on the quantification of pain

throw in a notebook and a yoga mat and you've pretty much covered all the things I do

throw in a notebook and a yoga mat and you’ve pretty much covered all the things I do

Multiple sclerosis is bullshit, you guys. No pity party, but rather a shout- out to the percentage of my readers who are dealing with chronic pain diseases and/ or syndromes: this crap is for the birds. I am officially, 100% over this. This stuff is just plain tricky, in so many ways that I’d never seen coming when I received my diagnosis. When I walked out of Hopkins on the day I received my diagnosis, stunned, quiet, scared, I think that expected this to be a mostly medical adventure, all prescriptions and tasks, physical therapy, perhaps; some light exercise, maybe assistive tech. It is all that, but more than anything, it’s re- learning how to live. 

It’s been a long, long road, and there’s so much I’ve learned along the way. Seriously. I mean you just do: there’s a really steep learning curve, so you have to catch up, fast, but if you pay attention, there are some important lessons to be gathered along the way. Some are great, some are pretty shitty.

Pain is a teacher too, although I could live without it.

There’s this awful, bizarre belief on our society in the nobility of pain, that it can somehow makes us wiser, better people. There’s a nugget of truth hidden in there— some people do experience personal growth after facing adversity, but there’s no real way of knowing who they’d be or what they might have done if they hadn’t faced those difficulties, and in fetishizing their pain we reduce them to nothing more than their struggle. We also have this desire to quantify and qualify our pain: if one person is hurting, and their pain appears greater than ours, and another person is also hurting- but not as badly- then frequently the person with the lesser injury feels they have no right to speak their pain. This happens a lot around me, and it bugs the everloving shit out of me. Let’s talk about it, okay?

An example: I have these muscular twitches, called fasciculations, which are almost constantly going on somewhere in my body, generally in my quads, hamstrings, or back. They’re supposed to be painless, but when they continue on as long as they do they cause muscle fatigue and knotting, which gets to be painful and can cause some joints to lock up if I’m not careful. I’m really not very enthusiastic about it. It’s also just part of my life. So when Sam feels sore, or his back hurts (he has arthritis in his low spine- I know, we’re a mess), he’ll frequently keep it to himself. When he mentions it, he often says things like, “I feel like such an ass saying this when I know about your back,” which just… I mean, I get it. I DO. I really, really, do.

It’s just— here’s the thing: you really can’t quantify pain. It can’t be done, folks. Sure, you can do the emergency room 0- 10 scale, that’s a real thing, but when it comes to your pain vs. your neighbor’s pain, that’s just bullshit and it shouldn’t be attempted. My life, my body, my experience is mine, and I’m in it, living it, going through my day. When I experience pain it’s real and sucks and I hate it and hey, thank you for acknowledging it and how much it affects me and how shitty it is.

The reality is, though, that everybody’s pain is absolutely relative to their lives and their bodies and their experiences: while they may not have MS, the very fact that they have never experienced that level of pain most likely means that their bodies are interpreting the pain they experience now as quite distressing, and that bears acknowledging. This doesn’t mean I’m racing to my husband’s bedside playing Florence Nightingale every time he has the sniffles, but it does mean that when he has the flu, I take it every bit as seriously as he takes one of my remissions. (When that man gets sick, he gets whoa- nelly levels of sick. His immune system plays hardball.) And whatever he’s experiencing? ALSO VERY REAL, and bears acknowledging and sympathizing. People are people and we all need compassion. There is no hierarchy of pain or suffering: it is all awful.

It works across all levels. It’s hard. The phrase “first world problems” grates on me, especially as someone who’s seen the third world. I get it: when I came back from Afghanistan, it drove me directly up a wall to see someone genuinely distressed over an improperly prepared latte. It still upsets me, actually. This is not a real problem, unless you count one of perspective. Then again, my perspective was a little screwed, too: I had no idea what that person’s morning was like, or the night that came before. It’s a challenge, and it’s challenging to hold onto that mindset, but it’s worthwhile to try, lest the world get too aggravating altogether.

I hold that pain, when genuinely expressed, is relative: we don’t know someone else’s struggle, and when they talk about it, please, listen with respect and kindness. I know where I’ve been, what it’s felt like, when it has cost me and when it has given me joy. I should hope that my ridiculous body, and its random, ridiculous, DNA- induced decision to turn on me won’t deter others from talking about their pain of any kind. Pain is a language I speak, you guys. Disabled folk, we get pain. (We also have all the best pain relief tricks.)

