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Thoughts on Creativity

It’s only within the last few years that I’ve been able to think of myself as a creative person. I always thought creative people were the artists, the clothing designers, published authors, the people who can bring things to life just from their mind. Me? I wrote stories that didn’t go anywhere. I made jewelry for a few years, then I scrapbooked for a few years. I knit and crochet, but I use other people’s yarns and other people’s patterns and just replicate them.

But guys, you know what? I AM creative. I write stories that haven’t been written before, about characters I make up. I have three complete manuscripts. Three full-length book-type things. Sure, they haven’t been published. Doesn’t mean they’re not creative. And it doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile. Maybe those were just the ones I needed to get out before writing The One.

I’m always struggling with self-worth as far as writing goes, swinging from “Yes! I’m a great writer!” to “Who do I think I am, thinking someone else will want to read this?” Because I’ve never published a book, I think I’m not a writer. Well. That’s dumb. And I just have to keep telling myself that. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I’ve written short stories and novel-length stories and filled a dozen journals and I’ve kept this blog for three years now. I don’t write every day, but I keep coming back to writing. I am a writer.

Wow. It wasn’t until I wrote that, that I realized how true it is. I keep coming back to writing.

With my yarn, I put colors and textures and patterns together. I’m the one who chooses what will go with what. I don’t think I’ve ever used the recommended yarn for any pattern, and I don’t think I’ve ever even made a pattern in the same color(s) as the designer. I take their ideas and put my own spin on them. That IS creative.

And for a while now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to combine the yarn and the writing. I want to write a book where yarn/knitting is a focal point. I’ve tried, and it hasn’t worked yet. But I’m going to keep trying.

I don’t know why, but I am flush with creative energy right now, and it feels awesome. The focus has turned away from knitting and back toward writing, but that’s kind of typical for me. I tend to focus obsessively on one thing for a while, then move on. I’m not done with knitting, not at all! I spent three hours at a football game last night and was delighted to have the time to knit on the baby blanket. But in the evenings, or weekends like this, my brain is gravitating toward writing.

Not just writing, either. I’ve always wished I could draw well, and I always told myself I just couldn’t do it. Then a few days ago I was admiring a selection of drawing books and the husband said, “Why don’t you try it? You never know.” And for some reason, this time I agreed. Why not, indeed. I didn’t have to show anyone if I didn’t want to. I might not be great. But what if I could make pictures that pleased me? That would be pretty cool. So I might be heading to the library to check out some how-tos for beginners (if you have recommendations, please share!) and I’ve got a little sketch pad and a drawing pencil itching to be used. And because it’s uncomfortable and scary for me, I’m going to share my first attempt, a cube copied from a book.

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It’s not great. It’s a first attempt. I don’t think it’s going to come naturally to me the way it does for my kids, or the way writing does to me. I’m not going to be the next big artist, and that’s all right. For me, it’s okay that it’s recognizable, and it was fun.

I guess what I take from all of this is that I’m redefining what success means to me. Success is about the leap, the journey, the effort. And I don’t want to be afraid of success anymore.

Anniversary Mini-Break

Today, the husband and I celebrate 20 years of marriage. Yep, two whole decades. That’s half my life. And the majority of those years have been pretty darn good, so I think we’re  lucky. To mark the occasion we both took the day off work, spent last night at our favorite B&B (Southmoreland on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City), and spent today antiquing. We were hoping to find more Mission-style furniture for our house, but didn’t find a thing. We hit a couple of small towns that were kind of sad and run-down, though we did find a bookstore. And look what I found at one of the antique stores:

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A yarn section!! It wasn’t a great selection but I still walked out with two lovely skeins of sock yarn:

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And at another antique store, I found these little goodies. I didn’t need either of them, but at $2 each, they still came home with me.

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We were a little discouraged at not finding any furniture treasures, but we ended the day in Parkville, MO, and found an awesome store called Cool Vintage Watches. They had watches, of course, but they also had several vintage pens too. I really liked the silver/gold Montblanc ballpoint, but that didn’t really fit my budget. Instead I brought home this beauty.

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It’s a Sheaffer Targa 1020 M in Imperial Brass with a 14k gold nib. It came with the converter but also takes cartridges, and since I don’t have any bottled ink, I put in one of those and it writes like a dream.

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The pen is in beautiful shape. I can’t find a flaw anywhere. Plus, I already had a stainless steel Targa, so it pleases the completist in me to have a brass one as well.

