Friday, January 09, 2015

2014; 2015

2014 was an interesting year for me.  I started the year with the intention to take it easy.  Looking back, I'd say I succeed in some areas and failed spectacularly in others.  Which is fine.  Part of the point of the goal was to pay attention to exactly how I don't take it easy, and to try to find ways to change my habits or mindsets.  For instance, I stress out WAY too much about most stuff.  To quote dear Dad, "You stress out more than anybody I know."  And my brother, "And your way of stressing out is really unique.  Like, things that nobody else would even think to stress about."

So I figure, I've got some growing awareness and some new habits.  About something that's so fundamental to who I am, that I completely lack awareness about it until others point it out to me.  In my humble opinion, some new habits and increased awareness are actually a pretty good outcome for 2014.

In 2014, I started a new job with the intention to find a balance between work, life and writing.  I asked to work fewer than a full-time workweek to try to make that happen.  I booked myself into a nature preserve to read through my entire 1st draft in (close to) one sitting; after 100K words my brain rebelled, so whatever's in that lst 40K words, I hope it's either 1) not important, or 2) embedded in my subconscious!

And then, for the next 9 months, I stewed over the book.

You see, I'd spent 3.5 months in the fall of 2013 doing a pell-mell, sprinting, verbal vomit through the book.  Just had to get to the end, even if that meant I had sections that literally said "GIANT ARGUMENT HERE!!!  Revisit next draft."  That's fine - instead of getting writer's block on the conflict scene, jot a couple notes to remind yourself who's fighting and why, then pick up post-argument and keep going.  Literally, just get to the end.  The important thing is to create a full arc, even if the first draft has holes in the middle (that's what a second draft is for!)

Finishing a book-length piece is no small task.  But having trial-and-error'd my way through 140,000 words, I had no intention of using the same tactic the second time around (well really, EVER AGAIN, if I can help it.)

The second time around, I wanted to go in with an idea of where I was going and how I might get myself there.  Yet therein lay the problem.  Rereading my draft, I realized that I'd written about a bunch of things that happened, but unfortunately "things happened" is not a story.  A story is when you shape those "things" that "happened" into a beginning, middle and end.  When there's a larger storyline behind the things that happen, so that things happen for a reason, and certain things get left out because they're not relevant to THAT storyline, and other things get thrown in for foreshadowing, etc.

Basically, if we go back to the architecture metaphor, I had a bunch of building materials and no floor plan.

For the next 9 months, I tried different techniques to crack this nut, all borrowed from other writers, writing books, screenwriting, and even a design/creativity consulting firm.  The holy grail, and what you see pictured above, was to identify the 20-60 key moments of the book, identify the main "activity" of each, associated themes, characters involved, etc.  Storyboarding, where you draw 1 picture/scene, was super helpful (my ugly ass stick figures still make me giggle, how does one make stick figures so darn ugly?!?!  Heh.)  When you are as fond of words as I am, it can be easy to get lost in long, rambling sentences of "and then this was so important because of that, which actually loops back to this concept, which is really interesting because ..."  Whereas when you storyboard, you're forced to ask yourself: What is the single key moment that I need to draw, who's involved, and what action is happening between these characters?  Terribly useful.

Anyways.  This is all to say that in 2015, my writing goal is to finish a second and maybe even third draft.  In college, I used to scratch out 20 pages of notes in order to figure out what I was writing for a 10 page paper; if I had 20 hours to finish the paper, I probably spent 12-15 on the notes, after which the writing itself was easy.  I don't think this project will be QUITE so simple, but I'm feeling good about where I'm at.  I have enough structure here that this finally feels manageable.  Like I've got my arms around it.  Like I know what I'm trying to do.  Executing, and executing it well, is a different matter ;-).

More broadly speaking, I like picking a theme for the year, so this year will be about "perspective."

When I maintain a healthy perspective on my life, I find that I have a much better attitude towards everything - friends, family, work, writing, ME (you know, the things we tell ourselves about ourselves, etc.)  The challenge is figuring out how to incorporate that into daily life.  I don't know, folks - any thoughts or experiences on "operationalizing" this idea?

For now, I'm adapting an idea I read in Real Simple: each night I plan to journal four "celebrations": 1 big thing that went well, 1 small thing that went well, 1 work-related thing that went well, 1 personal thing that went well.  It's a bit like a gratitude journal, which I've used off and on through the years, but maybe this time the habit will stick.  I don't like to get too rigid about year-long intentions, as the weight of obligation tends to bleach my joy, but I've also thought about doing brief nightly readings of texts that I find insightful (like the Daodejing or The Sun Magazine).  My boss often listens to snippets of an audiobook by her favorite Buddhist guru.  I might give nightly meditation a stab.

Anyhow!  We'll see how all of that - writing and Perspective - unfolds in 2015.  Sending all of you warm vibes and happy thoughts for the new year!

(Want to know how 20th Century I am?  I took a pair of scissors to my first draft and chopped out the little bits - sentences, paragraphs - that I liked, and separated them into folders, each folder corresponding to a different chapter.  Then I took the stickies with the notes about theme, character, setting etc., and put those in the same folder.  Each time I write a new chapter, out comes that folder!  I'm positive they have a computer program for this, but it's working well so far.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Archer #1 + Moss #2 = Sunny Days

Archer #1.  Refashioned from an old men's shirt.  Gosh, I love this thing.  I didn't have enough fabric for the cuffs so I made, er, a cuff "facing" and decided that bracelet length was just the thing.  I often roll up the sleeves anyways.  I always feel perfectly chic in a slightly slouchy way, every time I put this thing on.  It's a look that's hard to pull off, but in Archer, I feel like I can do it.  This look is growing on me.

