I spent some time this week working on faces for my Valentine's monsters...
... and even though they have turned into a shabby raccoon and a shabbier wombat, what a welcome project this is in the midst of the Crazy.
I decided to hand stitch all of it, because my sewing machine is accessible only by giving up about an hour to clear the way into and out from it. And while stitching, I indulged myself by listening to Oliver Sacks' memoir of childhood. Sacks is a huge hero to me. Not only is he a neurologist, a field which fascinates me and serves so many patients with often-unfixable conditions, he writes about his work in such an accessible way that a non-scientist can understand it.
It turns out his talent goes a long way back, at least as far as his maternal grandfather, who had little money or education but was born with a brain for science. He passed on this aptitude and encouraged the passion for it in all of his children, most of whom found a way to practise some branch of chemistry or medicine - including Oliver Sacks' mother, who became a doctor and not only encouraged all his scientific questions and curiosity, but thanks to her training was able to satisfy them and thereby get him started on his own career in medicine.
I was delighted and amazed by this discovery because, judging by all my other reading, to become a general practitioner in the 1920s can't have been easy for a woman of any description, let alone one from a big family with not much of a financial cushion.
Of course as I sat stitching on noses and thinking of her achievements, I couldn't help contrasting them with the fact that even today, all over the world, girls and young women are still prevented from pursuing their intellectual capacity simply because they aren't boys. That's not just a sad loss for them personally, but for everyone who would benefit from the unique talents and gifts that are born with them and left to wither on the vine.
I see this challenge affecting women of my own age and community too. Financial pressures, family needs, health constraints - they can all take their toll. When I read Seabiscuit, I was as enthralled by the enormous will and determination demanded of Laura Hillenbrand to write it - she was suffering from debilitating illness and could barely sit up for much of the time she researched this book - as from her amazing skill with words. Apparently she faced the same challenges writing Unbroken, and I could not admire her more for persisting.
I myself, in spite of being very well supported and encouraged all my life, have gone through many, many patches where I can't write. Not because I don't want to (I always want to) but because too many people need too much from me and I am completely spent from the effort. And as I'm sure you have discovered yourself: spent is not fun, and it compounds.
That's where I am so grateful for creative work. Knitting is portable; hand stitching is relaxing; art is expressive, and all of it has the capacity to enrich the lives of others, even if those others think what they really want is a clean house (ha! good luck getting that around here.)
It doesn't matter that a raccoon's eyes don't quite line up - stitching them feeds what can't be fed at that moment by the things I wish I could be doing instead. It compensates and it energizes and (when it comes to socks for sure) also keeps me from feeling cold on top of everything else.
I still think it's important to cultivate our natural skills and interests and talents throughout our lives though. So I'm lining up some dedicated writing time, just as soon as I've got us through the first of our two moves out of this house!
Hope you're able to give yourself some time to pursue your gifts too - and I'll see you tomorrow.