm or the flu. Nothing I've ever tried in the past has made this cycle STOP. I've been able to disappear into myself until it goes away, but it always comes back.

Also, I ...ah... will never be perfect.

(This took me a while to accept, actually. Asked to solidify my goals for therapy once, I said, "I would like to know that the voices in my head that tell me I'm not good enough are wrong, and if they're not, I'd like to become good enough to silence them.")

So what do I mean by engaging with flaws, and how would that help this situation?

My real issue isn't that I'm not thin enough or pretty enough or good enough a teacher (or engaging enough a conversationalist, interesting enough a person, creative enough an artist, productive enough a worker...). My real issue is that I crave approval and affirmation to an extent that isn't healthy.

Which is a hard thing to admit.

And I think it leads me not only to the above-described blue periods, but also to a spirit of unhealthy competition. (Perfect = The Best at Everything.) This in turn leads to being impatient with and critical of everyone I encounter, even as I imagine that they are criticizing me. (I become mean and jealous, oversensitive to small slights, and generally nasty.) It sucks, but these states of mind make me doubly wretched -- both self-loathing and hateful of others.

Since I'm writing about it, I guess it goes without saying that I have been feeling like this for a few days now. My methods for dealing with it are as ineffective as ever, and, like I said, I am a miserable person in this state, as hateful as I feel hated.

The impatience with and lack of compassion for others is actually more of flaw than any of the failings I feel so painfully at these times, but it's the personal imperfections that I always choose to focus on. I'd like to change that.

(The desire for approval is even more of a problem than that, but I don't have a strategy for dealing with it right now.)

Inspired by the genuine and affectionate (if na├»ve) heroine of my current gothic novel, I decided today that every time I felt cross and impatient with someone, I'd stop and think about what I like about them. It sounds affected and utterly Pollyannish, but it kind of worked. I stop focusing on MY need for approval and love and start trying to just give it instead.

Does any of this make sense? It all follows logically in my head.

1. Before, when I got lost in the spiral of self-loathing, I'd try to fix the things I hated about myself at the time. Superficial things like my looks and my manners.

2. The trouble isn't those things though. Much worse is the way that I am when I feel this way. I feel miserable, and I think miserable things. I think that's where the spiral comes from.

3. I'm not yet ready to address the source (desperate need for approval), but at least I can change my miserable thoughts, which is a long way from plan A, which was telling myself, "just be perfect, dumb bitch."

(This should really be in a personal journal and not online, but I just typed it all here, so... here it is.)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I'm not going to live my life on one side of an ampersand...

Listening to all of the rockingest Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer songs to get myself hyped for this concert which Yes! I did buy tickets to, and oh my goodness it's in like, two hours and in another city and at a venue I have never been to...

AND! It's the first day back from spring break! AND I kind of thought I could be "sick" tomorrow, but I forgot that it's an Important Meeting Day that I Can't Miss. So, No!

But I love I love this music, and in listening to it have not only gotten excited about the show, but have also been inspired to change from work clothes into a dress and boots and glasses that, by virtue of being brown instead of pink, are slightly more rock and slightly less elementary school teacher.


Typed the above before heading out to the show, then realized that it was time to go and dashed without posting.

I had a great time and didn't feel awkward. The venue was intimate, and Amanda Palmer was as charming and engaging as I have always found her in the past. If I hadn't had to work the next day, I'd have waited in the autograph line that was already filling as I slipped out toward the end of the encore.


The day after the concert, we got news that a spot has opened in the memory care facility we've been holding out for (it is SO much nicer and more personal than any of the others), so I will be back to having regular company for shows and other outings. Although I am incredibly grateful to be at the end of this stint as elder-caretakers that has kept one or both of myself and J tied to the house at all times, it is also nice to think that I have gotten a little bit of practice at being a 1 instead of a 1/2.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On cuteness, youth, and glitter make-up.

The performance aspect of blogging worries at me. I want to do things genuinely and for their own sake, and it troubles me when I start to think in terms of Can I and Will I Maybe Write About This? It seems to dilute the intention behind and experience of... doing anything really.

