What to do: Take small steps

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Current Events,Here and Now | Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Marathon

This week, my city hosted a marathon.

Since I moved here, I have wanted to go downtown and be a spectator of the marathon — to vicariously experience the emotions and triumphs of the thousands of people who undertake this superhuman feat.

So, I woke early and watched the television coverage while I dressed — the starting line of the wheelchair race, the “elite” men and women duking it out to the finish line, the weather reports and sports commentary. But, this is not an essay about the starting line or the finish line. It’s about everything that comes in between.

Once I had my fill of enthusiastic starts and dramatic televised finishes, I grabbed my camera and bound for the train. I had chosen a viewing point for transportational convenience (closest to the metro that I am familiar with) so although I wasn’t sure exactly where I was along the route, I knew I could get some pictures and enjoy the feel of the event.

Mile 24

When I realized that I was standing at Mile 24, just 2 miles from the finish line, I was flooded with emotion.I stood and cheered and clapped. I yelled, “You’re almost there! You’ve done it!” for an hour or so. I comisserated with my fellow on-lookers and enjoyed the live band and generally marveled at the people in front of me who were still running — still plodding one foot in front of the other — in spite of the pain they must have been feeling.

But, I’m not really writing about the pain, either. What most impressed me was that 24 miles ago, the marathoners had started taking steps. That’s all. They just took one step, then another. Most of them in this non-elite group were alternating between running and walking, even sometimes stopping to stand still at the water stations. They ran over to the sidewalks to hug their families and friends. But, in general, they made a gradual eastward progress. They were still at this business of taking steps, long after the excitement and energy of the starting line had past.

And that’s what distinguished them from the spectators, besides their numbered bibs. They were actively moving toward their goal. They took one small step, then another step, until they were done.

Sure, there were a handful of “winners” yesterday who took home special medals and money awards. But, for the most part, thousands of runners were just trying to finish. They were fighting only against themselves and their environment. They weren’t looking to the right or to the left to see how anyone else was doing. They just kept taking one step, and then taking another step, in a solitary journey.

Marathon mosaic

They did this in spite of being older than those around them. They did it with a cause, from a wheelchair, and in spite of all distractions. They slowed down and looked back to see how far they had come, but they didn’t stop taking steps.

Marathon gadgetry

I love this lady. She has all of the fancy gadgets — a virtual Bat-belt of snacks, water, and stride measurers.  But guess what? Even she wouldn’t make it to the finish line without taking one small step at a time.

Last week, I was bemoaning the fact that in my current life circumstances, I can only squeeze in my moments of creativity between meetings, telephone calls, and other obligations. I wrote:

…let’s face it — some days it’s all I can do to make something other than a bowl of chocolate ice cream for dinner. Some days I am happy if I make my bed, wash my hair, tie my shoes. Some days, I feel extremely lucky to have sewn one bead, one green loop, one hexagon seam.

I’m not alone in this. Many of you out there are mothers of young children, caretakers of ailing parents, and working two (or three!) jobs to make ends meet. You have difficult marriage relationships, personal crises and illnesses of your own. With the exception of people like Arlee, who will be creating for 3 months at a summer residency with limited distractions, we don’t, for the most part, work under ideal circumstances. The message of hope that I took away from my experience at the marathon was this:

All you have to do is take one step, then another step.

Someday I will finish my hexagon project. Do you know why? Because I am dedicated to pulling it out for 10 minute spurts on the subway. Because I sew a seam here and there, whenever I get a chance. Because I work on it a little, then I work on it again. I enjoy the process, not just the completion.

This is how most of us fit creativity into our modern lives. For my part, I’m going to stop wishing for a miracle — for a millionaire to marry me and magically remove those limitations of time and space and money. I’m also going to stop looking around me to see just how fast everyone else is moving. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I can do today. And, if it’s just one small step, well shoot. Mile 24 awaits.

What small thing will you do today?

Granny Day

Mal | Current Events,Here and Now,Simplicity | Monday, April 13th, 2009

An image last year's Granny Day.

This weekend, I celebrated Granny Day — 10 years after my sweet grandmother passed away. I used to celebrate Granny Day on the day she died, but for the past few years I moved celebrations to her birthday. I wrote a bit about her a couple of weeks ago when I was musing about passing on textile arts.