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It came with this nifty brass case, which has only a couple of tiny scratches on the bottom.

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So, yeah, happy anniversary to me, right? I’m really pleased with my finds, and it was a treat to spend a relaxing day with the husband. We don’t get those as often as we’d like!

The Power of Thanks

One of my favorite moments from our recent vacation was when my husband thanked me. I’m a pretty typical Type A person, one who has to make lists and plan everything down to the smallest detail. Sometimes I feel like that trait is more obnoxious than helpful, both to me and to others. But this time, it was good, because I was prepared for almost everything the trip threw at us. And at one point, when I answered one of my husband’s suggestions with “I already looked into that and here’s the answer”, he paused, seemingly surprised, then thanked me for the time and effort I put into planning the trip.

Friends, I probably don’t have to tell you this, but that little gesture felt huge to me. It’s not that my husband doesn’t appreciate me; I know he does, just as I appreciate him. But I do think that after 20 years of marriage, we might have gotten lax in telling each other something as little as “thank you”. We take each other for granted too often, and forget how important it is to express appreciation without wanting something in return.

Those small moments, like my husband thanking me, are part of my mental “You Don’t Suck” file. I saw this on Twitter recently and loved it, because I DO have a YDS file. I have one at home and at work. When I started my new job a year ago, there was much I didn’t know. I felt incompetent and inadequate too often, despite my faith in my intelligence. I started collecting emails where people encouraged me, where they said nice things to me, where they thanked me, and I look back at those when I have a day that kicks my butt.

That’s why I’m making a concerted effort to create those moments for others. There’s so much darkness in the world right now, so much hate and anger. I share in that sometimes, but I can’t sustain it. I need to balance it with the good and the love. So when I see a woman with gorgeous blue/purple hair, I tell her. When someone at work helps me fix a problem, I thank them for their patience with me. My husband manages our retirement accounts so I don’t have to worry about them, and when I realized I never told him how much I appreciated that, I thanked him, simply and sincerely. When my daughter does extra jobs for me without complaining, like running to the grocery store at the last minute, or starting dinner before I get home, I try to thank her every time. Sure, she’s part of this family and benefits from those things too, but her time is just as valuable as mine, and when she uses it to help me at the last minute, I do appreciate it, and what’s the point of keeping that quiet?

If someone makes me smile, makes me feel good, my goal is to tell them. It doesn’t matter if that person is a friend, a stranger, a superior, an employee. If they’re a person, and I’m guessing they all are, they all appreciate sincere thanks.

I think this is why I did well as a manager. I wasn’t the person in the office telling them what to do. I was in the thick of it, doing it myself, asking them to help me, and thanking them every day for their effort. Even if all they did was smile and help customers all day, I thanked them, because a positive attitude is infectious. We all have stuff going on in our lives that can bring us down, and sometimes it’s really hard to set that aside to focus on the task at hand, and I appreciated that effort. And if it was too hard one day, and someone asked to work in solitude in the back, I appreciated that too.

As a manager, I was charged with leading a team to success, and I knew every day that my people were working hard to HELP ME achieve that goal. I couldn’t do it alone, and I couldn’t do it if they were unhappy. So I did what I could to keep them happy. I worked alongside them, laughing as much as possible. I encouraged them, even when the task was too big. And I thanked them. All the time, as much as I could.

I recently ordered some earrings on Etsy, from a young girl just starting out, and in my package was the most wonderful thank-you note, complete with kitty sketch. It was delightful, made the experience so much more than just a purchase. It was a connection with a person, a kind, funny, talented person, and we need those connections desperately. It’s why I always sent a thank-you note with everything I sold; I wanted them to know that there was someone behind that knit hat they’d just bought, and that someone appreciated them.

The world can be mean and scary right now. So I’m going to laugh at cat videos, swoon over cute dogs, sing along to good music, share the great books I read, and I’m going to thank people. Starting with you, reader: Thank You, truly, for taking the time to read my words. It means a lot to me. It’s lovely to know that I’m not terrible at stringing words together, that I’m not alone in my thoughts.

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Now it’s your turn. Go find someone to thank today!

Back to work?

It has been four years since I left my last full-time position, and, maybe surprisingly, I’m ready to go back. I have been home when I was needed most, I’ve gotten my kids past the most critical stage and now that my daughter is old enough to start driving herself around, I can reach for more. I wouldn’t change anything about the last four years. It was absolutely what I needed to do.

