Knit Your Fear

I’d like to tell you a story.

Last year, someone I love a lot needed a kidney transplant.  This isn’t the story of the transplant.  It’s about something I did in the months leading up to the surgery, what my friend the psychologist would call a “coping mechanism.”

When the doctors started talking transplant, I freaked out a little.  I had thought the options were a) get better, or b) death.  I didn’t consider the third option: major surgery on two people I love.  But that’s where this particular journey took us.

I wanted to learn all I could about the procedure. (Fun fact: unless they’re septic, the old kidneys are not removed!)  I found myself staring at medical diagrams like this one.  And I remembered something from high school – the world of difference between staring at a diagram and trying to draw it.

I don’t remember making the decision, but soon enough I was pawing through my stash for various bits and bobs of different colored yarns.  Yes, my coping strategy was this: I knit a kidney transplant diagram.

Kindey diagram.png

To da!  It even has magnets, so you can “attach” the transplanted kidney.

Some technical notes on the construction:

  • I started with this kidney pattern, which I found on Ravelry (apparently I’m not the first person to have the idea to knit organs).  I wasn’t entirely happy with it, so I tweaked and re-worked it until I was.  I made the decreases symmetrical (k2tog, ssk), and I moved them in a stitch or two so that the kidney was less flat.  Eventually, I was happy with my design.  As with any amiguri project, I kept my gauge nice and firm, so that the stuffing wouldn’t show through.
  • I free-wheeled the bladder.  I started it like a top-down hat, worked a few rows stockinette once it was big enough, then closed it off like a bottom-up hat.  The bladder in the diagram was flatter at the top, so I used more “wedges” on the top half, to increase faster.  Eight wedges on top, six on the bottom.  I ended it with a few rows of i-cord to make the little knob at the bottom.
  • The blood vessels and ureters are i-cord. (Yes, I knitted pee-tubes!) 4-stitch for the “trunk” vessels, 3-stitch for the “branches.”  I had some fun joining them together at the “crotches” (a word my kid will not believe has a non-giggle-worthy meaning).  The magnets I bought didn’t fit inside the i-cord, so when I got to the point where I needed to insert a magnet, I increased a couple of stitches to go up to 6 stitches for a few rows, tucked in the magnet, then decreased again.  This had the added bonus of keeping the magnets in place, since they couldn’t slide around.  I did check, repeatedly, that I had placed the magnet pairs so that everything snapped in place as it should – I didn’t want them hovering in space, or twisting around.
  • I attached the i-cords to the organs by pulling the entire end of the i-cord through a stitch and anchoring it on the inside.  Very clean and easy to control.  This meant I had to go in a certain order:
    1. Make the organs, up to the last few rows.  Attach the magnet to the inside of the bladder.
    2. Make the i-cords.
    3. Attach the i-cords.
    4. Stuff the organs. Finish and sew them up.

I grew superstitious about this project.  I didn’t tell the “patient” about it, and I didn’t work on it at home. That meant I did most of the work at the karate dojo.  As it took shape, people started asking me about it.  I’d explain, and then the most amazing thing would happen.  “Oh, my aunt’s on dialysis.”  “My co-worker had a transplant two years ago and she’s doing great.”  “My brother’s on the list and we’re praying.”

I wasn’t alone.  In all my terror, in all my freakout, I felt so alone.  But I wasn’t.

I took the finished diagram to the hospital with me.  Those pictures above are the only ones I have – I took them on the windowsill in the ICU.  The surgery went really well.  The wonderful surgeon came to check on us every day. One day, as she was leaving, I gathered up my courage.  “Do you have another minute?” I asked. “I’d like to show you something.”  I pulled out my diagram and arranged it.  She looked at it, quizzically, and after a moment she said, “This is anatomically correct.”  It was the best comment she could have made.  I gave it to her, and she said “Thank you. I will use this.”  She didn’t say how, but I imagine that if she works on kids, she could use this cushy, wooly thing to show them what’s going to happen.  I hope it helps.

