by Karen Bjork Kubin
The fact is, the jeans found you. Or, technically, your husband brought them home in a pile of thrift store denim and one pair fit—but not just fit, they fit well: slim in the right places, forgiving in the right places, not too short or too long. They turned out somehow able to magically adapt to weight fluctuations. You hadn’t been looking for them, but you were glad to have them. Now they are worn. You’ve been patching, every time a new tear starts. And the real reason they are your favorite is because of the mending.
As I write this it is just barely 2020. Depending on who you ask, it is either the beginning of a new decade or the end of an old one. Regardless, it clearly marks something. The roundness of the number is appealing, and 2020 was a mythical-sounding year for so long—How will people live, that far in the future? What will I be doing? Who will I be?—that it feels like it must be a beginning. That said, there’s an allure to the offer of a fresh slate, even if I know it’s artificial: this year I will get organized/eat better/ be more patient/write letters to loved ones every week/ read a book a week/write a poem a day/have better posture/rid my life of plastic/eliminate stress/self-actualize. I will recreate myself. The thing is, the turn of the year has had pretty much nothing to do with the changes I’ve made in my life. I can look back on the last ten years and see plenty of change. But most of it has come as needed, untidily. And really, these changes look more like layers. I like most of them.
Pull out that pair of jeans that’s been waiting in your closet—yes, it’s been years now, but that’s okay. Do they still fit? Good. This is better than going shopping. Now raid the plastic tub of fabric. Look for something sturdy, but remember, this is going to be the colorful pair. You do calming shades of blue and white often enough. It’s good to play, let all that color in your head leak out. The world can handle it, trust me.
Decide on that soft, golden upholstery scrap. A gentle spread of foliage. Cut a nice healthy patch. You know how old tears can make themselves known again, pulling at the edges of a seam. Now, turn in the edges of the patch and iron, if you want. Or don’t. A little fringe can be welcome. Lay the fabric on top of the hole and pin. Choose your thread—scarlet will do. Using small stitches, secure the patch to the leg of your jeans. If your stitches are messy at first, try again, until you have something you can live with. I promise, you have time to make something you can live well with.
Many years ago, I wrote a school essay about what I would be doing in one of these nice round years of the 21st century—maybe 2000, as I would have been unimaginably old in 2020—but I remember clearly that I imagined my future self living in Hawaii and driving a pink Corvette that looked a lot like my Barbie doll’s car. I think I was an artist. All other details were hazy. Now here it is, 2020 for real. There is very little chance you will see me driving a pink Corvette, and that’s okay. I live in the Midwest. I get overwhelmed pretty much constantly by the details of my life, but that’s mostly okay, too. I am not unimaginably old at 47, thank you, and I am grateful to still recognize the continuity between who I was when I imagined myself far into the future and who I actually am today. Every once in a while, however, I am shocked to discover that there’s been no big arrival point in my life. That I’m still working on who I want to be. That things keep changing.
Here in the real 2020 I am back in school, working on a master’s degree in English, 25 years after I started my first master’s in music. I’ve felt pulled in different directions (music, teaching, writing, making things) for years, and while I have a whole pile of hopes and dreams connected to going back to school, I don’t have a plan the way I did when I was 22. Right now, the plan is to keep myself wide open to possibility. This change is a new thing, and yet it’s not. In reality I’ve been on this path for years. And while it feels huge—oh, it feels huge, and nerve-wracking, and I cannot shake this feeling that I am constantly on the verge of failing everything: my classes, my violin students, my family, my friends, my life—it also feels natural. This, too, is me; just another aspect of looking in the mirror and seeing the exact same face, even though it is older, less elastic, more experienced. Going back to school at this point in life is different. I want more from it, but I have less time. I have relationships and commitments that can’t be put on hold. I have trouble thinking past 9 pm and trouble staying awake past 10. But this chance to go back, and read and think and learn? It’s gold. I could almost explode with the desire to take none of it for granted. I don’t remember feeling this way at 22. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Sashiko stitching is a Japanese tradition that uses decorative patterns to reinforce or patch worn areas on clothing and textiles. Like kintsugoroi, the art of repairing broken ceramics with gold, it illustrates the concept of wabi-sabi, a worldview that sees beauty in what is imperfect, worn, or impermanent. This discipline of repairing what is broken and highlighting the beauty of those repairs, though, is to me also a physical representation of faith—the old made new, the lost restored—as well as a visceral reminder of growth and aging. “New” is often really a variation on “anew,” and that’s an entirely different picture than the shiny bright images we might think of on January 1st.
I said goodbye to the Old Year in celebration on the 31st. 2019, you were immensely challenging. The hard was Hard and the good was hard-won. I greeted the New Year for real in daylight on the 1st. Cooked for my family. Wrote. Started a puzzle in the middle of the living room floor. Started a new mending project.
Now for the reinforcing. Using a running stitch or any other repeating pattern of stitches, go back and forth across the patch to make it one with the jeans. Use small stitches, and do not worry about perfection. There will be unevenness. The patch will pucker slightly, especially after washing. But all of that is part of the character of the fabric—isn’t that how those labels on certain types of clothing or fabric put it? The flaws are inherent to the beauty and character. Consider it all part of the design. There. New and not-new, all at once. Beautiful.
A violinist by training, Karen Bjork Kubin works as a free-lance musician and teacher in a small Midwestern city. Her poems and essays have appeared in Rock & Sling, Whale Road Review, the Main Street Rag Anthology: Of Burgers and Barrooms, How to Pack for Church Camp, American Suzuki Journal, and Spillway, among other publications. More of her writing as well as links can be found at www.kbkubin.blogspot.com.