Don’t Stint—Do Your Stint!

When can a little mean a lot? When can doing a tiny bit add up to a ton?

When the tiny bit you do is done regularly, every day.

When you do your stint.

Stint is a funny word. As a verb, “stint” means to be sparing or frugal, to use or give something in limited amounts.

As a noun, it means an allotted time spent at a task. This is the stint I’m talking about!

In my world what it means is that a little time devoted to a task each day—a daily stint—adds up to a satisfying sense of accomplishment.

I’m a big believer in stints. I have to be because, left to my own devices, my life would prove the principle that a body at rest stays at rest.

Inertia would rule.

And because my days are unstructured by outside work, I often don’t feel any pressure to begin a project—I always feel like I’ll get to something soon. But . . . I don’t.

I love to be productive but I often find it difficult. I find myself sitting and reading mindless novels; they’re engaging but the literary equivalent of junk food. I find myself sitting and playing endless games of Words with Friends. And sitting and adding ideas of cool projects to Pinterest, ogling other people’s creations instead of making my own.

Time just evaporates when I’m doing these things . . . and then I am disgusted with myself at the end of the day.

So, I’ve identified my stints, my allotted time I say I will spend on a task each day, the time I will commit to spending on the things I know I want to do!

For me, a list-maker, driven by this need to feel productive but often victim to inertia as well as overwhelmed by wanting to do so many different things, having a list of daily stints works wonders:

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See those little black sideway arrows, next to the words “today”? Those are stints–when I check them off for today, they get scheduled automatically for tomorrow

My little list app on my phone is always ready, to guide me and remind me. The daily stints sit there, along with any other errands or appointments, and I can check off each item as I go. When I check off one of the stints, it automatically pops up again, for the next day.

For my stints, I set myself a minimum—and there’s no law against doing more! For example, I often do more than 10 fabric yoyos a day or spend longer than the allotted time on weaving. It’s just a matter of getting started—a body in motion stays in motion.

There’s also no law that everything gets done every day. I rarely exercise every single day but I usually do more than 30 minutes when I do, so having the stint in my mind keeps me on track.

And during candy season or on days when I need to shop and run errands, all bets are off. I might just pick one or two of the items and be content with those. My app lets me “put off” items for a day or more, with no scolding or penalty.

I find that, for me, spelling out a specific amount of time I will spend on a task, or a desired outcome I want to achieve each day, makes it seem manageable to me.

For instance, when I wrote about my making of fabric yoyos recently, I told you that I figure I need over 1300 of them to make a coverlet. If I sit around and think about 1300 yoyos, it is all too easy to pick up my phone and lose myself in Words with Friends.

But, if I say I will make 10 yoyos? Easy!

And guess what? It works! I started doing the yoyo stint a couple of weeks before I did the recent post asking you to guess how many yoyos I had done. At the time of that accounting, December 7, I had made 400 yoyos, and it had taken me about 2 years of plodding along.

Since then, I’ve done over 200 more, in about 3 weeks! And it’s been utterly painless. I’ve learned that it takes me about an hour to make 10-12 yoyos and it’s an hour, late in the afternoon, when I can justify sitting in front of the fire, with a drink, to relax and sew.

Thirty minutes of exercise? I can handle 30 minutes of anything! No big deal! Thirty minutes of weaving? That means 5 or 6 more inches on my current project and, as long as I’m sitting there, I think I’ll do more . . .

This works for me.

How do you handle finding motivation to get started and make progress, when there’s no outside pressure? Are you a self-starter, who jumps out of bed, excited to pick up your current projects? Or do you need to find strategies to help you get going?

Do you do any stints?

Remember Me, When This You See

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Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,

Say that health and wealth have missed me,

Say I’m growing old, but add,

Jenny kissed me.

–James Henry Leigh Hunt

How would you have people remember you, when you’re gone? What do you want them to know, to focus on, in their memories?

The sweet poem at the top of the post came to mind while I was writing, a few months ago, about Harriett and the linen cloth she decorated with her handwork.

