This might feel familiar. This might be a little repetitive. This might be a reiteration of a train of thought already shared. This might be the beginning of a new pattern: “Keep writing about something until maybe it sort of makes sense and don’t stop until you get to the very heart of it.” This title might seem unoriginal. This title might, in fact, be completely unoriginal. But do you feel it? Do you feel a sense of excitement as you hear a tiny bell ringing in the back of your mind? Do you feel a certain level of recognition and certainty about where this is going? Do you know exactly what I am about to discuss? Do you see the pattern?
Over the last few months, since my feeble attempt to write about repetition last October, I have found myself thinking about questions that prove somewhat difficult to answer: Why do we repeat ourselves? What patterns do we repeat? How do we break the cycle? When do we find ourselves rejecting change compared to when we push against repetition, instead opting to embrace change and try something new? Who drives us to repeat patterns or invent something completely unfamiliar and original? Where do we see patterns repeating themselves in our own lives and in society? The repetition question has been repeatedly coming to mind and with each moment of contemplation I get a new idea that drives me to want to write about this topic again. But, this weird pattern has emerged in my brain where I have this spark of thought about repetition and then I lose it… almost as if my head is trying to prevent me from looking too closely at this recurring phenomenon that is so prevalent in our lives. (What’s up with that, head? You don’t want me to get to the heart of the big questions in life? Too bad, I’m trying today.)
There is obviously comfort in the familiarity of repetition. Think about the little kid who is so excited to do the same things over and over again – playing peekaboo or replaying the same movie or singing the same song or repeating the same silly action over and over. Their pure delight in the action of repetition is fascinating in our investigation of our attachment to patterns, because their little brains are just developing and I like to think of them as a clean slate and representation of who we are at our very core, before we get too sullied by the world around us. And certainly it may be that these children and babies are just thrilled by the content of what is being repeated, but I am inclined to think that there is something happening at a much deeper psychological level.
Seeing the same thing on a loop, to observe something happening over and over, it’s something we continue to enjoy in our adult life. Maybe we aren’t squealing and clapping like the toddler, but we’re just as excited to know what the expected outcome is – perhaps this explains why GIFs have become so popular? But knowing (HA! More like thinking you know) or expecting a certain result can be problematic. Setting an expectation is automatically setting yourself up for disappointment and failure because nothing in life goes exactly as planned and in every pattern we repeat, there will always be a slight difference in the next iteration. And because the evolution of a pattern is so minute in every repetition, it becomes challenging for us to recognize the shift, which might explain why we are so blind to the risk of setting expectations and so eager to repeat the same things over and over.
There is so much repetition in our individual day to day lives. We eat, we sleep, we repeat. We go to work, we follow the same routine – even if our jobs are non-traditional and crazy, that is a form of repetition in its own way, knowing that there is a guaranteed lack of consistency. When I drive to work I am on auto-pilot, I do not think about where I’m going, I just go because I know the route by heart and I drive it twice a day backwards and forwards. Sure, the level of traffic varies and the number of good or bad drivers rises and drops on any given day – but I know the essence of that drive will remain consistent.
We see the same sort of repetition in society – people are born, they are part of a family, they go to school, they graduate, they get a job, they fall in love, they get married, they make their own family, they raise a child, they (probably) get a divorce, and it all happens again and again. So there is this interesting dynamic between the personal individualistic patterns that we follow in our day to day lives, in that the way we do things and repeat ourselves feed into these ancient and traditional patterns that are repeating in society on a much larger scale. At the individual level we repeat patterns that are inherent to our own psyche. We make choices and act a certain way in a repetition and pattern that is core to who we are as a person. But at the societal level, we are doing the same thing collectively in a more universal manner, by participating in and reinforcing the norms and societal constraints of society as we know it. And this raises an even bigger question – which patterns are harder to break, those that we create in our own lives or those that are part of a much larger social construct?