So if you’re scared about something, I have some suggestions:

  1. Learn all you can.  Solid knowledge is much more comforting than what my imagination can conjure up.
  2. Make something with what you learn.  There’s magic in making something with your hands.  And, I’ve thought a lot about this: I think writing counts.  Whether you type or put pen to paper, you’re making something outside of your head, that you can step back and evaluate and edit.  Writing counts as making, in my book.
  3. Talk to people.  Whether the thing you make acts as an ice-breaker or you just reach out in any way you can, talk to some human beings.  There are so many of us, and we’re really not all that different.  Company eases fear.

This post was inspired by Martha Beck, who says to take the thing that fascinates you enough that you already have 10,000 hours practice (knitting) and which has seen you through hell (health crisis) and share it.  So that’s what I’ve done.

A Mother Breathing

Oh, hey, I have a blog!  Hello!

MoCoWritesHeaderA few months ago, I came runner up in a local writing contest.  They published my piece on the Montgomery Magazine website, but I’m just going to go ahead and paste it here, too.  Because, hey – this is my platform, and, apparently, this is my voice:


           My husband’s idea of a nightmare is missing a flight. Even a sprint down an airless corridor, trailing overstuffed luggage and whining children, is enough to put him off his whole trip. We typically arrive two, sometimes three hours early, even for domestic flights. I’m all for it: sometimes the security lines are infinitesimally shorter at 5am, but the real reason is that it lets me do one of my favorite things.
I love sitting in airports, waiting for planes.
By now I’m pretty good at packing for these empty spaces within our trips. I’ll have my kindle and my knitting. I’ll bring an empty bottle to fill past security, a plastic cup for each member of the family, and a supply of dried fruit and trail mix. My husband watches the gate tango like a husky watching a squirrel, so I know we’ll stand at the precise moment to be first in line for the group that will be, inevitably, the last to be called to board the plane. My children munch their healthy-ish snacks and argue over who gets first turn on their shared kindle. I usually give up my own kindle for the sake of quiet.
And then I sit there, knitting forgotten in my lap, the buzz of announcements not really penetrating. At that moment, I’m exactly where I need to be. I zone out, guilt-free. It’s marvelous.
In college I took a class called “Locus and Platea in Shakespeare.” The professor wore clever boots and a hat that trailed peacock feathers. A week or two before winter break, one brave soul raised his hand and admitted that he had no idea what the words “locus” and “platea” meant. Three-quarters of the class swiftly agreed, and the rest of the semester was spent on remedial definition of basic terms. Maybe that’s why I remember these words so well now. Every class should end with a few sessions of “what the hell was all that about?”
As I recall, the locus is the world of the play, the world the characters inhabit, most with no notion that any other world exists. Some characters, however, can step into the platea, an in-between zone where they can address the audience directly and comment on the action of the play. An aside, a wink, a soliloquy—they exist in the platea.
The airport waiting lounge is my platea. I’m not at home, where two lifetimes’ worth of unfinished projects taunt me, nor am I trying to wring the most from every moment from our over-planned vacation, which has no hope of living up to the fantasies that have formed a layer over every conference call and grocery line for the past six months. In the airport, waiting for the plane, I’m not ignoring the state of the kitchen and I’m not discovering that I’m allergic to the South of France. I’m not checking homework while trying to produce a meal while wondering exactly which career move was the wrong turn while realizing that I haven’t called [insert relative here] in way too long. I’m not debating with my children whether it was cool for ancient Romans to have heated floors if it took slave labor to run them. I’m not contemplating the vast array of “creamy stuff in individual cups” that makes up an entire section of your average French grocery store, I’m not on a conference call, and I’m certainly not clutching at my children as they hurl themselves at the flimsy railing between the astronomical observatory and the mountain. Sitting in an airport, waiting for a plane, I just am.
Why does it seem revolutionary, this simple act of a mother breathing? I think the reason is this: for once, there is a easy answer to that horrible, inescapable question, “What should I be doing now?” Waiting at the airport, that answer is “Not much.”
I suppose this is the point of meditation: to be not quite here, not quite there. To witness the observer, observing your life, and toss her a joke. I’ve never quite managed that by sitting still in a quiet room, but I know I can find Nirvana at Gate 29b.