Moss #2.  Mustard cotton twill, zero stretch.  With one of Tasia's labels~ I love them so!  I eased the waistband by 1" on my last Moss, and really wish I'd done so on this one as well.  It allows the waistband to hug just enough that the skirt doesn't scoot around during the day, and yet doesn't feel restrictive.  (Mark Center Back notch, mark side seams; cut waistband 1/4" shorter than pattern calls for in 4 places: along the right front, left front, right back between side and CB notch, left back between side and CB notch.  Ease in 4 places.  Super simple)

What I love even more than my Archer and my new Moss?  Wearing the two of them together.  Archer #1 goes pretty smashingly with Moss #1, but this is such a happy, sunny combination, I think it's got me won over.

And just in time.  Moss #1 was starting to look a little faded and worn (I wear it multiple times each week if I can help it).  Plus, what says "fall" like a splash of mustard?

Hope your fall sewing has been going well so far :-).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Trio of Grays

Apologies ~ I wrote this post in, hm, late August, and didn't get a chance to upload photos until now.  I hope you don't mind the outdated post, I figured it was better late than never!

Mornings are starting to feel definitively fall like around here!  Thought I'd show you my summer makes.  For the record, I wrote my last post in June and didn't upload photos until August (oops).  Did a major wardrobe purge at the start of summer that felt good for a month and then restrictive after that, so I yanked a couple garments from the "maybe donate " pile and then made myself a couple more things to round out the summer.  If you normally don’t think of gray as a summer color – well, I’m with you there, but I’ve been stashbusting, so gray it was.

I took a break from writing this summer.  I’m still reading (book recommendations at the bottom here), trying my hand at gardening (really, who kills zucchini???  But as my friend Rachael says, “What – too much drizzle and not enough sun in Portland – HOW are you having THAT problem?  Haha), spending time in parks or at farms that host live music events.  Went berry picking and canned up some jams with friends, made a trip out to the coast, and I flew back to California 3 times in 5 weekends (UGH).  And sewn.  I’ve missed sewing.  It’s nice to feel competent at my creative hobbies, you know?

I have a massive crush on Victory Patterns.  Two years late to the party!  Ah well.  Funky and modern is something I’ve never really sewn, figuring that if I was going to invest labor and fabric, I should make something timeless and classic.  Well, new city, new thoughts on sewing and fashion, apparently.  I shamelessly copied Morgan, right down to pairing linen to Satsuki and making the shorter version, and you know what?  I have no regrets - that woman is genius (isn’t her version lovely?) and I love this top to death.  The linen is from my Korea trip, and while lightweight for a linen, probably too crisp for this pattern.  Who cares?  It’s so much fun to wear and uber comfortable.  I cut the smallest size, figuring that 6” of ease was enough for me, have yet to add the buttonholes (see: comfort, above), shortened the sleeves by an inch and the bottom hem by another couple.  I wear this FAST every time it comes out of the wash.

I love Liberty for summer dresses, despite the fact that they’re slightly sheer and really ought to be lined.  Home girl ain’t lining that floaty goodness!  (OK, unless to make a shift dress, in which case the fabric could use a little more body)  The way I see it, I already leave more to the imagination than many.  My sole concession to modesty is to go for a darker print.  I’ve had this fabric in my stash for several years now, an impulse buy off Purl just waiting for the right pattern inspiration to hit.  I do love my Tovas, always feel good wearing them, and this dress is no exception.

Simone number two.  (See: Victory Patterns crush, above).  When making this dress, I found myself rather torn as to whether or not it was a good idea.  The print has such ridiculous potential for “hideous not fabulous”, don’t you think – I mean, it’s just so much, isn’t it?  When I bought it off a Chinese merchant on eBay, the print struck me as slightly art deco-ish, but in person it seems rather stained glass-ish, no?  Ah, the jewelry, the geometric lines, the colors of 20s art and fashion!  I love art deco, and sadly cannot do 20s fashion to save my life.  (Somebody’s been watching too many BBC period pieces.)

Because the main fabric is silk crepe, for the yoke I went luxe on myself and picked up some coordinating-ish silk at Mill’s End.  Can I just say, that is a dangerous, dangerous place that exists 0.3 miles from my apartment?  Sigh.  This dress feels amazing on, and it never fails to get comments due to the quality of the fabric, if not the slight eccentricity of the fabric.  So does my first Simone.  Fabric choices, I tell you.

So.  Books.  I read on the bus to and from work, occasionally during lunch, in parks in the evenings, and when our 2.5 months of summer melt away, can often be found curled up under a blanket (or better yet, one of my fugly handmade quilts – I can’t believe how ridiculously bad I am at designing quilt tops, I keep thinking I'll get better at it but I don't, so there you go).  It’s been really fascinating to read books while keeping a specific personal book project in mind.  You become a different reader.  I’ve always loved reading for pleasure – the cadence of words, the beauty of imagery, falling in love with a world or its inhabitants.  But now I read for inspiration and technique.  I read because other authors show me the answers to problems I cannot solve in my own writing.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve had a good amount of beginner’s luck when it comes to writing.  I know how to construct a pretty-sounding sentence.  I’ve occasionally lucked onto a topic that, for whatever reason, catches a reader’s attention.  But do I know what I’m doing?  Gosh, the more I read, the more I think: heck NO.  Total beginner’s luck.  It’s humbling but also exciting.  I could spend a lifetime immersed in narratives and feel that there is still so much left to explore, so much more of my craft to develop and hone.  That’s pretty cool.

