Fine, I blew it. No, I didn’t. Yes, I did. No, I didn’t.

When you go on record that you stopped drinking for 13 months, it feels a little awkward to finally admit you blew your streak. MotherBLEEEEP! I deleted my sobriety calculator, reset my mental clock and wondered what to do next.

I dug out my knitting needles and knit a few rows. My god, at this rate, it is going to take me a year to finish a scarf.

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I had to dust this off before remembering the knit stitch. 

It seemed so anticlimactic to be at a writers conference in Saratoga Springs, NY–nervous as hell around a couple hundred writers trying to publish just like you are–and to decide: yes, I would like to sip a glass of wine during the first social reception. Yes, I am going to purchase a $5 individual bottle of pinot noir, pour it into a plastic cup and hold onto it for dear life as I try to make new friends to hang with for the next two weeks.

I slowly drank the plastic cupful of wine and walked back to my campus apartment where I socialized with my new apartment-mates for the next hour. I went to bed, woke up and felt fine.

I texted my husband and my core group-chat of writer friends. I texted my mom. No one panicked. I wasn’t panicked. In many ways, I was relieved.

Here’s why: A goal to never drink again is a lot of pressure, especially for someone who never had a problem with binge drinking or not being able to stop drinking. In the year I spent sober, I learned I’d drank since age 12 in an attempt to self medicate. In my 20’s and 30’s, it grew into a lifestyle and habit to cope with chronic back pain. Having never experienced life sober, I spent a lot of time crying, thinking about how much my back hurts, coming to terms with the way it feels on a daily basis, and getting used to being stone sober at family gatherings, holidays, social events, at restaurants and over dinner at home.

It was a long, sobering year. I got used to it. I even liked it. I enjoyed the advantages of never waking up with a headache, not feeling sick, not needing to wait until 5 to take the edge off, not worrying about driving, not wondering if I said stupid things, always feeling in control of myself. There are a lot of great aspects of sobriety.

So why drink again? I don’t know, I just wanted to. I wanted to see if I could, if I liked it, if I hated it, if I’d want to do it again. Over the course of a 12-day conference, I drank about 8 of those days according to this rule: only 1 and never, ever more than 2. A few times during long events, I did have 2. I stopped, went home and to bed and never experienced negative effects.

Then I got home. Which is an entirely different issue. Home is where real life happens, where bad patterns form, where the husband and kids live. It is where I struggle to write novels and wonder if they’ll ever be published. Where I submit stories to literary journals and receive endless rejection letters.

After a week at home, I decided to have a glass of wine when we were out to dinner. The Crow’s Nest has giant pours and awful wine. I drank a glass. Got a headache later at home, went to bed feeling like crap and woke up feeling even worse. I hated myself good and hard. I kind of still do.

Today I am one-week back on the wagon. I’m glad this happened because it seems clear that drinking is not worth it to me. I don’t want to. The fun of it has lost its luster. Also, breaking my streak took the pressure away. I slipped and I might slip again. The world didn’t end. Ultimately, to drink or not to drink is my choice. It might not always be one way or the other.

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All I need are these books, this pile of manuscripts and half a knitted scarf. 

Knitting again felt good. There is nothing else to do but think when you’re in the middle of a row. Last year at this time, I was newly sober and felt lost. This year, I am newly sober and feel found. Or at least, not so lost. And, wanting to find the way is a gift.

An agent (an awesome, kickass agent) emailed me that she is almost finished reading my novel and really, really (she said really twice) likes it. I’m going to write and knit and write and knit until I hear from her again. If she takes me on as a client, she can expect a mediocre, functional scarf as a gift.

 

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Dreaming about a Drink

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Esmerelda mans the ship 

I left my life coach Esmerelda at work. I picture her alone in the dark, sitting in her boat, waiting for someone to motivate. I’m not making her job easy, but then again, don’t all therapist/life coach/counselors have the same problem: you can’t help someone not willing to be helped?

Even a person who has done a good chunk of the hard work can suddenly bail and stop showing up. I imagine that, in a way, it’s a huge relief for the therapist/life coach/counselor. It’s the perfect time for a mental break.

If the depressed girl doesn’t show up, I don’t have to care about her today.

I am at high risk of a relapse to drinking. I almost drank in Los Angeles–literally sat in my hotel room before a work dinner debating it ahead of time–but didn’t. It is the worst craving I’ve had since last summer at a writing conference when I desperately wanted wine to help socialize with strangers at a cocktail party.

I almost drank last week one night after a tough day at work and a headache. I almost drank because my back hurts. I almost drank because my husband ordered wine at dinner the other night.

My sobriety has not been a priority recently. I haven’t gone to a meeting in months. It has been nearly a year since I’ve been sober. My doctor tells me a lot of people relapse at this point, when enough time has passed that you convince yourself you can start and stop anytime you want. I mean, if I can go over 300 days without drinking, I can do it again, right?

