One of the wonderful benefits of a hobby is sharing it with a community. I wasn’t out to convert everyone to love what I love, but I was keen on creating time to be creative, and time to be chatty with friends. Most of my friends are creative, and those who thought they weren’t have been shown otherwise. Before long, I established a space where my friends could crochet, cross stitch, sew felt coasters, and make labels for homemade products, in addition to stamping and paper crafting. My dining table is an oval—the only better shape would be a circle, but a circle big enough for all our ramblings would be too large for my space. The oval works. It is cozy, welcoming, warm, and inviting—surrounded by wonderful people and topped with creativity.
Along with this making, though, we do other important work. Sometimes I cook, and we have a meal first. Sometimes we do a potluck sort of meal; sometimes we just nibble on snacks as we work. All of that contributes to a feeling of nurturing conviviality, and to me gives the sense of “product in, product out.” We eat, then we create. Lately, though, for various schedule and complicated-life-related reasons, we have been meeting later, after dinner, and snacks are less necessary than they were when I was building this community. Now what we feed on is words.
A group of women around a table doing handicrafts is a recipe for conversation, of course. It takes part in the long, glorious tradition of quilting bees, craft bazaars, and the more modern idea of the “Stitch and Bitch” session. We talk as we work. We tell each other the story of our days. Whoever is having the worst time at the moment, and needs the support of the group most immediately gets to go first, and we sort of tacitly understand we need to “deal” with that person’s problems before anything else. And that’s what we do. I read an article in The Onion one time that detailed a Girls’ Night Out, where women spent the evening “validating the living shit out of each other.” That’s where we start. Whoever needs to dump their drama on the table does so, along with the paper scraps and yarn and ink pads and chocolate almonds, and we sift through it together. We are honest in our support, and not afraid to speak truth to each other, but overall, we are a very sympathetic audience. And somewhere in the snipping and pasting and analyzing and categorizing, things get sorted out, set to right—we reassemble ourselves as we assemble our little projects.
After the first person has spoken, the conversation moves fluidly, in and out of associations, memories, current struggles and successes. The stories that we shape while we’re making cards or knitting baby blankets or stringing beads for a bracelet are every bit as important as the physical product—individually, perhaps moreso. What has happened is that lovely concatenation of camaraderie and comfort that a semi-common purpose facilitates. We are all woven in to each other’s stories, as supporting characters and new narrators. We help each other see from different perspectives and offer multiple solutions to dealing with current problems. Then we re-position ourselves as main characters and write ourselves in to the future.
Sometimes the drama is small—daily dramas of the home or workplace. Someone’s child is struggling in school. Someone else has a family member causing unnecessary trouble. Some project at work is fraught with setbacks or frustrations. We deal with all of that pretty quickly. Sometimes, though, it’s big stuff—decisions about starting a family, changing careers, moving out of state, caring for parents. I think we rise to those too, with the same sort of diligence and good will. Fewer cards get cranked out on those nights, but that’s ok. Crafting is only the vehicle—the excuse to gather. The real work is social, communal, and yes—literary, as we rewrite our lives and revision who we are. It’s true that sometimes you don’t know what you think until you say it out loud (or write it down, but that’s a different blog). My crafting table is a place where past stories are analyzed and future stories scripted. Sometimes this happens quite literally: we help each other word responses to angry clients and cousins, repeat mantras or catch phrases to help us deal with problems in the moment, and talk through strategies to solve particular crises. Because some of us are in academia, some of our support happens in the form of reading and helping to revise academic papers, tenure packets, and grant proposals. Or someone needs help crafting descriptions for items for an online store, or topics for a blog. Really, very literally, much of what we deal with directly is made of words, and we are called upon to “wordsmith” our way out of problems. We create as many texts as textiles around my table.
But all of this wordsmithing takes place around an oval table littered with scissors and markers and felt and beads, and over a drink or a snack or a meal, between a few friends, whose characters make possible not only the meeting, but also the changing—the crafting of well-wrought lives.