I realize that posting this here is kind of weird, but I have but one blog and it’s been a shitshow of a week in the denomination that I used to be a part of. And without my bumpy exit from said denomination, I never would have learned how to knit. So if you are just here for the yarn, give this one a miss.
Still here? I wrote this sermon after the end of General Conference 2016, which is more or less the precise moment I knew I could no longer serve as a United Methodist pastor. I never preached this sermon- it seemed too dark and too dire at the time, especially since everyone encouraged me to wait and see what happened at the called General Conference in 2019. In light of those events, it seems less dismal.
The Bloody Morning After
Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing, come the judgment day,
And the bloody morning after,
One tin soldier rides away.
I woke up on the Sunday morning after General Conference singing this song from the 1970s movie Billy Jack. Because it felt like the bloody morning after. And it felt like the previous ten days had been full of neighbor-hating and friend-cheating, all done in the name of heaven.
I came to The United Methodist Church as a young adult and found refuge from my fundamentalist background: I found a community of people who believed that the Bible was not a collection of facts, but rather something else: a living, breathing document that gave us clues to what God was up to in our lives. I found a community of people who believed that faith should be put into action in the world: that personal salvation was only part of the story. I found a community of people who believed in welcoming all, no matter what. I found that the spectrum of Christian belief was wider than I had believed and that we could disagree about theology and still love one another.
I put myself back together again in the UMC.
I remembered that I had announced—at age nine, in a denomination that didn’t ordain women—that I was going to be a pastor.
And in The United Methodist Church, I became a pastor.
I knew from day one that the denomination’s stance that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings” was bullshit. I knew that it was damaging and harmful to LGBTQ people and that it did not square with the God I had come to know in the whole of Scripture and moving in my life. I knew that it was theologically questionable: after all, Jesus is the mediator of the Kingdom of God, not the Book of Discipline, so who died and made us God, anyway?
But I was also told it could and would change. I was told that I could change it. That we would get there eventually. That as a clergyperson I had the ability to make change and it would be easier to do so from within the system than outside of it.
I thought that we were better than this: that even if we couldn’t agree on the inherent sinfulness of homosexuality, we could agree that maybe it wasn’t our place to judge. That when a group of people is crying out for mercy, the role of the Christian is to show them mercy, not say, “You’re not hurt.” That we could agree to do no harm. That we could maybe be followers of Christ instead of Pharisees.
I was wrong. So very wrong.
In the last two weeks, I watched this denomination fail to be the church. The United Methodist Church is now something else entirely: a human institution with a thin veneer of spirituality.
I heard the word “unity” be bandied about, and I kept thinking about Mandy Patinkin in the Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Dear United Methodist Church: real unity comes from Christ, not from holding together an institution at all costs because it is just easier that way and doesn’t mess with anyone’s building or pension.
I saw the human need for certainty win out over the freedom of faith. I heard the Holy Spirit knocking—loudly—at our now-closed doors and I watched us turn away.
I saw what worshipping an institution instead of the Living God does. Turns out, that idolatry commandment really is spot-on.
“Are we yet alive?” I don’t think so. No amount of denial or life support or commissions to study the gays—again, or Vital Congregations or “church revitalization campaigns” or any of that is going to change the fact that this way we have done Methodism in America is done. And it may feel good to pretend that we are being “a witness” to a divided country, but I call shenanigans. We are an inherently sinful institution: we put ourselves in the place of God when we decide who is in and who is out of the kingdom of God.
I cannot see life for The United Methodist Church.
And the finality of death is a tough thing to come to terms with.
I have never understood Holy Saturday as much as I do this week.
As Christians, as we go through Holy Week, we know that there’s a happy ending and an upbeat singing of “Christ the Lord is Ris’n Today” waiting at the end of it.
But as Jesus was laid into the tomb, the disciples did not really have much to hold onto. The Empire had won. Power had won. Injustice had won.
I would imagine that Jesus’ disciples got up on that Saturday morning and did what you always do after a loss: you go through the motions. Because what else can you do?
I got up on this Sunday morning and did what I do: I made tea. I put on my alb. I sang the hymns. I led the people of my congregation in prayer. I squished some babies.
And this is where I am. I am without any real, substantive hope for the future of this denomination.
But I have also been thinking about resurrection, because, despite insinuations that progressive folks are somehow automatically unorthodox, I hold pretty fast to the hope of the Resurrection.
True story: Resurrection is not the same thing as resuscitation.
