I woke up the other day at 4am. I wasn’t happy about it. Sleep for me is not a welcome break or a blessed part of the day. I’m not very happy about going to sleep. It’s a chore to be checked off my must-do list – and I hate must-do lists.
My evening ritual revolves around what to do before I give it the old college try – come on! You can do it! – and turn off the light. I’ll read. Or I’ll do the New York Times daily crossword on my phone. Or I’ll send a few emails or look at Instagram. It’s all about brokering a nightly truce between my waking brain that just wants to do more and the primate brain that, seeing it’s dark, wants to find a safe place and sleep for 12 hours.
So I’m up at 4am. Fine. I had a Diet Coke at 11pm. An early morning pitstop are the dues you have to pay. But as I come to consciousness, having been asleep for probably 4 hours, I’m not grumbling about rising from under the covers. I’m thinking deeply about potholders. No, not a stash from a local dispensary, but actual potholders made from some stretchy synthetic fabric.
One of the only crafts activities I can remember from my youth is making potholders. I’m sure that everyone has done this. You start with a metal frame the size of a matzah. The frame has raised nubs along its perimeter. You take rubber band-like rings and stretch them across the frame. Next you weave another set of rings through the stretched fabric. And then voila: you have a potholder. Well, almost…
My son, Jonah, loves drawing and has bequeathed to his kids, particularly to Sylvie, a real knack for it. Maggie, my daughter-in-law, is similarly gifted in arts and crafts. She shows my grandkids how to create beautiful, interesting art as an expression of their joy and their sadness. They already have an MFA-quality collection of oils and watercolors and sculpture and crafts galore.
And I had potholders… But here’s the thing – 1. potholders shouldn’t even be called potholders. They conduct the heat way too quickly to be helpful. They’re fine as coasters. 2. they ALL look the same. 3. Once washed they shrink, becoming even less helpful than they are.
But there was a problem with potholders in my craft-less abode. To the best of my recollection, no one knew how to take them off the frame. They’d sit on the frame until I took it off, surprised that it fell apart.
Is this pathetic story about the benign neglect of my childhood, or a telling look into my inability to apprehend reality? I fear, perhaps, it’s a depressing combination of the two.
By now I’m sure you’re asking yourself what I was asking myself at 405am: why potholders? And why am I writing this story to you? As to the first question, I don’t know why I dreamt about potholders, nor do I see a direct unconscious process connection. But why am I sharing it? Why did I scribble the word, ‘potholder’ on the back of an envelope at 410am? Ok.
Our lives are filled to the brim with moments and objects that we wouldn’t buy at a flea market. Products we’ve purchased, used once, and then cast into a bottomless tchotchke drawer. Books we’ve purchased that are never opened and used to prop up an air conditioner. Best of intentions projects we’ve prepped for that we haven’t gotten to – yet. Vegetables meant for a dinner long past, slowly rotting in the back of the refrigerator… Talk about your deplorables.
The fact is that we all have this miasma hovering around us, this miniature plastic island floating along in our tiny sea. Add it to the volumes of things we’ve said that we regret, and the equally large collection of the things we wanted to say but didn’t.
Our lives are filled with things undone, mindless activity without any sense of completion, potholders on frames. Yet somehow, surrounded though we are by these frustrating little
cul-de-sacs, we can accomplish deeds of meaning. It’s about finding the energy to gently push the detritus aside to see the real goals, to experience our deepest sense of soul.
I can’t make a potholder. I don’t know how to take it off the frame. Arts and crafts aren’t my game. But my waking mind still wants to learn, to dig deep into the cosmos and consciousness. There a lot more projects out there.a