Jan 21, 2011

On the relationship of physical and emotional clutter; and on loving both

Last year I tried to clean the craft room. It was an abortive attempt.

Does that make the craft room sound like a hopeless wreck? (Are you thinking, Holy cow, she didn't clean it at all last year?)

Hold those horses! ;) It's not exactly a hopeless wreck, and I didn't not-clean it at all last year. I did have a few spastic bouts of rearranging and occasional miniature spasms of actual cleaning. Realistically, though, I didn't get much organization done, and, okay ... it is kind of a wreck. But I promise it's far too lame of a wreck to show up on a reality TV show about messes or hoarding. ;)

Last year I also bought myself a tiny little copy of the Love That Room clutter-clearing workshop from Lisa at Zen at Play. I made it about as far into the workshop as I made it into "fixing" the craft room: not terribly far.

(By the way, the above link to Zen at Play is an affiliate link, just in case you love Lisa's philosophy so much you feel compelled to buy her current offering ... but Love That Room doesn't appear to be available any more. So feel safe in the knowledge that this isn't a sales pitch. ;) Moving on...)

My failure to organize the craft room probably meant I wasn't ready. Ready for what? Frankly, for a lot, and I'll talk about that in a bit, because maybe I'm ready now, or getting close to it. I hope so, because I'm going to try again to clean the craft room this year. Decluttering in an honest and non-judgemental way seems to go hand in hand with casting off the negative self-bindings that were keeping me from truly expressing myself, don't you think? One is emotional decluttering, and the other is a physical decluttering ... but they're both related to creativity and safe space and letting myself be me.

And here's a funny thing. I know that's all true. But it's nice to have someone else say it independently of my prompting, which Lisa does in Love That Room. Some of the points she makes on the very first page:

There will be no declaring war, attacking, or whipping into shape. If that worked for me, it would have worked already.

Clutter clearing is an act of self-care: It means creating an environment that supports me and contains space for me to be me, to express what I want to express.

Clutter clearing is letting go of what doesn't serve me any more and making way for what brings me joy. In terms of emotional decluttering, like I mentioned in my last post, I am letting go of self-denial and making room for being honest. I like how she puts it: "You're clearing away everything that obscures your view of what matters most to you." I totally know that my half-abandoned, messy craft room is a direct reflection of my neglected self-expression and the repression of my self.

Another quote I like: "Clutter clearing is a journey of self-discovery because you learn about yourself through the decisions you make, and explore your past, present and future through your possessions. Your history, your hopes, your struggles — they're all expressed through the things around you." So my objective when I organize the craft room isn't just "to have a clean space." It's also to reflect on my identity and my journey, and that helps me feel like I don't have to rush it to get to an end result. Reflection takes time and reflection is an objective of its own; there is no Big Thing at the end of reflection that I need to rush toward.

"Clearing can be an opportunity to practice kindness and mindfulness." I have been very, very neglectful of self-kindness and mindfulness for the past few years. If cleaning the craft room is an opportunity to get better at those things, then it's worth doing for the practice of those things alone.

"Rather than just chucking stuff out, you can be interacting consciously with your physical environment, your belongings, and the stories behind them." This is something I've felt is missing from other approaches to decluttering — the respect for your past decisions to keep these things that have now become clutter and blockage, and the respect for the stories behind the things you have kept.

Tossing things indiscriminately, to me, is like performing surgery without respect for how you affect the bits and pieces around the piece you're taking out, or fixing. Uhh ... I wouldn't do that to my physical body, so why the crap would I do that to my emotional self? Maybe that suits other people out there, but the fact that I can tolerate the pain doesn't mean I should inflict it.

And I know that most of the things I've acquired have emotional value to me. If they didn't, they'd be gone already. Duh. If I just had a problem throwing anything out I'd have every single cereal box I've ever emptied still sitting around the house. Sure, I have some things that some people would consider trash, but they're not — they're things that have at some point had emotional value (an idea Lisa also addressed in a blog post at one point). To treat those things like they have the same value as a piece of junk mail is disrespectful of myself. That's part of why it was so traumatic last year when someone came in and threw out a bunch of my belongings while I was on vacation.

