Life in a Time of Pandemic: Diving into Hobbies

Cross stitch of a jar of fireflies with the words Be the light incorporated in the design.
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This one isn’t going to be talking too heavily about the pandemic itself, but I still wanted to tag it as such for those who just want a break from talking/thinking/reading about anything relating to it.

For the rest of you, this is going to be a lot more about crafting and writing and hobbying in general than anything else.  I was inspired to write about this because the university I work for started up a recuring series of stories on our staff/faculty newsletter/newspaper article site about all the hobbies people are picking up, or diving further into, because of the pandemic.

The stay-at-home to keep your exposure risk down mentality has had me fairly confined to my apartment.  Since March, I’ve only really left my apartment for groceries and other essentials, a few doctor and dentist appointments, and one week-long staycation at my in-laws (we all had a two-week quarantine prior to and right after).  It’s meant a lot of time that used to be devoted to things like my daily commute (about 2 hours total per workday) and driving to various social things (easily a recovery of another 2-3 hours each week) are now time I have for other things.

Not all of this time is going to a hobby.  About half an hour of my morning commute time is now devoted to more sleep, for example.  But the new daily routine I’ve worked out for pandemic conditions is helping with my commitments to my hobbies and my ability to follow through with them.

Prior to the pandemic, I took a regional express bus to work.  It’s about 30 minutes on the bus in low-traffic (my morning commute window) and 45-60 minutes in high traffic (my evening commute window, time highly dependent on driver and whether they take the shoulder when allowed).  This time has usually been writing time for me.  One NaNoWriMo, I started doing sprints with others on our online spaces during my commute, then the time between when I got to the office and when I had to start work at eight.  In Pandemic conditions, that has transitioned to being a 20-minute sprint called by chat bots every day at 7am, 7:30am, and 8am.  I usually make one or two of them every day, and there are a few other regular attendees who join me.  This has turned into an amazingly consistent morning writing habit.  I even get up that early on weekends now (though that’s more about consistent sleep times being better overall).  This regularity, started in October as NaNo Prep, has led to a daily writing streak over 130 days long already.  I’m a little amazed at myself.  And even if I’m only making one sprint a day, that’s 20 minutes, and I can rack up a significant amount of words or editing work over the course of a week or a month even with just 20 minutes a day.  It’s been pretty amazing how productive I’ve been so far this year.

My evening recovered commute time hasn’t been devoted to writing as much as my morning recovered commute time.  It’s allowed my partner and I to be a little more intentional with dinner timing.  I have a post-work routine set up where I’ll wash my face and do the other little hygiene things I do at night, and then help him finish up dinner prep.  It’s nice to have that time with him each night sharing a meal and enjoying a little time together.  After that is my time to either hang out with him longer, do a little online socializing, game, or engage in another hobby.  And of course weekends end up involving my hobbies now that out of the house socializing isn’t an option anymore.

So what else have I been getting up to?

Almost all of the hobbies I’ve dived back into or added to my hobby collection are needle crafts.  I’ve enjoyed sewing for years now and I’ve taken some of the recovered time during the pandemic to finish off some works in progress and things from my pending sewing projects pile, as well as starting a few completely new things.  I’ve also started trying my hand at cross-stitch.  I mentioned some of this in a recent post about crafting goals for this February, and I’ve posted about the memory bears project I finished for a friend.

One of the first projects was new flannel pants for me that fit properly, had pockets, and had the just enough to seal around the leg style elastic at the bottom.  I made one pair out of jersey too but the pattern didn’t translate quite as well to the stretchier material.  I’m most proud of this pair of rainbow heart pants.  I pattern matched the pocket and it just looks so lovely.

A pair of flannel pants made from a white fabric with a rainbow pattern of hearts featuring a patch pocket sewn on to match the pattern below it.

The biggest project since March was finishing up the memory bears I’d agreed to make for a friend.  With six of them to do and a decent amount of prep needed on the various fabric pieces, it took a lot of time, but I’m very proud of them.  Since I’ve covered this type of project on the blog before I’m not going to go too in depth about it here, but I’m very proud of the set I completed for her.

