I’m not feeling great. I should probably just end this post right here. But, no, I’ll soldier on. Not because this post is important, it’s not, but because it represents all the things on my to do list and so much that is just life. No one needs to hear my laundry list of “woes”, we’ve all got them. More to the point is that I’m struggling. My mom’s death feels like an endless, bottomless pit of emotions. I know I’ll get through it. I know work-arounds that help me get through those days when things are really bad and “getting through the day” feels impossible. That’s when the put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other method of coping gets enacted.
Grieving is a luxury. Some days require putting all of that to the side so that other things can be dealt with in a timely fashion and because life moves along, it doesn’t wait for those of us who are grieving. And I also know I can’t leap frog my way beyond the grief. It will be there waiting for me on the other side. It’s always there. Some days I’m luckier than others, the grief stays on the edge, other days it moves front and center. Those are the days when every step feels like I’m dragging a fifty pound weight. Those are the days when showing up feels like a monumental task. But I know from designing, from creating, from every day that I work on a piece, that even when I don’t “feel like it” showing up for the work is one of the most important things I can do. And, counter-intuitively, it is what ends up making me feel better in the long run.
All of this reminds me of something Michael Crichton once said. It was decades ago when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had reached out to him to kick off the conference. He was game and gave an amazing talk in the Paepcke Auditorium at the Aspen Institute. I will have to paraphrase as there is no transcript of his presentation. He was talking about writing. Imagine, he said, if you were a commercial airline pilot with a full schedule of flights and woke up one morning and said, You know, I don’t really feel like flying today. I think I’ll go back to sleep for a few hours. Writing (any of the arts) is the only “profession” where people talk themselves out of getting up and putting in the hours. Everyone in the audience was quiet. But it doesn’t work that way, he continued. If you’re a writer/artist then you get up and you put in your hours, whether it’s flying a commercial airline or writing a book, or in my case, working on a new piece, writing up a new workshop, filming a new Youtube video or any of the other things I’ve got on my list of things that I need to do because this is the life and profession I’ve chosen for myself.
How does grief fit into all of this? It doesn’t. It’s just there. All the time. And as a result, it is I that must make the necessary adjustments in my life to accommodate these new feelings and emotions, while continuing to show up for the work.
I’m just about finished with my big improvisational stitching piece that I’ve been working on for the last 7 months or so, and it’s bittersweet. It always feels like a tiny death. There’s sadness and a kind of grieving that happens. Sometimes I just leave it up on my design wall and look at it from time to time, knowing that eventually it will need to be stretched and framed or mounted, floated or somehow “finished” as in ready to be hung on the wall or made into a pillow or whatever I’ve decided I’m going to do with it. But often I just can’t and so on the design wall it stays until something else is begun and necessitates that I take it down to give room for the new piece.
Also there’s the feeling that I’ve done my best and maybe this will be the pinnacle of my creativity. Maybe everything from now on will just be a rehashing or versions of the same thing; I won’t progress as an artist beyond this, is the thinking. But I don’t know that to be true. It hasn’t been so far, so why assume it will be now? I keep growing, exploring, investigating, learning, trying new things, new ideas, why invite trouble? as a friend of mine used to say.
The stoics are big on living today as though it were your last, being kind and recognizing that every action we take is a choice. So today I’m choosing to just keep going. I know I’m nearing the end, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less joyful working on it. In fact, savoring each stitch, knowing that I’m almost finished makes it all the more wonderful and magical. Taking joy in the process is always the answer and boy, have I loved working on this piece!
Yesterday I had my monthly, scheduled livestream for my Patrons. We had such fun! I was talking to them about some ideas I had for this piece and everyone was chatting and I had a moment when I just stopped and savored the joy of stitching, of this piece, of all that’s happened since I began it. And that’s the thing, each piece carries with it so many memories as life continues going along. This piece came with me to Africa. It was with me when I learned of my mother’s death. I took it to Egypt and Jordan. I carried it in my backpack through countless airports and airport security. It’s been put up on my design wall hundreds of times, only to be taken down again to be stitched, added, stretched, pulled, manipulated, torn, cut into, bound, sewn and even stuffed. It has my tears soaked into its very fibers, I’ve painted, stenciled, appliquéd and stitched and stitched and stitched, culminating in this piece.
Now it’s almost done.
A tiny death. What’s that cliche about one door closing and another opens? This piece will give way to the next one and the fun and joy and magic will begin all over again.
This was a question a number of people asked after my mother died. But I wasn’t. I hadn’t. In fact I couldn’t remember dreaming about anything or anyone, until this past week. Maybe it was because it was the first Thanksgiving since she died. Maybe it’s because her birthday fell on Thanksgiving every 7 years and so Thanksgiving always reminds me of her or because this was her first birthday that went uncelebrated. This past Saturday she would have been 93 years old.
