I “met” Laurel as I “meet” many of my dear, good friends–online, geeking out over the stuff we are intensely passionate about. In our case, we wandered into each other’s orbits, over at the now-defunct sonic cosmos of 8tracks, constellations winking and shimmering excitedly in our shared tastes in music and art. This was in 2010 and I still recall the very mix that began our friendship–I went under a different internet handle at that time, and I was just on the cusp of becoming the ghoul next door that I am today– and in that initial encounter, Laurel introduced me to a strange and wonderful new-to-me artist (which I later wrote about!) and who remains a favorite today. Music and art. Two of the things that we continue to geek out over, nearly a decade later!
It was not a huge surprise to me then, that a few years later, Laurel opened her own art gallery! I was thrilled, amazed, and proud–but not a bit surprised. Laurel, an artist and designer herself, is a shrewd businessperson with a deep love of community and fostering connections, and believes in the vital importance of art and artists creating it.
And so, I am a heady combination of pleased, excited, and thoroughly honored that Laurel has shared her thoughts at Unquiet Things today, in our monthly installment of Ten Things:
10 Things I’ve learned from Owning an Art Gallery
Laurel Barickman is the Creative Director of the Austin, Texas based design agency Recspec, and for three years she’s also been the owner, operator, and curator of Recspec Gallery. She has put together over 20 shows for the gallery, working with local, national, and international artists across every type of medium, with a focus on uplifting new and unestablished artists – especially women artists, queer artists, and artists of color.
When I decided to start an art gallery a few years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I was looking for a space to have an office and also meet with my clients for my design agency, and when I found the right space, it had – prior to me moving in – been a gallery. I had always had an interest in curation, and had been in shows myself, and there was definitely a far-away dream in the back of my mind to one day own a gallery, but I definitely didn’t think it was the time or that I was ready yet! But I decided to take the leap based on the community around me and the amazing artists that I know. It hasn’t been easy, and a year or so ago, we lost our location – and it took almost a full year for me to find a new one, a task at one point I thought was impossible because of the rising rents in Austin. But the biggest thing I noticed during that time that we were closed was how much I missed it, and how much I wanted to do it again.
So here are a few things I’ve learned in the process. I hope that it might help any budding gallerists out there!
As I’ve told my husband any time I announce that I’m buying ANOTHER piece of artwork, in order to sell art, you have to drink the kool-aid and buy art yourself. A gallerist who doesn’t buy art (which I doubt exists) doesn’t really understand the consumer-art relationship, which is so essential to be able to sell art in the first place. Understanding the other side of that relationship is important – what people are looking for, what price-points work for them, why they connect with certain pieces over others, what mediums are most popular, etc. If we don’t believe in the value of art, supporting artists, and buying art, how can we expect anyone else to?
My main job as a gallery owner is to make sure that my artists are taken care of, supported, and have everything they need to fulfill their vision of their show at my gallery. Galleries take a split of every sale, and it is important to earn that split through our actions that support the artist. I handle all of the marketing for the show, getting the gallery space ready for their work, installing, lighting, I assist with pricing if they need it, photographing all of the works and getting them online for non-local sales, getting sponsorships and setting up our opening and closing events, and more. It’s a huge amount of work to put on a show, and it’s important to me that the artist only has to worry about creating the work. We take care of the rest, which is how it should be. I also encourage collaborations, and if an artist has a vision for creating something special for the show, I do what I can to make it happen.
Without the attendees to our shows and visitors to our gallery, we would not exist. Building the community that we have took time, but without knowing that I had a dedicated audience who would show up for our openings and be supportive of what we do, I would not have felt confident opening a new location. I’m so appreciative of this community, and try to foster and continue to build it through talking to everyone who comes through the door, asking how they heard about us, thanking them for their interest, and building a connection. I am not the type of gallerist who barely acknowledges a visitor, I am right there to answer any questions or give any information they may need. As a natural introvert, it can be difficult to put myself out there in this way and spend hours talking to so many people, but I feel like it’s been a huge contributor to building the community we now have.
When we had our first ever show, I came up with a name for it – loosely based on a film quote, maybe? Just a saying I liked? It was The Eyes Have It — and I remember telling a few people about it and them telling me it didn’t really make any sense. I went with my gut and it was an amazing first show, that I left to my artists as an ambiguous theme that really paid off in the end. Art is weird. It often doesn’t make sense. Trust your ideas, your taste, and your artists. Magic will blossom from the strange ideas you may have.