I’ve also been working on other little things, like mending that I’ve been putting off, converting a few old pairs of jeans into skirts, and I have some fabric that arrived in the mail this week to make a new button-front blouse for myself.  I’ve been wanting to make more of my own clothes for a while now because I can’t seem to find things that fit properly and are made well these days.  It ends up costing me time, and sometimes the fabric supplies are more expensive than just buying a new shirt, but being able to make the pattern exactly fit me so that it looks good and knowing that the construction and finishing will hold up to the test of time (and are all things I’m capable of fixing and repairing) is worth it.

In a completely different and more decorative direction, I’ve been trying my hand at cross-stitch.  I actually started because I had some old craft kits from my mom (copyright on the directions is from the 1970s).  I made a few of them a couple years ago that were coasters.  Basically, it was cross stitch with yarn, a big plastic needle, and the plastic grid stuff you can find at craft stores.  The last kit I had was crewel work.  It was a bookmark, so a material similar to what cross-stitch uses but with wider warp/weft threads with a picture printed on it.  I followed the directions to make free-hand embroidery stitches that followed the printed picture.  It was a ladybug on a stem with leaves, and it actually came out quite nicely.

It was really nice to get a physical thing out of it, so when I was spending down a gift card to a craft store, I included some cross-stitch kits.  This had mixed results.  The first two, which were very cheap in their defense, didn’t have enough embroidery floss included in the right colors.  I had some super close embroidery floss (mine was glossy while the kit came with matte, but the color was almost exact) so I was able to finish my first kit, which was a little baby dragon.

The next kit looked like it might have done a little better, but I also planned for what to do if I ran out of thread, so I was able to make an adaptation to the pattern to use more of colors I had and less of the color I ran out of.  This one is a Unicorn, and I’m quiet proud of my on the fly adaptation of it to accommodate the lack of thread I needed.  I’m gifting this one to my niece for her birthday.

The third kit was a much better kit (it was also more expensive).  It came with an actual hoop and more than enough of every thread I needed.  I even still have extra thread.  This one took longer, mostly because it was bigger and the stitch counting was a bit more complicated with all the gaps.  I’m pretty sure I did something slightly out of alignment with the pattern, but no one is likely to be able to tell, so it’s fine.  It was a nice project to work on while chatting with friends online or while watching a twitch stream or anything else that struck my fancy.  I also just love the message of this one, it resonates with me.

Cross stitch of a jar of fireflies with the words Be the light incorporated in the design.

I have a fourth kit from that initial order, which is a paisley cat design.  I’m looking forward to that one and may even try to incorporate it into something bigger like a throw pillow.  Or maybe it will just be another think I hang on my wall.  We’ll see.  Before I get back to that I’m trying to finish up the February sewing project goals.

I’ve completed one skirt and I’m down to the seam finishing on the second skirt.  After that I’m starting on the mockup of the shirt, which will then be recreated from both the new material I have on order and the material from a shirt that matches one of the pairs of jeans I’ve converting into a skirt.  I’m hoping the shirt turns out well in mockup, because then I can take the mockup apart and use it as a definitive pattern for a shirt that fits me the way I want.  Having a pattern made out of muslin will hold up better than one made out of pattern paper, which is only slightly more durable than tissue paper for those unfamiliar with it.

So that’s where my crafting and hobbying has been since March.  There’s been an incredible amount of writing, and a decent amount of sewing and other needle craft creation happening.  It’s another one of the silver linings that’s come out of the pandemic for me.  I’m devoting more time to the things that make me happy and give me joy and a sense of accomplishment.  I’m hoping I can carry some of these things (like the regular sleeping schedule) with me after pandemic conditions are over and make them part of my normal from now on.

If you’ve taken up (or dived deeper into) any new hobbies lately, I’d love to hear about them.

February Fiber Arts

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For those of you who have been around for a while, you may have noticed my interest in making and crafting in addition to writing.  This is mostly centered around sewing related crafts at the moment (altering or adapting clothes, sewing in general, and recently cross-stitch).  One of the groups I belong to online is doing a low-key February creative crafting challenge.  Basically, it’s just us picking a goal for the month and sharing our progress and encouraging each other.  Nothing fancy.