(This message brought to you by giggling over the phrase, “multiple sclerosis is bullshit” this morning while I was getting ready to head in to the studio, by the way. Inspiration comes in the weirdest places, I swear.)

on losing and regaining the thread

 

Adipose toy and ball of brown wool yarn.

speaking of smaller things

 

I was at Homespun Yarn Party last month and someone told me I should write here more often.

Boof.

I agree, though. I should. It’s good practice, it’s good for me, and apparently there’s some value to others in it. I enjoy the conversations that are generated in various spots by some of these posts. And it’s funny: I frequently start entries all the time— in my head, on my phone, scribbled off on teeny tiny bits of paper that end up wadded in my pockets, only to be found months later and puzzled over. When did I write this? I’ll think, smoothing out wrinkles, trying to read the fuzzed- out pencil. It’s almost always pencil; so inconvenient, but I like the way it always works, and the way it bites into the paper.

It’s hard, though. So much of what’s happening right now affects me but it isn’t mine, if you know what I mean. It’s all indirect. Without ownership, I don’t feel comfortable commenting on it or even on my feelings around it. Kiddo being off in college, my mother- in- law’s illness, the issues in Kiddo’s boyfriend’s life, how my husband deals with his mom’s illness, none of that belongs to anyone but those folks. My reactions to those things? Yeah, that’s all mine, but in sharing that, I share them, and— yeah, it’s okay to do that in passing, but I’m not down with me getting into the nitty- gritty in public. You do you, no judgment, but I’ve got to do me.

All of that’s a pretty huge section of my internal life these days, though, so… I don’t know. Every time I sit down to write, this all just seems to come up. I mean, here I am, talking about it, right? They’re not the only things in my life by a long stretch, but they sure are the biggest ones, and it’s hard at times to see anything but the big things. I’m losing my ability to draw down, surely. Getting caught up. It’s inevitable to some degree, but I’ve also allowed it. I haven’t fought it for a while; for a period, it wore us both out, definitely, but realignment is certainly in order, and I’m trying.

Back to the smaller things, then. It isn’t as though we can ever forget these big things- god, they’re ever- present, it’s not as though they’re going away- but back to my mindfulness, quiet, and seeking. I simply lost my thread again, that’s all. It’s so easy to drop, but never hard to find again. How do I forget this so easily, and so frequently? It’s been mindfulness and the small things that has always saved me and kept me balanced.

When this happens— when I “lose the thread”— there’s always this urge to beat myself up over it. The “How can I be so ridiculous?” refrain seems to be pretty common for everybody at some point. I try to give it as little energy as possible, but it never fully goes away, and I do think the thought merits a small amount of impassive analysis: How, really, did I get here? I let meditation become less of a priority. I stopped really looking around me and started powering through my life. I started using old “tools” from my life in corporate work to get through challenging situations- like skimping on sleep, a thing I can do for a while but which makes me miserable.

Cool! I can do better. Unhealthy habits like those can be dropped, and I’m pretty clear on how to fill the gaps. It’s funny how approaching the question without judgment makes finding those issues— Where am I going off- track? makes fixing them so much easier— Right, I’ve really got to pay more attention to the minute- by- minute of my days, I’m missing everything. Nothing is ever so far gone it can’t be put right again. There’s no use beating your head against the wall.

So I’m back at it: sleep, meditation, blogging, crafting for fun, seeing people in my spare time, paying attention. Slowing down. All that good business. Do you remember when you were a kid and thought you’d hit some magic age when you’d be done, set, complete as a grownup? NO MORE GROWING UP FOR THIS HUMAN TO DO. Almost as though you’d finished cooking, like a turkey or a beef Wellington? Yeah, me too. Surprise!

in which we talk about breathing

handknits in the studio window

handknits in studio window

 

It’s been stressful, of course. Isn’t it always? Who doesn’t have stress? It’s a part of living. Me, I’m trying to get the studio ready for people. People, everybody. Like, John Q. Public levels of people. We’ve begun having Knit Nights, which are really just Craft Nights (I should start calling it that instead, maybe?) every Wednesday evening, which was a HUGE THING for me: what if they hated how industrial the space is? (They didn’t. It’s a seriously cool space.) Also: it’s my super- special safe space. Opening it up to everyone on the regular— it gave me the equivalent of emotional hives, I guess. I avoided this for so long for exactly that reason, almost hoarding the space, which is just silly. THIS IS WONDERFUL. I NEED TO SHARE. Sharing is caring, etc, etc, it’ll all be okay. And it was!

