Thursday, March 18, 2010

The one year anniversary of that horrible evening when my doctor told me I had breast cancer has come and gone. When I think back on it, I am astounded at how much can happen in one year. Not just in terms of the day to day events and activities, but also in the evolution of my psychological and emotional life. If you had asked me about my life on the day before my diagnosis a year ago, I would have had quite a tale of woe for you. I felt mired in crises, not just one, but many. I tended to lump them all together under that very useful umbrella term "mid-life crisis." In truth I felt like my life was falling apart. And then it almost did for real.

It became clear to me over the course of this year that all other crises lose their urgency in the face of the ultimate one. I had witnessed this truth as Kristen faced the end of her life, but I didn't really get it until I tiptoed my own little self up to the edge of that abyss and peered over. When your life is threatened, nothing else matters. All other turmoil and trouble shrinks.

I feel like I've been whisked away from that treacherous edge by modern medicine, my friends and family, my own will, and a measure of luck. But I know now how close I live to that edge. And so while I am back to fretting over certain of life's offerings, but I won't let myself be buried under worry and stress again. Because were it not for luck and love and science, I probably wouldn't be here right now. Being here, right now, is all that I want or need. The rest will work out.

As you've probably noticed, I haven't been inspired to write much lately. I began the year thinking that I'd write once a week, sometimes about cancer, sometimes not. But I've found that the subject of cancer is bound to this medium for me, and if I don't feel like writing about the c word, then I don't feel like writing at all. And I feel like writing about it less and less.

So I think I'm going to let this blog go. I'm in the process of opening a studio and shop in Bar Harbor with my friend Michelle, and I think that maybe we'll begin a new blog on our store website. Eventually. First we have to have the website. Well, actually, first we have to have the store. Wish us luck. Once there is a store, and a website, you'll be able to find us at Spruce & Gussy (

Thanks for being out there for me over the course of this last long year. It meant the world to me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

craft hope

Craft Hope for Haiti Shop Spreading seeds of hope one stitch at a time

Check out Craft Hope's Etsy store to purchase nifty handmade goods and support the Haitian relief effort at the same time. You can find one of my pendants there soon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

tiny blind stitches

I've been working very steadily on that baby quilt that I posted a photo of months back. I am really close to finishing it, sewing on the binding by hand. It's only taken me nearly two years...

Of course, I had a lot happening in those two years, so I'm not going to chastise myself about it. As I've been struggling to make tidy little blind stitches all around the edges, I've been thinking about making things, the act of creating and the impetus behind it. One thing that I have discovered for myself since selling the Lompoc is that I really, really love to make things. Facing cancer made me intent on integrating that love into my livelihood. There are few times when I am happier than when I am sewing, knitting, soldering, sometimes even cooking. This, however, can lead to some complicated questions. Does the world really need more stuff, even if it is stuff that I have crafted carefully and with love? (Sarah Neuberger of The Small Object had a really great post about this here, a while back.) Why am I so in my element while I am making things? We're not talking about great art, here. We're talking about a pretty random selection of items, mostly functional to one degree or another, but none of them remarkable in any grand way. Sweaters for babies, needle felted toys, my quirky jewelry, candy; things that bring comfort and some degree of joy, but not art for the ages. If I'm not making something that is going to be Important, is it still worth making? Why am I making it? I began to wonder, while I was struggling to make neat little stitches by hand, if there is perhaps an element of the quest for immortality at play here. My kids and I have been reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and so the subjects converged for me. Thinking enviously of Mary's ability to make perfect little hem stitches even though she was blind (blind! I can't make a decent one with my good eyesight and strong electric lights), and thinking, too, of Claire's repeated questions about when Laura lived, how she died, when she died. When can we visit her house? What is there of her that we can still see?

I don't set out to make a project with the intent that it will outlast me and therefore be a continuation of my life in some way. No, I'm pretty much in it for the instant gratification. (Okay, maybe not instant, though in Amy Karol's book, I am definitely a "Speed Demon" crafter.) But while working on this project, the heirloom nature of giving a handmade quilt to a baby definitely leads me to ponder my mortality, and my drive to craft things by hand. Am I unconsciously trying to ensure that I will leave something of worth when I die, something by which I will be remembered?

I don't think this is the reason that I get so excited picking out yarn for a project, lining up fabrics for a quilt, building a new silver shadowbox for my jewelry. There is a thrill inherent in the act of creation that doesn't have much to do with the fate of the finished product. This worries me, a bit. I feel like I need to be cognizant that the things I create will eventually land somewhere, and so I need to be careful about their number and quality. I don't want to be responsible for filling up any more landfills than I already am. And it is true that I am happiest when I am working on a project that has an intended recipient from the outset. But if I want my creative endeavors to also provide me with an income, then I am going to have to make things that may or may not find their perfect home. What's a crafty girl to do? There is no doubt that humans seem to have a need to decorate themselves and their dens, so I'm choosing to believe that supplying some of those objects is a good and worthy endeavor. The question is, what to make next?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

auld aquaintance

The winner of my first giveaway is Gayle! Thanks so much to all of you for stopping by and joining in. That was fun; I think I'll do them more regularly.

And happy new year to all. As 2010 dawned last week, it occurred to me that I will spend a lot of this year comparing it to last. I suppose I do that every year, to some extent, but there are more notable dates this time around. Just about now last year I went for my first mammogram. And as we wend our way through this year I will be taking note of the first biopsy, second biopsy, the night Dr. Hendricks told Greg and me the diagnosis, my first trip to Boston and Dana Farber, and on and on. I like to believe I can make a clean break and move into life beyond cancer, but the fact is that it is so very recent and the edges are still so raw. I don't spend much time worrying about it coming back or fretting about what I'll do if it does. But every once in a while, especially if I'm doing something with long term implications, I wonder "what if"? What if it comes back?

