So this week, and last week, and the week before that we have had stuff going on. And the week before that. And I keep thinking “as soon as this next thing is done there will be space” but there just isn’t. The space I’m magically hoping will appear, is filled with a crashed car, or a guy turning up to put in a skylight, or a kid with some asthma, and a partner with a crook back. And a birthday and a school play and a school fair and the vacuum cleaner blowing up.
It feels necessary to say it’s all good - we are all good-ish shape at the moment and for that I am very grateful. It’s simply life daily with nothing earth shattering, nothing too intense, but the one thing after another is seemingly a little relentless in it’s ongoingness.
Through it all I’m making. Sometimes joyously, but often impatiently, twitchily, frustratedly or late at night when everyone is asleep. Making as a way to claw back a bit of time, a bit of agency, a bit of control. To find a bit of me.
But…. some of this clawing back is a fuck you. Fuck you to a lack of space. Fuck you to demands and to a lack of freedom and just generally to responsibilities. It is the type of making that is essentially screaming at the universe “you don’t own meeee” or “you can’t take my freeedoooomm”.
Now to state the obvious, this isn’t always the most helpful kind of making. It’s not helpful because often when things are this relentless, when there is this much on, my making is actually making things worse.
As one of my midwives once said to me “parenting is all about surrendering to what is, rather than what you would like it to be…. and then once you have surrendered, you will be asked to surrender again”.
I felt mildly outraged when I heard her say this, but 13 years on I know this is true because I’ve lived it. And I believe that it applies more widely than just parenting. Surrender means we are telling ourselves the truth about the reality of what is before us, rather than shouting “NO” at the universe with our fingers in our ears.
My lovely friend and I had a 90 second conversation tonight, in the midst of kids and violins and renovation dust, about making under these conditions. She said that for her making doesn’t work when there is life overwhelm as she finds that the distraction of craft, the desire to do it, pulls her away from what she needs to do to be present. The call of the wild meaning that if she engages she won’t be giving the life stuff the attention it needs to do it well. She said that the lure of craft can make things worse for her.*
This made me think of Brene Brown’s new book “Dare To Lead” I’ve been listening to. In it she speaks of the difference between numbing behaviours, that we use to take the edge off, and the true comfort, that we all deserve and need to consciously make space for. This distinction really resonated to me and made me think more consciously about what I do to take the edge off.
Brene said common numbing behaviours include all the usuals - drinking, smoking, food, internet, instagram, shopping….. But the one she doesn’t mention, my personal favourite is craft.
I use craft to take the edge off all the time. I use it to take the edge off when the kids are fighting in the car. I use it to take the edge off when I’m overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do. I use it to take the edge off when I’m too exhausted to sleep and just want a moment for myself. I use it to take the edge off when I can’t face cooking one more healthy nutritious family meal.
But while taking the edge off feels OK in the moment it doesn’t improve my situation because it’s a numbing behaviour. I’m using craft as avoidance of the trickier parts of my life. Which leads to more overwhelm.
Now there comes a time in every rebellious crafters life, when they have to admit that their crafting is in a place where it’s more fuck you than life elevating. And that in order to live the life one truly wants, a good life, one must take stock and make some better choices.
So what to do?
First up, I inevitably need to pay attention and get the basics covered. Sleep? 9.30 bedtime (even though I resist like a MF.) Water? Good food? Probiotic? Sensible list making to avoid procrastination? Consciously checking the amount of instagram/internet/podcasts I’m consuming? This list is always my starting point because even if I get two or three of them sorted things look up.
And then I look at my making. This is key, because my making is my main tool kit for improving my wellbeing. Not meditation or exercise or gratitude - but engaging with process of making objects with my hands. Praise be.
Making elevates my life, but in order allow it to work it’s magic, I have to get intentional about the kinds of craft I’m engaging with. No numbing craft, no shouting at the universe craft. I need to make time to fill the tank with engaging craft, meaningful craft, comforting craft, joyful craft.
I’ve been here enough times that I know the pattern. In reality filling my tank looks a little like this….
I choose meaning. What are projects I can do that are meaningful as objects but are easy to make?
I get simple, really simple. All crazy plans for big projects get chucked temporarily and I choose meaningfully simple projects that involve little headspace but provide maximum joy.
I try to have two simple knitting projects on the go so that if I get to a tricky bit in one I can pick up the other. No cables, no colourwork, no muss, no fuss.
I always have some small portable project that I can take with me to use as my “waiting” time. This avoids me heading to my phone for my dose of dopamine (which does me no good) and instead offers me a way of including more comfort in my day.
I have a few simple sewing (Simple Sewing 101 style) projects lined up and ready to do one seam at a time. There are three in my basket cut out right now. Things that I could make with shut eyes but that will be incredibly joyous to wear.
In tricky times I try to ensure my sewing projects are things that will either have great utility for the kids (as they embody satisfaction, connection and meaning for me) or will make me feel special when I wear them. Ideally they should make me want to do strutting.
I dedicate time to it in the middle of the overwhelm, consciously and with purpose. I make time to craft - I schedule it.
My mum always said “noone has time, they make time”. And I make time to craft. But when there is the overwhelm and the ongoing-ness I do it in teeny tiny blocks. 10 and 20 minutes blocks - like one would use meditation - that I dish out to myself like a daily probiotic.
And although this tiny amount of time sounds like it wouldn’t be enough, it often is. There is that saying that states we humans overestimate how much we can get done in a day, but underestimate how much we can get done in a year but working on something regularly. Tiny blocks make a huge difference - to my project and my well being.
I often use this kind of making as a reward - once I’ve done my writing and my housework and my kid stuff and the shopping and the life admin, then I get 20 minutes before school pickup that is mine. Guilt free eggs-first style. Craft for joy.
For me true comfort craft in busy times needs to be scheduled and clear and filled with intention. It involves me consciously making a choice to avoid FU craft. It means that I’m choosing surrender, but it also means choosing self care.
This very afternoon I’m sitting down with the lovely Martine after Crossfit, and we are dedicating an hour to friendship and true comfort craft. As of Monday all her time will be taken up again, and so we will be attempting to create a piece of clothing that she can wear into the next three months of busy. An artefact of the making process that reminds her to choose true comfort for herself, when she can. To remind her of her agency, her capacity, her skill and her potential. To remind her that she can create beauty and carry that beauty with her, giving buoyancy to her spirit in the middle of the muddle that is life.
Do you shift your type of craft in the middle of life overwhelm?
*I’m paraphrasing and could have interpreted her words totally wrong….. but regardless, what I heard meant I wrote this post so I’m going to call it artistic license? :)
**I know that sometimes the overwhelm itself makes this impossible.