Now, we’re putting together classes. We have knowledge, and people want to learn! Why not, right? Oh, yeah: THE EPIC LEVELS OF WORK INVOLVED IN PUTTING TOGETHER CLASSES, PROBABLY? Possibly that. Almost certainly that. But to hell with it! CAUTION, MEET WIND.

Oh, god.

Let’s stop thinking about our stress. It just makes things worse. Let’s talk about coping. I’m crap at self- care, but this year I’m trying to make it priority.

One of my best friends is moving back to Maryland soon. It’s a gift, it really is; it came from out of the blue, a text: “How about a late Christmas present?” Indeed, sir. He and I were in Afghanistan together, in the DoD before that, and stationed together in the UK, way back when we were first coming up; he’s another safe places for me, and I’ll be glad to have him back. I find that lately when I’m stressed out I’ll go back to that moment of sitting in the car, that second when my phone dinged in my hand and that text came through, the sheer brilliant shot of happiness that I felt in that moment: my friend was coming home. Oh, this.

I don’t much care for visualizations, overall. (Allow me this break, it all circles back, I promise.) They tend to make me uncomfortable. I have no idea what that’s all about, but when I’m in a class, or doing continuing ed as a teacher and it comes up, I just get a case of the weirds- it doesn’t work for me most of the time. There’s something about someone else guiding my imagination- it puts me off. (Which, by the way, is a HILARIOUS thing for a yoga nidra guide/ teacher to say.)

But so many of my students like and benefit from them, and there are a few I use every so often. That friend who’s coming back to Maryland? When we were in working in the DoD together he taught me a trick that I think had been circulated through our group of friends as a survival technique, a way to make it through the daily cubicle grind and political labyrinth of government work. It isn’t always bad- don’t let me give you that impression- but when it is bad (say, just as fiscal year comes to a close, for example), it can be pretty tough.

So when I’m feeling ragged and I only have a moment or two to decompress, I’ll lock myself into a bathroom stall, lean against the door, close my eyes, and run this visualization, real quick: Breathe in pink, breathe out green.

It sounds so, so cheesy, I know. I KNOW. I mean, that’s some seriously dippy, dorky woo right there. I am not a fan of woo, either. Also? IT WORKS. It really, really does. Ten deep- breath repetitions of that later, I wouldn’t call myself 100% soothed, but I’m generally in a much better, calmer, more “me” sort of place. Part of it is physiological: deep breathing, it works every time. Bringing more oxygen into your system helps: we tend to tighten up and breathe from the chest when we’re under stress, but it’s also helping us access the parasympathetic division of our autonomous nervous system. This is the part of our nervous system that controls our heart rate, the dilation of our pupils and blood vessels, and can bring down many of the “fight or flight”, panicky- feeling, or overall stress responses from the other half of our CNS, the sympathetic nervous system.

Deep breathing alone doesn’t usually do the trick fully, though: it has to be focused deep breathing, and that’s why the visualization really works here— it brings your focus in to the breath and keeps it there. Taking our attention down to just one thing and holding it there for a period of time- even as brief a period as ten long full breaths- that’s important. It keeps us away from upsetting thoughts and distractions, all those things that might be causing us stress and pain, and that’s huge, but it also draws us inside, and that’s even better.

We can create a quiet space, internally. This is more of a long term project, but if you keep doing this sort of thing- just stopping periodically and taking long, deep breaths, focusing on them, doing a quick visualization alongside your breathing- you’ll start creating that space naturally. You can carry that silence with you, something you can tap into when you need it— and seriously, people need this. After years of teaching meditation, one of the most surprising things I’ve learned is how very deeply people need this without ever realizing it until they’ve dealt with it: our lives are so noisy, folks. If it isn’t just everyday life- cars, planes, music, TVs, the constant hum of electronics and engines and all that- it’s information. Email, social media, the Internet, it’s both addictive and overwhelming. Finding stillness, anywhere, can be a shock, but a welcome one.

And so: as I’ve been dealing with the (mostly positive) stress of trying to get everything arranged to open the studio, I’ve found myself doing this more and more frequently. It’s not a bad thing: it reminds me of my friend who’s coming back to MD soon, which is always a good thing, and it also helps to ground me. It reminds me to breathe, and gives me a quick moment of stillness in the middle of all the madness. It gives me room. I found myself taking a few deep breaths in the back of the studio late last week and thought that with all the quick meditation tricks I’ve been using lately to get through this transition, I should be sharing, too.

