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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

here's to hoping I write better than I crochet

When I was pregnant with Ella 13 years ago, I was put on restriction in the last few weeks of my pregnancy for reasons I don't recall. It wasn't bed rest, just rest rest. I did many things to occupy myself and prevent obsessive thoughts about my impending launch into motherhood.

I rolled change, read books and washed and folded teeny tiny onesies. I organized diapers, baby toiletries and the adorable shoes my infant would never wear because have you ever tried to stick a boneless chub of skin into a patent leather Mary Jane?

Bored of these tasks, I set my sights on crocheting a baby blanket. A quick resume of my crocheting abilities: I had made one, only one, scarf a decade before when someone showed me how to connect a single row of crochet stitches to another.

And so I stood in front of the stunning selection of yarns at Joann Fabrics, carefully selecting the color that would suit our baby, the baby we were intending to raise without the suffocating imposition of gender-specific colors. The girl baby who, though not yet born, owned things in yellows, creams and greens. I chose a purple yarn shot through with strands of indigo. At the register, the clerk scanned my yarn, put it in the bag and said, pleasantly, "What are you making?"

I put my hand over my giant belly the way pregnant women do and answered: "A baby blanket."

The woman looked up at me, down into the bag where she had just put my yarn and back up at me. "With two skeins of yarn?" she asked.

Now, I admit, I should have noted the tone of disbelief and slight judgment in her words. But, hyped up on pregnancy hormones as I was, I smiled and nodded proudly.

Being the novice that I was, I wasn't sure how long to make the first row, the platform of the entire project. I decided that longer was better than shorter- because who wants a short blanket?- and crocheted a row the length of my body. Satisfied, I expertly turned the corner and proceeded to attach a second row to my first. Back and forth I went, rocking back and forth in the glider, feeling my baby kick intermittently with excitement. I was the epitome of a mother awaiting her baby.

Unfortunately, something unexplainable happened as I went along. The length of the blanket began to shorten. This was lamentable, given that it was meant to keep my baby warm, but worse, the blanket also seemed to be curving inward slightly. It seemed my amateur hands had accidentally tightened the stitches as I went, drawing the edges in toward each other.

I knew exactly how to fix it. I would just add some extra stitches on the end of each row to even the blanket out and make it flat once again. After all, I had already proven I could crochet a scarf and wasn't a blanket just a giant scarf?

It is hard to fully explain the transformation that occurred over the next week in my baby's "blanket" (regretfully, air quotes are required from here on). It continued to shrink and curl in on itself, like failure, but also like a hug. And because I kept trying to correct my errors, it curled up on each side, hollowing itself out like a bowl.

I finished one skein and was halfway through the second, considering giving up but not sure my fragile mental state could handle it. After all, if I couldn't succeed at making my baby a blanket, how was I going to succeed at making my baby into a person?

Sandi's mother, a career wise-cracker, examined my work during her next visit. She shook her head. "I'm confused about how you did this," she said, "But the really surprising part is that you have kept going. Look how many stitches of perseverance there are here."

By the time I finished, our baby's "blanket" had a distinctive canoe shape to it. It was about a foot and half long with high, uneven sides and a deep gully in the middle. In which to set the baby, of course.

No one, least of all me, can really explain how this happened. Not that it mattered anyway. My crocheting "abilities" became the new family joke. From time to time, we pull out Ella's hand-crafted baby blanket for unsuspecting visitors.

Fast forward to today. I have just completed the first draft of my novel. I have written and written and written some more. I have said no to everything else, let the laundry pile up and watched the dust bunnies roll on by. I am a writer because I write, I told myself. And write I did. Twenty one months later I have compiled 444 pages and 203,615 words.

I've thought of that baby blanket many times over these months. As I tap, tap, tap on my keyboard, stroke after stroke of perseverance, I pray this time my efforts of continuation will turn out better.

After all, you can buy baby blanket,s but you can't buy a novel with your name etched on the spine. That the sort of thing that takes a lot of stitching.

