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Crocheting and other endurance sports

I scroll through Facebook, seething with jealousy. My talented friend knit yet another gorgeous sweater.

And what is this? Someone else knit a Christmas gnome? My confidence plunges.

Life mocks me and keeps going.

My sister-in-love, Kristi, and niece, Makenna, crochet an enchanting hedgehog doorstop for my daughter.

As well as the world's most adorable bumble bees. Despair creeps in.

The solution seems clear: I need to surround myself with less talented people.

Me and crocheting - we have a thing. And it's unequivocally not a good thing.

If you already know this woeful tale, feel free to skip ahead. If you like stories about underdogs, stay with me.

When I was pregnant with my oldest child, I was put on light duty near the end and told to stay off my feet. Having made exactly one below average scarf a decade prior, I decided to make a baby blanket. How hard could it be? You just go in rows right?

Before reporting to the couch, I went to JoAnn Fabrics. The cashier rang me up and, in a pleasant, conversational tone, asked, "What are you making?"

Hand rubbing protruding belly, I answered, "A baby blanket."

Confused, she looked into the bag and then up at me. "With two skeins of yarn?"

Reg flag #1, ignored. Doped up on surging levels of estrogen, I commenced. The problems began immediately, the blanket seeming to shrink and narrow as I progressed, each row somehow smaller than the one below.

Red flag #2, dismissed. No problem. I could just even it out by adding stitches to the other side.

Problem. I ended up with what can only be considered a crocheted canoe for my baby and became the butt of family jokes for years to come.

(Oh, how I wish I had a picture of my infant in this contraption.)

It was so terrible, so laughable, I saved it in her childhood memory box right beside a Ziploc of hair from her first haircut and her first pair of shoes.

I mean, it isn't without purpose, but really does anyone need this hat?

A decade later I decided to try again and crocheted a potholder that looked like it had been made by a kindergartner with poor motor control and no attention span.

I am unclear why I'm so compelled to learn this craft except that I believe those who can do it, who do it easily and well, are privy to some secret I am not. Just like those who can sketch a human face, build a bridge, make a pie crust, fix a car or program a computer.

Surely, with all that is unknowable and outside my domain, making something out of yarn could be plausibly within my reach.

My other sister-in-love, Trish, started crocheting purses around this time. CROCHETED PURSES, people. I asked her to teach me the basics.

Maya was going to do it with me but changed her mind. I don't blame her. When you hear the rest of the story, you won't either.

Armed with a one hour tutorial and a dozen skeins of yarn, I was off. It started out great. I was on fire, a crocheting savant. I was going to make a real blanket! Next up a hat, maybe a koala bear, someday even a purse.

The problems started right away.

I unraveled it and started over.

"I don't actually know how you are doing this," Trish said. "Maybe you should count your stitches so you do the same in each row?"

But numbers have a way of getting misplaced in my head and I decided counting was for wimps. How hard could it be to follow my lines all the way to the end?

For me, very difficult. The same thing happened on the next attempt. I unraveled it and started over. Balls of yarn littered the house. I stared to mistrust the color blue.

I had issues not only with edges but with consistent tension. Some stitches were too loose and others were too tight. I was the Goldilocks of crocheting and just as unlikely to succeed.

The whole thing turned conical again. Maybe I should go into headwear?

My next attempt seemed more solid. Except Trish looked at it she said, "You know that is going to be a king-sized blanket, right? And it will weigh 100 pounds?"

&%$. I started over. At some point I would get it right?

Unraveling my blanket became a past time; I spent hours yanking the stitches free and recoiling the skeins. I began to picture my epitaph: died still trying to crochet in straight lines.

"Again?" my family would ask.

"Again," I would answer.

At this point, you might be wondering what this is all about. Why, in the face of indisputable failure, wouldn't I just stop? After all, isn't this supposed to be a fun and relaxing hobby?

The truth is I never once considered giving up. The stakes felt too high. If I gave up on crocheting just because it was hard, what else might I give up on?

And that's when I realized this was about my dream of being a successful, published writer. Behind each stitch, each attempt, sat the question whose answer I feared: Was I going to give up on myself?

How long is it reasonable to dream?

I've been writing seriously for eight years and full time for three. I've written two books, a short film screenplay, blog posts and memoir pieces. I've written letters of admiration to my role models, strongly-worded letters to companies, limericks, bad poems, cards of encouragement and endless journal entries. Writing is part of everything I do, how I express, how I digest the world and my human experience.

Catch me on a good day and I'm proud of my tenacity, my belief in myself. Catch me on a bad day and I'm trying to outrun this plaguing feeling of embarrassment that I am still indulging myself with this dream. (Maybe it's time to face reality and move on?)

I write because I love to, because it is joyful and true to me. If I had one day left to live, I would spend a handful of hours at dawn in my chair with a cup of tea and my laptop.

If I never got paid to write, never got published, would I still write?

100% yes.

AND. I also want my books to be published and read. I want to write a dozen more, be on the bestseller list and be well paid to write. I was raised that what is measurable is valuable, raised to prove my worth through my achievements. This is how I know to succeed at this thing I love.

But having such a specific and narrow definition of "success" is problematic. By extension, everything short of that is a "failure."

Our social narrative says that success is strength and failure is weakness. Success is arrived and failure is lost. Success is the chandeliered great room and failure is the damp basement.

