Slowing Down (In Spite of the Blog Police)

BookPressure_web

September is here, and it’s time for me to get back to work. For those who didn’t notice, I was feeling crispy around the edges and took a vacation from blogging for the month of August. That burnt out feeling was well-earned. Despite illness, travel, and various emergencies, I met my goal of publishing three posts a week over the last year. One of the things I realized while on break is that I can’t keep doing that.

As soon as it crossed my mind that I needed to change my blogging schedule, I panicked. I’ve read more than once that to be a successful writer, I need to be posting at least three times a week. My anal brain thinks that if I don’t, the ground beneath my feet will open and swallow me, or worse, the Blog Police will throw me into literary limbo with the other fools who only dream of publishing a book one day.

At the same time that I was wrestling with my panic over what to do with this blog, the universe sent me a message, repeatedly. It came from various sources — books I was reading, people I talked to, even a podcast — but the message was clear. It boils down to two simple words.

Slow down.

The suggestion to slow down clearly applies to the novel I’m currently revising and my writing process in general. It took me a little longer to realize that embracing this philosophy also meant that I needed to change my goals for my blog. I spent half my writing time last year writing blog posts. My novel is more important to me and deserves more of my attention. As a result, I’m going to cut back on my self-imposed blogging requirements. This year, my goal is one post a week. I’m allowed to post more if I have the material and the inclination, but I don’t have to.

I’m relieved and a tad frightened, but this decision feels right to me. Already, I’ve had more time and energy for working on my novel (and it needs work!), which I’m taking as a sign that I’m doing the right thing. Going forward, you can count on a post every Friday morning, and maybe some random ones on other days. The rest of the time I’ll be working on my novel. Slowly.

Have you had to slow down in some area of your life? Was it hard or easy for you?

My Knitted Block For The Blanket for Peace Project

awas-jpeg-page-1

My contribution to the “All We Are Saying…” Blanket for Peace project is finished and in the mail. My goal of making it in July so I could mail it in August mostly worked out. I had to make the block twice, because the first one was too big, and the pattern I designed took some experimentation (more about that next week). I mailed it on August 24th instead of August 1st, and hope that despite the delay and the international postal system, it will still arrive before the deadline (the end of September).

One World, designed and knit by Kit Dusnmore for the Blanket of Peace.
One World, designed and knit by Kit Dunsmore for the Blanket for Peace.

My block is called One World. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to achieve peace of any kind. The first step is to emphasize our similarities instead of focusing on our differences. Since one thing we all share is the same planet, I used a circle of blues and greens to symbolize our common home.

Knitting a flat circle was tricky so finishing this block took persistence. In the same way, achieving peace is going to take persistent efforts. We’ll need to experiment and we’re going to make mistakes. But the effort involved will be well worth the final results.

There’s still time to make a block of your own, and you can use any textile technique you like! Learn more about the Blanket for Peace project here.

We Need Breaks, Even From Activities We Love

I suck at relaxing. Like most Americans, I suffer from the Puritan work ethic: we must always be doing, and the doing must be productive. Thanks to my health issues, I’ve learned that I must rest some of the time, but even when I decide to take a break, I often struggle to truly relax.

I always look for ways to make my planned down-time useful. Instead of reading for fun, I read a book related to my current writing project. Why watch a silly movie, when I could soak up a lecture or a TED talk? Even play time in the studio can be made into work if I ignore what I want to be doing in that moment and instead pick up an unfinished project merely to finish it.

This kind of productive relaxation time isn’t as relaxing as the real thing. I’m still working even though I have “play time” written on the calendar. The article Reducing Your Guilt About Not Being Productive recently reminded me of why doing nothing is important.

Of the six tips included in the article, the one that resonated the most with me was number three: wasting time can be productive*. Our best ideas often come to use when we aren’t actually working, like when we are in the shower or exercising. Agatha Christie claimed she did her best thinking while washing the dishes, and I believe her. I used to plot story chapters while pushing the mower around my two acre yard in New York and was often astonished at the wonderful ideas that would come to me as I plodded along.

photo by Kurt Fristrup
photo by Kurt Fristrup

While on a camping trip, I was unable to go on a hike due to knee pain. I decided not to do anything while I waited for the others to return. Instead, I rested in a hammock and watched the clouds rolling through the sky. The clouds clumped and stretched as they drifted, changing forms quickly, reminding me of the fleeting thoughts that roll through my mind. The only real idea I got while I was lying there was that I need to spend a little more time being, a little less time doing.

