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Friday, July 24, 2015

July 24, 2015

So, I made this commitment to finishing up backlogged projects. That's a thing. A thing that I have not posted about in two weeks. I did start a project about two weeks ago. A fairly easy one. I expected it to go by quickly, but something like perfectionism really got to me (which is odd because I don't consider myself a perfectionist) and left me pretty well paralyzed for a while.

Let's talk about The One That Almost Did Me (and this whole project) In.

Here it is:

Yep. A drawstring backpack. There's a whole story to it. It really is a project I've been sitting on for a while.

I like to walk to this coffee shop that is about a mile and a half from my house* on mornings when I don't have to work, but I'm wimpy and don't like to carry anything heavy. String backpacks are the lightest (and most balanced!) way to carry a book and a wallet that I've found, and they're fairly easy to come by. I don't think I've ever actually paid for one; they're usually handed out free at the local teacher 5K where my coworkers and I annually bring up the rear. However, while free is nice, those bags are usually ugly -- made of that material that's not quite fabric but not quite paper and covered with advertisements for local shops. (Oh, but thanks for sponsoring us teachers, local shops! I don't mean to suggest that I don't appreciate it!)

I've had it in the back of my head for a while (like, two years) that I should just make my own out of a prettier fabric, but those plans really started to come together about six months ago. I'd just made myself a different sort of drawstring pouch for carrying my embroidery in since the one I had been using (that I think came around a gift set of soaps when I originally got it) finally fell apart. Making that bag was much more complicated than I imagined it would be, but the end product was nice, and it made me start thinking about finally getting around to making a nice "walk to the coffee shop" backpack.

The purple fabric comes from a dress I bought at the thrift store. Its long, loose silhouette reminded me of the dark mori girl aesthetic, which I really love, so I bought it without really being mindful of the fact that visual kei stuff looks very different on doughy blond women of almost 40 than it does on the waifs who model it. I never did wear it out of the house. I got as far as cutting it into a useable piece of fabric and then stuck it into my sewing box, to be forgotten until I pulled it out to attend to as part of this project.

Ok. So there's even more backstory.

This is my backpack from college:

 It was also my best friend's backpack when she went to college (we were both non-traditional adult students and not the just out of high school kind). I was grateful to her for giving it to me because I could not afford another at the time. It was in pretty rough shape though, and over the four years that I carried it, it burst many seams, especially around the front pocket (that zipper just really wanted to come off.)

Every time a new hole appeared, I'd sew it back together. I knew that my stitching left something to be desired, and I wasn't motivated to even try to be neat, so I went the opposite route, using brightly colored embroidery floss and making my stitches as obvious and uneven as possible.

This was my favorite part:

You can't really see it, but the pink stitches are little X-es.

My original plan had been to do the string backpack similarly, but I realized that I'd kind ofoutgrown that sort of willful messiness. I thought it would look forced if I tried it, so I decided I'd do this one as neatly as possible. Besides, it would give me an opportunity to practice my sewing. I'd love to someday do machine-perfect, even granny stitches even though J says, "If the stitches were perfect, how would people know it was hand made?"

This is a week's worth of effort at making a straight line:

I pulled those damn stitches out and started over SO many times. And they're still not straight.

I pretend like I have a really good handle on the growth mindset. I get it. You have to be bad before you can be good. But I've BEEN bad at this for a LONG time, and I was working really hard at being good this time. It really surprised and frustrated me that I didn't have a magical breakthrough fueled by past failure and good intentions. Maybe someday I'll be a granny-level seamstress, but it will take a lot more work than I've done here.

I wound up stuffing the thing back in my basket, letting my guilt about its unfinished state (and this neglected blog) build until this evening when I threw on my headphones and sewed for three hours straight.

Ha. I have a finished project, a blog post, AND a backpack that is not made of weird paper-fabric. (What is that stuff anyway?)

Now I need to think of something to do for next week.

* The coffee shop is almost directly between my MiL's house and my condo, so this ritual actually went uninterrupted for the year that we lived at her house.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

July 9, 2015

Aarrgghh... Saying I'm going to do something means that I actually have to do it or else I'm lame, doesn't it? I was reminded of this while reading today. I'm in the middle of the collected blog entries of Aaron Swartz. (Raw Thought, Raw Nerve. There's a lot of good stuff here, but man, the "a lot" almost overwhelms the "good." My kindle is slowly developing a backlog of books that he wrote about in a way that made me want to read them as well, so even when I'm finished, I won't really be finished.)

Anyway, one of the entries (essays?) I read today was on good management, and while it made me very happy to be a FORMER retail manager as opposed to a current one, it also had some lines that were applicable to my new, preferable, non-managerial life.