Hospital chaplains are called in when a patient codes—when their heart stops beating. If the patient doesn’t have a DNR, doctors and staff snap into action to perform CPR, monitor the patient, shock their heart if needed. Codes are violent affairs with broken ribs and lots of people squeezed into hospital rooms.
I saw lots of things in my few months as a hospital chaplain—but I can remember every single code I attended.
Sometimes this flurry of activity resulted in the patient regaining a heartbeat. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes they would regain a heartbeat and then would code again later. Sometimes the patient would die after multiple codes in the same night. Sometimes there would be brain damage.
And family members, understandably, often would want to hold on. There was hope that as long as there were the physical signs of life: heartbeat, their loved one was all there and it was going to be okay.
But sometimes these physical signs of life were not signs of a full life.
I can’t help but think about codes in the hospital when I think about the United Methodist Church. We are willing to put so much effort into keeping the institution alive at all costs: the lives of women and queer folk, for starters.
But Christians are not a Resuscitation People. We are a Resurrection People.
Resurrection is not a continuation of the life that has been: it is something new. Jesus post-Resurrection is not the same as Jesus pre-death—he gets socially weirder, for one. He walks through walls and vanishes and says things like, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me.” He makes breakfast for his disciples on the beach and is made known to them in the breaking of the bread. And then he gets tractor-beamed up into heaven.
Resuscitation is more of the same. Resurrection is Monty Python’s “And now for something completely different.”
And dear God. It is time for something completely different.
The people called Methodists are going to have to be brave enough to take the church off of life support. They are going to have to be brave enough to let it go. There may have to be a group of people who leave power and privilege and prestige and go and start their own thing.
And it will not be business as usual.
But the one who says “Behold! I am making all things new!” probably means it.
Let’s get on board, shall we?
Oh Lordy me- here we go again. Racism continues to rear its ugly head in the knitting community and prominent white ladies continue to miss the point rather spectacularly.
First, Kristy Glass rushed waaaaay too quickly to “hug it out.”
We’ve taken to calling this “second wave Karen-ism” in the Republica Unicornia: the Karen Templer incident revealed the problems around race and inclusivity that have always existed in the knitting community, and many BIPOC were open and honest about their experiences of racism in a world that many white women (myself included) have found to be affirming and safe. And the hurt that has always been there came to the surface.
In my nicer moments, I’m able to give Kristy Glass the benefit of the doubt—that she saw people she cared about suffering and wanted to use her sizeable platform (and what a friend recently called her “high cheekbones and doe-eyed charm”) to smooth things over. Hugs are great, right? Love is the answer, right?
But my nicer moments are few and far between these days, however, and what I saw was a white woman who wanted to avoid prolonged unpleasantness: the turning away from justified rage and deep pain because it was uncomfortable. I bristle at rushes to “healing” and “reconciliation” that do not allow the wound to breathe. If there was one thing I learned as a hospital chaplain, it’s that healing is not a nice process—it hurts, it’s not linear, and pretending that everything is okay does not make it so. And healing always takes time—so much time.
If a physical wound takes more than a week to heal, imagine the time requirements of the psychological, spiritual, emotional wounds of the last five hundred-plus years of human history for BIPOC? Calm your tits, white ladies.
And then this week, Third Wave Karen-ism happened and it got even worse.
A summary—when the original Karen Templer stuff happened, a white lady indie dyer flounced off Instagram, citing “self-care” and “being bullied.” I’d love to know the content of the post actually was, but this chick is the queen of revisionist history (more on that later). Best I can tell, she said something about how terrible it was that KT’s business was being harmed by all these scary people of color overreacting on the Internet. And people responded. So she went off in a sad little huff, and that could have been the end of it.
But white privilege is so pervasive, and so strong, that this human being decided that what she really needed to do was to take to YouTube and talk about how wronged she had been.
I tried to watch the video, for research. I made it ten minutes in and it literally turned my stomach. It was a master class on How To Be A Modern Rascist: gaslight the hell out of BIPOC, call racism an “issue,” talk about people speaking their truth as “spreading hate,” re-center yourself as the victim, surround yourself with sycophants through policing of comments section, generally fail at practicing true empathy, act like your hurt feelings are worth more than the lives of other human beings, say that everyone feels the same way you do but they’re too afraid to speak out, cry.
There’s no “conversation” or “reasoning with her” or “approaching her privately,” since she has shown that she polices and deletes even the most gentle of comments, direct messages, and emails from people who look like her—to say nothing of what folks she has deemed “scary” (read: not white) people say.