This is something that anyone who wants to start an art gallery won’t want to hear, but it’s true. Art – while it feels vital to many of us – at the end of the day, is a non-essential, and a luxury. Convincing someone that they should spend X 100’s of dollars on a piece of art for their walls is a challenge, and requires the right circumstances. There has to be a connection for the buyer, there has to be money involved, and you have to make it as easy and no pressure as possible. Sometimes I haven’t sold a single piece from a show that took months to prepare. Sometimes I’ve sold X 1000 plus dollar pieces. It’s a complete unknown, and very hard to predict. For that reason, I try to make sure I have a lot of different price points represented in the gallery and our shop at all times so that everyone can afford something, even if it is just a small enamel pin. Buying art is a privilege, and some people just aren’t able to. Making it as accessible to as wide of a range of folks as possible is important to me, and helps with sales in the end.
While I didn’t start my journey owning an art gallery with getting grants — I’ve realized that if there are some available to you, through your city, state, or country — its important to try to take advantage of those resources. It is a huge amount of work to do grant-writing, but as I said above, it’s hard to sell art. Money is needed to own and operate a gallery, so finding some help, even if it’s not a huge amount, can help immensely.
Remember the people who bought pieces, and remember what they bought. Maybe you’ll have another show and you’ll think “Oh, I bet so-and-so would love this.” Reach out to them personally, say hi, invite them by. They might not buy another piece, but they might.
Much like buying art, if you don’t go to other gallery’s shows, how can you expect them to come to yours? It all ties back into the community, and it’s important to show up and foster that network with other galleries. I’ve never felt in competition with the other galleries in my city because we all do different things. I try to remember what their openings are so I can tell people about them and create those conduits between us. And often I know that they, in turn, do the same for me.
I’ve been so lucky to show some incredible artists in my gallery — from Australia, to New York, to California — some with such big followings that it seemed silly to even ask. But I did, and they said yes. All you can do is ask, be confident, and make it easy. They’ll either ignore you or say no if they aren’t interested (which has definitely happened to me), or they will say yes and you’ll get to show your community an artist they probably never expected to see.
It may seem obvious, but my biggest take away from starting a gallery, is that art IS important, collecting it in a space that is accessible to all kinds of people is important, and even if someone cannot buy a piece, just being able to show them that work, connect them with an artist, foster those connections, and hopefully help financially support artists in the process is important. It’s a ton of work. It’s hard to make money. But it is worth it.
Thank you for reading, and for any budding gallerists out there, if you have any questions feel free to reach out. email@example.com.
I am afraid that in the last few months of 2019 I fell behind in my monthly gatherings of death-related links. No mind–I’m back with it for 2020 and better late than never! Here are some deathly reportings I have encountered in the past month or (two or three!) From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have come across my radar with reference to matters of mortality.
💀 5 Things Death Has Taught Me
💀 2020: The Year That Mom Didn’t Live To See
💀 How Minimalism Can Be A Journey To Death Acceptance
💀 The first-ever human composting site will open in 2021 in Seattle
💀 Félicette, the First Cat in Space, Finally Has a Proper Memorial
💀 The Good, The Bad, And The Future Of Death: Talking With Death Law Experts
💀 Grief affects so many things – including how you keep track of time since your loss.
💀 I Resurrected My Dead Friends As Sims To Watch Them Live The Lives They Never Will
💀 People Are Sharing Pictures Of Their Deceased Loved Ones As Caught By Google Maps
Earlier this week at Haute Macabre I shared my Needful Things for the past several months.
I’m becoming more and more conscious of how often I chatter about stuff and things. Don’t get me wrong, I do love beautiful objects, but…they don’t actually make me any more interesting as a person. They don’t make me smarter, or kinder, or more clever. Who am I, and what would I talk about without these things? What would I post on Instagram?? These pathways of thought trouble me, and so I’ve been digging deep to find myself and what I care about beyond these…things.
So in that vein…some of the things mentioned in the above article are actual things, but also some of them are just spaces and feelings while others are activities and practices that I really leaned into this past year, Gathered together, they all brought me an abundance of joy and wonder and a great deal of satisfaction. Have a peek and be sure to let me know if you had any favorite or needful things (or non-things) lately!
I can’t believe I forgot to share this! At Haute Macabre last week, my interview with Lyla Mori of Moonflesh and the slow-stitched secrets of her spectral threadwork went up. In case you missed it, have a peek!