There is a certain degree of paralysis when we attempt to eliminate repetition from our lives. Trying to break or push against any pattern – whether it is at the individual or societal level – is incredibly challenging and difficult because patterns are so inherent to how we behave, how others expect us to behave, and what we expect of ourselves. And when the patterns have been around for years and years, it becomes even more difficult. Right now I find myself questioning these large social patterns and I think many people do, particularly when we look at all the unrest in the world right now with people asking “why aren’t more women in power, why do minorities continue to be repressed, why is it that male white privilege dominates?”
Putting aside those hard-hitting questions, I struggle with the general question of whether patterns and repetition as a whole are good or bad. And like every repetition question I’ve posed, there is no easy answer. I think at the societal level that perhaps we should always be pushing against patterns in an effort to evolve and hopefully become better as a human race – why do what has always been done when maybe another way could be ground-breaking and change our lives? So naturally I tend to have the same idea when it comes to the individual level (don’t just break patterns, smash them!) but there is something that feels a little more challenging in that sentiment because there might be some patterns that we follow that are good for us.
But what is a good pattern and what is a bad one? Certainly the easiest answer here is bad = hurting yourself or someone else but nothing is that black and white and there are countless shades of grey. I’m not sure how we are supposed to identify which of the patterns are good and which of the patterns are bad, or if we are really meant to. The best we can do is try to remain conscious of what we’re doing so we feel less doomed to repeat the same mistakes and patterns that we can identify as resolutely bad or at the very least advisable to avoid.
So maybe the point of all this is just to observe and be aware of the repetition because it seems that we are destined for a life of pattern making. We are locked into doing things again and again, even when we recognize the pattern, even when we are really conscious of the repetition and literally saying “I don’t know why I am doing this again, I know I am going to hurt myself or something bad will happen as a result of what I am doing right now,” somehow we just cannot stop ourselves… So maybe observation and awareness is critical in an effort to just watch it and maybe learn from it in the slightest and smallest way.
This feels right if we consider what I mentioned above about the risk of expectations – that when we repeat ourselves it does change a little bit, that there is a slight difference to the iteration of the pattern. Perhaps by observing and being consciously aware of the patterns and repetition, we learn something and help ourselves to change the pattern incrementally in the littlest ways possible with each reiteration until we reach an ideal state. (I tried very unsuccessfully to convey this in my last post about repetition, so maybe with this iteration I’m going to get it right? If not, I will repeat myself in a few months when I collect my thoughts all over again.)
Let’s imagine our lives and the patterns within them to be like a slow rhythmic dance that repeats itself continually but changes ever so slightly with each return to the start… like a GIF that evolves and changes a tiny bit when it replays… like a song that sounds the same but is just a little bit different and a little bit better because something changes in it with every new listen. In that slow dance, we are looping around the room again and again but never stepping in the exact same place.
It’s a beautiful dance, but it also sounds completely exhausting that we are constantly taking these tiny little steps towards making a change to a pattern that is so intrinsic to and at the very core of our being. But at the same time, life is hard and things do not change overnight. Change is hard and nobody likes it – I know this because the biggest part of my job at the moment is dedicated to implementing a significant change in the way we operate in the company and everyone hates me as the driver of the change… But that’s life. It is one long story, one slow dance, where you grow and change little by little, year after year, month after month, day after day. I have personally seen this slow (yet strangely fast) change happen, especially in the last two years of my life, where it seems that everything has been changing in these tiny little ways through all these new experiences I am having, and I see myself learning from them and reacting differently every time with every passing experience repeating itself while being just a little bit different too.
If at the individual level we accept and acknowledge that we just need to take it slowly and observe the patterns and hopefully learn from them and change them ever so slightly every time we find ourselves repeating something, does the same principle apply at the societal level? Can we come to collective acceptance and acknowledgement that change is slow and that we all need to be united in taking these tiny steps to make the change by observing and being aware of it? I think yes, because in the social dialogue and discourse that we are seeing in recent years, we are doing just that. We are observing, we are questioning, and we are hopefully learning.
