Visible Mending and Visibly Mending

Recently Months ago, I fixed my favourite jeans. They’re 18-ish years old and were getting so threadbare that for a while I was one of those fashionable women who sport jeans with rips in all the right places. When the rips began migrating north, however, fashionable began to verge on risqué, and I knew I had no choice but to toss the jeans or fix them.

So, I took a long length of denim I had previously harvested from a child’s pair of jeans—ones that were too worn to send to Goodwill—consulted a tutorial (and my 20-year-old son’s girlfriend who was visiting for the weekend), inserted the fabric into the leg of my jeans, and pinned it in place. Then I hunted down a box of craft supplies and chose a matching colour of cotton embroidery thread, so the stitches that would need to run the entire length of my thighs would be fittingly quiet.

I cut a long length of floss from the skein, and as I separated it into two 3-strand lengths, the action whisked me back thirty-five years to when I sat on the burnt-orange living room carpet of my parents’ house, my back against the red chair, my teenage self attempting to disappear in the small, meditative Xs of cross stitch.

It’s safe to say my Dutch mother—who sat her four-year-old daughter down with a square of aida and a needle threaded with embroidery floss—would be horrified by my pants. She would be horrified by the fact that I wore them for months a year or two as they progressively became more and more fashionable slovenly, but she would be equally horrified by their current post-mended state.

You see, my mother—now 88 years old—grew up in a time when you did not advertise your mending. If your clothing had rips, rents, holes, or frayed bits, you quietly went about the business of fixing things. Mending was necessary and industrious work, and there was pride in doing the job well, so well, in fact, that the broken parts would be invisible.

So, here, dear reader, is where this post goes sideways. It’s where instead of doing the normal and expected thing—presenting a tutorial for visible mending—I follow a completely different thread:

On the morning of the summer day that I finally mended my pants, I spent hours sitting at the kitchen table with my son’s English-major girlfriend, discussing a letter I was writing to the editor of my local newspaper. My son’s girlfriend had recently completed a course titled Writing for Social Change and I was unashamedly picking her brain.

How do we effect change? I asked her. I was burning with the need to respond to a letter in the newspaper that argued Canadians needn’t bother even trying to address climate change because the collective carbon footprint of our small population is too low to matter.

Do facts work? I asked her. What about shame and blame? How about appealing to self-esteem? What about—and here I peered once again at the letter I was composing on my computer—sarcasm and satire?

After hours of agonizing over every word and comma, I hit send.

And then, dear reader, I was blindsided by a wave of anxiety, sickened by panic that was compounded with a side-serving of shame: my son’s completely normal and well-adjusted girlfriend saw my distress.

Take a walk, she instructed.

And I did: I left the house, walked along the lake, tried to breathe, tried to tell myself that everything—the letter to the editor, the outing of my apparent mental illness to my son’s girlfriend, the upcoming federal election*, the impending loss of civilization due to catastrophic climate change, the not-knowing what to cook for supper—would be okay. But it wasn’t until later in the day, when I threaded my needle with embroidery floss and ran those stitches up and down, up and down, up and down that the anxiety finally eased up.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that things have been quiet around here. I have lots of good excuses, but it all boils down to the fact that I have been allowing anxiety to win.

Two days after sending my letter to the editor, I got a response: Yes, this is interesting and we’d like to publish it, but it’s too long. Can you get rid of 100 words?

So, I shaved 100 words and made the piece tight and focused, but instead of sending it back, I sent an apology. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, I said. But I would like to withdraw this piece. I wrote in anger and frustration, and this will only make things worse.

The editor wrote back with unexpected kindness: He said he understood, said I was a good writer, said if I ever wanted to write another letter, he’d gladly publish it, said—if it made me feel better—that another person had stepped up and written a strong rebuttal to the original writer.

And, dear reader, it felt like such a reprieve—until, you know, it didn’t.

This kind of fear is hard.

Speaking—sending words out into a world that has become unbearably ugly and polarized—has gotten me into trouble over these last few years. It got me thrown under the bus by the PTO. It isolated me. It sent me to therapy.

And yet, if you’re the type of person who sees all the threads of where the world has been and where it is headed—if you’re the type of person who doesn’t see mending as mere stitches in fabric, but instead sees mending as unpaid labour, mending as rebellion, mending as art, mending as care-taking, mending as privilege, mending as resilience, mending as environmental stewardship, mending as lowering GDP, and mending (or the lack of mending) as the perfect metaphor for the unravelling of our world—then keeping silent also takes a toll.

