yes and no

The Game. 

You stand with your back against the wall. Everyone else does too. It is explained that you are to quietly stand until you’re ready to slowly draw your arms up in front of you until a sudden explosion of a choice. Yes, or no. The no is two arms stretched forward in fists, arms straight at the elbows with energy coursing through, accompanied by a full voiced, “no.” The yes is similar, two arms stretched out on each side, a wide expanse, chest open, palms open, energy coursing through, accompanied by a full voiced, “yes.” That’s the whole game. Standing against the wall, drawing something up, not choosing whether it will be a yes or a no until you do. Yes, open. No, shut. Try again, try again. Each time it can only be one. Each time there is only one choice. You play over and over. You plan nothing in advance. The whole room is a cacophony of yeses and nos. You shock yourself with your choices. You try to empty out your brain. You let your arms whack into place, let your voice say something, forcefully. You let your yes be yes and your no be no, which is what we have heard that we are supposed to do but so often stink at. And you offer no explanation. In fact, you’re hardly noticed by anyone else at all.

No. 

I left college with a vague notion that I should become some sort of theater educator, since theater was what I had always done and what lots of people had told me I was good at, what I’d stood in rooms busying myself with for practically all my life. I left and I spent a lot of time scrolling Chicago Artist Resource, a job-posting website for theater gigs and the like. I scrolled for an accumulation of hours, opening things that I thought I could potentially wiggle myself into in new tabs on my computer. I scrolled and felt myself and my meager marketable skills shrink, watched the number of open tabs multiply far too slowly, watched as my dreams of what could be whittled down into what seemed actually possible which was not a lot. For the few suitable positions I did find, I wrote dazzling cover letters, the best ones I knew how to write, with a growing pit in my stomach, a feeling that no matter how good my cover letter was there was something not right. I received few replies. My even fewer interviews left me for weeks waiting for an email that never came. No, no, no. First, the no felt like it was coming from the world, from Chicago, fists in my face, that humming “n” in my ear. But, soon, the no became mine, my eyes glazing over at the scrolling, the jobs sounding tedious, uninspiring, no spot in the world for me that I wanted to fill. I tried a few things, took a few unpaid gigs, and with each one felt my “no,” fisty and full, rise faster and stronger. No! No! No! Quick, choiceless, reflexive, no other option.

Yes. 

From Zooey: “You can’t live in the world with such strong likes and dislikes.” His mom says it to him. To this I say, is there any other way to live? What do I do about the yesses and nos when I can’t control which way they go, when they rise in me without my meaning them to?

No.

The week gets full too quickly, feels like it has all already happened before it’s begun. You know exactly how it will be for you at work and you wish just to skip it entirely. It’s that feeling of airlessness, the particular sort of almost-despair (not so terrible but like a simple, commonplace cousin) where you stop expecting unexpected delights, sweet surprises, when you leave little room for hope. I’m learning that this particular malady, this almost-despair, is quite possibly the reason that I need to find an alternative way to make money, something that means I can set my own schedule, shape my own days, choose when to begin and end. The pre-appointed times and my smallness within them make my arms rise in no so quickly. I wake up with no. I arrive at work with no. The no returns every time I’m not trying to squish it, and when it isn’t there I’m ashamed that it was a little bit ago. It feels like weakness, the parade of no. It feels like maybe the no is being told to me, cosmically, which is possibly true. Maybe it’s grace, painful but sincere. In fact, I’m sure it is but that doesn’t make it rock me less. It feels like failure. But I can’t control it. The no is outside myself, rising from my gut not my brain.

No.

I don’t want to waste my youth in no. I can’t waste my youth in no. That seems like the worst thing I could do.

Yes. 

