You know when all of a sudden you realize that you’re doing something useless, and maybe even to your surprise you’ve been doing it for a good long while? Or maybe not exactly useless, but something that doesn’t seem to be a very good use of your time?
That’s been me a lot lately.
The holidays always bring on a big crush of activities – shopping, cooking, baking, crafting, wrapping, mailing, visiting, etc. In the weeks that precede the celebration, there’s very little quiet time in the margins of life. It’s all about getting things done.
But once Christmas has come and gone and the new year hasn’t gotten up and running yet, there are some wide-open stretches of time. The space between, I like to call it. Prior to Christmas, I thought for sure that this time would be filled with enjoyable projects – the ones I want to do for no reason but pleasure and exploration, but had no time for because of holiday obligations. That’s how I saw myself filling my space between.
Somehow, though, my unconscious mind had other ideas. Because not only did I not touch any of the fun, enticing projects that awaited me in my craft room, I actually avoided them with all my might.
Oh, I didn’t try to avoid them, quite the contrary in fact. I tried to get myself to work on them. Every day I’d sit down at my table, survey the projects laid out before me with eager eyes (this was after I managed to at least somewhat straighten up from the proverbial holiday bomb that went off in my workspace), and try to decide which one to pick up.
But none of them enticed me, not one little bit. The only thing that captured my interest was books, and maybe a little bit of crochet. But mostly books.
And so I read. A lot.
And I crocheted. A little.
I didn’t get one bit of sewing done, not one bit of embroidery, not one bit of quilting, though I tried mightily to get myself to do all three – pulling out the supplies, reading through instructions, washing fabric, measuring. But yet, I made nothing.
It just wasn’t gonna happen.
But reading? That’s what happened.
Now you have to understand that I usually don’t get a ton of reading done, not because I don’t like to read - I do. But I rarely have time to fit reading into my days. It’s only after climbing into bed at night that I manage to pick up a book, and let’s be honest, that lasts for somewhere between 30 seconds and 3 minutes before I’m passed out asleep.
So getting complete books finished? Not one of my strong suits.
But when I set my goals for 2016, yet again (because it was also my goal in 2015) one of them was to finish more books. And another goal was to write more, and another was to crochet more.
So if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, somehow those goals just don’t add up. I can’t read while I crochet, or write while I read, or crochet while I write. And no one gave me a magic time-generating machine for Christmas this year, so how can pursuing these three goals this year be possible in the least?
I don’t have an answer to that question.
But I can tell you that when I was overcome with the urge to read last week, even though the time seemed perfect to work on personal crafting projects, I read. And I read and I read and I read.
I finished one book I’d been reading for about a month (Eat, Pray, Love – don’t judge - yes I know I’m coming like 9 years late to that party), I finished two others (Scary Close by Donald Miller – it was fine – I like his writing but the topic didn’t really resonate with me, and If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother by Julia Sweeney – a memoir about the early years with her adopted daughter Mulan), and I started one more (Lit by Mary Karr – whoa – quite a jump in literary quality from anything I’ve read lately – it’s good but slooooow reading).
So basically that’s four books in four days, and nothing handmade.
But I ended up with something better, much to my surprise.
By reading Eat, Pray, Love I learned that it’s very possible to write a compelling memoir in bits and pieces – that a reader does not have to know exactly how the main character got from Point A to Point B. Which was enormously helpful and illustrative to me as I’m writing the bits and pieces of my own memoir.
And from If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother (yes it’s by the same Julia Sweeney of SNL fame) I learned that a series of memoir essays does not have to be chronological, which was a bit of a revelation to me. I don’t think she did a seamless job of organizing her essays (or probably more accurately, her editor didn’t do a seamless job of organizing Sweeney’s essays) – it seemed a little clunky in places. But on the whole, the structure of the book worked. The story was interesting enough but the real gold for me was getting a clear view of the architecture of an essay-based memoir.
I can assure you that was not my goal when I sat down to read any of these books – all I really wanted to do was read a few good books. And I let myself get sucked in, which ended up being the key piece of the whole experience.
Because sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get something much, much better than just a good story, if you allow yourself.
And as for crochet, well, I’ll be honest by saying that I’m a little bit concerned about my latest obsession. I mean honestly, I am in no way in a season of my life that I can sit around by choice for any length of time and twiddle yarn through a metal hook.
And yet that’s what I’m compelled to do these days.
To be more specific, it’s scarves that I’m drawn to making. I love the size, the rhythm, the changes in color, and the texture. I love that the materials are soft and warm in my hands. And I love the portability of it, because I also happen to be in a season of my life where I’m out and about a lot, sitting and waiting for an hour or more. So blessed crochet is my mental and physical companion during these times.
And scarves are useful (at least at this time of year) and scarves are very satisfying for me to make. Will I branch out and try something else? Maybe.
Or maybe not.
Because right now, crocheting scarves just feels like exactly what I should be doing. And I surprised even myself with how much I’ve learned – I’m getting better at reading patterns, at regulating my tension, at matching patterns with yarns and colors, at understanding how different kinds of yarn are appropriate for different stitches.
Each little discovery I make along the way feels almost magical – as if there’s an actual spark of understanding that brightens inside my brain when I figure something new out.
“Oooooohhhhhh, NOW I get it!” I find myself thinking to myself a lot lately.
And “Ah ha! Now that makes sense. I can see where I need to go from here.”
Which is a pretty amazing thing, that feeling of discovery and recognition and understanding. You’d think that we’d find more of that – more discovery and recognition and understanding – by doing more, and thinking more, and trying more.
But sometimes it’s in the space between – the time and place that we least expect to find something meaningful – that ends up being most valuable to us after all.