Annie Modesitt is a knitwear designer and teacher whose work I have long admired. Her designs are lovely, and she has a fearless spirit that I find hugely appealing. What's not to love about a woman whose books include, Confessions of a Knitting Heretic, or Men who Knit and the Dogs Who Love Them? And the fact that she's got a book on knitted millinery? That makes her some kind of textile super-hero in my mind. Oh yeah, and she's got a degree is scenic design. My kind of woman!
So, as you might imagine, I was really excited to stumble across the doorstep of her blog last week. My excitement turned to dismay, which quickly turned to awe, as I read Annie's writing about her husband Gerry's diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a particularly complex form of cancer. Annie's writing is beautiful, funny, and heart-wrenching. And something about it really struck a chord with me.
She wrote about the particular challenges of going through such a difficult time, after having recently moved to a new city. Although Robb and I have been in the Bay Area for a little while now, I totally understood what she was getting at. Neither her family nor ours has the kind of deep-rooted local friendships that we have enjoyed in our previous homes.
In Robb and my case, I think we had been jumping around the country so much (Maryland, Alabama, New York, Texas, back to Maryland, Connecticut) that I think we sort of got out of the habit of making deep friendships. When we arrived in the Bay Area, most of the people we met had busy, full lives, and frankly, we were so taken with the Bay Area itself that we spent most of our time doing solitary activities like hiking and skulking around in the woods looking for tiny hidden artworks.
I think it might surprise many people to hear that both Robb and I are very shy. Sometimes I feel like Mister Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (minus, alas, the great wealth and vast estate).
Bingley was by no means deficient, but Darcy was clever. He was at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious, and his manners, though well bred, were not inviting. In this respect his friend had greatly the advantage. Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continually giving offence.
(Really, though, that's a subject for another blog entry.)
Two days ago, Annie Modesitt wrote the following on her blog:
Yes, it's hard for me, hard for the kids, but hardest for G. I never want to lose sight of that. It's easy to get very "me" centered - how does this affect ME? - but that's a little whiny when the issue is so much more serious for Gerry.
Me having an emotional meltdown does not make the situation easier for Gerry, which is why I tend to have them far away, usually in the car, away from the kids. There are a few friends I feel that I can melt in front of - and I do - but not as many as I had back in NJ and I miss that greatly.
It takes time to develop the kind of friendship that allows you to be a slobbering, snotty-nosed, weepy, red-faced lump and not lose your dignity. Not that I don't do that in my classes, but that's performance art.
I was so moved by this that I left her the following message on her blog:
I've been a fan of your design work for a while, but only stumbled on your blog last week. Strange as it sounds, I found your writings about what you've been going through a huge source of inspiration.
A little over a year ago, my partner fell from a ladder and broke his spine. Six weeks in the hospital, paralysis, all sorts of scariness, learning to do the day-to-day stuff with his new levels of ability....It has been a crazy time.
We, too, didn't have loads of local friends. However, when Robb was in the hospital, my co-workers set up a schedule, and took care of so many things that I just didn't have the time or energy to deal with (meals, cats, errands). Now, that things have settled out, I no longer ask for help, although truth be told, I really could use some.
I wonder, though, if I could ask you for something. I wanted to know it I might quote a paragraph from your blog on ours? Your comment about not currently having the kinds of (local) friendships that allow you to bawl all over people expressed something that I've been struggling to say. Heck, the Performance Art aspect of what you wrote pretty much fits our situation, too.
I admire your use of your car for emotional breakdowns. When things were really raw for me, I developed the odd habit of running into stationary objects with my car. Your method is far superior to mine!
Hang in there! I find that in situations of great stress, you've just got to savor -- really taste and enjoy -- the things that are going well.
To which she wrote back:
Lisa - My heart goes out to you, girlfriend. I cannot imagine what you and Robb are dealing with - which sounds so trite (haven't you heard that about 10,000 times by now? But it's true!)
Dear, you can use ANYTHING off of my blog that you want. Let's email - if I'm near you I'll come and give Robb some knitting lessons and he may turn into the new Kaffe Fasset (if we're not careful...) I'm supposed to be in San Fran area in September. We'll see..
It sounds idiotic, but things WILL work out. You're both plucky, it will suck, but even when it sucks like a hoover, life is beautiful. Put THAT on a pillow...
So, what does all this mean? Who knows? If I had any perspective on our situation, I wouldn't be feeling so scared and weepy all the time. Really, what I think it means is this: Attempting to have anything like a normal social life was so difficult when Robb got home from the hospital that we sort of "turned in on ourselves." I think we really need a couple of friends to invite us out to drink beers and remind us that there is more to life than my little worries.
Oh, and one more thing... I owe an apology to anyone who told me that our blog was really inspiring. At the time, I think I just sort of stared at you with a mixture of discomfort, and incredulity. It took reading Annie's blog to understand what people were saying to me and Robb.