She decried division and this—this is where I lost my shit.
As you may know if you’ve been around for a minute, I used to be a United Methodist pastor. The United Methodist Church has continually denied the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ folks in the full life of the church—declaring that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” And at the churchwide meetings every four years, there is a lot of yelling about and fighting about the sacred worth of all human beings, even as there is mounting evidence that these teachings cause real damage in real lives. One would think that the high suicide rate among LGBTQ+ teenagers would spur a church to action, but you would be wrong. And because The United Methodist Church has historically decided that “unity”, not justice, is the ultimate good, the church has remained at an impasse. (That may be about to change, about 30 years beyond when it would have been interesting). I left the ministry for many reasons, but I left The United Methodist Church because of this bullshit.
In my almost ten-years in the church, I heard this referred to as the “issue of homosexuality”, a “distraction from the real work of the church,” “divisive politics.” Let’s just get back to our knitting, shall we? And just be nice to one another?
“Unity” has become the coded language that oppressors use when they want oppressed people to get back in their place—it is shorthand for “the way things used to be.” Make Knitting Great Again.
I want no part of this—if speaking the truth and fighting for justice and true inclusion is “divisive”, sign me up. There are grey areas in life, to be sure, but the equal worth of human life is not one of them. Pretending that your feelings and business success matter more than the safety of black and brown bodies is deeply immoral. The failure to practice real empathy is the failure to be a full human being.*
I am grateful for the ways in which making things has allowed me to live into my humanity. When I’ve talked about this before I’ve talked about it in the personal sense—that making things makes me feel like who I am. And the current shakeup in the knitting world has called me to be who I am supposed to be—a human who gives a shit about other human beings and acts accordingly.
I am grateful for the voices that are speaking up and holding those of us with white skin accountable for our speech, our silence, our actions, and our inactions. I see you and hear you and affirm your labor. You are a blessing to this world.
More reading here (also, buy these amazing humans a coffee- links are in their profiles!)
@burkehousecrafts (Her posts always make me laugh and cry at the same time)
@tyneswedish (Her stories are the best)
@lemontangos (Her post about Vogue Knitting Live is beautiful and heart-wrenching)
@su.krita (Fierce and bullshit-free)
@astitchtowear (Just so good)
@ajabarber (Calling for accountability in the fashion world)
@knitquiltsewstitch (Her post “Here We Go Again” is fabulous)
I’m here for the long haul, y’all.
*Disclaimer- Don’t come at me with false equivalencies about how I am not being “empathetic” to a white girl’s hurt feelings. Actions and choices have consequences. She chose to spew rascist BS and is experiencing the consequences. Friendly reminder that being born with more melanin in a world that values whiteness above all isn’t a choice.
It’s been anything but a quiet week in the knitting community. Karen Templer, from Fringe Supply (the purveyors of the boring AF $65 project bag and roughly the same rich-white-lady-minimalist-aesthetic as GOOP), wrote a breathless blog post about how brave she was for making the decision to go to India. (Read it. Please. And then do something I almost never recommend—read the comments). Are you back?
When people of color oh-so-gently pointed out that the tone of her article was imperialist and racist, Karen got defensive. She then pointed out that her brown friends said it was okay, so it was okay (WRONG, KAREN), and that she was sorry if anyone was offended, but she didn’t mean to be offensive, and that was really what mattered (WRONG AGAIN, KAREN.)
People of color started speaking up with truth and passion and holy fucking fire. Things have been said that needed to be said about the knitting community—that it isn’t all rich white ladies but you wouldn’t know that from publications or lists of vendors at fiber festivals. And that racism: overt and covert, is still very much at work in the crafting world.
Of course, Karen had her defenders. “But she didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings!” “Knitting is my happy place and I come here to be safe, not to hear about politics! I’m disappointed and unfollowing [sad face emoji].” “This bullying of Karen has to stop!”
(Literally all I can hear right now is Bey singing “MIDDLE FINGERS UP.” )
At some point- and I’m going to go ahead and say we are past that point-denying the existence and power of white supremacy is just willful ignorance. It’s not a matter of education or “listening.” Countless brilliant books have been written on the subject in recent years. People of color speak up over and over and over again. Choosing not to hear the pain of others is a conscious decision. And ain’t nobody got time for that.
