I fell in love with Shakespeare’s work watching presentations of his plays on TV as a teenager. In 1980, Derek Jacobi played Hamlet and my family taped his performance with our new VCR. I watched that tape over and over, mesmerized by Hamlet’s struggle with doubt, by the inevitable destruction of the prince and those around him, and by the brilliance of the language.

Since then, I’ve seen many of Shakespeare’s plays, either live or recorded, and read some as well. I’ve added titles to my list of favorites — The Tempest, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet — and been entranced repeatedly by his work.

In honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday 450 years ago today, here are just five of the many gifts his writing has given me.

My favorite bracelet

My favorite bracelet

1) “To thine own self be true”: Although pompous Polonius’s advice to his son is usually played for laughs, when he reaches this line, you realize that he is not entirely a fool. These are words to remember and to live by, that cut to the root of true integrity, for if you follow them “thou canst not then be false to any man”. (Hamlet, Act I, Sc. iii)

2) Hamlet: Both the character and the play. It’s still my favorite after all these years. Hamlet is an intelligent man full of passion but hamstrung by doubt. I also constantly doubt myself, so I am fascinated with his story. Like many of Shakespeare’s characters, he is easy to identify with as a person, which is what makes his downfall so tragic.

3) “A Muse of fire”: When I am caught up in obsessive creation, I know what is happening to me. I am being driven by a muse of fire, a demanding taskmaster who requires frantic creation until my goal is achieved. Shakespeare gives me the perfect words to describe how I burn with inspiration. (Henry V, prologue)

4) Intense dream worlds: I am struck by the fantastical beauty in Midsummer-Night’s Dream, the lovers’ passion in Romeo and Juliet, and the solemn heroism in Henry V. The intensity of Shakespeare’s visions wake me up, make me feel — joy, sorrow, love, hate — so strongly that I come away both dazed and fully alive.

5) “Words, words, words”: Much as his characters and stories have infiltrated our culture, what stays with me are his words. The archaic language that can be challenging to comprehend is also full of glorious poetry, creative word use, burning images, apt comparisons, and humorous observations. To listen to lines by Shakespeare is to sit down to a sumptuous feast where every bite is full of complex, satisfying flavors. My appetite for it never fades. (Hamlet, Act II, Sc. ii)

I received a second-hand spinning wheel from a generous friend back at the beginning of March. This little wheel, a Victoria by Louët, is portable. It folds up into a carrying case, so it requires some assembly before you can use it. As a beginning spinner, I had only used a wheel once before I received this gift, so I was proud of myself for being able to follow the instructions and set the wheel up all by myself. I even managed to spin a little, although I got frustrated when strange things began to happen. Because I was visiting friends, I put the wheel away, figuring I would solve my spinning problems after my trip was over.

My new used spinning wheel!

My new used spinning wheel!

When I got home, I started by learning more about spinning wheels. I found out my wheel was flyer driven and had Scotch tension. I discovered that many wheels have knobs for adjusting the drive band tension, but mine doesn’t. I learned in general how a spinning wheel works and marveled at the simplicity and ingenuity of it.

Thinking I now knew enough, I set up my wheel again and tried to get it going. I had more problems and thanks to what I’d learned, realized that my wheel needed some parts replaced. The drive band was hopping from one pulley to another whenever it felt like it and the adjustable hooks on the flyer were too loose, sliding when they were meant to stay put.

I ordered parts from the nearest Louët dealer and waited while they made their way from Holland to Colorado. I thought often of the wheel in its case, but knew that there was no point in messing with it. I knitted instead and waited as patiently as I could. My parts finally arrived at the store this week.

I made the hour-long drive down to Boulder with my wheel in the car. My excuse for going to get the parts instead of having them mailed to me was so I could make sure that they fit. Also, I wanted to pick up some other spinning tools I needed that I knew they would have.

But the real reason for making the trip was so I could get some help.

