Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Where there's smoke, there's fire.

Is there something wrong with the fact that when the firemen knocked on our door this afternoon and requested that we evacuate the premises due to the intense smoke billowing from the house fire three doors over (a mere 45 feet away in a row house attached to ours), the most pressing worry that came to my mind was "what project should I bring with me?"

In defense of my claim to sanity, though I briefly considered the problem of how to rescue all the yarn in the house, I quickly dismissed that notion as impossible and calmly focussed on getting my husband and myself and the teddy bear (who is something of a surrogate child to both of us) safely out of the house, bringing only my purse with my wallet and cellphone in it, the phone's battery charger in case that phone became our primary means of communication for a while, and yes, my knitting bag with a couple of socks-in-progress and half a dozen balls of chunky wool and bulky alpaca, both of which are in the process of deciding what they want to become. I have my priorities straight.

Addendum: The cause of the blaze hasn't been established. The fire was quickly subdued by the capable actions of fire personnel, with damage to only the one house at the end of our row. Tragically, there was one fatality, most likely due to smoke inhalation. We lost a neighbour, a woman in her sixties whom I did not know, though another neighbour has said he knows her son. I feel oddly sad in a surreal sort of way. She died less than fifty feet away from me. I wish I had known her.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Then one little push, bang goes the door, clang!
Then the wicked witch will be done to a T!

Hi, there. I'm back! Sorry I’ve been out of communication. Whew! Two shows in one day yesterday and insane prep leading up. I’ve got a massive hangover today from the post-show adrenaline crash - and we even didn’t go out and party after the show (the usual opening night m.o.).

Oh, the shows? They went splendidly, thank you! I'm happy to report that both shows were a resounding success and went off with only the usual sort of minor deviations from the plan that are part of every live performance - the ones that only those onstage and backstage know about and adjust accordingly, while the audience is sublimely unaware.

But enough about that. I bring you some knitting news. And some pictures!

Woah... deep breaths. In and out. Nice and slow. Feel better, now? Good. (Sheesh!) I know it's been a while. Give me a break. I had some things going on, you know. Can we proceed, or do you need another minute to collect yourself? Okay.

When I had a spare few minutes off-stage during rehearsals, I was working on a little forensic and reconstructive knitting for a friend. Lynne, aka Dollymop (formerly known as geekzilla) had managed to knit up a gorgeous version of Rogue just past the arms when she decided that she would not be able to live with the little mistake in one of the side cables. Here's how it was supposed to look - the good cable: Unfortunately, the offending curlicue was down in the 12th row of the body, a very long way down the mountain Lynne had just finished climbing up row by row, so when she called out a knitting 911, I offered my services to give this poor little malformed cable a makeover. I am happy to report that sweater surgery is almost done!

The initial deconstruction went smoothly: I put the rest of the body onto some waste yarn, isolated the cable panel and frogged it back down below the glitch. Then I reknit the whole first chart, so it's now about halfway back up to the top. I’m bringing it to SnB tonight. Figure I can keep going up the narrow cable part, or pass it on to her and let her finish it herself to share in the satisfaction of hands-on participation in the recovery.

Often, when performing this delicate cosmetic procedure, the undoing lets slack creep in and the other parts start to sag progressively more and more away from the section being reworked. It's a slippery slope. Each row above the bottom of the frogged part can add a little more slack, so if you've ripped back down a long way and you reknit it, by the time you reach the top there's a lot more yarn there and the result looks much looser than the rest of the garment. You have to give it all a mini-stretch to equalize the yarn distribution into the safe sections after every two or three rows when knitting back up. You can also tweak the stitches around the reworked part with a crochet hook to make it all look smooth and seamless. That’s really the part that can be been the biggest pain in the @$$ when doing this kind of sweater surgery.

And the great news is that there was very little slippage from the unravelling! The yarn she's using is just slightly felty when you knit it up, effectively velcro-ing itself in place, which made the frogging procedure a bit delicate, as I had to gently unpick some of the stitches from the row below, especially at the edges of the cable panel. But it kept the rest of the garment from spreading away from the frogged section. As long as I work the cable panel back up just a little loosely, I'm not introducing much slack into the reworked section, and it's going smoothly and quickly.