The Sentient Sunkist Can (thanks, Anna!) currently occupying the Oval Office is throwing a massive temper tantrum that is keeping children from getting fed in order to build a wall to keep brown people out of The United States. The fact that a Sentient Sunkist Can was even allowed to darken the door of the Oval Office after eight years of a brilliant, leveled, measured, compassionate, competent, deeply kind black man is in and of itself a sign of the power, sway, and stupidity of white supremacy. But it’s not just those bad racists over there that are the problem: the literal Nazis marching in Charlottesville aren’t the whole story.
All of us—all of us—with white skin benefit in ways, large and small, from white supremacy. If this is news to you, this classic article is a good place to start.
White supremacy is real and pervasive and shows up in the most well-meaning of white folk in countless ways (myself included). White privilege is made invisible for white people— the illusion that the playing field is level is just that, an illusion.
It takes courage and a willingness to call our deepest-held convictions about ourselves (BUT I’M NOT RACIST! I HAVE A BROWN FRIEND!) into question.
It requires empathy and compassion and curiosity and listening and then action.
It requires not being a defensive asshole when a person of color tells you that your privilege is showing.
Once you see white supremacy as the rotten scaffolding that holds up systems of power and oppression you can’t unsee it. If you are a feminist, you may have some practice with this.
What’s at stake for people of color is their lives.
What’s at stake for white folk is our souls. “You shall know the truth,” Jesus tells his disciples, and “the truth shall make you free.” Free. Not comfortable. Not warm and fuzzy. Not safe or sound or at peace with your life decisions in a cozy little knitting bubble. But free.
And being free is an essential part of our humanity. “Don’t be a garbage human” is one of my friend Anna’s favorite sayings. Mine is “White people, don’t be shitty.”
Here is a non-comprehensive list of some ways to not be shitty. I welcome all suggestions/addendums/critiques!
- Educate yourself on race, white supremacy, and systemic racism. There are so many good books out there.
- Between The World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
- White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
- If you are a Jesus-y type-America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privlige, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis
- Also if you are a Jesus-y type, anything by James Cone.
- Don’t expect your non-white friends to assuage your feelings of guilt or discomfort OR to offer you praise for being a not-garbage human. That work is on you.
- Buy some of the fine folks doing hard work a coffee: Korina, Ocean Rose, Sukrita, Tina
- I’m doing this.
- Listen first, but then do something about it. Faith without works is dead, y’all.
- Don’t be a white moderate.
- Support yarn businesses run by people of color. Maybe buy something from them and not from me. Here are JUST A few to get started:
Visuvios Crafts (Atlanta-based, talented as hell, also both knits AND crochets)
Baltimore-based Neighborhood Fibre Co.
I sit in an uneasy place with this. Republica Unicornia exists in some (large, even) measure because of my white lady privilege. I look an awful like other indie dyers, I am welcome in all kinds of spaces to hawk my wares, I am in a position where I can undertake the not-inexpensive task of starting a business. I am in that place because of my social class and education, which was accessible to me because I was born into a middle-class white family, which was middle class because their parents were able to buy homes in the 1950s and weren’t kept out of neighborhoods by redlining. I could go on, back through the generations, and point out the ways in which my white skin, which provides no actual biological advantage (in fact, it just makes me prone to sunburn and skin cancer), but it provides me social advantage after social advantage.
And I worry that even by writing this I’m somehow (even unintentionally) vying for a spot on the Woke White Lady Olympics podium.
But I believe, deeply and to my core, that the work of loving our neighbor as ourselves is the work of being a human being.
Don’t be shitty, y’all.
Happy New Year, y’all! Warning: this is going to be a long one, replete with Feelings and (because it’s me, swearing), so make yourself a cup of tea and settle in. Or don’t read it. That’s up to you.
It’s been a hot second since I’ve been on the blog, for various reasons- the big one being that last fall, I decided I really needed a proper job to supplement what’s going on with Republica Unicornia.
And it’s been a good thing, really- helped me heal from the toxic relationship I’ve had with work over the last ten years. No one at my part-time cooking store retail job has shamed me for being a human being or told me that if I worked longer hours or just tried harder and wasn’t so much myself, I’d be worthy of being there. I have been able to talk about food and cooking and proved to myself that I can put on pants, leave the house, function for eight hours straight, and not dissolve into a puddle of anxiety-ridden goo.
This functioning has felt like a major coup, and I feel like myself again.
But I’ve missed having the time to devote to Republica Unicornia—I had a meltdown in mid-December because I felt like I had missed the holiday season. Running a one-woman business where you make everything while also holding down a job that is physically exhausting (and heavy on the extroversion) got to be a bit much.
