Tag Archives: creativity

Mental health

Since quitting my job as an attorney, my life has improved a lot. I know I’ve said this before, and I’m sure my fellow lawyers are sick to death of hearing it, but I’m going to say it again. I now can do all the things I used to want to do but didn’t always have time for: knitting, sewing, exercise, cooking, binge-watching entire television series, making art, folding my laundry, and so on. I feel extremely lucky because I know a lot of people aren’t able to indulge their hobbies and interests.


I’ve also found, since quitting my job, that partaking in a variety of activities every day (rather than just doing one thing, day in and day out), regardless of what I’m actually doing, has in itself improved my mental health. Life is more interesting for me when I’m doing a bunch of different things. Today, for example, I went to the gym, wrote, went to the fabric store, wrote some more, talked to my mom in California on Google chat, got my eyebrows waxed, planned dinner, and knit. Tomorrow, I think I’ll write, swim, write some more, sew, and knit. Compare this to my life as a lawyer, when on a typical day I’d go to the gym, go to the office, come home, watch TV, and go to bed, and you start to see what I’m talking about.

There are certain constants in my days, of course. Exercise. Writing. Tea. These are my Essentials, the things I need to do or have regularly to feel normal and healthy. After my basic physiological demands (eating and sleeping and so on), exercise comes in near the top of the list. When I don’t work out, I feel crappy, inside and out. After that, I must write. This professional writing business isn’t for wimps. You have to actually do it — constantly — to make things happen. Plus, I love writing. If I didn’t write, I wouldn’t really be me. And yes, I need tea. Tea features prominently in the equation.

What else? Making things. I’ve talked about this before, but one of the biggest differences between my life now and my life before I quit my job is that now, every single day, I’m able to be creative. My work requires me to create and then, in my downtime, I make things.

Another Essential: reading. I can’t imagine what I’d do at night without a book to read. My Kindle broke recently and the same day, I rushed to the bookstore to stock up on paperbacks, as if preparing for a coming bookpocalypse. Priorities, you understand.

What about people? Do I need people in my life every day? Yes, but maybe not in the way you’d think. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve slid more and more into the Introvert side of the Extrovert-Introvert divide on the Myers-Briggs scale. This means, practically, that I don’t need that much face-to-face human contact every day to feel happy, which is why working at home in my little writing cocoon suits me so well. But I do need some contact, whether that means reading and responding to emails from my friends, seeing my husband for dinner, or talking to my parents on Skype. No woman is an island. But do I miss the hum of an office buzzing with human activity? Hell to the no.

So, that’s about it. I need to be physically active, creative, tea’d up, surrounded by books, and not completely isolated from other humans. How about you? What are the things that make you feel normal? How do you balance your hobbies with work and life? I recommend thinking about your Essentials, making a list, checking it twice, and then making the top one or two or three on that list a daily priority. It works wonders.


On sewing, knitting, and the impulse to make things

I’ve always loved making things. As a kid, I did latch-hook; I made beads; I wove hemp necklaces; I painted; I sketched; I sculpted. I was always making something. I can’t remember a time in my childhood where I didn’t have several projects, of various sorts, going. As an adult, I never lost my desire to be constantly creating things, but there were long years during which I figured making things just wasn’t something I got to do anymore. There was never enough time. Or energy. Working at a law firm, I found that I was so unhappy with my work life, I had little energy after work to devote to being creative. Instead, I’d come home from work and watch TV, or read, but I wouldn’t create anything more elaborate than dinner because I just didn’t have the energy. Consequently, my creativity languished for a long time. Then, I quit my job and rediscovered unstructured free time, which has been an absolute joy. I am now an adult who gets to make things during my day. In fact, my job now requires me to be creative: I get to tell stories for a living. Best job ever, right? (Well, best job ever for me, anyway).

Me and one of my masterpieces

Me and one of my early masterpieces

As I mentioned a while ago when I talked about knitting, I love to do activities in my downtime in which I am creating something — that is, in which I am making a product of some sort, whether it’s a hat or a casserole, that I did not have to invent from scratch. I like following a knitting pattern or a recipe and ending up with something I can be proud of, but which I did not have to pull out of thin air. I love knitting, especially, because in the end, you have a product — something you can wear or use — and, best of all, the knowledge that you made that product with your own two hands. So satisfying.

