Coming Home to a Vastly Different World…

I’m not even sure where to begin.  So much has changed since I flew away March 4th.  No one is immune.  I’m almost embarrassed to write this blog post because it is about a time when things were normal, a mere two weeks ago.  None of us has much control over events that are happening right now, except in how we view/deal/or otherwise contemplate current global events.  While the Northern part of NJ cleared out supermarkets and big box stores of everything that wasn’t nailed down, I was blissfully in Portland Oregon, waking to a lovely snow, off to teach yet another workshop and sort of wondering how the toilet paper supply was at home.  Not something I thought to check before I left.  My children eventually responded that indeed we had a 12 pack, certainly enough for a few weeks, but I came home to no paper towels which took a few trips to procure a 4 pack.  

Anyway, I left NJ on the 4th, to Medford Oregon via San Francisco airport.  There were a couple of people wearing masks but nothing that screamed, “Panic!”  I flew in a day earlier than necessary, because I do that in the late winter, snow storms crop up unexpectedly and I wanted time to be able to make it out to the Pacific Northwest should one materialize…  Hahahahah!  Yeah, snow was not even on the radar here this winter in NJ.

The first morning there, I got in a glorious walk along the Rogue River.  Spring was just blossoming there, a few weeks ahead of here in NJ, and the river was clean and fresh and rejuvenating.

I had just the most lovely and talented group of participants in my five day intensive.  We met in a hall, which was dimly lit, but with only seven in the class, the huge brightly lit kitchen was more than adequate.  We all gathered together and I could perch and observe my students, all of whom had mad sewing skills, and slowly they built some pretty amazing pieces. 

About half the fabrics were handwoven, the rest pieces from the Pendleton Woolen Mill outlet, because well, this is Oregon.  Gorgeous fabrics.  Four of the seven participants made swing coats, the three on the left are handwoven…

Two made traditional jackets.  The one on the left is handwoven from Webs Merino and Tencel.

And Deb made a zippered vest, from a gorgeous Pendleton fabric that had a boarder, which she strategically used in the yokes and center fronts.

This is a great class photo, the backs are even better.  Some seriously wicked matching going on here.

I left Medford on the 11th, and headed north to connect with a new driver that would take me on to Portland.  We stopped halfway in Eugene to see the new home of Eugene Textile Center.  All I can say is wow.  Just wow.  Just an FYI, Suzie buys weaving estates, so there are always used looms and equipment to be had, and her daughter is the Glimakra rep for the US, so there is room for that as well.  The dye kitchen is to die for, pun intended, and classroom space is huge and well lit.  There is even a small gallery.  I hope that the current global mess doesn’t destroy small businesses, especially the ones just opening up, consider calling Eugene Textile Center if you are looking for a used part or piece of equipment or used weaving book, Suzie probably has it.  She ships anywhere.

A couple hours later we arrived in Portland, made the baggage transfer yet again, and I settled into my new home for the next few days.  I took almost no photos, I gave two keynote lectures to the Portland Guild on Thursday. Friday and Saturday was a two day garment construction class, mostly lecture and sampling, they didn’t make a garment, and Sunday was a one day beginning Inkle Weaving Class.  I will say that by the time I got to Friday, there was a lot of angst as to whether or not to proceed, possibly cancelling the workshops and putting me on a plane to go home, and though a few people decided it wasn’t worth the risk, most of the participants had waited for me for more than a year and they weren’t letting me go without a fight.  It was a huge dilemma, and only time will tell if it was the correct decision.  

Meanwhile, left and right fiber conferences and gatherings were cancelled, Florida Tropical, CNCH, both of which I’ve taught at in previous years, but thankfully wasn’t booked for this year, because vendors were left with a huge amount of inventory they have no where to sell and instructors were left with no income and airplane tickets that mostly aren’t refundable. I’m protected because my late husband left me with a pension, but there are many in my line of work with no work for the foreseeable future.

And so Sunday night, I boarded a plane in a mostly deserted Portland Airport.  There was no one in line at TSA preCheck.  I had a lovely conversation with the TSA agent, her daughter was getting married this weekend.  Now that is a dilemma that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  I wandered to the United Club Lounge, right across from my gate, and I happily sat and drank wine and knitted for three hours.  I was the only one in the entire place.  The bar staff kept my glass full, changed the channel on the TV for me (I finally asked them to turn it off, I just wanted to knit), and provided me with all kinds of buffet foods, hot soup, cheese and crackers, etc.  The regular food buffet in the club lounge was eliminated for obvious reasons, but all the food was accessible, prepackaged, and available from the bar staff.  My heart bled for all of them.  Unemployment insurance does nothing for Underemployment situations.  I tipped more than usual, but it wouldn’t make a dent towards paying their rent.

