Positive Self-Talk Via Cross-Stitch, Hurrah!

I read a number of years ago in Snoop that motivational posters are essentially a form of self-talk, and one of the most reliable external indicators of a neurotic temperament. Science. Gotta love it. Apparently people buy them, not to communicate to other people their commitment to Excellence or Overcoming Fear or Success, but to remind themselves of the kinds of people they want to be.

Just for giggles.

It made me incredibly insecure about anything that might be considered a motivational poster in any of my spaces. Oh my god. I’m advertising my neuroticism. Laying bare my inadequacies for the viewing pleasure of any passing pizza delivery person.

One exception to this rule has been this poster:


Proudly displayed right above the sofa, for many years now. Except at Christmas when it’s replaced by a seasonal cross-stitch. Anyway:

Backstory is that our former PM, Harper, had a very anti-science and secretive attitude, and this artist, Franke James, was outright censored by the government for her views on climate change. You can read her story elsewhere, but James put together a series of posters and stickers, and a really funny book, about her experiences. And this is one of those posters. (I also have the book. Worth reading.)

True to Snoop form, it is of course a statement to myself of the kind of person I want to be: committed to environmental values, willing to take an unpopular stand to communicate my commitment to environmental values.

But since the election of Justin Trudeau in the fall, it is also out of date.

Cue parade, streamers, marching band. Hurray! So glad it’s out of date!

This meant it needed to be replaced. And the sooner the better. I don’t want to have to look at any Harper Era reminders for any longer than I have to.

It’s been replaced by this:

Just a minor shift in tone.

Soon to be joined by the most adorable little threadpainting. It’s going to be a corner of nauseating sweetness. Frances and I will snuggle up with Simba and talk about our days under a nice little “LOVE” banner (plus the threadpainting), possibly while using the critter cuddle quilt. Maybe I’ll call it the Saccharine Seat.

The backing fabric is a hand-dyed aida bought at Gitta’s Charted Petit Point (favourite embroidery store in the known universe, Dear Readers. Did you know you can buy embroidery fabric off the bolt?). What I love about hand-dyed aida is, well, first off the colours are fabulous, but I also find the slight mottling introduced by the hand-dyeing process tricks the eye into seeing it as a regular fabric, at least from certain distances, rather than a grid.

Never let it be said that I lack self-awareness, Dear Readers. (Though it’s true sometimes.)

I could say I made it just because of how wonderfully the colours work with the grey-blue walls. I love the contrast between warm and cool. Give me a room to decorate, I’ll put a warm or cool colour on the walls, and then the opposite for the furniture and fixings. And the golds in the cross-stitch work so well with the golds in all the other art hung over the couch.

Not sure that I love that the one in the middle is the only one with so much white in it. Might be a smidge too heavy. Hmm.

And I could talk about how mentally I have just not been up for sewing. The massive purge has contributed, yes–but even then. Sewing (even pouches and tote bags) requires a kind of focus and concentration I haven’t had much of. Whereas cross stitch is like paint by numbers on fabric. You can set yourself up on the sofa with something on the TV and just plug away, one little x at a time, and as long as you count correctly, you’ll end up with something gorgeous. But that begs a whole other question, doesn’t it?

The TV appears to be important, because otherwise I end up fruitlessly ruminating on unhappy memories.

And you don’t want to hear about it, but fruitlessly ruminating over unhappy memories is, in the main, incompatible with a hobby that requires focus, concentration, some math, and the use of machines with strong engines and sharp edges. An easy, mindless project that can be carried out on the couch while watching sci-fi shows is much more the thing.

According to WordPress I’ve written about 25 versions of the rest of this post. Not that I’m indecisive or anything, but apparently I can’t decide how to end this. Dear Readers, let’s try #26:


Once upon a time, a young girl at daycare stared, puzzled, at a boy who was sobbing brokenheartedly as his mother left. “Why would you cry,” she wondered, “just because your mother is leaving?”

She thought about this hard all day, but her thinking brought her no closer to an answer. She decided to try this for herself, the next time her mother dropped her off there, and she did. Wailed. Her mother left and the daycare workers comforted her. “Nope,” she thought. “I still don’t get it.”

She would never cry for missing her mother. Not once, in her entire life. There was nothing to miss. Her relationship with her mother was like a three-prong electrical cord trying to fit into a two-prong outlet, like the outline of where a person should be.   Fear, anger, and sadness were subject to evaluation and her reasons for being scared, sad or angry were never good enough. Eventually nothing would make her cry–not disease, not death–not where anyone could see, but she suspects the jewelry box she hid a scalpel and a bottle of aspirin in is probably still in storage with the rest of her childhood things.

One day she would find herself in a psychologist’s office, after having made so many mistakes that she could no longer chalk them up to circumstance, and realizing that she didn’t know what to do with her life except try to fit three-prong electrical cords into two-prong outlets. That psychologist would have a number of things to say, like, “I don’t know why you still have a relationship with those people,” and “Asking why is pointless. A doormat can ask the feet that walk on it for a million years why they’re walking on it. If it really doesn’t want to be walked on, it needs to roll itself up and go under the chair,” and “You are more disconnected from your emotions than anyone I’ve ever met.”

