Noticing and Making

On a recent walk in my neighborhood I stopped to take a picture of a bird’s nest. It isn’t as if I’d never seen one before, but this one was in a low tree, and, though abandoned, perfectly intact. As I walked towards my house, feeling satisfied and special for having seen such a small piece of natural engineering so close, I noticed something else. Almost every other tree on my walk had a birds nest. I’ve taken this same walk many, many times. Alone, with other people, in the morning, the evening, on cold and warm days. I’d just never really looked, not like this, before. 

But it made sense. Because in the morning, when I stand by my front window drinking coffee, there is a cacophony of robins darting from tree to tree. Once, even, when it rained, five of them took shelter under the eave of my porch. I don’t know where I thought these birds came from. I didn’t think about it, I suppose.

They were just there, living their lives, as I live mine. 

One of my favorite essays is Seeing, by Annie Dillard. I love it so much I used to teach it in my previous life as a college professor. This essay has stayed with me for so many years since I first read it, for many reasons, one of which is that I think I am always trying to see better. Always trying to get a clearer view. We live in an era where so much is put in front of us all of the time. Ads and posts and alarmist articles. Things to do and to buy and think. 

I like forcing myself to move towards a noticing. It’s like taking a deep breath. To really notice is, to once again reference Annie Dillard, as if “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.” 

I always thought this line was about love, and it is, but the older I get the more I am convinced love means something different than what I was always told. That love is more expansive than the western notion of marriage and children. It is in these moments, when I am alone, when I am walking streets I have walked so many times, and still find that the world can surprise me, that I feel most in love. And not with a particular person or thing or idea. Just with being human. Being here. And I feel that love returned to me again and again. This is the sight of possibility. Where I am grateful to my body for carrying me. Grateful just to be. 

These feelings are sometimes fleeting

I open my door and the usual distractions are waiting. But the more I can notice, the longer I can carry that feeling. I will confess that I am not a person who aspires to be happy all the time. I am one who aspires to feel everything without judgment. I think many of us spend many years feeling bad and then feeling bad about feeling bad. What a waste! When I could just be letting all of it, sadness, happiness, fear, nostalgia, anxiety, courage, flow through me.  

And what does any of this have to do with making? Making is its own kind of noticing, isn’t it? Sometimes my making practice starts to feel more about being noticed, being seen, than it does about noticing or seeing. This is when I know something needs to change, when I crave a reset.

I try to answer honestly, if I couldn’t post this dress would I still want to make it?

Would I still wear it and would it feel like me? Sometimes it means zooming in, to the parts that make up the whole, to fibers and their careful weave, the thread and its tight spin. This is when I want to make my machine go slowly, or want to sew by hand or learn a new technique. When I want to practice patience, although it is not, generally, in my nature to be a patient person. Then I can start to notice. Then I stop worrying about being seen. 

When I am sewing and it feels like magic it reminds me of running cross country in high school. Those rare moments where I forgot about times, about tests, about medals, and just ran. It felt like I could go anywhere. Like noticing a bird’s nest, or a bloom you didn’t know existed, or like seeing the face of your best friend for the first time in months. Noticing how beautiful they are. 

That is the kind of making that renews me. That fills me up again and again. We are but small creatures, only part of a greater whole. But we each have our part to play, our ways to notice. For now, sewing is one of mine. 

One More Thing

Meg and I put together a playlist, Sew Liberated’s Summer Tunes, which we hope you will all enjoy!

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  1. Meredith, thank you for this beautiful essay and your beautiful photographs, and your beautiful reminders about seeing and observing….and experiencing all feelings for what they are, whenever and however they arrive in our beings.

    I’ve loved Annie Dillard’s “Seeing” (part of her Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek, right?) since I first read and loved that book, over 40 years ago. My favorite part–the part I always remember–is the part about a person who was blind receiving an operation that restored his vision, and seeing a tree for the first time….a “tree with lights,” I think he called it, not yet knowing that the lights were the sunshine gleaming through the leaves. We learn, if we are lucky, to see in these different ways–as you did when you discovered all the other birds’ nests on your walk home.

  2. There are so many parts of this that ring true for me. I love what you said about not aspiring to be happy all of the time. I wonder if more people would be less depressed if it were more accepted to not be happy all of the time. Happiness is only one aspect of the dynamic human experience. And so much being put in front of us all of the time . . . so true and I never really thought of it exactly like that. And lastly, love IS expansive and can wash over us at moments when we are completely alone. When that happens to me it takes my breath away.

  3. Thank you for such a thoughtful reminder to slow down and notice, to be unafraid of going within and noticing without judging. I think it’s awesome when we discover the golden thread between ourselves and the natural world, which is the best teacher. Remaining open to imagination, surrender and the seeing my the Infinite Presence in everything helps to curate a joyous life because you literally can see the magic everywhere.

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