“What you would seem to be, be really.”

What you would seem to be, be really.Yesterday, I had my students free-write on a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanack. They were directed to choose one from a list of twenty-three aphorisms and explain what it means to them, why they chose it, and if they have any experience to which the aphorism applies. Being a free-write, they could address all or only a few of the topics as long as they explained what it means and wrote for ten minutes straight. I wrote alongside them. The one above is my chosen aphorism. I think it speaks to us writers and crafters, especially for the former in this age of Twitter (etc).

So, what does Franklin mean? Don’t just dream it; make it happen. This is the basis of many motivational posters one sees in teacher catalogs and the like, and for good reason. Many of us dream of being something (or someone), but unless we work to make it happen, it remains but a dream or desire.

20170827_004952When it comes to writing (or any kind of creating, more on crafting later), it is easy to go on Twitter and proclaim oneself a writer and join the #WritingCommunity and hashtag #amwriting. We ask each other questions about style, motivation, main characters, setting, etc. And this is all good, to a point. However, if we don’t get off Twitter and actually sit down and write something, we are just seeming, not being, writers. Joining a community is great, but eventually I (and you, each of us separately) have to sit down in my chair alone with my thoughts and wrangle them into some semblance of meaning.

There are days, many days in fact, when this is easy and exhilarating. The words flow and the story or poem or essay falls into place. There are other days, however, when this is hard. The ideas either churn in your brain but resist flowing out through your pen (or keyboard), or they go on vacation altogether, leaving your brain a temporary tumble-weed town. And it’s the memory of those rough days that can make us reticent to sit down again; they seem to stick to us more powerfully than the wonderful days. Sometimes the anticipation of the hard work involved in writing is worse than the experience of it, and so we talk about our writing rather than do it. We seem instead of be.

20170715_232938When it comes to crafting (I told you I’d get to it!), I think perhaps it is even easier to seem rather than be. Maybe this is because the world at large views crocheting, sewing, quilting, knitting, etc. as hobbies rather than professions. Though some can and do make a living from them, most of us, even those of us with Etsy shops, don’t rely on our crafts for income. And we are not expected to. (Of course it is not easy to make a living as a writer either, but it is more accepted and expected.) If I say, “I’m a writer,” then others ask about the product. “What have you written?” If I say, “I’m a crafter,” then others either say very little. “Oh, nice.”

Additionally with crafting, we run the risk of building our stash without building our stock. Being a crafter, it is hard to resist the allure of the fabric store, the craft store, and the like. And once there, it’s nearly impossible to walk out without purchasing something—often many somethings. To justify the cost, we tell ourselves that we’re going to make something for our Etsy stores, but more often than not, we’ve been to the craft store three or four more times before we get around to making one item. And the stash piles grow. All over the web, there are articles, blog posts, and Tweets about them and how to use them. Our stash piles are lovely things, full of possibility. But, unless we make something with them, they profit us little, and may actually oppress us with their untapped potential.

What we write on a given day may need much editing or may need even to be discarded as we start again (this piece itself has undergone several revisions), and what we craft may or may not be a success in either construction or popularity, but we did it. We tried. If we are writers or crafters, or both, let us be them, not just seem so.

Create Something Today

facebook_1564941375570.jpgI saw this posted on FB today by #KevinSmith. Yes, I thought. Yes. Let us create in the face of destruction. Write a poem, a letter to the editor, a short story–it can be about the tragedy our nation faces or it can be about puppies; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we continue to create, we continue to make this world new, we continue to affirm our community with others, all others. So, knit a scarf; paint a painting; make some jewelry; hook a rug; sing a song; play an instrument. Do what you do to create some beauty in world that looks pretty ugly when we turn on the news.

 

Do Crafts Have a Season?

I just posted a poll on the Facebook page for my Etsy shop asking friends what their favorite summer craft is. I did this because I have more time in the summer to craft, so I think of it as a time to create. I’ll be honest though, unless the air conditioner is on high, I prefer to save the yarn crafts for cooler weather! There’s nothing nicer than being halfway or more through a blanket on a cold winter evening. In the summer, I tend to turn more towards sewing.

Part of this may also be because I am a high school English teacher. During the school year, I use my crocheting as a way to unwind (unwind the mind while winding the yarn!); I sit in front of the TV with my hubby and crochet. It helps me let go of the hectic day so that my brain is ready for bed.

Sewing, on the other hand, I have to do while I am alert and focused. It is more exacting and fires up my brain rather than relaxes it. When I have off from work, it’s exciting to engage in a few projects during the day that charge my brain. I’m currently working on a sundress and have a plan to make some Roman shades too.

Writing is an all year activity, but I will admit that I do rachet up the hours during the summer. Teaching, planning, and especially grading can be exhausting, so I while I journal a lot and write some during the school year, less gets polished than I would like. During the summer, I can devote more time to “finishing” works.