And the more I read, the more I realize how many different ways there are to tell a story.  How much art and craft go into shaping events into a story.  I just finished Edwidge Danticat’s memoir Brother, I’m Dying.  She writes about the two fathers that she had – her uncle, whom she lived with as a child in Haiti while her parents established residency in the US, and her biological father, with whom she was reunited at the age of 11 after seven years apart.  She writes about a very specific period in time when her father was dying, she became pregnant, and her uncle died.  And then she intersperses the memoir with memories of growing up in Haiti and of her uncle’s relationship with her father.

Just think.  There’s so much that she could have written about.  She could have written about their childhood together.  She could have written about her relationship with her father.  She could have written about coming to America, becoming reacquainted with her father, about her many return visits home to Haiti.  Why not write about her father’s longing for Haiti, the pain and beauty of assimilation, the heartrending pull that all immigrants feel between the multiple lands that lay purchase to ones heart?  The way diaspora can strain families, set them along different trajectories, erect barriers both visible and invisible.

Yet what she chose – death and birth, uncle to father, her childhood with uncle and a little bit of her relationship with her father – is incredibly powerful and moving.  How did she know to cut away the rest and focus on this?  And how different would the book have been had she chosen a different focal length to fix on the narrative?

It’s incredibly fun to think about.  Such a nerd!  I love it.  Anyways, if you’re looking for a book or two to read this fall, here’s a list of books I’ve read in the past year or so and loved (in no particular order):

Fresh Off The Boat.  Eddie Huang.
Colored People: A Memoir.  Henry Louis Gates Jr.
That Shining Place.  Simone Poirier-Bures.
Truth and Beauty.  Ann Patchett.
The Suicide Index.  Joan Wickersham.
Trod The Stony Road.  Joseph F West.
Meeting Faith.  Faith Adiele.
Factory Girls.  Leslie T Chang.
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze.  Peter Hessler.

The Lotus Eaters. Tatjana Soli.
Matterhorn.  Karl Marlantes.
We The Animals.  Justin Torres.
The Brothers K.  James K Duncan.
The Paris Wife.  Paula McLain.

I hope you enjoy the remaining days of summer!  Read any good books recently?  Or sewn up anything this summer that you’ve loved (gray or otherwise)?

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Handful of Unblogged Handmades

A handful of unblogged handmades that got worn during May, in honor of Me Made May.  I was supposed to put this post up at the start of June, but life, you know how it goes.

L: Moss mini in green twill, and can anybody help me find my right arm?
R: Renfrew lengthened to mini, in organic dotty cotton.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve decided that the mini is pretty much the most versatile skirt length that exists.  Worn by itself in summer, or layered with tights and boots in the fall and spring, I could wear one for all but 2 or 3 months of the year.  Too bad neither of these are work appropriate, but outside of work, I really don’t want to climb into much else.  The twill has zero stretch, and that works really well for the Moss.  I cut a straight up size 6, which is nearly perfect.

Haha, no, I don’t walk around with my sweater falling off one shoulder (was that the 80’s?  Are we done invoking that look yet?)  I wanted to show off the little bit of self-made gray bias tape I’d inserted into the cuff of this self-drafted kimono tee, which I made using some STUNNING rose fabric that I bummed off Roo.  If you go back and read through the comments of her post, you’ll see my shameless – truly shameless – hinting.  Roo!  I’m so sorry I never got a chance to send you photos before now, my brother still has the photos he snapped, I’ve yet to see them!  But at least we can do matching-but-not from across the globe!  Used the steel gray to add a wee bit of edge to the blouse.  Ever so slightly.

A Simone from Victory Patterns in Thakoon cotton and self-made silk piping.  Swoon.  Isn’t Simone so luscious?  I really love Kristiann’s patterns – they’re so unique and fun, eye catching, easy to put together, and yes, 6 years late I am cottoning on to the preggers look, but hey, ain’t that the pleasure of sewing your own clothing, that you can be as far behind the fashion curve as you damn well please?

Since moving here, I’ve noticed my style evolving away from the classic-with-a-twist, quirky-take-on-modern-yet-vintage, color-plus-color philosophy that dominated my wardrobe for so long.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still have a number of those clothes in my closet, and because my former fashion personality was intent on a mix-and-match wardrobe, I can pretty much get dressed in my sleep and still walk out the door with a reasonably coordinated outfit.  But I find myself drifting towards a simpler, more modern look.  Less flashy, less fussy.

I think part of it is living in Portland.  There are some awesome indie designers, bloggers, and street trends in Portland, but the city as a whole is just not that into fashion.  Not in the way that San Francisco is, for example.  I also spent 2 months last spring living out of a single suitcase that held about a week’s worth of clothing, and then last fall I only had access to half of my wardrobe while the rest sat in boxes in Dao’s garage.  So there’s that, too.  Resetting the barometer – using less, needing less, wanting less.

I also think that I’m changing.  Clothing just matters less to me now than it did before.  I mean, ever since I was a kid, I’ve had my own very unique sense of style (LOL, did I ever!  Jessica (looking at old photos): Really?  You let me go out of the house dressed like that?  Mom: Letting you dress yourself was an act of love.)  But it occupies a lot less brain space than it once did.  Especially in my mid- to late- 20s, I spent a lot of time trying to pass muster in somebody else’s world, play by somebody else’s rules, and so I picked clothes that were distinctive yet conformist “enough.”   That whole time I used sewing and knitting as my creative outlet and source for individual expression.  But now that I feel like I’m living a life more congruent with the way I see myself, that need has faded from my life.  An external manifestation of an internal change.

