On Starting — Again

Last Sunday morning, with Neko Case and the Decemberists up loud on the car stereo, I drove Route 25 straight east from Holderness, New Hampshire, through the developed area around Lake Winnipesaukee, past the abandoned mill in Kezar Falls and into the Portland exurbs of Limington, Standish and Gorham. I was coming home from an amazing four days at Squam Art Workshops, where I met new friends, learned to draft my own clothing patterns, knit ceaselessly and was generally immersed in a lovely stew of creativity, conversation and wine.

My amazing cabin-mates. Photo by my roomie, Laura-Lynn

Along the way, I learned that my knitting style is not just quirky and unique: It’s completely wrong. As in, my self-taught left-handed purling method results in twisted stitches that, while neat and uniform, are entirely wrong.

Megan, who owns Lettuce Knit in Toronto, gently delivered this information after I’d asked her for some help with the clapotis I’d just begun. This was the project I’d picked out specifically to begin while at Squam — it seemed just the right kind of challenge to take on, and one in which I’d benefit from being surrounded by some of the best knitters on the planet. I splurged on some gorgeous Manos del Uruguay yarn and was eager to dive in.

And then I learned that, when it comes to purling, I am doing it wrong.

So, it’s back to square one: I’ll be learning to knit all over again, this time the conventional (right-handed) way. Megan began teaching me how to do so that day in Greenwood Lodge… and I haven’t picked it up since then. In fact, I went back to my improper knitting form to finish the cardigan I made for S.

The last finished object…. for now

I’ll admit it: My pride is wounded a bit. I taught myself to knit when my family was going through a tough period, so there’s a lot of emotion tangled up in those stitches. It’s definitely humbling to learn that I’ve been doing this wrong for the past 2.5 years. And I’m daunted by the idea of starting over, of backtracking just when I was feeling ready to tackle more advanced projects (like, say, one of Ysolda’s sweaters).

Also, there’s this: I really like to be good at things. And re-learning to knit means going back to lumpy, uneven stitches and projects that won’t get photographed for my Facebook album of crafty things (and thus praised by my pals — ahh, the allure of public recognition….). And above all it means I need to embrace — or at the very least entertain — beginner’s mind.

I’m pretty sure that, besides new friends and the time and space to be, this is the gift that Squam gave me.


reverb10 roundup

whoops, so much for excessive navel-gazing in december. my inbox is full of reverb10 writing prompts. some bug me, others intrigue me. i’m gonna respond to them all, right here, stream of consciousness style. here goes…

prompt #8 : beautifully different.

Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful. –Karen Walrond

first of all, the 2nd sentence bugs me. a lot. i don’t really want to be told how to feel about what i come up with here. that said, ummm… i’ve got a pretty good mix of serious & goofy. a crooked smile and an odd combination of willing-to-shock and occasional bouts of puritanism.

prompt #9: party.

What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans. –Shauna Reid

in 2009, it would’ve been the wilco concert on the maine state pier. what a night.

in 2010, what comes to mind is the girl’s fourth birthday party. four of her favorite pals came over to paint flower pots, play duck, duck, goose on the lawn and run around like a bunch of goofballs. i made a strawberry layer cake from scratch – strawberry by request from the birthday girl, from scratch by my own design. and when i stood on the back porch and yelled, “who wants birthday cake?” the kids let out a cheer and stampeded up to the back door, then tramped inside for cake and strawberry milk. a friend – the father of one of the guests – complimented me on what he described as an “old-fashioned” party. that hadn’t been my intention, but she loved it, and so did i.

prompt #11: 11 Things.

What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life? –Sam Davidson

  • clothes that don’t fit
  • furnishings that don’t add to our lives
  • jobs i don’t want to do
  • envy
  • shoulds

prompt #12: Body integration.

This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present? –Patrick Reynolds

yoga. today, at noon. i’ve been practicing three times a week lately, and i am getting stronger. i can feel it, i can see it and my practice is growing by leaps and bounds. 60 minutes flew by like  a flash — it wasn’t until savasana, or corpse pose, at the end of the practice that my to-do lists came rushing back in.

tomorrow, at 9, i’ll be there again.

prompt #13: Action.

When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step? –Scott Belsky

my next step: not booking myself solid. leaving spaces in my schedule – both literally on my calendar and metaphorically, in my brain.

prompt #14: Appreciate.

What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it? –Victoria Klein

this is a fabulous question, with many possible answers — a sign of how fortunate i am, in this and all recent years. the answer that springs to mind is my amazing community of friends. mostly – but certainly not solely – women, many in their mid/late 30s/40s. they inspire me, challenge me, support me and occasionally feed me. i try to show my gratitude by doing the same right back to them. and, on occasion, i’ve been known to show up with some delicious pastries for nearby pals.

prompt #15: 5 minutes.

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010. -Patti Digh

hiking mt. chocorua with my guy, then talking over nachos and beer

the way my girl lets me know she’s going to tell me something she’d like to keep private by saying, “let me secret it to you.”

laughing and crying over dinner in portland with two amazing friends on our annual girls’ weekend

sticking to the chairs in my dining room as a fabulous group of women played scrabble and scandalized the neighbors with our salty talk on one of the hottest nights of the year

my girl and her pal q holding hands and skipping ahead of all the parents on a daytrip to a sweet little new england amusement park

kudos from colleagues

walks on our local beach, laughing at the dogs and looking for shells

flying with the girl on a few days’ notice to see my ailing grandmother

wandering around the neighborhood, eating bagels and running into friends

snuggling up in our cozy little house, just as we did tonight: the guy reading, the girl chattering to herself as she plays with blocks on the floor, me sewing something for our house

prompt #16: Friendship.

