Adjusting the Tension

This past weekend I pulled my sewing machine out from my greatly diminished craft chest and wondered why I hadn’t gotten rid of it along with my other supplies. I haven’t sewn since high school – the summer before college, I discovered everything I sewed started to look like a manic episode with an etch-a-sketch.

The bottom half of the thread would bunch up into unmanageable bundles and soon the machine would stop moving forward. I gave up on my machine, and away it went. For years.

And when I got it back out this weekend, the machine and the thread still bunched, and it still jammed up. Only this time I actually stopped to think about why it was happening.


A five-minute YouTube video taught me that it was a matter of tension. I had never adjusted the bobbin (bottom thread) tension, and to adjust the top tension I often just turned the dial to a random, sounds-good-to-me number.

So, I adjusted the tension the right way. And it worked.

After that, I sailed through the pillowcase project that’s been on my mind for weeks. I found myself immersed in a hobby I had forgotten so long ago, and rode a creative high for the rest of the weekend. I felt energized and encouraged by nothing more than a simple, beautiful clean stitch.

Good tension and bad tension

I realized that to get those straight stitches I had to add just enough tension to make it right – note that there’s still some tension needed.

To keep balanced we all need to find the right level of tension, and I think many of us, young and old, stretch ourselves too far and wind ourselves up too tightly. We pack our schedules just so we can feel busy and important, without stopping to focus on what’s actually important (the link, by the way, is a must-read).

So, what’s bad tension?

  • Credit card debt
  • A cluttered home
  • Procrastination
  • A hostile work environment
  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Overflowing schedule

And what’s good?

  • Reasonable deadlines (and less procrastination)
  • Structured, well thought-out goals
  • A daily habit – such as journaling, reading, or even flossing
  • Healthy competition (I love this one – just careful to not overdo it)
  • Spending uninterrupted, focused time with loved ones

These seem obvious, but so many nuances lie between them that sometimes it’s easy to mistake bad tension as acceptable and healthy. It’s even easy to see the positive tension as overwhelming when we’re already stretched to our limits.

So next time you’re feeling tangled up and close to a complete shutdown, stop and examine the tensions you currently have in your life. Write them down – both home and work tensions – and carefully consider each one. Is it necessary? Can it be adjusted?

Ease up on some of the bad tensions, and put a little more stress on what’s healthy and important. You’ll come away with the beautiful feeling that everything is back in it’s proper place.




A Letter to High School Me

Didn't we all just think we were so cool then?

Didn’t we all just think we were so cool then?

As I walked back from the craft store today with a bag full of yarn, I noticed boys in suits and bright ties helping beautiful girls in giant (or otherwise restrictive) dresses out of their parents’ cars. For high-schoolers, tonight is the biggest night of their lives to date: it’s prom night. They’re growing quickly into their adult skins, and they’re eager to really show the world what they’ve got.

For those graduating soon, this is one of the final steps before they venture off to college. I can’t help but be anxious and excited for them. They look at this night as an end point, rather than a beginning. I didn’t think about it as a starting point when I was their age, but it sure would have been nice to get that perspective. So, for fun, I’ve decided to write a letter to 18 year old enna.

To my lovely, strange, high-school self:

You are so young, so much before all the beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.

You don’t know this just yet, but these words from a poet named Rainer Maria Rilke will become a mantra that you repeat during trying times. The uncertainty you feel right now will someday soon present itself to you as an adventure rather than the mild depression you consider it now.

You will learn and re-learn how to define yourself when others no longer do it for you (yes, even now, they have more influence over you than they should). However, you’ve scraped by with much less trauma and self-esteem issues that many teens face, so hold your head high and know that you are stronger than you give yourself credit for.

Soon, you will be thrust into a world you can’t even begin to imagine, and you are going to be fine. You will meet the love of your life (I won’t spoil it, but you know him now), make new best friends (and keep the old ones very close), and experience all of the other coming-of-age experiences that college has to offer.

But, you will be challenged. You will make mistakes, and more mistakes. All I can do is warn you, but know that each experience, good and bad, will shape you in a new way. Make the most of it, and never, ever take the easy road as a shortcut. You’ll be happier for it.

It’s likely that you are beginning your troubles with religion, and you are starting to notice that many people carry with them a deep unhappiness. This is a good thing.

Just know that it is not your religion that defines you, and you are not made happier by the car you drive (the one you like now will actually be totaled soon–everyone is okay though). Your age, clothes (you’re not going to be a fashion designer, by the way), and the things you own do not make you happy or define you.

What defines you are your beliefs and the company that you choose to keep. Remember, you can choose who your friends are. You’ll always have to remind yourself of that. Start early: reduce clutter, distractions, read what you want to read, and never, ever, settle.

And be nicer to your mom and dad. You might not like to hear this, and you may think I’m joking, but they are going to become your best friends and your greatest heroes. You’ll feel it as soon as you see the tiny tear in your dad’s eye when he drops you off in your first dorm room.

In closing, and to round out the quote I shared earlier:

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

And, at 23, you still won’t be close to the answers.

What would you say to yourself at 18?