At the start of summer, I'd every intention of refashioning a couple Archers, making a couple more Mosses, and living in those as my summer uniform, with a pretty sundress thrown in now and then for good measure.  I still have only 1 Moss and 1 Archer in my closet, and they get worn all the time (together and separate).  Something which might've bothered me in the past, but honestly now, it feels like almost enough.  I like to think that's keeping with the spirit of my 2014 resolution, take it easy.

To summer!  Hope yours is a wonderful one!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Unexpected Soul Baring

It's funny.  I had a couple potential blog posts in mind - cooking and food, giving you the 101 on a pair of really great breathing exercises, thoughts on style and closet purges and MMM - and here I sit, writing to you about perfectionism and self-esteem instead.

I guess I should back up.  In job interviews, I describe myself as a "recovering perfectionist."  (That always gets a laugh)  However, I'm also the person who thinks to herself, "Aren't I doing great with my perfectionism?  I'm now living by the 80/20 rule!"  To which folks have responded, "Uh ... if backing off means going for the 80/20 rule ... that's still setting the bar really high!"  Oops.  And I'd been so proud of myself, too.

I am also somebody who's spent her life surrounded by "success," in the American sense of the word - material success, professional success, and all the trappings that go with it.  To wit: around the time I turned 23 - and certainly before 25 - word passed through my high school grapevine that one of our classmates had just sold his company for $100 million.  "The first one of us to reach $100 million!" people said.  I'll pause to let those words sink in.  Note they carry the assumption that MORE of us will hit the $100 million mark.  OK, I went to high school in the epicenter of Silicon Valley.  The guys down the street started some tech company our freshman year and were rumored at a $2 million valuation by the time we hit senior year.  So having multiple classmates hit 9-digits, that's probably gonna happen.

And I'm no slouch.  I went to UC Berkeley.  I won a Fulbright.  I went to Harvard.  But somehow that whole area - Silicon Valley, San Francisco - has a way of pushing all of my insecurity buttons.  I never feel smart enough, pretty enough, cool enough, up-to-date enough when I'm there.  Maybe it's a function of trying to shed my adolescent skin in a highly competitive, conspicuously success-driven environment.  And because I'm a perfectionist, my instinctive reaction is to just bear down harder.  Work harder, try harder, do everything in my power to control every last possible outcome ... because maybe, through sheer elbow grease, I can pull it all together to Be Enough.

You know that new car smell?  I'm pretty sure new grads give off a similar scent.  There's something about our wide-eyed "I want to change the world!" that causes older, gruffer folks to roll their eyes and automatically discount the words coming out of our mouths.  Coming out of grad school, I must've reeked of it.  Higher ups often wouldn't take me seriously.  Wring those perfectionistic tendencies a little bit tighter - no really, if I just work a little harder, I'll get people to take me seriously! - and with every interaction they'd go tighter still.

Because working in the non-profit world, I'd never hit $100 million, man!  That meant that I needed to Do Good in the world instead, right?  To compensate?  Because that's what kids from the Silicon Valley elite ... the ones who go to Harvard ... do, right?  If I wasn't going to make the big bucks, then at the very least I could have my intelligence recognized by Making An Impact.  And not just any impact.  A big one!  With me playing a central role!  Ugh.  Is it any wonder I had a mini breakdown and came running to Portland?

One of my goals here is to develop a more balanced life, one where work matters less to me (matters less ... so that it can actually be a sustainable part of my life!), and one where other parts of my life come into greater focus.  Which is why I started laughing today on the way home from work.  Because in my current job, I have a fair number of interactions with Executive Directors, Medical Directors, Operations Executives and the like.  And if there's one thing about me and my lingering new grad scent, when you first meet me it's easy to mistake my naturally bubbly enthusiasm for idealistic ditzyness.  Generally speaking, the longer people know me, the more they realize, "Oh shit, I guess this girl kinda knows what she's talking about.  Sometimes."

So now that I'm in a job where I do a lot of first impressions and have little opportunity to strut my stuff, as you can imagine, my "let's-write-off-this-girl" hit rate has been decently high.  Which you think would bother me.  And at first, it did and then it really did, and I feared I was in danger of disappearing down the same hole I fell into in California.

Then something odd happened.  I got that reaction so often that ... I stopped caring so much!  Call it desensitization.  Call it a realization that these people are as limited as I am - how often have I been guilty of mislabeling an acquaintance under the wrong first impression?  (Including several of my best friends!  Jessica!)  Hey - maybe their perception spoke as much about them as it did about me!

I mean, intellectually these are things I've told myself all along.  But emotionally?  Truly feeling OK that other people don't think much of me?  And not having this instinctive need to wind the perfectionistic coils tighter and tighter, and fight harder and harder against these amorphous shadows?  But to instead laugh about it?  And not just laugh as in "haha, I will distract my angst with my laughter, thereby minimizing whatever emotional hurt is there," but laugh as in, "well!  That's rather amusing!"

I mean, gosh.  I'm pretty pleased with that.  This move, totally worth it.  Already.  Several times over.

Well, that's it for me for now.  Back in a bit, maybe on one of the three topics described above, maybe to ramble about something else!  Me Made May - the short answer is that I'm not participating this year, and feel pretty good about that decision.  It's just not where my attention is at the moment.  That said, I have been making stuff.  It adds a nice balance to my day.  A silk cami, a Moss mini, a gorgeously flowy summer dress ... maybe I'll get photos at some point for you lovelies!  In the meantime - I bought a bike!  *Does a jig.*  Spring is here!  *Claps hands.*  I made oatmeal-chocolate-chip-craisin cookies!  *Crams 2 more in her mouth.*  *Smiles.*  *Ignores dishes in sink.* 

*Smiles again.*

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring Cleaning Swap Meet!