The man speaking the poem asserts that, whatever else his life held, it was leavened, and defined, by a kiss from Jenny. This attention, this moment, was an essential part of his being and should be remembered as a key to who he was.

Similarly, the tag sewn to the piece of vintage linen I came across said simply, “Made by Harriett.” That’s all I know about Harriett. I only know her through this remnant of her life. I know she was a maker and someone, maybe her, was proud enough to remark on it in this semi-permanent way.

I know Harriett was creative, skilled, and striving to become better at her work. I have tangible evidence of this and, across the years, I admire this part of the person she was.

So, all this gets me thinking—how do I want to be known and remembered? Do you ever think about such things?

I don’t have kids so I won’t be remembered through them. I imagine even people with children might want to be remembered as more than “the parents of X” and remembered by more people than their direct descendants.

It would be good to be remembered as a caring and fun daughter, a loving and fun wife. It would be nice to be remembered as a kind person or a smart person but those impressions are subjective and ephemeral. Who is going to remember, in 100 years, that I was fun or kind to animals or had a Ph.D.? And besides, those things hardly set me apart or make my life notable. I bet most of us could make similar claims!

But I’ve made things no one else has made.

How pleased I would be if, generations from now, someone held a quilt I made, a scarf I wove, a piece of embroidery I stitched and admired it. If they thought that I was creative, skilled, and striving to become better at my work. If they knew, “Kerry made this.”

So, with apologies to the poet:

Say my life was happy, glad,

Built my life and wouldn’t trade this.

Say I lived a lot, but add,

Kerry made this.

Why Do We Do The Things We Do?

WHY?What motivates you? Why do you do the things you do? Why do you make the things you make?

So many of us make things. We weave, we bake, we quilt, we “craft,” we garden, we sew, we work in wood, paper, metals, fibers, clay. And, of course, we write.

But why do we pick one or two of these expressive outlets instead of others?

What draws me to fibers and textiles and you to your medium? How come one thing turns you on but might leave me kind of cold?

I’ve been pondering the reasons I make the things I make.

I like to be creative. I like to be productive. I like to understand how things work. I like to add something lovely to my world.

Okay, well, all of those things might apply to any creative outlet. But they don’t give me any special insight to my own interests.

Three other elements that draw me to a specific craft or creative activity seem to be the following:

I like to solve problems. I really like my creating to have an intellectual component. I want my brain to be engaged. If someone says, “Oh, this craft is great—it’s mindless,” I’m unlikely to be impressed. So, I seem to be drawn to crafts that have an analytical component and present problems to be wrangled with.

I like the math and geometry involved in planning and piecing a complicated quilt design. I like the need to really ponder the exact sequence of steps to be followed in a difficult jewelry design. I am intrigued by, and still overwhelmed, by the endless nuances of weaving structure.

They things make my brain hurt. I guess I love that.

I also like to make things that will last. I don’t cook at all but I like to bake and make candy very much. I think it’s because, first, baking is rules-based (and I love rules), whereas cooking is much more improvisational. But, more than that, baked goods and candy might stay around for a day or two while cooking gets gobbled up in 20 minutes. The idea of spending a lot of time and energy on a dinner that is just . . . gone depresses me.

I make things of metal and stones and fabrics that are more likely to stand the test of time. Those monks who make the sand art, knowing it is evanescent, doing it partly because it won’t last? I admire it but could never, never do it. Same with the people who build fabulous sand or ice sculptures—their art is of the moment. I want mine to be of many moments.

I like old, handmade things because they lead me to think of the humans behind them and I guess I hope that someday someone will run their hands over something I’ve made and think of the person who made it. There are vital human connections to be made as a result of our creative output.

Taking this a step further, I realize that, in addition to hoping that my art will connect me with people who come after me, I like creative outlets that connect me with human beings who came before me.

When I taught college, my academic discipline was rhetoric and public address—the stuff of human communication and persuasion and expression, and just that which Aristotle taught his students in Greece, in the 5th century BCE.