BTW - the yarn is Green Mountain Spinnery Mountain Mohair and it's fabulous! I have to get me some of this stuff as soon as I’m off my yarn diet. I’ve been reading about it on Knitter’s Review and it’s brilliant! It'll have me drooling over it all summer, waiting to whip some up into some delicious fall/winter woolly goodness!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Witch Hazel, from "Bewitched Bunny"
(Looney Tunes, dir. Chuck Jones, 1954)
Just in case you were worried, I am still here and doing fine. I'm just totally swamped right now with prep for the coming show and haven't the spare brain cells or the time to blog about anything.

Rehearsals for Hansel and Gretel are going very well! I'm doing two roles: the Mother and the Witch and I finally got my music learned properly (Whew!), with reassurances from the cast that everyone else they know who's sung the Witch struggled with it too. And now that I know the role, I am having a lot of fun with it!

This weekend is crunch time with costume fittings and music rehearsals yesterday, final staging and a run-through today, and the dress rehearsal tomorrow. I'll recoup vocally on Tuesday (it's a big Wagnerian honker - well, my parts are, anyway, the others are sweet) and just mentally review everything. Then I have two shows on Wednesday. On Thursday I expect to be vertically challenged (post-show-itis), but I hope to crawl out to SnB in the evening.

Meanwhile - because I haven't enough to deal with right now - my bedroom ceiling is cracked, crumbling and leaking snowmelt (right by my side of the bed, of course) because of an ice dam that's built up in my neighbour's eavestrough. Sheesh! But I refuse to let it get me down - I have a choice: either cope or don't. I choose to cope (because the alternative is to sit in a puddle, sulking, while I wait for my house to fall down around me).

It’s all seriously cramping my knitting and designing time (though I can sneak in a few rows while some other scenes are running without me). And the great decluttering and organizing has screeched to a halt, but that's temporary.

I owe several of you a shout-out for various reasons (you know who you are) and I apologize for the delay. I hope to get back to knitting and blogging and correspondence late next week or by the weekend...

Monday, March 03, 2008

"The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well."
Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Pardon my recent absence. February 2008 has been an adventure. I've been spelunking in my psyche, and if I had been able to make myself blog about it during the experience, I believe I would have started with something like, "Help! I've fallen down and I can't get up." Metaphorically speaking, that is.

The confluence of my ambitious agenda to reclaim my life on numerous fronts simultaneously combined with a biochemical tendency for depression and anxiety to raise a little too much emotional baggage for me to process all at once. Actively engaged in decluttering my life, eager to eliminate excesses both in my home and my body, thoughtfully untangling my relationships, and particularly trying to practise a new paradigm for a healthy and authentic relationship with my mother, all had me rather abruptly facing many of my personal demons at once. I was stirring up a lot of feelings, sadness for some lost dreams, old suffering and regrets that I need to own and grieve. At some point, I slipped a little too far and I became profoundly mired in my misery for most of the month of February.

With perhaps less than ideal coincidence, in the time leading up to this my doctor and I were discussing possibly changing my medication and I was being weaned off my current SNRI to facilitate the transition. I just happened to be on the lowest possible dose of antidepressant/anxiolitic medication at a time when I probably needed a wee bit more in the way of biochemical support to sustain the emotional clarity that would allow me to dig myself out of the emotional morass. All this left me in the centre of a perfect storm of depression, and it's taken me a while to regain my balance and then get my act together to fulfill all the obligations I dropped while I was down the rabbit-hole and then climbing back out.

It was a bit like an internal spring-cleaning: I was forced to look deep into the corners of my psyche, under the old appliances and furniture of my inner house, and finding lots of painful emotional residue, old lingering hurts that needed to finally come up and out. It doesn't require a degree in psych to see the connections between the hoarding of excess possessions and of excess body mass and the hoarding of emotional baggage, old habits and patterns of behaviour. Letting go is letting go, and once begun it's rather frightening, because there is an emotional investment associated with all the stuff we hold onto. It all once had and still has meaning and purpose, and though they may not serve us well any longer, they are familiar. The status quo is comforting, even when it doesn't work for us anymore.

