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Week #13 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Jim Simpson’s POW Rug!

So what has happened here the past few weeks?! The website was updated so that now I can run it off of WordPress instead of other means! Woohoo! Although I still can’t get the text to show it in blue, all the text below is from other sources and linked back to them.

Therefore, let’s continue where we were, shall we?

This week, I’m highlighting Jim Simpson’s knitted rug that he made in POW camp in WWII. Although I wrote about Jim in 2008, which you can see here, I wanted to include him in #HistCraftivism because what he made is an amazing testament to our will to create during times of distress.




Culture Victoria




“I knitted a few pairs of socks for some who were eager to escape, but they all seemed to return rather crestfallen, but with socks intact.” J.O. Simpson, 1995.

James O. Simpson enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in 1940, aged 26. On his first mission, his aircraft was shot down. Captured by the German Army, he was transported to a prisoner of war camp, where he spent the rest of World War II.

As a prisoner James knitted an extraordinary memorial to this time in Australia’s military history: a rug depicting a map of Australia and the Coat of Arms.





While a prisoner in Germany, Simpson knitted a rug featuring a map of Australia and the Australian Coat of Arms. He started making the rug after German soldiers told him they were going to take his jumper.

They wanted to send it to the Russian front, I said they can’t do that… so I went to the toilet and pulled it to bits, and if they wanted it they could put it together again.

Simpson completed the rug after using wool from a second jumper he brought for 40 cigarettes.


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Part of the full story that Jim tells about the rug over at: The Man From Snowy River Museum:
The rug itself was knitted in one piece, the Coat of Arms and all. The Crown Jewels were worked with a needle and coloured wool, five crowns for the Cross of St George for NSW’s, one crown for Victoria’s Southern Cross, and one crown in the centre of the Maltese cross for QLD.

The knitting time to make this rug was about six weeks. The winding of the wool, some well worn, some reasonable, to make it twelve ply, took many months to get a reasonable article to knit with. There were hundreds of small sections or worn wool joined together to be reasonably even. I had no trouble with the Germans in making this article, as a matter of fact they were rather astonished with the finished product.



Afraid that his new wool Naval pullover would be stolen by the prison-camp guards, Jim unraveled the sweater, rolled the white yarn into balls, and stored them away in Red Cross boxes. Everyone thought he was crazy, wondering “what the hell he had all that stuff for.

Jim was planning to knit a rug, an item that would keep him warm but be less tempting to thieves than a sweater. He needed more wool, so he went on a scavenger hunt in the camp. For $50 he bought another Naval pullover. He knit a new pair of white socks and traded them to a Canadian airman for his multicolored hockey socks. He traded cigarettes for other wool items that could be unraveled. And he used a few balls of sock yarn his mother had sent him.

Even with all of this, getting enough yarn for the rug was a challenge. The only sweaters Jim could get were either wearing out or full of lice. Parts of the sweaters had to be discarded because they were threadbare. Jim also had to boil the yarn to get rid of the lice.

Finding knitting needles was no easier. Jim had to make his own. He took the handles off of Italian Army “dixie cans” (cooking pots), straightened them out, and sharpened the tips to points by rubbing them on cement. Amazingly, he was allowed to keep these sharp objects.





They crafted knitting needles out of their dixie pan handles. They unravelled socks and had to boil the wool to get the lice off it and then spin it into 12 ply.

It’s a complete map of Australia with all the states marked, all the mountains and the rivers and lakes. He’s got a coat of arms for each of the states above the map.

The whole thing is a six-foot square rug. It’s in fantastic condition. It was used for a little while then rolled up and moth-balled so from a conservation point of view it’s been very well looked after.




Jim and rug




Earlier this year [2011] Jim Simpson’s bed caught fire.

For 60 years he’d kept a rug of national significance, depicting a map of Australia and the Coat of Arms he knitted while a prisoner of war, under that bed.

“It was rolled in his kit-bag and then in another kit-bag under his bed, so ideal conditions as far as keeping it away from temperature fluctuations and light,” Upper Murray Historical Society project officer Marita Albert said.

Which was all wonderful until his electric blanket caught fire.

“We’re very, very lucky that two weeks prior to the fire he had given it to us.”

