This morning, at like 6:30 a.m., one of my colleagues appeared in my office. “Hello,” she announced.
“Hello,” I said.
“I am retiring,” she said.
“I know,” I said, “I read the email. Congratulations! Retirement…is FUN.”
“I think it will be,” she said. “In October I’m going on a trip to England with my Embroidery Class. We will be there for three weeks. We’ll see all the best embroideries. Museums…workshops…studios…”
“Embroideries?” I said, and then remembered that she’s one of those embroidering artists. I’ve actually seen some of her pieces, before. Very small pieces, maybe 6″ x 6″. She’d brought them to the clinic one day and we’d all stood around examining. You could totally see the clinic influence in them. It’s a very raw, emotional sort of clinic. It makes raw, emotional sorts of embroideries.
“The Bayeux tapestry,” she said, “we get to see the Bayeux tapestry. I can’t wait to see it.”
“The Bayeux tapestry…” I said, googling it quickly.
“It’s not actually a tapestry,” she said, “it’s an embroidery. And it’s long. It’s very thin, and it’s very long. It goes all the way around the room, a couple of times.”
“That’s beautiful,” I said, looking at a Google image. It was. It was really, really beautiful. It’s totally the sort of thing that I’d totally like. My work schedule for the day was absurd and also really sad. The clinic from five a.m. to 11 a.m. My other job from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Then the clinic again from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. And then my other job from 3:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Even the breaks, I’d have to spend driving from job to job. No time to eat anything. And the next two days will be even worse. It will be 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. But lo and behold, the mid-day other job was cancelled, so I had a burrito from the Korean Fusion food cart (I live in Portland, so obviously I eat delicious food cart food all the time) and trotted myself to the library. There, on the Lucky Day shelf, was a new Anne Lamott book “Stitches.”
Stitches! Embroideries. Sewing, embroidering, threads, fibers. That’s totally a thing. And of course I like Anne Lamott, because of Bird By Bird. In honor of the Bayeux Tapestry, in honor of the retirement, I will totally use my Lucky Day quota (you’re only allowed to check out two Lucky Day books at a time) on “Stitches” by Anne Lamott.
I read it in the Bank Tower while I ate my burrito (it was from the Korean Fusion cart, so it was mostly rice and spiciness, but there was also Kim Chee inside! I’m hungry ALL OF THE TIME. It used to be that I didn’t have enough money, but now it’s that I don’t have enough time.)
First: I don’t care that Anne Lamott is so Christian-y. Most of my peers in Portland are so anti-Christian and reactive, they’d never even pick up the book. Or they’d pick up the book and then the first time Anne Lamott said “God,” they’d curl their lip and drop the book. (They would. They literally, literally would.) I went to a Christian School all the way through eighth grade, and it was the best thing for me. I excelled and then when I entered high school I had to face it that I’d been wrong the entire, entire time. Now the possibility of being entirely wrong is always sitting by my side. This is actually really good. I could be wrong at anything, including this. I LIKED my Christian School. After what happened with my wild, brilliant older sister, my mom did not allow me to “skip” any grades in the Christian School, but I was allowed to sit in on any class I liked, and to come and go as I pleased, and that was really good, for an elementary school. So I liked it. And also, now I can handle Christian writers with ease.
Second. Yesterday, I was at the computer yet again, listening to Angel Haze yet AGAIN, reading the Jack Alberstam Bully Blog yet again, and still, still, still trying to puzzle out the triggers, the closets, the neopolitical rhetoric of danger and harm or whatever. I wasn’t very happy with my conclusion from the day before, but I was still pretty sure that it had something to do with the very end of the Angel Haze text. (Remember? “Thanks for joining me here,” she’d rapped, “As I cleaned out my closet.”
“It’s ‘joining’,” I’d finally thought, “it has something to do with joining. We ‘join’ with Angel Haze and hear her story.” That was as far as I could get. There was probably something about loudly protesting things that weren’t joined. Or something. I couldn’t take it any more. I had a beer instead and wrote that dumb little article about the two contrasting music videos about the poor boys who liked the rich girls. There was no, no way I could continue with that harm danger and trauma thing. Not that day, anyway. “It’s probably a good idea to take a break from that anyway,” I thought, literally drooling as the Korean Fusion guy put my burrito together, “I don’t want to be a one-trick pony. And besides, what if a blog isn’t just a collection of individual, well-thought-out, polished entries. What if a blog is a whole big smear of unfinished but somehow connected posts that blend together over time. Maybe I don’t even WANT to have a nice, single, tidy blog post. I want to have big, stupid, tacky blog posts that are wrong most of the time.”
The Korean Fusion guy leaned out over his cart and tossed me my burrito. He tossed it like the guys at the fish market in Seattle’s Pike’s Place throw the packaged fish to the customers, so famous now that you can Youtube it and see them throwing fish to the customers. “YEAH,” I thought, and tore into it. And started the Anne Lamott and not even 20 pages in, there she was talking about harm danger and trauma. You stitch it back together, Anne Lamott said, one tiny stitch at a time. The world falls apart. The stitching is collective. You join and then the ongoing fibers, the ongoing stitches, you create up together. Something like that. There are like a million stitches between anything and ANYTHING. It was 1 p.m. I ran back to the clinic. I love the clinic. I love, love, love, love the clinic. Sometimes I actually wish I just plain lived there, like the book about the doctor who made the low-income clinic in Washington DC and moved himself in to the upstairs apartment. I lend that book to any of the doctors who seem upset about anything and it makes them feel better, it’s so validating. All the doctors are big readers.
There’s a story behind every single scar that I show, Angel Haze says, and I wonder how it would look if she were a tapestry and at some point we joined up and wove it with her. I’d be damn careful with the colors, the arm movements, the way the people looked, that’s for sure. (“It’s long,” my colleague had said, “it goes around the room, several times.” The last time that particular colleague had appeared in my office was many, many months ago. It was the same “Hello,” as an announcement, and then another announcement: “I will be out for a few months.” “Why?” I’d said. “I found the lump a few weeks ago. I wanted to go to the San Juans with my Embroidery Class first, before I went in for it. It is cancer, and I will be going in for treatment.” By now, that was a long time ago. At the time it had terrified me. I’d sent desperate, terrified 3 a.m. text messages to my other co-workers, “Oh I am crying without ceasing. Oh this is terrible.” If it were the Bayeux Tapestry there would be lit candles in the team room and the two of us in my office at 6:30 a.m. and then a year or two later there would be a loving farewell, a cake, an airplane, an ocean, a representation of the Bayeux Tapestry. Many many yards later there would be something else. There’s a tangible element to the fiber arts that is missing from regular writing, there’s hands there.