Crafting for Dummies

Illustration by Allegra

As a freelance writer and an English major, I spend a huge percentage of my time thinking about words and typing them into various documents, so thank god I enjoy writing. I love being able to express myself in words, and it’s satisfying to finish an essay or a story or an article and feel like, Oh, word, I made something. Sometimes, though, it can feel a bit anticlimactic. It’s like, after hours or even days and weeks of work, all I have to look at is boring blocks of text on a screen or a page. Bleh.

While I can “decorate a sentence with words” (imagine me saying that in my best night-school creative-writing teacher voice) or whatever, I sometimes want to put my creative energies into a project that I can actually see and touch and otherwise admire when I’m through. However, I have never been someone who could be considered “good with her hands” (THIS IS NOT A SEX JOKE, GET YOUR BRAINS OUT OF THE GUTTER, JEEZ). I’m more the type who looks upon even the simplest DIY tutorials with a mixture of admiration and hopelessness—like, I’m supposed to know what to do with rick-rack or Mod Podge? To me, those words sound like names for oatmeal from a fairy tale, not useful tools to help me create my masterpiece.

For my whole life long, I’ve been jealous of those who are able to visualize and carry out arts-and-crafts projects. My sister Laura is one of these people. We shared a room as teenagers, working side by side on our different artistic ventures, and it always felt so frustrating to fill notebooks with all these quiet sentences while she made gorgeous paintings and sketches that other people could so easily enjoy. Next to her talent, mine felt lonely and invisible.

Then one day, while absentmindedly playing around with some scissors and a stack of fashion magazines, I found myself arranging paper cut-outs into the shape of a lion’s head. It wasn’t “as good” as any of Laura’s artwork, but it was definitely satisfying in a whole new way for me. I realized that anyone can make beautiful things, no matter their skill level. I know I can’t draw for shit, but I can collage; I can BeDazzle. It was just a matter of finding what was right for me. And guess what, guys? Making visual, tangible stuff, even if I’m not the best at it, turns out to be something of a miracle cure for my nerve-shredding anxiety (besides, like, actual medication).

Me with my very first scrap-paper lion head, circa 2008.

So, when deadlines and assignments are piling up all around me, none of which are going to result in something I can hold in my hand, I head to my bedroom, put on a pretty, low-key album, dim the lights, and craft like the wind. I attack magazine pages and rearrange them in the shapes of zoo animals, and transform junky old T-shirts I’ve had since childhood into hot crop-tops. I affix plastic flowers to everything I own, turn shoeboxes into cleverly decorated little vessels for my sunglasses and nail polish, and make flower crowns for my friends. I GO BUCK WITH THE HOT-GLUE GUN.

In experimenting with different kinds of materials, I’ve compiled a list of crafting projects that even the least aesthetically creative people, aka folks like me, can have a glitter-glued ball with:

1. Collage, collage, collage!
Although I find them boring to read, fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle work best for collaging purposes, because there are so many gorgeous colors and textures in their editorials. The only other things you need are scissors and some kind of glue—I use a straight-up Elmer’s Glue Stick, kindergarten-style (I told you this would be mad basic). Then, go to town on paper, a shoebox, or anything else your heart desires. This is my go-to quick project.

2. Flower Crown Realness
Tavi and Petra kind of wrote the book on this one. Let me just tell you that it’s just as easy and awesome as they make it look in this video.

3. Flair You Can Wear in Your Hair (OMG I feel so crafty just saying that)
This category is maybe the simplest one of all. Take whatever boring hair clips or bobby pins you’ve got laying around, then hot-glue dollar-store knick-knacks to them. Bam. Done. I was inspired to start making all kinds of these after I met Ruby, who was wearing a bobby pin that she’d glued a walrus toy to. My mind blown, I copied her, and now we can all have bonkers sea-creature barrettes. Thanks, Rubes.

4. Tiny Baby Zine
I love making little zines when I have a free hour or two. All you need is a piece of printer paper, scissors, a straightedge, maybe tape or glue if you’re feeling fancy, and this guide. Then, fill it with whatever you like. Maybe you’ll even make collages in it? PROJECTCEPTION. Who knew you were so artsy? (I did. Just saying.)

5. Origami Mobile
Take any kind of paper and get down with some YouTube tutorials—I’ve done this two-minute fox one a few times, and it’s super cute and easy. You can stop there if you want, or take some string and tie your creations to a hanger. All of a sudden you’ve got a floating zoo above your bed where you didn’t before. That rules, huh?