So I decided to cut my hours at the steady paycheck gig in favor of the rainbows and unicorns. RU isn’t a vanity project for me—we are dual income, but me faffing about with yarn just for funsies isn’t an option.
And so, I haven’t taken the decision to give up stability lightly- it’s a true leap of faith. But when I think back on my adult years, the things that have caused me the most pain and suffering aren’t the leaps of faith—it’s those times when I decided that what I really needed to do was grow up and be responsible and settle down, even when—especially when—every fiber of my being was saying NOPE NOPE NOPE.
I may have mentioned this here before, but one of our family mottos was “We all have to do things we don’t want to do.” My mother said it to me when I wanted to quit gymnastics (I was so uncoordinated that I was *demoted* a grade level by the park district), or when I wasn’t quite sick enough to stay home from school but still feeling pretty gross. And I absolutely see why she did this- as adults, we have to clean the bathroom and get pap smears and spend glorious sunny days doing our taxes.
But the message I internalized was that “being responsible” was about mind over matter—that the “should” outweighed everything else.
And so I married my college boyfriend, despite the fact that I woke up with a panic attack every morning the year we were engaged, and remember standing at the altar thinking, “Whelp. We’ll see how this works out.” (Spoiler: it didn’t.)
And so I became a United Methodist pastor, despite the fact that my prevailing feeling during the whole time I worked in the church was sheer, abject terror—terror that I was not good enough to be in the pulpit I occupied, terror that I was not equal to the tasks placed before me, terror that I was going to lead people away from Jesus with my honesty and my swearing and my inability to toe the party line.
Both of these situations ended poorly, and in much the same way—with swearing and heartbreak and some truly kickass breakup playlists.
It’s so easy to look back on our massive screw-ups and say, “I knew all along.” Because we do, really. On a deep level. But we are taught to suppress our appetites: to do the grown-up, responsible thing at all costs. Even if that cost is ourselves.
For me, it’s not just that searching my feelings tells me it’s so—it’s a physical thing. My “gut feeling” is *literally* in my gut—under stress and unhappiness, my GI system is a hot mess.
When I moved out of the condo I shared with my ex-husband, I remember going, “Huh. I don’t want to throw up for the first time in seven years.” I was voracious—enjoying food and life in a way I had forgotten that I was capable of.
It happened again when I left ministry, although the healing this go-round has been much slower. I’d gotten down to a weight not seen since I hit puberty, and it’s taken almost two years for me to regain my appetite, but I’m here. I feel at home in my body again, not at war with it, and I know it’s because I feel at home in my life again.
Last year, when I was serving as a chaplain, my badass supervisor had us all read the chapter on intuition from the weird and wonderful Women Who Run With the Wolves. Clarissa Pinkola Estés takes the Russian folktale of Vasalisa and Baba Yaga and argues that the story is really about the power of intuition. I’m not going to go into the plot of the folktale (I tried and frankly, it’s just a little too strange to summarize) but Stuff You Missed in History Class did a delightful podcast on Baba Yaga last October, if you’d like to take a listen. Or read the book.
The upshot of the whole thing is that as women grow, they shed timidity and sweetness and learn to walk in their own power, trusting themselves.
And that shit is terrifying to everyone, ourselves included.
We women especially are taught not to trust ourselves: that our appetites are dirty and must be suppressed, managed, denied, that food is the enemy and our bodies are disgusting. Our cellulite (which, by the way, is a MARKETING term and not a biological one), our armpit hair, our unruly eyebrows and all the rest of it must be tweezed, plucked, shaved, moisturized, squeezed into post-modern corsets and shoes that can literally hobble us.
So we deny ourselves the joy of cake and homemade bread and shave the tops of our Hobbit Feet (raises hand) and squeeze ourselves into clothes that hide the fact that we have hips and butts and squidgy bellies. Our value comes not from how much we love our lives, but from how much of ourselves we deny.
Having so long worked to make our bodies into something they are not, it’s a natural extension that the cult of self-denial extends to our life decisions, too. “Good” women put on their big girl panties and deal with it: with sexist co-workers and abusive partners and seventy-two cents on the fucking dollar.
“Being good” almost cost me my life and I am calling bullshit on the whole thing. This year I am trusting myself and my appetite: that if something is right or not right, I will know. It feels risky and somewhat subversive to trust myself, and I confess that I’m more than a little afraid of bankrupting us. Well-educated, responsible, put-together young women don’t put color on yarn for a living, do they? DO THEY? But also- maybe I can trust myself enough to know that if push comes to shove, I will not let us starve.