When the sun comes through the blinds in those fragile little slats of light. When you find a sparrow to watch for a minute. The promise of saturdays. Driving down country roads. Pizza for lunch. Having a pleasant project to do. Carrying an idea around. Evenings with friends, two hours in. Watching an interesting stranger. Beautiful clothes made of good natural fibers. Small spoons. Creative storytelling. Seventy degrees. Thirty degrees with glittery snow and a warm-enough coat. Hearing from someone who is one of your favorite people. A warm night. Lingering somewhere nice. Writing, when it pours out of you. Choosing to be alone in an unfamiliar place. Becoming engrossed in something. Losing track. Perfect shades of colors put together. Dancing, when it’s simple and feels good. The million options. Writing utensils. Old trees. Rabbits. Things made of wood.

No. 

The city nannying, the thought that maybe I could make money from blogging (ha!), the three intense unpaid theater internships which were very emotionally taxing, the barista-ing, the nannying again, the sewing canvas bags for a design firm in a high rise, the dream of something different shapeshifting a hundred times. Isaiah and I laugh at how many jobs we’ve held already in these short two years after college, how weird and disparate, flailing, they seem. Like we’re living that fact you hear people spit out at you in college, that most people have like 15 jobs in their lifetime. That number always felt way too high, but now it almost feels low. You don’t know something is a no until you try it. You don’t know what will rise in you, what you will choose, until you do. Until your hands are forming fists and your mouth is forming the word and there is nothing else to do but say it. No to this, no to that, no to that and that and that. No, no, no, I can’t. I couldn’t possibly. I don’t even wish I could.

Yes. 

Sewing, which started so softly but confidently. I don’t remember where the first impulse to pick it up came from. Probably instagram, if I’m being honest and simple. But also maybe marrying Isaiah and being given a magnificent wedding quilt, huge and hand-stitched by a grandmother. And growing tired of no. Needing a yes so much that I drew it up out of nowhere, out of the depths of me, out of some sort of prophetic thread, some patron saint, some ancient yearning. I think God gave me sewing, I seriously do. There are all sorts of moments in my life I could link it to if I tried, but I think none of that matters because it suddenly took root without my asking it to. Women’s work. Needles and threads. Ripping things apart and putting them back together. Making order out of disorder. Grabbing hold of some sort of control. Finding something beautiful.

No.

I wish I didn’t have to make money at all. I look around at how much there is to buy and I feel stressed out by it, by how much of it I’d like to have and how much of it I will never need ever. By how much of it empties out of our bank account each month (automatically!) like water down a drain. I’m uninspired by money, I’m uninspired by most of American capitalism, most of the things there are to spend money on, and the disillusionment grows stronger with each passing day. I have no problem having just enough, feeling limited. I fantasize about the America of long ago, the Laura Ingalls Wilder life that I’ve been mystified by since I was small, bartering for calico, eating root vegetables, keeping the fire burning, hugging little ones and sending them outside to find something to play with. Not trying to get instagram famous at all, not worrying about getting a job that offers health insurance. A small home, a few beautiful, functional things, time to make things and mend things, comfortable work to do, flexibility, time. Only enough money to keep it all going. Only enough to be a little bit generous. Enough to buy a new sewing machine when I need one. Enough to enjoy tasty food with people I love. Enough to feel confident in what I’m wearing. Enough to not spend precious evenings worrying about making it all fit. That doesn’t seem far-fetched. But it does seem impossible sometimes. I fear that no. I fear that phantom no, the worry that my dreams, simple though they are, can’t possibly come true, that this era is not conducive to them. I don’t know what to do about that fear. I hate the way my arms sometimes rise to form it, to sentence myself to it, to confirm that it’s real. In those moments I wait a little longer at the wall, motionless.

No. 

I’m sad about the theater no. It makes me confused about myself, not in big ways, but in small ways. It makes sense to me, I’m not surprised by it, but it still makes me sad. A chapter closed. Maybe not forever, but definitely not the wide open yes that I dreamed of. I don’t know what to do about that except move on, grieving a little as I go and carrying bits with me, not forgetting, not saying no on purpose.

Yes. 

You can’t possibly predict what the yes will be until it is already there, arms stretched, open, free.

No. 