After I got home from the trip, I realized that every time I thought about writing a blog post, I cringed. Even my novel, which I love dearly and am eager to revise, feels like a grand piano I need to move up three flights of stairs by myself. Despite the fact that my week was full of emergencies that kept me from writing, I felt like I was going crispy around the edges. I swear I could smell smoke. Burn out was right around the corner.

The time has come to take a break from writing, even though I adore it. Creation is draining, and while it is a good discipline to write regularly and post on my blog according to my schedule, taking a break can be a good discipline, too. I’m taking off the month of August; no blogging for four weeks. It will give me a chance to recharge my batteries, collect fresh ideas, and re-discover my enthusiasm for writing. When I took a week off from the blog this spring, I came back to the task excited and inspired, so I have great hopes for what this month off will do.

photo by Kurt Fristrup
photo by Kurt Fristrup

So, dear readers, I’ll see you in September! Right now, I need to go watch some clouds.

*Of course, it’s the argument that not doing anything is actually productive that got my attention.

Do you take breaks from your favorite activities? How do you decide when you need a break?

The Colorful Crochet of Marinke Slump

I’m in the middle of knitting my block for the All We Are Saying peace blanket project. I probably should have tried crocheting it, but I’m still feeling like a bumbling beginner. As a beginner, I’m on the lookout for simple patterns that interest me so I can get some practice in while making something I love.

Recently, I came across the work of Marinke Slump (also known as Wink). I’m in love with the bright colors she uses, as well as her mastery of making simple projects look elegant. Her website provides lots of free patterns, as well as a few for sale.

What first caught my attention was her mandalas. I love circles and they seem to be a natural shape to crochet. Hers vary from the most basic concentric circles to intricate flower-like structures.

Standard Mandala by Marinke Slump
Standard Mandala by Marinke Slump
Picot Mandala by Marinke Slumpe
Picot Mandala by Marinke Slumpe

Her little hearts are definitely on my list of things to try. I can imagine these cuties hanging from a Christmas tree or as a pin with some beads or embroidery added.

Little hearts by Marinke Slump
Little hearts by Marinke Slump

The other thing Slump does well is make use of granny squares. Her crochet squares bag makes an unusually shaped carry-all from a stack of granny squares.

Crochet squares bag by Marinke Slump
Crochet squares bag by Marinke Slump

The single-color granny squares in her kaleidoscopic lap rug give an old stand-by a fresh, modern look.

Kaleidoscope lap rug by Marinke Slump
Kaleidoscope lap rug by Marinke Slump

I keep talking about Marinke in the present tense, but I first learned about her through the Mandalas for Marinke project which was created in response to her suicide in June 2015. Knowing that she struggled with depression and crocheted to help herself deal with it just makes all these projects seem that much more precious to me. She was able to capture the light with her hook and yarn. It’s sad to think that the dark defeated her.

There Is No Balance

balanceJFBquote

I’ve been off-balance all week. It started with an overly busy weekend and being short on sleep, then got complicated by my husband’s sudden illness. The doctor warned us Kurt could wind up in the hospital. We spent one tense night waiting to see if the antibiotics they gave him would result in enough improvement to keep him out of the ER. Fortunately, the drugs finally kicked in. Kurt’s still sick, but feeling much better, and recovering at home.

Despite the distractions, I’ve been trying to write. Trying means exactly what you think: failing. But I keep coming back, putting in the time in the hopes that I will make at least a little progress. I’m tempted to lose myself completely in the distractions life is throwing my way and the soporific summer heat. Hobbits want a second breakfast; I want to hibernate twice a year — winter and summer.

A friend of mine made a great comment about balance that rings true to me right now:

There is no such thing as balance, just rotating catastrophes. — Judy Fort Brenneman

Life feels like a lot of urgent chores right at the moment and balance is nowhere in sight. This morning, I realized just how overwhelmed I’m feeling. We woke up to no internet. It started working again before I had a chance to call our service, and my relief was monumental. They say “don’t sweat the small stuff”, but the small stuff can feel enormous.