☨ Beauty Eternalized: Christopher Marley’s Exquisite Creatures
☨ Robot Saints in the Middle Ages
☨ Baba Yaga’s Wild Spiced Honey Cookies
☨ HEXES The Final Hex
☨ Insect Jewelry of the Victorian Era
☨ The 20 Most Anticipated Horror Books of 2020
☨ Lord Byron used to call William Wordsworth “Turdsworth”
☨ 7 Billion-Year-Old Stardust Is Oldest Material Found on Earth
☨ Werner Herzog’s Eerie Prose Script for Nosferatu the Vampyre
☨ ‘Awful and fabulous’: the madness of Flowers in the Attic
☨ 56 Books By Women and Nonbinary Writers of Color to Read in 2020
☨ Bjork and Microsoft use AI to create music that changes with the weather
☨ A Floating Hotel with Aurora Views Just Opened on a Frozen River in Sweden
☨ The Mysterious “Order of the Odd Fellows” that frankly, belongs in a Wes Anderson Movie
Featured photo by Maika Keuben of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s Christopher Marley Exquisite Creatures exhibit
I don’t believe that I owe anyone any explanation for my absence from their life or my exit from their bad behavior and foolishness, but I sometimes wonder how I might feel if someone was in my life one day, and then had all but disappeared the next. Probably a little hurt and somewhat confused. “What could I have done?” I might ask myself on occasion while hoping that it wasn’t anything too awful.
If any of you people ever stumble across this missive, you may find your misdeeds recorded here. Oh, I’ll tell you what you did. If you’re reading this, and don’t like your reflection in what I have written, remember the following (and thank you for reminding me, Angeliska)
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
You were my high school boyfriend. I was wild about you. You dumped me after you graduated, right before my senior year. I still mooned over you for years and took whatever little scraps you threw my way. I grew up, I moved away, I got over you. I moved back as an adult and here you are. Still here. Still an eternal teenager. Your Facebook feed is all big trucks, guns, and half-naked women. Were you like this the whole time? I think you were. You posted about your disgust regarding “government handouts.” You want to know why I won’t talk to you, why I ignore your messages. Gross. Look at yourself. Would you talk to you if you were me? Did you ever even know me, know anything about the person I was? You certainly don’t know who I am now, thirty years later. And honestly, the person I am now has no use for a 45-year-old perpetual man child with no kindness or compassion in his heart. Fuck off.
You were the girlfriend of my high school boyfriend’s best friend. Our boyfriends were the only thing we had in common, I think, but we clung to each other after we both got dumped. We had some nice times in our early twenties, weekly visits where we’d cook together and watch Melrose place, while your baby played in the room with us. I moved away and came back. You’re still here. You’ve got another kid by another husband, and maybe some drama, but who doesn’t really? I think you love your children and that’s beautiful. What’s not so beautiful is your ugly politics. We never talked about this type of thing and so maybe you were this way all along, but when you posted that Ted Nugent meme (it was either racist or something to do with guns or survivors of a shooting…it’s hard to tell with him, I think he’s always saying something terrible and offensive) I knew then that this was not a friendship I wished to revive. I blocked you on social media. I pass you in the grocery store sometimes. I ignore you.
You were my best friend in middle school. Ours was a fraught friendship, though probably not from your end. I was just always afraid that we were doing something that would get us into trouble, but that seemed to be your nature and your modus operandi. We grew apart in high school, you had a couple of kids very young, and we lost touch. A few years ago I looked you up. I don’t know why I haven’t yet learned my lesson about this. “The past is another place, and I’m not headed that way” kind of lessons. “Let what is dead stay dead.” Oh, Sarah. Will you ever learn? I found you on Facebook and we chatted a bit. Made a coffee date. On Facebook, you shared your thoughts about why we need to build a wall. NOPE. I am not having it. And say what you want about the evils of Facebook, but man, people sure show you their true colors over there. We live in the same town but I have somehow never run into you. If that day occurs, I will ignore you, too.
You…I can’t talk about you. You genuinely upset me last year in the most triggery, traumatic way, and I still have a hard time with that. I know I eventually have to get over it and interact with you, because of reasons, and there is no way you could have known what you did when you were doing it, but until then I just have to pretend you don’t exist. When we finally do see each other again, I am hoping that I can act as if nothing ever happened, and I hope that I actually feel that way too.