How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? –Martha Mihalick

i thought *i* was a connector, someone who likes to introduce people to other people they might know and love. but this year i have had the glorious good fortune to deepen my relationship with someone i hope i know forever. she has had a rough go of it in the recent past, and despite, or perhaps because of, that, she pulls people together, plans outings, suggests a weekday lunch here, a crafternoon there. i can’t imagine my social (intellectual, musical, snarktastic) life without her and the friends i’ve made through her.

prompt #17: Lesson learned.

What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward? –Tara Austen Weaver

oh, man. fatigue is setting in here. i am fricking lucky, ok? 2010 has been a fantastic year. i now fully realize that. for this question, though, i am interpreting “best” as “most useful.” and i have learned that when i am anxious about something, i create little fires for myself to put out. then i can make myself very busy putting out those fires and avoiding thinking about whatever it is that’s causing the anxiety. i am not the one who identified this pattern of coping… but i *have* been able to catch myself doing it… and then deal with, or at least acknowledge, the source of the anxiety. it’s pretty amazing, actually.

not re-reading, just hitting publish. phew.


From reverb10:

What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

Susannah Conway

I invested in myself. And it wasn’t a one-time thing — on an ongoing basis throughout the year, I put cash on the table to further my goals, my career, even the unknottedness of my shoulders. So technically that wasn’t one decision, but a series of them. The big one:

Heading to the Future of Freelancing conference at Stanford. There aren’t a lot of professional development opportunities out there for mid-career freelance writers, but as soon as I saw the email about this conference I wanted to go. I kinda had to go. And so I did. It wasn’t cheap – cross-country flight, hotels, etc. – and I didn’t actually come out of it with anything tangible: no new assignments or relationships with editors. But the simple act of deciding to go was significant, both for myself and for my editors and colleagues. I don’t think anyone would have said I wasn’t serious about my career before I took this trip… but  taking it meant something.

Exterior wall of my hotel in Palo Alto. And, yes, the sky really was that color.

I’ve also put my money where my mouth is in other ways, from working with a coach to paying for more-frequent yoga classes. I’ve also committed to taking a day off each month — and keeping it just for myself. Since I freelance, that means I’m basically giving up a day’s pay. But – and – it is SO worth it. Really and truly.

let go/make

#5 What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

Alice Bradley

Man, Finslippy… I thought you’d toss us something lighthearted, something a little wacky. Instead, it’s the hardest question yet. In fact, I have been avoiding it for an hour now (not to mention, you know, all of yesterday).

So, first, the easy answer: I’ve let go of a lot of Stuff. Lots of loads of things to Goodwill, a bunch sold on Craigslist — old furniture, clothes that don’t fit me, boxes and boxes of books, baby stuff that my girl has outgrown. We’re now down to a carefully curated set of baby stuff that will be passed on to my sister and her husband (which they have approved), and my closets contain little more than clothes that actually fit. I still need to ditch a few suits left over from my years as a business reporter… doubt I’ll need those any time soon.

Getting rid of all that stuff was intentional. I was starting to feel weighed down by it. I wanted to acknowledge reality — no, we are not going to have another child. Yes, I wear jeans and T-shirts all the time. No, I really don’t need that body cast I made in my late 20s.

Along the way, and this is the somewhat harder answer, I also let go of wanting so damn much. Walking through the fancypants part of our neighborhood — the part on the hill, overlooking the ocean — used to feel almost physically painful, as I gazed at the big old houses with the lovely lawns and the amazing views. I wanted to live there so badly that it made me hate our adorable little bungalow down on the flatlands. And that was no good.

So at some point I realized that by living here rather than there, we are making a conscious choice. Yes, we could live up there — if we scrimped and saved and I worked a bunch more hours and he took a job in the summers, when he’s not teaching. But it wouldn’t end with the purchase — our monthly costs would go up, as would our taxes. We’d be choosing to sink our discretionary income into a building. And so we decided instead to use any disposable income on experiences. To travel. To take our girl to New Mexico, where we met. To ponder other, more distant trips. To spend a little money sprucing up our little house, and to be happy here, because we chose it.

We are immensely, incredibly lucky to be able to make these choices, and I’m so glad we did.

#6 What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

Gretchen Rubin

This is when I would like to show you a picture or two, but (1) it’s been dark here for hours and I never got a chance to get the camera out and (2) both of the last things I’ve made are super secret surprises. I sewed one and knit one. Both of them made me curse at times. But working on them makes me so, so, so happy.

I have a bunch of additional knitting projects planned… and if I could just make some time, I’d be thrilled to work on them.

And, yes, I am almost always this literal.


How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

–Prompt by Jeff Davis for reverb10, a collective effort to look back on 2010 and ahead to 2011

I live with her.


Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

on the new meadows river, west bath, maine

it was mid-summer. the vacation house was full of people. we walked down the steep, rocky ledge and slid the kayaks into the water. our paddles dipped in, the voices carried across the water and away we went. it was dusk. we rounded the corner and floated. just the two of us, grabbing a moment for ourselves.

he’s the kayaker in the family. i tend to want to stay on the beach and read. but he asked me to go with him, and this time i jumped at the chance. instead of letting stress push us apart, we reached for the chance to be together. to be quiet. to be.

What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? (Author: Leo Babauta)

i read. or, rather, i surf. right here on this damned/beloved laptop. i spend a lot of time consuming and pondering other people’s stories, and not nearly enough expressing my own. and for the purposes of this question, the writing i do for work does not count.

i think about this dusty little blog frequently… and then click away to read 5 new blog posts by writers i admire. (in fact, i hit ye olde google reader tab once or twice just while composing these few sentences. focus, woman!)

the closest i come is crafting — and i do mean crafting — status updates on facebook. yes, it’s microblogging. yes, it still counts as writing.

but it’s also me getting in my own way.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.