Once in what feels like another lifetime, I had a handmade dog collar business. This was during a period of time when I was really frustrated with my writing. I sort of “quit” for awhile to be honest. There were a lot of personal things going on in my life. My mother wasn’t well. She had always enjoyed sewing and had tried to get me to learn when I was little, but I had no interest. The idea of women sewing seemed anti-feminist to me. I was the kind of kid who kept a close watch on the mailbox for her Sassy magazine.
Anyway, life is often ironic. And as an adult once I decided I wanted to learn to sew, my mother no longer had the ability to teach me. Her mind went through a rough spell, and I felt the need to take up sewing where my mother had left off. I wanted to learn the “family gift” so to speak. I needed something to fill the time, since I’d stopped writing, so I taught myself my mother’s craft. Mostly, I made dog collars with bows attached, and I started a business called ButterPups. I had fancy ribbon bows for girl pups and bow ties for boy pups. This was as ridiculous and precious as it sounds. You have to understand, I don’t have kids. My dog is my little girl. Anyway, I found satisfaction in sewing. Most of the time, you make something, and it works out. Occasionally, I would mess up and have to start over or “revise” by tearing out the stitching, but usually, I could count on completing a project in a reasonable amount of time. Novels take years and are sometimes never finished. I hadn’t published anything at that point, of course, so I’d gone seven years feeling unfinished.
The ButterPups business took off slowly, but eventually it was so successful, I worked eight hour days, 7 days a week, sewing, wrapping and shipping off dog collars. I could never catch up. I raised prices. The orders kept coming. I raised prices again. And again. Still the orders didn’t stop coming. I realized I’d created a one-woman sweat shop. And the only way to fix it (and to make any actual money–even with prices raised, it was a pretty much a public service) was to mass produce the collars. But I didn’t want a business that wasn’t handmade. I didn’t want a business where I didn’t know the dogs names or get to see pictures of them happily modeling the goods. Suddenly, I thought, what am I doing? By then, I’d personally handcrafted hundreds of dog collars. Perhaps there is only so long you can repeat the same task before you lose your mind or become enlightened.
So I went back to telling stories, which was always what I was meant to do. I found the joy in the craft of writing rather than the outcome. It fed my soul again. Some days are pure magic. Some days are torture. But every story is unique. Every day a little different. It’s still hard work. It still takes years. But the search and struggle for story always beckons me back–even when I take a break. I now think of breaks as healthy. Necessary. I know I’ll be back. Other people call it refilling the well. I call it Time to Sew.