It’s a slow dance. We can’t break (or smash!) patterns immediately, as much as I want to. But doing new things that make me uncomfortable, repeating new and old patterns in different iterations, embracing my love of learning… These are all a very gentle twist in my dance across the room. Doing something that is new with no prior pattern or knowledge is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. We don’t have a template. We don’t know the steps to this new dance. But, watching and modifying the pattern as we go, asking these hard questions, stumbling over our feet as we try a new move on the dance floor, learning and relearning – that’s a dance I’m happy to sway to.
It feels like the level of chaos at home has been running at medium to medium-high for a long time – the house has been under construction for several months and nearly everything is displaced. My man does renovations for a living, so projects at our house tend to be slower moving – he fits in the work at home between jobs, finding time here and there. And this isn’t even a fun project that I can help with or get into (tearing down walls to put in fresh new insulation means putting up heavy drywall, ugh). We’ve been shuffling from room to room upstairs, and I’ve had to find countless ways to reconfigure our cramped house as we compensate for being down a room.
Under normal circumstances, our house is already a little messy – it’s no big deal and I don’t mind that things aren’t perfect, but in its current state I find myself dreaming of tidying and organizing every room in the house, imagining how I will put things back together once all the dust settles (literally – there is a lot of dust from the plaster). Which leads me to my jewel in the rough – the treasure box I crafted a few weeks ago as a solution to my painfully disheveled jewelry storage system.
This project felt like an antidote to the chaos at home and came to me as I was thinking about how I want to rearrange my closet when it’s ready upstairs. All my rings and earrings have been living in a couple cardboard jewelry boxes for ages and I’ve always wanted a nice jewelry case to store and showcase them (trying to grab two of the same stud earrings from a tiny box early in the morning before coffee is awful), but all the options in stores never really suited my style. Naturally, I turned to Pinterest to get some ideas and inspiration for easy earring DIY storage, and immediately found a simple project: wrapping pencils in felt and sticking them in a box. This was doable, and I knew that I could throw in my own spin on the construction to make it really special for my future closet-jewelry-dream-space.
STAGE ONE: MATERIAL SOURCING
This was an exciting project because I knew I would have to track down most of the materials to get it done – which would mean a trip to my favourite craft store for several items, including gorgeous printed paper. (Not sure why I love it so much, but I always find myself lingering in the paper aisle wishing I could bring everything home!) Going into the store, I had no specific colour scheme or idea in mind for the style of the paper I was looking for, and just ambled around until this striking gold and white sheet popped out at me. It was love at first sight and soon after I found a lovely deep red paper to go with it, featuring bright gold hearts on one side and faded black on the other.
Along with the gilded paper, I bought Japanese washi tape to use as an aid on the inside panels of my box-wrapping mission, a package of white felt to wrap around the pencils, and a couple canvas sheets to cover the felt. (I decided to get the canvas on a whim – all the versions of this project that I found on Pinterest only used felt, but the colours available in the store just didn’t work with my beautiful paper and I thought the canvas would add some extra texture in my treasure box, especially in sharp and grounded contrast to the flashy paper.)
As for the rest of the materials, I picked up a package of pencils in the dollar section of Target a few weeks ago when I first got the idea for this crafty project and all the other essentials were already scattered around the house – my faithful glue gun, a few rolls of double-sided tape, and a perfectly shaped box from my contact lens delivery service. (Thanks, Clearly Contacts! RIP, Canadian Target.)
STAGE TWO: PREPARING THE PENCILS
First I took care of wrapping the pencils in the felt. I thought the length of the pencils would fit perfectly in the box but they were a bit too long, so I twisted and pulled the erasers out which was just enough for each of the pencils to fit snugly.
Then I had to figure out how much felt to wrap around each pencil. I cut a sheet of the felt in half and when I wrapped it around the pencil it was way too thick, so I played around and kept cutting the felt back until I had what looked like a good thickness wrapped around the pencil when I tested placing it in the box. Satisfied with the template, I used the first piece of felt to trace several more rectangles so all of the pencils would be relatively close in thickness.