You. Are so fucking gross and opportunistic and I am sorry that I was every aligned or associated with you in any way. You actually did the worst thing that anyone could ever do to me. And I say that as someone who was in a toxic, abusive relationship for years.* You embarrassed me. You embarrassed me in front of several smart, talented friends who may have only worked with you because of our association. You embarrassed me in front of a lovely, long-time friend with your pushy, gross demands. When she messaged me privately to ask “what’s this guy’s deal??” I was mortified. Maybe one of the only reasons she was even entertaining your transaction was because I vouched for you in some way. Also, I was told that you said some pretty nasty things about me behind my back afterward. That was a weird and novel experience because as far as I know, that’s not ever happened to me before (but how would I know, I guess?) Anyway, fuck that and fuck you.
I’m never going to apologize for cutting people out of my life. I am ruthless about it. It might take a lot to get me to that point; I am patient and I am very forgiving. But I’m at a point now where I know very well who I am and what I’m all about, and so listen well when I tell you: I am not about your shitty politics, and whatever else you do to me, don’t fucking embarrass me.
Other than that, we’re good. You can stay.
* this person is not on this list. I have written about them everything that I ever want to write.
I really hesitate to use the word “goal” here, and much like many people I know, I shy away from talking about “resolutions.” But aren’t they all really the same thing, these earnest efforts to better ourselves in an attempt to reach, oh…I don’t know what…our final form? Our ultimate, enlightened evolution? Or maybe just plain old success and happiness? And really, what’s wrong with that? On the whole, I think it’s a grand idea.
But I think, for me, at least, it might be smarter to consider all of that in terms of little processes and practices rather than a massive end-goal or two. Sure, I could say that I want to lose 50 lbs in 2020, but that’s a big number, and a lot to expect from a body, and it’s so easy to lose motivation and become discouraged along the way when progress looks slow.
I’d rather take action with smaller check-ins. For example: make sure I’m moving enough, and not even because exercise is all that helpful toward weight loss–which I don’t believe it is–but because I feel better when I get my daily walks. And when I feel better, I make better decisions about when and where and why and how much to eat. Or maybe try my best to cook most meals at home– because I both love to cook and I am more invested and excited about food when I make it myself, and when I have made the food myself, I know exactly what ingredients and how much of them are going into it. Get enough sleep, because when I’ve had the opportunity for my body to heal and refresh and reset itself, I’m more likely to wake up for those early morning walks, and I later in the day have the mental clarity and energy to plan out meals and make them. All of those things may add up to choices more aligned toward that big goal but more importantly, I think it will get me fairly well-sorted and stronger and healthier along the way.
I realize that I am pretty well privileged to live in a place where I feel safe taking walks in the dark and that I have a body that is capable of taking those walks. That I have the access and resources to buy fresh ingredients and the time to make a nice meal for myself. That I don’t have (too many) concerns related to sleeping or getting a good night’s rest. This may look very different for you, or for someone else. I can really only speak for myself in this regard, but I am not blind to the fact that not everyone can or is able to do these things. Not everyone even wants to do these things!
Which brings me to my next point RE: weight loss and body positivity. You can be confident and healthy and beautiful whatever size or weight you are at–all body types can and should be celebrated. My body doesn’t feel like a celebration, though. And honestly, it never has, but it especially has not felt like much of a party these last few years. I have accepted that this is the only body I’ve got and there’s only so much I can do about it, and after a certain point, it’s just going to look however it looks. That’s fine. What I do not accept is being resigned to it feeling a certain way. I don’t want to feel like a creaky old house with too much pressure on the structures that are meant to be holding it together. I don’t want to feel old and stiff and sluggish and slow. Well, slow is okay, I guess. I am a Taurus after all.
I want to feel better and I have no doubt that includes losing a pound or two. I know that a great many folks find talk of this a little triggering, and I get it. I find it triggering, too. I’ve dealt with the issues attached to fat-shaming and bullying and eating disorders my whole life. But I can’t ignore the other realities here, either–which is that I am carrying around too much body for my body to manage and I have to do something about that, even though it’s not comfortable to address to myself, nor is it fun or interesting to discuss with others, or even to just share here on my blog.