I have some good evidence that this system works—pretty soon after we started dating, I told Steven that if he ever caused me any kind of gastrointestinal distress it was over. We’re nine years in and that man has caused me nary a tummy ache.
I cannot even begin to articulate how grateful I am for all of you who have supported my fledgling business this first year—when I left the church I couldn’t see a way forward, and thanks to you, I can. Y’all are blessings upon blessings.
I hope that this is a year when you learn to listen to your appetite and give the proverbial (or literal) finger to all those forces that say that you can’t possibly know what’s best. Because you do.
PS: OH! And because this is *technically* a knitting blog, I have also decided to apply this “follow my appetite” thing to my knitting—I cast on a Nightshift Shawl quite out of the blue on Christmas Eve, and while I was planning on making the Selbu Mittens next, I decided to cast on the Cardamom Coffee hat and the Floozy Sweater instead. Maybe this will be the year I actually post pictures of my knitting on my knitting blog. Or maybe not.
When I started the Republica Unicornia blog, I never dreamed I’d be talking about fascism on the regular, but here we are.
It’s a Sunday morning and for the first time in a long time, I almost wanted to go to church.
It’s been a total violent shitshow this week: bombs sent to leaders who have dared to be critical of the current occupant of the White House by an outspoken supporter of said occupant, and then, yesterday, the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. I am even struggling to write those words for so many reasons—I’m a former clergy person, for one, so this obscene violation of the sacred space of people of faith rattles me deeply. Eleven beloved children of God gunned down in a place of worship is heart-rending.
But also—I grew up in a predominately Jewish community north of Chicago and I can say, without a moment’s hesitation, that who I am as a human being was formed and molded by the lived values of Judaism that surrounded me in Highland Park. I learned about empathy and social justice and the importance of civic engagement from my community. I also learned a healthy does of fear of fascism—I went to school with kids whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors. The public school system did an outstanding job of teaching us historically what the rise of violent, totalitarian regimes looked like, not only in Western Europe, but also in South America. When I went to college to study Spanish and Latin American Studies, I delved deep into the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s, in part because it was a reminder that the rise of these regimes was not something fully buried in a distant past.
Let me say, unequivocally, that the current climate in the United States: the bombastic rhetoric and the rallies, the complicity of political leaders with an increasingly unhinged leader, the daily acts of violence, the voter suppression, the demonization of the free press—all of it—all of it—is textbook fascism. And this rattles me deeply because I know how this story goes. It’s not inevitable, to be sure (VOTE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT BECAUSE IT DOES), but the United States is going further and further down a dark path.
For years, it was my job to take the horrible things that human beings do to one another and stand up in front of hundreds of people and put them into the context of what is the good news of Christianity—that the bastards might be winning now, but in the end, they won’t. The tricky part (this is where faith comes in) is believing that last part even as if feels like the bastards are on a long, long winning streak. And dear God is that part getting even trickier. I’ve felt despair steadily creeping in over the last several years, and it is starting to seem that all of my worst fears are coming true.
How do we hold to hope when hope just feels like being delusional?
I don’t know, to be perfectly honest. I think the key might be to hold on to both hope and despair at the same damn time.
It’s tempting to go one way or the other.
I want to bury myself in the lovely things that are happening in my personal life, like the knitting and the yarn and my family, to turn off NPR for weeks on end and pretend that the whole world is the Republica Unicornia. My little bubble is safe, filled with kindness and cozy things and seasonal baked goods.
And then sometimes the opposite happens—I’ll get so deeply wrapped up in the relentless news cycle that I’ll have NPR and MSNBC on at the same time while also reading the Times. (This happened during the Kavanaugh nomination process and I’m still reeling from it). I struggle to find any good in the world and lose interest in things like food and knitting.
Holding the good and the horrible together isn’t about balance: about having equal parts knitting and rage time a day so you don’t lose your mind. It’s the paradox at the heart of being a human being: things are beautiful and wonderful and also totally fucked, all at the same time. Our hearts are whole and broken, and this is what it means to be a human being. And sometimes being a human being hurts like hell but we are still here, which means hope isn’t lost.
Be a full human today—ugly cry your way through your breakfast burrito and love your people and fight like hell. Be whole and broken all at the same damn time. (And please, for the love of God, vote November 6th.)
PS: I really want to take away my nonviolence disclaimer about not actually stabbing fascists with your knitting needles, but instead of that, why don’t you pick up an enamel pin so I can give money to the SPLC who will kneecap said fascists using the legal system?