Once everything was cut and ready to go, I got the glue gun heated and started sticking the felt to the pencils. I used a bit of hot glue at each end of the pencil with a third drop in the middle and then pressed the pencil gently onto one edge of the felt until the glue cooled and set.
Then I ran a strip of glue along the length of the pencil and rolled it slowly until the glued edge was on top, holding it firmly while the new strip of glue dried and cooled. From there I rolled the pencil all the way to the opposite edge of the felt and then added one last strip of glue along the edge of the pencil, holding the felt along the seam until it was completely dry.
It was hard to tell how many pencils I would be able to fit into the box once they were wrapped with the felt so I started by wrapping and gluing five to test how much space they would take up in the box. It was apparent right away that I would be able to fit at least two or three more, so I ended up wrapping eight pencils in total, which made for a really secure and packed box.
STAGE THREE: BOX WRAPPING
With all the pencils sitting on standby, I moved over to wrapping the box with my beautiful golden paper. I decided to use double-sided tape for this project since it would be far less messier than the hot glue gun and I wanted to make sure that the box didn’t end up with stringy dry glue all over the place. (Lest we forget my arts and crafty organization project of 2013…) I used the box to roughly trace the main pieces and then trimmed to the right size before taping the paper onto the box.
It was a slow process – I was trying to be very meticulous about the paper lining up nicely and preventing showing the blue and cardboard of the original box – but eventually I got it done! I wrapped the outside with the white and gold art-deco paper and then moved onto the red and gold heart paper on the inside of the box.
Although the bottom of the box was going to be covered by the canvas pencils, I still secured a square of the red paper on the bottom to start the interior. It won’t be seen, but I know it’s there… Then I roughly traced the top flap and got to cutting and taping.
Honestly, the hardest part of this project was trying to decide what side of the paper to use on the inside of the box – between the shimmering bright gold hearts and the washed out black hearts on the opposite side of the paper, it was a difficult choice. I compromised by mixing in a bit of both, with the gold side running across the largest part of the top flap and the black side used as an accent on the tabs and inner edges of the box.
STAGE FOUR: CANVASING
Finally it was time to bring the whole project together with the canvas sheets and felt-wrapped pencils. Originally I had planned to use the glue gun to stick a small amount of canvas to each pencil, but I actually used the last of my glue on the felt! (This feels like a significant moment in my life – I bought that glue gun over 10 years ago and the little bag of glue sticks that came with it have lasted until now.) Though there wasn’t any glue left to secure the canvas, I had a feeling that things would work out anyway because the felt-wrapped pencils were already quite secure in the box when I tried putting them in before wrapping it, so I assumed that the fabric would be held in tightly without a problem.
I settled on cutting just enough canvas to wrap around to the glued seam of the felt so the top of the pencil would be covered, and then added one pencil at a time seam-side down, wrapping the canvas under the pencil as I placed it in the box. With the additional layers of paper taped in the box plus the canvas, it was a really tight fit and I was almost unable to get the eighth pencil into the box; but I made it work by pushing the other pencils against the outer edges of the box and sticking the last pencil in the middle. After picking out some of the loose canvas strings that were sticking out at random, I was done!
STAGE FIVE: BEJEWELLING
All of my earrings and rings fit perfectly in the jewelry box – I love it! And I’m actually glad that I ran out of glue and didn’t stick the canvas to the pencils, because it will allow me to switch the fabric in the future if I ever find something special that pops out at me. And yes, the final product is a little rough around the edges – the paper is bent and angled in a few spots and I’ve even accidentally torn it a bit more since it has been in use over the last two weeks. But it is also incredibly functional and this beautiful organizational tool has somehow seemed to lower the level of chaos in the house by an incremental percentage, so I’m happy. Plus it’s going to look damn good in my new closet – I’ve got a vision with this treasure box in a starring role.