Me vs. the Machine

Me vs. the Machine

There are a couple of things I am deeply embarrassed about.  The first is that we trumpet ourselves as a Filipina founded company and our name is a Tagalog word, but I don’t speak Tagalog--not even one bit.  When I go to the Philippines people take one look at my tan skin and very Filipino nose and just start speaking to me in Tagalog and I try my best not to look panic stricken because I know I won’t be able to respond in Tagalog, and I know they will judge me.  The odd thing is, I can kind of understand Tagalog, but not because I actually know any vocabulary. I understand because Tagalog is spoken on the street as Tag-lish. There are so many random English words thrown in and a good sprinkling of Spanish words, that I can understand based on context clues and hand gestures.  My 6th grade level Spanish really puts me over the edge as someone who knows just enough to realize that people are talking about the fact that I don’t speak the language. Per the Duolingo app I’m 55% fluent in Spanish, but my Panamanian college roommate would beg to differ since she spent two years correcting my assignments.  So odd that all my papers were A’s, but my exams...not so much. 

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, the other thing I’m embarrassed about (but less so) is the fact that I don’t know how to use a sewing machine.  I don’t even own a sewing machine. How do I upcycle all these clothes, you ask? Well, Marly does most of the sewing, and the other stuff we take to a tailor.  Marly recently asked me why I haven’t learned to sew, and I rationalized it like this--I’ve learned at this point in my life what I’m good at and what I’m not good at.  My time is much better spent working on the things that I’m good at. If I don’t enjoy it, or I’m not good at it, I outsource. Think of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule from Outliers where he posits that the key to success in any field is practicing a specific task over 10,000 hours (or 20 hours of work a week for 10 years).  Marly has been sewing since she was a little girl and in high school she was making her own formal dresses and Halloween costumes. She had her first runway show before she turned 18.  She has mastered the machine. Although I am competent at sewing by hand from all those years of sewing the ribbons on my pointe shoes, I don’t think I’m going to pass as a decent seamstress any time soon.  I simply don’t have an extra 10,000 hours laying around. Well...until this recent quarantine. 

Now that we are in a full blown global pandemic and I only leave the house to walk Doug, I figured I should learn how to use a sewing machine.  I’d like to make friends and family face masks since that is now required to do essential tasks like grocery shopping. I’d also like to be able to hem a pair of pants instead of just buying capris and wearing them as normal pants.  We will see how this goes because it took me over an hour to figure out how to thread the sewing machine. I’ve got to say whoever wrote the instructions should take a cue from Ikea and stick with detailed pictures. There are so many terms for all the little parts.  Reading the manual was like the first time I opened a law school textbook and saw all the Latin words. I now know what res ipsa loquitur is, but WTF is a bobbin? After I watched a demo video on YouTube about 15 times, I finally figured out how to thread the machine.  When it came to actually learning how to sew a straight line, I did what any elder millennial would do, I face timed my parents. My dad picked up the phone and patiently walked me through each step in the same calm voice he used to explain 8th grade algebra.  


With my very basic skills in hand, I went to town on the face mask pattern I found on Pinterest.   Using a 100% cotton Hawaiian shirt that I thrifted in the pre-COVID good old days, I started my very own dining room sweatshop with child labor (a.k.a. kids helping) and everything.  Let’s just say that the prototype isn’t hospital ready, but I’ve got a solid 9,997 hours more to go on this new skill. 

If you’re wondering if I’ve also considered learning Tagalog during this time, the answer is yes.  I’ve downloaded a Tagalog language app, however I fear this will fare worse than my sewing endeavor. The words just seem super long and intimidating.  One of my 5 new phrases of the day was “very good” which is “mabuting-mabuti”. This may take me longer than 10,000 hours.  

Side note: other COVID-19 goals include getting my splits back.  This seems oddly attainable since I’ve been living in yoga pants for the past 3 weeks.  I already feel closer to my goal by just getting dressed in the morning. 

I’m truly hoping this post isn’t giving you anxiety about accomplishing anything other than maintaining your health during this quarantine.  I know it is hard enough to feed and teach your kids while continuing to work full time and scrounge for toilet paper. I personally need this to do list to keep me from going stir-crazy on weekends.  In the moments I feel overwhelmed I reread these thoughts below by Emma Zeck. It was posted by one of my favorite Instagram poets @komalesque. Yes, I just said I follow poets on IG. Does that make me both high and low-brow simultaneously?  Don’t think to hard on that question, and just enjoy the below: 

"With this open time 

You do not have to write the next bestselling novel

You do not have to get in the best shape of your life

You do not have to start that podcast


What you can do instead is observe this pause as an 


The same systems we see crumbling in society are being called to crumble in each of us


The systems that taught us we are machines

That live to produce & we are disposable if we are not doing so

The systems that taught us monetary gain takes priority 

Over humanity

The systems that create our insecurities then capitalize

Off of them


What if we became curious with this free time, 

& had no agenda other than to experience being?

What if you created art for the sake of creating?

What if you allowed yourself to rest & cry & laugh

& play & get curious about whatever arises in you?

What if our true purpose is in this space?

As if Mother Earth is saying: We can no longer carry 

On this way.  The time is now -- I am reminding you who

You are. Will you remember?"


- Emma Zeck 

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