I suppose this is all a disclaimer, really. I know this is my little internet space to whisper or holler about whatever I want at my leisure, but I never want to lose sight of the fact that there are actual human beings out there who are reading what I have written…and I become awfully upset with myself when I pause to think that there may be friends or acquaintances who read this thing or that thing I have written and feel hurt or betrayed by my words. Body acceptance and positivity is great, is what I am saying here, but I don’t always feel positive about my own body. I’m sorry for how that may make you feel, but in the end, how I feel about my own body is my own business.
This list below is mostly not even about my corporeal human meat suit issues! But I suppose I felt that I had probably better make sure I said all of the above, anyhow. These are the ambitions and objectives that in 2020 and the rest of this new decade I would like to try to stay on top of, incorporate more of, or maybe just try out and see how it feels, in terms of assisting with daily goings-about in this world, and leveling up along the way. Until the end of it all, when I have hopefully done the work and put in the effort and have finally achieved my true form:
I mentioned these above, but they bear repeating. I try to walk most evenings for 45 minutes or so, and if I can wake myself before the sun is up in the morning, I take gentle wake-up walks at that time as well. I have been saying for years now I’d like to start doing yoga (I figure if I learn one new stretch every year, at the end of a decade, I will have a routine.) I would also like to start doing pilates again. I had a pilates DVD years ago, and I can’t believe I am saying this, but I really liked it. I live with someone though, and I am really shy and squirrelly about working out in a place where someone could potentially walk in on me exerting myself and looking sweaty and stupid. I would trust my partner with just about anything, but I gotta draw the line somewhere. So I have to find a secret pilates nook, I guess?
I do cook at home quite frequently already, but there are probably more occurrences of Chipotle runs than we need during the week, and on weekends it seems like we eat out for practically every meal. Lately, I’ve been feeling particularly inspired the Simple cookbook by Yottam Ottolenghi which features a lot of Middle Eastern flavors, and the Rabbit and Wolves blog, which has the most amazingly delicious vegan recipes (I made the mac and cheese stroganoff and holy cats, it is so good.) Cooking is the one facet of my life where I have any amount of confidence; one might even say that I approach all of my culinary endeavors with all of the certitude and bravado of a mediocre white man. I feel most at home in my kitchen, and it’s my sanctuary. I want to spend as much time there making beautiful meals as I possibly can.
And with regards to sleep, this is where I am really struggling. I like to wake up early, but I often don’t get to bed until a much later hour, and these habits, combined, make it difficult to consistently obtain an optimal amount of sleep. Finding a balance has been difficult. I like to sleep mostly because I like to dream, but otherwise I kind of wish I didn’t have to bother with it. There’s so much reading and knitting I could be doing! But I can’t because my body needs to shut down for an apparently non-negotiable amount of time, and I must say, it’s rather inconvenient.
I recently visited a medium, and during my reading, she observed that I had either just begun to meditate or that I would/should shortly. Well! As it happens, I had just begun, ten days prior. I am using the Headspace app and I have been doing the 3-5 minute guided meditations every morning. I know the benefits of meditation are numerous, but I’m actually not sure what I am personally hoping to get out of it. My mind can be a pretty noisy place sometimes, and there are instances that I get myself worked up over something, or perhaps blow something out of proportion and get in a fight-or-flight state, and I’d love to cultivate a practice that helps me slow and calm the escalating anxieties.
I don’t know that I am always the best friend or sister that I should be. Just because I feel like I am pretty low maintenance and I don’t need much in terms of care and watering, doesn’t mean that those I love feel the same way. (And I really need to take a closer look at why think I don’t need that same care, myself.)
More phones calls–any phone calls, really–would be a good start; more texts and messages and check-ins during the week. Maybe even send a few emails or postcards. A vlogger I watch on Youtube mentioned making a practice of reaching out to 5 people a week, and I really liked that idea. But I don’t want to get so caught up in reaching out to far-flung acquaintances that those loved ones I am really close to begin to fall further down my list of priorities (I can get really caught up in things, and so I foresee how I could let this happen.) I guess like practically everything else on this list, it is a matter of balance.
And I would really like to stay more on top of my thank you card game if for no other reason than I have a massive amount of stationery that needs getting used up and well, also, it’s just a classy thing to do.
In the past few years, I have become a person who sees something they want and who buys that thing immediately. I don’t even pause to give it a second thought. I think there are several issues to explore and address as to what’s going on internally and giving rise to this behavior. Probably a lot of avoidance and depression, past poverty/deprivation, and something I just read about and which makes a lot of sense in terms of my experience: Symptom Substitution.