For example, "If you're not getting things done, you can always come up with excuses for why. Competent people get things done anyway."

And also, "Just having a list with all the stuff you need to do -- and taking it seriously, actually going down it and checking stuff off every single day -- is the difference between being a black hole of action items and being someone who actually Gets Stuff Done." 

And (best for last), "We procrastinate because we are afraid. We're afraid it's too much work and that it will drain us. We're afraid we'll screw it up and get in trouble. We're afraid we don't know how to do it. We're afraid because, well, we've been putting it off forever and every time we put it off it seems a little more fearsome in our minds. That's why not putting things off is so liberating. We're forced to confront our fears, not let them grow bigger by repeatedly running away. And when we confront them, we find that they're not so scary after all."

I have been putting off step two of the "finish all the unfinished projects" project. With my summer camp work I don't have a lot of free time, and I've been just generally uninspired. It was really hard to feel like any of my incomplete work would be interesting to do, much less to write about.

I had done a few things that felt like making progress. I got a decent camera. I went through things, did a lot of organizing. But the closest thing I've done to making anything this week was some basic seam ripping and stitch reinforcement on costumes for the campers' show next weekend.

After work today, I struggled with what to do. I wanted to be someone who is competent. Someone who Gets Stuff Done. But I also wanted to not do anything. Hadn't I earned a night of doing nothing by working all day? I tried to come up with versions of Nothing that sounded like Stuff Getting Done. (This almost always turns into shopping in my world. See above regarding the new camera. This time, it was bra shopping. I need a new sports bra, so going to the store would be a productive activity.)

I also had this project that I'd publicly committed to hanging over my head, and I was feeling it grow more and more fearsome. 'I don't have any good ideas.' I thought. 'Anything I do is going to sound forced and stiff, and I'm going to be embarrassed by it.' I am afraid that I am going to screw up. I am afraid that I don't know how to do it.

Anyway. So. I did something. I'm not sure if it counts as a "creative endeavor," but it was something I had been putting off, and something that was half-started, so I'm counting it for the project.


When J and I moved back to the condo, we radically rearranged the rooms and furniture. Everything is much more in line with the way we actually use our living space, and a lot of dead spaces have become functional. We've also gotten rid of a lot of furniture that didn't actually serve a function. Being away from the place for a year helped us step away from the idea of what things we're supposed to be ("This is the dining room") and closer to what we actually need.

This is all AWESOME. But. I'm one of those people who collects things.

Oh, I pared down my collections by an impressive margin over the course of this year, but I come from a long line of antiquers and collectors, and there are some things that I just like too well to get rid of.

But with the reorganization, I had a lot fewer random surfaces to put things on. (Every thing is being actually used, so there's no room for useless stuff.) Luckily, the shop that I used to manage sold organization supplies,  so I at least had a pretty good store of knowledge regarding how to fix the problem. I decided to go with ledge shelves on the blank wall above my sewing chair. (I'd seen some gorgeous work with ledge selves on Pinterest...)

Ok. I spent a good chunk of my life promising people who shopped in my store that installing ledge shelves was SUPER easy. I was apparently very, very wrong. I purchased multiple shelves. I hung one, and pretty much gave up. (I decided I'd hang the rest "later.")

Here is the one shelf I got up. It can never come off the wall because the drywall behind it was basically destroyed in the process of hanging it. Also because I stripped a screw (Ok, when the directions say tighten with a screwdriver, DO NOT use a drill) so it will probably come out of the wall never.

The shelf in the context of the entire space. Having only one looked really pathetic.

Does hanging shelving count as making something? I am going to say yes. At any rate, it was hard and (I think) it resulted in something that looks nice.

I wish I could say that between applying the lessons that I learned fucking up the first one and the fact that I'd acquired a stud finder in the interim, this second go round went much more smoothly. Unfortunately, it did not. I screwed stuff up. I didn't really know what I was doing. I now have THREE shelves that can never come off the wall because there is evidence of extreme fuckery behind them.

There is another unfinished project hiding in this picture.

I think they look all right, though. Not, like, magazine perfect or anything, but I have a place for my Holt Howard figurines now, and wasn't that the point?

Again in context. The lamp is so ugly, but a very young me saved up the $45 to buy it, so I'm keeping it in honor of her belief that being pink made it really beautiful and special.

Aaron Swartz also wrote that most people have no idea how to do things right. I'm definitely one of those people. But he also said, "Usually, if you do you give your best shot at something, you'll do pretty well." (I think he was talking about internet startups and such as opposed to hanging shelves, but I'll take it.)