Top 4 Reasons to Knit Through Your Holiday Gathering

shopping-565360_640Crafts are healing. They can distract from physical pain and negative thought spirals. They increase feelings of self-worth and confidence, and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. That all sounds really nice, but it’s vague. Let’s take a craft project into a real life, that can be stressful for many people: a holiday gathering.

  1. Feeling shy and anxious? Or are you simply an introvert who doesn’t love small talk? Your craft project gives you something to talk about. It’s probably something that is comfortable for you, so the conversation will be on familiar turf. It’s also a great way to avoid feeling awkward between conversations, but is more socially friendly than looking to your phone.
  2. Will be there be difficult people at this gathering? Your craft project gives you something to focus on when someone starts spouting inflammatory political opinions or giving you a minute-by-minute account of their last vacation. Just small, nod, and keep counting your stitches.
  3. With luck, you can use your project to dodge awkward questions about your relationship or reproductive status. This won’t work on the most dedicated of relatives, but it will cut back on casual questions. Most people will be fascinated by what you’re doing, which distracts them from discussing ill-advised, potentially painful subjects.
  4. It’s an automatic escape. Studies have shown that knitting has many of the same health benefits as meditation, including increased feelings of peace. For introverts, even the most pleasant of gatherings can become draining. Knitting or crochet can help you to restore your flagging energy when you start counting the minutes until everyone is gone.

This list is mostly geared towards introverts, but even the most extroverted can get drained at a family gathering, or want to avoid unpleasant conversations. If you enjoy crafting, think about bringing a project with you! Or if you used to enjoy it, now might be a good time to give it another try. Even if you don’t touch that scarf again next year, it will have served its purpose if it helps you through the holidays.

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When You Loathe Your Holiday Crafting

santa-claus-561492_640If you’re the crafting type, you have access to a special stress during the holiday season: the pressure of handmade gifts.

It’s easy to forget the joy of crafting, and for it to turn into just another damn thing in a season of damn things. You get caught up in the busyness of the season, and a beloved hobby and creative outlet turns into a chore on your to-do list.

I’ve been there. Many times. I still shudder to recall the year when I decided to make a quilted basket for everyone on my holiday list. They were small, but that’s still a lot of quilted baskets! By the time Christmas actually rolled around, I had gone from being enraptured by the adorable holiday prints, to wanting to take a sledge hammer to my sewing machine.

This year I’ve set my handcrafted gift goals a bit lower, and thus am feeling pretty decent for once, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how hard it is when I’m less restrained during the planning stages.

So what can you do if you’re buried under half-finished holiday projects and starting to panic?

There are two options.

First, you can do what I did during The Year of the Quilted Baskets: queue up some TV shows on Netflix and power through. It’ll get the job done, as long as your only goal is to finish the projects, and you’re willing to fill yourself with resentment and misery.

(In case you couldn’t tell, I don’t really recommend that route).

The second possible solution is to sit down and remember why you are doing this. Gift giving is a way of solidifying and recognizing bonds. Hopefully, you are not crafting complex gifts for people you don’t like, so this really is an expression of affection.

Are you holding onto that feeling of love when you work on your project? If you’re miserable, I’m going to guess that the answer is no. Try to find it again – remember who this person is and why you want them to have this gift.

So often, when we become to resistant to an activity, it is because we’ve forgotten our true purpose in doing it.
When it degenerates into another item on our to-do list, just something else that we “have” to do, almost any task becomes a drain.

If that doesn’t work (sometimes it doesn’t, and that doesn’t mean anything about you or your relationships), try to reconnect to your love for the craft: the softness of the yarn, the pretty colors, the soothing quality of the process.

If neither of those helped you feel better, then I urge you to ask yourself: why are you doing this project? It’s a serious question. If you’re committed enough to be stressed about it, but you are motivated by neither the project nor the intended recipient, then something else must be motivating you. Is it fear of disappointing someone? The vague yet persistent feeling that you ought to do it, that it is somehow expected of you? I don’t have your answer, but I invite you to find it.

Once you’ve found that answer, you have my full support to either push ahead or quit, as you see fit. There is no shame in giving a store bought gift instead, or at least a less tiring to make. But there is also no shame in just powering through and finishing a project you’ve grown to hate, if that’s really what you believe is best in your situation. I just want you make the decision consciously, as there is a real power in doing so.

I wish you all the best with your crafting, however you’ve resolved your dilemma!

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You are Not This Crowd of Sorrows

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~ Jelaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks

opendoorI’m going to be honest with you: this poem used to really frost my cookies. Who did Rumi think he was to tell me to meet “the dark thought, the shame, the malice” laughing at the door? Clearly, he didn’t understand the things I’ve thought. My pain is far too dark to be greeted at the door! Except that is isn’t, and neither is yours.

Whatever dark thoughts you have harbored? It’s ok. They aren’t you and you aren’t them. They don’t define you.

Whatever deeds you may have done, for which you are ashamed? They are in the past. Make amends as best you can, and let yourself move forward.

You – the real you – are far bigger and more beautiful than you know. You are more than the pain, the stress, the inconvenience, and the pettiness that looms large in front of you. You are sand and stardust and moonlight.

You can stand apart from those daily visitors and entertain them – maybe not laughing – but with civility and the understanding that they are not permanent. They are waves. You are the ocean.

When you forget that (and you will – we all do), then break out your yarn, or your water colors, or your beads. Start to stitch, paint, or otherwise assemble. Let yourself create beauty, or experiment and play. This is how you remember.