So much of what I use in my daily, non- sitting life, is beginner- friendly: I keep thinking I should pop more meditation work on the blog. Ahhh, something for my copious spare time, surely. :)

in which we are home again, home again!

lonely highway

Nevada

We’re back from California, and oh, friends; what a change, let me tell you. The drive gives us a bit of time to acclimate, I suppose, but going from the 70- degree, sunny days of Santa Clara to Baltimore’s approximately 25- degree snowstorm in five days? Boof. Booooooooof. Where do I register my formal objection?

It was a great trip; I shouldn’t complain about anything, I’m a ridiculously lucky girl. The van was a trooper, we had fantastic weather throughout, there were minimal traffic interruptions, it’s all good. (Never try to cross St. Louis during rush hour, folks, seriously, it is not okay, but that was my mistake.) Sam and I are still in recovery mode, but we’re catching up and we’ll be ourselves in a day or so. The show itself was fantastic- we worked a shared Team Awesome space with Kate & Nancye of Dragonfly Fibers and Karida of Neighborhood Fiber Co, and we saw all of our West Coast friends, which is always a treat. And just… California, you guys. It really is great. It’s beautiful and the food is wonderful and even in February, even during a drought, the weather is perfect. I can’t believe I lived there and then left.

Outside Gilroy, CA

Outside Gilroy, CA

Okay, okay. So- more importantly, though, I got to see my Dad and my stepmother, Lily. They live in southern California, which means seeing them, ever, is a major challenge. They drove up for the weekend, and Sam and I spent our evenings with them, which made this show a mixture of work and family reunion. I was super- excited I was about this show, folks. I mean, I always enjoy gigs— they’re a lot of fun, exhausting as the work is— but seeing Dad and Lily made this one special. It was pretty great to have some time with them, in the middle of all that chaos- to step away and just be with family. I don’t get time with them nearly enough— those 3,000 miles are a pain in the ass, no lie, but at least we have this show, which gives us one good trip west a year.

Ghost Rock, Utah

Ghost Rock, Utah

On the way back, we drove through Colorado, and I think that’s an entry unto itself, actually, but obviously— yes, we stopped off in Denver, and yes, it really is amazing. I have thoughts- lots of them- but let’s put those into a stand- alone post. It’s funny, though; I always post photos of how gorgeous Utah is, whenever we drive through, and as we drove through parts of Colorado I felt so compelled to do the same— holy cats, there are some unbelievable swaths of nature out there, cliffs and mountains and chasms and canyons, and the colors, it’s astounding. I felt very restrained the entire time we were driving through Colorado, as though any shout- out to the beauty of Colorado would be misinterpreted as a pothead’s 420 anthem, which gives me a moment of sad pause. Obviously I’m still carrying around some residual prejudices about medical marijuana, a useless nugget of suburban shame taking up valuable space in my head. How interesting, to find this stuck in my head after speaking out publicly, after writing and talking and working on this issue: I’m still afraid people will think I’m a stupid stoner. I thought I was over that; I am definitely not over that. Good to know— I need to work on it. How adorable to stumble across that in Colorado. I like that.

I’m happy to be back, bundled up in my little house, even if I am missing my first day of work to a snowstorm. (Seriously, Baltimore?) Sam and I are shotgunning the shows we’ve missed (Broad City, you are the Very Best Thing) and trying to figure out meals from our meager pantry— you don’t leave much food in the house when you go away for two weeks, so this whole storm business, it’s a bit poorly timed for us. I predict a diet consisting mostly of waffles and PopTarts over the next day or so, supplemented by Trader Joe’s veggie Birds Nests. What even ARE those things, other than addictively delicious? Who even cares, really. We’re surrounded by all of our animals, we’ve called/ texted/ emailed all our people to let them know we’re home safe, and it’s at least two weeks until we’re on the road again; contentment is the name of the game today. I hope that wherever you are, you’re warm, safe, and content, too.

 

 

PS: When I got back in town, I found a TON of letters in my PO Box! I had no idea there would be so many people excited about the pen pal/ lettermo idea. I’m writing back to a couple every day, so if you wrote me and you’re waiting to hear back, I’m on it! And if you’re interested in being pen pals, I’m still writing to folks, so don’t be a stranger- go ahead and drop me a line! I’ve taken to writing letters at least once a day; I’m working it in as a daily practice, and I’m interested to see how long I can keep doing this. It’s a lovely thing, this tiny spot of time just to write to someone- so if you want to be a part of that with me, please, feel free. :)

in which there is an address!

 

Stopped by our local Post Office this afternoon to chat and renew my P.O. box. Who wants a pen pal?

 

P.O. box!