Another all year activity, without the caveat, is painting. Our school’s annual art show is always in June (last weekend in fact). Then, we start again. Rain or shine I go, even in the snow if it isn’t too bad. And if it is, I might draw at home. Painting/drawing demands focus as well, but in a different way than sewing. I have to focus on what I’m seeing and put all the other random thoughts out of my head. I find it rather meditative and cleansing (even though my paint clothes might not show it!)

What about you? Do your crafts have a season?

Solitude/Companionship

I’m sitting on a bench on Central Park West, under a spreading tree whose green leaves are starting to yellow and fall. There are plenty still providing shade and shelter from their lofty boughs, but there is also a carpet of dry, brown leaves on the cobblestones below. The temperature feels like summer; the air smells like fall. It is as if the climate is currently of two minds and cannot decide which way to go. Only the waning afternoon sun gives the advantage to autumn.

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Similarly, I was thinking today of two competing attitudes that complement and contradict each other in our quest for creativity; solitude and companionship. Obviously there are times when we need solitude. We need to sit ourselves down at that desk or kitchen table or library cubicle and pound the words out, or at that easel or at that sewing machine, etc. etc. You get the picture. Creativity requires us to be by ourselves frequently to actually create, but conversely, you can’t do it alone. In the simplest of terms, once we share our work with the world, it and by extension we, are no longer alone, but more than that, our creative juices are stimulated by being with other people. The experiences we have in the world ignite a creative fire within us that we must fan until we can produce an explosion of writing, painting, sculpting, sewing,…

I think the toughest part is knowing when we need each of the two states: remembering to disconnect from the world from time to time to be with ourselves and our own creative fire and also pushing ourselves to get up and get out to mix with people and try new things to rebuild the fire within.

Autumn is a lovely time to build a fire. Don’t hibernate yet; get out there and collect that firewood.

#CYBERMONDAY EXTENDED!

In addition to the free shipping promotion we are offering through Dec. 15th, today only we are offering an additional 10% off for #CyberMonday. Stop by AlyCatCreations and pick something up today! We love to craft and want to share those crafts with you. Stop by and see what we have!

SALE EXTENDED THROUGH FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1ST. STOP BY NOW AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE DISCOUNT!

 

 

Crochet Coziness

Lately I’ve done a bit of writing about writing, but I have still been crocheting! I unwind in the evenings by winding up pieces of yarn. This summer, I was particularly busy as many people I know had babies and grandbabies. Since May, I have crocheted five baby blankets; some are full on baby blankets, and a couple are stroller blankets. And as of today, all have been gifted. The latest is a stroller blanket for a colleague’s granddaughter. I am particularly proud of this one as I made up the pattern myself–or as the case is with most home-created patterns, I put together pieces of other patterns to create a new one. In addition, I made it entirely from my stash! This, as any experienced crafter knows, is quite a feat!

I started with a chain in a solid dusty rose–I can’t remember now how many, but it was divisible by 6 plus 1. Then I did several rows of half double crochet. You can tell by now that I am not a pattern maker, can’t you? I didn’t write down what I did while I did it. I should have. Let’s say 7 rows. It really doesn’t matter. Make the band as wide or as narrow as you would like. Then, I switched to a variegated yarn in purples, pinks, yellows, and white. With this, I stitched a shell pattern along the lines of Bev’s Preemie Coverlet . When I finished the stash of the variegated yarn, I switched back to the dusty rose and the half double crochet. Since I couldn’t remember how many rows I had done to begin with, I used the old, trusty “fold the blanket in half and compare the bands on either end” method. It works. Finally, I switched to a purple for a scalloped edge all the way around. Then all that was needed was the AlyCatCreations tag, and voila! a sweet stroller blanket.

Here is another I made this summer with the same center but different ends and edging, for another friend’s granddaughter. This one has the bands all around, not just on the short ends. These bands are made of alternating double and single crochet. The final ending is a simple single crochet. This one came almost all from my stash! The sea foam green edging came from a friend’s stash.

It was quite fun and freeing not being too tied to a pattern, but I think I’ll have to return to patterns for the Christmas gifts I wish to make next. For at least one, though, I should be able to hit the stash again! Fingers crossed! Remember, Christmas is right around the corner; if you want to give homemade gifts, you’d better get started, but if you don’t feel like doing it yourself, you can always check out AlyCatCreations1 on Etsy. We take special orders. Happy stitching!

Binge Watching, Creativity, and Murdoch

I have to be honest: I never really understood binge watching. Don’t get me wrong–I like TV and have shows I follow faithfully. Sometimes I do watch rerun upon rerun of Castle or Bones, so I guess that might qualify as binge watching, but as they are reruns and I have probably seen them at least once before, it doesn’t feel that way to me. I feel free to move about the apartment to take care of whatever it is I need to do.  And if I miss something I had either forgotten or remembered as a particularly good moment, I can always rewind. If the story gets a little disjointed, it doesn’t matter; I have seen it before; I know what is going to happen. This is not what most people mean when they say they binge watched a show. When a friend says he binge watched The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or House of Cards, he means that he stayed home all weekend on the couch (or the bed) glued to the TV or computer. He didn’t open the mail, put in the laundry, or make himself lunch while the show was still running. And as much as I love a well-told tale, this feels like a hostage situation to me. I feel trapped and guilty; I should be doing something more productive with my time. No judgment here, by the way; I do not think this kind of relaxing is bad; it just has not been for me.