Mr Simpson’s rug was officially unveiled as the centrepiece of an extension to the Man From Snowy River Museum at Corryong.

For years the Australian War Memorial had wanted to preserve the rug but Jim, 96, would not let them.

“I want it to be in Corryong in memory of my mother, who taught me to knit, and in memory of the boys in the camp,” Mr Simpson said.




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Week #8 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Knitting and the Vietnam War!

Knitting and the Vietnam War?! Really?! Yes! During the Vietnam War, 2 Canadian organizations Canadian Aid for Vietnamese Children (CAVC) and Voice of Women (VOW) used knitting as a way to help the Vietnamese people. Here are some of the links that I found so you can learn more about what happened.




I was puzzled, however, as knitting did experience extreme peaks in popularity during wars prior to 1950, however, with the Vietnam war, knitting for wartime efforts played a far smaller role in female participation in war efforts, leading up to the present day, in which knitted goods are virtually absent from discourse on military support efforts. How did knitting go from being such an integral part of the war effort to being a nonexistent one?




Voice of Women (VOW) was founded in 1960 whem women across Canada decided they must try to stop what appeared to be imminent nuclear war. The Summit Conference had collapsed; the Cold War was rapidly getting hotter, and we felt women around the world should band together to demand an end to war. Groups like VOW were formed in many countries.

By the end of its first year, VOW had 6000 members. It organized an International Women’s Conference in September 1962- the first meeting in Canada to include women from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Conference delegates called on the U.N. to designate a World Peace Year. The idea was taken up by Prime Minister Nehru at the UN, and 1965 was proclaimed International Cooperation Year.




…Young initiated a knitting project to provide clothing for Vietnamese children as a means of communicating the harsh realities of war; she hoped thereby to influence citizens across North America to press for a speedy end to the war. By November 1966, just a few months after the establishment of CAVC’s children’s committee, the knitting project had gained momentum. In a letter to Kay MacPherson, Young asserted, “We have found that actual involvement in ‘making things’ has done more to arouse compassion and publicize the great need for acts of humanitarianism and the desperate need to halt the war, than any other project.




Women in North America have long been active in trying to put an end to conflicts around the world. In the early 1960s, when the threat of nuclear war loomed over many nations, our own Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) was formed. Since then, the organization has been promoting peace and disarmament, particularly in the context of nuclear war.

VOW has organized unique activities to draw attention to its cause. In 1963, it collected and tested thousands of baby teeth from children across North America to demonstrate the fallout from the atmospheric testing of Strontium 90, a harmful radioactive isotope. During the Vietnam War, the Ontario VOW organized the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children. Over a ten-year period, the group sent thousands of hand-knitted garments and other aid to the child victims of the war and their families.

Over time, VOW has expanded its focus to include human rights and civil liberties, preservation of the environment, as well as economic and political issues.




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Presumably some of the young Canadian knitters and other youth volunteers found kinship with the unknown Vietnamese children they were assisting or when they imagined themselves in the same situation. Zoya Stevenson, a Toronto teen, participated in the CAVC knitting campaign because she could relate to the Vietnamese children affected by the war. “The napalm bombing of innocent women and children (like myself) shocked me,” she recalled, elaborating that “the fact that these acts of terror were sanctions by citizens of my own country, frightened me terribly.”


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The efforts of women fighting for peace did not end with the World Wars, nor did the use of knitting as a form of peace activism stop. The Canadian group ‘Voice of Women’ (VOW), created in July 1960 as a reaction against the Cold War, garnered ten thousand members by 1961 – just twelve months after having been first established.[25] Barbara Roberts’ essay, Women’s Peace Activism in Canada, featured in Kealey and Sangster’s Beyond the Vote: Canadian Women and Politics (1989), explains the way in which VOW became a prominent feminist and peace activist group during the years of the Cold War, despite being founded at a time when “feminists were cranks” and “socialists were commies”.[26] The group took on the initiative of knitting thousands of camouflage baby clothes to be shipped to Vietnam so as to protect children and their families from the US air strikes.[27] This bold action made a loud statement to the Canadian people, and despite not being well received by much of the public, VOW continued to protest the Cold War.

