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.
So here’s the thing… I feel a whole lot better when I show up even when I feel awful, even when I feel things are rough and I’m tired, even when I don’t want to. I’ve also learned that showing up anyway is the single best remedy for not continuing to feel that way. Except that it’s also really hard to do. That’s the thing. It’s really, really hard and sometimes… sometimes it feels impossible. I know it technically isn’t, but it sure feels that way.
Marcus Aurelius wrote about pain a great deal. And in his writings about it he consistently focusses on choice and responding, rather than reacting. I’m a huge fan of Marcus Aurelius, not just because he was wise, but because this guy was one of the most powerful men in the world and yet he continued to do his best to remain humble, to avoid arrogance, to nurture self awareness and to treat others with respect and kindness.
So yeah, showing up anyway. Easier said than done, so I have found ways to do so that aren’t quite so laden, that make it a tiny bit easier. I call it setting myself up to succeed.
Here’s what I do:
Thread up a whole bunch of needles with different types and weights of thread. I use both Chenille needles and Milliners Needles.
Grab a needle, any needle, it doesn’t matter which one, and begin stitching. I have a couple of mindless go-to stitches that don’t require any thought. They are the meditative stitches like french knots, bullion knots, colonial knots, seed stitch, chain stitch, fly stitch, straight stitch and then I riff on them, which means I start exploring every aspect of that stitch. How many wraps can I make on a french knot before the whole thing begins to fall apart? (It turns out a lot more than you might think!). What ways can I stitch a straight stitch to create different patterns?
And before you know it, I’m playing!
Stitching, more than anything, changes everything, even grief, even pain.
If you’re curious to know how I did this, I made a video about it and you can watch it here:
Every now and then it hits me. She’s gone. I will never see her again. I will never hold her hand with those arthritic knuckles that made them resemble gnarled tree branches, misshapen and yet beautiful. I will never get another email from her containing silly videos or stories or photos and it is during these times that I feel both overwhelming gratitude that I had a mother whom I loved deeply, and unspeakable pain that grips my throat and clenches my stomach. That she went quickly and did not suffer is something I constantly remind myself. Still it’s tough. She was my mom. It is a loss unlike any other that I’ve experienced.
One of the most difficult things I’ve had to learn in life is to hold two seemingly opposing ideas and/or feelings and allow both to be true and valid. I miss her and am grateful she went quickly, yet there are times when I am overwhelmed by the pain of losing her.
Mom and Richard at her birthday party
Over the years this idea of two opposing forces has taken shape; a person I love has views I hate, yet I can still love them. Someone does something hurtful, yet I can forgive them. I do something hurtful and so I must make amends and then do the painstaking work of learning to forgive myself. And on it goes. Two seemingly opposing things held in each hand, both are true, even though upon first look they seem to cancel each other out, they do not. They co-exist and in that co-existence there is peace.
This is what I’ve learned.
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