Photo: I got to tour the U.S. Capitol Building today. It was the purest sort of magic. I got to be a history/civics nerd and see a whole lot thanks to a most wonderful friend. I am extraordinarily lucky and utterly indebted to my dearest friend for the opportunity.
When I was in elementary school, I had a thoughtful neighbor who lived just around the corner. Still living in the days of being able to ride a little ways from home on my bike without a lot of care, I roved around with my crew of peers and often ended up at a particular friend’s house. He had all the video games. All of them, including all the games that my sister and I weren’t allowed to play, like Duke Nukem and Mortal Kombat. We, along with my other neighborhood friends, spent many an afternoon playing on his SNES.
The thing about neighborhood crews is sometimes everything clicks and, well, sometimes everything doesn’t. I remember being an excluded kid during an afternoon of neighborhood games and mayhem, moping on some stairs somewhere. That’s when my friend’s mom, Miss Amy, called me in from outside. She was a woman with three kids and an active house, the house they moved into was never fully unpacked, there was always a roving cat and a lot of stuff on the floor… but it was a house full of love and full of snacks and full of video games, so we forgave and forgave. That’s what children do. Miss Amy had her own craft room, full of buttons and fabric and yarn. It was supposed to be the dining room, I think, as it had a long table in the middle of it, but it was always covered with stuff. That’s where I was given my first hoop, a little fabric, a needle and some thread. Miss Amy taught me how to thread a needle, make a knot, and do my first bit of cross stitch.
It doesn’t take much to introduce a craft to someone. A little time, a little patience, a starter set of materials, and a story…. that time and patience, though, are the most important ingredients. This little handful of things can spark a lifetime passion, if drawn together carefully in a moment. Just before the implosion of my parent’s marriage, the trials of middle school and high school, and the changing of many people in my life, those early lessons of cross-stitch and embroidery would be more important that I could ever know. Miss Amy set me up with my first wooden embroidery hoop, a little bit of cheap floss, a bit of hand-me-down cotton fabric, a simple needle and basic cross-stitch pattern. When I finished the project, I offered the hoop and needle back to her and she waved me off. “All good crafters have to start somewhere. Usually with something handed down. Those belong to you now.”
Years later, I remember spending a little time in at a well-known Maryland fabric store with a friend during the summer before heading off to college. Flush with a little bit of money from a summer job, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, browsing the aisles and talking about boys with a friend. I bought some fabric I wasn’t particularly in love with, then spied a pair of adorable scissors in a bin before checking out. They were $20 and I was flummoxed. Why would scissors be so expensive?
“Those are embroiderer’s scissors. Very small and precise. Sorta decorative, too. All serious embroiderers have them,” I was told by the lady at the check out.
Well, I mean, I wanted to be a serious embroiderer. Obviously. I thought. I bought them because they were pretty. Ruby red and very nice. They came in a leather sheath that was nice. I packed them in a little sewing kit that I took with me to Hampton, and later to UMBC. They stayed with me when I went to Massachusetts for graduate school, and followed me from apartment to apartment. All along the way, I used them for little projects here and there. Often as post-finals distractions. Sometimes for big, grand projects that were never completed. Those scissors were the first crafter’s tool I bought just for me. An indulgence and, at the time, an extravagance for a hobby that I hadn’t really owned fully until I boldly purchased them. They represented a sort of identity I really wanted for myself, but wouldn’t be able to fully commit to until I got much older: maker, crafter, artist. I still don’t fully own the artist part. I’ve learned how to crochet, knit and quilt, but embroidery was my first love, my true love.
This Christmas, I took on two major embroidered projects that represent a sort of magnum opus of what a lifetime of needlework has culminated into for me:
I’ve been working on them since August. They were incredible amounts of planning and work, but represented a really fun opportunity to stretch my skills and see exactly what I am capable of doing. My trusty scissors, feeling good in my fingers and ever at my side, were there for both of them. And when I was done, I looked them over and wondered, could I do for someone else what Miss Amy had done for me?
