I used to sew, a lot. There was always something coming off my sewing table and I was known for creating unusual and flamboyant clothing, such as when I used upholstery fabric to make a fitted suit. It was pretty snappy. We’re sometime Civil War re-enactors (or cherry pickers, I guess, since we really just like to do the Virginia Reel and skip all that shooting and dieing and sleeping in hot canvas tents) and I made most of my clothes for that. Those little ensembles were pretty nifty too, except for those darn laces up the back of the bodice that you need double-jointed arms to tighten up on your own. Without bragging, I’ve had a fair number of compliments for clothing and costuming.
But, holy scissors, have I had some big old mistakes too. I had a knit skirt that fell below the knee that I wanted to update after years of wearing it long, so I cut off about two feet of fabric. I should have considered how much those two feet weighed because the skirt sprang up so far without it that it pretty much went from being a skirt to being a belt. I’m definitely a slow learner, or maybe I’m just tape-measure challenged, since I’ve nipped off too much fabric on more than one pair of pants I’ve intended to hem. It’s good that capris are still fashionable (are they?) since I’ve wound up with a little collection of those as consolation prizes.
But I’ve been thinking lately about mistakes, thinking about them rather a lot. I’ve discovered that I’ve made some significant mistakes over the years, way past cutting too much off the bottom. These are mistakes that go far beyond mere monetary implications — costly errors of the heart and mind and spirit. I made the mistake of getting a dog a long time ago before I realized dogs were a lot of work, and I had to give him away because I wasn’t responsible enough to take care of him. I made the mistake of trying to create a persona for myself instead of just being who I really am, and I’m still trying to shed that snakeskin. ( I am still Queen, even though sometimes there are thorns in that crown.) I made the mistake of thinking I was my own little planet and didn’t need anybody else in my private orbit, and walked away from a job that meant more to me than I would admit, one where I actually helped people, some of them very, very sick people. Now I’m spending my workdays in virtual solitary confinement, buying $200 pillows and $3,000 sheets for someone who won’t use them unless they have her monogram. Now that’s meaningful. And there’s been any number of other consequential actions I’ve blithely taken that now require me to hold my breath at times so I won’t go wild with panic over the domino effect they’ve had on others.
And like lots of other people, especially people in my family, I really, really beat myself up over my mistakes. I should just make myself a hair shirt (that’s too tight), or boil some oil and take a dip in it, maybe snooze on a bed of nails. I hung those drapes up because, by God, I bought that fabric and I’m going to look at it every morning when I wake up so I don’t forget I made another mistake.
Recently though, I’ve come across a completely new (to me) concept. Everybody makes mistakes. That’s not actually the new part. What’s new for me is admitting, aloud without shame or anger, so everybody can hear me and to anyone who asks, that I’ve made mistakes, and have been astoundingly, painfully wrong about really, really significant things, some that I can fix, and some that I can’t. I’m not couching these things behind any more lame excuses or explanations and I’m eliminating the fear that comes with making and admitting to mistakes. And the next part of the concept is this: I’m not going to manipulate my words or feelings to try to make something not be a mistake when it clearly is, because people don’t want us to admit that we make mistakes. People want us to feel good and tell ourselves that we’ve done the right thing and that everything will work out. Mistakes are spun as “opportunities” or some such euphemism. I think we do ourselves a disservice, and sell ourselves short, by not recognizing and accepting our mistakes, because when we don’t accept it, the mistake becomes a lie. A mistake is benign, a lie is malignant. Admitting a mistake, no matter how serious, and claiming it as our own, as a part of us, gives us the chance to make peace with it, maybe even make peace with someone affected by that mistake, and move on.
But the drapes are staying up. For now.