When this happens, the only way through - is through.

I spent many days wallowing in the mire, with intermittent breakthroughs when I was actually able to let some of the pain out and cry. In between, I had occasional periods of energy and positive impulse to tackle a handful of small self-care activities: I cleaned my desk around the computer, repacked and stacked the collapsing yarn avalanche, cleaned out the science experiments in the back of my fridge, dug through my closets and my kitchen for more things to donate or discard,...

But often I felt paralyzed, waiting for the part of me that's still so scared of all the associated feelings to let some more of them come all the way up and out. All I wanted to do was sleep, read, and (sometimes) watch TV and I had very little appetite. It was very hard to function and to get anything done, especially if it had a deadline. It felt like I was stuck between gears.

I have to confess to one particular blunder of which I am not proud, though I believe I handled it fairly well once the initial damage was done.

I was supposed to have an important rehearsal one Sunday afternoon mid-month. However, I couldn't make myself even begin learning the music for those scenes until the day before, Saturday. I gave it a good effort, but eventually realized there was just no way I could prepare the material in time for the next day. After a few deep breaths I decided the best thing to do was admit the truth and face the immediate problem head on. So I called the director on Saturday night to let her know that due to my recent emotional distress I was not going to be ready, so at least we could discuss how to salvage the rehearsal, maybe rearrange the schedule to do other scenes which I could be ready to rehearse on that day.

I am lucky that I have worked with this director twice in the past, so she knows my work and that I am a competent and conscientious colleague. I am lucky that she is the sort of person to whom I could confess my blunder without losing all professional credibility. I am also certain that someone or something was looking out for me, because fortuitously she was in the process of deciding to cancel the next day’s rehearsal due to the forecast warnings of freezing rain and hazardous driving conditions. Hence, I had a reprieve. And procrastination to that extreme is not something I can allow myself to do again in a professional situation.

Depression and creative endeavours are antithetical, because the depressed state is really one of fear: fear to face the authentic feelings below the depressed surface, the depth of sadness and pain that is struggling to come out which was originally deemed too overwhelming to permit myself to feel. The true creative process by its nature opens cracks in that protective shield and subjects the artist to whatever is coming through. Usually, that is tolerable, if the intensity and/or quality of emotion is manageable, whether positive or negative. But when the damn bursts, like mine did in February, it is terrifying and depression is a handy way to avoid feeling too much all at once. It's a coping mechanism, if not a very good one.

While deep in the personal muck, I was not up for creating anything - musically or otherwise. I scarcely even knit anything, nothing more than a few rows of a plain sock in the whole month (it has since been frogged). That’s not good, because knitting is usually a great source of comfort, providing solace and meditative space when I need them. Furthermore, I was in the process of a couple of personal design projects and also committed to developing two new sock patterns for fundraising activities, one for a friend who will need extensive reconstructive surgery which is not covered by our provincial medical plan, and another to offer as incentive to my sponsors for the 2008 Weekend to End Breast Cancer.

I am so very grateful that even while I was going through the worst of this, I had wonderful support from my friends and my therapist. DH was and still is terrific - holding me whenever I need it, reassuring me that I am safe and valued and loved. Friends were open to listen and let me cry. When I am "in here" it helps to know that caring folks and friends are out there. And I'm relieved that I could open up to my director about how I'd been struggling lately without being judged, that I could be my authentic self in the moment and I didn't have to armour-up or choose to pretend that I was fine on the outside, while silently screaming in anguish on the inside.

Meanwhile, I'm working with my therapist on exercises to help me loosen and adjust the valve on all the residual sadness and pain that still needs to come out, but in a manageable way so I can get more done and get back into living a more balanced life. I am who I am and I firmly believe that no matter what has come before to get me here, I am exactly where I am supposed to be, poised on the brink of the rest of my life, and whatever I make of that is up to me.

P.S. I am delighted to report that I had a terrific rehearsal yesterday!

Also, my knit-mojo is back - just in time to squeeze in a last winter project or two before I start some cheery spring knitting.