More reading:
*Purls for Peace:The Voice of Women, Maternal Feminism, and the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children
* Re-Imagining War: The Voice of Women, The Canadian Aid for Vietnam Civilians, and the Knitting Project for Vietnamese Children, 1966-1976

Week #7 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Knitting and WWII!

“Week” #7! Knitting and WWII! I know that many of you think you already know a lot about this subject, so I’ve tried to dig up some gems that you may not already know about… But first, this amazing gem from the 1943 film Mr. Lucky, where we see Cary Grant… knitting… for the war!






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The knitting was done as much for morale as for practical purposes. It gave people a way to feel that they were contributing to the war effort — similar to Victory Gardens and scrap metal drives. Of course, none of these three activities was exclusively symbolic: all three of them served to support the war effort and free up resources needed elsewhere.




vintage war knitting on Pinterest




How knitting was used as code in WW2: During the Second World War the Office of Censorship banned people from posting knitting patterns abroad in case they contained coded messages. There was one occasion when knitting was used for code. The Belgian resistance recruited old women whose windows overlooked railway yards to note the trains in their knitting. Basic stuff: purl one for this type of train, drop one for another type.



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This newspaper article is about a Mexican woman in the United States who used her sewing skills to support her sons fighting in the U.S. Army.

The quilt Mrs. Maria Salazar made was originally going to be sold to finance her trip to Mexico to visit relatives, but she reconsidered and donated the money to support the efforts of the Red Cross and ultimately of her three sons fighting in the war. Her name, address and the names and ages of her sons are listed in the old newspaper article.




The amazing story of Jim Simpson, who was a WWII POW who knitted this sweet rug. More here.


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During the War the Women’s Institutes and other patriotic ladies held knitting circles, influenced by the slogans on the hoardings, etc, with the reminder that “If you can knit — you can do your bit”. So they knitted for the Army, Navy, Air Force and ARP workers. Knitting patterns were printed called “War Knitting” and Sirdar Wool Company produced wool specially dyed in service colours, i.e. khaki, navy blue, Air Force blue and grey. They knitted pullovers with long sleeves, sleeveless pullovers, gloves, balaclavas and other garments which were lovely, cosy and warm.



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Women have always knit, but in wartime, knitting was one of the ways that women could show their patriotism. During World War II, the United States harnessed this energy with the campaign, “Knitting for Victory”.

Eleanor Roosevelt launched the effort at a Knit for Defense tea held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in September 1941. There are many photos of Eleanor Roosevelt knitting – she merits an exhibit of her own. In the meantime, here’s this comfy photo of her knitting while she still resided in the governor’s mansion in New York in 1932, just before FDR became President.




A lovely Counter Craft post about knitting and WWII with further links

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World War II: Knitting became more of a civilian job as organizations like the American Red Cross pushed it as a way for those on the homefront to contribute to the war effort. Many civilians formed groups like the Little Norway Knitting Club in Butte, Montana (pictured below) to create socks and sweaters for soldiers. However, there are also records of soldiers held prisoner in Germany unraveling their own sweaters and reknitting them into socks with improvised barbed wire “needles” – knitting was not demilitarized yet.




Many of the earliest knitters for World War II had knit for Victory as children or young adults during World War I. Knitting was for them a natural and immediate response to war. “The men hardly have time to grab their guns before their wives and sweethearts grab their needles and yarn,” claimed Time on July 21, 1940. Knitting provided warmth and comfort for the soldier and therapeutic distraction for the knitter.




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WWII knitting and sewing songs




A huge number of women on both sides took up knitting at the outbreak of the great war to provide socks and comfort for men in the trenches. While machine-made socks had long surpassed home-made socks, hand-made garments were important as they were a practical way to reassure men in trenches that people at home where thinking of them. It was also an important way for men and women at home to contribute their talents to the war effort. A poem sent to Stars and Stripes during WWII addressed ‘To Peggy’ shows that their efforts were appreciated: ‘Squatting in gleaming camp fire rings, in sunshine and in wet, i’ll wear these oozy knitted things, and never will forget, that all that floss was gently rolled From Skien to rolling sphere, by dainty hands I loved to hold, far far away from here.’




