My brain is always busy. At any given time, there are over a dozen trains of thought traveling through my head, each routinely stopping to load and unload fretful commuters. What time is my Blue Apron delivery coming again? I can’t believe they made that guy the next Bachelor. Look, a squirrel!
My hands are always busy, too, twirling strands of hair or picking at scabs or peeling off flakes of a forty-five-dollar gel manicure, and most of the time I don’t even realize I’m doing it — fiddling, I mean — until I see the bartender scowling at the shredded bits of soggy coaster next to my glass. It took me years to realize that my compulsive fiddling and constantly cartwheeling internal monologue were related, a reflection of adult-onset ADHD.
Busying my hands clears my mind: it occupies part of my brain, corrals some of my thoughts into a corner and tells them to keep it down. I can actually think when my hands are busy, and it’s pleasurable instead of exhausting. Having so much going on inside my head but being unable to externalize it as something my coworkers and bosses and teachers and collaborators could see — something real — gave me the distinct feeling, for so many years, that I wasn’t smart or creative or worthwhile.
Understanding the way my brain works and treating it with appropriate medication have helped me deal with the concentration and productivity issues that were making me feel like a failure, which was a relief, but not relief. My brain still had no chill when it wasn’t on the clock, and I began to wonder whether it was possible to think and make something at the same time.
My first weaving experience was on a floor loom, which is a bit like going to church for the first time at St Andrews Cathedral. I’d reserved a two-hour block at a place that teaches Saori weaving, a freestyle approach emphasizing creativity and improvisation rather than the mechanics, patterns, and repetition that make weaving the practical and literally productive craft it’s traditionally been — the clothes you’re wearing, the rug under your feet, a spider’s web, a chain-link fence.
After some brief instruction, I sat down, a basket of pretty yarn beside me, and put my right foot on the pedal. I’d picked out a bright coral pink for the weft — the term for whatever yarn or other material is being woven into the warp, or the parallel rows of fiber attached to the loom to provide structure. It took about ten minutes for my hands and feet to start to grasp the rhythm. The weft yarn passed over, then under, the warp, and continued over and under and over and under until I reached the last warp thread at the end of the row and turned the weft back in the other direction: over, then under, then over, then under.
After ten minutes, I was utterly transfixed. The room was quiet except for the creaking of the wooden looms, the sun was streaming in through the window, and my mind was meandering, strolling, instead of racing. I switched from pink to a blue yarn, then tucked tufts of cloud-like raw wool in between the weft threads. The two hours were over as if no time had passed at all. My arms were tired and I had a weird cramp in my calf from the pedal, but I felt — for the first time maybe ever — serene. I practically floated home.
I haven’t stopped weaving since. Because floor looms cost thousands of dollars and I live in a Brooklyn apartment the size of a postage stamp, I signed up for a course on weaving with a lap loom, which requires greater focus to use but fits inside a tote bag. I left the first class with tools and enough yarn to finish the project I’d started, and for the next two weeks I slept maybe three hours a night — something in me had been released. In two and a half years, I’ve made more than fifty wall hangings. Some I sell, some I give as gifts, and the rest adorn my own walls. Each one makes me beam with pride.
Weaving is my meditation. It helps regulate my mood and my anxiety, takes the edge off after a long week, but it’s also my teacher. It challenges me to take new steps without fear of failure — I can always start over, or maybe just change my perspective — and has made me brave enough to try the same approach in other parts of my life.
It’s changed my relationship with my body: my fiddling fingers have learned to be patient, my hands and arms are powerful tools, my back and shoulders are strong, and my core keeps me upright for hours.
It’s also changed the way I engage with my mind, allowing me to cut my brain some slack instead of battling it in frustration. Each tapestry is a manifestation of my internal messiness made into something real, tangible, beautiful.