I was watching a cooking show recently where the chef (either french or italian, but definitely michelin starred) invented a dessert called deconstructed cheesecake. His sous chef spoke with quiet awe about how the chef created the dish after plating the intricate dessert under pressure and then watching in horror as the cheesecake slowly slid off of the plate and smashed into a thousand pieces leaving them unable to create a replacement for important guests in a timely fashion. So the chef picks up the smashed-to-hell cheesecake, puts it onto a new plate, carefully putting pieces here and there with a little piping and some sprucing renames the disaster deconstructed cheesecake. It became a hit. Don’t believe me? Google deconstructed cheesecake.
What does this have to do with anything? Well a while back I deconstructed myself too. For a long time I lost the ability to write my feelings and the ability to create. I wondered how to address the deconstruction of my life with kindness.
And here is my effort to do so. There are these moments in mid life where you literally shake away or discard all the pieces of you that just aren’t working anymore. I did it with a combination of therapy, meditation, martial arts, time in nature, a hell of a lot of tears and many late nights of silent prayer. If you read that list carefully you’ll see there’s not a lot of knitting or writing. But there is a lot of stripping away of nonessential parts of me. Like unhooking that voice of constant worry and disbelief that I’m worthy of all the things anyone else is worthy of. I took a long hard look directly at myself, my beliefs, what I was doing, why I was doing it and what could I do to focus 100% of my efforts on raising my two children and caring for myself to the best of my abilities.
Becoming a single mother is hard. Divorce is hard. There are a lot of moments where you fall directly into bed the microsecond after you put your children to sleep for the evening and spend the dark hours of the night in rumination. You ask yourself how you will accomplish what they need you to do, and make a plan to do it, addressing all (and mostly unlikely) variations of what will occur and how you will counter. But sometimes you just cry, hoping they don’t hear.
There are a lot of tears in single motherhood. Their tears, my tears. But tears can become an epoxy to hold your life together. My friend Gemma told me that when we cry our bodies release chemicals to reduce stress. Somewhere, sometime, I read that tears are a silent, keening prayer to god when you can’t manage the words on your own.
It’s funny, using words like prayer, and god when you’re an atheist. Becoming deconstructed altered me just slightly enough that I can use those words now. I am my old self, but I am also the new me. The one who doesn’t have time for bullshit. There’s a lot of cutting through the chaff where I am in this life. What doesn’t serve me has to go. And go it did. Lest you think I’m speaking of other people, I’m not. We are the wellspring of everything going on in our lives, what we are is what we see in the world. I had a momentous shift in my life where I became the parent of my sister’s special needs child. Caring for him made it apparent to me that I had no problems loving him. He could be flawed, and imperfect and made me love him not one whit less. I began to wonder why the hell couldn’t I love myself that way? So I began a journey to change my life. And I did.
Looking back I guess you could say the deconstruction of my life began when my sister (my nexus, my touchstone, that one person in my life that would always be there) passed away unexpectedly from pneumonia at 45 in 2011, and all the following events, fraught with the realization that my brother in law was going to die, that I had a lot of learning and growing to do, and a lot of responsibilities to take on. In order to rise to that occasion I had to make some tough choices. I’m proud to say that I made those choices and I’m a better person today. Leaving behind old habits and ways of being was extremely painful but worth it.
Afterwards I could no longer touch the parts of me where my creativity flowed previously. I’d sit down to write and nothing would come out. I’d sit down to knit and nothing would happen. I was an island and there was not one drop of creative water to be drunk nor savored, consumed nor used. What I bathed myself in in the past went from full blast to the barest of trickles, then to nothing, a steady flow of sand where water once was in abundance.
In speaking with other creatives I’d ask them, what the hell do you do when your flow of creativity dries up? I mean, it’s kind of like your arm or your leg, you expect it will be with you at all times and under all circumstances, but it isn’t. Sometimes it goes away and you look back at that part of yourself with sadness and horror wondering if it will ever return. Slowly, you have to pick up the pieces and go on even with the huge hole in your life and hope that maybe if you nurture yourself, your kids, and your existence it will deign to return. There’s a lot of heartbeats, footsteps, patience and going through the motions even though that large part of you is now empty. But eventually you’ll have the feeling that maybe that fount will return. Perhaps it will return however briefly like a butterfly and leave again.
Maybe you have to grow to accept that creation and art and being isn’t a given and it isn’t forever. Somehow it’s possible to be thankful in the moment for what little gifts you have even if it’s not what you had or what you thought life would provide. And, with all of that it’s possible to totally be okay too. Even when you’re no longer on the path you thought you were. Thich Nhat Hanh says those of us who write poetry, when life makes our authorship grow dormant, our subconscious still creates, and one day when it’s time to write again you’ll see that your body was doing it for you the whole time even when you thought that part of you was barren. I find a lot of beauty in that.
My reconstruction, my wabi-sabi began in November 2013. It’s a journey with a lot of darkness and a lot of light. And on that journey my knitting became deconstructed too because how could it not? Some days when all I could hope for was a new, quieter day tomorrow I snuck in a little knitting time. Burdened with all of the responsibilities of a single parent, I didn’t have time or energy to do anything but make my needles sing. No fancy edgings, but quiet, rhythmic, small sequences I could keep in my head when nothing else would stay in. When things were fraught and I had a lot of lemonade to make.
I’m as changed as my knitting. Transformed. I’m not sure where my knitting will take me (although it has taken me a lot of places in the past two and a half years, but that’s another post). I hope you’ll be patient with the new, more concentrated version of me, as I try with myself to adhere to grace in all things. I’m leaner, meaner, but also more purely myself. I look different from before and how I conduct myself and live my life is different from before. But now in those quiet moments I feel good and there is happiness, the joy of the accomplishments of my kids, as well as loneliness and the whole range and scope of human emotions both good and bad, and I’m sure as hell no longer afraid to feel them.
When you look at me don’t think about how fragile I am. Look at my scars and see how I put myself back together again and that I’m tough and gritty and ready to meet the challenges in my life. Me, but reconstructed.