And then I met William Murdoch.

And I had a crochet deadline.

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Three things conspired to turn me into a binge watcher: 1. A friend’s baby shower was looming, and I needed to furiously crochet two blankets. Yes, she’s having twins. And yes, I didn’t leave myself enough time. I needed to devote my daytime hours to crochet, not just my night time, relaxing, TV watching time. 2. My husband caught a summer cold. We were supposed to go camping for three days, but the first day it rained and the second he came down with a cold. We didn’t go, but all my friends thought I was out of town, so my social calendar was quiet. Plus, it was good for him to have me home to make some soup and tea. 3. I remembered that a friend recommended Murdoch Mysteries to me.

I knew I had to buckle down to crochet these blankets, so I turned on the TV to find something to watch while I stitched. Being summer, nothing was on, so I flipped over to Netflix and started browsing. The name Murdoch Mysteries sounded familiar, though I really could not remember what my friend had said about it. “Eh,” I thought, “I trust his judgment.” And I turned it on. It is a little corny, a little predictable, and utterly charming. I was won over very quickly and started moving seamlessly from one episode to another. Murdoch, a detective in Victorian-era Toronto, turned me into a binge watcher. When the week was done, so were the blankets, and off I headed to the baby shower!

Now, vacation is over and real life has intruded. I have not quite finished the 7th season, and I think I’m going into withdrawal. And in googling Murdoch Mysteries for the picture above, I realize that while they are currently airing season 10, Netflix only has through season 7. What am I to do???

But in all seriousness, I do not think I could have finished the blankets without Murdoch. Binge watching kept my mind as busy as my hands.

Here are the two blankets: the same two colors,  reversing which is the main and which is the accent.  Though it took me nearly 45 minutes to choose the colors,  I am quite pleased with the result.  I can’t decide which one I like better! These little girls received many beautiful blankets before they have even been born. May they feel snuggled up with all the love that went into all those stitches.

Damn! I’ve Gotta Rip It!

According to my husband, my mother-in-law used to say, “Damn, I’ve gotta rip it” when she made a mistake in her crocheting or knitting. First of all, let me say that she was such a good crafter that I can hardly imagine her making a mistake. On the other hand, I know how easy it is to drop a stitch. And it is frustrating. How frustrating depends on how quickly you realize it. Tonight, for example, I realized I had dropped a stitch in a very easy pattern about 12 rows back. Boy was I annoyed! “Damn, I’ve gotta rip it!”

20170715_232938Just as I thought I was making headway and  nearing last third of the project, I sent myself back to less than halfway. (The picture was taken after I had already rewound much of the yarn.) I am frustrated now. Yet, also strangely inspired. (Hence this late night blog)

Creativity does that to us doesn’t it? We are inspired by something and we forge ahead trying to get what is in our heads out in whatever form we are working in at the moment. We struggle with the words on the screen (or paper) or with drawing that picture that is so clear in the mind’s eye or in crocheting a perfect blanket. What is in our heads is so beautiful, so inspiring, so communicative. But what comes out at the end of the pencil, the brush, the hook, the needle, is often so knotted and gnarled that we go back again and again to smooth it out, leaving instead a muddied, crinkly wake in our trail.

But it does smooth out. The tough part is believing in the process again and again. Not letting the defeat of ripping out a dozen rows of a blanket get in the way of completing it nonetheless. Not letting the umpteenth rejection letter stop you from writing or submitting. Not letting the misshapened hand or disporportionate body lead you to putting down the charcoal or the brush. The mistakes we make show us what not to do in the future. They lead us to the another path and another perception. And sometimes, they lead us to an altogether new inspiration that we had missed in our single-minded pursuit of the original vision.

Dear Parents

My friend Moira expresses here so well the need to infuse our children with art and culture. Take our kids away from the screen and into the world of creativity!

Nine Cent Girl

Dear Parents,

First of all, a big thank you to all of you who hang in there. Who continue to show up for those noisy crazy little beings. Perhaps a special shout out for those of you who learn to grow along side them too. (In this area I was fortunate, in that just about every roundabout loony or otherwise twist and turn my siblings and I took, at least one of our parents understood, or learned to).

But what I really want to suggest today, is to be adventuresome with your kids. I know you’re tired. I know too many of you are between jobs or down on your luck, and working with all your inner resolve just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Regardless, those little ones need to see the shiny side of life. They need movement to exert themselves and they need…

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