So here's to treating myself, my things, and the stories behind everything with respect. No wonder I haven't been able to write effectively for years. I've been ignoring and devaluing stories left and right. How silly of me. ;)

Wouldn't it be funny if cleaning the craft room made me a better writer again? ;)

One thing it probably will do is bring me closer to being a happy, comfortable, self-aware person again.

So hey! If anyone else out there is trying to declutter their own space and you're thinking along the same lines as I am, feel free to clean along with me and post comments on your own progress! As is pretty obvious from the success of the Craft or Bust project, it does help me to have like-minded people along with me for the journey, even if there's baton-swapping and tagging in and out. ;)

Jan 16, 2011

On the loss of self and emotion; or, how honesty, pain and creativity are intrinsically related

So what do you do when you're so angry you're almost physically incandescent? Or when you're so disappointed, so disgusted by someone's blindness or self-righteousness or selfishness, that you're surprised the feelings aren't transmuting magically into radioactive sludge and oozing out your pores?

Some people do their best to hide their feelings ... even from themselves. Some of them are visible to the naked eye as emotional wrecks and still hide their feelings from themselves — just not from anyone else who bothers paying a wee bit of attention. I've seen cases of this that make me wonder where the stick could be shoved in so far that I can't see it.

I am not a fan of the "hide your emotions because it's more seemly" approach.

I am a fan of honesty — with oneself, at the very minimum. Honesty that isn't just the flip side of self-indulgent, fear-driven silence. I'm fairly against people running rampant at every tiny insult, screaming at length about their enemies and their enemies' ancestors and their enemies' future progeny and the unavoidable end of the world if people like this continue to exist; and by "fairly against," I mean I'm as close to dead-set against that kind of behavior as I can get without becoming a mindless zombie slave to the opinion.

But I'm in favor of honesty with that same intensity. And the most important person to be honest with is yourself. That comes before everything. Because seriously. When people can't be honest with themselves about themselves, chances are good that they have a problem being honest with themselves about large chunks of the rest of reality. And I'm kinda sorta a gigantic fan of that whole "being able to deal with reality" thing. It helps with solving all kinds of problems. ;)

So what do I do when I'm so full of negative emotion that the energy is barely short of perceptible to human senses?

What I do these days is, to be honest (See? I'm being honest with me and you! ;)), pretty much completely crap for me. It is perilously, soul-endangeringly close to the opposite of what I should do. I don't actively try to hide emotions from myself, but frequently, I suppress expressing my emotions to avoid hurting someone by telling them what a completely hurtful git they're being. (Yes. I have people hurt me and then consciously avoid hurting them back even by being straightforwardly honest.) That's a pretty appalling thing to do to myself, and anyone who's known me for longer than five years or so should probably be about as appalled as I am.

Because one of the other things to which I am devoted almost to an obsessive level is truth. And one of the things I used to do was call people out as soon as I noticed their hurtful behavior, if I was face to face with them at the time. And "as soon as I noticed" was really really soon. Because I had a lot of practice paying attention and smacking. That. Crap. Down. Before it could get out of hand.

Obviously people who are determined to be gits really hate it when you do this. But people who don't devote themselves to being assholes (and that's often, though not always, their word for it) are often surprisingly grateful when they finally realize they really were being horribly disrespectful and that you stopped them. Even though I saw it many, many times, it was always a little bit surprising to have people tell me "You weren't rude. It was totally justified, and I'm glad you did it" when I was, uh, yeah, quite arguably being rude. Even if it was justified and for the honorable purpose of making someone stop hurting someone else.

The other thing I did when I encountered something that absolutely incensed me, or depressed me, or wounded me intensely in some way, was that I would write that crap out. If the person who did the dastardly deed was not immediately accessible for me to stop them, I'd open a fresh ClarisWorks (or AppleWorks, those being things that existed on Macs before Microsoft Word for Mac ;)) document and spit out a lightning-fast rant poem. Or an opinion essay. Or a fantasy story. Or a letter (never to be sent) to the person who was acting horrible. Or I would get out the sketchbook and draw pictures of huge, awesome dragons spitting fire at tiny silhouettes that I imagined were the people I hated.

Then the anger (or fear, or depression, or whatever) had a home. It had an expression that treated it with respect.