My goal for this is to finish three in-progress items and at least start (hopefully finish) a fourth project.  I’ve been working on my third every cross-stitch project, and I’d like to get that finished this month.  I have two pairs of my mother’s old fancy jeans (by which I mean in pretty colors with embellishments) that I’m turning into a couple skirts for me.  Completing those two conversions is on my list.  And I have a shirt that goes with one of those pairs of jeans that I want to use to make a shirt in my size probably a fairly simple collared shirt style but I don’t know if I’m going to work from a pattern I have or try to create a pattern from a shirt I own that I really like the cut and fit of.

So that’s my Fiber Arts goal for February.  I’ll probably share an update about what progress I made and some pictures in my post on March 5.  In the meantime, have some pictures of my first two cross-stitch projects and the starting materials for the skirts and shirt.

I hope you’re all finding ways to keep creative this year.

Finding Creative Motivation Amidst Stress: 4 Things to Consider

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It’s a stressful time for almost everyone right now.  I’m not going to get into the why or even what’s specifically causing me stress right now, but I did want to talk about some of the strategies I’ve been using to retain my motivation to write during these stressful times.

I’ll be talking about a few strategies today:

  1. Make sure you’re meeting basics needs first.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up about things outside your control.
  3. Refilling your creative well. (Idea courtesy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.)
  4. Find (or engage with) your community.

I wanted to start with Making sure you’re meeting basic needs because it’s something that folks often forget to consider when thinking about their creative side and/or their hobbies.  We don’t always remember that if we aren’t meeting basic needs it’s going to be that much harder to try to be creative or productive outside of that.

What do I mean by basic needs?

There’s the oft mentioned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the first two levels of which cover most of what I mean by this.  The primary being food, water, shelter, and other basic necessities of life.  This includes things like financial security, general safety, and health and wellness.  In the current world situation, this may be something that you’re struggling with that is new or different.  Suddenly being without a job may mean you have a lot more time you could spend writing or being creative, but it may also come with a massive amount of financial insecurity and stress.  Having a job right now may come with unique and different job related stress, whether that’s worry for your health (if you are public facing) or trying to navigate doing your work remotely now.

Meeting these basic needs is important.  Your general and overall wellbeing can be effected if any of these needs are being met, and that’s going to affect how much time and energy you have to devote to being creative.  How you meet these basic needs may be different for everyone.  We all have different thresholds for tolerating stress or lack in these areas.  But if you find yourself lacking the motivation and energy to be creative, look at these basic needs and see if something is missing.  If so, how can you shore that up?

That leads me into my second thing to consider.  What is outside your control?

If meeting these basic needs is outside your control, don’t further stress yourself by being negative about your lack of ability to be creative right now.  If you’ve lost a job and are unable to find a new one (a situation many find themselves in right now) that’s largely outside your control.  Do what you need to do to keep looking for that next job, but don’t stress the fact that this is taking away from other aspects of your life.  That’s normal.

This, again, will look differently for many people.  You may still be working, but have additional stress from your new work situation.  This can be just as detrimental to your ability to be creative.  Don’t add extra stress berating yourself for not doing enough to be creative.

Basically, this point boils down to “be kind to yourself.”  Be understanding about where you are and what’s going on in the world and cut yourself some slack when you need it.

Full disclosure: This part is something I’m still working on.  I’ve had a few really bad weeks recently where I wasn’t writing and wasn’t doing anything to refill my creative well, and was seeing extra stress at work and in life, and I was getting on my own case about not writing and not spending time on my creative endeavors.  This was not helpful.  It only added to my spiraling stress levels.  It took a pretty epic stress episode for me to realize that I wasn’t taking this into account.

So be kind to yourself, be understanding of yourself, and look at the why.  If you can identify the why, then maybe you can address it in some way to get back that creative motivation.

Refilling your creative well.