6. T-Shirt Surgery
The number-one rule of this project, which I have learned the hard way many times, is this: DON’T TAKE SCISSORS TO A SHIRT THAT WOULD MAKE YOU SAD TO RUIN. It’s so weird—I’m always able to successfully beautify ugly shirts that say, like, “PARK AVE FORD” on them, but the minute I try to do something to a band shirt I love, disaster. So pick a terrible shirt, then cut off the sleeves, stomach, and collar—et voilà! Crop top. Or you can get a little fancier and do one of these rad fringed-bottom ones, of which I probably have 10 million now because they’re so fuunnnnn and easyyyyy and cuuuuuteeeee.

Although I still think of myself as uncoordinated and something of a nightmare in terms of visual intelligence, that makes me feel more triumphant when I finish even a small art project. Each time I put the final flourishes on a flower crown or DIY my own accessories, I overcome my artistic insecurities a little bit. By crafting I prove to myself that I am capable of doing other things besides writing—and having another creative outlet, however casual it may be, takes a little bit of pressure off of my literary projects. I feel way less self-conscious about my word-work when it’s not my only means of expression. Isn’t it funny what just a little hot glue can do for a person’s self-esteem? Also, unlike my term papers about Virginia Woolf or these here articles for you fine people, my lil’ crafts can be private if I want them to be. While it is rewarding when people freak out like, “OMG IS THAT A PIKACHU on your flower crown?!” and then I get to be all, “Oh, I made it myself,” whilst casually flipping my hair a little, I mostly make stuff for my eyes only. When I want to let off creative steam outside of any expectations from other people, I use my collages and rudimentary origamis as little physical diaries that are just for me to enjoy. And once I’m done, writing seems fun and new again.

So, to my sisters whose still lifes look like a collection of mysterious blobs instead of fruit, who accidentally draw five legs on an illustration of a cat (as I once did)—please don’t give up on making things. Maybe your talents lie more in sports or words or math or music or dance, but you can still create your own kind of visual artwork, and possibly even find a special kind of comfort and relief from it. If you experiment with materials and ideas a little bit, I’m sure you can find something that works for you. Find your inspiration, close the door, and then craft your heart out. You’d be surprised at all the things you’ll find you can make, if you try. ♦

Can I Please Say This?

Collage by Minna

Jeff Garlin is an actor, producer, director, comedian, writer, and all-around super nice person who is hilarious both on the screen (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and on the page (My Footprint: Carrying the Weight of the World). He is also hilarious on the phone, where he was kind enough to talk to me about a few things we have in common, like ADD, eating-disorder recovery, and getting past anxiety (which, as you can tell from the amount of “ums” and “uhs” on my end, is something I’m still dealing with—this was the first interview that I have ever conducted). Though I was extremely nervous and shaky, he could not have been nicer nor more understanding about my anxiety and ADD tendencies, nor could he have been more open and honest about his own. He was funny, warm, and inspiring, and after we talked I felt a little braver, which is how I hope you’ll feel after reading this interview.

PIXIE: Hi, how are you?

JEFF GARLIN: Hi. I’m good. The, uh, the recording device has an English accent. [In an English accent] You’re being recorded for Recorder for iPhone.

Maybe they just wanted to make it sound fancy?

Yeah. So, sister, ask all the questions you want, I’ll answer them all honestly.

OK, I think, um, it’s going to help a lot of girls who read the site, so it will be good. Um, I read your book!

You did?!

I did, yeah!


And we actually have a lot in common, because I have ADD too, and I have … I had an eating disorder when I was younger. You talk about all of that stuff in the book, so I related to it a lot. Um, was it therapeutic for you to write the book? Were you nervous about being so open about all of it?

No, I’m never nervous about being open at any time. The only time that it really doesn’t pay off to be open is sometimes when you’re in love with somebody, because you reveal yourself and if they decide they don’t like that part of you, that’s horrible, and it’s really hurtful and sad, and I’ve always hated that. But, you know, I am the way I am.

I know with my own recovery, it helps me to be open with my friends and my family, because it helps me stay accountable for my behavior. And I noticed in your book that you were really open about your problems so that the people you worked with could help you stay on track.

Yeah, but the bottom line is you can only rely on yourself. People can only help you so much.

Right, right. So, um, what was your earliest memory of having ADD?

Wow, my earliest memory. Well, the thing is, I was not diagnosed until really my late 20s.

Oh, OK, that’s the same for me.

It was just, I knew there was something different about me, you know? And I always wondered why I was so different, and then a lot of that became clear when my friends’ parents, who were social workers, said, “Have you ever investigated this?” I was like, “I’ve never even heard of it.” And then when I got tested and started seeing doctors, they were very clear that I had it. And meditation really helped me.

Were you relieved when you had a diagnosis?

