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.

Crochet and Mishaps 2

Last week I started a post about my crocheting mishap and published it accidentally, which is really apropos actually. If you read my last post, you know that I made some big mistakes in crocheting a baby blanket. And, I posted about it on the Instagram (and Facebook) page for our Etsy store (AlyCatCreations1) too. Here’s the thing: This series of posts garnered 90% more likes than our other posts.

Now, I am not one to quibble about likes. I’m happy to have traffic to our site. Please, come browse. Like it. Buy something! We’d love to have you. The thing that struck me though, is that while we do get likes and comments about our finished products, the posts that garnered the most attention were the ones about my mistakes. I began to wonder about that. There are so many “feel good” memes and the like on Facebook and Instagram about building each other up and saying nice things. Which are great. Which are the right sentiment. Which we should do. But then, the likes poor in when I fail.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about that at first. Well, actually I guess I should say that I was feeling many emotions at once. I did laugh. It struck me as funny that posting about a product that would never be on our site brought more traffic to the site than the pieces available for purchase. I was happy the posts were getting likes. I also found it funny that Facebook kept wanting me to boost the post. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t also a twinge of something else-some hurt or embarrassment.

This led to some pondering of the phenomenon of social media. We post all these lovely catch phrases about being good to others, you never know what they are going through. feel-good-meme

And we should. We should think of other people’s feelings. That has been lost on social media. Too frequently, perhaps in an effort to be brief (140 characters only please) or because we’re posting on the go from our phones and not really crafting prose, posts can be too blunt or even hurtful, so we do need to be attentive to tone and diction, now more than ever. But then, when I admitted I failed at a crochet project, the abundance of likes seemed out of proportion to the post. This is where things get a bit tricky. I posted the photos and the story, so I wanted it out there. I wanted to draw traffic to our site, which it did. I feel good about all of this. I am not really hurt or embarrassed. There was just a twinge, no real regret. My main reaction to the failure of the project is frustration. I did begin to wonder, however, what this says about people in general. Do we really like to see others fail?

What I’ve come up with is yes and no. On the one hand, some like to see others fail because it makes them feel better about themselves, but I think that is the minority, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, that is not what was going on with my crooked blanket posts. I think, rather, that the likes on the failure posts were commiseration. Too often we try to make our lives seem perfect on social media. I’m sure you have all seen the memes and videos of Facebook versus real life. (This one is pretty powerful about how destructive this fake life can be.) Perhaps when a post comes up in which someone admits to making a mistake, and does so without whining, we empathize. “Oh I hate when that happens.” “I understand the frustration.” There is no emoticon for that, so we “like.”

So, let’s continue to like each other’s posts, and let’s comment too. I have to admit that I did receive some encouraging and empathetic comments on the blanket debacle posts. I really liked those; they let me know that others understood my frustration. Sometimes that understanding is what we need most to pick hooks up and begin to stitch life back together. So, let’s like; let’s continue to build each other up and support each other when we were down.

As for that blanket, I rewound all the yarn.

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And I’ve started again. This time, I’m crocheting my tried and true pattern and so far, it’s lovely. I’ll let you know when it’s done. Wish me luck!

Brainstorming

If time is a human construct,
Why haven’t we learned how to make it
Slow down.

A propos to the above,  I started this post a few weeks ago,  and then time got away from me. Those of us with creative minds often find find those minds teeming with ideas. A writer may overhear a snippet of a conversation from which she extrapolates and creates a whole new world,  if she can get pen to paper in time before the words and the world vanish in a fog of mundanity.  Or, she may be creating that world when a picture or a view,  a “Certain Slant of Light,” steals her attention and imagination.  Writers have long carried notebooks to record these flashes of intuition, though today they may be phones or tablets. She can preserve the moment,  return to the world she was creating before this second one came vying for her attention,  and revisit it later.  A beautiful idea,  that I know many,  if not most,  of us employ.  Yet,  when those notebooks fill up, how do you choose which visit from the Muse best deserves your time?

For those of us with multifaceted creativity,  the problem increases exponentially.  Do I devote my time to that drawing/painting that calls to me?  Or do I develop that story that keeps rattling around my brain?  Perhaps instead I will crochet with that luscious yarn I could not help buying.  And then there’s that fabric yearning to be made into. ..something.