But, on the other hand, it's kind of lonely here in my temporary basement apartment with no one to share things with but J. Not to say that I don't have friends that I can share things with, but it feels obnoxious to constantly crow 'oohh... I made a thing, want to see?' Or to hold forth on the topics that I've been turning over in my head and/or diary. At least with a blog I can sort of casually leave these things in a visible place, and people can look at them or not as they so choose. At any rate, it frees me from the worry that I'm boring people.

This next bit is of the holding forth variety. I'll just leave it here.


This is Barbara H. Donnelly.  As you can see she is (was?) "one of America's foremost experts in Needlepoint and Crewel Work." The used bookstore that my friend D and I visited last weekend keeps its craft books in the very, very back, and we almost missed them, and then when we did find them, it seemed almost not worth it because they were mostly old and uninteresting. BHD's The Crewel Needlepoint World was definitely old and, from a 'stuff I could actually use to improve my skill at needlepoint' standpoint, fairly uninteresting. (Though its promise that, "Vests that showcase his hobbies and interests are sure to be a favorite with your man!" was pretty funny.) But I needed to own Barbara H. Donnelly's picture and bio.

It's important to me to be sincere and earnest, and I am afraid that someone will read my appreciation here as ironic or snarky. It's not! I mean, I get that on one level her frosted white eyeshadow  and windswept helmet hair is funny, but I'm not writing about her right now because I want people to laugh at her, even gently.

So, why does she appeal to me, then?

Let's talk about cuteness. My book club is working through Kim Werker's  Make It Mighty Ugly, and this week we got to the activity that seems to be the centerpiece of the author's philosophy. (We also got to Skype with her, and that was pretty cool, and you can read about it here.)

The exercise asked us to make dolls or creatures or whatever-whatever that were "ugly." Which of course leads into a discussion of what exactly IS ugly? The issue I ran into was that any plan I made toward ugliness evolved pretty quickly into something cute. After all, ugly can be pretty cute. (Uglydolls are a whole thing that succeed because of this fact.)

I REALLY like cute things. I really like Sailor Moon and cakes with sprinkles and vintage floral EVERYTHING. I wear glitter nailpolish and flowers on my head.

I am almost forty.

 I'm very interested in the idea of what makes a proud and glad mature life. Not that I think I'm so very old at Almost Forty. I get it; I get it. Forty is Still Young. I've been offending people by saying that I'm middle aged for almost ten years now, and likely people will continue to be offended by my saying so for the next ten. But what is so wrong with being middle aged?

Is middle age just the admitted end of cute? Eff it all, but maintaining a youthful look and personality is HARD, and I'm not sure I think it's worth it. As much as I adore everything pink and and pretty, there's a part of me that longs to be free of the compulsion to physically BE that myself.

Imagine being able to happily own and wear cute stylish things while not being cute or hip! Imagine settling comfortably into the figure your body wants to cut (for me, more and more solid with each passing year. I seem to have skipped that adorable alterna-plump stage and gone straight to matron.) Barbara represents for me this idea of an engaging, happy, and genuinely attractive life beyond the glamour of youth. Fuck yeah frosted eyeshadow! Fuck yeah North Suburban Embroiderer's Guild of Illinios! Fuck yeah cute mustard woolen turtleneck with a thimble brooch!

I first started thinking along these lines when I saw the Harry and Edna pictures at the Intuit Gallery in Chicago. The people in the pictures were so comfortably and happily old! And yet still festively dressed and doing fun things. Edna's dresses were amazing, and in spite of her apparent wealth, you didn't get the sense that it would have ever even occurred to her to go to a gym or salon to remain thin and blonde forever and ever.

Also, I know that Edna and Barbara are a good deal older than I am. Having not had children, I think I feel more of a kinship with empty nesters than I do with women my own age. I'm not trying to make anyone feel old before their time. I just want it to be ok for me to wear glitter nailpolish and party dresses and to be pleased with myself even though I grow (by many people's standards) frumpier and less exciting all the time.

Are cuteness and ugliness polar opposites? Or is there some place where cuteness and not-conventionally-pretty-ness meet and become even more fabulous? Edna and Barbara live there. Several of the dolls we made at our book club/craft night do too. I'll admit that I'm scared to go there now, but I think it sounds like a lovely, lovely place.