But this is what I need to do now. I miss contributing something vital to the world, something on a bigger scope. I miss being part of a team that’s working together to make the world a better place, one step at a time. I love my creative endeavors, but they’re small, low-impact, solitary. I miss collaboration. I miss using my brain to learn new things and then helping others learn those things. I loved being a trainer, loved helping my peers and staff grow. I loved making a difference in clients’ lives. I’ve got these writing skills, and I feel like I could be using them in so many more ways. I could make an impact in the community…and that’s thrilling.

In no way do I mean this as a criticism of stay-at-home parents. I’ve done it in two long stretches now, and appreciated it both times. Parenting is a huge responsibility, and I admire and respect those to do it full-time. I *know* it’s a job, and a hard one. But it’s also a personal choice, and what works for one family may not be the best choice for another. It was the right choice at that point in time.

But now, my kids have grown up a lot. For that matter, I’ve grown up a lot after all the things I’ve faced the last four or five years. I have more to give, and I want to make a bigger difference. I will still knit, though I might focus more on what sparks my creativity and less on custom orders. I will still write and work on getting my book published. I will still proofread for other writers, though it might take me a little bit longer. But I want to do more. I want to challenge myself. I feel like this is my second wind, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

 

I’m a good girl

You’ll be pleased to know that I stayed focused and got a lot of “must haves” done yesterday! (Or maybe you won’t, but let’s pretend, just for fun.) I made my list of chores for the week and half are already crossed off. Sure, they’re the easier ones, but it’s a start. When I can do that, get a workout in, AND get some work done, that’s a good day. I finished the first pass through the sci-fi book I’m proofreading (it’s the sequel to Mostly Human by Antoinette Houston. I’m not a sci-fi person but I have fun reading these.) and I got a few rows done on the mermaid blanket during Jeopardy! and I even managed to do some fun knitting before bed, starting another set of fingerless gloves. IMG_6084I needed another travel project, and these are perfect.

Now, I need you guys to send me some willpower: I’m going to the yarn store with the mother today. She wants a scarf to go with a certain dress, so we’re going together to pick out a color. I really really need to be good and not come home with extra yarn, so please send good mojo, or juju, or whatever. And tomorrow, I’ll be sure to show what I come with anyway. Sigh.

Here, have a couple of pupdates: IMG_6081Jack follows me around all day long. This is what I have whenever I’m working in my craft room.

IMG_6083And this is why my couches are a wreck. Both of them are in front of big windows, and the puppies have to keep watch whenever possible. I guess I’d rather have happy puppies than pristine couches. (Not sure the husband agrees.)

We had big storms yesterday and last night and this morning everything is bright and shiny and sparkling. Even the power lines have little rainbow droplets. Hope your day is bright too!

The Yarn Harlot Commands

Well, that was an unintentional break from blogging I took this week! I’d been enjoying my habit of almost-every day, but Monday and Tuesday I fell into revising my novel. I was at the end and it was going really well and I just couldn’t pull myself away. Plus, there’s not much to say about that. I was writing, it was fun. But I made it to the end, and the first draft is complete and now it’s been set aside to simmer for a little while.

Tuesday night I got another rejection, the 5th. I also pulled out the manuscript I sent to agents a few years ago, and found all the query letters and responses. I got two requests for fulls, as well as some personal feedback from sample chapters, and the overwhelming theme was “It’s good, but not good enough.” So yesterday I didn’t feel like blogging. Instead I moped and knitted, finding comfort in my yarn. And I finished my Color Block wrap and it’s so marvelous. The tails are even woven in; it just needs blocking.IMG_5630And I know, at least I’ve submitted the books. And the fact that I got the requests, not to mention actual thoughtful notes from agents, should be encouraging. That’s what I’m trying to focus on today. I’d like to think I’m a better writer than I was ten years ago. So that’s the manuscript coming up next. I still love that story. I still think it has potential. Let’s see if I can get it to better than “good enough”.

Here’s something my knitting friends will appreciate: this weekend is the Knitting in the Heartland conference, and the keynote speaker is Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. SQUEEE, right?? I bought tickets for me and my Knitting SIL months ago. Then she and her family planned a vacation…the SAME weekend! Whatever. Poor planning, if you ask me, but she didn’t. Anyway, I was thinking about having to drive 45 minutes each way on crazy highways with construction and in the dark (I’m not a fan of those things), and going by myself, and starting to talk myself out of going. I tweeted about it, and this morning, the Yarn Harlot herself had replied to my tweet! IMG_5634There you have it. I have no choice. When the Yarn Harlot says you should go, you should go. So I will go and I will take my knitting and there will be lovely friendly knitters there AND those of us attending the keynote address get to shop from the vendors afterward! I will have plenty to blog about this weekend, that’s for sure.