What the "smack down" approach and the "write/draw it out" approaches have in common is just that: They both treat emotions with respect and recognize them for what they are. What they are is reasonable reactions to reality, not made-up, invalid pieces of mental/emotional trash. By regularly acknowledging my emotions and handling them with respect, I had control over them, rather than them controlling me, or them doing things beyond my control. I could choose how to use them.

Whether or not you agree with how I use(d) my emotions, emotional self-honesty has the same potential for everyone. If you have control of how your emotional energy gets used, then you can have emotions (you know, like, you can be a whole human being), but have them affect you in ways that are in line with your values. If you ignore your emotions, they do things you can't see. If you suppress them, you risk them running around in your heart secretly doing things you don't agree with. Because pretending they aren't there doesn't actually make them go away. It just makes them go underground. Until they burst out like the man-eating scarabs in The Mummy and terrorize random people. ;)

An important thing to explain at this point is what I said earlier about my devotion to truth. I really, really care about the truth. More than I care about being right for my ego's sake. I want to be right so I can deal with the cards that are actually on the table — not to be right for the sake of feeling good or superior. I fully admit that when I first started my campaign to Know Truth, it was largely for the sake of preserving my ego. I hated being wrong. When I was like ten years old. By the time I was thirteen or so, I was pretty much over the ego-driven thing and into the idea that truth is useful because it's useful, not just because it keeps me from being embarrassed.

So by the time I was thirteen, I had spent significant time and energy on making sure I could distinguish truth from illusion. I felt (because I had tested this repeatedly) I could trust my emotions were based on things that really existed. If I thought someone sounded condescending, then I could say exactly why I thought that, which proved it was a sound decision, not a random one. (And I was, and still am, very open to changing my opinion based on new information.)

That doesn't mean my perceptions were always accurate reflections of what was actually going on, of course, and I knew that — but I could trust that I wasn't seeing things in order to feel what I felt. I wasn't feeling something first, then creating a reason out of thin air to justify the feeling. (We all know someone who alters their idea of reality to justify what they feel, and gets all self-righteous about it ... right? Yeah. I hate that. I've hated it since I was thirteen.)

I was very young when I started losing trust in emotion, but learning to trust my judgement and perceptions allowed me to trust my emotions again. (Emotions are part of Self, so really, I'd lost trust in me and then earned it back. Yay. ;)) Even if I mistakenly got upset over something that I didn't quite understand properly, I knew I wasn't merely emotional. I was emotional with reason. I also knew that if my perceptions and understanding were wrong, there was an easy way to stop me from being upset: Giving me information to change my understanding.

This is not the same thing as telling me I'm wrong and expecting me to believe you. Presenting me with factual, reasonable information acknowledges that my initial perception deserves to be treated with respect, as if I might be (OMG! Noway!) a rational but non-omniscient human being with reasons for having emotions, but who merely doesn't have all the information. Basically it's the opposite approach from telling me "You're wrong, your emotions are pointless and if you don't take my word for it that makes you a selfish, irrational, overemotional freak." (What, I should believe you because you're just that much smarter and better than I am? Because you have no emotions and you're never wrong? I should just bow down to your battle aura because you're so cool you don't need to give evidence as to why you're right? Yeah, no.) That's the kind of thing that gets you targeted for a riled-up smackdown.

Soooooooooo. This has to do with crafting because, oddly enough, once I got broken a few years ago (I keep referencing this and not explaining it, don't I? ;)), I stopped being able to write and draw with any real inspiration or emotion. I'd spent so much energy on disrespecting my emotions, had suppressed them for so long, that I lost the heart to give creation life. Now, when I tried to write or draw or make any kind of art, what I created was a pallid glance at a badly-shot black and white photo of life. Technically, my slide out of true creative ability was a long, slow, painful process of losing pieces of myself and my passion, and I fought it as hard as I could...

...short of fixing the real problem. Which was that I was disrespecting my own emotions for the sake of not hurting other people. I was hurting myself to avoid hurting them. That's not only really, seriously unfair, it completely kills your ability to make art that means something to you.

