Friday, January 14, 2011


It’s always a little embarrassing to admit one’s shortcoming and as a teacher you’re honed not to show too much vulnerability; on the other hand, sometimes a thorough evaluation of one’s weaknesses brings epiphanies, or at the least, insight. For me I have spent many hours making jewelry, and in the process spent many hours reflecting on the passion--bordering obsession--I’ve had with this craft. I’m a project person. I like to set out a challenge and then tackle it for all I’m worth. Making jewelry is a satisfying activity for a project oriented person like me, but at some point things went awry; I’d think about design as I drifted off to sleep. I’d wake up in the middle of the night tackling structure problems and how to fit pieces together. At times I’d wake up early to work on jewelry before going to work, and anyone who knows me, knows I am not a morning person. I set a pattern of leaving work at the soonest opportunity and skipped any activities that might divert me from getting home to my craft. I stopped going to the gym, and I resented any time I’d have to stop to pick up groceries. I take my jewelry kit with me everywhere I went. I had to ask myself, “why?” The hours I’ve spent hunched over my work bench were hours I’ve spent asking myself, “Why do I have to do this?” I think I’ve known all along. It’s only now, with a week of snow days to satiate my passion that I’m finally able and willing to reflect. Hopefully, I’ve turned the corner on the obsession and can level it back to being a passion.

In June I lost my younger brother, George. I took my jewelry kit back to the Northwest knowing it would help me pass the hours as I had planned an extended stay with family. Here is where my passion turned to an obsession. The jewelry kit became my place of comfort. It was my home, a place I could surround myself with my belongings, where I could create a familiar setting. When I unfurled my black leather faux work cloth, I had a sense of control and destiny, and a diversion. I created pieces in frenzy resenting anything that got in my way, not that anyone would know, but I knew. Sometimes a design needs to sit, as one ponders the pattern and makes adjustments until it seems right and the piece comes together. I couldn’t wait. I had to see it all come together--NOW!--despite my sense of dissatisfaction. And I couldn’t go back to make adjustments…I had to move forward, on to the next design. I seemed to be in a race, but no one else was running with me or against me. It was me against myself.

When I returned home in August after being gone for several weeks it took me awhile to unpack. I had a small kit with jewelry fixtures and a few left over chain links from George’s biker chain wrapped in a plastic bag left on the floor…next to the a pile of miscellaneous items set out to go to the Goodwill. I knew within hours that my husband had mistakenly grab my kit and packed it off to the Goodwill, but by the time I called in to the Goodwill it had already been sold. I sobbed uncontrollably. I can’t remember the last time I cried that hard. I’m not sure I even wept like that at George’s passing, but I knew the two were connected. Irretrievably lost. Gone. Out of my control and beyond my grasp. I think I knew that as I made each piece of jewelry I was trying to capture something, control the universe in some small way, to bring something into existence that was always just out of my grasp. And no matter whether or not I liked what I had made there was something incomplete about each piece.

I’ve had five days off work because of a snow storm. Snow where I live in NC turns quickly to ice and basically shuts everything down, and I was perfectly content to wait it out at my crafts table. For the first time I could revisit a piece. I could set aside a design and come back to it at a later time. I could start a project and tell myself, “I’ll get to that tomorrow,” or I planned it in stages not knowing if I’d have another day to work on it or not. It made me wonder what was different about this week compared to my week of winter break.

My winter break was bleak and depressing. I didn’t go anywhere or have anyone come visit. I didn’t put up a tree or send out cards. Each day was filled with anxiety as I ticked off the days knowing there would not be enough time to get my projects done. And the holidays passed and I was relieved. The new year came and I breathed a sigh of relief. My older brothers posted on Facebook how glad they were to be out of 2010 and into 2011 and I realized we had all passed a marker. We are only half-way through our first year of mourning, but we are past the first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas without our beloved brother. As hard as it was we could finally say good-bye to the old year and its grief and its sadness. I also said good-bye to the illusion that I was ever in control or that I could force each day into existence because of the projects I had to complete. I said good-bye to the overpowering sense of my mortality that hurried me on each day to accomplish something, to finish each project as if there was no tomorrow.

And so I start the new year with new jewelry. Pieces I like, because I have taken the time to work and rework them to my satisfaction. My obsession has calmed itself to a comfortable level of passion. My grieving is not complete, but using my craft to supplant the grieving process, I hope, is over. I will grieve and I will make jewelry, it’s just now they won’t be one and the same.