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More related links:
*Stitching a Protest
*Knitting Paradise forum thread on knitting and WWII
Make, Mend or Spend?
*Smithsonian Education PDF on civic responsibility during WWII
*An interview with Rohn Strong on his knitting patterns for WWI and WWII

Week #6 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, WWI Knitting!

So I started this project for two reasons: 1) to tackle my own personal issues with discipline (and I’m struggling to work through that… my current battle? Not paying attention to the calendar and letting time slip through) and 2) to learn more about historical craftivism. But the truth is for this one, WWI knitting, even though I’m keeping it to 2 hours of research, just kept being too daunting, given all the work being done all over the world for others. However, I am determined to get 48 acts up in 48 weeks, so there may be some fudging of the technical “weeks” on the calendar while I push through my own discipline issues… Apologies to all you (k)nitpicky readers out there…

Anyhoo… here we go… WWI knitting! This was especially daunting because we all know that there was knitting for the troops in WWI. But, where do we go to look for more information? That seems to be the question on this topic. So, I’m linking to various archives and fonts of information here as the breadth is too much for 1 (or even 100) blog posts.




The “Grey Sock” pattern by Irene Victoria Read: Knitting for Victory: Transatlantic Propaganda in WWI & WWII




Volunteer work on the homefront: America During WWI and WWII

BoysKnittingWWI


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A knitted garment of one kind or another takes on and transfers a certain energy from its maker to its wearer, I believe, and there’s something incredibly moving about the sort of touch that a homemade sweater or pair of socks permitted. From the hands of a wife, mother, grandmother, sweetheart, sister, or benevolent stranger to the body of a soldier, knitwear crossed the divide between home and battlefield.




Needlework and Knitting Instructions for First World War volunteers over on Scribd uploaded by the British Red Cross




The trenches of France and Belgium were muddy and constantly filled with water. As a result, soldiers were prone to a painful condition called Trench Foot. The only cure was for them to keep their feet dry and change their socks regularly. Soldiers in the trenches were supposed to have at least three pairs of socks and change them at least twice a day. Since hand knitting was time consuming, Associated Field Comforts began to supply knitting machines to people who would try to turn out from seventy-five to one hundred pairs a month. Assistance from the people of Hamilton was regularly acknowledged by the overseas contingent. In November 1915, 27,892 pairs of socks were sent to the Front from the city. By 1916 there were Four Canadian Divisions at the Front, resulting in a greater demand on the Association for socks. Various church clubs and volunteer groups began contributing to the output of Associated Field Comforts by supplying large quantities of knitted articles for the men overseas.




Aside from raising money, school children of both genders participated in knitting clubs to produce goods to send to the troops at the front. In order to make their patriotism known to their older countrymen, New York’s children also participated in patriotic parades and memorial services both during and after the war.




The “Knit Your Bit” poster you may very well be familiar with, but check out the other posters here related to WWI propaganda:


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More info on Irene Read, and her “Grey Sock kit,” complete with teeny tiny photo of said sock kit!


grey sock kit





Soon after the war began, women and girls were knitting socks, scarves and balaclavas, for the soldiers. They knitted at home, on trams, in churches. When they ran out of knitting needles, they made new ones from bicycle spokes: when they ran out of dye, they used onion skins and wattle bark; when they ran out of wool, they learnt to spin their own.

– Jan Bassett


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There are also 2 older posts here about WWI and knitting, which you will find here and here.




This photo is probably the most fascinating… it’s an interned German doing macrame at Fort Douglas…


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And in keeping with last week’s post about the Civil War and knitting, here’s a little bit from the wonderful book No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting:

“At the sound of war, former Civil War knitters quickly surfaced. One eighty-eight-year-old who had accompanied her husband on Civil War assignments taught knitting to children in a Takoma Park, Maryland, church. Many still-spry United Daughters of the Confederacy who once knit for “Johnny Reb” now contributed over 600,000 knit articles for “Sammy.” Instead of gloves or stockings, a grandmother who proudly snapped on her Red Cross button “in place of her accustomed brooch” made “stump socks” to fit over amputated limbs. Seventy-two-year-old Mrs. Mitt Osgood, who lived on a Montana cattle ranch eighty miles from a railroad, knit 18 pairs of socks in twenty days and completed 120 pairs between February and September, 1918.”