“Often when a person overcomes one type of compulsive behavior, they replace it with another, especially when they have not addressed the underlying reasons. Many women with eating disorders “graduate” to compulsive shopping.”
Ooof. Some graduation gift.
Now I have an abundance of stuff and a scarcity of savings. Some of these things have never been used, still have the tags on them. And then there’s my house full of mountains of useless clutter. Don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in minimalism. I just want to enjoy the things I have without longing for more, more, more. Why does it always seem like there is something better and why do I think I need it?
I thought it might be smart to begin tracking my spending habits and to make a budget for myself. I started using the EveryDollar and I will tell you, I was shocked at what my spending actually looks like. Much of my money goes to eating out and to credit card bills. What am I, 20? Get it together, lady! Now that I am paying attention, I feel like I have at least got a place to start.
In 2019 I finally began to see a therapist on a regular basis. I stopped going in July because I was immersed in writing, and it just seemed like too much to deal with. But I finally went back last week, and have got an appointment scheduled for next month, so we are getting back on track.
I don’t yet know what I am getting out of these sessions, but I do know that I often talk myself to some epiphanies and revelations and flashes of self-discovery in the hour that I am there. And maybe it’s just good practice for me to talk. I’ve always been a “…no, it’s fine, I’m fine!” type of person, and if I get used to saying “no, this hurts” or “no, this isn’t comfortable for me” or “what are you, a fucking idiot?” in a setting where I feel safe, maybe one day I will be able to assertively say these things to the people who need to hear it.
Ok, so this is a frivolous little project. And ok, it’s not exactly a little project. But the other day I was thinking “well if you’re such a Stephen King fan, why haven’t you read, like, his last fifteen years worth of work?” That’s an excellent question! So I am embarking on a quest to read all of his titles that I have not yet read, to listen on audiobook all of the titles that I have read already, and to watch all of the television and film that I have not yet seen. And of course, as soon as I decided to do this, Stephen King said something really out of touch and entitled and cringey on twitter the other day, and man just keep your mouth shut and go to a Red Sox game or something. We don’t need your thoughts and opinions on everything. Just keep scaring us.
I have not knit a sweater since 2009 or so. My results were never that great, but they weren’t terrible, so I thought I’d try my hand at it again. I am currently knitting up a sleeve on the Emerge sweater. I’ve already screwed it up twice. Whee!
For as long as I have lived on my own, I have always had a pot of herbs on my porch. Sometimes, depending on the amount of space, I might have had a whole porch full! I don’t exactly have a green thumb, but I know there’s a handful of green herbs that I get along quite well with: rosemary, mint, oregano, marjoram. Currently, I’ve kept a parsley plant alive for over a year, which is a minor miracle, but it’s still with us! My basil and dill always croak, and I think Florida may be too hot for lavender, but I’m giving a new lavender plant another try even as I type this.
Other than throwing a few leaves in a sauce or salad every now and again, I never do anything with these herbs…even though for years I have been intrigued by the idea of making my own teas and tinctures and candles and soaps, etc. I’ve just never even tried! Unlike my cooking and knitting confidence, I have no surefootedness when it comes to attempting new endeavors. Like many of us, I find the thought of not achieving perfection on the first try extremely prohibitive. And so… I don’t even try.
Both a reiki healer and a medium (the same one referenced above) in the course of a day, just a few hours apart really, both separately told me the same thing: they thought I was already an herbalist or someone who works very closely with herbs. These women did not work together; I am not even sure they knew each other. And yet they both recognized in me this affinity. I think I am going to get to know my herbs a little better this year. If I try something and make a mistake, or I fail completely–well, I think that just means I learned something. Maybe I’ll fail a lot. Maybe I’ll learn a lot of things.
I think that’s really what this year–this decade, maybe–is meant to be about. Little steps. Mistakes. Failures. And learning, always learning along the way.
What have you got planned for 2020? What are your motivations and ambitions and objectives? What do you plan to fail at, spectacularly? Let’s fail and learn and grow together, my strange, beautiful friends.
I knit a decent amount of things in 2019, but I did slow down over the summer when I was meant to be working on some other things. I still knit a little here and there, but I guess I was feeling guilty about doing anything other than the task at hand. I felt furtive and underhanded about those sneaky stitches, like I was somehow doing knitting crimes, and let me tell you, I did not care for that feeling at all.
