Something is happening to me in this, the dawning of my middle age: I have become "crafty" as my mid-life crisis.
It used to be that a trip to Joann Fabrics or Michael’s would bore the shit out of me. I remember dawdling behind my mother while she took light years searching through bolts of calico and packets of zippers and cards of buttons. Y-a-w-n. But now, I have projects. I come with a list. Just last week I bought three plastic doll heads, Stretch Magic bead and jewelry cord, a #4 X-Acto knife, and Prym Creative upholstery needles.
This is not really me, I think to myself and even say to my husband. I don’t “craft.” In fact, the very verb, “crafting,” sends waves of discomfort over me, sounds too “country charm” and unfashionable and dowdy.
I'm a professional working woman, after all, who has struggled and sacrificed to get where I am today. Prior to my mid-life “crafting” crisis, I thought these things were mutually exclusive: to be a career-driven woman and to be someone who made things such as dolls or bracelets. Where did this idea, this snobbery, come from? My mother never had a professional “career,” so to speak. She worked one odd job after another: drug store clerk, cleaning lady, factory worker, but during all of these stints she was always creating in high gear. She hand-stitched quilts for everyone she knew; she knit hats, socks, tiny doll sweaters, mittens, slippers; she sewed her own—as well as my—wedding dress. Then there was the constant flow of flannel pajamas, curtains, tatting, table runners, teddy bears: all handmade.
It wasn’t until the very end of her life (halted abruptly) that she became a “professional” quilter for profit, buying a high-tech, long-arm quilting machine with a small inheritance from her parents and setting up shop in her very own den. She was finally in business! Doing something she loved while also getting paid for it. I was so incredibly proud of her.
After she died, I sold her quilting machine on Craigslist to a woman who promised me she would treasure it and use it well. Incomplete quilts still hung off hangers in my mother’s den. I admired them, wondered if I might one day learn the skills to finish them, but then thought: no. How could I? I didn’t do well working with my hands. I lived a life of black and white, words on paper, words on screen. As a college professor and a writer, the majority of my time was spent dealing with text—writing it, revising it, analyzing it, grading it, reading it, consuming it, fretting over it.
My mid-life “craft” crisis, I realized, was me reaching out to my mother’s rich talent and trying to absorb any bit of her I could. As I made hand-sewn valentines this year, I liked to think she could see me and smile—and maybe smirk, too. She'd no doubt find it amusing and somewhat ironic to see me laboring over my "crafts" when I'd spent the majority of my life completely uninterested in such things.
It’s true that with papers to grade and classes to teach and a reading series to run, my craft projects often end up by the wayside. But, for comfort, I keep my mother’s antique metal picnic baskets filled with fabric and tins and, let’s face it, junk, right beside the desk where I work. Every now and then when my neck gets sore or I grow overwhelmed by all the text I have consumed, I take a break and open one and dig around. There’s so much beauty and chaos inside.
I remember my mother as I try to create something of beauty in this world.