Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Monster at the End of This Book

On October 20, 2010, after a painful fight with liver cancer, my Michael passed away. I was in the hospital room alone with him for two hours before he died. One of the many beautiful things about my relationship with Michael was that we told each other how we felt and never held anything back, so when it came time to say our final goodbyes, there was nothing left unsaid. He knew how much I loved him -- how much I'll always love him -- and that he was the best thing that had ever happened to me. He knew I thought he was handsome and funny and brilliant and courageous and tender and somewhat over-protective. By that point he could no longer speak, so he couldn't correct me as he had so many times before: "Not OVER-protective, Ruby. Just the RIGHT amount of protective." All of these things had been said many times before. So I sat with him, held his hand, and sang to him.

On October 22, 2011, I was on my way to a pub crawl with my cousins when I got a phone call from my mom. My stepmother had just called her and told her that my dad had passed away two days before. Yes, on the one-year anniversary of Michael's death, I lost my father. My dad and I had had a volatile relationship for most of my life -- thick as thieves for a year or two, then not speaking for a year or two. We had been estranged for about a year and a half when he died. I never got to say goodbye to him.

The date hovers in my subconscious like a specter. I've been dreading October 20 since late last month. I've been trying to focus on other things. The opera season has started. I'm crocheting a lot again. I'm taking voice lessons. My band has scheduled our first rehearsal of the season. The dreamy gallery owner is a marvelous distraction. And yet October 20 looms. Everyone important in my life knows that I'm going to need a lot of special treatment on October 20. My bosses at the opera have made sure that I'm not in the same dressing room I was assigned to for the past two years on October 20, because I've gotten a tiny bit superstitious about that room.

As I was writing about the impending anniversary of my double-impacted loss, my favorite childhood book came to mind. The Monster at the End of This Book has always held a special spot in my heart, and five years ago when I found out that Michael was unfamiliar with this book, I went out and got him a copy. It sits on my bookshelf by my bed today. The premise of this masterpiece is that Lovable, Furry Grover has heard a rumor that there is a monster at the end of the book. He's encouraging -- nay, imploring -- the reader to not turn the pages of the book so we don't get closer to the end, because we're safe where we are, and damn it, there's a freakin' MONSTER at the end of this book!! Grover ties the pages together with rope, hammers pages together, even constructs a brick wall trying to prevent the reader from turning pages to bring us dangerously closer to the end, where the monster is. But the reader keeps turning the pages -- even the page with the brick wall.

So we get to the page before the end of the book. Grover is scared. He IMPLORES us not to turn the page; to stay where it's relatively safe. To stay on October 19th, as it were.

But time marches on. We turn the page, no matter how scary that might seem. Sometimes the scary page is a calendar page. And do you know what's at the end of the book?

It's just Grover. Nothing to be afraid of! Just Grover!

I am a much stronger woman than I was two years ago. And I have stopped fearing that God has given me all of this strength to deal with bigger and bigger crises in my life. I've realized this strength is to be strong for others in their times of trials. I have experienced great love and great loss, and both of these things have taught me how to love capaciously and not so much fear the letting-go part.

And that's all the news for now. Not all of my blog entries need to be about yarn, you know! Until Friday, peace, love and yarn!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Creative Block

Friends, I should have blogged on Tuesday, and I did not. For that I apologize. You see, I've been nonplussed as to what the subject of my blog entry should be. Divine providence put my friend John DiGilio in my path yesterday, and I was lamenting to him about my ennui. It was clear to both of us that I'm currently suffering from some good old-fashioned creative block. John said I should just write about being blocked. And so I shall.

It happens to all creative people. You're going along, creating up a blue streak, and all of a sudden, someone cuts your power line. Stalled! The words won't come. The color's not right. The yarn's all knotted. You just can't bear the thought of another ronde de jambe. It's scary and feels never-ending, and we rarely talk about it because it's scary and feels never-ending. But there are ways to get through it.

I find the best way to deal with my creative blocks is to first acknowledge that I am blocked. This is an important and oft-neglected step. How can you solve a problem that you haven't admitted you have? This last bit reminds me of my Cute Cousin Roger, who, at the snack table at every family gathering, announces, "Hi. I'm Roger. I'm a grazer." I always applaud his admission, twelve-step-group style. But I digress.

So you've acknowledged your block. You've named the monster. Good on you! Now do something nice for yourself. Seriously! Buy some flowers. Have a cupcake. Take a walk. Go to a movie. It's tough to admit your imperfections! Have a treat!

And now clean something. Scrubbing -- or any seemingly mindless repetitive motion -- allows our mind to wander to more creative pursuits. Einstein lamented that he got his best ideas in the shower. I've been known to keep a dry erase marker in my washroom so I can write ideas on the  mirror when inspiration strikes.

Exercise is good at this point. A brisk walk or a swim clear out the cobwebs in my brain like nobody's business!! You might run or climb mountains or play badminton. Whatever floats your boat. Just get moving.