I want to believe that I can achieve balance, that there are enough hours in the day for work and play, chores and rest, with plenty left over for creating and dreaming. But most days are not balanced. Something dominates my day, becomes the focus, eats up my time, energy, and attention. The only semblance of balance I can get is across weeks or months, and the way I get a novel written despite life’s recurring catastrophes is by writing for at least for a few minutes no matter what’s going on.

Stop Worrying About Successes And Failures

failure

Things are not going according to plan. I didn’t get my post for Monday ready in time to publish. Working on it Monday night, I discovered a huge flaw that I may not be able to fix. I may have to scrap the whole thing. Hours of work down the drain, plus my personal goal of posting three times a week is in danger of going unmet.

Right now, I need to hear these words:

You must once and for all give up being worried about successes and failures. Don’t let that concern you. It’s your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite steadily, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures. — Anton Chekov

Mistakes are inevitable, and by association, so are failures. So be it. I’ve goofed, and my post idea may be a complete fail. I’ll keep working anyway and try to accept that it’s all part of the creative process.

Knits For Your Favorite T-Rex

I’ve always been intrigued by dinosaurs. As a kid, my favorites were the Triceratops and Brontosaurus (now known as the Brachiosaurus), both herbivores. Maybe it’s because I’ve become a meat eater again, but I am suddenly drawn to the Tyrannosaurus rex. I have plenty of patterns for knitting dinosaurs, but thinking of the T-rex, I realized that what I’m really interested in is knitting for dinosaurs.

So I bought myself a T-rex and some yarn. Her name is Tiny.

Tiny the T-rex, playing with the yarn I bought for her sweater.
Tiny the T-rex, playing with the yarn I bought for her sweater.

While I’ve done plenty of knitting for critters in the last year or so, I wanted this to be different. As soon as I found Tiny, I was in love. She is so striking looking that I couldn’t settle on just one project. I decided to knit whatever I felt like, but instead of sewing things onto her, I would make every piece removable. That way I could change her clothes and knit as many things as I wanted to for her.

As I knitted, I imagined that Tiny had a loving aunt, one who was fairly new to knitting but enthusiastically making things for everyone in her family. She would start with scarves, graduate to hats, then branch out to mittens once she felt a little more confident.

Tiny shows off her hat, scarf, and mittens.
Tiny shows off her hat, scarf, and mittens.
Mom makes Tiny pose for a photo so they can show Aunt Rexie how much she loves her gifts.
Mom makes Tiny pose for a photo so they can show Aunt Rexie how much she loves her gifts.
Tyrannosaurs don't have thumbs, but everyone needs mittens. Especially when there's a comet in the forecast.
Tyrannosaurs don’t have thumbs, but everyone needs mittens. Especially when there’s a comet in the forecast.

The knitting bug is not easily fed, however, and it wouldn’t be long before Aunt Rexie would go for the Big Project and make her beloved niece a sweater like the one Velma wears on Scooby-Doo. (Tiny loves that show.) Aunt Rexie was understandably proud of herself for finishing it, even if the results weren’t quite what she expected.

Tiny loves her Velma sweater... mostly.
Tiny loves her Velma sweater… mostly.
"Thanks, Aunt Rexie!"
“Thanks, Aunt Rexie!”
Close up of the sweater (because I couldn't resist).
Close up of the sweater (because I couldn’t resist).

Aunt Rexie will keep knitting for Tiny, but it may be a while before she tackles another big project. She has to get her confidence back (and her niece’s measurements) before she tries again. In the meantime, she’ll knit some dish cloths to keep her hand in.

Technical notes for the curious: all of these pieces are my own invention, created using what I know about knitting for humans. Yarns are fingering weight or sock yarns knitted on size 0 needles. The sweater was particularly interesting to make, because the arm holes are horizontal instead vertical in order to accommodate Tiny’s forward reaching arms. It took a couple of tries to get things right, but the key is most definitely: 1) getting the gauge from a swatch and 2) careful measurement of the T-rex in order to design the pattern.