But failure and success are simply socialized constructs, arbitrary checkpoints that feel solid and sound yet exist only because of majority agreement. The ivy-league education, corner office, good pension and a low-interest mortgage can't be the only milestones of success.

I vote we go in and rough them up a bit.

We start by throwing the windows open to success. We stop asking the world for validation and permission. Since we are the only ones who know our inner selves, we are the only ones qualified to know our victories. We are the experts on ourselves.

And so success can be:

-getting through the day when you're battling depression

-getting through the day, period.

-walking away from a heated argument

-stating your needs

-walking into a group of strangers

-riding a rollercoaster

-showing up for a difficult conversation

-signing up for those college classes you've wanted to take

-quitting the job you hate

-selling your art on Etsy

-making art in any form

-finishing a project

-setting a boundary with someone you love

-driving through Manhatten

-a thousand other things that change day by day

And what if just being is a success? What if there is nothing to prove or accomplish?

Defining and building our own success is not a self-ingratiating practice. It is not going to make our heads swell or make us insufferable. Instead, it will strengthen our belief in ourselves, allowing us to know we are worthy of creating the life we want.

And doesn't every "success" story share this theme of belief? Of rejecting doubt and inferiority, of quieting the insistent "no, you can't" and venturing toward what is wanted?

What of this risk of believing - this breath-stealing high point with a long drop down - how do we dare stand here? What proof do we have that it's wise? Or safe?

Well, none really. That's why it's so hard. It's also the point. Believing without proof - before life validates you and says, "Yes, you have the right. Proceed." - that's the work. That's where the magic is, in this willingness to go out on that limb, to claim it, to own it. This is how we teach the world to treat us, how we call opportunity and possibility in.

But what if we're wrong? What if we fail?

Ah, yes, failure. The dark and dirty alley that smells like rotting trash. The lead apron across your shoulders, the sunless void, the rock bottom. Failure smacks of inferiority and is tainted with stigma. We are taught that it's is a thing to avoid or at least to overcome, the part of the story told later, from the safe perch of success. Failure is always cast as the villain.

Fear of failing is a fear of being humiliated, compromising our image or pride, costing ourselves something irretrievable.

It's a powerful fear, one that causes us to side step, evade and stay small to stay safe, a dodging that turns us into performative, face-saving, anxious perfectionists who squash our inspiration and temper our passion for fear of the fall if we get it wrong. It dwarfs us, makes us unsure, self-conscious and disconnected.

And so we miss the gifts offered in the shadows, the place where inspiration sparks and ignites, the place where we find perhaps the truest, most real version of ourselves, the place where we can ask what we want and give an honest answer.

Imagine failure absent of judgement. Imagine if failure was as valued as ambition, as revered as success, not something shameful, a poor outcome from which you must recover, but a destination in itself, a place of birth and origination, a slate wiped clean, the opportunity to be stripped of pretense and ego and pressure, emptied out and ready to be filled?

And what if we have nothing of true value to lose? Maybe then we wouldn't be so afraid. Maybe then we would be free enough to be ourselves, to believe in ourselves. Maybe then we could hear the call from within to change jobs, write a book, learn to paint or play an instrument, to move across country or start a podcast and have the guts to push through our fear and do it.

What might we reach for if we weren't afraid to fail?

There is so much possibility here. This is a the space into which miracles enter.

Behold the majesty of a straight edge.

I stopped unraveling and started raveling. (That's a thing, right?) Soon the rows of stitched yarn covered my legs as I worked, a real blanket taking form. As it grew, so did everyone's surprise.

It took me over a year and somewhere between twelve and a hundred attempts. Perhaps no skeins of yarn have been used so thoroughly.

As I neared the end I began to wonder what I would do with this blanket, this victory, this afghan of exaggerated importance.

The answer came easily. I knew my niece, Michaela, living her first year away from home in a college dorm, a girl related to me as much in heart as in blood, would get the bigness of this blanket. She would understand the devotion and dedication in my stitches, would wrap herself up and feel loved.

And she did.

Hope runs deep in me. I've started another blanket.

Confession: two nights ago I unraveled more than half of it. The edges were getting wonky again, slanting in, migrating toward the center like a teenager toward a phone charger.

I felt that familiar pang of inferiority. Had I learned nothing? Was I once again going to have to lean into failure? I was unimpressed. I'd like to put the whole haha, Suzanne can't crochet story in my past thank you very much.

See? The judgement around failing, the ego with its hackles up, tries to keep me in line. Deconditioning is a long game, one that takes a great deal of patience and compassion. I ask myself: do I really care if I mess this up, if I have to try again, or have I been trained to care, trained to overvalue product over process?

It's almost always the latter. Turns out my true inner voice is much kinder and she's pretty chill. She likes the ride and thinks this crochet struggle makes for a better story anyway.

She encourages me to look at the cyclical nature of growth and learning, one where there are second, third and thousandth tries again, one where sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn't but I am always okay.

We are allowed to not know, to try, to make mistakes, to get it wrong, to be imperfect, to perhaps never get the hang of it. We are allowed to believe in ourselves and nurture our dreams. We deserve this kind of grace. Though the whole world has told us differently, we have nothing to prove. We are inherently, and always, worthy.

The possibilities from here are endless. My aforementioned talented, sweater-knitting friend? She's agreed to teach me to knit. Hopefully she's patient.

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