My mom died at the end of 2013. She left behind a lot of things. You could tell my mom’s life story in the things she left behind. An embroidered shawl from a trip to Mexico. Collector’s thimbles from all over the US. Wooden dolls from Okinawa. A piece of the Berlin Wall. So very many plushie bison. An actual bison hide. Photos, books, music, art, handmade quilts, binders full of notes about books she intended to write, particularly textbooks and lesson plans. Not just her own things, but things made by her mother and grandmother. My great-grandfather’s diploma. The first person in my family to ever attend college. I think he was also the first to attend high school on my maternal side, so that’s a big thing. He went to Bible College and I’ve also got his little pocket bible, which is in pieces at this point, but how do you throw something like that away? Something that has his notes in it, and was obviously something he carried with him everywhere. Even I am not so devoid of sentiment that I can just chuck it.

We gave away so much. I donated probably four totes of fabric and notions to some quilter ladies, who completed one of mom’s unfinished quilts and returned it to me with a lovely thank you attached. We donated her clothes to the Salvation Army, as they’re a non-profit and it’s very difficult to find plus-sized clothing in those kinds of stores. Mom had a lot of clothes, most of which was practically new. She pretty much lived in caftans the last year or so of her life. We took her English teacher reference books to a used book store, and actually made a bit of money off them, not per piece, but through the sheer bulk of it all.

Mom loved to crochet. She continued to buy yarn after she got to the point that she couldn’t crochet anymore. She had Dupuytren’s Contractures, which is the medical condition that turns old ladies’ hands into claws. Anyway, I still have all this yarn. So much yarn. I don’t know what she kept buying it, and I don’t know what to do with it other than use it. So, I’m crocheting and knitting things to give away in the hopes that I can get rid of some of this stuff. Is there a word for second-hand clutter?

My mom taught me a lot. She was difficult and temperamental and sometimes I hated her but I always loved her, and I miss her. It’s not a sentimental attachment to the thing she left behind, but a feeling that I missed out on some big stuff. I never got to see my mom hold my child. I don’t even have a kid and at this point, I’m thinking it’s probably never going to happen.

But, if I am ever blessed with a baby, while I’ll never see my mom hold that child, I will get to see my baby swaddled in things I’ve made from the stuff she left behind. I have fabric, and I have yarn, and I turn those materials into things mom probably would have liked, and I can tell stories to my child about its grandmother. It’s not enough, but it’s not nothing, either.


The Emotional State of Rain

Rain has moods. It has personality, even character.

Falling softly from a gentle blue-white sky that seems as smooth as glass, light fine rain seems at first to be just mist hanging in the air. But then its subtle caress grazes my skin, leaves butterfly kisses over every part of me at once while threading my hair with tiny crystal beads. Though they share a name, this rain bears no resemblance to a raging thunderstorm.

Roiling black skies unleash the fury of a hundred years of war in an instant. Howling winds attack me, trying to drag me away, or at least batter me to my knees. Heavy raindrops pelt my body, pebbles from a slingshot shattering against my bare skin, rain so cold I’m shocked it isn’t frozen runs down the length of me, wearing me away. When I escape, I am always stunned that the water has not carved deep lines where the rivulets ran down. I stand amazed that I am not eroded like a rock cliff by the power of these storms.

I can feel the rain even when I am not in it. I sit here and watch the rain through the windows. It seems quietly sad today. The sky is featureless and almost white. It is the absence of sky. Enough light slips through the gauzy veil of cloud that the trees and grass haven’t lost their color. It’s almost as if the weather is putting on a brave face. It’s been raining for sixteen days. Never enough at once to clear the sky, always enough to fill puddles and clog gutters with mud. All the pain of an emotional breakdown without the catharsis.

I don’t now that I put any kind of stock in the zodiac, but I am an Aquarius, a water bearer, and I have always felt that water was mine somehow, that I was part of every pool or stream or storm I’ve ever been in. As I write, I think about how much I’m talking about myself. The rain is mine, and I am its, and perhaps it is telling the story I can’t.

I am not where I had expected to be ten years ago, and recently a large door has slammed in my face. It hurt more than I realized, more than I could explain if I tried, but I learned that a path I wanted to take is not for me. I cannot walk that road. And the rain tells my story for me. It tells of my slow-burning pain, the unwillingness to let it all out and feel it and be done with it. I could, and should, unleash my anger. The rain should come all at once, unleash that century of conflict within. But we won’t, because it is not time yet. Instead, we will let it drain out of us slowly and move on.

