The good news about crocheting granny squares is that they are quick to do. The bad news is I need hundreds and hundreds. The good news is that it's summer and I'm not in a hurry. The bad news is I'm crocheting in summer. The good news is that they look very pretty all piled up in rows. The bad news is that this is useless information. The good news is I made some red ones. The bad news is I got bored and made lots of other colour ones too. The good news is that this is good news.
Red reminds Ali of being 17, or 18, and fearless, and luck has it that I happen to be in possession of one son exactly that age. He wants to be a digital games designer, which is what he's doing right at this moment. Every hour or two he will emerge from his bedroom with a smiling face or a puzzled one, depending on how well the current stage is going. Right now, it's going well.
It amazes me the people who want to steer him sideways from his goal when he tells them about it (always at their behest). They'll say, well that's fine, but a better idea is animated movies, or well that's fine, but a better idea is mathematical modelling. Or they'll laugh and say, doesn't every teenage boy? I tell him to ignore them all entirely. They don't know how much you love it, how great you'll be at it, and at 17, or 18, and fearless, you should head straight towards the thing you want to do most, no passing Go, no stopping to collect $200.
Plan B's make it too easy to give up on Plan A.
Well, if I am going to amuse anybody, it might as well be myself.
I've been busy this last week finding the life-changing magic in tidying up. I was attracted to the book by its cover, by rumours it was highly eccentric, and because I have a secret and entirely useless addiction to such things. It wasn't eccentric, just very Japanese in sensibility, and the surprise was how innately Ms Kondo (who is about 3 years old) understands good psychology. The promised magic lies not in the tidying up, but in letting go all the shoulds and woulds and mights and could-be's that clutter our psyche. And lord, do they clutter our psyche.
Going through my clothes was easy, I own very few. The only sparks of joy came from my dowdy ugly matted handknitted slippers and my less dowdy and not matted at all handknitted socks. I couldn't get rid of everything (and what kind of criteria is keeping only things that spark joy anyway? I resisted at first, but found it to be a useful shortcut through all the noisy rationalising we do that keeps us perpetually wandering around and around in our well-worn ruts), though I did get rid of most of it. I might have very few clothes, but everything in my wardrobe is now something I actually do wear.
Books were harder, I have bucketloads of those. They sit piled up randomly in all sorts of places, and the last few years have been full of much moans and complaints about how this house has nowhere to keep any of my stuff, but in magic tidying-up land there is always enough space. You just have to ask the house itself. My house said I had too many things, to which I replied, nuh-uh, I own very little thank you, but it was adamant. So I took every book I owned and piled them in the same place, and went through every one of them, holding each in my hand and weighing the joy factor as accurately as I could. You know what? Out of hundreds, only 15 had that magic spark. It was a hard thing to admit. I sat there for ages feeling distraught, and Warren asked me what was wrong, and I looked at the enormous pile of books on the floor and said I felt like I was killing my babies. He backed away slowly out of the room and last I heard had boarded a flight to San Diego.
The books that did have a magic spark weren't ones I expected. There are 4 cookbooks, 2 of which I have never actually cooked anything out of, 1 on interior decorating, 2 sewing books (never made anything from those either), 2 creative non-fiction , 1 psychology textbook, 1 crocheting book, 1 painting book and 1 - actually, I can't remember what the last book is about. Just insert your own favourite here. The one thing they have in common is that they are about making yourself a home (aside from the textbook which is on sports and exercise psychology, and do you want to know something really, really weird, I totally and completely adore sports and exercise psychology. It's like a secret font of useful wisdom on How to Live that no-one has ever heard of or knows anything about).
Making myself a home is all I want from life, really. It's pretty much all I ever wanted. and I realised that what my house was telling me is not that I have too many things, but that I have too many things. No wonder I feel chaotic and disconnected.
Today I'm going through my craft stuff, all of it, ruthlessly, fearlessly, well not really either, but a little bit trepidatiously. That's a word? It's unpleasant to confront just how deeply I'm still bogged down in erroneous expectations of myself, but also, yes, life-changing. Or more accurately, I think, life-affirming. It's like what Rumi says: a thousand half-loves must be forsaken to take one whole heart home.
Paris Eloise appeared for just a brief moment before she dissappeared back into sunlight and fantasy. I thought I heard her trying to say something, or perhaps it was the wind knocking around in the gap between my ears, but either way. She seemed glad to be remembered.
I had a terrible few hours trying to recover her, but ghosts are notoriously capricious. I turned the paintbrush (a.k.a. my fingers) over to the inner 3 year old, who doesn't get so tied up in knots like I do. She thought a Poppy Princess would be clever and hilarious. I suppose it is, if you are 3.
I think the 3 year old had a lot more fun, but I also think she can't paint dresses for nuts. So I had another go and painted a vase under the flowers instead.