I am currently sitting on my sofa eyeing my cutting table (the piece of furniture that used to be called the “dining room table.”)
I see stacks of precut bag pieces, piles of fabric scraps, gallon-sized Ziploc bags of zippers, yards of interfacing, and neatly folded bundles of fabric. It’s happy chaos being made into some kind of order, and it’s lovely to know that these bags will go out into the world and hold treasured craft projects and make people happy (because how can a bag with unicorns on it do anything but?). It’s such a direct kind of production—I control at least some of the means of production, and the supply chain is much shorter than in traditional industrial production. When you buy a skein of Republica Unicornia yarn or a bag, you know the working conditions under which the finished product was produced (me, happy, in my house, surrounded by cats, with Bob Dylan playing on the stereo). I try to source ethically-produced materials and support smaller businesses for things like dye and fabric and zippers (I do not do this perfectly, for the record).
One of the totally unintended consequences of learning how to knit was how it changed my relationship to stuff. I’ve always loved to shop: even as a child, it was one of my favorite activities. I grew up in suburbia in the ‘90s, and going to the mall was a standard weekend activity. (I am sure I remember going to Northbrook Court every single weekend when I was in high school). Until I was fifteen or so, I was too tiny to fit into regular adult-sized clothes, and when I finally grew into the size 0 at Gap, it was a revelation. I loved having new age-appropriate clothes, and that thrill has followed me into adulthood.
In my adult life, if I had the money, I would shop. When I graduated from grad school and had a proper job and financial stability, I immediately started buying all the things I hadn’t been able to afford: a pair of Docs, dresses from ModCloth, a pair of $98 Free People overalls. Since my budget had gone up, I was able to buy better-quality things, like Birkenstocks instead of crappy Target shoes, but the volume of consumption was still high. When I was feeling bad about myself (which became increasingly common in a job in which my humanity felt like a liability), a new outfit or a box from Zappos helped lift my mood. If I was going to feel like shit, at least I wouldn’t look like it.
And then I picked up knitting needles. To be sure, there was a lot of yarn-buying in those heady early days. Lots and lots of yarn-buying. And needles. And patterns. And stitch markers. And of course there was the swift and ball-winder. But I noticed if I bought a skein of yarn, I was less inclined to buy a $25 top from Target. Items became measured in their relative cost to a skein of yarn: that mug with a unicorn on it from HomeGoods was like half a skein of hand-dyed yarn. I found I’d rather have the yarn.
But the real epiphany came after I’d been knitting for just a handful of months- I was walking through the clothing section at Target and saw a cute sweater. I went over to look at it–I think it was like $29.99—and thought, “Why would I pay $30 for an acrylic sweater made in a sweatshop when I can make one for twice that and enjoy every moment of the process?”
This was like giving the finger to late-stage industrialized capitalism.
Why buy something quickly and cheaply when I can make it for more time and money is literally the opposite of American-style consumerism.
It was a revelation. To be clear, I’d never knit a sweater before. But I knew with time and patience, I’d figure it out. I did, and I’m happily knitting away on my fifth sweater since January.
The writer Michael Pollan has a rule about food that I adopted immediately: You can eat all the junk food you make yourself. The rationale makes sense to me—if you make a pie from scratch, you a) know what goes into it, and b) you won’t eat as much of it. Experience proves this—I can’t be trusted alone with a package of Oreos, but I’m fine stopping at one homemade chocolate chip cookie. There is something more satisfying in something made from scratch. You can argue it’s the ingredients, I suppose, that butter and eggs are intrinsically more nourishing than high fructose corn syrup and the like. But I think there’s something existential happening, too: that when we create things with our own two hands, we put ourselves into it. A chocolate chip cookie is more than the sum of its parts: it is made up of vanilla and brown sugar and flour, yes, but also of knowledge and know-how and memories of my mom making chocolate chip cookies and me showing up with a batch the morning after my first date with Steven and freaking him the hell out.
And fast fashion is like fast food: it fills you up, but offers little in the way of true nourishment.
If this sounds too high-minded, to be clear—I spend an inordinate amount of time and money searching for and buying fabric and saying it’s “for the business” (which it is, but it’s still a LOT) and have more yarn than I can knit with in a lifetime. I have a weakness for vintage vinyl and hand-thrown pottery, and it’s hard for me to pass up things that have unicorns on them. I do my level best to support local businesses and other makers. I recognize my privilege in having enough time and resources to make things and to buy more expensive things that other people have made.