Oh, of course! You’re always looking—you always know there’s something wrong with you, but to find out what it is, and that there’s a way that you can deal with it, it’s definitely a relief. It explained to me why, all through school—especially junior high and high school—I didn’t do as well as I could’ve. Because, you know, I think I’m pretty intelligent, and looking back, I should have been great at school. I should’ve gotten great grades. Instead I got terrible grades, and I barely graduated high school, and I would say it’s because of ADD.

Right. Like for me, I did well in school, but my ADD is more like, I was really, um, I get irritated really easily, like by lights and sounds, and I get disorganized, you know?

I have both of those.

And I would drink, like, a TON of caffeine, like every day—

Oh see, but that’s self-medicating.

Yeah, that’s what I mean. It was actually the only thing that would calm me down, and I didn’t know why until I was 25, and I was like, “Oh, well that makes a little sense.”

If I drank a lot of caffeine, I would definitely be self-medicating. As of now, I don’t drink coffee at all. I drank coffee once for a week when I was 40. I don’t even drink soda. As a matter of fact, I haven’t had sugar in almost three years, and that’s had a great effect on my ADD. I think sugar is one of the things that really exacerbate ADD.

I agree.

And I try to eat as few artificial ingredients and things like that as possible—chemicals and stuff in food. I try to eat as natural as I can.

Do you find that it’s hard to explain an ADD brain to people who don’t have it?

I don’t even know why you need to explain. As much as people say it’s a curse, I think it’s more of a blessing, at least if you want to be creative, because it’s almost like a creative mind. The unfortunate thing for people with ADD is, they tend to, in school situations, not be able to be constrained, and in social situations, they tend to make a lot of faux pas. But I think the key to the whole thing is, just be nice to yourself and know that’s just what you are, and kind of accept it.

So, you write and you act and you direct and you produce. You have a lot of stuff going on at once. I mean, the ADD can be beneficial for that, but do you have anything that keeps you organized or focused while you’re balancing all of these things at the same time?

I think it’s really important to have a good organizer [laughs]. I think that’s really, really, really important for keeping track of what you need to accomplish, and what your big goals are, and the small goals that lead you that way, so you don’t get off track and get off course. The other thing that I have learned over the years is to do your best to listen. Listening is really, really, really important, and people with ADD want to generally talk while other people are talking, because they’ve already got a reply, so it’s a challenge to sort of—

I’m trying not to do it right now! I’m trying not to do it while you’re talking!


It’s hard, you know? You want to get it out before you forget, you know, what you want to say—

Yeah, well, that’s ADD. And you’re gonna have to say to somebody … I’m writing with someone right now, and when you’re writing with somebody, sometimes you have to say, “Can I please say this? Because otherwise I’ll forget it.” And if they understand what’s going on with you, they’ll be cool with that. Or at least if you have a pad of paper in front of you, you write it down while they’re talking.

You mentioned earlier that you take medication, which I do too, and I find it really helpful. But everybody with ADD is different, everybody’s, you know, treatment is different? And some people benefit from therapy, and some people benefit from medication, and some people benefit from both. Have you found something that works for you?

I have not taken medication for years. Right now, my big thing for ADD, and for everything, is I do meditation, twice a day.

Oh, meditation. I’m sorry.

Yeah, I don’t really take ADD medication anymore. I do meditation, and that really seems to help.

Is it hard at first to start?

No, I find it easy. I do Transcendental Meditation. You don’t have to focus on anything. It’s effortless, and I like that.

So, um, I know you do stand-up, improv, comedy—do you consider that to be a coping skill?

That’s really a great observation. It really is a coping skill. And I think I’m a better improviser because of ADD. ADD allows me to be better at all the things that I do.


I wouldn’t be as good as I am if it weren’t for ADD.

Um, I’m really nervous. I’m trying not to be. This is the first interview I’ve ever done, so I’m trying not to be super nervous, um…

The way I look at it is, you’re trying not to be nervous, but the reality is you are nervous, so you should just embrace it.


The more you fight against it, the more you fight against nerves, the more you will get nervous. The more you embrace it—it’s sort of maybe a Zen approach, but you gotta embrace it and just say, “Hey, I’m feeling quite nervous.”

That’s true.

You’re doing a great job.

I’m trying! I’m trying not to, like, stumble. I’m just trying to go from, like, thing to thing here and figure out what I want to say.

You’re doing a fantastic job.