So I'm taking part in the Spring Cleaning Swap Meet!  Although I'm not actually offering up any stash items ... as I only brought my "most likely to use" stash up with me to Portland (erg, yes, I do have an embarrassing amount of stuff still at my parent's place in CA, one day I will make the trip with my car and grab the rest of it.  Or maybe it should all just get donated?  And here I was, feeling smug about how I'd pared down!  The lies we tell ourselves, LOL.)
Anyhow, I'm offering up a couple handknit sweaters that I've made and loved and yet, because my life has changed, no longer really wear.  Mostly it's the sleeve length - the eternal drizzle, combined with a cold office, means that non-full length sleeves are less functional for me than they were in a warmer climate where my organization liked to keep the building toasty warm.  As a result, I've had to really prioritize which shorter-sleeved sweaters stay in rotation, and which ones that, while I still love them, would probably be happier if they found a new home :-), and hopefully, the opportunity to be worn as much as they deserve!

First up, this 50's inspired sweater.  As you can see, it's reversible - so for those of you who like a multitasking wardrobe, this is like 2 looks in 1!  *Pats self on back.*  Color on the right is pretty true to life.  Fair warning - it's slightly sheer, so a nude bra is needed, and I knit it to hit high hip on me ... which, since I'm 5'2", would probably put this in the "cropped" category for most women.  I'm not personally a fan of tucking my blouse into skirts, but I know that there are tons of fabulous indie pattern designers who make skirts like this ... and if you've got a couple of those lingering in your wardrobe, this would probably pair really nicely!

Second up, my gray Trina.  Really, I adore this sweater.  I get comments on it every time I wear it - something about that fabulous statement button, the sleeves, the silhouette.  It's the one thing I've made that my uber fashionable, Japanese (former) roommate commented on.  Sadly, due to sleeve length, I don't wear it very often!

Both are made of wool, although the blue sweater is a blend with silk and nylon and maybe something else.  For reference, I am 5'2", 36" bust, 29" waist, high hip measurement ~33".  I am happy to ship worldwide, but if the shipping winds up being more than $15, I might ask you to chip in a little bit to help me out :-).

So!  If you're interested in either, just drop me a comment between now and Monday April 7 to let me know, specifying which you'd like!  I might slip an extra goodie or two into the mix for you :-).  If more than 1 person is interested, I'll do a random drawing - and if you're really crazy about either, feel free to leave comments on other blog posts around here and I will give you bonus points (hehehe, this is an ego boost for me, I can be honest with myself + you!).

Monday, March 24, 2014


Hello hello!  Spring is officially here, Portland flirts with sunny days betwixt sprinkles and showers, and life marches happily forward in this little corner of the universe.  Returned from an East Coast work/pleasure trip last night, and was struck by the remarkable change my life has undergone in the past year.  The changes I've sought out in the past year.

Meanwhile, I tiptoe towards the holy grail of sewing - for me, that's pants - by completing the runner up in that category of intimidating makes (at least for me).  Coats.  This one took me 3 months; I took it slow, it was my first foray back into sewing since moving, and I was feeling no rush.  A learning project for sure!  But I adore wearing it.  There really IS something to be said for making the cakiest of sewing cake, those utilitarian garments one wears constantly.

And how basic is a navy wool peacoat?  Swoon.  I had a brain fart and cut it with the nap going sideways, and the camel hair in my blend is thus already starting to pill, but honestly, I'm still pretty darn happy with this make.  I'd love to use the pattern again (V2873, OOP) perhaps in corduroy with contrast plaid lapels?  Because I am obnoxious like that :).  Hideous or fabulous, baby!  I've also got my eye on the Minoru.

But first, pants, because I've only got 2 pairs of jeans - one that's half a size too small and requires some minutes of wriggling dancing, post-wash, before I can comfortably sit in them, and one that's been darned in several places and needs several more patches.  Thurlows, I'm looking to you!

As you can see, I've also been knitting, rather unexpectedly, to a theme.

At a Baltimore museum with one of my best friends.  This place has the awesomest sense of color!  The exhibits were so much fun.  There was one that kept John and me laughing for a good 5 minutes, starting with the reindeer coming out of toilets, and right on through the nutcrackers with aliens emerging out of one side of the body.  The Nightmare Before Christmas on LSD.  Really, Baltimore gets such a bad rap, kind of like Oakland.  I personally have always loved my visits there.  A quirky, laidback city with down to earth folks.

Saying goodbye to another of my best friends from grad school.  Kristy's headed back to Taiwan, and Wei Jie is probably returning to Singapore ("Sing" as she calls it) next year.  Asia trip 2015 is all I can say!  Once I dry my tears, that is.

Oh, and I finally unearthed this quilt top that I started when I was 16, and finished piecing it, then sandwiched it and have begun hand quilting.  Wool batting, mmm, perfect for PDX winters.  So squishy and lofty and soft and warm.  Had been slightly tempted to leave it until I turned 32, as I could then call it the quilt that took half my life, but at the rate I've been going, it might not get done until then all the same!  Haha.  Besides which, I've really been digging the blue side of the spectrum for the past year or so, which, as you can see, were perennial favorites in early life, as well.  A return to my roots.  Which is really how I feel.  So much more like myself.  So it seemed fitting.