My Quiet Thoughts are about all the gifts that have been given and are about to be given this holiday season. While Amazon is wonderful and it has been a wonderful thing to see UPS come up my driveway with a box here and a box there, gifts given at the speed of thought and the internet… I can’t help but think about the gifts, ancient or historied, that will be put in a box this season and lovingly given. The gifts of vision or skill, items storied because of how they were used, or revered, or loved unconditionally… the passed down things, precious and used… do we still value those things? Would they be better used if not catching dust in an attic box, but given in the hands of a young loved one? The hoop that Miss Amy is long broken and gone, the needle lost in some move or another, but the gift wasn’t the things, but the skill.
While packing up a gift of crafting items for a young woman in my life, I assembled some items but thought I needed more. It wasn’t… enough. But then I saw the scissors, which I’d just used to cut the last little thread on a project. And it hit me: to make a maker, you must pass down a thing. Makers are born, but also made. The spark of inspiration is passed down, warm hand to warm hand, skilled eye to skilled eye. It’s a loving gesture to give the cheap things for a young maker to make mistakes with, but also to give one powerful thing, a relic or a talisman, to inspire them. There is, I believe with all sincerity, a warmth and a spark that cannot be replicated any other way within such items. So why not the scissors that had so traveled with me? I gave them a kiss and said goodbye (longtime readers know how I feel about inanimate objects), then put them in the little bag. When I presented them to my young friend, I had to hold back a few tears. I know they’ll serve her well. Even if she only uses them once or twice, even if embroidery doesn’t take hold, I know that the spark in those scissors will help her find her thing. And that, ultimately, is what matters.
If you’re looking for a last minute gift, I have to wonder, Dear Reader: what object in your home holds the spark of your life and your passion? What would you be willing to give? By giving a little bit of yourself–a little bit of your history, of your travels, of your knowledge– what amazing thing can you inspire for a person in your life? If your credit card is steaming from all the purchases you’ve made, if you’re befuddled by what to get that one person in your life who has everything (or is seemingly impossible), I wonder, have you given a little bit of yourself this Christmas? Is there one small, precious thing, just waiting to pass on your spark to the next person?
By choosing to give a little bit of your love, yourself, this holiday season, you do something powerful. Something that can, in the face of everything ridiculous that is going on in the world, do something magical. Healing, even. You can tighten more firmly the threads that bind us all, including extending the thread from the past to the present through the skills of artistry, skill or craft. Celebrate what makes you human, and in so doing, celebrate the humanity of someone else by giving a little bit of your love this year, Dear Reader. Just a little bit.
It is a cold Friday, the Friday before Christmas, a Friday of weather and travel and stress, and care and stuff. It’s my last Friday with you this year. I know this is already a long post, but I have wishes for you, Dear Reader, to get you to the New Year. I wish you, above all, a very happy holiday season. I wish you family and friends. I wish you warmth of their embrace and their presence. I wish you delicious booze to help the gatherings and the exchanges and the conversations all go more smoothly, with more laughter than growling. I wish you songs and carols, good stories told with laughter and cheer. I wish you baked goods made with skilled hands, something you really want to eat and enjoy and savor. I wish you a time to tell an embarrassing story about somebody, and I wish you the endurance to withstand one being told about you. I wish you one unexpected gift, thoughtfully given to you by a friend. For me, it’s a kitchen towel with the cherry blossoms on it. Another moment of holding back tears. I wish you a kiss on the cheek, a hug that lingers, a whispered “I love you,” and the assurance that it’s true. I wish you reindeer on the roof, or candles that last for the many nights, or unity and family, or anything and everything.
Above all, and as always, I wish you the deep, unshakable knowledge of just how loved you are. Not just for your contribution to the lives of so many, but for your infinite beauty, which is incredible to behold. You are a profound presence, a beautiful human being, uncommonly capable of doing great things. You are loved beyond measure, respected by a great many, and admired by more. What you do in this world matters. People are watching you and cheering you on. People are counting on you. Be here for it in 2018. Give us your best, even when you think you’re too tired to do so. 2018 simply will not be the same if your heart isn’t in it.
I am taking off next week to rest, to enjoy my family, to renew my inspiration, and to do what it takes to come back fresh in the New Year. Thank you for another wonderful year, Dear Reader. Thank you for your love, care, and visits to my little corner of the internet. I am grateful for your presence. Each time you read my post, you’re gifting me your time. I dare not waste that, ever.
Until January 3rd, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and Take Care.