When we were in Jordan, just a few weeks ago, (it seems like months already) our guide told us that the life expectancy there was mid seventies. He then asked if I was considered old in the US. “It depends upon who you ask,” I joked. “How about you?” I asked.
“I don’t feel old, until I look in the mirror,” he replied. Which was just the sort of thing my mother would have said. We laughed about that.
“Aging isn’t for the faint of heart,” my mother used to say. She also was known to say, “Aging sucks.”
But in my dreams she isn’t old. She can still speak. She has shoulder length hair and in my dream last night she was wearing an emerald green bikini, of all things, with a cream colored, open lacey top that I’d crocheted for her. Did I mention that I’m teaching myself to crochet? I’m no where near good enough to make such a thing for anyone, let alone as a gift for someone I love, but in my dream, she looked amazing and youthful and the crocheted top looked pretty fabulous as well!
I remember thinking, “I want to look like her when I’m her age,” but in the dream I said nothing and instead just told her how much I loved her. She gave me one of her magnificent smiles and then began talking to someone else in the room. I almost said something about how happy I was that she was wearing the top I’d crocheted her, but didn’t want to interrupt her conversation with this other person. Secretly, I was thrilled. After all I only just began trying to crochet in the last few weeks. Wearing that crocheted top that I’d made for her was so typical of my mother. She was a huge supporter of all my various passions, particularly when it came to making things.
It was my mother who taught me to knit and as she was right handed, (I’m left handed) I learned to knit right handed as well. I’ve often wondered if I should try to reteach myself to knit left handed, but then I think, “Why?” Besides I’m closer to the end than I am to the beginning of life, why jostle the waters? And I knit pretty quickly right handed, so there doesn’t seem to be much point. And, added plus, any instructions and videos are always written for right handers.
My mother would have approved of my dream, though I don’t think she cared for the color emerald green, but even so, it would have made her laugh. She loved to laugh. So today, I will remember her laughing and am grateful to have my dreams of her when she was still able to speak, when she was still able to move about easily and painlessly, when she was happy.
Stitch, put on the design wall, evaluate, consider, take down, add a new element, stitch, put back up on the design wall, take a photograph, consider, have an idea, take down, thread up a new color, take a chance, take a risk, take a breath, stitch and then the tears arrive. Not a few drops at a time, but a torrent soaking the fabric and the thread I’ve just stitched. In the midst of this I briefly wonder whether the thread colors will bleed. They say grief comes in waves. The threads don’t bleed, I’ve learned. At least not yet. Stitch anyway. Stitch through the grief.
It catches you off guard. That’s the thing. That’s what makes it hard. It’s unpredictable. Erratic. The violence of it when it arrives, unannounced, suddenly, swiftly; how do you prepare for that?
“How are you?” people ask. I’m surprised because I’m just fine. I’m busy, I’m working, I’m teaching, my old energy levels are returning, they aren’t back to what they were, but really, I’m just fine!
“I know you had a strong bond with her” or “I know how close you two were” or “I know…” And the pain slams into me, taking my breath away. No, I’m just fine, I think, but I’m not. I’m not fine. I’m grieving.
This blog is a reminder of my mother. She was my biggest supporter and commented over the years more than anyone else. It was through this blog that I often kept in touch with her and towards the end it was the one full proof way I knew I could reach her, especially when my emails would go unanswered and my phone calls went to voicemail. I knew she would read whatever I was posting. Over the last few years when she could no longer speak, she would send me things that she knew I’d post here, much to everyone’s delight, because the things she sent were such fun.
Like this video:
And then there was this one that I loved:
Mostly I’m missing my mom and while I know this will ease over time, it’s still causing me to wake up many days feeling listless and kind of “blah”. I know from other periods in my life when I’ve felt down and a loss of energy that doing the things that I don’t feel like doing are the things that often make me feel better. It’s funny how that works. It’s counterintuitive, but if I can remind myself to do those things anyway, I’m halfway there.
It reminds me of when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had organized to have Michael Crichton speak to kick off the conference. During his talk he was spoke of a work ethic. He was speaking of what artists, specifically writers, but it applied to anyone in the arts, often do. He said, imagine if you were an airplane pilot working for a major airline and got up in the morning and thought – you know I don’t really feel like flying today, I think I’ll sleep a few more hours. – You’d expect to be fired immediately or at the very least given a stern warning and if you tried that again, you’d be out of a job. He then went on to ask, why do artists treat their work any less seriously? If you’re a writer get up and write. If you’re a painter, paint and so on. The point was, our feelings don’t really matter when it comes to getting the work done. If we think of ourselves as an artist then put in the hours and create the art, regardless of the feelings.
With that in mind I keep showing up for the work, regardless of how I’m feeling, because I create. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. Today is no different than any other in that way. Yesterday I taped a video on this idea, and some of the things I do when I’m feeling low energy, which almost always comes hand in hand with doubt.