I have a P.O. box like a grownup!

in which we have a month of letters

So I’ve been working on this post about a meditation technique I wanted to share with everyone, but that’s still in the hopper— it’ll have to hold. Instead, I wanted to tell you guys about this thing I’m doing. It’s actually all Marianne‘s idea, and it’s AWESOME, and you should DO IT WITH US.

Right. I’m excited. Who can tell, though, really?

It’s called A Month Of Letters. Who doesn’t miss real mail? Not fliers, not gas bills, but letters, post cards, honest- to- goodness mail. Once upon a time I was a prodigious letter- writter. Fancy stationary gave me the shivers and a pen with the perfect pen nib was a subject I could argue over for hours but I’d take a legal pad and a mechanical pencil in a pinch, too— I wasn’t a snob. As long as there as a LOT of paper to write on, I really didn’t give a damn. I still have most of the letters I’ve received over the years, bundled up by sender and year; I don’t keep many things, but those, they’re like gold to me.

Here’s how it works: every day that the post is running, you send out a piece of mail to someone- a card, a letter, an Easter egg stuffed with goodies that you’ve covered with some stamps and an address, it’s your call.

I love you, T.

T, I love you.

 

Sam and I are headed to STITCHES West in a few weeks, which means another cross- country road trip. Part of my Month Of Letters includes sending Marianne some of the WORST postcards I come across, which sounds like it’ll be easy, but trust, every time I set myself one of these challenges, they’re always harder than I thought they’d be. We’ll see.

Anyway, my point: it’s not too late to get in on this, or even take it on next month. Want me to send you a letter or a postcard? Send me your address and I’ll write you. I’ll be packing a metric ton of stamps to take along on this trip, and all my favorite pens, but I’ll be sure to grab some of those mechanical pencils, too. I can’t promise what sort of mail you’ll get- or how legible it’ll be, I might be writing it in a van as we’re winding our way through Utah, who knows?- but I promise you’ll get mail, and mail with heart.

Who’s in?

 

 

we are all alone together

hand, with short nails, stained with dye

Oh, 2013. You, you, you.

We really had no idea.

Let’s just get it out of the way: 2013, I’m glad to be nearly clear of you. I had high hopes, with a number like 2013- it seemed auspicious in that funnily backwards way, and I really thought it would work out for us. You’re a nasty, tricky piece of work.

There was the travel, ceaseless. Work, of course. My mother- in- law’s cancer diagnosis, oh god. Kiddo going to college- such a good thing, but an enormous transition for all of us, and hard. Family, mine, and oh, if it started out rough it only got harder; that post in April only brushes on how bad things really became. (Side note: never talk about family business on the internet, even if it’s 20- year- old family business; it’ll get you solidly uninvited to weddings. WINNING. At least I know where things stand? Actually winning this time, though, albeit in a very sad way.) There was the MS relapse, which led to the meds change in the summer, which is gong really well (winning!) but was more physically exhausting than I ever could have anticipated. Learning that they might have found something in Sam’s autumn MRI, which turned out to be fine in the end but resulted in a seemingly endless stretch of I will not think about this right now, because if I do, I will just start screaming and I don’t know if I will be able to stop. And then there were the external tragedies, which aren’t mine to address but belong instead to friends; the griefs we have seen around the people we love.

It’s been a brutal year, for us and for the people close to us. I find it amazing that back in the spring I thought we might be standing at the outer barrier of how much hurt and stress a human heart could hold at a single time; that seems so ridiculous now. It’s been helpful, too, though. Through all of this, there has been an ongoing exchange of kindness in our lives that has been so amazing and for which we are so grateful. I have always had a very hard time asking for help, and while I can’t say 2013 broke down that barrier forever, it certainly made some inroads.

So. 2013, you’ve taught me how to ask for help, some. And I’ve learned more about simplifying, obviously, because when you’ve got too much going on you’ve got to cut the chaff. I’ve learned who will be there, and who will be honest with me. I’ve learned how much I can actually do under immense pressure, as a civilian. (It’s a totally different world, trust.) I’ve learned what happens when I really push myself, traveling. (About two, possibly three less trunk shows next year- or less interpersonal stress. I can control the scheduling of trunk shows, at least, even if I can’t see every bump in my life coming.)

I’ve been looking back over the last year- how awful it’s been, how hard all three of us have worked, how goddamned gutting the entire go of it was- and while I’d never want to do it again, I’m so glad to have it behind us, I still don’t want to toss the damned thing out. I have this general feeling of “Good riddance, 2013,” and I do mean that- good riddance to all of that negativity, to throwing myself at closed doors, to wasted energy, to sadness and grief and exhaustion and all of it- but I’m also so grateful for the way this has brought people together, opened us up, and moved us.

