I catch myself in quiet moments of softness, often in the fleeting moments that I’m alone or when I least expect it.
And I recognize, then, how difficult it is for me to be truly soft. Or quiet (because even when my mouth isn’t moving, my brain constantly is). Or delicate, calm, tender.
I used to think I always had to be hard. Tough. Busy. Strong (without budging or giving in). I thought everyone had to like me. I thought I had to do everything right. I thought I had to be punished for mistakes and that I had to try harder.
Being a small business owner who also works a 9-5 and is in a relationship and just bought a house a year ago and All The Things, I often feel like I don’t have the luxury of being soft. I don’t have the time, I have too much to do, and I have a lot of things riding on: being on time, being perfect (or at least good), and keeping up. And all of those things require stamina, focus, and a certain strictness within myself that I often find bleeding over into all the other areas of my life.
Sometimes there are days that go by when I work from home where I don’t realize I haven’t stepped foot outside until dinnertime. There are days that go by where I haven’t turned my working and creating brain off for even a minute until bedtime, and even then its still going.
There is something that I have felt recently, that I can only liken to gratitude - but I think what it actually is, is Sanctuary.
And surrounding this summer solstice, the sanctuary I find comes from several places. First and foremost, it comes in Home. The physicality of a place that I can tend to and find comfort in. It comes in being in a relationship that allows for me to feel healing and vulnerable when I allow it (another struggle for me). And lastly it comes in being proud of my work, a creative work that allows me to not worry constantly about making ends meet. For all of these things I am more than thankful — but most of the time I don’t know the best ways to express my appreciation, and by the time I figure it out the moment has passed and I’m long since back into hustle mode.
In preparation for the quilt show in July that I’m vending at, I’ve been doing only three days a week at my dayjob for the month of June, giving myself two full days of work at home. I’ve been trying my hardest to not do much or any work on weekends so that I can enjoy time with Jonathan or out in the garden (usually both of those things together). On the rare occasion it even allows for a weekend nap or movie in bed.
I’ve been intentionally not working as much (but maybe just as hard) as before. Burnout is real, it is nasty, and it allows no room for softness. It just feels like continually skidding full speed ahead with your foot on the brake pressed down to the floor, 24/7, with sparks trailing behind you.
I never really learned the proper way to cope with the losses, hurts, hardships…and settled simply on getting by, giving in, and moving on as my methods of healing. These are the ways that I always saw around me growing up. These are the ways that rooted in me and seemed fine as an adult. These are the ways I recognize are no longer good enough.
No one ever showed me how to be soft. Most of my friendships and relationships didn’t allow it. Vulnerability always felt like a weakness instead of a triumph.
One of the things I love the most about being a creative small business owner (aside from the feelings of success and accomplishment), is the ability to tap into who I really am, ever-evolving and changing… I thought for a long time that meant I had to be a quilter and only a quilter. That dipping my toes into dyeing was a serious no-no because what if not everyone was on board?! It has taken me five years of dyeing to understand that theres something I love about it so much, so much so that I’m willing to bypass the people pleaser in myself to let dyeing shine in this season of my life. Its okay if not everyone loves it, or if the market is totally oversaturated, or if people copy me, or if it doesn’t all have a deep meaning. I love getting my hands dirty and mixing colors and playing. It might not be where I stay, but for now it feels right. It feels like the best level of commitment that I can give to a practice and an art, and its the best way to communicate the things that inspire me out into the world.
These days quilting feels really challenging, and theres a lot there that I’m not willing to emotionally unpack. I quilted my way through the hardest parts of my life, and the trigger there is still pretty real. I didn’t realize that until fairly recently. Dyeing feels more comfortable…and a little more positive. Practical, if you will. Guarded. It feels easy to do in this new home of ours. It just feels…. easier. And I’m allowing myself that.
I’m trying to get better at allowing myself to have things. Real things that make sense and work well and help me find balance. Sometimes those things are ice cream treats after dinner, which makes all the sense in the world. Sometimes those things are a day off or a few hours in the garden meditatively pulling weeds.
Gardening has become a soft spot to lean into. Time in the sun, digging in the dirt, watching things grow, documenting the progress, accepting failures and celebrating wins. Nearly all of my free time has been spent in the yard, and that feels good. Jonathan has done a lot of the really hard digging but we have both done the planning, planting, tending, watering, weeding, etc. A shared activity that feels so purposeful. We’ve planted mostly perrenials that will (hopefully) come back next year, done a lot of experimenting, and tried to get native plants when possible. He recently built our compost enclosure system, and I can’t wait to get into that dirt next year - its already percolating in there.
When we bought a house and knew we wanted gardens, we both knew it would be a lot of work. But also knew that it was something that would truly bring us joy. We’ve put in a lot of the bones this year, with a lot more work to come. We have lots of edging and extending out of beds to do now that things have grown in a bit and we can see where the lines should really be. We have many more plans. This year we focused on removing any of the previous landscaping that was dead or dying, and put in some basics (a couple of shade gardens, four flower gardens, etc). Next year we can work on the raised beds for the back yard, and a fire pit. A slow and steady sanctuary coming to life….
Sanctuary. That word again.
And yeah, maybe it did take leaving home, spending almost a decade away in a place I had grown attached to, and leaving that place behind to come home again to find a place I could really be Home. Maybe it meant that I didn’t know what I wanted, let alone how to truly get it. Maybe I didn’t think I deserved it. Maybe no one else thought so either..
We made it through the winter with no issues. Spring has been lovely and full of a lot of good dirt and growth. Summer is here, and I know it will feel fleeting, so I’m trying to really grasp it. To leave all of the windows open and be barefoot whenever possible, even when I’m working (especially when I’m working). The changing of the seasons is so discernible here, in the best way. Each one feels like an event and a gift and not just a date on the calendar. I had missed that.
This is the summer of my 42nd year, and my 42nd year so far has had me not taking shit from anyone. I have felt more and more less like dealing with literally anyone and anything outside of my bubble as the year has gone on. My tolerance for anyone else’s crap is very low, and I have stopped apologizing for that. Theres a lot on my plate but I’m learning ways to make it all feel more manageable so that I can have time for other things. Gearing up for a big 3 day in-person show — my first on this coast — while a virus is still ever-present in the public — which really equates to like six months of work — has me feeling all kinds of ways. Nervous, excited…
But I feel sensitive in my bones. Sensitive in the way you understand who your friends really are. Sensitive in the way you realize how you can make things work in ways you didn’t think you could. Sensitive in the way you finally feel like you’ve left your old lives behind.
Sometimes I walk around our house and my eyes get teary because I’m so happy to be here. Right here. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t the complete dream, but it is a piece of the puzzle that feels so good and well earned and so overdue. And I think if I let myself, I’d just sit right down on the floor and have a good cry and sit in the puddle for days. Not out of sadness, but out of pure absolution.
And maybe thats what softness feels like. Like absolution. Forgiveness. Forgiving myself.
And maybe thats why its been so hard, and why it feels so necessary now.