The world lately is all about multitasking, yet study after study proves it to be ineffective. We are not hard wired to try to do too many things at once; one at a time is much more effective. I know this is true from my own work and play. When I focus on one task, it is completed well and I feel a sense of accomplishment, but when I jump from task to task, I feel scattered and my tasks are either half done or not done as well as they could be . So why do we still jump from task to task? Perhaps it is this computer age we live in. With so many tabs open in our browsers, our eyes are tantalized by the other places we could go, the other things we could be doing. And let’s face it, even with our chosen work or hobby, there are onerous bits that we would rather not do. At other times, our creativity just bubbles over, seemingly uncontainable, each new idea brighter than the last. And this is good. In fact, children are taught from a young age to brainstorm, to get the most out of their creativity. Brainstorming is a good idea. Those ideas that lie beneath the surface, beyond the obvious are what lead to genius.

Eventually, though, we need to stop brainstorming and start writing (or painting, crocheting, sewing…). Perhaps this is when play begins to feel too much like work, so we jump to the next big idea without having hashed out the details of this one yet. And time seems to fly before anything is finished.

That work though, those details, they lead to the fulfillment of the promises of our creativity and to the greatest sense of achievement and accomplishment. The idea of a poem is at first exciting, but the actual poem is delicious and exhilarating –a tangible thing we can call our own.

And how do we decide which path to follow first? We dive in. We read through our notes, choose what is speaking to us now and go. Perhaps another will pan out another day. Perhaps not, but if we spend too much time trying to decide where to start, we will never begin. So shut down those other tabs, give yourself time and space, and focus. It takes practice, but the results are worth it.

We just need to remember that we cannot live in the storm. We ride it out, clean up the debris, and rebuild a better world.

 

Does Creativity Matter?

This week it’s been on my mind to write about prose poetry, yet the truck attack in Nice, France and the attempted (?) millitary coup in Turkey have distracted my attention and wavered my resolve to keep writing about creativity and my perhaps banal thoughts thereof. I was struck with a moment of “what does it matter?” But creativity does matter.

I live in America which, for now at least, is still the home of the free and the brave. And our creative voices must be heard. Yes, there are the political voices heard loud and furious around the nation, but the creative writers–fiction, poetry, even creative non-fiction–must also contribute. Sometimes, often times, many of us, myself included, are put off by the strident, demogogic speeches or writing of those with biased agendas. While creative writings may be no less partisan, the delivery may be less harsh, therefore opening some to different view of the situation.

I’ll admit that sometimes I do not want to hear speeches by either candidate for President, nor read the the media’s take on them. Yes, I know I need to keep myself informed, but at the same time, the speeches are so hyperbolic and the media’s coverage so skewed (which way depends upon which station one watches) that they are often hard to stomach. I find myself riled by both sides–more so than ever before. What can we do?

For one, I find I prefer to read than to hear the news. Yes, the print media can still be biased, but it is easier, for me at least, to tone down the rhetoric and compare and contrast among different outlets. And then, I respond–not usually with this blog, but with my own journals, my poetry. I work out first what I think using my creative juices before I commit to a viewpoint fed to me by the mainstream media.

So creativity does matter. Yes, yes it does. Ask Nabokov or Voltaire or Allende or Paz or Fuentes. They risked their lives, their homelands, their way of living because they could not contain their voices. Nor should they. Nor should we. Our creativity is what makes us human. I have said as much in previous posts. Luckily America is not yet a land which imprisons the voices of its conscience or causes them to flee; therefore, we must all take on this responsibility, which is God given, to stand up for the rights of all. Create works that matter. Create works that last. Remember the only villians are the ones who wish to stifle your voices or to marginalize a group of people, and  remember even if that group is not your own, you should still care about them because we are all one, we are all human.

Keep writing, friends. Keep painting. Keep taking photos. Keep singing. Keep crocheting. Keep sculpting. Keep creating. The world needs you more now than ever.

 

Germinating Seeds

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This showed up on my Facebook feed today. Katherine Neville  is so right, and not just for teen writers.  I’ve been derelict in my duties as a blogger lately, I know.  I’ve started several posts,  but abandoned them before clicking “publish.” If they felt trite, banal to me, then how much more so would they seem to you, my readers. I didn’t want to waste your time. Yet,  instead, I fear I did something worse, I neglected you. I’ve kept at my painting and drawing which is always a long term project; crochet, my fall back, easy craft, has been slow going; and my writing has been stop and go.Instead, I’ve feed my brain with light fare-fan fiction, pulp fiction, and blog posts. Let me try to make it up to you.