The way that most people in the world are treated terribly. The way that so many things we buy are so terribly costly to make. The way that so many folks are completely stuck, trapped in no, living nonetheless. The way that I find so much to struggle against in my life in which nothing too terrible has ever happened. The way that there is nothing I can do to help. The way that America is so big and so full of chasms too wide to cross with our small bodies and minds. The way the world is so big and full of chasms too. The way that we all have a lot to be afraid of. The way that I know that terrible things will happen to me, that they already have even though I don’t remember them. The way that to live in the world is so endlessly complicated, that the yeses don’t get to exist without the nos, that we have to take the bitter with the sweet and we also sort of want to. The way we don’t know at all what will become of us.

Yes. 

Embroidery, then knitting, then sewing garments, then sewing quilts. Each one a yes, but the yeses getting louder, stronger, more emphatic as the ideas cascaded, as things snapped into place. The quilts an enduring yes, a yes that echoes. A yes that feels like a key opening a lock. A yes I’m pinning some hope to, a dangerous, dangerous thing to do with any yes. The yesses can so quickly turn into nos.

Yes. 

In every quilt, there’s the idea of another one. In every quilt I see that someone else has made, I see a flicker of myself, of how I could never make that exact quilt but how I could make something different and as lovely. A universe of possibility, an eternal spaciousness. Familiar forms, traditions, skills, but no way to mess up, no end to what could be. So much space.

Yes. 

In every quilt too, so many soft hours of repetition, of knowing exactly what to do next, of another stitch, another seam, another cut of predetermined measure. Finally something clear, something certain, even if the certainty is constructed, designed. The sure fact that if you show up again and again, if you keep your hands moving enough hours, you’ll end up with a quilt, legitimate and true. The simple fact of it is impressive no matter what it looks like, what it took to get there. The fact of a quilt, all sewn and stitched and bound, is a giant, reverberant yes.

No. 

It isn’t a perfect solution. There’s the imposter syndrome, the need, still, always, to figure out how to make enough money, the gigantic fears all laced up in all of it. I want to spend my life making quilts, yes, okay, the yes is big enough at this point to say that out loud. But the no keeps popping up, not enough to squish the yes but definitely enough to dampen it, make it sometimes small, make me sometimes small. Do I get to say I’m a quilter? Yes! No! Do I have to keep having a day job? Yes! No! Is this possible? Yes! Yes! Yes, I hope yes, I need yes, I’ll force the yes to rise out of the world if I have to even if I don’t know how, I’ll let my own small personal yes be louder than the cosmic no, I’ll open my palms and raise my voice, my feeble y-e-s, chest open, heart visible, hope spiraling out of me.

Yes.

Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m saying yes to, but the joy of it, the crazy hope, shocks me anyway. Maybe it’s just a part of being twenty-four, as beautiful as I’ll ever be, in love with a wonderful man, and still quite free though I don’t always feel myself to be. So much still to find out. So many yeses yet to unfold. I say yes to those yeses! I say yes to the mystery of them! I want them all to happen to me, the yes of my future children, the yes of my future homes, the things I will love that I don’t know about yet, the friends I have not yet made, the friends I’ll grow old with, the books I will read and love, the quilts I will make when I’m sixty! Yes to all of that, the mystery of it! Yes to the fount of every blessing! Yes to knowing there will be more yeses!

No.

Let your yes mean yes, let your no mean no, let them affect each other but only just enough. Take each thing as it comes, consider the thing that rose in you, look at it and say, hmm. What’s that about? I’m trying to be less sad about my nos. I’m trying to let them just be real, to see them objectively, like facts. That’s what we were always told to do when we were playing these games, consider what has happened, stand back, look at it, and wonder.

Yes.

Heaven is eternal yes, I suppose.


 

This post is also published here, where you can find me every Monday.

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2 thoughts on “yes and no

  1. I loved your thoughts about how every quilt project contains another quilt inside it.

    I know you have your heart set on theater, but you are an exceptional writer as well. As a professional writing tutor for children, I get to use my drama background and my writing creativity in such a way that helps others. It is a fulfilling, rewarding job that might be suited to you as well…..

    Like

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