You, Me, and the PTSD: Relationships, Feeling, and PTSD

December 27, 2012: I posted this last week, and then, er, took it offline because I wanted the time to tell my family about what was going on… And did so. Thanks to those of you who have sent lovely emails and comments regarding this post! x

January 22, 2013: Reposting this because the above took the ability for people to leave comments away… Which I was emailed about. Thus, posting it this time and leaving it be… x

To say I’ve done more crying in the past year than any other year would be both the total truth and a total lie. A lie, because I’ve cried many, many times a year for many, many years. The truth, because I’ve cried many, many times this year. Like when I’m watching television and a not-even-very-interesting-ad comes on featuring a really dumb animated staple or choosing which soup to buy at the grocery store or when I’m just walking down the street thinking about nothing. I find tears streaming down my face and suddenly I’m trying to wipe them away quickly before anyone notices. In fact, I cried not too long ago to Top 40 radio while in an airport shuttle van with 2 strangers.

One minute I was fine and, then one catchy hook later, I was a blubbering mess. I texted a friend and asked, “WTF is wrong with me?!” She said I should put on my sunglasses and maybe they’ll think I just broke up with my boyfriend. If only it was that simple.

But, no, it was stupider than that. Way stupider. I was crying because I felt the lyrics. Like, felt them, like had emotion. I can’t even remember what song it was, it was probably Justin Bieber or something else vaguely vomit inducing. See, for most of you, you know what it feels like to feel. The touch of someone’s hand, a brush against a tree branch, the soft down of a fluffy puppy, the warm solace of a cup of coffee. I mean, I’d feel all those things, but it would be like there was still some sort of barrier between us. It was never quite authentic and to the bone; there was always something not quite right.

As I wake up this year it’s like someone flipped a switch just underneath my skin. Or like I just took off a protective suit. Welcome to PTSD, where things get buried and hidden and closed off and protected and are worn away until there is nothing left of the real you. The “you” before. Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be like, except there was never really a “before” for me, just a slow awakening to the idea that something wasn’t right. Unlike many traumas, mine was no one’s fault. It happened when I was so little that there was never a “before” or an “after.” Just a weird life where I never really understood what people meant by feeling things.

So, it was no surprise that it wasn’t until I found knitting that something changed. A complete shift, in fact, as I noticed the tactile and began to focus on positive choices instead of negative ones. Why? Because something about the feeling felt good and made me feel less, well, dead inside. Funny how we can’t feel so we drown out the confusion and hurt and anger with various substances. And, subsequently, we make it much much worse. But we lie to ourselves and say that we really can feel while under these substances, and suddenly that fake sense of feeling becomes what we think is “real” feeling and life gets turned upside down.

Fake becomes real, because fake is better than nothing. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. Repeatedly eating that as truth instead of seeing that it’s like using a mop to soak up a flood… Because the real goodness, the real feeling isn’t being unearthed, it’s simply being chased after without any progress. Because in order to get to the real feeling, you have to do a lot of digging first to set it free.

It was through knitting and making that any connection at all became even remotely possible. (Leading me to discover that something was wrong in the first place.) I could feel the yarn run through my fingers because my anxiety was down. Depending on which yarn I used, I could feel it sliding through my fingers easily or scratching them a bit as it flowed through them. As knitting brought me directly into the middle of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow,” there was peace. I could feel because I wasn’t worried about what would happen if everyone knew what was wrong with me.

That I was the girl who couldn’t feel correctly, whether it was a sip of coffee or a kitten or a kiss. This deep dark secret that made friends look at me weird if I told them, that made romantic relationships miserable and fraught with anxiety and disaster and panic, and that, at its very worst, made people feel sorry or pity for me because I was so very unlike everyone else. A freakshow. A weirdo. An alien lost among the normal ones.