I may not be able to crochet but I know I am a writer. I am a writer because when a day goes by and I don't get to sit inside the walls of my story, I feel like something is missing. I miss my characters. I am a writer because a few weeks ago, as I was plodding along, a new character approached the door of the house that is one of the scenes of my story, knocked on the door and told me why she should be in the book. I am a writer because I was furious at one of my characters for acting like a jack ass and at another for not having the guts to speak the truth when it was needed.

I am the baker who crafted the gingerbread man who came to life. I am the wordsmith who gave birth to a story, a story that demanded to be told from the depths of my insides, a story that now lives and breathes on its own, answering a call I can't fully explain.

I am a writer because I love every part of it, every breakthrough, every revelation, every bit of fine-tuning. I am a writer because sometimes the story tells itself to me, surprising me with a twist I did not see coming, tying up loose ends that I thought I might have to cut.

I am a writer because, frequently, when I reread a section I think, "Oh, I know what would go really well there," only to read the next sentence and see that it is already there, written by me months before.

I am a writer because I even relish the rewriting I am doing now, subtracting words and sentences, pruning the text and in so removing, making everything stronger and better. I think about the nuances of my story and my characters as I work, as I drive, as I do the dishes, and have sudden epiphanies that make me drop everything and scribble in the notebook I keep in my purse.

I am a writer because when I write scenes that plow through the story like an emotional wrecking ball, I am so lost in the moment that I don't realize I am crying.

When I took up running years ago, I remember saying to Sandi, "When I become a real runner, I'm going to buy myself some real running clothes."

She astutely replied, "You run and so you are a real runner."

I write and so I am a real writer.

I'm convinced of my own success. I believe I have a story worth telling. I believe that, with the help of some shrewd and honest readers, I can revise and rewrite my novel into something worthy of publication.

I have put up my crochet hook for now in favor of my keyboard. And, because, yes I dare to go this far with my dream, soon I will pick up a pen as well.

A pen...to autograph all the books I plan to sell.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

how building a house is like having a baby

You've been dreaming it up, imagining how life will be different, picturing your family with its newfound treasure....

Congratulations! You are now parents of a new...house!

Yes, I have decided that building a house is a whole lot like having a baby. Here's why:

When you are about to have a baby, you think about that baby all the time. What will it look like? Whose hair will he get? What colors eyes will she have? A baby hijacks your thoughts. When you build a house it is the same except instead of wondering about eye color, dimples, freckles or nose size, you wonder if the sketch on paper will come together to look good, or let's be honest, even decent. Instead of hoping for 10 fingers and 10 toes you hope your kids' rooms allow them space for a bed and to actually turn around. You assume the layout of your master bath is perfect until your bathroom designer points out that when you are lying in your bed and look through the door to the bathroom you will be looking straight at your toilet.  In short, you wonder how it will all come together.

When you are expecting a baby, you spend so much time waiting- an eternity it seems!- that you  think the day may never come when the baby actually arrives. It may just live in the belly forever. Waiting for a house to be done is much the same except you wonder if you have just invested your life's savings into a structure you will never get to live in.

When you build a house, you can plan all you want on a due date but, like (most) babies, it will be done when its done, not when it's convenient. In both cases, it is best not to get too attached to a date.

When you name your baby, it's often wise to keep the name to yourself. Rarely are people as excited about the name as you are, especially if it is at all outside of the box. ("Oh. I see. You named your child Boxer. How interesting.")

The same is true of a house. It can be downright disappointing to share your house plans with people. They may not like it as much as you do and may struggle to hide it. ("Oh you are building a yurt/craftsman style house with a windmill farm in the backyard. Love it.") Like safekeeping baby names until there is an actual breathing human being associated with the name, it might be better to keep your house a secret and just invite people to the housewarming. (Word of caution: this is hard to do in a small town.)

When buying things for your baby or for your house there is a common theme. Everything costs more than you think it will. "Do we really need this swing that plugs in instead of using batteries?" (You do.)  "Do strollers really cost this much?" (They do.) "Wait, how much did you say that faucet is? Is it made of unicorn horns?" (No. That one would be 20 times the cost.)