I just wish things were easier lately. If not for us- I don’t expect an easy go right now, Sam’s mother is sick, and this is a part of living- at least for the people around us. It is just this strange moment for us, and I get that. Everyone around us seems to have such immense sadnesses in their lives, though- real moments of tragedy. Fires, death, addiction, break- ups, divorce. It is both heartbreaking (we love them!) and a really, strangely beautiful time— so many of the people we love are being so kind and careful and generous to each other lately. We all have so little of ourselves to give, so we give to the people closest to us, and we are cautious with one another, gentle, sweeter than usual, careful to communicate. It is beautiful, in a painful sort of way. People are remarkable. I love watching how we are, together. And so I’m grateful to 2013 for that, too- for the chance to see, again, how beautiful we are, even in sadness, even in grief, even in pain. We pull together. We lean in. We do the work. We love one another. We heal. We grow. We learn. We just keep our shoulder to that goddamned wheel and do the work.

Here’s to 2014: may it be better to all of us than 2013, whether is was a banner year for you or not. We can do this, hand in hand, as a community. We are all alone together.

in which I want a great deal less

One Stone Farm, NH

One Stone Farm, NH

September has been good- a time to rest, clear my head. There’s been less travel- a trip to north for Parents’ Weekend (already, really?), but other than that, it’s been quiet. I’m grateful for the break, the lull before the madness of October- Boston, Rhinebeck (OMG, RHINEBECK!!!), all of it. October promises to be a joyful, colorful, but busy month.

I’m focused, all of a sudden. Well, not completely focused— let’s not lie, I’m never completely focused, anyone who knows me knows organization isn’t my strongest suit. But I’m coming to the end of the year, and that always brings me to thinking about renewal, about change. It’s a Thing, the new year- silly, all of it, but I Do The Thing, every year, despite secretly laughing at it behind my hand.

And so I’m looking at changes I can make, where I can apply myself, what I need to do, in which areas I can really work hard and get things done, and where there is no work for me. I’ve been putting so much of myself into certain areas that have no real space for me, and that is both silly and painful: I will stop doing that. I haven’t been putting enough of myself elsewhere, and I need to re- orient, beginning right now. I have work to do. There are places where I am needed: I will be there, and I will stop working so hard to be wanted and needed where there is no room for me. That seems like a recipe for disaster, or at least self- harm, and that isn’t how I roll. I’m smarter than that; it’s time I acted that way.

I’m clearing out everything, actually. We cleared out the back room to make a guest space for my in- laws; that was super- important, obviously. I’m clearing out my literal closets; no more waiting and wondering if the weight will come back, I’m pretty sure this is the size I’m sticking to, at least for the foreseeable future, so off to Dress For Success and Goodwill they go. I’m even donating books, because if it isn’t a reference book, or something I loan out or re- read, it’s taking up physical room in my home, and that sort of thing makes me feel weird and anxious lately. I want space, room, air, lightness. I want less.

Less. Less. Less of everything. I want a life that is free of stuff, and by stuff, I mean anything that isn’t actively used to enhance how we live.

Impossible, right? I mean, you can’t just not have things that drag you down. Some things are inescapable. There will always be taxes. People will always cut you off in traffic. Some folks will always be jerks in the grocery store. 105 degree days will occasionally happen. Those things are inevitable, and out of our control. Cool. I’m okay with the things I can’t control. I don’t like them, but I can accept them.

But I’m taking back what I can control. I don’t have to have things I need to dust. I don’t need to archive clothing that reminds me that my body is sometimes out of my control. I don’t need to eat up wall space holding on to books I have already read. I don’t need to wash or tend or worry over belongings I hardly see or use. I don’t need to be close to people who who don’t treat me with respect or who actively hurt me. I don’t need my CD collection from the early 2000s, for crying out loud, and it sort of smells vaguely of cat: I think that needed to go away a long, long time ago, guys. I don’t need to worry about attending events that bore me just to make people who bore me mutually bored while we talk about boring things. Those people are very nice, but they are not my people; I bore them, too. It’s okay that we bore each other and we really don’t need to go on boring each other perpetually just because it’s boringly pleasant to bore each other when we meet. We should pleasantly move on.