Making more than I consume is making me deeply content in a way I don’t know that I have been in my adult life.
I’m not saying knitting is the way to happiness, but I’m not saying it isn’t, either.
Related: I’m reading this book and it’s rocking my world. I’ve recently discovered I can knit on the body of my current sweater and read on my Kindle (it makes me slower at both activities, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing).
George Carlin talking about stuff is one of my favorite, favorite things ever. (NSFW, obviously, because I’m recommending it and it’s Carlin.)
Things I Have Patience For:
- Complex knitting projects
- Complex baking projects
Things I Do Not Have Patience For:
- Literally everything else
When I was a child, one of the things my mother often said was, “You want what you want when you want it.” It was always uttered in that momlike tone of pure frustration, tinged with disbelief that she, with her deep wells of saint-like patience, could have possibly produced such a single-minded and selfish child.
As an adult, I am arguably just as single-minded and selfish, and things that require the exercise of patience inevitably end in frustration for me (unless they are cooking- or knitting-related, see above). This inability to wait around for things to happen makes me driven, I suppose, but it also causes me to rage when things aren’t progressing at the speed I think they should.
I’m struggling with this mightily at the moment. I’m not going to go into lots of detail, but suffice it to say that the last ten years have been jam-packed, and not always in a fun way. I’m not particularly advanced in years, but my twenties and very early thirties were comprised of a series of events, one after another, that normal people go through later in life. One of my favorite movie lines (from Indiana Jones, when Marion tells Indy that he looks way rougher than the last time she saw him) suits me perfectly: “It’s not the years, it’s the miles.”
I turned thirty-four last Sunday, and woke up in a state of intense anxiety, which soon led to a total meltdown. I cried on my sweet husband. Then I cried when I saw that my mom had decorated their kitchen with the very same birthday decorations she’s had since my fourth birthday. And then I cried on my sweet mother. In so many ways, I am not where I thought I would be: We do not own our home. We do not have children. The career that I thought would be the end-all-be-all of who I was professionally and personally turned out to be, um, not that. I’m in the beginning stages of starting a business, which is a roller coaster, and I’m prone to motion sickness.
And underneath it all is the simple fact that this fairly-recent-model-year-but-high-mileage human being is tired as hell.
This pisses me off for a variety of reasons, mainly, one: that deep down, I do not feel I deserve to be this tired. It seems like the ultimate in white lady privilege—being able to take to my fainting couch with the vapors while other people work proper jobs while bearing burdens I can’t even begin to imagine.
On some level, this is objectively true. Being able to stop long enough to feel my own exhaustion is a luxury of sorts.
But also: it is what it is. Being a human being is always hard work, even if that work exists on some kind of spectrum. Even the most charmed of lives contain loss and heartbreak and health scares and worries about money. And wherever our individual struggles fall on this spectrum, they are still struggles. They wear on us, body and soul.
I try, I really try, to be patient with myself, to practice what people who move in hippier-dippier circles than I do call “self-compassion.” I am, after all, technically a finite creature, one with a limited lifespan and limited energy. And after ten years of fighting like hell to be the person I actually am, not the person everyone else wanted me to be, I am weary. I’ve lost a lot in the last decade, too: loved ones, for one, but also a sense of stability and predictability in my life. I’ve had to grieve the life I thought I’d have, not once, but twice, and grief is grief.
And, to paraphrase the brilliant children’s book “Going on a Bear Hunt,” you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, OH NO, guess we’ve got to go through it. I fucking hate going through it, for the record.
I fret that I won’t feel like myself again, that normal, everyday things will provoke what feel like bottomless anxiety pits. I wasn’t always this fragile, I tell myself. I used to be strong. Fearless. Put together. Able to handle sixteen-hour days and manage a social life and keep the house spotless.
I return to Mary Oliver’s words in her poem “Don’t Worry”, again and again: “Don’t worry. Things take the time they take. How many roads did Saint Augustine follow before he became Saint Augustine?”
That’s not the only Mary Oliver poem on my mind these days.
The opening lines of “Wild Geese” remind me that, at the end of the day, my truest vocation is to be a creature.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
I’m tired of being good. Being “good” got me in this mess in the first place.
Maybe I’ll try letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves for a bit.
Which is yarn. And knitting. And color. And fabric with chubby squirrels on it. And naps. And going to bed stupid early. And giant cups of strong-brewed English Breakfast. And cake.
Thank God for cake. And Mary Oliver.