Blueberry Pancakes Coming Up

Celebrating Granny Day is no easy task. The idea is to live like she did for one day. It involves making delicious food from scratch, doing something creative, giving something away. It involves waking up early and going to bed late, calling someone you love to check up on them, and making sure all the chores get done. It involves fulfilling your own needs while being sensitive to the needs of others. It’s a little exhausting.

The day Granny died, she woke early and pruned down the raspberry patch on their small, self-sustaining farm. She made her weekly bread from scratch — enough loaves to share with neighbors (as always). Granny worked on a sewing project, went and voted, took dinner to a neighbor who’d been sick, and watched the news while she crocheted. Before she went to bed, she wrote in her journal and tidied up. In other words, according to my values, she lived the perfect last day.

Me and Granny

The picture above is of Granny and me working on a quilt together. It’s the last photo I have of her, and was taken about 2 months before she passed away. I’ve lost many people in my life since I lost Granny (and, let’s face it, at this point she would be well into her 90′s and probably gone anyway), but I still get teary-eyed every time I talk about her. She was incredibly influential in my life.

Granny Day 2008

Granny believed in hard work. She believed in learning (a teacher and school librarian for 50 years). Granny believed in giving things away, in abundance for all, and in caring for others. She was creative and dynamic but in a quiet, humble way. She was keenly insightful with her advice and her counsel. She lived close to the earth in literal and figurative ways. Granny was a dynamo and we all wanted to be like her. I still do.

Granny Day 2008

You can celebrate Granny Day, too. Simplify things, get to the raw, whole ingredients, think of your loved ones, serve those around you.

Do you have someone that you miss?

Band Sampler: Counted Cross Stitch

Mal | Band Sampler,Current Events,Media,Sewing,Stitching | Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Band Sampler: Cross Stitch

I mentioned before that I burned out on counted cross stitch when I was a teenager. However, at the beginning of my band sampler I wanted to document all of the stitches I already know. Naturally, this includes cross stitch.

Cross Stitch Obama, close up

My aversion to it was so strong, however, that I had decided to count my name at the top of the sampler as my homage to counted cross stitch. That is until I found out that Julie from Subversive Cross Stitch was offering a pattern of Shepard Fairy‘s iconic Obama poster for free.

Cross Stitch Obama, note

Because I’d like the band sampler to also function as a kind of visual journal, and because I was so moved and elated during the time of the election, I knew it would be a great inclusion. So, here is the counted cross stitch portion of my band sampler.

200903038049

If you’d like to try your hand at cross stitch, here are some tutorials and links:

I sped through this project, and there are lots of errors and missteps. But, it’s done and I can walk away from cross stitch again, for now.

How about you? Do you have any media or projects that you dislike? Have you ever moved past dislike back to enjoyment?

Colored flowers

Mal | Current Events,Home,Prosaic,Simplicity | Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Valentine's Day

My dad sent me these flowers for Valentine’s from 2 states away. Something about the colors really appeals to me — feels like a vintage print.

I spent a good portion of the day cleaning my house to get ready for a [pretend to watch a video but really make out on the couch all night] date. The cleaning included clearing off the table pictured above, which doubles as a dining table and a craft/work space. My sewing machine is now put away for at least a few days, which means I can focus on some hand stitching — getting a jump on the band sampler and hand stitching a quilt binding. Pictures to come.

Being in a clean, clutter-free place inspires my creativity.

What I aspire to be

Mal | Current Events,Media | Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Work in progress

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.

It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

I aspire to be one of those people that President Obama talked about in his inauguration. I want to be known as a risk-taker, a doer, a maker of things. It would be such an honor!

PS: Yes, I finally cracked open my new sewing machine and I am in love.

Work to be done

Mal | Current Events,Home | Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Obama taking the oath

I called out “sick” from work today — something I am hesitant to do — because I wanted to celebrate the inauguration and catch up on some chores.

Power couple

It was such a thrill to see President Obama and his beautiful family. I am so inspired by his calm, collected demeanor and his articulate and appropriate speeches.

Inauguration speech

I was particularly pleased when some of the favorite musicians from my childhood played a version of the song — Simple Gifts — that inspired the title of this blog.

Simple Gifts at the inauguration

And now, as our new President said,

…everywhere we look, there is work to be done.

Everywhere we look, there is work to be done

Amen, Brother Obama.

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