Because art is emotion. Creation is emotion. Any emotion. Good ones, bad ones, whatever. Art and creation aren't about judging your emotions; they're about expressing your emotions, for better or for worse. The better you get at any art, the better you are at expressing what you really mean, what you really feel.

For more than a decade, yes, more than a decade, and that is more than a third of my entire life, I have been slowly destroying my own ability to create. By pretending that my emotions are not important and not valid, and that expressing them is bad.

I am going to stop.

If you are afraid of emotions, I apologize, and I expect you'll probably be leaving, and I wish you well. I also think you should consider exploring ways to stop being afraid of emotions, but really, that's not my business (unless you make it my business ;)). And everyone proceeds at their own pace, and I expect someday you'll understand where I'm coming from.

As for me, I have been the weight on my own wings that has kept me from flying far and fast as I once did. I really, really, really want to fly again, you guys. Not flying is killing me.

And while I used to write and draw out the pain to take that weight off, crafting (almost my sole creative expression for the past five to seven years) has never served that purpose for me. I can't remember ever letting myself "taint" crafting by expressing negative emotions with it. The closest I can remember coming is with sewing costumes; the idea of wearing a "negative" character's costume never bothered me. But most of my costuming happened before I got broken. So maybe there were other things I did back then, that came closer to using craft as emotional expression, but that was a long, long emotional way away, and I don't remember it.

With the crafts I've learned more recently than sewing — knitting, weaving, spinning — I've kept to this inane idea that crafting is sacredly connected to the ideas of hearth, of nourishment, that it should always be positive and wholesome. I've been consciously avoiding ever associating it with negativity, which is probably because when I first starting knitting, I was using it specifically to avoid thinking of the negative situation I was in. That was the first of the fiber arts, sewing aside, that I really learned. Weaving and spinning came after, like offshoots, and inherited the same imagined sacredness, the same rule that it was taboo to be negative through them.

Unconscious habits, anyone? Oy.

It's time to let that one go. It's bad for me. I don't know yet if that means I'm going to cut down on knitting (and maybe the other fiber arts — *cringe*), or if it means I'm going to have to experiment with transforming knitting and the other fibery things I do into an art form that's allowed to express negative feelings without being pathetically self-indulgent or tasteless (and the idea of creating evocative but beautiful fiber arts products has a lot of appeal — that's what I was going for to begin with, starting my little crafty business). What I do know is: Something's gotta give.

To answer my own question again: What do I do when I'm so angry I can almost breathe fire?

I take the clamp off my pointy dragon snout and I point the flames where they can do the most good.

By God, Goddess, the Tao, or Whatever you believe in — pick your Powers That Be — it feels good to be honest again. Even if it means 2,000+ words of blog post at once.

But ten years of feelings takes a long time to write.

Jan 12, 2011

In which I, like, babble about yarn, Craft or Bust, gratitude and snow — in video!

Everyone take a deep breath with me; I ask you for moral support! I'm doing something brave that I have literally never done before, even though I've been on the Internet for oh mumblemumble years. And I've videotaped myself and other things for years (though of late I haven't had a real video camera, just the one in my computer and the one in my phone, which has dampened my enthusiasm somewhat...).

Maybe you can guess by that last sentence that What I've Done is make a video. GASP! Yes. I'm live-ish here on the blog at last.

I give you fair warning that this video was the last one made in several hours of taping and it is unedited (except to take out the two seconds of me holding up a piece of paper as a pseudo-clapperboard — meaning to visually mark the beginning of the video clip). I also say "like" a lot, which bothers me, largely because I took acting classes in high school (and I did actually go back and start to count the number of "likes," but I stopped once I got to a number I forbid myself to think about because it will irk me seriously ;)), but also because I promise I do not say "like" that much in person (though I do say it a fair amount — it's fair!), and because it seems to be the most "like"-ful video I recorded today. HMPH.

But while the earlier videos were less full of "like," they were also more full of tangent. That will probably be hard to believe when you watch the video, but believe it. Someday I will post a video that is not the final one in a long series, and you will see ... oh, yes, you will see! Besides, you should be used to my tangents my by now. Right?

Next time I will consider writing an outline for myself and going off that so I don't repeat myself so much, too. I hope it at least entertains you.