I’ll probably take my Hitchhiker with me. It’s going more slowly than the previous ones. Maybe I’m finally getting a little tired of the pattern. But yesterday, instead of getting retail therapy at a yarn store, I shopped my stash and found my next project: IMG_5635It’s going to become a Tailwind Shawl; I just need to work out the sequence of the striping before I cast on. With any luck, I’ll have progress to show you tomorrow!

Good Wrap, Bad Hat, and Writing

We’ll call this Making Progress Monday. Look what I did yesterday!! IMG_5622I’ve got just a little bit left of that medium gray, and then it’s the last color and my Color Block Wrap will be done! It knits up so much faster than I expected, but it probably helps that I spent yesterday watching TV and knitting. I started Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary, and fell in and couldn’t stop. Total binge day. This was perfect knitting for it too, mindless enough that I could keep my eyes on the screen most of the time. I wish I could have watched the whole series but I have two episodes left and the hubby says I have to wait and watch them with him. Sigh. Fine. Whatever. Maybe I’ll finish it tonight.

And the wrap was actually the second thing I worked on yesterday. I started out making a hat with some purple wool, because I needed a break from all the gray and wanted some color. It was easy to make, knit up quickly, and I like how it looks here: IMG_5620But this morning I put it on a head to take photos for this post, and…well. I kind of hate it. IMG_5624It’s not the pattern’s fault at all. I love the zigzags and the way the decreases look, but it came out so much more slouchy than I expected.IMG_5625I’ve made hats with this much slouch and they’re fine, but it’s not what I wanted this time. I’ll try it on my own head to make sure, but I’m thinking this one will be frogged and redone with fewer stitches and/or smaller needles.

I made progress with the writing this weekend too, on Saturday while my family was off camping. I took a break from the memoir I’m querying and instead focused on my novel. It’s the first one I wrote, probably the closest to my heart, and all I have is a printout from an old computer. So I’m typing it up and revising heavily as I go, and I was on a roll on Saturday. I was deep in a writing trance and got over 6000 words done. Granted, it’s revision so maybe not as impressive as pouring out that many new words, but I’m delighted anyway. I’m over halfway through it, and once it’s all typed up, I’ll leave it alone for a while and let it simmer again. I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing, and that was one of the pieces of advice that really struck me. (Sidebar: I loved his book; it was interesting and honest and smart. I didn’t learn a whole lot I didn’t already know about writing, but it made me feel I was doing the right things, and most importantly, it made me want to WRITE.) Anyway! I know this novel will need another big revision. I already have thoughts of what I need to add/change etc on the next go-round, but I’ve learned from experience that it’ll go more smoothly if I come at it with fresh eyes. I’ve also learned that I enjoy the writing part much more than the querying agents part!

One last thought: there’s been lots of buzz around Instagram lately, lots of posts asking people to “turn on notifications” so their posts don’t get lost, lots of anger that Instagram is changing their algorithm. I love Instagram the way it is, but I’m not freaking out about it. If nothing else, I have to accept that it’s a free app, and it’s a business, and they have to do what they feel is right for their business. We let them know what our thoughts are on the change, and now it’s up to me to adapt or move on.

In the interest of adapting, today I went through the accounts I follow and unfollowed several of the celebrity accounts, the bigger accounts I can see elsewhere or just don’t enjoy that much. Now my Follow list is a carefully curated list of crafters/knitters/dyers/makers (and friends of course) so whatever photos show up in my feed, I’ll be happy.

I’m a small fish: I don’t have a lot of followers and I’m excited when I get 20 likes on a photo, so this algorithm change might kill what little feedback I do get. And if it does, well. That will suck. And I will either keep posting photos because it pleases me, or I won’t. I have a new Ello account (I’m bonnyknits there too) and I might start using that more than Instagram eventually. But I’m going to be patient and give Instagram a shot. And while I do, I’m going to be generous with my Likes and comments, especially with the smaller makers/crafters. I really do think it will be okay.

I’ll leave you with my buddy Jack. He was so happy the hubby took the kids camping this weekend because it meant he could sleep next to me as long as he wanted! IMG_5610Happy Monday, friends!