Here’s the thing: I only get so many hours. I don’t know how many I’ll have, but the clock is ticking. And I have so, so many good things going on. Amazing things, happy things, awesome things. Things I really only imagined I might ever have. These other things are all just distractions- and they aren’t good. They are major, unpleasant, frequently very stupid distractions. Sometimes, I just sit around and look at some of these things, being unhappy about them- but not doing anything about them, mind you, just… man, I sure gotta do something about those boxes in the shed, or I really, really don’t want to deal with x situation with x person any more, and I’m not sure what I’m getting out of this in the first place. It consumes time, and energy. It eats up Sam’s time and energy too, because he has to hear me talking about it.

Waste, waste, waste.

I can remove these things. I can refocus, re- orient myself. Hell, I can take the empty spaces that these distractions leave and fill it up with even more awesome things, or just leave myself space (imagine that, space!), or whatever- but whatever I do, I’ll be replacing something very negative, something bothersome or even distressing with something brighter, better, enriching. And that’s the point— to cull the distractions and to make room for things that actively make our lives better, because goddamnit, I know in a very real, very honest way that there are only so many days, hours, minutes, and I don’t want to waste this beautiful life. It’s just too much fun.

I can’t cut all the chaff. It’s just not possible- life gets in the way. But I can start, again, fresh, clean, with this little burst of energy- this momentum. While there hasn’t been a single inspiration for this return to purpose, I’m grateful, in a hurting way, for the multiple reasons behind the shift. I wouldn’t ask for those moments back again, but clarity is a never a bad thing.

So hey, October. I’m always glad to see the tenth month, but I’m looking forward to waking up in what’s always seemed like the most autumnal of months tomorrow. I intend to quietly, slowly, gently begin to sort though, and in part, tear up my life, beginning tomorrow morning.

That seems terribly exciting.

How To Send Your Daughter to College, in 12 Easy Steps (a knitter’s version)

my little grey shawl

my little grey shawl, still in progress

1. Go to a trunk show approximately 250 miles from home. This is for work, not properly part of dropping your daughter off at college. You made this commitment before you fully realized that it was the same week you’d need to take your daughter to college, because you, madam, are A Really Poor Planner. Bask in a sinking sense of failure in the evenings and knit on your little grey shawl.

2. Complete the trunk show. Feel happy and exhausted, like you do after every trunk show. Drive another 120 miles from trunk show to your best friend’s house. The drive takes you through the small town where you grew up, which always makes you a little sad. It’s a sad place for a lot of reasons, some personal, some economic. This doesn’t help. Being at your best friend’s place helps some, though, because your best friend is one of the most incredible people in the universe, known or unknown. Spend the night drinking really excellent whiskey and talking about life. Knit on your little grey shawl.

3. Meet up with your family to drive to the college. This is much more challenging than it sounds, due to the mysteries of GPS and the intricacies of downtown Hartford, but manage it anyway in the end, complete with much cursing and some high- end familial tension. Good, good stuff. In the car, knit on your little grey shawl.

4. Drive to the college, another 2 hours from your best friend’s house. Conceal anxiety with butt jokes and pop culture references. Buy snacks in a gas station in northern Massachusetts, and be sure to act like a complete ass while at it. The phrase, “Don’t steal string cheese,” should be uttered repeatedly, and at top volume, for maximum efficacy. Spend the rest of the drive laughing, and stupidly drop stitches in your little grey shawl.

5. Check into hotel at college town and while you’re at it, check the urge to provide a helpful last- minute lecture on living with snow. You child is not interested in your experiences with living in snow, or living through New England winters. Your child will definitely lose an appendage to frostbite this winter. Your Baltimore- reared child considers a t- shirt and a hoodie “layering”. Count all of her lovely, freezable bits and silently bid them farewell. Wonder which piece of your perfect, perfect baby will not come home to you in the spring. Resist the urge to weep quietly in the bathroom. Instead, plot out the dense, claustrophobia- inducing sweaters you will make for your child this winter as you knit on your little grey shawl.

6. Spend dinner discussing news, gossip, anything but the future. Talk about goat cheese, and how there is never too much of it. Watch her hands, and think about how much you’ve always loved them. Don’t cry. Don’t even want to cry. Leave your little grey shawl in its bag, and just look at her.

7. Go through the next day in a haze: it’s all so much to do. It’s all just so much, really. Unloading, finding her room, unpacking, watching all of the other families and the ways they do the things which you are doing. Pick up her books from the bookstore. Take the inevitable trip to the store, buy her things. Buy her things to hold her other things, and find yourself looking at these things and wondering how they’ll fit into her new life, her new future. Feel proud, nervous, and amazed. This is real. How did time move so quickly? Your little grey shawl sits in its bag, unattended: there’s just no time for knitting.