As I mentioned, this idea (and possibly this exact phrasing) is something I encountered during my attempt to go through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with a few of my writer friends.  We all had varying and mixed results.  I had some very strong reactions to the way she presented material in a few of the chapters and ultimately stopped reading when one chapter just rubbed me entirely the wrong way.  But all that aside, this idea has been very helpful.

What this means, is to remember to consume the things that give you creative energy.  This may mean taking more walks to be out in nature.  This may mean spending time with art of some description.  It may mean spending time with the creatives in your life that you admire.  For me, this is about consuming stories.  Reading is the best way for me to do this, but watching a show or movie, attending a play, or playing a story-based video game can give me the same creative well-filling effect.

This doesn’t necessarily lead to direct inspiration.  It’s more that seeing how others are telling stories activates the right parts of my mind to think about and consider how I tell my own stories.  At least that’s how it works for me.  Sometimes the way an author does a certain thing (like werewolves, or time distortion, or non-linear storytelling) will give me a direct idea for how to write or rework something I’m working on, but it’s not always that simple and directly.  It mostly manifests in my being noticeably more productive and energized around my writing when I’m reading regularly.

Engaging with others who are pursuing similar creative goals also helps me.  If I’m writing, talking to other writers about my story, their story, or anything related, can help refill my creative well.  If I’m working on sewing projects, talking to my friends who sew can help me find inspiration and energy to work on my projects.  And that leads to my next point.

Find (or engage with) your community.

I’m very lucky to live in an area with a very active NaNoWriMo community.  Many of the regulars in this group have become my personal friend group over the years.  I also recently discovered the CosTube community (that’s the costuming community on YouTube) and have plugged in with a few newly created (or newly discovered) Discord communities relating to that.  So that’s the community experience I’m going to be talking about, but yours might look different.  Mine has too over the years.  This could be just your normal social group.  This could be your roleplaying group.  This could be people you only know on the internet or people you see in person all the time.

Connecting with your community may be harder than normal right now, but I would encourage you to find way to reach out and make this work for yourself.  I’ve had reasonably good luck with digital solutions in this area, but I’m also an early millennial who grew up with above average technology access, so I’m a bit more plugged in and willing to engage over the internet than the average person my age or older.

To be clear, I don’t mean social media, or at least not just social media.  I’m using a variety of tools depending on the group: Slack, Discord, Zoom, online forums, group text messages, real phone calls, etc.

For my writing group, I’ve found that my natural limit of focus for an online meet up is about two hours.  So I’ve been planning those accordingly.  I used to do an in-person writing meet up every Sunday for three hours.  I transitioned it to online and recently cut it back to two hours instead of three, because I wasn’t able to sustain it for the extra hour anymore.

Finding the CosTube community has reinvigorated my interest in sewing generally, and making my own clothes and costumes specifically.  I’ve had several projects hanging out in my WIP (works in progress) pile for months or years that I’ve actually made some progress on recently.  My engagement there has been combination of watching YouTube videos and seeing pictures others are posting (which arguably is part of my well refilling) and engaging directly on Discord with other sewing and crafting enthusiasts I came into contact during a recent CosTube event.

Having other people to talk to about your project or ask advise or questions can be incredibly powerful.  Heck, just being in the same “space” with someone while working can be incredibly motivating.  That’s the general idea behind the writing meet ups, surrounding myself with others who are also writing, and that extended a bit into my sewing space as one of the Discord servers I joined dose “sewing sprints” which are based on the popular NaNoWriMo writing sprints.  Basically it’s just time spent together on the Discord while working on your sewing project.

This community engagement can be really powerful, but do be careful that it doesn’t become competitive (which can be a turn off for many) or toxic in any way.  Things can be toxic because the people aren’t kind or become condescending.  A group of people that look down on you for being a beginner isn’t going to help you improve any.  There is also such a thing as toxic positivity, though it can be much harder to spot.  Find a community space that is about the community and helping and uplifting the whole group, not one that devolves into competitions or cults of personality where certain members are just there for the attention.

Do what works for you.

Ultimately, you’ll have to find what works best for you, but these are a few things I find helpful that I wanted to share to help you along the way.  If you have other ideas or suggestions to share related to this, I’d love to hear them.  Where do you find your writing community?  How do you refill your creative well?  How do you keep the motivation going?

