Q&A: Will you be kinder or harder on yourself this year?
Will it be different from last year?
This is a picture of an afghan I crocheted for my mother one Christmas many decades ago. It drapes over the arm of my sofa now, and I use it as a reminder of how at least once in my life I accomplished something I knew nothing about and never thought I could complete.
But I did.
My mother-in-law taught me how to make granny squares just months before I took on this project, and I was surprised at how easy they were. Until she prodded me, I thought granny squares were beyond me. I had never held a crochet hook in my life, even though my mother made doilies and head rests and pillow slip edging. It never occurred to her to teach me, and it never occurred to me to ask. It looked far too complicated and not something I would ever want to do. But granny squares changed all that. The magic of crochet—revealed!
I don’t remember where I got the instructions for this afghan but I still have the double-sided, illustrated sheet, and when I look at it now I have no idea what any of it means.
I think sometimes I couldn’t possibly have made this, and I know if I tried it now it would take me a lot longer than the six months I allowed myself before that Christmas in the 1970s.
There’s a mistake I see almost every time I look at it. It’s not obvious, and I would have to point it out, but I know it’s there. Still, I think it’s beautiful, and I never get over being astonished that I did this.
Some time in the 70s I decided I could write well enough to be published. I think I must have been at the height of my self-confidence, but I don’t remember which came first—this afghan or that time I marched into the office of the local newspaper and said I would like to write for them.
I had no clips, no background, no experience of any kind, but all they wanted was someone to write neighborhood news and the woman who had done it before was leaving. I knew her, and she encouraged me to take it on. She wasn’t a writer, either.
I went on to write weekly columns for another newspaper chain, but this time I did them as I thought a real writer should do them. I worked hard at getting it right, and I’m still proud of some of those columns. (We won’t talk about the rest.)
When the Detroit Free Press started regional sections I again marched into their local office and told the editor I’d like to write for them. I brought clips, but the editor knew who I was through my columns and gave me a chance. This was freelance reporting, and I knew nothing about the process, but she was patient and I learned. I wrote over 50 freelance feature pieces for them before they disbanded those sections, and I was out of a job again.
I was deep into the writing community in and around Detroit by then and I decided we needed an outlet to promote our work, so I marched into the offices of a suburban newspaper group and pled our case. I began writing a column on books and writers, and I met many of the people I’d admired for so long and wanted to emulate.
I did all this because I thought I could.
It’s been so long ago I barely remember that courage. I know for a fact I’ll never be able to unearth it again. But I’ve decided to be kinder to myself this year and work at what I love to do and not what I think I should do.
I love to write. I never want it to be a chore. At this stage in my life it doesn’t need to be a chore. I write from my heart now, and, while I’m still a bit uncomfortable, I’m settling in. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone—not even to myself. I’ve been too hard on me, and I need it to stop.
I hope I can remember this as the year goes on. It’ll be another tough year without Ed, and I’ll be another year older when I’m already older than dirt, but it’ll be my time. While I didn’t ask for this, I hope I can make the most of it. I hope I don’t fall into some kind of funk and decide I’m done. That would be terrible.
So, along with my mother’s afghan, I’ll keep an eye on those pieces I’m most proud of and remind myself that I did it once. The evidence is there—this is who I was, and this is who I am. I have to stop making demands and just be kinder to myself.
How about you? What do you see as self-kindness? Are you most comfortable pushing yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of, or are you ready to rest on your laurels and take it easy on yourself? There’s a moment for both, and only you get to decide.
If your writing is nothing but painful and a chore, you have some revisiting to do. If, even after some hard days, you’re still waking up to enjoying the prospect of another day writing, you’re in your place, and a fine place it is.
So let’s talk. Which is kindness to you? Where are you and how did you get there? Where are you and where are you going? How will you treat yourself along the way?
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