A lot of it wouldn’t make any sense at the time, but would become clearer as the years passed, until she was able to say to herself, “I don’t know why I have a relationship with these people either.” Until she became the kind of person who regularly wore waterproof mascara and carried kleenex in her purse, who was teased by her daughter for crying at everything. Who learned that crazy doesn’t look like crazy from the inside, that the people closest to a situation often see it least clearly, that children normalize whatever it is they’ve grown up with. That Philip Larkin is at least a little bit wrong, and so are The Clod and The Pebble.

That people who have grown up in houses with empty outlines instead of people develop a sense of humour that is quite distinct and often not appreciated, and she could find her tribe by telling a joke and seeing who laughs.

That people only change when they want to, and they almost never want to. Dragged  to the edge of a cliff, held  by the collar of their shirt over the edge, while life says “change or die.” They’d rather fall. They do fall, reciting a litany of reasons why falling was inevitable, why falling isn’t actually falling, why they’re falling up instead of down, why actually everyone is falling and those clowns standing there looking so smug are falling too even if they won’t admit it. It was a kind of gift, she knows, to have been dragged to the right cliff at just the right time. It wasn’t a given.

Eventually plenty of tears would be shed over what should have filled that outline–the words, gestures, and expressions that might have existed, but didn’t–a kind of meta-missing. Like missing a friend you’ve never had. A country you’ve never seen. But decades of looking for what wasn’t and couldn’t be there would eventually drive home the point that if it was to be found, it would need to be found elsewhere; and that regardless, it would need to be begged, borrowed, stolen, bought, or created out of popsicle sticks and duct tape, for her daughter.

(That part didn’t turn out to be so hard. Her daughter is pretty lovable.)


12 thoughts on “Positive Self-Talk Via Cross-Stitch, Hurrah!

  1. You are the most amazing person I have ever known. You are like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the disaster of your childhood. I love you and your daughter and wish I could hug all the bad memories away.

  2. I’m so sorry that this was the beginning. I think there comes a point where we have to love ourselves and others the way we wish we were loved, so we can carve out a future that does not resemble the past. You’ve certainly done that for that great kid of yours and I hope the cross-stich means you’ve done it for yourself too. xo

    1. Thanks, Jen. You are very right.

      Btw, I’ve been trying to leave comments on your blog but I keep forgetting to select the right platform option, so it tries to go through as google and then the internet eats it. So where I actually know that it’ll post: I’m so excited for the house and all of your wedding plans. 🙂 And I can’t wait to see your new place! Indy will be so excited about having a larger bedroom (I’m assuming she’ll have a larger bedroom).

      Also, we still need to make dinner plans. 😉

  3. I think I agree with you about the middle picture.

    I think of you as a phoenix kind of person, truly. You have soared above so much. But even phoenix es (?!) have to land sometime and I like to think of you on your beautiful couch with your beautiful daughter, at least after you step out of the pile of ashes. It is so frustrating that however many times we do that, sooner or later we find ourselves up to our ankles in cinders once again.

    1. Yeah … one of those things I didn’t see until they were all hung and I stepped back and then, oops. I’ll shift them again when I hang up the next one and see what happens. Maybe the owl needs to be on a different wall.

      Thank you, Mary. I’m not sure what to do with these phoenix comparisons. You’d think if I were flying, I’d get somewhere faster.

  4. This post has been on my mind for a couple of days. It evoked a lot of scattered thoughts and memories as well as empathy, and I wasn’t quite sure how to write it out. So here I am trying! I think you’re a crusader, politically and personally. Nothing is harder to overcome than unloving parenting. I have no clue what sort of music you might like, but Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You is from another crusader stepping back to deal with her upbringing and it’s amazing. I think I cried every time I listened to it for weeks. And crying is so much better than not crying. ❤

  5. I’ve been keeping this unread because I wanted to comment and find it infuriating to do so on my phone (where I read most of my blogs). So sorry for the lateness.

    Someone I know refers to it as ‘getting the wire mother’, in reference to that study with monkeys. I find this particularly useful as it reminds me that it’s not ME that’s broken when I don’t feel any kind of way about the fact that I haven’t seen my mother for six months, and then only for a quick dinner and phew, thank goodness that is over. I don’t miss her at all in any kind of way although i do often miss what SHOULD have been there. What should have been filling that outline is the perfect way of putting it. That, of course, did not stop a string of terrible relationships – both romantic and friend – following that terrible pattern. I am getting closer to having more of it figured out now. I think. It sounds like you are too – and sometimes I think having thought about what ought to have filled that outline can give one a pretty good idea of how to fill that outline oneself. Maybe not a headstart but perhaps to break even with people who learnt it without realising it but also don’t realise it can be work to fill that.

    I hadn’t fully articulated to myself about the sense of humour, but you are dead on. Now I realise how often I crack that kind of joke to see who responds. I have a lovely group of people who laugh at that kind of jokes and who know the right things to say when I have that specific kind of melt down about it all. Bless them.

    Anyway, all that to say is… idk. Yes. I hear you. I know those things too. I’m sorry that we share this experience, but if I have to share it with anyone then it’s inspiring to share it with someone who is (or at least seems, this is the internet after all) so thoughtful and caring and good.

    1. This comment was definitely worth waiting for. 🙂 Thank you for the kind words.

      I was thinking about the wire mother a lot when I wrote this; I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one that resonated with. And I’m glad, too, that you’ve found your tribe. It’s so important to find the people who can hear these kinds of things without flinching or scolding.

      Here’s hoping for lots of three-prong sockets and plugs for both of us from here on out. 😉

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