The above Underwing Mitts, pattern by Erica Heusser, were knit at the very beginning of the year, before all of the aforementioned criminal stitchery. I think I actually cast on at the tail end of 2018, but they were my first finished project of 2019, so it counts, I think. This was the first colorwork project I’d ever actually completed, and I guess it wasn’t so bad, but it wasn’t so great I went back for more, either. Like most things I knit, I have since given them away to a dear friend.
I always love knitting Caitlin ffrench’s patterns and the exquisite Jörð was no exception. I think I might have screwed this up somewhere after one of the repeats where the stitches doubled. My stitch count was correct, but somehow it seemed like…parts of the pattern…just…didn’t match up? Ah, well. I just kept knitting. I have no idea where this one ended up! To be honest, the homes in which the majority of last year’s knits currently reside is a mystery to me–I have forgotten where I sent them all!
Clothilde by Kristen Hanley Cardozo was a lovely and simple knit, or at least I don’t recall it being particularly challenging. I really don’t remember much at all about it. But it turned out quite lovely, and I was quite pleased that I had enough yarn leftover from Jörð to create an entirely new and separate thing!
The Swallowtail Shawl by Evelyn A. Clark was a pattern that was all the rage in 2006 or so, when I was a wee fledgling knitter. I recall seeing all the popular knitting bloggers posting photos of that one and thinking to myself, “lordy, I will never be able to do that!” I had quite forgotten about it until I needed a pattern 13 years later that would use a certain amount of a certain weight of yarn, and I thought, “aha! why not!” I wish I could say it was a piece of cake but it was fraught with the intensity of too much pattern left for too little yarn, and I actually did run out of yarn, with six stitches to go. Yikes.
Charade by Sandra Park is my go-to sock pattern, always and forever. This amethyst toasties now keep my Best Good Friend’s feet warm.
I thought the elegant geometric pattern of Amy van de Laar’s Deco City shawl seemed refreshingly different from the sorts of florid froofiness that I typically gravitate toward, and it coincidentally seemed like a good fit for some Shibui yarn that I’d somehow gotten ahold of (if you are the friend who gave it to me, thank you!) Not sure where this ended up, but it was a joy to spend time with.
I have Romi Hill’s Bitterroot so many times now. The first time I knit all of my grief into it, after a beloved feline companion died. This most recent time I sent it off to a glamorous friend. This was a humbling sort of project where I was probably overconfident and screwed something up even though (or perhaps precisely because) I’ve worked on it so many times that I should know these stitches by heart. It’s a pretty forgiving pattern, though. It didn’t matter in the end, and it was as beautiful this time as it always is
It’s the Charade socks again! I loved the demented joy and unhinged vibrancy of these colors, so I sent them away to an NYC witch who I thought might appreciate their twisted exuberance.
Andrea Mowry’s Find Your Fade, was, in theory, a neat idea. And I can’t say that I wasn’t warned. But this thing was a tedious knit and it is freaking enormous, and I feel like to give it away might be rather punitive to the person who must accept the gift, so for the time being, it still lives with me, crumbled sadly (and massively) in a corner.
More colors! I usually save the brightly colored yarns for knitted socks, but I had several bits of leftover sock yarn and thought that a colorful shawl might be in order–and from this sentiment, the Odyssey Shawl by Joji Locatelli was born. I often found myself losing track on this project; the number of stitches, the number of rows, even which side I was on! These are good things to pay attention to. I suppose it turned out rather nicely, though! It made its way to a writer and perfumista who I am hopeful might wear it every now and again.
I truly adored knitting Stoker by Kristin Lehrer. This was a soothing project, with the most beautiful yarn. The pattern was perfectly written and though it wasn’t especially complex or challenging, it wasn’t mindlessly stupid, either. Just a really, really nice thing to knit on for a time. It now graces the home belonging to a mistress of cake witchery, and I’d like to think it smells of warm kitchens and sweet frostings and gentle spices now.
This is probably the type of thing I’d be writing in a written journal if I did that anymore, but I don’t. I have dream journals and planners and list books, and so on, and somehow the thought of just one more notebook piled up makes me feel a little crazed. I may be writing things like here this more often, these sort of “get it off my chest so I can sort it out” type missives and rants and rambles. Sometimes I don’t know how to think about a problem or what do to about an issue until I’ve taken the time to put it to words and read them back to myself. This is a habit I’ve lost track of and pretty obviously should pick up again.
