Friday, 3 May 2013
Everyone is sad or scared or angry or desperately in denial. Talking hurts some people even while it helps others. I am experiencing so many heightened emotions, but also reflecting on some very simple realisations.
I am surprised by how little patience I have for other people right now, outside of a small group who somehow seem to be inside the glass jar with me (I am incredibly glad to say primary amongst them is my bloke). This is my over sensitivity, I know it. And I am hardly consistent in what touches me and what strikes me as bizarrely insensitive. I have bad days. And worse days.
Human interaction isn't perfect and I don't usually expect it to be. The myriad of misunderstandings and foolishness that arise from our widely diverse experiences and perspectives can never be resolved into simple truths and generally I try pretty hard to be cool with that. But now the membrane between normal life and unbearable grief is only wafer thin and I have no capacity to be tolerant.
It seems helplessness in the face of tragedy gives people license to speak and act without reflection on what will come from that. I know I've done the same, let my own emotional discomfort run the conversation all the while believing I'm being emotionally supportive. I live in hope that this experience will change that about me.
As one lovely person said to me after witnessing one interaction, there's only two things it is ever appropriate to say to someone unless you are exceptionally close and that's "I'm sorry" and "can I do anything?".
I'm not a very private person but suddenly I feel like everyone is pushing hard on that thin film of
protection I have from being fully immersed, from drowning, in the awful reality of what I am experiencing.
Is it reasonable to expect people to understand that detailed enquiry feels invasive? That asking me to recount what has happened is tantamount to asking me to relive it? That their attempts to make sense of things (out loud and interactively) don't help me at all? That crying about it in front of me only makes me sadder?
Is it only me who experiences expressions of sympathy as abrasions on a thousand raw nerves?
Even while I am shocked at people's insensitivity I know it is only my hyper sensitivity that makes it so shocking. Because frankly, I'm surprised to feel this way. To feel so little comfort from others when comfort is what I crave. I'm a person who dwells with others, so why are they so impotent, or worse, when I need them the most to be at their embracing best? I'm surprised to say I find the company of others a little frightening. I fear how they may inadvertently make me feel, I fear how difficult it will be to try and contain that, and how badly I might behave if I can't.
I wish people's offers of help and support could somehow lighten the load. Frankly I'm pretty exhausted. Quite aside from what I'm feeling there's an awful lot to do. There's decisions and negotiations and a lot of being very careful and thinking about others. There's errands and chores and phone calls. A lot of people to keep at bay who simply don't pick up on cues and hints that we don't have energy for them right now.
[Don't get me started on the people who say I know you don't want visitors but I'll just pop in, or I know you don't want to talk about it, but I'll just ask a few more questions. That part isn't our over sensitivity, it is most definitely a lack of emotional self containment on behalf of other people.]
Life is getting neglected, joy is getting squeezed out through every crack and join. And that's the kicker, the salve to sadness is the first thing to go when everyone else thinks they can best help you by getting in bed with the gore and pain. It isn't insensitive not to wallow, it's right to run from death where you can. Other people being happy reminds me that its still possible even if it seems a long way off for me right now.
I'm fighting as hard as I can to grasp at flashes of joy. And while its a walking stereotype I feel incredibly lucky despite all the horror. Lucky to have had the time I've had with those I love, lucky to be able to hope for lots more time yet with so many of those I hold dear. There is much to appreciate about the now and I realise how much I've cheated myself of past joy by not recognising the importance of what was right in front of me.
I'm surprised too to suddenly find twitter utterly unbearable. The amusing anecdotes and shared groans about life's frustrations seem completely trivial and petty and it frightens me how of all the things going on for people everyday this is the stuff they want most to share. The snipes, whines, complaints, criticisms and character assassinations far outweigh the other stuff.
