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all the other lives

a mid-size white woman in her early 40s is wearing all black and appears to be holding a yarn ball and one hovering in mid-air above it
my headshot, c. 2007

For a while, it was imposter syndrome that I struggled with. Who says I am a magazine editor? Years back, I mostly got over that. I'm pretty good with my work identity and accept that, though I could always be better at my job, I am a Magazine Editor and Publisher and Founder and Solo Entrepreneur and all that rot. Someone give me a blue checkmark already.

I do compare myself to others all the time in a near-instant brain process. I see someone doing something I admire and my brain immediately queries, "Could I do that?" Most of the time, I bemusedly ask my brain to stand down. I mean, I am not a novelist, as much as I enjoy writing and have toyed with the idea of writing fiction. "But that cool plot twist! Could I have come up with that?" No, little brain. Let it go and just enjoy the book. It's okay.

I did this almost obsessively when I started Knitty, and it wasn't very helpful. Early on, I was able to twist it around and turn it into a deep appreciation for those who do things that I can't, or things I can do but in a way that I can't. I've designed just a few patterns and I know how much work, how many hours, how much brain juice my simple creations took. I am such a fan of our designers. They're superstars.

Two of our college friends married and their daughter has just graduated college herself. They're fun parents, like I would have wanted to be if I'd done the thing, and their now-adult kid is a really cool person. Could I have been a mom? I suppose, if my body had cooperated (I'll never know if my parts worked) and if I had wanted to create a little baby person, I could technically have been a mom. But thankfully I knew myself well enough to know that I shouldn't be a parent. My Grandma was worried I'd get to this age and regret not having kids, and I wish I could tell her that I was right; I haven't. I regretted that I didn't want kids, and that hasn't changed. I am very grateful that my kids don't exist, and that the small amount of maternal instinct I have has found purpose in caring for bunnies and now Sky, my dog. And occasionally my friends, if they need a temporary mom figure.

One of the biggest other lives I wonder about is the one where I actually got over myself and my fears and moved around the world to somewhere else. And started fresh. I had imagined myself in Paris. Recently a friend has actually done the thing and moved himself there, starting fresh in what looks like the most lovely way. I had seriously thought about the UK, though exactly where I'd choose to live in a country that I love almost every inch of was a sticking point. Brighton? The North? Scotland? Wales (where I have Brenda and Tonia, which would have been a wonderful safety net, though at the time I thought most seriously about it, we were estranged. Thankfully, we fixed us a while back.)

I separated from my husband in 2014, and that was the moment when I was logically considering the biggest possible change. I needed a new place to live. But I also had two rabbits that I loved and wouldn't dream of giving up (and the ex wasn't in a place to be able to take them). I had good friends – a support system – in Toronto, and walking away from my fremily seemed really stupid when I was feeling lost and alone. I chose to stay. In the novel I can't write, the alternate lives I might have led if I'd gone somewhere else ceased to exist, unknowable except through a wormhole, inaccessible without a Subtle Knife.

What's prevented me from actually living any of those other lives is the million little decisions that I made just like everyone makes, sometimes without even realizing we're making a decision. Those decisions add up to actual choices, but it's not like we looked at a menu of life and decided between the chicken and the fish. Almost nothing is that simple. Trying to untangle how we got where we are now is like teasing apart a stubborn skein of knotted laceweight mohair. You could try. You might succeed. But you will drive yourself mad in the process, and the finished object will not be of much use to anyone, let alone you.

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