Asking for help is not natural to me. I want to be a pioneer woman, to be completely, impossibly self-sufficient. I had hoped I could figure everything out by myself, but I couldn’t. With the right help, I could make sure the wheel was operating properly. That way, any problems I had would most likely be due to my inexperience and I could focus on my technique without being confused by issues caused by faulty equipment.

Fortunately, the staff of Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins is wonderful. They made asking for help easy for me. They love fiber and know everything there is to know about yarn, from spinning and dyeing it, to weaving, knitting, and crocheting with it. In less than half an hour, my wheel had its new parts, was tuned up and whirring along, with me in the driver’s seat! I also learned some things about maintaining and adjusting my wheel without feeling like an idiot in the process.

Look, Ma! I can spin!!

Look, Ma! I can spin!!

I brought my wheel home and got to spend a couple hours spinning yesterday. I had a few minor problems at first, but they were all my fault, and I knew that for certain because I could trust my wheel was working properly. So I adjusted and went on, filling the bobbin up, amazed at how much faster spinning on a wheel is than with a hand spindle.

I was enjoying my new spinning wheel at last, because I was willing to ask for a little expert help.

My first-ever bobbin spun on my new wheel.

My first-ever bobbin spun on my new wheel.

The more I look into yarn bombing, a form of graffiti that uses knit and crocheted pieces to change an urban landscape, the more I realize that the part that really intrigues me is none of the things graffiti is about. I’m not worried about getting my artwork into the public eye, making political or social statements, or even shaking up the world with the incongruity of seeing a metal bike rack covered with granny squares.

I’ve been visiting websites, looking for more images, and even reading a book (Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain) trying to figure out what it is about this form of needlework that fascinates me.

Right from the start, I was in awe of all the trees in tailored cozies. Whether they were lacy white crocheted squares or fat colored stripes, these tree covers had me marveling at the artist’s ingenuity and skill.

Tree Cozy by Carol Hummel

Tree Cozy by Carol Hummel

While I find the pole-warmers people put on street signs amusing, I’m most drawn to the projects that are huge and complicated, like pajamas for mammoths and tank covers. One of my favorites is Theresa Honeywell’s encased motorcycle, Everything Nice.

Looking at what I love, I realize where my true interest lies. I find form-fitted needlework covering irregularly shaped objects fascinating. I want to know how the pieces are made and am itching to try them myself.

My experiment covering a toy horse with striped knitting was a great start, but I’m dying to do more. I made a trip to the local thrift store and bought several items to experiment with. I found a twisted glass bottle and two porcelain pieces, a piggy bank and a cow creamer.

The bottle will be a challenge in shaping; if I can get a cozy to fit it, I will consider it a win no matter how it looks. I will encase the pig in a pink body suit covered with flowers, in honor of a painted pig made out of a bleach bottle that used to live on my grandmother’s fridge. My ideas for the cow are fuzzy, but I’m thinking ruffles and stripes.

I’ve been looking for a while for something new to try, something exciting and challenging, something that could easily become an obsession, and I think I’ve found it. Of course, I have plenty of other things that could distract me — the socks I’m currently knitting and trying my new spinning wheel — but I have a feeling custom knit jobs for inanimate objects is going to be my new thing.

Our virtual hike of Hadrian’s Wall Path in England is not going at all the way I thought it would. I have not made time to read in detail about the places on the HWP that we are passing when we walk. We have not walked every day. Even my records of the birds I encounter while we are out are full of questions marks. Despite all that, we are on track to meet our goal and I am amazed that our less than perfect efforts are working so well.

Dory walking with determination. She is undaunted by goals and free of perfectionism.

Dory walking with determination. She is undaunted by goals and free of perfectionism.

Having a goal has really helped me to be more active. My Inner Perfectionist moans that we’ve “only” walked half of the days of the last month, but we’ve covered 43 miles. Thanks to our May 23rd deadline, I’m constantly watching the weather and getting out whenever I can, even when I don’t feel like it. Twice in the last week alone, I looked out at warm sunny weather and wondered if I had the energy to walk. But I got a walk in on both days by lowering my standards and taking the shorter of our two walks (1.4 miles instead of 2.6).