What once seemed like keeping it real now seems like so much temper tantruming, with about as much dignity and self control as I'd expect from a toddler. I'd read this kind of view of twitter before and totally dismissed it but I've suddenly become acutely aware of how often I think about tweeting simply to vent my anger or share a complaint about a minor irritation in my otherwise pretty excellent life. I'm horrified how often this is the dominant use I find for communicating with people on social media.
Why do I want to harness to awesome powerhouse of social media for the purpose of wallowing in #firstworldproblems? Why do I think anyone gives a crap if I got harassed at the supermarket, cutoff in traffic, overslept, overcharged, broke a fingernail, missed my favourite tv show, got a wedgie, a cold or spilled my $5 coffee on my shirt? Is that really the heights to which I aspire in connecting with the world and other human beings? Is that the kind of inspiring, creative, amusing and life affirming message I want to send out there about who I am and what I'm about?
I know it's the grief talking but really, I just want to slap a good number of tweeters and remind them that they are living incredibly privileged lives. So I'm keeping away because its not nice to slap anyone even if they may possibly deserve it.
Edited to add: a kind reader has sent me this link, and it is a really simple way of explaining how to deal with people in crisis in terms of your own behaviour. I want to make it compulsory reading for everyone everywhere! I encourage you to read it if you have ever thought i just dont know what to say or do here, but in case you don't here is a very brief summary.
Draw a circle and put the person who is at the centre of the crisis in it. Draw progressively bigger circles around this putting the names of people who are progressively more distant from them in those circles. The most inner circle might have a spouse, or parent or child or sibling, the next circle might have children or close friends, and so on, right out to aquaintances, neighbours or work colleagues.
The basic guide to behaviour is that while everyone has a right to express their pain, anger, grief, exhaustion and to offer advice and commentary, they can only do it to people in a bigger ring than they are in. When they are dealing with people in smaller rings they can only offer support, sympathy and help. In general they can listen but not talk and certainly not advise.
While there's a few complexities the model doesn't provide guidance on, like how to deal nicely with people who think they are in much smaller rings than the person in the centre thinks (grief as a competitive habit), or what happens when people in inner rings have to act on behalf of the person in the centre and people in other rings disagree with their decisions (interference vs advocacy), in the main it's a brilliant guide.
Edited again to add more : this is another great link a reader pointed me to, 10 simple rules for talking to sick people in a helpful way. I wish I'd read this one years ago too.
Tuesday, 9 April 2013
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
I'm processing the worst kind of bad news.
Seeking solace in baking bread and eating chocolate.
Knitting enormous big cashmere hugs in a futile attempt to protect and comfort.
But inside I'm just drowning in the enormity of it.
Suddenly the world seems like its made of glass and everything could shatter if I even breathe. It might shatter even if I don't.
Every blissful moment of forgetting is followed by another terrible crashing wave of remembering.
The immediate future involves a lot of waiting and then the rendering of the finer details of the unfolding tragedy.
I can't talk about it without crying but I simply can't care about anything else.
So expect more bread baking and a lot of letting everything else slide.
Monday, 1 April 2013
One of the reasons I love teaching, especially the kind of teaching I get to do these days, is that so often I feel like the student. Small classes where students bring their own projects and interests mean (a) I'm not teaching the same stuff over and over, (b) I get to connect with students as individuals and (c) I get to work alongside those individuals solving their problems.
The unique combination of personality, experience, attitude and technical issues gets me rethinking things I often do on automatic pilot. Just bringing something to mind can be enough to shift my perspective on it.
And other stuff too - that sewing is hard, requires concentration to do well but can be absorbing in a way that obliterates other kinds of worry and stress. That you can choose when near enough is good enough and when it isn't. That the time spent creating in company has a quality that is wholly different to most other kinds of time.
I was thinking about some of this stuff last week too. While my last craft camp produced some good outcomes, I felt a little disappointed with myself that I'd rushed a couple of projects and the finished garment really suffered. I was in near enough is good enough mode and forgot to switch gears for projects that warranted closer attention. I've never been hung up on perfectionism, and I'd still say there are many situations where a few corners can be safely cut in the name of keeping production goals attainable.