I tried to paint the poppy like a real live painter would. I checked out how other people had done it, I looked up reference photos, I tried a few preliminary muckings about.
All I ended up with after hours of trying is a big fat mess of messy messness.
So, Plan B. Plan B is always this: forget trying to make it look like anything and just play. I dabbed paint on and I dabbed paint off and I sploshed paint around. I used my fingers as a paintbrush. And finally something started to appear that looked vaguely like a poppy.
Just a little bit at first, but not red enough. Then the colours improved but it started looking more like a rose? Which is true of every flower I ever paint? I have no idea why I'm writing that as a question?
I didn't understand the shapes well enough. My petals were going the wrong way for a poppy. So I redirected their attention toward a more suitable path, and there she was. One messy, lovely, sloppy poppy.
I would like to say I stopped there, and everyone lived happy ever after, but idiotically I did not. Just one more little bit of colour, etc., until she was a mess of messy messness again. Turns out that obsessive compulsions have a downside, who knew?
I don't have any grandmothers, which is a nonsensical thing to say. I was, of course, allotted the requisite two at birth, but I only ever met one of them, and that one only when I was a baby. A well documented side-effect of being a baby is your shocking inability to remember anything at all.
So I made a grandma up. Her name is Eloise May Pearson, and through one of those daft and convoluted family decision making processes all of her clothes were bequeathed to me. Most of them have been, erm, recycled (sorry Aunty J!) but the very best I have kept because Eloise was an artist when it came to clothes, a magician, a chameleon. Most everything she wore, she made herself.
Please to meet my Grandma Eloise...
It's stretching it somewhat to call this red, but it was always the vibrant splash of colour that made me love this dress. Sometimes I would ask Eloise if I could try it on, I think I imagined that it might transform me from an ordinary little girl into a glamorous woman, but she always said no. Her clothes were not for dress-ups. It wasn't until I was a great deal older and had started to understand how far she was forced to make a dollar stretch, and how invested she would have been in a persona that reflected otherwise, that I realised the last thing she would want is a clumsy child ripping or staining or otherwise messing up her clothes.
I call it her garden party dress because it was the kind of thing she wore in Summer when she met up with friends, which always seemed to involve wandering around each other's flower borders before sitting down to eat. I don't really remember the outings myself, I don't think my own mother often went to them, but I do remember the stories. They would have proper afternoon teas, with proper china, three sweet things and two types of sandwiches. In our small town where everyone knew everyone, these weekly gatherings were somewhere that you could trade a tasty piece of gossip for a tasty piece of cake.
Alternative title, the committee dress. Eloise joined every committee going, and if there weren't enough to satisfy her insatiable demand to know what was going on in the village and who it was going on with, she would start one herself. She slowed down in her later years, but never retired. Even at her death at 83, she was right in the midst of a Church Building Fund campaign.
Not shopping type of going out, or attending school concerts type of going out (did she ever enjoy them? was she ever proud of me? I don't know, but I do know I could always count on her face being in the audience), but community theatre and the weddings of friend's children and their children type of going out. I loved it when she wore this dress, and it got a lot of wear, those big fat crimson blossoms sitting like a crown on top of the skirt made her seem to me like some kind of regal queen. Sometimes she'd put on a thick black belt to show off her tiny waist, sometimes deep red heels (but never both, which would have been vulgar, and the worst pronouncement Eloise could make on anyone was that they were vulgar) and every now and then, especially as she grew older, she would pair it with a delicate lace shawl that she'd knitted herself. I wish the shawl had survived, I have no idea what happened to it.
The one actually, truly, red dress. When I look at it now I can see it comes close to bordering on the dreaded vulgar, saved only by its demure length, the quality of the fabric, and the sweet cap sleeves. Eloise put cap sleeves on almost everything. There's a photo of her at a New Year's Eve party long before I was born where she is wearing this dress, with its hint of decolletage, an enormous black tulle skirt under the dress' skirt, and a masquerade mask that she is just peering over the top of.
It's my favourite photo of her not just because of how beautiful she looks, but because I fancy that I can see in her tiny smile an alternative version of her life where she didn't make the conventional choices and devote all her time to her family and her small town, but ran off to Europe with an older man, a man her father had refused to let into their house, a dishonourable man who soon left her with only her own wits and courage to survive on. This Eloise takes married lovers, knows precisely the kind of effect she has when she walks into a room with her tulle and her mask, and very much enjoys it. This Eloise smokes cigars and drinks single malt and has met Princes and poets and explorers and magnates, and lives in a tiny bohemian apartment at the very heart of Paris. Eventually she will age and her lovers will leave and the tragedy of her life will be the subject of much self-righteous gossip, and she will secretly call this dress her schadenfreude dress, because she knows the pleasure many will take in what they see as her downfall. She won't be sorry.
