Living

Hygge and Craft

The winter holidays are upon us. I know because I’ve started adding my chili chocolate mix to my coffee, and my house is full of twinkle lights and paper chains. I love this time of year; I’m a world class celebrant. But apart from celebrating and visiting and family-snuggling, I’m also really looking forward to crafting so hard my hands cramp.

Winter is a time when I make a bunch of cards and tags and gift wrap all at once. I send holiday cards and use the tags, of course, but I also gift people boxes of cards and packets of tags that I have hand-crafted piecemeal in the fall and flockmeal in the third week of December.

(Tangent: do we know that “flockmeal” was a word in Middle English? The opposite of “piecemeal,” it means to do or have a lot of something all at once. You’ve just witnessed my first attempt to bring it back.)

Handmade ornaments from years gone by. It’s too big a world for just one hobby.

But back to crafting. I’ve talked about craft as occupational therapy before, but since a number of articles have appeared in my feed recently extolling its mental health benefits, I’m thinking seriously about it again. It seems to me useful for all those reasons they list: the meditative, zen sort of flow, that distracts us from the problems of the world and gives us something productive to do. And one of the benefits, of course, is social; quilting bees and “stitch and bitch” sessions leap to mind.

Tonight I’m thinking of the introverted half of me. I do have a weekly crafty time, and I also host a few parties throughout the year where I have people come over for a crafty cocktail party, where we make stuff and munch. I am also very happy crafting by myself.

My hobby is making cards and papercrafty sorts of things. And like knitting or quilting or some of the other crafts getting props these days, it has an end that aims outside myself. I make cards with the intent to send them. I make tags and gift wrap with the intent to give them away. I use them; they’re functional, so they serve me. But they’re also cute or pretty and that is aimed at serving someone else. It means they have as their end goal making someone else happy. That is social too—just Introvert’s Paradise kind of social. That I can be thinking about other people and forging connections while in my pajamas, listening to music I don’t have to explain… it’s like the crafter’s equivalent of telecommuting. And it’s awesome.

Tags and Parts That Will Become Tags.. Mwa ha ha!

So after the finals are in, after the last committee has met, and after the grades have been submitted, I’m going to be stamping and punching and coloring and cutting till the cows come home. And then the tag-bombing of the neighbors and co-workers and other wonderful people will commence. And then there will be peace in my happy-ass little heart this holiday season. May you find yours as well.

Here are links to a couple of those articles I mentioned:

https://www.sciencealert.com/modern-life-is-brutal-here-s-why-craft-is-so-good-for-our-health?fbclid=IwAR3paDe0MGe5A1dOiR5LOxWDvMGe_DCrkPC-oAF34vquVrnCfnlGLVUfUMo

https://theconversation.com/how-craft-is-good-for-our-health-98755?fbclid=IwAR3KJ59MZ-Vo4hhouhLNzNdIrSuKk6Rw7w0qyhooxvquFSBNfQHuvlxoYYk

Living · Teaching

The Case for Joy, or the Other Side of Job

There is a significant thread in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales considering the issue of the biblical “Book of Job.” “The Clerk’s Tale” tells the story of Patient Griselda, a folk heroine often likened to Job. The Wife of Bath, in her Prologue, casts herself as Job’s wife, telling her husband to curse God and die. Other tales make reference more obliquely, but it is clear that it is a running trope, and that Chaucer keeps bringing it up from different angles invites us to ruminate on the lessons it teaches.