But after camp I was hankering for one of those projects where I really focused on a good finish. Not too complicated because I don't have endless time or patience, but complicated enough to give me a good solid 'piece' as a reward. While I've got a bunch of projects on the pile, each one of them has something unresolved about them and the need to modify patterns, find a better fabric to pattern match or imagine them fitting in with the rest of my wardrobe are great disincentives to getting going.
When I saw the Jac shirt pattern I knew it was exactly what I wanted. Shirt making is hard but not impossible, it requires precision and attention to detail and a well drafted pattern but if its well put together it can be an indispensable wardrobe staple. I don't have many shirts, mostly because the standard version can look particularly shapeless on me so I was both happy to add a new one to my fold and also try something that was a bit of a twist on the norm.
Like the Lily dress, the Jac is particularly tidy - small drafting and construction details come together to make garment both fully serviceable but distinct at the same time. I added a bust dart (a fairly standard adjustment for me), upsized the pattern, narrowed the shoulders for a sharper shoulder line, added a large patch pocket on the right front and increased the size of the buttons.
I think the various changes give the shirt an almost jacket like look and I love it. I love the wide stitched hem, the uncommon angle on the collar tips, the sleeve vents and angled side seam. I'll be upfront in saying I work at Tessuti, but its not employer loyalty here. I think Colette has a great eye for a really polished finish that doesn't simply rely on a novelty approach to breaking a few foundational drafting rules.
But I'm also feeling really invigorated by seeing the result of a bit of slow sewing. I won't be abandoning the instant gratification of a quick sew - the current to do list features some kid PJs for example - but I'm glad the pendulum has swung back a little.
I used the momentum to sew Wil some new jeans and a dressing gown for Amy. Last year I bought Wil's jeans early in the year (part of my regretted slide into cheap sweat shop produced clothes) but as it turned out he wore shorts for pretty much the whole of winter so a year on they are all ridiculously small. He's a fussy dresser and would rather skip clothes altogether than wear shorts that are too long, a knitted jumper or jeans with a closure he finds awkward. So I got his criteria for good jeans (black, some elastine in the denim, proper pockets front and back, elastic waist with fake front fly, embellishment on back pockets, contrast colour stitching on hem, back yoke) and looked over Ottobre back issues to find something that was either perfect or adjustable.
As usual, Ottobre provided a near perfect match. While the pattern was made for plus size kids (ie short for width) and my kid is pretty much the opposite (ie narrow for height), adding length to a smaller size was no biggie. I actually really enjoyed putting them together! Clearly still in my taking care mode I found the process meditatively orderly, and both Wil and I were happy with the results.
The cooler mornings had prompted a reassessment of the home made dressing gowns from the winter before last - and luckily Amy's was gender neutral enough to facilitate a hand me down. Amy wanted something a bit warmer than her previous so she chose a kimono inspired design from Ottobre and a bunch of polar fleece pieces for a colour blocked version.
While the resulting garment definitely won approval from the girl it was considerably less enjoyable to sew. I hate pretty much everything about polar fleece except how incredibly practical it is for messy kids, and my overlocked feels the same way. There was broken threads and lumps of not quite cut free seam allowance and all manner of other frustrations. In the end it was far more near enough is good enough than slow sewing, but I'm ok with that.