For no reason other than I like to record things, I wrote down the birds we saw on our very first HWP walk back on March 17th. Once I started, it became an obsession a habit, and I decided to exercise my brain along with my body. I began to memorize all the bird species that I saw or heard and then wrote them down when I got home. Identifying all the birds sounds anal, but I am not doing it perfectly. I don’t worry about the birds I don’t know. I label them the best I can, resorting to LBB when I glimpse a “little brown bird” or adding a question mark to an ID that is uncertain.

A western meadowlark: we hear this bird daily but only see him now and then.

A western meadowlark: we hear this bird daily but only see him now and then.

I don’t know if my memory is improving, but watching and listening for birds has sharpened my awareness of my surroundings. I stay in the moment, pay attention to the world around me, and see things I would otherwise have missed. Not doing it perfectly keeps it relaxing and fun.

As for our virtual progress along Hadrian’s Wall, we’re currently somewhere between the Roman fort at Brocolitia and Sewing Shields, well out into the country, where sections of the stone wall still stand. I can’t tell you anything about the things we have passed so far, but I can share this beautiful image of the temple to Mithras at Brocolitia, which I wouldn’t have found if I wasn’t using Hadrian’s Wall to track my progress.

A natural rock wall we passed on one of our walks this month. A reminder of the virtual setting of our two month hike.

A natural rock wall we passed on one of our walks this month. A reminder of the virtual setting of our two month hike.

My effort is nowhere near perfect, but it is effective. Having a goal is helping me to push myself, but letting go of perfectionism means I don’t worry about doing things perfectly.

Did I walk yesterday? The day before? It doesn’t matter. I just do the best I can do today.

We are on track to meet our goal because even the short walks I’ve taken on my bad days have helped us inch towards the finish line.

I cleaned my desk this week. I’d been thinking about it for months, so it was a little embarrassing to realize it took less than half an hour to tame all the stacks and piles. I even dealt with all the unfinished business the scraps of paper and notes represented in that short time. If I hadn’t been so sure it was a monumental task, I might have been enjoying a clean desk for months now.

My clean but cluttered desk. Works for me!

My clean but cluttered desk. Works for me!

As soon as I was done, I felt like throwing a party. My desk was clean! But even as I was tweeting my joy, I realized that other people might look at my desk and think I had more work to do. In the past, I would have thought so myself, because I keep a lot of stuff on my desk all the time.

I often admire the crisp, clean lines of a modern room that has minimal decoration and only the essentials present. The bare surfaces and empty spaces look so peaceful, I was sure I was missing out. When I visited someone with a clutter-free home, their stark, neat space felt cold and dead to me, and I didn’t like it. But I kept thinking I should.

Everyone's desk should look like this... right? (After you put the book away, of course.)

Everyone’s desk should look like this… right? (After you put the book away, of course.)

Then I found this article about remodeling your office and learned how a person’s best mode for learning predicts the sort of environment they are most productive in.
Visual learners love color but need things tidy. Auditory learners are extra-clean, and prefer neutrals to strong colors. Kinesthetic learners care most how their space feels.

I learn most easily by seeing and doing, a mix of visual and kinesthetic modes. Knowing that, I look at my clean desk and see it fits who I am. I have the colorful things that make my desk feel like home, all tidy and in their place.

I like to have lots of books within easy reach, especially reference books, my reading journals, and my current notebooks. I also have toys and talismans to look at, things that make me smile. I keep my daily planner open on the desk because I value the ease of instant access to my schedule over having that space clear.

A few of the precious items I like having close.

A few of the precious items I like having close.

When the piles begin to grow, my Visual Learner gets cranky. But since my dominant Kinesthetic Learner doesn’t mind the mess, I put up with it for long stretches of time, until the sobbing of the Visual Learner finally gets to me. Then I take pity on her and spend a little time making things look neat.

What about you? What does your clean desk look like? Does the link between learning mode and preferred environment apply to you?

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