Several months ago, I explained this conundrum to my 23-year-old daughter. I told her that not speaking left me feeling sick with anxiety, but that when I drummed up the courage to speak, worry over the fallout that might arise from speaking left me feeling sick with anxiety.

She said, Better to speak, then.

My mother—if she were aware of this blog—would tell me not to speak. Or at least, she would tell me not to speak about weakness; she would advise me to keep all my rips, rents, holes, and frayed bits invisible.

But I can’t help but think that part of the reason the world is in the state it’s in is precisely because we have fooled ourselves into thinking invisibility means non-existence. We have pushed all the broken bits out of sight, shifted the consequences, and taken advantage of those who don’t have the power—or the ability—to speak. I think if we are to have any hope of fixing this world, we have to make all of our brokenness—and our mending—visible.


*On October 21st, Canada elected a minority Liberal government. This means Justin Trudeau is still the prime minister, but he will have to work with other parties to get things done.

14 thoughts on “Visible Mending and Visibly Mending

  1. Similarly afflicted blogger stands and cheers: Bravissima! Encore! The difference between us, Marian, is that you have so much more to say. Please, for me, for you, and for our children, send another letter to your paper.

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    1. Thank you, Lynda! I have to tell you that were it not for your IG post of a few days ago, in which I told you about that conversation with my daughter—which you said you found so valuable—this post would never have made it out of my drafts folder. Your words (whether on your blog or on IG) always, always resonate with me and make me feel just a little less alone and a little less crazy, so please—you need to keep writing too.

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  2. I enjoyed reading your post, Marian! It is especially great to see how embroidery floss, generations, anxiety and very important issues thread your thoughts to mending. 👏👏👏

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  3. Marian, this is such a lovely, lovely post. The editor is correct, you write wonderfully and I’m so grateful that you put your words out into the world here. I hope you’ll continue to do so (and in your local paper too!) because I appreciate them and people need to hear them whether they agree with you or not.

    I appreciate YOU, Marian, and your great big heart for doing the right thing. I appreciate you taking the brave step of speaking. I know at times reactions of your community haven’t been kind and it’s unfair that you’ve had to deal with the fallout of that, but it needs to be said and it needs to be heard.

    I took the step of speaking up and trying to get a junk-free book sale because of your words. I have a stack of reusable produce bags in the back of my car that I used just yesterday because of you. I was shopping for stocking stuffers and saw some plastic crap and thought: “That would make a great stocking stuffer” only to have my next thought be “Marian would be so disappointed in me. It’s a waste. I won’t buy it.”

    SPEAK. Keep speaking. I know it’s hard. I know it’s scary. I know your community may not always be appreciative or receptive, but please, keep speaking. It makes a difference.

    Hugs.

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    1. Thank you for this, Kate. I’m so grateful for your words and your friendship. Knowing my words are making a difference matters—hugely!—and yet I have to admit it’s also hard being the person who is known for her disappointment. About a month ago, my daughter recommended the Netflix show The Good Place. (Have you watched it? It is laugh-out-loud hilarious in places.) When my daughter recommended it, she said that one of the characters was *just* like me, so as I watched it, I waited for the moment I would see myself in one of the characters. Sure enough, about halfway through Season 1, there I was! And it was funny, and lovely, and ironic, seeing the way I was, so perfectly encapsulated in a character in a TV show…until a plot twist occurred at the end of the season, and suddenly all those character traits (my character traits) were seen in an entirely different light. Sometimes I wish I could shut my brain off, close my eyes, and stop feeling compelled to speak. Thank you for understanding how hard this is. And for continuing to be here, and continuing to be my friend.

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  4. I have watched a few episodes, but never too closely and then it didn’t stick. (It was quite funny, however, perhaps I’ll have to revisit it.) And oh, how I understand wanting to turn off your brain and close your eyes. I understand wanting someone else to do the speaking so you can rest.

    I also want to apologize if my poorly worded phrase left you feeling like someone “known for her disappointment”. You’ve gently highlighted things that hung out in my blind spots and I’m grateful to and for you. Because you’ve pointed them out, I’m making better choices for myself and the environment. “Knowing” you has also made me feel a little less alone when my friends roll their eyes at my turning down the plastic straw or filling my water bottle at the tap instead of drinking the provided bottled water when I’m at the pool.

    XOXO.