And how's writing?  Well, good!  Thank you for asking!  Right before my trip, I whisked myself away to a cottage situated on a 230 acre nature preserve, to read through my book draft in 1 go.  Between you and me, internets, I got about 60% in and then my brain rebelled, so I hope there was nothing important in those last 40K words!  LOL.

But it's good.  It gave me the chance to evaluate What are you, book, and what do you want to be?  And I think that I am finally, maybe, starting to see the contours of this story.

It usually takes me about 3 drafts to know what my story is about, another 2 to get all the pieces roughly in place, and then another 2 to refine and polish and fix things up.  Assuming no drastic changes, of course.  Most people raise their eyebrows when they hear this, and you can just see them thinking, though they are too polite to say it, Why, woman, would you put yourself through that???  Because it's a bit like what I imagine motherhood to be like - watching characters (or ideas) begin to define themselves, emerge, and blossom, in ways you both anticipate and cannot imagine.  But then you also have a hand in the process, in the artistry of the form of the story, even if the substance is not entirely in your hands.

And the beauty of writing memoir is that it asks you to revisit and reunderstand seminal moments in your past.  Which, given the deep bout of reflection and soul searching I've done in the past year, has really grounded me in myself.  The timing has been perfect.  Or perhaps this book has been a catalyst of sorts?  Likely these have been intertwined, cause and effect muddied.  Regardless, the result has been so, so worthwhile.

May you experience a beautiful spring!

Friday, February 07, 2014

Book writing: the process

Over the summer, when I first began thinking about writing a book from start to finish, I found the prospect equal parts mystifying and daunting.  (Before, to cheat my way around that, I'd decided to write a series of essays for a book collection - ah!  I only have to think in 5K word chunks, I don't have to hold 80K words in my head!  And then I realized that wouldn't work, and that I'd have to Start Over.)   Before I could really dive into it, I decided I needed some handholding from the experts.  So I read a number of books about writing books to find a template process that I could build out and embellish with the quirks of nuances of how I like to write, dream, create, and polish.

So if you've ever wondered what it takes to write a book ... here's what I've discovered so far.  (And bear in mind that I'm not in the clear yet!  But I thought it would be fun to get these thoughts down on paper.  At the very least, I can revisit in a year or two and think, "Silly bear!  That's only the tip of the iceberg!"  Track the evolving process, because sometimes when you get to the end, you forget where you traveled along the way, you know?)

Definition of a draft.  Over the summer, when I asked my creative writing instructor for suggestions on the revision process, he replied (and imagine this said with repeated palm slaps to table, for emphasis): Every time I revise, I make myself work through a FULL draft.  A full draft means you've landed the plane.  You've got some sort of start, a muddy middle, and you've tried out an ending.  Now, you may not like your ending.  There may be stuff in the middle that you absolutely hate.  It's your best guess - at the time - of what the story should look like.  It might be crap.  But at least you can say, now THAT, that is NOT what I wanted.  Let me try this instead.

Or, to paraphrase Stephen Koch, 26 versions of 1 page is not 26 drafts, it's a really rough page.

Which was helpful.  I've wanted to write this type of story for 20 years now, and began seeing a good chunk of the specific topic 8 years ago, so every couple years I'd write 100 or 200 pages of notes - fragments and pretty sentences, essay pieces, longhanded stream-of-consciousness pages where I try to make sense of everything, character sketches, pieces of dialogue - and then I'd get stuck and put it away for a couple years.  But I didn't have much of a clue what the book was about, because I hadn't tried shaping it into an actual narrative.  I had a series of vignettes, but not a story.

I spent the fall chipping away at a complete draft now, and as tough and ugly as it was, I feel like I can finally feel the contours of the story.  100s and 100s of pages gave me some insights and a lot of fabulous details.  A complete draft is laying down an infrastructure on which to build a house.  Later, I might decide that I want 3 bedrooms instead of 2, and the kitchen and dining room need to be swapped, and that, oh hey, we no longer want a basement or the two skylights or the wraparound porch ... but I'll be inching closer to the house I want.  Before, I felt like I was working on one of those American pioneer-town shanties: I've got three walls here ... and a stack of logs there ... and I'm not quite sure where the hearth is going to go ... oh, but I know that I want a stack of patchwork quilts in this corner and ooh whee, lemme go cut up a bunch of fabrics to make one!  It'll be log cabin and blue and red and ... uh ... what's this house supposed to look like again?  I give up, I'm gonna let it sit for a couple years while my subconscious figures it out!  Haha.

Types of drafts.  There's two phases to writing.  There's creating and there's editing.  Some people love writing --- I love revising.  Which means it's tempting for me to write 100 new words and then go back and polish the last 300 ... which means I mix the two phases together.  Many authors alternate two types of drafts; each type focuses specifically on one phase.  Start with a really fast, really messy 1st draft (a 'down and dirty' writing phase), followed by a long and nuanced 2nd draft (a big revision phase).  In one, you're using speed to work holistically.  Writing towards the big picture.  In the other, gosh, you're in the weeds and you just LOVE testing out three different kinds of aphid killers to figure out which is going to work on this one corner of your garden.  (There's a third phase - polishing.  It's where you're sprucing sentences, not killing off useless characters.  I used to think revision was sprucing sentences, which is why I was so mystified: but how/when/where do you figure out the big picture stuff???)