We all know about the winter blues, and when our mood is affected, so is our creativity. Yet, despite the snow in the air this morning, spring is on its way in. I noted with joy that there was light in the sky both when I left for work this morning and when I came home again this evening. Daylight has been creeping up on us little by little, and today I noticed. Next weekend when Daylight Savings Time rolls around, I may find myself in the dark again on my evening commute, but not for long! I am a teacher, so naturally, summer is my favorite season, but spring also has its advantages, and I am feeling them this year. Even though the temperatures have dropped again, and the winds have been fierce, there is something different about a 30° day in March than in January. Even when March comes in like a lion, we know that soon enough she will lay down with the lambs. That knowledge sustains us till it happens and the bloom is once again on the rose.

What does this meditation on weather have to do with creativity? I believe we all go through seasons in our creative lives as well. Sometimes it seems like the soil is barren; there is nothing growing in our brains, that we have lost our inspiration, yet like the seeds of winter, there is germination quietly happening. So, keep observing; keep jotting down notes; keep starting blog posts. All of a sudden, the light will be there. All of a sudden, the crocuses will be blooming even though you didn’t notice the green shoots poking through the cold ground. Trust in your creative power; it will return to you many fold.

Now I promise to click “publish” this time!

Tales of Christmas Past

Now that Christmas has come and gone, I can finally write about my recent creative projects. I had such fun making gifts this year; the only drawback was not being able to blog about it until after the gifts were given!

My family is large, so we choose Kris Kringles (or as some say, Secret Santas). This year, I got my niece Kelly. A student at Carnegie Mellon, Kelly also likes to knit and crochet. Like me, she is also a big fan of cats, though she doesn’t own one (yet). I thought it would be fun to make her a scoodie–that is a scarf with a hood–with cat ears, so I went online and googled “scarf hat cat crochet pattern.” Jackpot! I found this adorable scoodie pattern: http://www.mooglyblog.com/cuddly-cat-crochet-scoodie/, but I was a little worried as I thought the pattern seemed a little difficult. But for Kelly, I would try it.  Off to the store, and then to the couch to try it out. There were a couple of small missteps, but once I got the picture in my head of how it all fit together, it was actually much easier than I thought it would be! And, it is adorable. Here’s Kelly when she received the gift:20151224_210028

One gift down, I was feeling good! Let’s keep going! I was heading to a handmade Christmas, and it felt good. Last Christmas my cousin’s husband mentioned that he wanted someone to knit him a Dr. Who scarf. Hmmmm…I thought. I can’t knit, but I bet that I could crochet one. I just need a pattern. So, back to Google. Unfortunately, every pattern I found was for knitting–no crochet. How could that be? I hemmed and hawed for a few days before I just decided to go for it. I chose a half-double crochet stitch to give the best approximation of a knit look. I went to doctorwhoscarf.com to research yarn, colors, and the size and order of the stripes.  Now here’s the thing, for anyone who is not terribly familiar with Dr. Who and the famous scarf that Tom Baker wore for seven seasons: there wasn’t just one scarf. There was the original, the stunt double, season 12, season 14, season 15…you get the idea. It was originally made of wool, and it stretched and faded as time went on. In addition, the first scarf was twenty feet long! While the cast loved it, it was too long to be manageable and shortened to about ten feet. Of course, over time it stretched again… So, what is the pattern then? That’s up for quite a bit of conjecture. On doctorwhoscarf.com, however, there is a link to a graphic showing the order of the stripes and how many inches long each should be (they vary). And so, I began. The beginning was great; I felt like I was flying through and really making progress. However, you do have to change colors often, and there are so many colors (7) that it is not practical to take it with you for those moments when you have to wait for something and could stitch a few rows. Before long, I was falling behind, but I felt okay as I wouldn’t see this cousin till the Sunday after Christmas. I had until December 27th, no problem…

I did finish in time–that is I finished putting the tassels on a half an hour before they arrived. Thank goodness for gift bags! There was no time to wrap! I think he likes it:

Craig in Dr Who scarf

It may have been harried at the end, but it was certainly fun making gifts for these special people. I would definitely do it again. Creative gifts come from the heart as well as the hands. Maybe you would like to think about making some Christmas gifts next year too. My best advice is start early!

