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Long, dark tea-time of the hobbyist

I've been reading all the books (well, not all of them, just the ones I happen to have bought upon recommendation by some people, and even then only parts of each when they happen to be in reach and I happen to be waiting for something), and they all tell me that yes, it's normal to feel overwhelmed and not at all like doing anything, especially at times like this. I am speaking, of course, about The Change.

More specifically, the change your hobby undergoes when it no longer becomes good fun, but work. It starts out as a challenge, something exciting and new and interesting to keep your attention and make you feel accomplished and intelligent. You move on from one project to another, perhaps finishing them, perhaps not. You take on more projects, more things to occupy your time, and you enjoy the time you spend on it. It's rewarding, it's relaxing, and completely worth all the money and energy you devote to it. You start to build real skills, and the people around you begin to notice. You want to share your hobby with those you love, and suddenly for Christmas and birthdays they receive the fruits of your labor. Whether or not they like it, generally they encourage your new hobby and thank you politely for thinking of them. Maybe they didn't need a hand-stamped leather figurine of an owl or a duct tape wallet, or three wool hats with duckies, hunting dogs, and bluebirds on them (it being June and all), but it's the thought that counts, right?

After a while, you realize that you aren't being challenged anymore. You need to try something harder, bigger, more involved than anything you've done before. So you start getting involved in projects you would never wear/keep/buy, simply because they're different and look interesting. Surely someone you know will appreciate it. Grandma was just saying last Easter that she could really use a plant stand for her dining room, wasn't she? This one in the shape of a Chinese carp will surely fit into her pink-china-and-lace decor if she puts it in the right spot. China, Chinese....it's practically the same thing. Or a set of acrylic potholders in really bright, cheerful limes and neon oranges, like the ones you made Mom when you were in Boy Scouts, the little loops with the loom. This set will blow that one out of the water. There'll be flaming hearts on it. How is that not the coolest ever? Oh, right -- it's impossible not to be the coolest thing ever.

You load yourself down with projects, certain you can finish all of them before the appointed deadline (usually the holidays). Not giving someone a hand-made gift seems like a cop-out now. What would everyone think if you went out and bought that leather iPod case your sister was hinting at a few weeks ago, instead of giving her something that your time and love and blood and sweat went into? She might feel slighted! She might think you don't appreciate her as much as everyone else! The littlest bit of pressure creeps into the situation. (Note: the concept that she actually might want that iPod case does not actually enter the hobbyist's mind. If it happens to flit in, it is immediately dismissed by the following argument. The many evils of consumerism might possibly be included to further bolster your case.)

But that's no problem; you work great under pressure. You shine under pressure, and besides, it really isn't that much. Just a little unconditional love riding on this, that's all. No biggie. You have two weeks to finish the 50"x27" glass mosaic panel; no problem at all.

And then, something goes wrong.

It starts out small at first. Innocuous. A mere distraction to the task at hand. The green sea glass you ordered is neither green nor glass? Well....that's okay. You can work around that part until the correct order comes in. Then the putty you're using to anchor the pieces begins to degrade in the humidity. Did you not mix it correctly? Is it expired? Does it have to be immediately sealed? Tension mounts. You may find yourself thinking about it driving to and from work, while at your desk, while talking to other people. You may find you can't talk about anything else. You may think that telling other people about it will keep you motivated.

And then, when you're well into the project, the Big Thing hits. The doves spiraling around the fountain in the center are too far to the right, and look more like big, white cicadas. The fountain itself is crooked. Somewhere along the way, you skipped six inches of instruction. Somewhere way, way back.

Perhaps there are several Big Things. Perhaps your kid comes down with a mysterious fever, or you must work extra hours at work, or the weekend trip to the lake you thought was well after your deadline is actually tomorrow, taking three precious days of solid project work out of your timeline.

And suddenly, you can't stand the thing. You don't even want to look at it. People you told ask about it, and you turn green. Maybe you explain the problem, maybe you don't. Maybe you deny its existence at all. Maybe you bundle up the bits and pieces and shove it into the closet, and promise your sister a project as soon as it's done.

And it sits there, lurking in the dark. Lurking in the back of your mind. Waiting.

Maybe you forget about it entirely. Maybe one day, you're working on one of eight other projects and you stumble across the remains and wonder what on earth this was for. Maybe you have stashed and forgotten it so well, you actually use some of the pieces for other projects. Eventually, though, the realization will dawn on you.

