Even though APW operates around monthly themes these days, sometimes a weekly theme will emerge as we work our way through a given week’s content. This week, it would appear, is all about figuring out who we are. For me, this is it. No matter the circumstances, knowing who we are is the first step to being prepared to enter into a lifetime of partnership. Because when you know what makes you feel fulfilled, then it won’t end up falling to someone else to figure it out for you. So today we have our intern Elisabeth, with her always-hilarious writing, and a brilliant narrative take on knowing oneself. Plus, there is knitting and baby birds.
When people ask how K and I met, I generally tell them we saw each other online, exchanged a series of winsome emails, and then met up for a bourbon cocktail. If there’s time, though, I like to tell them that what really happened: I put away my shoebox, and I knit a sweater.
A few summers back, I went to a psychic, mostly on a whim, when I was mooning around getting over my last break up. A good friend strongly recommended her. She said that her theatre company relied on the psychic for guidance about absolutely everything. And a theatre company is way more complicated than me, all that blocking and staged readings and shows run entirely on electricity generated by bicycles. Plus the psychic’s office was on the same block as my therapist, which seemed very important.
The psychic had a lot of slightly bizarre and moderately profound things to say to me, including that I was like the 2010 Gulf oil spill and my recent ex was like the cap that neatly sealed it off (not a false assessment of our relationship, but couldn’t you just agree gently that we were a bad match?!). She had lots of things to say about how creatively blocked I was, and that I needed to stop relying on other people to find outlets for my creativity and happiness. When I got out there and found it for myself, by myself, she intoned, only then would I be my authentic self with or without a relationship. Now, I realize that 99% of psychics probably say this to 99% of their customers. But then she said sternly, “You like wounded birds, and you need to stop carrying shoeboxes around for them.” How did that psychic see the last decade of my dating history? This was a logic model I could get behind: spend time alone; do not be distracted by wounded birds, even the most adorable ones; use all that time to discover my authentic self; once self is found, hold onto it and find a Person who is really pumped about my authentic self.
Of course, I had big intentions, but as with many of my projects, I was long on enthusiasm and a bit short on follow-through. I would “be creative” in periodic fits of energy. I sewed two pillow covers out of sea themed dishtowels from the Crate and Barrel outlet, my wild and distracted stitches marching up and down the messy seams. I co-chaired a consensus-based community garden committee. I rearranged my desk. I scattered ocean treasures just so across the wide planks and waited for inspiration to strike and ignored the fact that I had so many public health papers due that I never had any time to do any writing for myself anyway. (In retrospect I may have gone overboard with the ocean treasures. When a friend saw the pillows and sea glass strewn everywhere, she asked if I had plans to rename the bathroom “Buoys and Gulls Room.”) Of course, I also spent a lot of time creatively crying on the Q train.
Then, in the middle of a miserable city winter, I decided I’d embark on a truly creative pursuit: I’d knit a sweater, and I would start dating again when it was finished. Not even any making out lying down, nope, not until I was wearing a hand-knit creation. I reasoned that as adrift as I felt, by the time the sweater was finished I’d feel differently, maybe a little closer to the person I wanted to be. I went to the Lion’s Brand studio just outside of Union Square the next day, found a perfect, vibrant fuchsia, and brought it home. It was just me and those needles, flashing furiously. I realized that in two decades of knitting, I’d really never made anything for myself—not a pair of handwarmers, not even a scarf. I raced jubilantly through the first six inches without realizing the raglan increase was backwards. Ripped the stitches out, started again, slower this time. I would bring my sweater on the train; listen to The Moth podcast while I slipped yarn through loops and counted the rows and let my mind fade away, feeling calmer already, creating my own string theory. “By the time this sweater is done,” I would think, “things will be different.”
Now, if my life were a lesbionic rom com, this is where I would slip the sweater on and head to my early morning shift at the Co-op to bag interminable bags of marcona almonds, and on my 594th bag I’d notice that there was a slightly stoic, hunky Midwesterner moving boxes of soy milk into the freezer, and we’d, you know, make out lying down. But I’ve racked up so many missed shifts at the Co-op that I’m basically barred from entering it ever again. And the sweater, although radiantly pink, looks backwards at all times, even though I’ve tried it both ways a dozen times. Also, the sleeves are best suited to a kindergartener. What really happened is that I told enough friends about the self-reflective creativity-inspiring sweater project and my time “off the market” that when I triumphantly finished it, they made me pay up. I didn’t feel ready and protested loudly, but I dusted off my okcupid profile. When I couldn’t think of a way to start it, I wrote, “Well, I knitted a sweater so I could focus on my authentic self, and now the sweater is done, and it’s a good story.”
With a total prize of a profile like that, you can imagine the veritable bevy of suitors that showed up at my seaside palace. Eventually K and I stumbled across each other, and made plans to meet up on a late Sunday afternoon. I’d spent the day experimenting with different marinades for baked tofu and setting up my brand-new three-season tent in my studio apartment; she’d carried a friend’s belongings from the East Village to a sublet on 10th Ave after the friend accidentally ate a pot brownie and swore there were daemons in his Ikea Aneboda shelving unit. We had drinks, then we decided to have dinner, then there was a torrential spring rain that kept us at the charming Brooklyn restaurant even longer, you know where this is going…she walked me back to the train and I stuck out my hand for a jovial handshake. I waited for the train thinking, “I want to have sex with that person,” and my way of showing her was a handshake.
If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that this is where K went home and methodically decided to invite me on a summer vacation, while I went home and basically zipped myself into my three-season tent.
I spent the next few months dating K, in a determinedly casual way. I wanted to be dead sure before we got serious, and I knew we’d get serious, that my authentic self was on board. I’d worked so hard (and knitted such an ugly sweater) to be myself and be brave, and I wanted to make sure I held onto it for the long haul. I kept watching and waiting, to see if I would start to feel like I was carrying the weight of the dreaded wounded bird. But all that happened is that a responsible, dapper Iowan kept offering to make me dinner and laughing at all my stories. Bit by bit I relaxed, and I couldn’t see any need for any shoeboxes, and we kept having such a good time that I eventually realized I had possibly found the Person from the end of the logic model. I flew into my apartment one night, and saw that K had beat me home and was making dinner. When she looked at me, her whole face lit up, like I’d been gone for months at sea, like I was her very favorite person in the whole world. I sat down on a kitchen chair, got a little teary, and told her I loved her.
If you need a psychic, I know a good one.
Photo by APW sponsor Leah and Mark & Co.