8. Have dinner again, early this time. You’ve done all of the things; there’s nothing left to do but eat, so that’s what you’ll do. Find somewhere relatively quiet. This time you’ll talk about real things: home. Friends. Family. The harder things. It’s okay, because you’ll break it up with laughing, but this is definitely a Much More Serious Meal, an actual dinner together. It’ll be a little while before you eat together again. Make the most of it.

9. Head back to her dorm room. You’ve finally got the hang of the place now- you could find her room in a hurry if you needed, which makes you feel safe, and also silly, because you’ll never need to find her room in any rush. Keeping this piece of knowledge tucked in your back pocket- mapping out the routes to where she will be- settles you somehow. You can feel yourself drawing an invisible map in your mind, in your heart. Knit on your little grey shawl, and think about the ties that bind without restricting.

10. Then it will be there: the goodbye. It isn’t as awful as you thought it would be. You find that you don’t want to cry: it really is just a goodbye, after all. And for all your fear, all the dread and worry and horrible crushing doubts, it really is all right. She will be all right. You as a family will be all right. And even if you’re like me, and you don’t have any frame of reference for this moment, if in your experience when a child leaves home they never really speak to their parents again and you don’t know how to do this thing and it causes you horrible anxiety because you really don’t know what comes next and you’re really just doing this all on faith it turns out that in the now, in the here and the this and the right then, it really is okay. It’s okay. She’s going to be just fine. The moment is there, and you hug, and you take a few pictures and you tell her you love her and you leave her there in the room, her room, to get on with her new adventure, and that is exciting stuff. Go back to your hotel room and sit in wonder. This is real life, and it really happened. Sit with your shock and knit on your little grey shawl.

11. Life goes on. And it’s weird for a while: everything is different, quieter, a little emptier. There will be a hole where she was, and you can’t miss it. You don’t know exactly what to do with yourself for a while. Revert to your twentysomething self for a time: stop wearing pants in the evenings, stay up late, have kettle corn and ice cream for dinner. Mourn the loss of being a live- in parent. It’s okay to be a little sad. Spend evenings devouring The Twilight Zone and knit mindlessly, aimlessly on your little grey shawl.

12. Start looking forward to whatever it is that comes next. Begin to train your dogs new tricks. Go out a bit more. Text your kid. Set whole new routines, decide you hate them, start different ones. Play with it. Your daughter is on a bright new adventure, and will come home with stories. Decide that she won’t be the only one. Knit on your little grey shawl until you’re almost out yarn, and wonder what comes next.

in which there is more than I can fit into these parameters right now

Small, brown dog peeking out of a blanket.

Hugo would like some of my Pop Tart, please.

There has been a great deal happening, folks.

Not writing, though. I think what has been happening is that there has been so much going on, I haven’t had time to process it enough to write it all out. I’ve got two posts in the hopper, but they aren’t quite ready for prime time.

Already, this has turned into one of those awful, “I’m so sorry I’ve been away” posts. Agh.

The short version: August was a frenetic blur, full of more than I could ever have imagined. Most of it was amazing, but the bad parts were worse than horrible, and I am glad I will never re-live that month. August 2013, you’re going down as one of my least favorite months ever. I’ll have more to say about that later, but for now that’ll have to do.

September 2013 looks promising, though. We’ll see. I’m working hard to be positive. Things have changed, a lot. Kiddo is gone, off to college, and we’re adapting. One of those posts is about that, a little, but I don’t know. As soon as I think I have a handle on that, on those feelings, they slip away from me and change. It’s a strange thing.

I’m here, though. Sitting with things. Fermenting, ruminating, thinking. Letting everything settle. Trying to sort through an awful lot of wreckage and see exactly how I feel about everything. I’m not sure, honestly. I’m not certain of a lot of things lately. Everything feels very unsettled. Not the important things: Sam, Kiddo, the studio, home, our key friends- but everything else? Christ.

I try not to stress, though. Instead of getting all worried- because really, what good does worry do?- I am trying to breathe my way through. I listen to Night Vale and make up silly stories in my head about the characters in my spare time. I play with the dogs, read my books, make lists, study painting, water my plants. Time will pass, my feelings will pass, and the facts will be there, clear, under it all. I just need to wait it out. This is how it always is, how it will always be: I just need to be patient, and my head will clear, all the mess of last month will wash out.

There are more important things, always. I’m well aware. Focus.

Sending out my not- so- clear message to the internet with the hopes that if your August wasn’t so great, you’re coming to a point of clarity soon, and that if you’re in the middle of a not- so- awesome September, that it passes quickly. Autumn should be brilliant for everyone, always. There should be a law.

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