I can remember saying to my students, “Think how exciting this is! We’re gathered in a classroom, discussing the same topics and the same problems that thinkers have been discussing for 2500 years. We’re here together, not looking for one right answer, but exploring what it means to be human, just as they were!”

As you might expect, I got a lot of blank looks from this. But I always saw a few sparks of understanding, too.

For some of us, the thrill in making comes from the thrill of knowing that humans make—it’s a large part of what we do and what we are. And to be making in the same manner, building on and continuing the skills developed through the ages—for me, that’s heady stuff!

I love reading about the history of craft—how women wove as far back as the Paleolithic era, how exquisite jewelry was crafted without specialized tools, how tiny, ornate stitches were done in candlelight. I love the practical concerns that led humans to develop these skills and, more, the ways in which these art forms were used symbolically.

I love the connection I feel to people, women, of so long ago. So different, so much the same.

The writing I do fills these needs as well:

The problem-solving—Writing is never mindless. To write is to wrangle with difficulties. How do I express myself clearly? How do I draw the reader in? What is worth saying, how best to say it?

The connection to the past and to the future— All of us who write, not with the idea of the next Great Novel or renown, but just for the pleasure of writing and communicating, are carrying on a great tradition. We’re the Samuel Pepyses of the future, documenting and providing insight to daily life in the early 21st century, reflecting what it means to be human here and now.

In an era when people don’t write personal letters much anymore, our blogs become a place to convey the minutiae, the worries, the thrills, the little things that make up our lives. And, when I put words down in my blog and hit “publish,” my words, and any knowledge and insight I impart, become more likely to carry on. My thoughts and my way of seeing things, might, just might, outlast me.

I’ve learned in my blogging that these wordy, contemplative posts are not popular. That’s okay—while I work hard to keep my writing reader-centered, I’ve also come to realize that sometimes, as with all my making, I need to please myself. And, as was true with my students, I am thrilled to get the occasional sparks of understanding that reassure me that I’m not alone!

If you’ve read this far, have you considered what draws you to the creative choices you’ve made? I’m still working through my thoughts on this and would love to hear from you—why are you drawn to your particular art or craft or expressive outlet? Any of the reasons I’ve mentioned? Or ones I’ve missed?

The Human Touch

Quilt-making, artisan chocolate, metal smithing, garage sales, vintage linens, ironing, folk music . . . what do these things have in common?

They’re a few of my interests but, because I am known to over-think things, I’ve always looked for a theme that connects them and that would give me insight to what makes me, well, me.

Then I read a phrase in a novel that gave me a starting place. The character receives a gift and reflects that it has that “loving-hands-at-home look.” The phrase “loving hands at home” was used as if it was a well-worn term but I had never heard it before.

So, I looked it up! I didn’t find anything definitive but learned that it’s a phrase used to talk about something that is obviously handmade by someone with a love of making. And, it became clear that the phrase is generally used in a disparaging way, to imply that the hand-maker might mean well but that they have more love than skill.

As I thought about it, though, I realized this was the connection among the activities and interests that have motivated me for much of my life, and I think they motivate many others as well. We are humans and we are drawn to that which is made by human hands. We appreciate the exceptional and the talented but also see the value in anything handmade, even if it is inexpert or awkward, because it reflects a desire to do something for oneself, to create, to participate.

Click, click, click . . . the seemingly unrelated interests in my life fell into place. All those things I’ve made and crafts I’ve dabbled in. All those exhibits of folk art I’ve sought out. All those items I pick up at flea markets and garage sales. All that music that moves me. They’re essentially the products of loving hands at home, not made by professionals, or mass-produced. They have the imprint of an individual human being on them. That human being might be me or you, or someone long gone, but the “hands at home” speak to me.

So, this blog is initiated to celebrate the hands at home. You won’t find me using that phase in the condescending way it is often used—I really do love those hands at home! If you do, too, I hope you’ll come back often and participate in the discussion!