Without further ado, here it is. My video debut on the Internet — may it not come back to bite me. ;D

Edited to add: Duhhhh. I forgot to actually link you guys to the mailing list I keep talking about at the end. Maybe recording four hours of video eats your brain. Here's the link to the mailing list sign-up for Craft or Bust. Go forth and craaaaaaaft!

Edited again to add: And here are the links to Velma's blog (on which she has not indeed posted in a while, but you can always leave her comments begging for her to come back), and to her shop on Etsy. Ta-da!

Jan 8, 2011

Baking binge of dooooom! (and the best pie crust recipe ever)

The baking bug bit yesterday. The final tally: two loaves of bread, a blueberry pie, four cookies, two pastries and a kitchen strewn with bowls, spoons, baking pans and cookie sheets. Oh, yeah, and two happy crafty pirates. Let's start with the two loaves:

Close-up of made-up bread

If you read along with my captions on Flickr, you'll know that I got a copy of the book The Bread Baker's Apprentice for Christmas (and I love its scholarly obsessiveness; now, if only I could find an equivalent book for making Asian-style noodles, or pasta in general...). This bread is emphatically not made using the formulas in that book. I started to browse it yesterday and quickly realized I would get sucked into trying to absorb all the important but technically-not-essential-for-making-edible-bread details if I attempted to use it for immediate baking purposes. So rather than fail to make bread because I was too busy reading about bread, I basically glanced at the recipes on the back of the flour package and kinda-sorta-but-not-really followed them/made something up.

The result was a little flat, but it's definitely better than not getting to eat bread that night. ;)

Made-up bread

And now I have an admission, and a rather reluctant one, but I share it with you for the sake of all those out there who have done what I did: I made pie crust dough mumblemumble ago and then left it languishing, wrapped in plastic, in the fridge until it (for shame!) got a very very few telltale specks of mold on it.

Now, I am not advising that you do what I did. However, I will tell you what I did, and since I am sitting here now typing this post, clearly I did not die from it. ;) This is what I, horror of horrors, did yesterday: I cut off all the outside bits of the pie crust dough, rolled it out, and baked it anyway. With some questionable also-languishing blueberries that I combined with the juice of one questionable and languishing Kaffir lime. The result was probably far better than I deserve for disrespecting my ingredients.

Blueberry pie

That, folks, is my first double-crust pie ever. I used a star-shaped cookie cutter to cut out part of the top crust. Conveniently, this made star-shaped leftover bits for me to bake with my mangled but unbelievably good jam pastries.

What's that you say? There are only three cookies and I said there were four? Hmm, wonder where the fourth one went ... ;)

Breakfast this morning? PIE! The best blueberry pie I have ever eaten. I share with you now the God of All Pie Crust Recipes, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Try it at your peril — it may provoke incurable urges to conquer pie-crust-based recipes you have never tried before, and you may never again want to eat pie crust from any other recipe. (At least, it was that good for me. Just the leftover bits with a bit of jam smeared inside them were so good I swear to you I teared up.)

So now I'm a-gonna go have me some dinner, and for dessert? You guessed it.

Blueberry pie slice

Jan 7, 2011

It's Roc Day again! So have some llama yarn + LED sheep art

This year, once more there will be no traditional Distaff Day fire-setting or water-throwing in the Star & Crossbones studio (crossing fingers as I type this — at least mentally ;)), and I'm not even sure I'm going to make it to the spinning wheel, as I'm knitting some Brigit socks — but I can at least post photos of some yarn I spun earlier this week.

A whole 8+ oz of chunky llama yarn (it's the yarn that's chunky, not the llamas ... as far as I know) spun out of some of the first fiber I bought when I started spinning, which has been sitting in my stash waiting for the right project:

Llama singles

Pretty sure most, if not all, of the fiber is from Bahr Creek Llamas and Fiber Studio. (Half the fiber was actually labeled as such, and if the rest is from elsewhere, I can't think of where it came from.)

And actually, right now the yarn exists as two skeins of two-ply that I don't have photos of yet. Eventually it will be a Capucine hat, hopefully to come with me to Vogue Knitting Live later this month.