Multifaceted Creativity

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I was in the middle of writing a different post when I went to the Museum of Modern Art yesterday to see the Picasso Sculpture exhibit. It’s effect on me has led me to change direction and muse instead on the idea of being creative in multiple genres.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I write in various genres: non-fiction (obviously), poetry, and fiction. You also know I crochet, sew, draw, and paint. I love to bake. I used to sing and play both piano and flute, and wish I had time to pick them up again. (Someday!) I often feel pulled in many directions and never feel I have enough time. After asserting in my last post that what it takes to be a writer is to write, I’ve written very little; yet, I have completed one fun crochet project, finished half of another, finished a drawing, and started a painting. So, I have been creative. Sometimes I wonder if I could be more productive if I pared my pastimes down to a select few. But, what would I cut? I cannot give up my writing, nor can painting go. It would be silly to cut crochet as I can do that when watching TV or chatting with friends. Granted, I don’t bake as much as I used to, but that’s probably better for our waistlines, but as Christmas is around the corner, I wouldn’t dream of not baking Christmas cookies no matter how busy I am! I don’t sew as much as I would like, but I am not about to give up my fabric stash. I have a couple of projects in mind that will get going in 2016.

What does this have to do with going to MOMA and Picasso, you may ask? I think most of us think of Picasso as a painter, the father of Cubism. Perhaps, his “Blue Period” comes to mind or his Cubist portraits. However, there is another side to his creativity, and like his painting, it it’s multifaceted. That is his sculpture. He was prolific throughout his life in his sculpture, yet be was never formally trained in it. He began with cardboard and wood but when he decided to make a sculpture of a guitar out of metal and didn’t know how to weld, he sewed the pieces together. Some years later, he decided to work with a welder and learn that craft. He cast in bronze; he carved wood; he assembled pieces out of found objects. Every few years, he changed his sub-genre. And he never stopped painting. He did not abandon one pursuit in following another. He let creativity guide him to new materials, new techniques, new expressions.

I am no Picasso, and I must continue to hold down a job. Granted I love teaching, but it does take more time than those not in education would imagine. Nevertheless, I felt a sense of validation after viewing the exhibit. He continued to expand and try different genres, different materials. Like Picasso, I will not let genre hold me back. The varied creative outlets will not bring me the fame or fortune Picasso enjoyed, but they will do something much more important. These pursuits all feed my soul, and they feed each other and lead to a life well-lived.

The Need to Weed

As I was returning home today, I noticed that my flower bed needs weeding. Even though the impatiens are not doing well, I still don’t want them surrounded by weeds. I need to get out there and pull those green shoots and clovers that distract the eye from the flowers.

Coming inside and sitting down at my desk, I began to reread a short story I wrote a few years ago. I had sent it out to a professional editor for an assessment and was a bit disheartened by the response. I really felt he didn’t get it. The commentary focused on a character I considered minor. And, many of the mark ups were stylistic rather than content based. I had not submitted this to the magazine, but rather for a professional commentary. To direct much of the energy of the marginalia to changing the manuscript to that particular journal’s style guide seemed disingenuous to me, fraudulent even. I thought I was paying for a content assessment, not a comma check. My knee-jerk reaction was to dismiss the review altogether. However, after some time has passed and the initial dejection experienced by the editor’s comments has dissipated, I can more objectively look at the advice given.  I reread the story, and there is some weeding to be done there as well.

“Kill your darlings.” Every writer has heard this advice, but it is hard isn’t it? Sometimes the perfect sentence just doesn’t add anything to the story. I have read advice of creating a file of the darlings you excise for use in some other story, but I find that just doesn’t work. Once they’re dead, they’re dead.

In other creative endeavors, this advice still rings true. Tonight, I was crocheting a blanket–a pattern of my own making–, and I noticed that after a few rows, it was growing wider. I recounted the stitches, and indeed, I had somehow gone from 56 to 59. I tried first to figure if I could adjust the next few rows down again to a happy medium. There will be an outer edge crocheted on at the end to finish the project which could hide this imperfection. But, no. I thought of my mother-in-law and how proficient and precise she was with her crafting. Her works are truly heirlooms to be treasured not only because they came from her hands but also because they are truly works of art.  So, I did what I needed to do and I ripped it out to the point where the mistake happened and started over. I killed my darlings and started over. I weeded out the extra stitches.

Now I am contemplating the same thing with a painting I am working on. The painting, which I blogged about back in March (https://crcreateaday.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/angelic-assistance/), is a copy of the face of Mary during the Annunciation. However, in my version, I think she looks like a character on The Simpsons. Not exactly what I was going for. While I may not exactly “kill this darling,” I think she needs to be put aside for a while until my skills improve. In the meantime, I will sketch and paint other things. My teachers will give me projects and assignments to help me improve. Hopefully, by the time I am ready to go back to Mary, I will be ready to weed out what needs to be gone from the painting in order for Mary to leave The Simpsons and regain her ultimate innocence.

We all need to weed from time to time, in all different areas of our lives. Next week, I will attack the flower beds and then the other creative endeavors. Weeding helps the beautiful flowers grow.