If you’re really in the thick of it, and those visitors are jumping up and down on your coach, eating your stash of cookies, and otherwise wreaking havoc, you’ll probably want to turn on the TV or computer as a welcome distraction (gods know, I do). Resist. That kind of distraction will not help you to remember your true nature. If you really must, watch an episode of TV, or a series of Youtube videos of cats and boxes, or whatever you need, and THEN pull out your supplies.

If you’re trying to reconnect with your true self, you want as little as possible in the way. And the only way to greet those visitors with anything resembling hospitality is if you remember that you are so much bigger and brighter and stronger than they are.

Why do I suggest you create something? Many reasons, but mostly because it is the quickest way I know to remember your truest nature: one stitch, line, bead, or brush stroke at a time. But if that doesn’t work for you, try something else. Going outside, playing with pets, journaling, or meditation have all worked for me at various times. Maybe one of them suits you better, or maybe you will find something entirely different.

I’m not saying this is easy. It isn’t, especially if this concept is new to you. But it is possible, and it is healing. Give it a try. What have you got to lose

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The Woman Who Never Got Enough Done

This is the sixth in my ongoing series of post-modern fairy tales. You can read the rest here.

The woman measured her days by her to-do list: how much was checked off, how many items still left, and how much time wasted. And every time, she came up short. Every day, not enough was done, and too much time was spent on the trivial and the frivolous – on Facebook or puttering or finding new crochet patterns.

At last, one night she looked up at the full moon, and she made a wish, that she might finally learn to be productive, to order her day from waking ’til sleep and to get done all the things that she knew to be necessary.

A flurry of light brought with it a smiling figure, a sweet old woman with a face like an apple, clad in silvers and grays.

“I heard ye child, and I came. But is that truly what you want?”

“Yes, of course it is! I’m tired of never feeling like I’ve done enough, like I can’t possibly justify my days! Please, I beg of you, help me to become productive.”

The grandmotherly figure pressed her lips together. She furrowed her brow, and she looked upon our narrator with what can only be termed concern.

“No, sweetling. I will not do as you ask, because what you asked for is stupid. Understandable, but stupid. And I’ll not indulge you in a useless wish.”

“But… isn’t that what benevolent faery figures are meant to do?”

She laughed. “Not at all, my dumpling! We’re here to give you what you need, not what you want.”

“Then… what is it that I need, if it’s not the secret to getting thing done?”

The woman smiled. “You’ll find out soon enough.” Then she vanished.

*****

The woman woke up the next morning. Rather than grabbing a hasty bowl of oatmeal while checking her email, she decided to scramble up some eggs with toast, and since it was an unseasonably nice day, she ate them on her balcony, where she could watch the birds.

She drove to work, and noticed how beautiful the sky was in the early morning, eastern clouds lit faintly pink and yellow.

During lunch, she took a leisurely walk, and ate in the park, rather than at her desk.

When she hit a snag in her work, she let herself gaze out the window (giving thanks that she had a window!) and allowed her mind to wander. After 15 minutes or so, she had an idea and dove back into the work with new inspiration and vigor.

Instead of racing straight home from work, she stopped in at the little shop she’d been admiring for ages, and picked up a few artisan chocolates for later.

And if, at the end of the day, she had gotten as much (if not more) done than with her usual hurry and bother, she was too peaceful to notice.

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How to Pick a Craft Project

When you’re using knitting or crochet for healing, I’d hate for you to get hung up on picking a design to work on. Here are my personal steps for selecting my next craft project.

opportunity-396265_640

  • Realize that it isn’t a permanent decision. Scarf or cowl? Ear warmer or beanie? Necklace or bracelet? Picking one does not exclude ever making the other. While we are alloted a limited number of hours on this earth, I think you can get to more than one craft project in your life. Or even in your month.
  • Why are you doing this? If the project is a way to cheer yourself up, pick something fun. It doesn’t have to be the most immediately practical. If you need something to keep you occupied for a long time, find an involved project, maybe one that stretches your skills. If you need instant gratification, pick something quick! If you know your real goal, it’ll be easier to make a choice.
  • Pick yarn that you like. Life is too short for scratchy or boring yarn. Unless the project is a gift, find a color and texture that makes you happy.
  • Realize that it can be undone. Absolute worst scenario, you hate the end result and take it apart. You use the yarn for something else. Sure, it’s not ideal, but it’s doable. And you still got the benefits of actually making the thing, even if you don’t get the benefits of completion.

Coincidentally, all of these concepts apply as much to your day-to-day decisions as to craft projects.

  • Very few choices are permanent. If you move to Omaha now, that doesn’t mean you can’t move to New York City later. Yes, choosing something means saying no to something else, but not forever. You may not be able to go back and take the exact path that you’re rejecting now, but similar paths are likely to pop up again.
  • Most choices we make have two levels – the actual decision and the motivation that led to the decision. If you’re looking for work, is it to feed your family, to further your career, or to find personal fulfillment? One of those is almost always going to be dominant, and it should influence your choice.
  • Life really is short. Sometimes you have to forget what’s practical, and do something that fills you with joy, instead. Joy is actually very practical, since it increases health, productivity, and patience.
  • Most decisions can be changed (tattoos and child-beating being the notable exceptions). Jobs, residences, and even relationships can be voided if they truly aren’t right for you.

I understand that making decisions (whether craft related or not) can be difficult. I’ve spent days waffling over what color yarn to use for a cowl. But in the end, I had to pick one if I ever wanted to wear the finished product. That’s the way of choices – picking one thing means saying no to others risking a mistake, but refusing to decide is a decision in itself…. and it leaves you with nothing at all.

Good luck making your choices! And let me know if you need any help.

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