Llama singles

If you look closely, you can see that the center of the light-colored ball is beige rather than off-white. I used four different bags of fiber to spin the yarn, but I'm reasonably sure it's all llama. It's definitely camelid and not sheep's wool, at least. ;)

Llama singles

Edited to add: Shout-out to Linda for sending me this kinda hilarious video called "Extreme sheep LED art." Because everyone needs to see sheep wearing Christmas lights and playing Pong. Happy Roc Day. ;)

Jan 6, 2011

10-minute semi-homemade wrap chips

Let's say there are times when you have a craving for a food that's not in the house. And maybe, like me, you try to ignore it for a while, but the craving just keeps coming back. And then finally, after staring desperately into the pantry (or the fridge), you throw some likely-looking ingredients together, apply your current best level of kitchen skill, and hope for the best.

Sometimes this leads to miserable failures. (Remember my jury-rigged desperation noodles?)

And sometimes you pull off a win. :D This is one of mine:

Jury-rigged chips

The craving: crackers.

The result:

10-Minute Semi-Homemade Wrap Chips

  • wraps — the kind you stuff with sandwich-type fillings and roll up to eat (I used a leftover Toufayan wrap)
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly-ground pepper
  • garlic powder
  • paprika

Now, I don't want to make this seem more complicated than it is. Really, you need only three basic ingredients: something resembling a wrap or burrito skin (soft taco shells would also work), some form of oil you don't mind baking and eating, and your seasoning of choice.

How to make them:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread some olive oil on the wrap. This doesn't need to be very precise; I poured some on one side and used a spoon and the wrap itself to spread it around.

Sprinkle seasonings on.

Cut up the wrap into chip-shaped pieces. (I cut mine into wedges.)

Place wrap pieces on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes (or a little less — check around 8 min to make sure they don't burn).

Remove from oven, let cool a bit, and EAT!

Mine were super-crispy, and good both by themselves and also with lemon hummus. Bet you can come up with your own awesome seasonings ... and you could even make dessert chips. Nom nom nom.

Jury-rigged chips

Jan 2, 2011

Craft or Bust 2010 Roundup!

Holy crap, you guys. The end of Craft or Bust 2010 slipped past me like water under a sailing ship under way, and here we are in a new year. And yes, we're doing Craft or Bust again in 2011. At least I am, and you're welcome to join me again (or for the first time!) if you're so inclined.

So how was your 2010? :D

Mine was ... well, it was. There were, as there always are, good times and bad times.

I kept an entire year's worth of accomplishments lists. I met my Craft or Bust goal — to craft every single week, yes! Yes, I did! And that was a huge win, especially since I crafted through thick and thin, through all the crap times as well as when things were going well enough that I was tempted to just ride the wave of goodness instead of crafting at all.

I learned some new recipes and new foodie techniques, met a lot of crafty people, sold more items on Etsy than I've ever sold before, and got some solid craft show experience under my belt. Although I definitely didn't meet all of my goals for the year, it wasn't for lack of thought or effort — it was mostly because on top of last year being craftier than any other year in my recent history, it was also more full of bizarre nonsense, which is, y'know. Kinda distracting. ;)

Anyway, I'm glad I did Craft or Bust, and I'm glad I had people to craft along with me — I'm glad for everyone who showed an interest, from the people who stuck by me to the people who said it sounded cool but they didn't dare sign up yet. You all helped me feel like my goal was feasible, and hey! It turns out it was! :D

If you want to do Craft or Bust 2011, feel free to mosey on over to the mailing list sign up form and add yourself to the list. We'll use the same rules (well, really guidelines) as last year except that sign-ups will be through the mailing list for now. Maybe I'll update and revamp the guidelines in another post coming up soon, or maybe I'll do it on the mailing list ... I'm not sure yet how I'm going to do things this year. ;) I just know that I have plans to streamline the process on my end a bit, so that hopefully you won't have to wait on my blogging schedule to check in or read about other people's progress. And there are ideas for some new features percolating in my head — nothing against the freewheeling spirit of CoB, but things that will maybe make the process more fun and interesting for all you lovely crafty people who choose to come along this year.

Anyway, for those of you who played last year, feel free to post comments with ideas for this year, for how you feel about how you did last year, etc. :D I'm all ears!
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