Tuesday, July 31, 2018

It ends, and begins again

On July 21, 2008, I wrote my first blog post as The Bitchy Stitcher and titled it "It Begins." For the next ten years I chronicled my attempts to learn how to sew, my constant desire to lose 50 pounds, my struggles as a mom of young children, my work as an editor and writer, my marriage, my hopes and fears and random thoughts—and I did it all with my tongue in my cheek and a frequently filthy vocabulary.

Blogging is an amazing thing for a wanna-be writer. I started under the blissful cover of relative anonymity, and this gave me freedom. I was free to use my own voice in a way I could never hope to do writing articles about bidet installation businesses for local magazines, and there was something so much more real about putting that voice out into the world where someone might actually read it than just keeping it hidden in a private journal. I listed my blog on a couple sites for quilters, and began to grow an audience from there. Though I always got a few "shame on your potty mouth" comments and the occasional "I'm not sure if you're kidding about setting that quilt on fire but just in case maybe don't because you could burn down your house" comment, for the most part people seemed to truly appreciate a quilting blog that wasn't based in the world of ample natural lighting, floors that never need vacuuming, children with clean faces and adorable clothes, and homes out of Architectural Digest. I was a fat, stay-at-home mom with a toddler who threw incessant tantrums living in a rented duplex that was (and is) constantly too dark for decent photography. But I was honest about it—and I had a sense of humor about it, and I think it's safe to say the quilt blogging world had not quite seen anything like me at that point.

My audience grew pretty quickly after I started writing for Quilter's Home—and my anonymity went out the window. And by "anonymity," I don't mean that I ever really kept my identity a secret—I just didn't tell anybody I actually knew or was acquainted with about my blog. I love having an audience; I would just prefer it if my audience didn't pick up the phone the next day and try to do an intervention because I joked about setting my quilt on fire.

Though I always wanted to grow my audience more, I never had the stomach for self-promotion that other quilt bloggers have. I know that I'm something of an acquired taste, or you kinda need to be pre-disposed to my style of humor, so I never wanted to do the big promotions that would draw people in with the promise of free stuff. I liked keeping my people a small, self-selected group of fellow weirdos. Keeps the riff-raff out.

But the blog archive in the right-hand column of this site tells a story.

The numbers in parentheses are how many posts I published in that year. There was definitely a downturn after I started writing regularly for Quilter's Home, and again when I joined Generation Q. But the biggest drop happened in 2015, when I went from 44 posts the previous year to 16.

In January of 2013, I lost my brother to cancer. In December of that same year, I lost my mom. In 2014, I had a disastrous attendance at Quilt Market that caused a huge shift in my perception of and relationship with the quilting industry, but I still chugged along. In fact, it was in 2014 that I wrote the blog post that set massive records for views, shares, and comments: Behind the Bolts, which was about why shopping at JoAnn fabrics is so frustrating (long story short: corporate policy). And it wasn't funny!

But then in 2015 I had the first of three abdominal surgeries that basically filled my existence with pain and sickness. I also developed frozen shoulder, an extremely painful condition that lasted for almost two years and is now trying to get going in my other shoulder. I was constantly in pain, allergic to narcotics so unable to get even a smidge of relief except what I could get from ibuprofen, and wondering every day if this was my new normal. In 2017, I had surgery to fix the second surgery that was done badly, and I was mentally prepared for more pain, but not for the infection that put me back in the hospital and kept me sick and weakened for several weeks. It was never life-threatening, but there was a specter of further, more difficult surgeries that could result if the infection spread. I was put on strong antibiotics that made me ill and dehydrated, and eventually the source of the infection was found and they installed an utterly horrifying drain. Never have a plastic tube coming out of your abdomen with infected liquid dripping out of it that you have to collect and measure and describe if you can possibly help it. The drain and another antibiotic finally did the trick, and by mid-summer I was mostly recovered, with no residual pain. Physical pain, anyway. But it all took a toll—the surgeries, the shoulder, the deaths—and though I was better, I often felt like a different person than the one I had been four years before.

When I realized I had made it all the way to the end of 2017 with only marginal and easily handled (so far!) shoulder pain, I thought that maybe I could make 2018 the Year of Blog Revitalization. I even made a public commitment to the cause, using my handy dandy magical thinking to try and make it happen just by declaring it so. But I caught another curve ball, one I never saw coming.

In February, my amazing, wonderful, smart, funny oldest child texted me from the bus on the way home from middle school while I sat in the car line awaiting to pick up my youngest from elementary school. The text read, "Mom, I think I'm transgender."

I don't know how to explain the swirl of emotions that come from receiving a text like that, and I suppose for every parent who goes through it the swirl is different, but the best I can do is say it was a mixture of fierce love with abject terror. But I made damn sure that my kid only saw the fierce love. Knowing from our extensive research that affirmation gives kids the best chance at a happy and healthy life, we found a wonderful therapist who specializes in transgender issues and started attending a support group, and in June, on the first moment of summer vacation, we greeted the child we once thought was a daughter as our son, Miles.

That doesn't even begin to touch on the process that led us to that point, but I can assure you it is, for a parent, all-consuming—psychologically at least. And we are one of the lucky families. So many kids have unsupportive or skeptical parents, live in communities that have open anti-trans sentiment, and as a result there are many kids who are suffering with depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation and attempts. We have always been openly and vocally pro-LGBTQ+, and are lucky to live in an area that, though it skews conservative, is actually very socially liberal. All of Miles' friends, every single one, has accepted and embraced him. All our neighbors and friends and family have done the same. We have had no issues with school or doctors, and there is a trans-focused health clinic nearby that takes our insurance. The therapist told us that on the whole we have a very happy, mature, and well-adjusted kid, and often tells us she wishes all the parents of kids she sees were like us. 

And this is still the hardest thing my family and I ever been through. 

So, I girded my loins back in May and finished my second book. And then, after I got all the pre-orders signed and shipped, I sat down and asked myself, "What do you want?" 

A few things were clear. Do I still want to write? Hell, yes. Do I still want to make people laugh? Abso-fucking-lutely. Do I want to try in some way to be an advocate or ally for trans kids? Damn right I do.

A lot was—and is—unclear. Do I want to combine all those things? Hmmm, not sure about that. Do I want to reach kids or parents? Yeah, I don't know. Do I maybe just want to try and fundraise for organizations that do this far better than I ever can? Mmmm, quite possibly. Do I want to blog again, or just write novels? Ask again later. It's still cloudy over there. 

But I can tell you this. I do have a novel to finish, and if you haven't already run away over my kid (and if you have, buh-bye), I'd love for you to read it when I do. I want to write more of them someday. I think, with practice, I could be good at it. 

But I don't want to be The Bitchy Stitcher anymore.

I have loved this blog, and all of you, so very, very much. Quilting and sewing will always be my happy place, my meditation, my refuge. I am so proud of the things I have accomplished over the last 10 years, but 10 years just seems like a good, round number to end on and move to the next phase of my life. Next year, I will be fifty. I've recently seen articles saying a study has shown age 50 is when the happiest time of a person's life begins. I very much hope that's true and there are happier times ahead for me and mine. And I'm just gonna say it: if this administration stays in power, that may not be possible for us. So, I need to figure out how to exist in this world as it is, as it might become, and how to fight for something better and protect my babies at the same time. I'm not yet sure what that looks like, but a quilting humor blog isn't it.

Thank you all for the laughs, the love, for reading my words and embracing me and giving me some of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I love you all, and I hope we meet again someday.

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