They also recommend breathing time between drafts, so that you can get some perspective on your work.  Which is why I pushed hard to finish a 1st draft in December, and am taking a short story class now.  Try something new.  Let the book breathe.  I'll pick it up again mid-March.  See what I've got.  Evaluate the beast in its entirety: what is it saying?  Is it saying what I want it to say?  After 3 months away, what feels extraneous and what feels underdeveloped?

With shorter pieces, at least, I've found that it generally takes me 3 drafts to get some sense of what the story is about, another 2 drafts to get all the pieces excavated + present in some form + hopefully in something of the correct place/shape, and a final 2 drafts to get things polished.  A couple months between drafts is enough time to see the work in new light, but not so much time that I've forgotten everything!  On the other hand, maybe things work differently for a book, I don't know.  That's what sucks about figuring out your personal writing process for a book - you can really only find out by experimenting on book-length projects.  On the other hand, I still love writing more than just about anything else in the world.  Takes a strange kind of masochist to want this, but if that's you, there's no use in running from the truth!  May as well embrace it and work with it.

Writer's block.  OMG, the bane of existence for all creative folk, no?  And totally fear-inducing.  We live for the days the words flow, we dread the days when writing feels like plucking words out of our brain with a pair of blunt tweezers.

There's a lot of controversy about this one.  That it happens is a given.  But everybody has a different opinion for dealing with it.  And again, two camps.  People who don't force the creative process and work when inspired.  And people who think that half the work is showing up to the page, day in and day out, the ones who have a writing schedule and keep at it, even when they're blocked.  Which might sound torturous, but I'm in the second camp. 

Often I'm blocked because 1) I don't know something, 2) I fear something, 3) I doubt myself (which is a variant on #2).  And in my life I've found that it's best for me to face those kinds of situations head on, lean into the discomfort, get as intimate and specific with the fear and unknown as possible ... because that also tells me how to get through it.  So if I'm blocked because I don't know where to go next - I don't know the character or the story well enough - I use writing exercises to explore that problem.  Sometimes it means freewriting prompts (As protagonist: I tend to present the illusion that ...; As antagonist: I am least proud of this characteristic ...") ... or else I throw my characters into a new situation to see how they react.  Maybe I don't use any of the words I've written, but the exercise helps me understand them better, which helps me see how to move forward.

Actually, what I'm discovering could probably fill a book.  (Haha, and you wonder why there are so many "how to write!" books out there.  I bet it's all of us writers, procrastinating on our novels and writing this kind of stuff instead.  I bet we're all reminding ourselves what works for us.)

So maybe I'll just stop there.  (For now?  We'll see.)  More thoughts to come, especially as I pick the book up again for Round 2, come spring.  In the meantime, I find myself pleasantly surprised by how much I'm enjoying my short fiction class!  Maybe there's another book in there :-).  Heh - that's the danger of embarking on this process!  You begin conceiving of projects in book-length terms ...

And for a little life update: Portland's been blanketed in 4 inches of snow, which means the city is effectively shut down.  Which is a bit amusing to me, as 4 inches in Boston was just another winter day ...  My brother, who is in town visiting, said that he began to fear for his nose and left ear while crossing the Morrison Bridge yesterday (after waiting in vain for a bus for an hour, he and some other folks decided to walk instead).  He thought it'd be ironic to develop frostbite in Portland, of all places, after having lived through long, cold winters in New York and Beijing ... but luckily, all extremities are still present and with feeling, so we're cooped up inside but feeling cozy and glad to have one another for company!  Hope you're all well!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Happy 2014!

Hello hello!  I hope you're having a lovely start to 2014!  I spent the last 2 weeks with family in California, and can I just say - why is the sun so bright in California?  Haha, if ever I needed a sign that I've acclimated to the Pacific Northwest, I guess that was it!  Today I came back and popped out for a mid-afternoon run and found myself strangely pleased by the many shades of gray, the tall, dark trees, and the quietness on the streets.  Yes, the place for me.

Have you any resolutions this year?  In years past, I'd pile up a huge list for myself.  Usually more than I could count on one hand, and even if some small part of me doubted that I could even remember all those resolutions, never mind make progress towards them, I just couldn't pick one or two to focus on.

But 2013 was really an exercise in prioritization for me, and I'm planning to flex that muscle in my resolutions.  So this year, I've really only got one, although it's got several subcomponents, of the "it'd be nice if this happened' variety.

So in 2014, I resolve to ... take it easy.

Yep.  Taking it easy is not something that I do well.  Or rather, I did for the first two decades of my life, and then in my 20s I started making my own clothing, and when I began living on my own, I often opted not to outsource my daily errands/chores (like cooking meals vs. eating out), which took up a lot of time as well.  Add in work, seeing friends, exercising, writing, commute times, massive guilt over building fabric/yarn stash = rush to keeping making and making and making ... yeah.

I distinctly remember this one Sunday evening, I'd waded through my 13-item to do list all weekend, and I thought, "Well, it's 7PM and I've got 4 items to go.  Great!  If I allot 45 minutes to each, I can still get in bed at 10!"

And then I thought: "Am I crazy???  That sounds like a terrible way to spend Sunday evening!"  So I bargained with myself.  "How about you only do 3 of those items?  Give yourself a little break?"

LOL.  How about you do NONE of those items and kick back for a couple hours, woman? 

And I wonder why I had a breakdown earlier this year.  So anyhow, prioritization in the name of Taking It Easy is the name of the game.  Some ways I'd love for this to play out:

Internet-free Sundays.  This sounds crazy, but the Internet makes me kindof jittery.  I don't feel like I actually unwind until I've unplugged from it for a good stretch of time.  Here's hoping I can regularly stay off the Internet once/week!

