The Decision of Your Life

Since moving to Carrboro, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I'm doing with my life. I've been trudging along trying to balance working full time with building a business full time and before that, I was doing the same but also attending college full time. I have hardly had time to write or read without feeling the constraints of a self-imposed workaholic schedule, and I have noticed myself settling into a general state of melancholia as a result.

The craft fairs I sold my wares at this December were fun and rewarding--the first push of what I called 'taking-my-business-to-the-next-level'--but it made me realize that I never ever want to do production knitting or jewelry making again. Realizations like this never come when you're wide awake, full with good food, and surrounded by friends, though, and this realization was no different. I spent the entire month of December production knitting and beading, and in order to get through it, I listened to the entire 1996 archive of This American Life; I watched entire seasons of American Horror Story, The Practice, and other shamefully produced television shows; and prefaced essentially every single intimate visit with friends by saying, "Ok, but I have to bring my knitting." This meant no walks in the woods, few dinners out, and no trips to the movie theatre.

Perfect illustration

By the time the third show came and went, on the third Sunday of December, I was sick from exhaustion, had too many knitted headbands left over, and felt completely tapped. I looked at the pile of fingerless gloves that still needed to be seamed up, taken photos of, and uploaded online, and felt nothing. I thought, "I'm almost 27," and my life flashed before my eyes in the cheesiest Hollywood kind of way. I got this shock of clarity and knew instantly that in that very moment I had to take my life back from myself and change everything.

I had to close my studio, sell or give away unnecessary supplies, and start making myself write again, every single day. I had to start researching MFA programs, study for the GRE, and read all the books I'd been moving around with me for so many years so I could take them in and then let them go. I looked around at the bins of yarn, shelves full of clothes, and cases of books and saw what I had been doing to myself.

I have never felt financially secure, and even as a child, I spent my free time scheming ways to make money in the neighborhood by selling friendship bracelets or raking neighbors' leaves. I operated from a place of scarcity, and this was one phase I didn't grow out of. In that moment, looking at all of those things around me, I realized they represented cowardice. I NEEDED to struggle. The narrative I based my professional and creative trajectory on was one that kept me imprisoned to an impossible schedule that led nowhere but to a place where I was able to completely avoid the real work of my life--my writing.

Maybe I've been afraid to learn what I might write if I really commit. Maybe I'm afraid of success. I've received various awards in writing over the years, and studied Creative Writing in my undergrad program, but I never felt good enough. But knitting patterns, well, once I wrote one, and it was finished, I could make the product over and over again without thinking, and deceive myself into believing that I was being creative. There is joy in efficiency, and even creativity in developing systems for efficiency, but production itself is not creative, even if you are making color 'design' choices. I am not saying design isn't creative, but I am admitting to myself that the method by which I designed and created was not creative. It was formulaic. How rewarding it was, though, getting to the end of a row and then the end of all the rows and sewing the ends together to make something that was indisputably complete. How different from a piece of writing. Once you've woven the ends into the piece of fabric you've created, there is nothing more to do. With writing, I wonder if the ends are ever really woven in.

But I am not as proud as I once was, and as soon as I admitted where I was going wrong in my life, and what I needed to do to become the writer I never really accepted that I was, I felt the kind of clarity and rejuvenation you hear about from people who have just returned from nearly dying. Or perhaps it's more like the experience of those who have just been diagnosed with some terminal disease.

It helped to see people around me dealing with similar thoughts--a friend who decided to change careers, grad students doing research at the cafe where I work, and another friend trying to decide whether or not to sell her pottery or to just continue making it for herself. More acute, though, was being close to my grandmother and seeing just what fear of rejection had done to her life. It made her into a person who had closets full of binders and boxes and files of poems, short stories, and full length memoir-style manuscripts that she would never ever ever send out for publication. She is 76.

As far as I know, I am relatively healthy, and there isn't much history of disease in my family, but I will die one day, and that day might not be so far away. I don't want to spend my time schlepping and producing wares that are, at best, poor illustrations of my abilities. I want to know that I have been fully committed to my purpose as well as to meaningful experiences outside of myself that aren't punctuated by surges of guilt about the pile of unfinished fingerless gloves, just waiting to be finally completed.

And it would be nice to make something for myself for once.