Oh! [Laughs] I’m trying. Um. Something that I wanted to talk to you about was something that you just mentioned, about embracing your nerves and sort of accepting things. I was first diagnosed with my eating disorder when I was 18 and the ADD later, but I think over the years it’s become something that I’ve had to accept as something that, um, I have. But I don’t have to, like, suffer with it? It’s just something that is a part of my life, and it’s not like a sentence as much as just another regular part of me that I have to adapt to.

Most definitely. Yes, yes yes yes yes, yes yes yes.

Was it ever hard for you to deal with that, or was it easy for you to get help when you needed it?

Um, geez, I think it’s all pretty hard, if you ask me [laughs]. I think it’s all very, very hard. I’m accepting of myself, but it’s a daily struggle—with my eating, with my ADD, with everything. It’s always, always a struggle. There’s good parts to my day and there’s bad parts to my day, and I sort of just embrace all of it and do the best I can.

I really liked in your book how you talked about how you go to AA meetings instead of OA meetings because you say that the people in AA have “the right sense of urgency.”

Yeah, I go to one in particular. I haven’t been for a while.

When I try to explain anorexia recovery to people, that’s the comparison that I go to the most. I’ve been in recovery for eight years, but it’s something that I have to do every single day. Like, if an alcoholic takes a drink, they’re screwed, and if I try to lose five pounds, I’m not going to be able to stop, you know what I mean? So I thought that was an interesting comparison.

I totally know what you mean.

Do you think people will ever treat food addiction and eating disorders as seriously as drug and alcohol problems? Or do you think it will take a long time for that?

I think it should already be taken as seriously, but unfortunately it’s not, and I don’t think it will. I think people look at fat people as having a lack of willpower, when willpower has nothing to do with it. I didn’t change my life until I approached everything like an addict. I haven’t had sweets in almost three years because I know if I have one cookie, just like if an alcoholic has his first drink, I’m off to the races and I’m back eating sugar again.

I read Tina Fey’s book, and she said that improv sort of shaped her outlook on life in general. It taught her to say yes, to not be afraid of things. Do you find this is true for you?

Completely true. When it comes to anything involved with my art, or show business, or whatever you want to call it, I’m pretty fearless. I don’t care. I mean, I care, but I’m saying I can’t be stopped. I’m not going to let fear stop me. I think the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that everybody’s scared, but successful people don’t let fear stop them. They keep moving forward through their fears.

Yeah, like the more you do it, the less scary it becomes.

Well, I think it’s always scary to one degree or another, but you don’t let it stop you. You just keep moving forward. Because I think unsuccessful people, in life, in their profession, all that stuff, I think the problem lies in the fact that they let their fear paralyze them.

What do you think has been the most important part of your recovery process over the last few years?

Just that I can’t deny it; I have to embrace it. I have to embrace that I have ADD, I have to embrace that I have anxiety, I have to embrace that I’m a compulsive overeater, I have to embrace everything and admit that I have it. And that way, I can do everything in my power to get past it. I don’t deny any of it. But I don’t obsess about any of it, either.

You just have to let it go.

You have to embrace it and then do what you can to fix it.

And rely on people in your life to just be supportive.

No, I can’t rely on anyone for anything. You’re not wrong by saying rely, and I know a lot of teenagers will be reading this interview, and it’s all about their friends, and they rely on their friends. I have very close friends who are very warm and supportive, don’t get me wrong, but the bottom-line lesson is that you have to rely on yourself. You have to have self-reliance. You have to fix all of these things yourself. You can get help from doctors, you can get help from friends, but it’s really your responsibility.

When I was in the hospital they would say the choices you make every day are on you. Nobody else can make them for you.

Yes, right. It’s on you.

So I guess this answers the final question I have for you, which is: what advice do you wish somebody had given you as a teenager, when you were dealing with anxiety, or … I guess you didn’t know it was ADD at the time, but, um, if you had known?

Here’s the thing. When you’re younger and you’re in high school, you think that there’s this drama that surrounds everything. You feel like this is the end of everything, you know? You feel that everything is magnified, with your ADD, with your eating, whatever it is. What I wish somebody had told me (and really if they had I don’t know if I would’ve listened to them) is that it’s a long life, and it’s a long journey, and you can overcome all adversity. Adversity is the most wonderful thing that can happen to you, because success, really true success, does not come without lots of adversity first. So adversity is the most fantastic thing. When you face these things, like ADD, right now it’s adversity, but you’ll find out later that it’s like, “Thank god I had that, because it helped make me this special person that I am.”

This was really great, and it helped me, so thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

Sure, and if you have any follow-up questions let me know, and if any readers write in with any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

Oh great, OK. Well, thank you so much.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Take good care. Bye.

You too. Bye.

If you have any questions for Jeff, please email them to [email protected], and write JEFF GARLIN in the subject line.