It’s difficult to not take one aspect of something you do, and maybe have not done well (or maybe someone thinks you’ve not done well although you might beg to differ, but you’ve been gaslit and had your own voice talked over for almost 15 years by this person, so maybe you don’t know the difference anymore) and take this failure or series of perceived failures and not say I AM A FAILURE IN EVERY RESPECT. I don’t know how to let something just be that one thing. Instead, it makes me feel like everything I have ever done is wrong, that everything I ever will do is wrong, and it’s just a really awful, defeating feeling. Logically I know I am smart and clever, funny and kind, I know I’ve done some very good and interesting things before and I know I will again… but also what are you even talking about? I’m a big fat idiot and everything I do is garbage.
I thought in the past year I’d gotten to a place where I could step back and say, “yes–this was a bad day. It’s just ONE day. Tomorrow is going to be another day. It doesn’t have to be a string of bad days that turn into a bad week.” And you know, I was doing really well with that line of thought, but also, it’s easy to think these things when you’re doing pretty well in general.
This bad day was yesterday. When things start to go spectacularly wrong for me, I become paralyzed and weirdly hot and cold all over. My brain fogs up and I can’t think. This lasts for hours. In certain instances, I lose my appetite, and I can’t eat, or even think to pour myself a glass of water to hydrate myself. It’s not a panic attack; I think I might be too repressed to have a proper panic attack (that is sort of a joke but also sort of not.) But it’s definitely a scary thing I experience on occasion and I recognize it when it’s happening. At one point I told myself…just do one thing. One thing! Keep moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace! And I did the one thing. And then I did another. And then I sent an email or two, and then finally the day was over. I never quite got to feeling right again, but I did slowly come out of my freeze.
After a day like that, my first instinct is to turn off, zone out, have a trashy dinner, and maybe even a bottle of wine. None of those things are great ideas for me, personally, because it’s not-great decisions like that, that might turn a bad day into a bad night, and then a bad morning 12 hours later. I should have had some sort of dinner pre-prepared, which is what I normally do on Sunday nights, but the day before was Sunday and I was having a bad feeling about the week ahead (I wonder if that contributed to the bad day? Then again, I don’t think I believe that anymore. My thoughts didn’t make this happen. Thoughts are not things*. They are just thoughts.) I had a sort of “stick my head in the sand and don’t think about it” reaction about it and so that Sunday evening nothing of the sort done. And so after the bad day yesterday, I had chicken nuggets and tater tots for dinner and I watched Scott Pilgrim and Wanda Sykes and went to bed. I don’t know why I wanted to watch Scott Pilgrim, I don’t even like that movie. Maybe I just wanted to see Ramona Flower’s colorful hair and get mad on behalf of Knives Chau? Also, did you know Knives Chau was Jenny in GLOW? Anyway, one thing I did not do was drink a bottle of wine, so I guess yay, me?
I wish I had gone for a walk. I wish I had fixed a cup of tea and did some knitting. I think reading would have been out of the question because I probably could not have concentrated. But engaging in physical activity and having something to do with my hands would have been good for me. I know this from experience. And if today plays out in a similarly shitty fashion, I am going to breathe. I am going to have a big glass of water on a little coaster sitting close at hand. I am going to keep doing one thing and then the next and maybe stand up and have a stretch and do another thing. And then the day will be over and I will make orzo with shrimp, tomato, and marinated feta (which I meant to make yesterday) and go for a walk and listen to Misery on audiobook and dang it is so interesting listening to books instead of reading them but that’s a thought for another time, and knit a sleeve on the first sweater I’ve made in over a decade and And AND! Even now, even feeling like a bloated zombie who got too much sleep and ate too much processed frozen food yesterday and who is still utterly dreading the day ahead of me…after having taken a second to dump out this jumble of thoughts, I am able to think more clearly and I am getting excited about things.
I knew this was going to be a good idea. Stay tuned for more messy thoughts and stupid feelings and complicated emotions in 2020!
*RE: “thoughts are things.” I used to believe that thoughts had that kind of power. But thoughts don’t make you sick, thoughts aren’t the reason that someone got fired from their job, thoughts aren’t what caused that horrible accident. It doesn’t work like that. Megan Devine of Refuge In Grief talks a little bit about this on her Instagram account (maybe it’s in her book too) but I feel like this is really important to remember:
“You cannot manifest death or health or loss or grief just by thinking about it. You are many things, but you are not that powerful. Your thoughts did not create this loss.”
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