When you have a baby, you get loose with your mouth. You don't mean to but you talk about things you wouldn't ordinarily discuss (nipples, hemorrhoids, excrement, etc.) in common company. You must also watch your mouth with house building because when people ask, "Hey, how's the house coming?" they might not have the time for the 20 minute monologue on your dilemma over choosing a heating system, the intricacies of granite striations or the pros and cons of wood versus engineered flooring.

When you have a baby you are starving for information ("Yes, I would love a DNA map of our fetus, thank you very much.") and especially for a sneak peek at your little one. Each ultrasound, no matter how much the image departs from that of a human baby, is a source of pride and glee. The same is true when the foundation goes in for your house and the roof trusses show up. Even though they don't actually resemble a house, they practically bring a tear of joy to your eyes. ("Will you just look at how beautiful those triangles are! Have you ever seen a nicer shade of gray?")



House building, like parenthood, also provides an instantaneous bond between people. Folks you might not have sought out for conversation become the ones you turn to for commaraderie or to celebrate a progress made ("She rolled over for the first time!" or "We have electricity!") or to ask advice ("He wakes up at 4:30 every morning for the day. What do I do?" or "We need to decide if we want vinyl balusters or aluminum. What did you pick?").



When you are preparing for the arrival of your baby, every detail seems of the utmost importance: what texture the baby blankets should be, if that shade of yellow is warm and sunny or looks like pee, if it is better to get the mobile with the sheep or the ducks. Never has there been more on the line.

When you are building the house, there are are exponentially more choices and you make each with painstaking care (bi-fold vs. pocket doors for the closets, backsplash or no backsplash, track light vs. recessed light) not sure which ones will matter in the long run, which ones to make a priority in your budget and which ones you will be so relieved you spent and extra 5 hours of your life deliberating about.




Both house building and parenting require a couple to foster positive relationships with everyone who will be helping them along the way (you would no more want to get on your pediatrician's bad side than your builder's), to quickly establish each other's strengths and weakness and divide and conquer along those line and, most essentially, to cultivate a generous sense of humor with each other. It may be hard to laugh it off when you co-parent pretends to be asleep when the baby cries in the night or when you spouse contemplates a helipad on the roof, but truly, laughter is the best prescription here. That and some carefully chosen words. 





In the end, it won't matter how close or far from her due date your baby was born or what exact date you moved into your house. It won't matter how many pounds you gained while pregnant (unless of course you still have them and then it may matter a lot).  You won't remember most of the sacrifices you made during the building of your house, the near argument you had over the tile for the kitchen or the 50 houses you drove by to pick the perfect color of siding.  You won't care that your house wasn't tight by winter the way it was supposed to be or all the days you drove by and no one was working and you were in danger of throwing a two-year-old tantrum. 

Because now you are holding that baby in your arms and your heart is melting as he smiles at you for the first time. You are cooking in your dream kitchen or sitting by your brand new, push button fireplace. And because now you have new things to think about. You have another human being to take care of. You have a mortgage to pay.

Congratulations! Your worry and angst have just begun. Best buckle in and get ready to ride.*

(* I am joking, of course. House building, like becoming a parent, has been one of the most joyful and fulfilling experiences of my life. As I have brought more mindfulness and appreciation to my role as "Mom", I have cultivated the same with our house. I am aware of how fortunate we are to be building a house at all, especially one that is nearly everything we could dream of, and I told myself early on that I would not complain when things didn't go right or there were stresses or setbacks. This attitude has made all the difference and, as a result, the experience hasn't been the harrowing one you hear about time and again. Instead I am approaching it with excitement and amazement. It isn't every day you see a 40-year-old woman jumping up and down at night in the light cast from from her headlights because there is a roof on her house. 

As I get older, and infinitesimally wiser, I know this to be true: it isn't life that makes you happy, it is you that makes a happy life.)

 Wait, did I just make up my own quote?
 
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