Until this year, when I was diagnosed with PTSD. When all of this made sense, and I was no longer alone and weird, and I was “found” and weird, as there were others who had the same thing or at least had researched others (other freakshows?) that had the same thing. Okay, so maybe I was hella weird, but at least I wasn’t hella weird alone. That’s got to be better, right? Right!??!
I devoured books like Michele Rosenthal’s Before the World Intruded (in the hopes of discovering a similar story), Robert Scaer’s The Body Bears the Burden (to figure out WTF was wrong with my body), Diane England’s The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Relationship (to figure out WTF was wrong with my inability to keep a relationship), Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger (because at this point I was ready to just give up and accept life as a freakshow), along with looking at various online forums (ptsdforum.org) and reading a heap of info online about veterans and PTSD.

But I’m not a veteran, so I had to strip out anything related to combat and just let it all sink in that this was really happening. That there really was a problem. That it wasn’t just my mind. It was everything. How I looked at the world through PTSD glasses, how I felt the world through my special invisible suit of numbness, how I related to people because I felt they couldn’t possibly ever “get” me. Ever. Ever. Ever.

The biggest bummer of all was how insidiously embarrassing it all was. I couldn’t feel, I was chronically hopeless at relationships, I was getting older, and was pretty sure I was going crazy. I had this weird horrible sounding thing that made me feel separate from the entire world and brought hypervigilance, depression, anxiety, anger, and crappiest of all, numbness. It was like being trapped in cotton wool, unable to see an exit while having a panic attack trying to find one. A mid-range type of hell that still kept me with a pretty intact sense of sarcasm and humor, except there was no one else that actually had lived the really rough stuff. No one that said, “I get it.”

So, after spending decades of being numb and feeling alone, I now had a “disorder” that made me feel more alone, more numb, more depressed, more anxious, and more lame than I had ever felt before. (Are you freaking kidding me?!) And this was before you got to the inappropriate crying, 8 million apologies, and occasional random meltdown. I was beginning to see why either a) no one wrote about this stuff or b) everyone that did was firmly in a long-term relationship. I.e., it’s not attractive. However, eventually, I found that with a little extra time and deep breathing, old meltdowns became opportunities for open-hearted honesty and the tears became space in which life was fully lived. (The over-apologizing I’m still working on.)

Then, in a sense, I weirdly began to fully lucky, i.e., how many people know what it’s like to fully crack your heart open and fully connect with not just other humans, but also everything you come in contact with from coffee to q-tips? Now, if I love you, I will tell you instead of worrying about whether you will say it back because I am so ecstatic to feel such joy; I will fully listen because I’m so happy to feel in your presence; and I will fully cry with you when you’re hurting because I can feel the pain. Not because I’m any different, but because I truly know what it’s like to feel nothing, I am in love with all that I can feel now.

So, then, with all this, what’s a girl to do? I think the first thing that girl is to do is to share. Because the first lesson I’ve learned about thinking that you’re the only one, is that that is never the case. There is always someone else. And in this case, there are thousands of someone elses, most of them also feeling trapped and freakshow-y and terrified.

But, wait.

Why am I writing about this here? Because it’s also related to craft and activism, to craft, because it is a reminder how the tactile can be healing; to activism, because, it’s creating awareness to something that probably someone you know has. Think they do? Then share this. Why? Because they’re probably feeling broken and alone and scared and terrified and like no one on this planet could possibly ever understand them. But they’re wrong.

When I first wrote about this, I was terrified to be sharing so much about something so personal. However, eventually you get to a point where that doesn’t matter anymore, what matters is letting someone else in your position feel less alone. That’s one of the tenets of craftivism, sharing your opinion on something in a crafty (or in this case, creative (writing)) way. About taking what’s inside and putting it outside for others to see it, ask questions, form their own opinions… and if you’re lucky, learn a bit.

Happily, I’ve come much farther in my fight to feel, to be “normal,” to connect in ways that have been near impossible for many years. I can feel the wrinkles in the hands I hold, feel the warmth of that puppy’s belly and its heart beating under its chest, and most awesomely, I can now really feel the rain. The way it trickles down my arms over tiny hairs and creases in my elbows; splashes against my face and down my eyelids; and weighs down my hair with each teeny tiny drop. And it feels delicious.

These days, I welcome the tears that come down my face and don’t worry about the sunglasses; I embrace them because each one means that I’m feeling more and more as time goes on. That my heart is breaking open as time passes on. That, finally, not am I not just the only one, I am
becoming one of the “normal” ones.

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