AlyCatCreations1

As you know if you follow this blog,  I love to create. I crochet and sew and paint and draw and bake and write. I sing, and play the flute and piano as well, though less successfully than my other myriad pursuits.

Do you ever wonder what to do with all your creations? I do. The baking,  well that’s no problem. Everyone loves homemade baked goods,  and even if something is not finished,  it goes bad and you throw it out. And the writing,  well that can stay in a drawer, a notebook,  or a file (and burn a hole in my heart). But the textile crafts,  the sketching, and painting, that’s another story. Of course,  there are gifts. I have made baby blankets for friends’ children,  and I’ve painted pictures/portraits (okay, animal portraits) to give as gifts. I have donated paintings to auctions as well.  (Should I worry that those auctions no longer take place?) But that does not really take care of all the goods I can produce. The sketches stay in their sketch pads, but even those take up space. And while I have quite a few of my own paintings on my walls, but there is only so much wall space in a two-bedroom apartment. And then there are the crocheted and sewn goods. They (and the raw materials that go into their making) take up more than their fair share of said apartment.

So, why do I keep crocheting more scarves, shawls, and blankets? Why do I keep sewing? I love it. Crocheting is a nightly activity for me. It relaxes me. I sit on the couch after a long day of teaching and grading, and I crochet while I watch TV with my hubby. As I wind the yarn around itself, I unwind myself. And, as a bonus, I have a completed physical product at the end of it.

The sewing? That feeds my creativity. The physical product, the knowledge that I created it myself, the unique item, it is an accomplishment. I teach for a living, high school English, and I love it, but there is no physical product by which one sees one’s accomplishments. Having a hobby that ends in a unique physical creation is a satisfying hobby for one who spends so much of her time in the mind.

Yet, that physical product builds up. I have a storage bin now filled with scarves, shawls, and blankets.

Luckily (?), my good friend Alyson has a similar problem. Fabric shops call to her with promises of projects. Her stash threatens to take over her apartment.

So, we finally did it. My friend Alyson and I finally opened our Etsy shop. We are putting our collective goods together for your benefit (we hope). Please visit us: we are AlyCatCreations1 on Etsy.com, Facebook, and Instagram.

Here’s our Etsy link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/AlyCatCreations1?ref=hdr_shop_menu

https://www.etsy.com/listing/234584960/crochet-blue-ruffle-yarn-spring-summer

And a few photos of some of our products. I hope you enjoy.20150217_152420 - Copy 20150503_222936 20150504_083143 20150514_175152

Mother’s Day

I have a wonderful mother, and as I have grown, she has become a great friend. But today, for this blog, I want to write about my mother-in-law. She was a crafter par-excellence: rug hooking, knitting, crochet. We lost her too soon; she passed away in 2007. Two days ago, I said to my husband, “I am really missing your mother right now. I’m having trouble with this pattern; I can’t figure it out, and I know she could have helped me.” It’s true.

Here’s another great story about my mother-in-law and my dad. One time my parents and in-laws were together and somehow the conversation came around to blankets and napping. My father mentioned that blankets were not long enough for him. He was 6’2″ and always found the standard blanket too short to truly cover the feet and come up to the chin. So, my mother-in-law said, “I’ll make you a blanket, and in return you can paint me a picture.” (Both pictured below) My dad had taken up oil painting in his retirement and was really quite good. So, my mother-in-law and my dad struck a bargain. Two weeks later, my mother-in-law delivered the blanket; my dad was still working on the idea for the painting. He did eventually deliver a beautiful painting of birds through a kitchen window; however, he often laughingly related that he took so long compared to her speed. And her work was flawless. Dad always called her afghan “the magic blanket.” He said as soon as he pulled it up, he instantly fell asleep.

My mother-in-law was devoted to her crafting, particularly rug hooking. Her work was intricate, and she continually worked to improve her skills. In addition to regularly attending the Great Neck Women’s Club, where she met with other like-minded women, she also went on retreats for rug hooking. One time, she arrived at the retreat site in New Hampshire to be welcomed with the banner “Hookers and Priests Welcome.” Apparently two retreats were taking place that weekend, and either someone didn’t think about the implications of the wording or was having a bit of fun! My husband always said he wish she had taken a picture so we could have sent it in to The Tonight Show.

As for me, my mother-in-law taught me something indispensable. She taught me how to read a crochet pattern. Without her assistance, I couldn’t do a fraction of what I do. I miss her and wish I had more time with her, more time for her to teach me.

And my mother-in-law also had a sense of humor. Check out the detail of her “business” card below.

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