The real Eloise did wear this dress again on her 70th birthday, this time without the tulle and mask, and she did not mind mentioning to everyone gathered how easily she could still fit into it. It's a little ragged with age itself now, but it's the one thing of my grandmother's that I will never, ever part with. And maybe it does have some secrets of its own, some echo of the Paris Eloise, because when she knew she was going to die she asked to be buried in it. It was so out of character, so very un-Eloise like, that her children all agreed it was the mistaken request of an aged and increasingly drugged mind, so they didn't fulfill that particular wish. I'm not so sure. I'm not so sure at all.
For those who would like to try making some Eloise dresses of their own, this is the video I used for mine:
I pulled out the paints and brushes for the first time in months (months!) and sat down to paint a tiny little 5x5 inch square canvas. The major problem with this scenario is that I don't have any tiny brushes to paint tiny things with, so it's all a bit rough as porcupine guts.
I had planned to paint a red chair on a pale blue background - I want a big fat deep rich velvet overstuffed armchair for my bedroom in the richest of deepest reds - but best laid plans gang awry and all that. Quilts keep pushing their way up into my consciousness these days, bossy wee things. Like all such messy random quilts, it doesn't really have a right way up, and like every quilt I've ever made it was impossible to photograph properly. It's the first thing I've ever painted that looks better in real life than on the screen.
Now all I need to do is plant it in the garden with some magic wishes so it can grow from a tiny painted half-formed thought into a full size cotton bed quilt.
Thank you for all your comments on what the colour red makes you think of. I plan to use them as a springboard for artwork, photos, crafts, and words over the whole of January, and I'm really looking forward to it. They won't resemble in the slightest what you had in mind, I am sure, because different brains, different lives, different cultures, but I hope you'll enjoy what I come up with anyway.
The picture of my diary is overwritten with a list of all the things I need (and/or want) to give time to over the year. I'm probably the least motivated and most disorganised person you're likely to come across - top three at least - but I'm confident I'll make good work of all these things because I've finally learned how to go with my recalcitrant and melodramatic tendency toward procrastination, rather than against it. In one sentence or more, this means working with time in the same way that I work with cupboards, that is, to lump similar things together in messy boxes. Stuff I hate to do is for mornings, fun stuff and family is for afternoons, evenings is devoted to the tele and the interwebs and to making up for any tea deficit I may have incurred during the day, judge me as you will. If it's something I really really hate, I'll do that for 20 minutes, and then perhaps knit, or nap, or read, for 20 minutes more, and then back to the hateful thing for another 20 minutes. Etc. This means that I'm never more than minutes away from doing something I enjoy, and I've completed in precisely this way 8,000+ word assignments that were about as fun as knitting with sharp sewing needles while biking through quicksand in 50 degree heat in a polar fleece onesie without any water. Blindfolded.
Probably you don't need to treat yourself like a tired and tiresome toddler. Probably you could use a spreadsheet before you could walk, and have your spices arranged alphabetically, and always arrive three days early for every appointment you've ever made. I agree with you that this is a faster and more reliable way of being in this world, you weirdo.
I added my 1 busy husband to the list because, though he is not a job per se, the harder he has to work, the harder I do too. It's rare for him to be away from home for less than 12 hours in a day, and it can stretch out to months. The only way to get through the busy hard busyness of writing graduate level papers, parenting teens (WHO NEED DRIVING EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME, also, too much food), getting my books finished (I had two ideas and couldn't choose between them so I didn't), dealing with the inevitable arthritis flares that always take me by surprise and knock me flat on my back, and having time enough to paint and take pictures and watch cat videos, is to not fool myself that it's anything other than busy hard busyness. To look at the obstacles, to think of ways around or over or under or through them before they even come up, and to be quite clear that they absolutely will come up. Regularly and without mercy. And that the mental obstacles - self-doubt, anxiety, confusion, loneliness - will be chief among them.
I don't know why I've veered off into this long, rambling, and mostly pointless diatribe on me and my chronic time management issues, except to say this. When I hand in that last wretched essay, or finish that last wretched exam, or feed my children their gazillionth wretched meal, or type the last wretched word in the last wretched book, or console my exhausted body through its thousandth wretched dose of wretched methotrexate, or put the final dot of paint on my 52nd wretched painting (okay, paint is never wretched), it won't be because I'm conscientious, or clever, or living my dream, or following my passion, or sending all my faith, love, and mungbeans out into a cold and distant universe to be welcomed back in gloriously abundant technicolour. It sure as hell won't be because I deserve it. It'll be because I have come to understand after 42 years of trial and error (mostly error), that values are more satisfying than dreams, and passion is grown rather than followed, and if faith can move mountains, then it's the faith in our shared ability to take a tiny garden implement and shift the damnable thing one wretched shovel load of dirt at a time. It's all the magic you'll need. It's the only magic available.
Well, that and the occasional diversion of painting polka dots on white petals with red nail polish. Nature's an awesome beastie, but a little artifice every now and then is not such a terrible thing.