Here is my rationalization:

  • I never said I was an alcoholic. I stopped drinking because I was really, really depressed and wanted my medication to work.
  • Drinking makes my back hurt way less. When I’m not drinking, I am aware of chronic pain pretty much all the time.
  • Everybody else is drinking. You should have seen all the drunk people at the concert I went to last night.
  • The bouncer drew a sad face on my hand when I told him I didn’t need a wristband for the bar. A fucking sad face!
  • My eleven year old son felt sorry for me, patted my arm in an encouraging manner and said, “It’s OK. You can drink if you want to.”

I wish life wasn’t so tied up with drinking. That I spent the time to write this tells me I shouldn’t. I’m not going to. I won’t. Not today anyway.

Sobriety tip: Watch Intervention on A&E. It really puts things in perspective.

I should knit something. As you’ve probably noticed, I really suck at it. But that doesn’t mean I should quit, right?

Meet Esmerelda!

I was tired of not completing a knitting project so I knitted a life coach. Meet Esmerelda.

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Anyone can knit a life coach. Knit yours today! Esmerelda told me to say that.

The first thing Esmerelda asked me to do was to throw away the old, dried-up roses in my bedroom and get my shit together. She’s already a huge inspiration!

She has also encouraged me to forgive myself for only knitting 6 or 7 rows in the past few weeks. I was traveling in Los Angeles for back-to-back conferences. Here is my progress, as well as a picture of the dangerous sliding door to my bathroom in the first hotel. Most doors swing open when you walk into them. This one, not so much.

The first conference was for my personal writing, where I connected with a few agents and friends in the publishing industry. Esmerelda tells me I need to submit my short story to more literary journals AND submit my cleaning-lady novel (Hot Mess) to agents. She pointed out that you can’t get published when you don’t submit your work.

The second conference was for communication professionals who work at comprehensive cancer centers. I edit/write a lifestyle magazine for cancer patients. It was inspiring to be surrounded by like-minded professionals. We work in cancer care because we want patients to know the latest in research and new treatments. Cancer sucks, but hope is alive and well.

Here are a few shots from the second hotel. It was way better than the first.

Now that I am home, Esmerelda and I are going to sit down and come up with a strategy to kick ass and take names. She’s a little bitchy, I’ll admit, and she’s been trying to impose her political views upon me. I like her, though. I suspect she is going to help me a lot.

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As you can see, I can’t sew for shit either.

More soon!

So ugly it’s FUN

I suck at knitting. During my 17 day hiatus from posting, I’ve given it careful consideration. I have grievances that must be aired:

  1. My 16 year old neighbor decided to “try knitting” and her mom posted a picture of a perfectly functional and not f’ed up purple scarf.
  2. 4 people at my grandparents’ funeral asked if I had knitted the the cabled cashmere wrap I only wear at fancy occasions. Are you kidding me, people?
  3. Even my friend who knows better asked if I had knit a multicolored cape I bought last summer from an art fair.
  4. Is it knit or knitted when it’s past tense? I don’t even know.
  5. All the yarn I bought ends up being ugly when I knit something.
  6. I’m too embarrassed to wear reading glasses to knit…but I think I need to.
  7. My FB friends keep posting fun knitting patterns on my wall when I’m still traumatized by unraveling 3/4 of a scarfragcloth.
  8. Knitting takes away valued time spent staring at the wall.
  9. I’m pretty sure it takes like a month or longer to make an actual thing.

I could go on, but stopped to ask myself a question: what are you doing instead of knitting?

The answer is falling back into old patterns. These include not leaving the house as often as I should, becoming glued to my computer for unfocused hours editing my novel, blowing off the novel and spending hours reading inaccurate political articles by hostile people who don’t know what they’re talking about, online shopping and by this I mean loading my cart with 67 really expensive items just for fun and not buying anything, lecturing myself about unproductively, and finally tasting the peanut butter pretzels my kids like so now I’m hooked and eat them when I’m up at 3:30 in the morning.

By the way, it has been 301 days since I quit drinking. It feels like a dream (a very long, boring, sober dream). That is an old pattern I need to avoid. Rather than fall back into all the old patterns, I decided to take another stab at knitting.

Try not to be too impressed by my progress. That’s almost a washcloth there:

 

I am a beginner. I am not good. It can still be fun even if it’s ugly, uneven and has holes.I can improve by watching more Good Knit Kisses (snort!) videos on YouTube. I will knit something, someday, with sleeves. And I probably will not wear it.

Well this was bound to happen

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Progress, baby! Now this looks scarfy.

Things were looking up. Yes, it was taking a while, but I was positive a scarf was in progress. I used the smaller knitting needles, which didn’t feel right to me. I think I prefer the larger ones. I’m not sure why, but it’s probably similar to coloring with a giant crayon: you’re way less likely to break it than its dainty counterpart.