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    1. No need to apologize, Kate. Unfortunately, I AM often the person who is known for her disappointment. That seems to be the lot for those of us who are the voices of reason or caution, and I admit that being called out on it—not today, by you, but over the last few months by people who are themselves reasonable and cautious!—has probably made me a bit too sensitive to the term!

      I think I’ve mentioned that I joined a climate action group this past spring? Well, it’s not only been a relief to be among people (IRL) who don’t roll their eyes at straw- or bottled water–refusal, it’s also helped me to speak up more when I’m out running errands. We often talk about these conversations that we each have—with cashiers, with peers—and all of us have said how much it helps to know that we’re not alone, that it gives us courage to know that there actually are others out there, in our local community, who are trying to speak up too.

      xo Marian

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  5. I enjoyed reading your post, Marian. I understand the challenges of living with anxiety. It takes an enormous amount of courage to write an opinion contribution for a newspaper. It’s great that you spoke your mind and took a risk. One never knows what might happen next.

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    1. The more I learn about anxiety, the more I realize that giving in to it is the worst thing you can do. (I wish I had this information when I was younger…) Now that I’ve gotten over the hump of not posting here for 9 months (!) I’m hopeful that that will give me the courage to make other things happen too!

      (Sorry—your first comment got sent to my spam folder for some reason and I didn’t get a notification of it. I don’t know why that sometimes happens, but I really appreciate you taking the time to leave me another comment 🙂 .)

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    1. Unfortunately, WordPress can be glitchy with comments. Because I’ve often had trouble leaving comments on other people’s sites, I now always copy my comment before hitting the reply button. That way, if it doesn’t go through, I can try again without having to waste time reproducing the comment from scratch. Sometimes it’s just a glitch and the comment gets through on the second try, but sometimes—if absolutely nothing is getting through—it can be because it’s being identified as spam. Sometimes the program simply gets rid of the comments altogether and the blogger doesn’t even see them; sometimes the program isn’t sure if it’s spam or not and holds it for the blogger to check. Technology is great when it works…and utterly frustrating when it doesn’t…

      Happy Thanksgiving, TD 🙂 !

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      1. Hi Marian, and my deep apologies for taking so long to come here to comment. No excuse or reason – I have been a terrible correspondent over the past few months, and I’m not even sure why.
        Anyway, I’m here now. This is such an interesting and thoughtful post, and so well expressed and well written. Thank you.
        I love your jeans mend, and I love your honesty about the need to self-mend. I’ve had two personal experiences of extreme burn-out and inability to cope with my life, and both times I’ve found it important to be honest and open about it with others. I believe this to have helped me, and also to have been of value to others who were trying to cope silently.
        The times we find ourselves in are truly scary, and (mostly) not of our individual making – indeed, many of us have been speaking out about these issues for decades but shouted down and ignored. I take no pleasure in feeling ‘I told you so’.
        And yet I still manage to feel some hope (though that’s harder when as yesterday a friend tells me that they and their daughter are flying to Oman for a holiday, for no other reason than that they can and they want to go away somewhere together – then I was just plain shocked).
        Anyway, as you say, there is strength and hope in our community, and that is what I plan to build on this year. That, and the understanding that many of the things we need to do are actually enjoyable and not at all hard (for those of us with the many privileges of homes, food, water and choice).
        So – my very very best wishes to you for this tough year ahead, and let’s do it together in a spirit of solidarity and companionship. xxxx

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      2. Thank you so much for this, Deborah, and there’s no need to apologize for a delay in commenting (or for not commenting at all). It can be hard to find the time and energy to comment on all the things that we might like to, especially when we’re feeling bombarded by everything that’s going on (this is certainly where I am these days).

        I admire you for having been able to be open and honest about your burn-outs. While society is finally coming around to the need for this, I think it’s a relatively recent change. I grew up in a home where you didn’t air your dirty laundry, where difficulty in coping was ridiculed or dismissed, so my being honest here is most definitely a conscious decision—if my words can help someone feel less alone in what they’re feeling, then I’ll go out on that limb, no matter how hard it is.

        I’m also having a really hard time understanding those who are continuing with their conspicuous consumption, those who don’t seem to understand the concept of “enough” (as per your most recent post). If we are to have any hope at all, we all need to wake up and connect the dots, and I believe—just as you do—that in many cases, the things we need to do aren’t all that difficult, and that we will likely find that a more reasonably lived life is actually MORE enjoyable than a life of excess, especially when we reach out to others and build community.

        All my best wishes to you too, Deborah—I’m so glad to be (virtually) walking this path alongside you.
        xo Marian

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