In which I grudgingly admit that Good Things happened in April

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First off, where in the heck did April go? I can barely remember the month passing by, which is what I guess happens when you are merely surviving, rather than living. However, that’s not to say that good things didn’t happen, and this post is to remind myself that they did.

1. I’ve reclaimed some of my good habits, such as exercising and cleaning the house. The latter especially is good because the house really needed it.

2. The jasmine is blooming! April into May is when the Confederate jasmine planted everywhere in my yard blooms (named after the confederation of Malay states, as it originated in Asia). Some of the vines were planted by previous owners, and some by me. Most of the year this plant is one of the most annoying in the yard, because it grows like a weed and needs constant cutting back. But for one beautiful month a year, with the windows open, the entire house is perfumed. Indeed, when I go on walks this time of year, it seems the entire city is perfumed!

3. I had a Skype talk with my PhD advisor, and it totally laid to rest any lingering fears I had from his “negative” feedback on the chapter I handed in a couple months ago. I’m ready to start writing another!

4. I’m finally able to concentrate enough to read good books (current one, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson). For awhile there I was unable to read my usual fare, and this was particularly painful, because reading is my favorite activity. I couldn’t even read crap books.

5. I got out an old cross stitch project I started when I was sixteen, because I thought it might be something to do in the evenings when I feel most lonely and bored (I also have a quilt project I’m working on, but it has not been inspiring me lately). To my joy, the cross stitch fabric had not molded like basically everything stored in this climate eventually does. It’s a very complex project, and I spent some time familiarizing myself with the directions. I haven’t yet begun working on it, but it’s there in the same basket where I keep my quilt project, under the coffee table, and knowing it’s there makes me happy.

6. I discovered and watched 30 Rock. All seven seasons. How did I not know about this show? (Oh, right, I haven’t had cable TV in years). The show had just the right kind of tone for me. Some shows are too stressful for me to watch because I over-empathize with characters. For example, I tried Parks and Recreation, and that awkward/cringe-style humor is too much for me. I sat there with knots in my stomach and didn’t even make it through two episodes. So if anyone knows of another show in the 30 Rock style, let me know!

I’m starting to get friendship

15168558829_6e77be913b_oMy family values self-sufficiency. We never ask for help if we can get something done ourselves. We don’t borrow money, or ask other people for rides to the airport, or hire someone to mow the lawn.

I came up with three reasons why we are like this, not all of which necessarily reflect well on us, but what can you do:

1. We consider ourselves to be talented individuals who can do nearly anything if we put our minds to it.

2. We do not want to get used to depending on others, in case there comes a time when others are not available to help.

3. We dislike the burden of reciprocity.

Our self-sufficiency extends to our emotional lives. If we are sad, stressed, or lonely, we deal with it on our own. I grew up thinking this was natural and admirable. But lately I’ve been wondering what the heck friends and family are for, if not to assist us in times of emotional need. You may find it unbelievable that I never considered this before, but I haven’t. When I feel depressed, I isolate. I don’t want to burden others, and I don’t believe they can actually help me.

Then the other night I mistakenly called one of my close friends (who moved to another state a year ago) on FaceTime while trying to figure out what my own ID was. I quickly terminated the call, but an hour later I got a text from her thanking me for calling and asking if I wanted to chat.

My first thought was, Wow, she thinks I called on purpose! My own assumption in a similar situation would be that the person probably made a mistake because why would they call me randomly? (I personally prefer a heads up on calls so I can “prepare” myself.)

My second thought was, Wow, she’s happy I called! It dawned on me that my friends might actually want me to call them. (I always assume that if they want to talk, they will call me – I rarely fell a “need” to talk because of my self-sufficiency.)

My third thought was, Wow, now I understand why so many of my long distance friendships have faded away or even ended badly. Those friends probably thought I didn’t value them. Here I was thinking they didn’t want to be my friend anymore when all the time they were probably thinking the same of me. And it was my fault.

Truth is, I’ve kinda sorta known this in my heart all along. But I blamed my depression. It makes it very difficult for me to function normally, which includes keeping up with friendships. And there’s the whole self-sufficiency thing. After all, how can friends really help with depression? Nothing can help.

I’ve noticed something recently, though, that makes me think I’m seriously developmentally delayed when it comes to friendship. I’ve had long talks with a good long distance friend twice in the last three months (two different friends). Both times I opened up about how depressed I’ve been (something I’ve only started doing recently, as part of exploring new coping mechanisms). Both times the friends listened, gave advice that didn’t necessarily help (because nothing helps), and talked about their own and other people’s experiences with sadness.

After both phone calls I woke up the next morning feeling awful. Because talking to friends doesn’t help. But then, magic occurred. At least to me it felt like magic. As the day went on, I felt better. Lots better. Like, almost normal better.

You guys, last night I picked up the quilt I started earlier this year and haven’t worked on in eight months and I sewed four squares together! This is a big deal.

I can’t tell you how astounding this all is to me. True, only two experiences isn’t a large enough sample size to base any conclusions on, but you know what I’m going to do next time I feel hopeless and down? Call a friend! My preliminary findings seem to indicate that the act of talking with a good friend who cares and takes the time to listen and respond actually helps me feel better. Not because of anything they said, but because they were there to say it.

You might be thinking, Duh, and I get that! Like I said, I’m clearly lacking in some kind of fundamental understanding of how to make use of the benefits of friendship. But I think I’m starting to get it.

Photograph taken by my father in Keystone, Colorado.

Dog collar quilts and courting an unsuccessful life

I am trying to do more of what I like in life and less of what I don’t like. That’s why I’m making a quilt and have cancelled my participation in an international conference in March. Which is something I may write more in depth about at some point, because you see so many blogs about the Big Things people are doing, adding to their schedules, and progressing in, and very few about tossing out the to-do list, becoming less productive in the Big Things, and dedicating more time to activities that bring less (outward) success to life, like making a quilt that will serve no other purpose than covering a bed. And not feeling guilty about that.

materialWhy do I call it a dog collar quilt? Why, let me tell you. When I got my black lab, Manley, I became obsessed with making him innumerable fashion collars. These are some of the materials I bought for him. My favorites were the ladybug pattern, the Hawaiian, and the pink one with brown bees. I especially like Manley in pink.

I got so good at making collars that I even sold some ($10 each), but eventually I got bored of the endeavor. For several years all that material languished in my enormous crafts Tupperware in the closet, which also contained material from projects stretching all the way back to my preteen years. Then suddenly (literally suddenly) one day this January, I realized I would use it all up to make a quilt, which I would hand-sew in its entirety in the evenings whilst watching reruns of Julia Child cooking shows.

And so that’s what I did. Am doing, that is. I’ve cut out all the squares and am at the point of sewing them together into pairs, which I will then sew into blocks, etc. Expect updates.