I hope you’re all able to find and keep your creative motivation no matter what’s going on in the world around you, but either way go out and be kind to yourself and others along the way.

Making in All Its Variety

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So I recently attended a virtual event called CoCoVid, which was a quite amazing way to be introduced to the world of CosTube, which is apparently what they call the subsection of YouTube dedicated to costume creation.  If you are at all interested in cosplay or historical costuming, I would recommend a quick Google for either of those two things, and wish you a fun adventure falling down that rabbit hole.

A comment someone made on a Discord server I joined as a consequence of that experience got me thinking about “making” and what it means.  Someone mentioned being a writer but that not being a “craft.”  My argument was that they don’t say “practicing your craft” about writing for no reason.  (I’m not going to get into how craft/crafting and make/making are connected, as it’s intuitive to me.)

I ascribe to the definition of making that I’ve heard Adam Savage use (probably on a pod cast or a Tested video on YouTube, possibly both).  I’m paraphrasing, but the basic gist of it is that if you start with nothing but an idea and you then create a thing (a dress, an object, a book, a computer program) then you are a maker, because you made a thing that didn’t exist before.

I really love this way of thinking about making.

I am a maker.

I write stories and create characters, worlds, and books from nothing at all.

I use cardboard, scissors, tape, and whatever other supplies I can get a hold of to fashion custom storage solutions or whatever else strikes my fancy.

I take ingredients and the memory of a dish and I play around until I’ve made that delicious stir-fry I used to get back in college.

I fiddle around on a computer to get a design settled and then use the laser cutter at the university I work for to make the fanciest of fancy popsicle sticks with writing on them.

I follow recipes and adapt them and make the most amazing cheesecakes in cake, pie, and cupcake forms.

I take fabric and thread (and often follow instructions and patterns) and I create a dress, or a shirt, or a reusable mask.

There’s so much joy in creation, and I get that joy no matter what kind of creating I’m doing.  Whether you think of yourself as a maker or not, if you create things, go forth and create.  If that creation gives you joy, I hope you’ll share it as much as possible.  Being able to take joy in the things you do and share that joy is one of the best things in the world.

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

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Today is the very last day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  I wrote 67,831 words in 29 days, passing the 50,000 word mark (with 5,0005 words at time of validation) on November 22, 2018.  I’m spending most of today continuing to write my story in the hopes that I can reach “The End” before midnight.

It’s been a turbulent November this year.  I’m part of the Municipal Liaison team for my area (ML is a fancy term for an unpaid volunteer).  There are three of us.  The region is active enough that it needs three of us.  Due to work demanding time, energy, and overtime, for one co-ML and the other ending up sick not once but twice during November, I was a solo act for possibly half the month.  I know this was no fault of theirs, and I love them both dearly for doing as much as they did while overwhelmed with work/illness.  It just meant more time being an ML and slightly less time for writing. Continue reading

Art Culture

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On my recent vacation, we spent a couple days in Asheville, NC, which is one of the centers of art culture in the state.  I just wanted to take a few moments to appreciate that about Asheville, and talk more generally about what I mean by art culture, and how I find it wherever I go.

First, what do I mean by art culture?

This isn’t just an artsy way to say “art and culture” or a trendy phrase I picked up somewhere.  To me, art culture, is a way of life, a way of being, and a way of being in community with others.  Art, as I’m using it here, is a very broad term that encompasses almost any creative endeavor.  That can be the art of cooking, the art of weaving, the art of book binding, the art of painting, the art of writing, the art of making, the art of architecture, and anything and everything in between.

So what I mean by art culture, is a person, place, or community, that embraces that definition of art and the support of art and everything that comes along with it.  This might mean having accessible studio space in a community, a university providing free materials for students to use in their maker spaces, a local community willing to pay artists for their work with an understanding of how time intensive it is to make, or a local business that encourages art related groups to come and meet there even if it doesn’t lead to extra revenue for them.

Asheville is a great example of the broad definition of art culture. Continue reading