Short Story: Getting to Tufte

DistrictLinesI am beyond thrilled to announce that my short story, Getting to Tufte, was recently published in Volume II of District Lines, from the venerable DC bookstore (and now publisher), Politics & Prose.

Here’s a taste of the story…

Having neglected to turn on either the baby monitor or the alarm clock, Melissa Lisstrom woke late to hysterical children who were convinced, since she did not tiptoe in at their first stirrings, that she must be dead. Traumatized, they refused to tell her whether they wanted oatmeal or granola. Things overflowed: the coffee, the diaper. Leaving her children to scowl at unwanted yogurt, she rushed upstairs and realized that the dress she had picked out the night before was ridiculous. She tossed on the best skirt ever and tried five different tops to go with it. With a whisper of regret for her telecommuter’s uniform of pajamas and fuzzy socks, she grabbed her one designer jacket (hand-me-down; sister-in-law). She felt both professional and artsy.

It’s a fantastic collection of local work.  You can buy it here.

Big thanks to everyone at Politics & Prose – I couldn’t be more delighted.


How to Clean Your House in 6 Easy Steps

  1. Have a heart-to-heart talk with a trusted friend
  2. Read yourself into a stupor
  3. Wake up early with a nasty eye-strain headache
  4. Make coffee
  5. Drink coffee
  6. Pull out your morning pages journal. Write “Ok, if I do have deep-seated anger, what am I so angry about?”

Bam! Before you know it, it will be 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and your house will be spotless!

I wrote a book!

Here’s a little story about how it all happened.

I started way back in, oh, 2002 or so, not too long after my own wedding.  I was going gangbusters on it for a while.  My husband, especially, was excited about it—he said he had a good feeling about it, right from the start.  It got to be about book length, but after a while, I just… stopped.  I couldn’t find the throughline—I couldn’t figure out what the book was about.  My husband kept nudging me and nudging me, “Just finish the book!”  But I was well and truly stuck.

Life went on.  I got a deal for another book, we became parents…  Every so often, particularly when I’d get into my “what am I doing with my life?” lament, my husband would say “You know?  You should just finish that wedding book.” and I’d say, “I know, I know…”  I’d open up the file, fiddle with a few words, and then close it again.

Then, last year—I don’t know what changed, but I decided it was time.  I had a trip planned, and I came up with a cunning scheme:  I printed out the entire thing, tossed a red pen in my bag, and (this is the key) packed nothing else to read for the entire trip.

Away from home and family and distractions of all sorts, I read every word, red pen in hand.  I crossed out paragraphs, pages, and whole chapters.  I scribbled notes in the margin and wrote whole new chapters out in longhand.  By the end of the trip, I knew what the book was about.  It wasn’t about DIY, or saving money, or even creativity (though all those things are woven through it).

It is a book about making choices—meaningful, personal choices.  It’s about getting to the heart of what marriage means to you and building an event around that.  It’s about you—as a couplebeing true to yourselves.

Going Home Married: How to Plan a Meaningful Wedding Without Losing Your Mind is a workbook, a series of questions designed to help readers find their own meaning in the wedding ceremony and design an event around that. I aim to deflate stress by questioning the familiar wedding hoopla. Unlike most wedding books, which start with either the budget or the dress, I make the radical argument that the ceremony is the heart of a wedding, and that once you’re married, all the rest is icing on the cake (as it were). Going Home Married walks readers through the myriad choices they’ll encounter on the path to making their wedding their own.

The highest praise I could imagine came from a friend who was in the thick of wedding planning when she read a draft: “This book made me feel not-crazy.”

So: that’s my book, and I’m super-excited to get it out into the world.  What do you think?  I’d love to hear your reactions in the comments.

Care to read a chapter?  Just jump on my mailing list and I’ll send it over.