Tuesday, 12 March 2013
|Wildlife sanctuary Laos, 1994|
|In the mouth of the giant pumpkin, Buddha park, Vientiane, Laos, 1993|
|Waterfall swimming, Laos, 1993|
|Travel, Lao style, 1994|
|The joys of poste restante in a pre mobile and internet age, Bangkok post office, 1993|
|Reading the papers on the river Kwai, Kanchanaburi Thailand, 1993|
Through deserts and monsoons, a lot of very very hot weather and some notable flashes of extreme cold.
|Atop Borobudur, Java Indonesia, 1994|
We both revisited places we'd been before but experienced them totally differently. Noticed new things, tried new things, felt new things.
|The sand dunes at Seal Rocks, New South Wales Australia, 1994|
|Wyperfeld, Vicoria, 1994|
|Little Desert, Victoria, 1994|
|The Grampians, Victoria, 1994|
|Sorrento, Victoria, 1995|
|Flinders Ranges, South Australia, 1995|
|The Oodnatatta Track, 1996|
|McDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory, 1996|
|The mighty Uluru, Northern Territory, 1996|
Saturday, 9 March 2013
My boss was a net loser. No matter how many pens he took from the stationary cupboard he never had one. He left them on tables when he left meetings, passed them over to others without getting them back and otherwise lost possession of them. He was always looking for pads of post it notes, staplers, hole punches, rulers. One of my colleagues on the other hand seemed to attract stuff like a magnet. Pens multiplied in her hands, her desk was always littered with other people's stationary and gadgets.
The losers and gainers have a symbiotic relationship and its hard to believe that at some level the losers aren't a little bit complicit in this, however much they complain. But I wondered then and I still do why the gainers remain oblivious of the balance sheet. By the very definition, their gain is someone else's loss, right?
I must be getting old, but I find myself reflecting on that balance sheet more and more these days. Windfalls make me nervous, unaccountable generosity rings false. I feel the need to make mental calculations about whether I am owed something, about where the cost has been hidden, whether someone has missed out or if I'm inadvertently being shoved into debt. I know I've talked about this before in relation to textiles and consumer goods but increasingly the pattern of net gain and loss seems evident everywhere I look.
It's this that makes me particularly conscious of my good fortune when I receive a gift. A very lovely friend recently gave me something and started with words to the effect that she knew getting special gifts made me uncomfortable but I should feel assured she felt I didn't owe her anything. I love the gift, LOVE IT, but a big part of what made me feel comfortable receiving it wasn't what she said. It was because I know she gets the balance sheet thing. I know she gets it not because of what she says, but because of what she does.
She isn't looking for an edge in this life - she just wants to get on with her own thing. She tries hard to give back where she feels she's taken, she gives happily where she feels she can, she applauds the generosity of others. She doesn't complain half as much as she's entitled to even when her burdens are impossibly big, she laughs easily and makes other people feel good about themselves. And if I make her sound like some kind of sap then I'm saying it wrong, because she also has opinions and strength of character and isn't looking to let anyone take advantage of her. She's neither a net gainer or a net loser - she's the middle path.
I've got a few other friends like her, I hope they know that I know who they are. They are the really important people in my life and increasingly I know that it isn't because of the things they do for me, or the things they let me do for them. I can rely on them, but only so long as I don't behave like a dick. I don't believe they would let me take advantage of them, nor would they seek to take advantage of me. Around them I can truly relax because that sheet is already in balance.
These people are my constant reminders of who I want to be, my moral compasses and non-competitors in a competitive world. It's knowing them that's their gift to me, and a stark contrast with those relationships where what I give and take is what counts. As one of them said to me it's so good to be with you and not feel like I have to give you anything. Everyone else wants something from me. How good did it make me feel to hear that? To be the one with whom she could just be herself? To be able to just be, to be me and her, just sitting there being us. Whether we are laughing or crying - and we've done both - we're still just us, getting through this life business and occasionally reaching out a steadying hand to each other.
So today I'm saying thanks to those people in my life. For their gifts real and imagined, for their tolerance and acceptance of me and my many flaws, for their compassion and awareness of others and for their humor. Especially for their humor.
Sunday, 10 February 2013
I had just begun.
I was nearly new.
I was hardly me.
I was not much more.
I was just alive.
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.
I love this rhyme and know it by heart, and a boy turning six allows it to be said quite a lot for a few days.
Happy birthday spud, I hope you stay six for ever and ever.