It has rained for sixteen days. And so have I. A few more, and maybe this will be over. But the rain will come again. Next time, it might be the kind that washes the world clean, fills it with possibilities, the kind of rain that makes one feel reborn. Or it might be a hurricane that destroys everything in its path, tempest that rages until there is nothing left, not even itself. Only time will tell.

Mandalas and Perfection

Mandala 01

I’d never drawn a mandala before yesterday. I’ve always liked them, and I figured I could give it a shot.

It’s not perfect. I can see all the places where I messed up, all the little irregularities, and two particularly large ones. The thing is that it doesn’t matter if it’s perfectly symmetrical. The point of art is not uniformity and regularity.

I have destroyed so many things I’ve made because they weren’t perfect. I was ashamed of a slip of the pen or brush or whatever. I’ve always felt like those slips were something I had to hide. There was no thrill of discovering new (to me) ways of creating or reveling in my skill progression, only shame, the ugly fear of someone finding fault with me.

I thought about all those things as I drew, accidentally using the mandala for its intended meditative purpose, and I made a decision. I will not allow the fear of criticism to run my life. I can’t say I won’t care, or that it won’t ever hurt again, but I am not going to let that discomfort prevent me from doing what I enjoy and being proud of it.

This is why I started writing here, to say things I feel like saying, to practice not caring about judgement from others. Baby steps, because I think I’m the only person who reads my blog, except possibly some poor schlub in a government basement whose job is to check the internet for terrorists and was assigned WordPress blogs A-D.

So, I made a thing of which, despite its imperfections, I am proud. I think it’s beautiful, and I don’t care if no one else in the world likes it. And that, for me, is significant progress.

On the Metro

You’re not supposed to make eye contact on the metro. If you and another passenger accidentally lock eyes, you must both look away immediately and pretend you did not see each other.

You must pretend that you are not trapped in a large metal casket full of bodies and breath, with odors too layered and ancient to name. People used to avoid each other by reading newspapers. Now they use phones.

I didn’t have a phone, certainly not an anachronistic newspaper. I wouldn’t even know where to find one. So instead I stared out the window. That worked until we went underground, and then the tinted glass became a mirror, and accidental eye contact was again possible.

There was a girl standing at the other end of the car. The glass caught such a perfect reflection of her shirt–its color, its pattern, even the wrinkles on it that hinted at the body underneath. The tunnel lights zoomed past, bisecting her reflection. For those brief moments when the rectangle of light cut through her, I felt as if she somehow was being cut in half and the white-gold light was her soul spilling out of her while she stood smiling, oblivious to her beauty and the tragedy I experienced every time the light passed, and it was not her spirit that I saw, just a dingy fixture illuminated by a fluorescent bulb passing through a reflection.

I Made an Owl

I have this bad habit of deciding I’m going to do a thing that I’ve never done before, and then try to figure out how to do that thing as I go. Sometimes, I make an enormous mess. But sometimes, thing work out.

My coworker and friend was recently promoted. Great for her, but the promotion also meant a relocation out of the state. Since coworker (let’s call her Alice) was a great friend and mentor to many people, I wanted to do something for her. After talking about a couple of ideas with another coworker, “Donna,” we had a plan to make Alice a picture of an owl because Alice loves owls, and have our coworkers sign leaves for her which we would put on the tree upon which our owl would sit.

Donna was great help with the design, but Donna has two jobs, two kids, and couldn’t really help with the execution. So, I made this thing mostly on my own. Had a little help, but mostly I did the work. And the stressing, but in the end, I managed to make something of which I am quite proud.

I started by drawing it out, then used tracing paper to make the templates, then cut them out. I made the whole thing with scrapbooking paper, even the background, and stuck everything together with repositionable scrapbooking glue. That stuff turns ANYTHING into a sticky note, by the way, so now you know in case you ever feel the need to have homemade sticky notes…but you probably should get a hobby or volunteer at the library or something instead. Just my opinion.

The pieces shown in pictures three and four above are only the ones I wound up using. There were other eyebrows and eyelids and wings, and beaks, because I am nothing if not a worry-wart. There were also originally six toes, but I was watching “True Facts About the Owl” and learned that owls are zygodactyl, which means they have two toes in back and two in front, so I had to fix that. Because obviously this is an anatomically-accurate bird (see above: “worry-wart”).

We presented the owl to Alice on her last day in the area, and there were tears and thanks and a lovely send off. And I did something I’d never done before, so that’s wins all around, I think.