I flew home on a mostly empty plane, had the first row in first class all to myself, business class was empty, and economy about half full.  I had a lovely light dinner, and wine and then fitfully dozed until sunrise.  This lifestyle is challenging, but I always thrill at sunrise over NYC when I fly east on a red-eye.

And so I’m back.  NJ is basically shut down.  Stores are struggling with the demand from hoarders.  I saw a post on my town facebook forum someone posted that my local Shoprite instituted a policy of no returns.  People went wild, apparently hoarding everything they could possibly need, and then planned to return what they didn’t use when the crisis passes.  I’m sort of sick with disgust at the hooray for my side and screw everyone else attitude.  I am desperate to find the few who rally together to help each other, because I know we/they are out there.  

And so I’m hunkered down at home.  My daughter is here helping organize the new studios, find a place for everything, label EVERYTHING, and the last of the looms are moved in.  Even without work in the foreseeable future, we have plenty to do.  There are looms waiting for warps, there are workshops/lectures to design, there is fabric to sew, new patterns and directions to design.  Truth be told, this is like a giant snow day where everything is cancelled, except indefinitely.  I’m giddy with the possibilities, I just have to stay healthy to enjoy the time.  My son is an exec at Target.  Right now they have him at the highest volume store in the region.  He describes his 12 hours days as Black Friday every day with first quarter staffing.  He comes home completely spent, unloading 4000 piece trucks hourly.  Retail is trying really really hard to get the essentials out to those who need it.  Please don’t hoard.

One of the greatest perks of my job especially in the years since my husband passed, is that most of the people I stay with on these trips are just slightly older than I am and have walked this path.  They patiently listen to me as I sort out my goals and my future.  I gave myself five years after my husband passed, to clean out the house, downsize the contents, repair and update the house so I could sell it if I wanted to, and figure out what to do with the rest of my life.  We are coming up on four years since his death. Kathy, my first hostess in Medford listened patiently and said, “Make sure you make the time to do the things you want to do, life is short and age is not always your friend.”  Those weren’t her exact words, but that’s what I heard.  Right now, my schedule is booked well in 2022.  At that point I’ll be 67 years old.  Each trip I take gets harder and harder, shipping boxes ahead, preparing and hauling 150 pounds of luggage.  Though I consider myself still strong and healthy, we all know we are one diagnosis away from not strong and healthy.  Both my husband I had cancer, I lived, he did not.  Is this what I want to be doing at 67 or 70?

So I’ve decided to finish out what I agreed to, but not book any additional workshops.  Places like Sievers and Harrisville, and Eugene Textile Center where I’ll be teaching next spring, they don’t decide on the next year’s schedule until the previous year finishes.  I can always tack on a workshop if I’m still up to it.  What I’d rather do, while I still have my daughter in my employ, is begin the long process of digitizing my patterns for downloads, recording videos of sewing/weaving techniques, and maybe even write the most comprehensive book on sewing with handwoven fabrics.  I can’t do any of that while I’m hauling luggage and sitting in airports.  I have two beautiful new studios, and I can’t even work in them because I have to spend the next three days doing my taxes.  They are getting more and more complicated.

Mostly though, I want to invite students to study privately with me.  I live near Newark Airport in a quiet dead end street in a walkable community, in a house with gardens and ponds.  I have a guest room or two and if you want to learn, come to me.  I have everything you need except fabric, and I’m a half hour by bus from NYC and Mood Fabrics.  The week before I left for Oregon, I had a private student for 5 days, she stayed here, we cooked together, we sewed together, we became best friends (I had worked with her last summer at a class I taught at Peters Valley).  My student had never touched a sewing machine and she wanted to learn to sew.  By the end of five days, she had a jacket.  We were both very very proud.

And so dear readers, do what you do best, knit, sew, weave, garden, sing, play an instrument, learn a language, take a virtual museum tour, read a book or two or six.  This is a time of hunkering down, staying as safe as possible, and contemplating what is really important in life.  I hope everyone survives financially, especially the self employed and those who work in the gig economy and those whose hours have been sliced to nothing.  Keep calm and carry yarn…

Stay tuned…