There's something nice about seeing your husband wear a hat you made.

There’s something nice about seeing your husband wear a hat you made.

So, I decided, given my love of knitting, to seek out sewing classes in London. I’ve wanted to learn how to sew for years but never got around to it (see: law firm job), and I figured there’s no time like the present. Thus, early last week I reported for a four-day, twelve-hour Intro to Sewing class at the lovely Sew Over It in Clapham North. And I loved it! I came back from my first day of class, completed pillow cushion proudly in hand, and told Al that I was “pretty sure” I could “master” sewing. Yes, I used the word “master.” No one ever accused me of hedging my bets. I was encouraged, you see, by my early success at creating things made entirely up of square pieces of fabric sewn together in straight lines. To give you an idea, here are the projects I completed in my intro class:

Cushion cover

Cushion cover with buttons

Tote bag

Tote bag

Makeup bag

Makeup bag with lining and zipper

Feeling on top of the sewing world, I immediately signed up for an Intro to Dressmaking course, figuring that after another twelve hours of instruction, I’d basically be able to start a side business as a seamstress and/or make all my own clothes from here on out. But oh!, dressmaking brought me low. My first day of class was intensely humbling. We made a circle skirt, which is so named because when you hold it up, it’s in the shape of a large circle with the waistband in the middle. It sounds simple — and the pattern looked simple — but that circle skirt nearly broke me. I messed up the hem line, the waistband was bumpy, and, when the dratted thing was finally done, I found that I had made the waist just a tad too small, so that the back would not stay closed if I so much as breathed. Ugh.

I was convinced, the entire first two days of dressmaking class, that I was the dolt of the classroom. I had trouble visualizing what the teacher was telling us to do. “Stitch here,” she’d say, and I’d wonder, “But why?” I didn’t understand the why of any of it. Why do those stitches go there? What will happen if I put them somewhere else? What larger purpose are these stitches serving? This inability to visualize my final product, it seems to me, is the biggest difference between my experience with knitting and my experience with sewing. For whatever reason, perhaps because knitting is necessarily a much slower process of construction and one has time to wrap one’s mind around the contours of what one is making, knitting is just not as confusing as sewing. Sure, while knitting I may have trouble executing certain tricky maneuvers or I may accidentally mess up the measurement of a piece of work, but I generally understand why I have to do a certain thing when I see it on a pattern. With sewing, though, the patterns are just big pieces of paper, and I don’t think my spatial visualization skills are quite finely tuned enough to picture said pieces of paper arranged into items of clothing. Folds, in particular, confuse me. There are no folds in knitting.

Long story short, my first two days of dressmaking class were stressful. My Type-A, detail-oriented inner lawyer (who, let’s face it, is probably always going to be with me) was freaking out at every mistake and berating me for not understanding the instructions. I was dismayed that other people in the class seemed to zip right along, with no signs of nervous sweating. This made me even more nervous (and sweaty). I left class that day feeling discouraged, with my misshapen, ill-fitting skirt stuffed into a plastic bag.

The next day, though, we started on a simple shift dress, and things began to make a little more sense. I understood a little more clearly why I was doing things. Yes, there were certain parts of the pattern that I found confounding, but mostly, things made sense. And, in the end, my dress came out really well. It actually, believe it or not, fits me. I’ve sewn my first piece of wearable clothing. Huzzah!

Summer shift dress

Summer shift dress

So, what have I learned from the experience of learning to sew? One, I can’t expect everything to come easily to me right away. Not to brag, but I was a bit of an (idiot) savant at knitting. I was good at it right away, and could master new skills easily by looking at a book or watching a YouTube video. No teacher required. Sewing is not like that for me, and that’s okay. It is going to take a bit more practice and patience on my part to get good at it. Second, it’s good to learn a new skill, even — and perhaps especially — if you’re not good at it right away. Keeps you on your toes. Life gets boring if you don’t have to stretch now and then, after all. On her blog The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about the three levels of fun: challenging, accommodating, and relaxing fun. Learning to sew is challenging fun. It’s hard and frustrating at first, but as you get better at it, it gets more fun — and that’s more rewarding than coasting at something you’re already good at.

Here’s to more challenging fun, then, and to always making time for making things.