This next step is going to sound counter-productive, but please bear with me!! I'm a professional procrastinator, and I've learned how to be a functioning member of society anyway -- I know how to unblock!! Here it is. Ready? Don't allow yourself to create in the area where you're blocked. WHAT?? No, seriously!! Listen to me -- I know what I'm talking about! If, like me, you need to write something, crochet. Or dance. Or polish your nails. Sing Verdi. Sing Wagner. Sing the whole freakin' Ring Cycle! Do anything -- anything at all -- that's not remotely related to the area of your block. If you get the impulse to write, DON'T ALLOW YOURSELF TO DO IT!! I'm serious about this. Because sooner or later, the creative compulsion is going to get stronger. And stronger.  And, of course, eventually you'll run out of other things to do. And the compulsion to create starts feeling all invincible because it has won.

And finally, after a day or maybe two of not being allowed to write, you return to your computer or your notebook or your butcher paper and crayons. You return with the fervor of a soldier returning to a lover after a war. You embrace your chosen art form. And you write. And the block is gone. And you sigh a sigh of relief. And the blog entry about busting through creative block gets written.

So that's all the news for now. I'm working both of my jobs tomorrow, so this is going to be my only blog entry this week. I'm unblocked now, so next week we'll be back to two entries. Until Tuesday, Toodle Pip, which is British for Peace, Love and Yarn!!

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Process of Hanging my Shingle

I'm in battle with Craigs List. Yep, that's right. Me and Craig? We're not seeing eye to eye. In my last post I said I was going to start offering crocheting lessons (and I was right -- my mom DID chuckle when she heard I was adding another thing to my list of stuff I do!!). So I went on Craigs List to post an ad. No big deal, right?? WRONG!! I  set up my account like a good citizen of Craigs List, wrote my ad, read it to my chuckling mother who thought it sounded good, and went to post it. At which time, one of Craig's robotic minions -- not cute minions like these

but rather evil minions such as this
-- emailed me saying that Further Action was Required. It seems I needed to complete a phone authentication. No big whoop, right? WRONG!! I entered my cell phone number, along with my preference to receive my authentication code via text. Then I waited. And waited. And. Nothing. Happened. Now, I am not the most patient girl in the world. So I went back into my email from the Minion. It seems that they had deemed my phone number invalid. WHAT??? So I tried again, checking the number. Yep, that's my number! And what do I get from Craig's Evil Minion? NOTHING! NADA! BUPKIS!!

I then return to Evil Robot Minion, who, for all intents and purposes, tells me to Stop Bothering Him. "You are submitting telephone verification requests too rapidly. To prevent abuse, we require users to wait 5 minutes between requests, use no more than 3 telephone numbers in a 12 hour period, and not use any single phone number more than 3 times in a 12 hour period. Please wait and try again later."  You have got to be kidding me!!
This was Wednesday, friends. It is now Friday and I'm still awaiting resolution. I sent the Minions a very cordial email outlining my plight -- ON WEDNESDAY -- and still haven't gotten a response.

Over dinner Wednesday night, I was relaying my epic tale of frustration to Dreamy Gallery Owner, and he said, "You should just put a sign up in the gallery," and that is what I did. And also I am telling you, gentle reader, that if you or someone you love should need crochet lessons, I can be reached via email at happymckee@gmail.com or at the very valid (773)724-7383. I charge $20 per hour, and crocheting starter kits, which contain yarn, two crochet hooks, and a finishing needle, can be purchased for $10. And if you see Craig, you tell him I said It's On!! Until Tuesday, Peace, love and yarn!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Strangers on a Train

Yesterday I was crocheting on the El, on my way to Lyric Opera of Chicago for a rehearsal of the AMAZING new production of "Elektra". I was sitting in a sideways seat by the door, as is my wont, when a lovely young family sat down near me. Mom and three-year-old son perpendicular to me; Dad and four-year-old son across the aisle from them. The mom was watching me crochet and asked how long I'd been stitching. I told her that my grandmother taught me when I was young. She said her grandmother had taught her too, but she'd forgotten. I assured her it was a relatively easy thing to learn. Then she asked me if I taught a class.

Which got me thinking.

Why don't I give crochet lessons for real? Like, for money?? I taught my friends Bernard Holcomb and Tara O'Connor, who are both really prolific after a very short time. My friend Christopher Wilson had a professor at design school that taught him a stupid crochet technique, and I untaught him and retaught him enough so that he could finish his class project, and now he's asking for more lessons because I made it fun.

So I gave the young mom, whose name is Stephanie, my card and told her to call me for crochet lessons.

You heard it here first, boys and girls! I'm going to give crochet lessons! I'm going to put an ad on Craigs List and everything! I can hear my mother chuckling right now, because I've been lamenting the fact that I only have four days off in the entire month of October, but I have a skill, I love to teach, and if I can combine those two things, won't that be a pleasing way to make some dough on the side? My shingle is officially hung, friends! I teach crochet lessons! Thank you, Stephanie! Thank you!

In other news, go see "Elektra" at the Lyric! It's quite a spectacle! There's a river of blood! And Jill Grove's voice is astonishing!! Also, until next time, peace, love and yarn!