Only check email 3x's/day at work.  Seriously.  Are you one of those people who obsessively clicks on the little "message" button every time a new email comes in?  I know I'm guilty of this.  It leaves me feeling frenetic and harried and exhausted as I try to switch back and forth in mental concentration.  Enough!  Batch process the emails, Jessica, and get on with it.

Get out for a walk once/day during the week.  I used to be really good about this, but stopped in my last job (probably because I was doing 2.5 people's work).  Even 10 minutes makes a huge difference!  I relax, the air and exercise feels good, and work woes get put into perspective.

Gratitude mantras.  This is a bit New Age-y, but when I start my day by longhanding out a series of mantras, I really do approach the workday with more perspective and less OMGthisislifeanddeath.  Simple things like, "I am lucky to have a job that makes use of my skills and training, with people I like ..."

Make fewer things.  I've really enjoyed my sewing break this fall!  And I think I've finally come around to viewing the stash NOT as a guilt trip, but as the opportunity to work with beautiful colors, nice textures, and fun materials ... whenever I get around to them.  I also find that when I'm making a lot, I tend to want a lot.  Sometimes, when we only add a couple new items into the rotation each season, it helps us cherish them more and cultivate a less-is-more mentality.  I think.  2014 will be the test of that theory!

Anyhow, wishing you all the best this January!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Of Late

So.  Where the heck did I disappear to and what's been going on behind the scenes?

I quit my job and moved to Portland OR.  Was it terrifying to pick up for a new city where I had very few friends and no job waiting?  Absolutely.  But I was stuck, stuck, stuck in California, and I finally decided that if, at 30, I let my fears of what might happen stop me from doing what my intuition told me that I needed to do, well, then fear would increasingly rule my life.  I don't imagine life-changing decisions get easier to make as one gets older.  Facing down your fears is a bit like a muscle, it's gotta get flexed now and then or else it atrophies.  So here I am, nearly 2 months in, and every day I wake up and am glad I did it.  Yes, there are terribly lonesome moments, and also periods of great uncertainty (do I really think I'm going to find a job?  The economy is still shit and Portland is a tiny job market).  But it was what I needed, and I'm glad I did it.  Even if Portland itself doesn't stick, and I wind up moving someplace else (or moving back to CA), it was the step that was right at the time.  I think this city is going to stick, though.

At the end of 2012, I decided stashbusting was my top priority for 2013.  I was tired of looking at stacks of fabric and feeling guilty for not using it; some people might look at a stash and see potential, I look at it and see obligation.  Seriously.  It weighs on me that I haven't sewn things up, or fast enough, and I wind up tackling projects not out of joy or inspiration, but out of this feeling that I gotta get through C, D, and E on the list so that one day I can maybe work it all down and stop feeling guilty.  Craziness!  So I culled 4 bags of fabric and donated them to a scrap reuse store, sent bundles off to friends both local and international, and then got to it.  Unblogged (and possibly never-will-get-blogged): 2 knit dresses, 4 woven dresses, 4 blouses, a PJ set, and miscellaneous household items.  And oddly enough, I haven't sewn a stitch since getting to Portland.   My machine's out, but it hasn't felt right.  I'd like to make myself a couple mini skirts for fall/winter, but we'll see if that happens.

I shall always think of 2013 as the year I went crazy making socks, and the year that my friends decided to start having babies.  Who knew baby clothing was so fun to knit?  An entire garment out of a single skein of yarn?  Mind boggling.  Throw in a couple hats, finishing up an odd sweater or two, and you've got my year in knitting (to date).  Somehow, sweaters for me just feel less compelling at the moment.  I guess I've already got a little stack of hand knits that I cherish, although every time I look at colorwork, I think that I'd really love to make a colorful, intricate, fair isle sweater or two.

Other creative endeavors
I'm writing a book.  This is not one of those jubilant "I got a book deal!" kind of announcements; ever since I could read, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and finally, 25 years after my first realization, I woke up one day and realized I was ready to get on with it.  A writer is somebody who writes, regardless of whether or not they are ever published, and so I am writing the book that I wish I could have read when I was younger.  I'm taking advantage of my free time in Portland to spend lots of time thinking and journaling and freewriting and shitty first drafting and excavating notes and ploughing through old drafts.  It's exhilarating and discouraging, all at the same time, but I have never regretted the decision to take the time off to invest in this project.  I spent a lot of my 20s crafting as a way to avoid writing, but looking back, I don't think I was personally ready yet to really dig in and write, so the way I see it, I gained two incredible skillsets in the process of becoming ready :-).

What now for this space?  Not sure.  I never claimed it on Bloglovin' so I'm guessing about 3 people will see this, but likely it will be the 3 bloggers that I absolutely adore (just kidding, there are more of you that I adore, but you know what I mean!  I feel lucky to have gotten to know some really cool people through this blog!).

When I decided that I was really going to get serious about writing and not go crazy, I knew I'd have to jettison other things from my life.  Writing, personal relationships, and work (when it comes, gotta pay rent!) go at the top of the list, which means crafting falls somewhere below exercise and cooking, although I know I'll never give it up completely.  (If you're curious, writing and crafting used to be inverted!)  I find there is no better way to unwind from a hard week than to put on a couple episodes of Masterpiece and sew/knit a garment.  Maybe this will just become a regular blog - you know, documentation of life, with extra musings on creativity and creative endeavors.  Or maybe it will just fall away.  I do miss this community of people, though, so I guess we'll have to see where life takes us.

One step at a time.  Which is all we can ask for, really.

Anyhow, I hope you are all well and experiencing a good Fall!