I may have added a few stitches. I may have dropped a few. I tried to be careful.

Perhaps I put it down for too long because the next thing I knew, two stitches had come off the last row. There’s probably a simple, intuitive way to fix it. An engineer would be able to figure it out. Or someone with mathematical skills.

Not me. I fucked that scarf up in a hurry and, just as quickly, I destroyed it.

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New beginnings. Because sometimes you have to start over.

I’ll admit the destruction process wasn’t entirely dissatisfying. In the end, I had this: A nice, neat ball of yarn. Just like when I started it a week and a half ago, only smaller because I ripped it a few times and threw a big wad of yarn in the garbage.

I’m over it. In fact, I’m glad. A fresh start is just what I need this Monday morning. And more coffee.

Blind knitting anyone?

It seemed like a good idea to stuff my knitting needles and yarn in my purse, you know, just in case I got the urge while I was out and about. Not likely since we were going to the movies to see Zoolander, but you never know.

Everyone talks about how relaxing knitting can be. It takes the edge off. It gives your mind time to work out its worries. I’m not convinced I find knitting relaxing (yet), but truth be told I thought maybe the mere presence of the supplies might be calming. Kind of like hiding your teddy bear in your overnight bag when you go to a sleepover. Just knowing he’s in there makes you feel better.

Turns out, I did knit a couple rows during the previews before the lights went off. It kept me from eating all my popcorn before the movie started. I’m not lying, here’s a picture. I put it away to watch the movie and thought I was done.

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Reclining movie-seat knitting. Comfy, but it’s probably easier sitting up.

But no. After my popcorn was gone, I got a little antsy. And I started thinking (trust me, it is possible to think and watch Zoolander at the same time): Can a person knit in the dark? Like, what if I lose my peripheral vision in 20 years like my dad and can barely see?

I started wondering if knitting is the best hobby for me in the long run. The last thing I want is to learn what gauge means only to have to quit because of low vision.

Thus my first two rows of blind, movie-theatre knitting. It can definitely be done! You can feel the first stitch on the needle and go through the motions without looking.

Yes, I totally screwed up my mohair metallic scarf, but nearly as bad as I expected. I added a few stitches, wrapped the yarn in a couple places, but overall it looks like knitting. It is still way better than the washclapotholder I made last month.

I already knit better with my eyes closed than I did a month ago with my eyes open. That’s progress!

Knitting in a dark movie theatre got me thinking about other extreme-knitting situations: as a car passenger during rush hour, jumping in a bounce house, smoking a cigarette… It’s all about the possibilities, people.

P.S. Ben Stiller never disappoints me. And Will Ferrell? Comic gold as always.

 

 

 

Why it’s good to get out of bed

This is what it looks like to stare over the edge of your bed at the mohair metallic yarn on the floor. It has been hard to get going on this project because a week after my grandma died, my grandpa died, too. We’ll call it true love. I mean, he only lasted a week without her. That is some serious girl power after 67 years of marriage.

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Considering knitting my iPhone and laptop cords into this piece for extra bulk. 

This is what it looks like to see the red-wine stain on the slats of the bed frame from the time (before you quit drinking) you made a huge fucking mess. A bedside glass of wine seemed like such a classy idea. If this isn’t enough to get a person out of bed, I don’t know what is. Also a good reminder that drinking does not make life easier.

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You can quit drinking, but the red-wine stains are there to keep you from glamorizing the memory.

This is what your grandmother’s belongings look like on the piece of furniture you got when they had to move into a nursing home. Getting out of bed is worth it to remember this is in your hallway. Cool purses, right? And I found that photo of my brother and I in a drawer when we moved them out of their house. Don’t zoom in. It’s as bad as it looks: a wedding in the 80’s with brown suits and copper bridesmaid dresses.

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I can only hope someone finds and covets my belongings once I hit the nursing home. 

This is the photo you find when you actually leave your house to help your mom make photo boards for your grandparents’ funeral. My Papa Conlin only wore that toupee a few times so I’m honored he donned it at my 4th birthday party in Dearborn, Mich.

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From left: Uncle Don (double fisting), Papa U., Grandma Conlin (smoking), Papa Conlin (rocking the toupee AND smoking) This was in 1975, before our neighbors built the fence to keep their dogs Foxy and Boagie from tearing us kids to shreds. 

There’s a moral to this story: It’s good to open your eyes to see what’s on the floor next to the bed. It’s good to find a reason to get out of bed. It’s good to leave the house to find what’s out there.

A clever writer might try to tie this back to knitting. My kitten is kneading on the metallic mohair so I guess I’m done for the night.