Oh. That project. The one that beat you.

If you've let it sit long enough, there might be several. Ones that perhaps someone requested, ones that you weren't really interested in, but were happy to make. You like making things for people, after all. But maybe you didn't like the materials, or the instructions are hard to understand, or there are just other things you're more interested in making and somehow these projects just kind of find their way into the corners of your house, under books and bills and cats and toys, to resurface at an embarrassing moment when you've just begun three other projects new.

Maybe you resolve now and then to finish them all up. Maybe you realize that some are not meant to be, and break them down into their basic compenents to be fodder for other things. Maybe you make lists upon lists upon lists of what you'll do next, what you'll finish before you spend anymore money on this hobby, and clip various strategies to keep yourself motivated. Maybe you'll pay attention to them, or, if you're like me, the lists and strategies will be lost in the same mysterious manner as those unfinished projects.

Regardless, at this point your hobby isn't so fun anymore. There are a number of things you'd like to try, but the mass of other unfinished projects are watching you. You can feel it like a physical force, little bits of yarn or glass or plastic or wood whispering things in your ear when you're trying to sleep, or especially when you pull out the materials for a new project - just one this time, you swear! - from among the unfinished ones, and slink away guiltily.

Now, your hobby holds no joy. All you can think of are the things you need to do. A hat for Bob, a dress for your niece's wedding, a carved cigar box for Grandpa, a new pantry for your wife. You might even try to distract yourself by cleaning, or organizing your space, or helping out with chores you normally wouldn't touch with the poky end of a broom.

And this, my friends, is where I find myself. I want to enjoy knitting, but I can't. There are so many big projects for other people in the way that I am overwhelmed. It isn't that I don't want to do these projects, because I do - just....just not right now. And there are even a lot of things I've started for myself, blankets and teapot cozies and more blankets, and now there's a new one on the way who needs his or her own knitted things, and....and I don't have time.

Maybe it's the fatigue, or the hormones, or the huge list of things to catch up on, or the sock yarn eying me from the bookcase I shoved it into, or the stupid, stupid, wretched and miserable diet the doctor put me on. I don't know. Maybe it's everything. I don't know.

What I do know is that I would rather swallow a handful of prenatal pills than look at the OSSP(2). All I can see is its flaws. All I can see are the color jogs and the place where I tried to duplicate stitch and it looked like crap and I ripped it out in a fit of pique. All I can see are the wonky applied i-cord edgings and the uneven tension, and the snags from Isosceles' kneading when I wasn't paying attention. And the cat hair.

All it needs is two buttons and something done with the bottom hem, that's all. That's all. I don't have to fill in the cream space, I can just thread two thin ribbons through the stitches, one pink and one blue, and tell the recipient to take one out when we know what the baby is, or heck, whichever color she prefers. I could even make little belt loops if I felt really ambitious (which I don't, but I could). The point is, it's SO CLOSE TO DONE.

I just can't look at it right now. And the worst part is, I can't enjoy the dishcloths I'm making either, because all I can think about is the SSP I should be working on instead. You know, the one that's supposed to be nearly done by now, even though the deadline is no longer so pressing because there has been no progress on the recipient's part to actually finalize her divorce and get married to her fiance. She's distracted, which gives me more time, which is as good as it is bad. (Here I go again, thinking that a deadline will make things easier for me instead of more stressful, when all you have to do is look at the OSSP(2) to see that deadlines really don't do all that much besides make me feel bad about myself. I had two perfectly good evenings to get it done before the shower, and while I might not have finished it completely, I'd have gotten super-close. Instead, I watched tv and didn't do anything. I was too overwhelmed to move.)

I'm definitely not making a wedding shawl now. I should really save up for things like a wedding dress, invitations, renting a reception hall, and a cake. You know, that stuff that nobody's going to randomly decide to buy for us. Stuff we may want, come October. (September for some of those. Earlier for others.) The point is, it's another big project and I don't have the heart to do it. Granted, I don't need one, but I'm more concerned about the fact that I don't have the drive. I've wanted to do lace for months. I've wanted to make myself something for even longer.

Alas. Those UFO's (unfinished objects) keep talking to me in my brain, and there isn't room for anything else. Maybe I need a tinfoil hat.