Crafting a Life

I think I’m in love with variegated yarn.

If you don’t knit, you may not have experienced this miracle. It is essentially a long strand of different-colored fibers, spun together into one continuous thread. It’s lovely, rolled up in a skein, inviting you to imagine it as a shawl or sweater.

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But the real delight is in knitting it and watching colorful stripes emerge. You do nothing to plan or force the pattern flowing from your needles. You simply stitch and it appears, a new fabric with a design of its own. And that design flows seamlessly from one color to the next, with no sharp lines dividing it into sections.

I see a metaphor for my life here. (I know, I know, domestic handicraft as life metaphor; here we go again. But stay with me. I really like this one.)

Lately my mom has been reminding me, with characteristic generosity, that she shouldn’t come first in my life. She says, “Remember what I always tell you,” (as if I could forget, I’ve heard it so many times). “Your family comes first, then your career, then me.”

She means well; she wants to reassure me that I’m doing enough for her. She may even worry that she’s going to wind up as ornery and ungrateful as her mother was in the worst stages of dementia. So she’s trying to rescue me in advance from the guilt I’m bound to feel, and release me from any guilt I already carry around.

I appreciate her effort, but it backfires. I chafe at statements like these. I want to tell her I don’t need her to order my priorities, thank you very much. I can choose my own rules for living. And if I want to place her needs first every now and then, that’s my business.

I even dislike hearing (repeatedly; did I mention that I hear this repeatedly?) that my family comes first, then my career. Of course my family comes first. But my career doesn’t come second. My career is integral to who I am. I work in the arts. I am fed by that work. My husband and daughter can tell when it’s been too long since I’ve done a play. (Hint: it’s been too long.) Even if I wanted to stop working altogether and focus on my family’s needs, I would fail. For me, work and family are inextricably meshed, there is no line, because Carolyn the artist is a better family member, a better wife, and a more interesting mother than Carolyn the dutiful homemaker.

My life doesn’t break down into neatly delineated blocks. It’s variegated. Work, art, family, parenting, caregiving, friendship, downtime: for me, these are colors in one strand of yarn. Knit together, they become a life with distinct shades and patterns, but no sharp lines.

Mother probably understands this. She probably understands more than I give her credit for. I shouldn’t chafe at her wisdom; she’s telling me to live my life. But like every daughter, including my own, I want to choose my own priorities.

I see changes coming in the way I order my days. Maybe I will begin to spend a little less time with Mom and a little more on new artistic projects. Maybe my husband and I will travel more. Certainly my daughter will keep growing up.  All I know to do is keep knitting, literally and metaphorically, and let a new pattern emerge.

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4 thoughts on “Crafting a Life

  1. At least she still has the awareness to let you know to put yourself first.

    MIL’s list would be ME, ME, ME and that’s about it. MY list by contrast is me and husband, career and then her.

    Fun fun fun 😦

  2. Domestic handicraft is always appropriate as a life metaphor! We can’t help but to live a variegated life! That’s what makes it beautiful, complex and satisfying. I could get started on the weaving analogies, such as: “The writing I love has something memorable in it – an image, a smell. It’s the connection between the moment and the whole concept, weaving the micro together with the macro so that it has a hold on people – that’s writing.” Atul Gawande

    Your writing is so enjoyable!

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