Another too-short scarf

My vacation knitting ambition fizzled and my hostility towards snobbish crocheters faded to nothing but affection upon receiving the news my 94-year-old grandma passed away. 94 years is hella impressive, but still. It’s hard.

We got the news on the return trip from our day at the Grand Canyon. I didn’t knit anymore during vacation. I spent a considerable amount of time staring, a smaller amount writing and a fair amount thinking about how someone dying is the best reason in the world to have a drink after 260+ days of being sober.

I didn’t. Having struggled through a way-too-long depression last year, one thing I feel certain about is that drinking will not make any of this seem easier. Also, the fear of being sucked under depression’s tidal wave is enough to keep me on dry land. Rule #1 is that depression medication can’t work when you drink alcohol (a depressant).

Nonetheless, experiencing the world completely sober feels like needing sunglasses on a really bright day. So I close my eyes and, subsequently, fall asleep. Lots and lots of sleep.

Here is the too-short scarf I came home with in all of its imperfect glory. I tried some fancy stuff with the purl stitch. Check it!

Here is the finished scarf. It’s really not that awful once you wrap it around your neck a few times to hide all the mistakes. It’s almost pretty, right? Right??!

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Don’t zoom in. Just admire it from afar. 

We are back home in the great white North. I planned to use this fuzzy yarn in Arizona, but ended up casting on tonight and starting something new. Maybe a not-too-short scarf? TBD.

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Totally judging the uncommitted crocheter

I’m sitting by the pool on vacation and realize the lady next to me is knitting. Wait, no, not knitting. What’s that metal hook?

Ooooohhhh! I’ve heard about this. She’s crocheting. I watch for a few minutes. It does look easier.

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Beautiful weather, a sparkling pool and a crocheter who keeps to herself. 

It troubles me she’s using brown yarn. The hook thing is really small and so is whatever she’s making.

“Granny squares,” she tells me. “I don’t crochet very often, only on vacation. Sometimes it will take me two years to finish one square.”

I laugh and tell her I’m learning how to knit. I’m excited she’s a non-professional like me and even more so that she’s a self-admitted slacker. I consider telling her I can’t knit for shit either.

But then she looks embarrassed, shrugs and says, “I guess I’m not very committed. It’s not like knitting.”

She doesn’t seem interested in chatting further: no eye contact, turns away a little, continues crafting…

Oh. I see what’s happening here.

Well. For all she knows, I knit real clothes like sweaters with sleeves and no holes. Let her think so. I’m totally judging her dumb little granny square (even if it is an actual shape and has multiple colors) and lack of dedication to her craft.

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I’ll admit it’s kind of cool. But what are granny squares used for? 

I knit. Perhaps badly, but my commitment is solid. Solid, dammit! I vow to make something way cooler than a granny square and it’s not going to take me two years to do it.

 

 

Badass airplane knitter…

Hello from Scottsdale, AZ! I am officially one of those people who knits on the plane.

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The lady sitting next to me wouldn’t dare mess with these sharp suckers.

First and foremost, yes, you can take knitting needles on an aircraft. The TSA strongly suggests wooden needles over metal ones. I checked ahead of time, as the weapon-like, stabby nature of the crafting tools got me thinking. Right? Couldn’t an angry person do some serious damage with a couple sharp sticks?

Not to mention how useful they could be for:

  1. picking locks
  2. putting someone in a chokehold
  3. getting people do to what you want by threatening to stab them in the privates

Not me, though. I would have gladly packed them in my checked luggage if necessary. But it wasn’t necessary and a good thing, too.

Knitting on the plane is awesome! Less concentration required than reading, looks more productive than staring, keeps the person next to you from making excessive conversation. And, if they do speak to you, you can answer without making eye contact.

Keeping my hands and eyes busy kept me from ordering wine from the beverage cart and gazing across the aisle at the lady who did.

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That’s my son behind me. My other son took the picture. 4 glorious hours of adding and dropping stitches.

The only thing the knitting didn’t help was to quiet the screaming baby. Of course there was one. Isn’t there always? This one was a little odd: he cried and screamed if his parents tried to make him sit down. If they let him be, he popped up over the headrest and desperately screamed, “Hi!” over and over and over and over and over…I don’t think he ever would have stopped.

Another topic for another time: how annoying it is when a grown adult next to you continues to curse the crying baby for the entire flight. Thus, two crying babies.

Knitting kept me calm. It was nice. I’m making a skinny scarf now. The yarn is more like string, which I don’t like, but it’s multicolored so that’s fun. I’m assuming at least one person sitting near me could call bullshit on my skillz. I kept adding stitches by mistake and trying to drop them. Result = holes.

I’m going to look up that stockinette stitch Twilight keeps talking about and see how much progress I can make in 7 days. For now, I’ll sit here in the breakfast room at my hotel–knitting, of course–because I think it will give me a great chance to eavesdrop. Not because I’m a jerk, because I’m a writer.