I’m a weaver. I received my first loom when I was 14. It was a Christmas gift from my Dedo, an artist in his own right who whittled figures out of soft blocks of wood and created stained glass pictures. The loom was a 10″ wide lap loom, capable of only plain weave (think about the over-under crisscross of a cherry pie). I loved that loom. I made dozens of scarves and table runners, belts and sashes. Every birthday party, every Christmas, I wove presents. When I was 17, instead of spending my final days of summer vacation going for long drives with friends and trying desperately to get Jason Gauthier to kiss me, I went to a weaving conference hosted by Harrisville Designs. I took classes on weaving rag rugs, spinning wool, and the basics of tweed weaving, all against the backdrop of New Hampshire in late summer. That trip was only me and my parents. Dad and I, our ears trained from musical theatre,  picked up on the New England dialect almost immediately, much to my mother’s embarrassment, and we giggled uproariously at the locals who stared in confusion when we ordered “lobstah” and told them that we were from Harrisville too. Born and bred. Harrisville, Michigan, that is.

For some reason, that joke never got old.

I remember taking my wool spinning class, trying to take the soft wool fluff and turn it into usable yarn. But I couldn’t keep the rhythm of the spinning wheel going. I would forget how much pressure I was using to pass the wool through my fingers, leaving lumps and thin spots, compromising the integrity and strength of the finished product. Several times, I would get distracted, more interested in the view of the water mill and the old colonial brick outside the window than in the yarn. My fingers would slip, and the entire strand would spin madly, curling and bunching up in a tangled mess. I could never create more than a few yards of wool at a time, perhaps enough to crochet a coaster, but not nearly enough to place on a loom.

Lamenting my inability to make anything beautiful (especially when every other aspect of weaving had always come naturally to me), I became frustrated, angry at the impossibly knotted clump in front of me. My spinning instructor would come over, deftly untangle my wheel, and smile at me.  “It doesn’t have to look good. It doesn’t even matter what it looks like on the cone. The goal isn’t to make a beautiful cone, but a beautiful weaving.”

I was too embarrassed to take any of my handmade yarn home. I didn’t want to make a weaving out of it. I didn’t want anyone to see it. I left all of it there. I told my instructor to give it to the school children who took tours there every fall.

This past Christmas, while setting up my rigid heddle loom (making Christmas presents once again), I was reminded of my spinning class. I was using a large skein of yarn to warp my loom (Weavers often prefer to use cones of yarn instead of skeins, but with limited resources locally, I grabbed what I had available and just worked with it), and the whole roll was bunching, knotting, catching. Frustrated, I shouted at the skein, “Your only job is to unravel! You were made to unravel!”

I stopped.

You were made to unravel.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about unraveling recently. Just off the top of my head, I can think of four girlfriends whose lives have been changed forever by a recent diagnosis of a chronic illness. Young women. In their early 30s. And their bodies are starting to fail them. There is no hope for a “cure,” just the resignation of good days mingling with the bad–days when they can play with their sons, or sing a libretto, or walk along a rocky coastline with their beloved dogs and spouse butting up against days of complete stagnation, bed rest, takeout dinners, and pain pills.

So, so many pain pills.

They feel as though they are unraveling.

And I can only watch.

It’s been hard to watch them go through these things. Hard to see them vacillate between appreciation for the good days, and crippling despair over the seeming unending bad days. Hard to see them feel bitter, cheated out of their youth, their careers, their schooling, their families, their futures. Hard to see them learn how to renegotiate the world while trapped in a body that is slowly (or quickly) losing the ability to physically experience that world.

As usual, I am no good in these kinds of serious situations. I crack dirty jokes. I tell poop stories. I change the topic. I start giggling. I defer and deflect. But then, I started working on my loom, and I shouted at a knotted clump of cotton, and I realized something:

Sometimes, beauty only comes after the unraveling.

Sometimes, we think that we are “complete” when we’re really just the raw material.

We get too caught up on being a beautiful cone, or a beautiful skein. Or a beautiful paintbrush, or a lovely pencil, or a freshly filled inkwell.

And we forget that none of us were born in a body that is complete. We are all just giant messes of potential. We’re not finished yet.

Only in the unraveling can we be made into something amazing. Only in the thinning out, spreading, scraping, chiseling, breaking down, cutting, and slicing can we metamorphose into, well, something.

Something messy.

Something broken.

Something uneven.

Something filled with flaws.

Shaped by an inelegant hand.

But something.

Because what is a cone of yarn? It is the illusion of completeness. It loves the potential of its potential. But it is nothing until it is stripped bare, rendered naked and searching, pulled taut. Remade.

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Of course, the sad truth of it is that the unraveling is the easy part. The hard part is in the reassembly, the (re)creation. Making a self is no different from making art. It is painstaking, frustrating, infuriating. It keeps you up at night, embarrasses you, shames you. It makes you feel unstoppable one moment, and like a fool the next. And that’s just how it is for those of us fortunate enough to be working with undamaged tools.

But even a broken brush can paint a masterpiece.

A stub of a pencil can still write a poem.

Uneven yarn can weave tapestry.

It just takes a more patient hand.

My dear friends, you are the ones with the talent, vision, ability, intellect, and perseverance to create art, even on your imperfect canvases.

My wish for you in 2015 is not for perfect health. (I’m sorry. As much as I want it for you, I fear that would be just an empty hope.) My wish is that you will understand the potential you have in the unraveling, and that you start to make something new with your own clumsy, inexperienced, ill-prepared, broken, perfect hands.

M.L., R.S.T., M.W.U., N.W.– This post is for you. All of you are strong women made even stronger for the weaknesses you admit. I look forward to watching you kick this new year’s ass.

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