A painfully short summary of Job, so we’re all on the same page, is: Job is a wealthy man with a large family, and Satan tells God it’s only because of his many blessings that he is so devout; if God took away his gifts, Job would curse Him. God tests Job by having his crops fail, his children die, his body afflicted with sores—the works. His wife tells him to curse God. He does not. He does, however, question God, reporting that everyone around him thinks he must be pretty awful for God to be punishing him so. God even responds, and when He does, he explains that humans have too narrow a vision of suffering. It is not a result of sinning; it is character-building. God wins his bet, and Job gets everything back—even new kids.
Tonight it’s the narrow understanding of suffering that catches my attention. Do we need suffering to become our best selves? It certainly builds sympathy, but I like to think empathy can be developed through our imagination, not just experience. For tonight’s blog, my friends, you need to know that I am an incontrovertible happy-ass. (“Optimist” works too, but you lose the “happy,”and I’m not ok with that.)
I think we can imagine other people’s suffering and learn from it. Not as viscerally, certainly, but I don’t think we need to suffer everything to realize some things are terrible. I’ve never lost a limb, but I can imagine how that might change my life. I have had heart problems, but I don’t think I feel any more deeply for others with heart problems than for those who’ve lost limbs.
You can feel free to argue with me on this point, but if you wait, I’ll give you another one to argue. I want to consider the opposite conjecture tonight. We may have too narrow an understanding of suffering, but if so, we also suffer from an inadequate appreciation of joy.
If suffering builds character, joy defines it. The things that give us joy are the things that make us unique. You can’t choose what gives you joy any more than you can choose whom you love or whether or not you like brussels sprouts (I do—they make me feel like a giant Mopsy Rabbit raiding Mr McGregor’s garden), so we kind of identify and understand ourselves by those affinities.
When we feel joy, when we’re super giddy and delighted, we seem to sport a sort of shield against the world’s woes. When I’m on my way to class to teach a text I particularly love, I bounce a little and dance a little and smile really broadly. Mostly it’s infectious, but sometimes it’s disconcerting for folks. But that just entertains me more because I’m already in joy-mode, so my shield is up and other people’s lack of understanding doesn’t dim me at all. You know the geeks who get all goofy when they talk about what they love; that’s what I’m talking about.
There is power there.
The smaller moments of joy matter too—what the Danish call “hygge,” or cozy delight. They mean the warm, fuzzy feeling you get wearing warm, fuzzy slippers in front of a fire while drinking something warm and (not fuzzy) delicious. The point is clear. We use the metaphors because the physical feelings are so deep. That is joy too, if calm and simmering rather than bouncy and electric.
Another thing joy does for us, in addition to helping us understand how we are unique, is it allows us to make connections with other people. When we meet someone who likes the same things we do, we immediately feel a bond. English majors, for instance, how many of you form an instantaneous  attachment when you see someone in the wide world reading a book you love? I know best friends who have been besties for decades because they bonded over a particular book. If it speaks to both of you, you must be in some way the same.
We are, all of us–in lots of ways–the same.
When we find something that gives us joy and we meet someone else who also loves it, that’s enough to forge a connection. When we meet folks who love something we don’t really get, we can still react to the feeling, still sponge a little vicarious joy, and (ideally) encourage them to keep on loving it.
Joy produces joy. It also makes us healthier. There’s lots of research on this, some of which is summarized very briefly in the UC Berkeley Greater Good article linked at the bottom of this piece. But the evidence is piling up. If we don’t give enough thought to how suffering helps us, we also don’t recognize the profound impacts of joy. Maybe that’s ok. Maybe the point is just to feel it, not to analyze it to death. But if we understood it a little more, maybe we would make choices that put us in joy’s path more often. That seems like a good project.
Find what you love. Get it; do it; be it–boldly. Help others do the same. I’m off to read a book in my fuzzy slippers.
Also the cocoa picture is mine, but the picture of the young ladies, Mopsy, Flopsy, and Cottontail is, of course, from Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”
Living

If on a winter’s night a reader

Winter is a time for introspection, or so say the ‘olde bookes’ I grew up reading.  These books were mostly written in Europe, though, where winter means cold, short days and long, dark nights, so it makes sense.  Summer is the time for action, when the world conspires to make you energetic and affords you more time to do—to grow crops, craft materials, travel, and shore up resources for the winter.  Winter is when you rest and use, rather than produce, those resources.  It is when people still their bodies, and therefore can flex their minds.  When one shifts focus from production to reflection and appreciation.  If people are made of bodies and souls, summer is for the work of the body, and winter is for the work of the soul.
Some of this seems deeply ingrained in my psyche.  (I’ve recently found out, via one of those “spit in a tube” DNA analysis systems, it may also be printed on my cells—I’m entirely European—lots of different strains, but entirely European, which will no doubt take another post to process.)  I feel like things should slow in the winter, like I’m entitled to long evenings with cocoa and candles and reading and staying indoors.  My problem, if you can call it that (and I tend not to), is I live in Southern California.  There are no deep freezes, no storms that prevent travel, no freezing temperatures that keep me indoors or actually slow me down in any way.  I could go and have gone all year round, without taking what feels like a real winter break.
This year, though, I feel like we got it right.  We didn’t travel.  A number of times people came to us, for dinner and evening holiday parties, for New Year’s Eve festivities, but we stayed home and let them come.  That meant we focused more than some years on our little, happy home.  We cleaned, purged, and polished up a good bit to be ready to welcome people, and when they came, we played host.  I felt holed up.  It was wonderful.  I know I’ve been beating the Wind in the Willows drum lately, but I am reminded of the “Dolce Domum” chapter, where Mole finds his burrow in the snow after living several months on the river, and feels like he has reconnected with a part of himself.  It happens to be Christmas when he does, and so the usual field mice come (without knowing he’d been gone), and they pull together a warm, inviting feast and celebration.  There I go being Moley again.  That scene was magic, and that was kind of my winter break.
It wasn’t a reflective, studious break, which sometimes people advocate in the winter.  I didn’t read ten books or push myself to develop any skill.  I played and communed and socialized and filled my tank with all those warm, fuzzy, cocoa-drinking, be-slippered feelings the Danish call ‘hygge.’ (I love this word.  Not only does it encapsulate the notion of cozy, warm camaraderie we seem to lack in So Cal, it also looks and sounds like ‘hug.’) I was reluctant to leave the cocoon to face this winter quarter, but when I did I came back from break more refreshed than usual, more purposeful, even, than I normally do.  Apparently winter is more a state of mind than a temperature range.  Wishing you all productive changes and peaceful transitions.