[Quiet Thoughts] Middling and More

Photo: A whale pillow made by one of my students this week. She designed it and made it all by herself. We were so proud of her!

There have been times when I’ve found myself in a conversation with someone and they will say to me , “you’re really amazing” or “you do such a great job,” and I often reply, in all sincerity, “I’m pretty sure that I’m middling at best.” I often feel this way: I’m not the worst, not the best. I’m not coasting, as I know I’m working my ass off… but I often come away from an effort with the sinking feeling (or the very acute feeling) that I could have done better. When I decided to teach this needle arts camp with my dear friend, who is a real artist who does beautiful work (sewing, embroidery, quilting, weaving, and glasswork!), I felt very anxious. Next to her, a real artist, I didn’t know how I’d hold up.

I spent the week with middle-school girls teaching them how to sew by hand and by machine, and how to knit. We made needle books, pin cushions, cross stitch and knitted headbands. When we got to the pin cushions, which required piecing with the sewing machine and then stuffing with polyfil, the girls quickly figured out that they could make pillows out of the super cute fabric that we purchased for them. Thus the obsession began. We let them run with it until we ran out of our second giant bag of polyfil.

I taught myself how to knit left-handed so that I could teach my left-handed student how to knit yesterday. If you ever want a brain exercise, try that! It was quite stimulating! I taught the girls how to use my sewing machine (which is hilarious, because all I could think about is the Dear, Dear Reader who once taught me how to use my sewing machine!). I fixed it when the girls broke it, I walked them through pivots on the needle and how to sew straight. I taught three methods of how to thread needles and watched the girls evolve from frustrated on Monday to experts on Friday.

What I learned this week, sharing that room with those girls and my dear friend is that, yes, I’m still a middling sort of artist. I know what I know and I know it well… my body of work grows and so do my skills. But I know enough that I can turn back and help others grow, too. I can take what they know and make it better. I can get them to join me here in the middle and surpass me to expert like my friend. I get a deep satisfaction from giving that steady encouragement, the quite “yes, you’ve totally got this” and then the “girl, I told you you could do it!” I got to smile and laugh with my friend, marveling at her work, listening to her advice and encouragement for my own. It was wonderful to share and be shared with.

In the end, the girls all said they hope we do the camp again next year. We two teachers looked at each other in surprise. To our mind, all they did was make pillows. We wondered how successful we actually were. But I’m reminded that it’s camp, a time for exploration. Things were made, which is what was advertised. We watched girls who couldn’t thread a needle on the first day grow to conceive, design, and create their own things that they cherish. They’ll always have them and they’ll talk about where and how they made them.

My Quiet Thoughts are about honoring who you are, where you are, as you are. Honor the middle. The middle is beyond the beginning. The middle is, hopefully, just getting to the “good part” where everything starts to make sense and acceleration toward awesomeness happens. I’m middling at best… which means I have room to grow and a willingness to do so. I can only imagine what will happen if I keep going.

What will happen when you leave the middle of where you are and start accelerating toward the awesomeness of the expert you’ve been working to become? I’m excited for you, Dear Reader. I have a feeling that’s exactly what we need in the world right now.

The weather here has broken into more pleasant temperatures. Oh how we suffered in the humid air and the relentless sun! Now, the sun is still mean, but the air is crisp and dry. I haven’t seen the moon lately and I miss it. Hopefully I’ll spy it soon. In the meantime, the garden is gifting us with all-you-can-eat cucumbers and our first tomatoes of the season. I’m sitting here waiting on my hot peppers to get going! Major is waiting for the black berries to get ripe. Either way, it’s a Friday in the summertime and we are tired and happy.

This Friday, I wish you the joy of a quiet morning. That sweet, perfect time when no one is up but you and your coffee maker is the best time of day. I wish for a bird to sing you a song during that time. I wish for a gentle breeze to come through your window. I wish for that roasty smell in your kitchen and warmth in your hands to set the tone for a good day. Unhurried, yet plenty full. I wish you a good story: it can be a book or a movie or a game or anything… but I do wish you a good story. I’m really hoping I can finish my book this week and move on to The Poet X, which my book club is reading for September. Then I’ve got to quickly move on to our October selection, Overstory, which I hear is a touch overwritten. I wish you a little time with your mirror. Are you drinking enough water? Getting enough sleep? Using enough lotion? What’s one small thing you can do this weekend to do right for yourself? Don’t change everything at once. Just make one choice that takes care of you and only you. I wish you one big hug, a kiss on your cheek, and someone telling you you’re doing just fine. You’re doing just fine, Dear Reader. Keep up the good work.

I’m reminded this week that you don’t have to be an absolute expert to help someone else along their way. This life is so short and we have only so much time gladden the hearts of those who we share our days with–the stranger and the friend alike. We only have so much time to teach lessons, spark inspiration, reach out our hand in welcome or help… to use what we’ve been given to make our little patch of Earth more beautiful or just or welcoming or productive. We only have so much time, Dear Reader, to make the world a little brighter for the people we share it with. The world is dark and darkening. But you, Dear Reader, hold back the darkness with the brilliance of your open heart and good works. You gave someone else permission to be their best self today. You held the door open today so someone could walk into their next opportunity. Your smile made someone feel seen today. Your “hello” or “good morning” or “hey, how are you?” made someone feel fully human today. Your presence in an exclusive room or true words spoken to hostile ears brought a little justice to the world today. Your work for powerful people empowered communities today. That business you own employed and paid people today. That meal you made filled hungry bellies today. That hug you gave warmed someone’s heart and soothed someone’s soul today. This is why you are loved. This is why what you do matters. This is why you are admired and thought of with fondness by so many people–people who may never get the chance to tell you so. But I’m telling you so because it’s true, Dear Reader. You are loved. What you do matters. Know that. Make sure other people know that about themselves, too.

Until Monday, take care.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Trish says:

    1. I want to know what those three ways of threading a needle are.
    2. You’ve got to read The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. Your writing about the circular nature of teaching and creating and the connections that come when we share who we are and what we know reminded me of some of the book’s big themes.
    3. Huge gold star to you and your friend. You taught these girls to fish (as the old expression goes). Now they know that whole world of creating with fiber is theirs for the taking. That’s beautiful.

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