There is nothing useful about that question, so I'm leaving it behind to focus on here and now. And though the comparisons to last year will be inevitable for me, I can use them as a reminder of how lucky I am, of how much I love being alive and of all the reasons why.

I'm not ready to leave this blog yet, though the urgency has unquestionably abated. I think it will be interesting to see how my experience throughout last year informs my life this year; how it continues to change my life over the long term. I can do that, of course, without the blog, but the act of writing has always been clarifying for me. I expect that there will be less and less talk about cancer and more about the things that I'm able to do now that I'm not in treatment. And about how the experience of having had cancer influences the decisions I make about how to spend my time now.

Thanks for being here with me. Here's to a healthy and joyful 2010!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

a gift for you

As you have probably noticed, I've lost a good deal of momentum with regard to this blog over the past few months. I suspect that it is at least partly because I would love to leave the whole cancer ordeal behind me forever. I've also been ridiculously busy over the last month or so. I'm taking the time now to really enjoy the last few days of this year, reveling in the warmth and joy of the season. That sounds terribly corny, I know, but the solstice and Christmas and the end of the year have always been magical to me, and this year is no exception. When the festivities end, and January opens with its icy breath, I intend to pick up the pieces of experience that are scattered around me, and make something new from them. That will include this blog, and my work, and... well, I expect to find myself making some pretty major decisions in every area of my life.

In the meantime, I want to thank you all for bearing with me, for returning here to check on me even when I'm silent for weeks at a time. And this time of year always makes me want to give things to the people I love, and I'd like to give one of you something. Leave a comment on this post anytime before midnight on January 6, and I'll enter your name in a drawing to win an instock pendant of your choice from my Etsy shop. At the moment, the pickings look a little sparse, but trust me, there are more, and sometime before the end of the year I will list them all.

I hope that the season finds you feeling peaceful and very, very happy.

Friday, December 4, 2009

just a thought

Today would have been my friend Kristen's 49th birthday. We would have had a tree trimming party, drinking champagne and eating brownies, because she didn't care much for cake. She would have told us how plans were coming along for her 50th celebration in Italy. She loved to plan parties, trips, and menus, and Italy involved all these. She had started planning it in her early 40s.

Instead I am sitting here contemplating how much cancer has taken from me over the past few years: my best friend; my body as I knew it; a measure of naivete or perhaps blissful ignorance. The faint whisper of mortality has grown to a bit of a cacophony since Kristen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the end of 2005.

I hope that the robbery is over. I'd add "forever," but I know that is too much to hope for, so I'll put in my request to the benevolent spirits for a good, long hiatus and hope that someone finds a cure in the meantime.

Perhaps you could take a minute today to think about a friend that you've had for a while. A long while. The kind who knew you when you were young and foolish and did dumb things, and who loves you anyway. A friend who knows things about you that you would rather forget, and is kind enough not to mention them too often. A friend who keeps your secrets and tells you hers, a friend who by the simple fact of her existence makes the world a steadier, easier place for you to reside. Maybe you could call or write her (or him) if you can, and tell her how much she means to you. Life is so short and sometimes terrible things happen without warning. I think it's a good idea to counter them with unexpected wonderful things.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

november glow

Okay, okay, enough brooding for now. Let me tell you some of the reasons why I love this time of year.

The sun rides low in the sky, and the light is always soft and golden, even at noon. Everything appears to be lit from within when the sun is out in November in Maine. It's been a lovely month, warmer and drier than usual, so it's easy to appreciate this quality of the sunlight. The leaves have fallen, leaving the trees bare. Granted, this can look a bit dismal against sodden granite skies, but it also means that the red fruits that remain on the trees are in starring roles. Winterberry, apple, mountain ash; the list is long. I love how stark the contrast is, sharp black branches and glowing round fruit.

A frosted apple, which will fall soon and feed the many deer that tramp through our yard. Grudgingly, we allow this. They are so beautiful, those deer. But they sure do make me grumpy come spring when they eat my tulips.

The sugary frost on the berries makes them even prettier. They sparkle and glow.

I've been working on some cards to sell at some of the craft fairs that I will be in this December. I wanted to capture some of the glory of these bursts of color in an otherwise monochromatic landscape. I didn't manage it, but they are kinda nice in their own way. At least I think they are.

I'll be at the Island Arts Association Craft Fair here on MDI on December 4 and 5, at the Atlantic Oceanside here in Bar Harbor. This is a great collection of 50+ artists and crafters from the island communities on and around MDI. On December 6, I'll be at a small show from noon to 5 at the Wine Bar on Wharf Street in Portland, with my friends Michelle Souza and Amy Reisman, among others. The following Sunday, December 13, I'll be at a trunk show at Studio, Jessi Sader's lovely shop in Orono, and the week after that, on Saturday, December 19, I'll be at the Petite Revolution Holiday Shindig at Hogfarms Studio Annex on Main Street in Biddeford. (Coco and Gil Corral of HFSA were recently featured in the new Maine magazine, which I dig). I hope to see you in my travels. I'll post more info about the more distant shows later.

And one last thing. About these new mammogram recommendations. If I had not had my first mammogram at age 40 (and there is no reason that I would have under the new recommendations), the tumors that were present in my breast would not have been detected for months, if not years. My chances of surviving breast cancer would have plummeted. I understand that this is all about numbers and statistics and cost. Individuals get lost in arguments such as these. I'm begging you, don't listen. No one wants to go have a mammogram. It's only slightly more fun than having a tooth pulled. But it could save your life. It almost certainly has mine.