Friday, April 15, 2016

Thoughts on a Decade

 birthday3 birthday4

Illustration of Stella, November 2006

Trigger warning: violence, suicide, sexual assault.

Today is my 28th birthday. Although 30 seems the logical choice, as far as milestones go, it is 28 that feels meaningful to me today. Ten years ago today, I was on the razor's edge of adulthood - and although I didn't know it then, I was also standing at the threshold of the hardest year of my life.

I entered my eighteenth year with a best friend, a new hole punched in my ear, and a grand plan to become a writer, a world traveler, a try-anything apprentice of my own bright future. When my eighteenth year closed, I was on medical leave from college to recover from near-suicidal depression.

I had been slut-shamed and forcibly ejected from my closest friendship, less than two weeks after being raped.

I had stopped eating and sleeping properly because of post-traumatic stress, and failed three college exams in a single day because of it.

And finally, I had left my dreams as a writer and student behind when my rapist and my former landlord were killed in a murder-suicide, set off by untreated mental health issues and an unpaid electricity bill.

At the end of my eighteenth year, I was shaky and self-loathing, grief-stricken and furious and alone. I had walked into the adult world with confidence in my abilities, my sexuality, my relationships, and myself. But in the course of that year, I heard the message that I could lie about my body and my sexuality simply by existing. That my rape was inflicted by my own selfishness. That by passing the threshold into eighteen, I had become community property for the world to judge, mock, or consume at its choosing.

And shortly after, that I was not allowed to have complicated feelings about the violent death of someone who had hurt me deeply.

It has taken years to repair the effect of those messages on my identity, and I remain convinced that they serve only to hurt and silence those who are most vulnerable.

birthday birthday5

 But there is a happy ending to all of this, I think.

Because at the same time that all of this happened, I learned to knit. Such a simple thing, and yet one that has given me access to so much comfort and community over the last ten years. (Short version: I walked into the yarn shop in Oberlin one day, and didn't leave until I graduated. Thanks and sorry, Smith's.)

And though it was hard to see it at the time, this was also the moment at which I began to make art in response to the world around me. I gave up on writing because it was too hard, but I began to channel my energy in making and doing. I drew almost every day. I learned to knit socks. I volunteered with animals and learned how to build hiking trails. And from that foundation, over the next year I began to build something of a life for myself, too.

In the absence of my best friend and the group that surrounded her, I formed new relationships, with students and teachers and the people I met in the knitting community, many of whom I still keep in touch with.

I learned the value of surrounding myself with people who see me, who do not need to make me feel small in order to love me - a lesson that guided me then, and has continued to guide me through many relationships as an adult.

And I learned that for me, openness about my past is both a choice and a gift. When I was eighteen, I felt that my voice was not my own, that I was not worthy of love or companionship, and that my story belonged in the dark. Today, at twenty-eight, I feel exactly the opposite.

And that is the best gift I could ask for.

Very much love,

P.S. If you or a loved one is struggling with violence or abuse, sexual assault, or suicidal thoughts, please, please reach out to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Goodbye, My Heart Rat


Early this morning, curled up with me in a nest of blankets on the couch, my buddy Squish passed away. For over two years, he's been my guy - my reluctant cuddlebug, my delightful misanthrope - and it felt right that I should be with him at the very end.

I'll miss him terribly.

IMGP0497 squishderpsquish oldman

RIP Monsieur Wayne 'Squishy'
Spring 2013 - April 5th, 2016

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Dog Is Onto Something

mechita char3char mechita2

At night, the dog begs her way up onto the couch and sets her mouth on a little fleece pillow covered with cartoon Yodas. At times, her needs are straightforward: feed the dog at nine and six, let the dog out every four hours or so, make sure the dog has water before putting her to bed. Other times, her needs are more complex, almost human in their ambiguity: the time she takes to sniff around the yard, snapping dandelions off their stalks with winking teeth; the nights when she paces the floor and stops to press her nose into the crook of my thumb, only to turn away a moment later, unsatisfied. All of the unassailable, wordless needs of her tiny doggie heart.

At these moments, I wonder if her adolescent bewilderment is somewhat like my own.

Lately I've been struggling with the twin hydras of art and worth. When you make the one, does the other follow? Does the first contain the second, nested in its core like a matryoshka, or do you find yourself twisting the final doll open to find nothing inside but empty air? And at the end of it all, why does it feel like the measured worth of a job well done is as mysterious and changeable as currency?

I hope the answer is kinder than I believe it is, on my darker days. I hope that worth is something like the smack of air in your lungs on a cool spring day when you're walking across the freeway overpass and the wind starts to blow. I hope that it's something like the the feeling of dancing with your puppy on the kitchen floor while your husband is out of town, when she is looking at you with her mouth pulled up in a pointy little smile and her tongue is flapping like a ribbon and suddenly you feel so joyful you could shout.

I can only hope that much is true. I think the dog does.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Pattern Release: Lelia Mitts

Lelia Mitts (Release Front))

On Christmas day, 1899, my great-grandmother Lelia Rieth was given a book of poetry by her father. It's a beautiful volume: the cover brown and textured, the title and spine embossed with flourishes, the edges of each page leafed in gold. My grandfather passed it on to me on my twelfth birthday, my name inscribed in his blocky engineer's handwriting below Lelia's. The dates between us spanning an entire century.

I never met my great-grandmother, but through that book and through stories of her life, I felt like I knew her. Even her name sounded singularly beautiful to me, not only because of its pleasing cadence, but also because of the strength of the person she was: her creative spirit, her resilience, her optimism.

Lelia, abandoned by her husband to raise her children alone during the Great Depression. Lelia, mother of two boys who went to war, and only one who came back. And yet, still: Lelia who sang opera. Lelia who painted. Lelia, who kept a book of Longfellow given to her by her Papa for her whole life.

Lelia, who looked at the world through eyes the color of mine.

And so, these are for her.

lelia5 Lelia Mitts (Release Back)

The pattern is available for download for $5.00, or you can check out the details on Ravelry on the Lelia pattern page.

Big thanks to my test knitter and tech editor, and to everyone who has shared their kind words about this design both in person and online. This one has been in my noggin for a long time, and I'm so happy to be able to share it with you! <3

Happy Friday, friends!