WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama says it helps to focus on what you can control when you’re feeling out of control.
Among the things she could control during the death and isolation of the pandemic, racial unrest and threats to democracy were her spools of thread and her knitting needles.
She calls such thinking the “power of the small” and writes in her new book, The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, that by focusing on a small task like knitting, she was able to take care of the worries and fears overcome and stress of the last few troubling years.
“The interesting thing about knitting and using your hands and crafting is that it’s meditative,” the former first lady said Tuesday night at Washington’s Warner Theater, where she embarked on a month-long, six-city promotional tour to promote the book.
“In a lot of ways it’s like a belief,” she said as she sat onstage with a friend, former talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, and engaged Mrs. Obama in often humorous conversations for nearly 90 minutes. “It’s one thing that silences your worrying mind and lets your hands take over.”
And therein lies the power, she said.
“I’m thinking of knitting and purling and knitting and purling and row and row and row,” the former first lady said, listing various stitches and techniques used in knitting. “And if you keep going like this and you’re focused, you’ve got a sweater.
In the book, released Tuesday, she shares the contents of her “personal toolbox” — the habits and practices, attitudes and beliefs, and even physical objects she uses to overcome her feelings of fear, helplessness and self-doubt.
“This book aims to show you what I keep there and why, what I use professionally and personally to help me stay balanced and confident, which is what drives me even through times of great anxiety and stress,” she wrote in the introduction.
The 58-year-old wife of former President Barack Obama and mother of adult daughters Malia and Sasha wrote the book, her third, is not a guide but a “series of honest reflections on what my life has taught me so far.”
“Also remember that everything I know, all the different tools I rely on, only came to me through trial and error, years of constant practice and re-evaluation,” she wrote. “I’ve spent decades learning on my feet, making mistakes, adjustments and course corrections as I walked. I’ve only slowly gotten to where I am today.”
The Light We Carry is Mrs. Obama’s first new work since the release of her best-selling memoir, Becoming, in 2018, which has sold more than 17 million copies worldwide and is easily the most popular book by a former or modern first lady are presidents, including her husband.
As First Lady, she wrote American Grown, a book about the vegetable garden she planted in the White House in 2009.
Ms. Obama opened the tour in Washington and has scheduled performances at The Met in Philadelphia, the Fox Theater in Atlanta, the Chicago Theater and the Masonic in San Francisco before concluding the tour at the YouTube Theater in Los Angeles.
Sitting in a plush purple chair on the stage of Washington’s nearly 100-year-old theater, Mrs. Obama spoke about her feelings after the 2016 election, in which her husband was succeeded by Donald Trump. Coincidentally, Trump announced a third presidential candidacy during her appearance.
“If you remember, I said, ‘Don’t vote for that guy,'” she said, meaning Trump, who was trying to undo much of Obama’s record as president. “It hurt because you’re wondering – was it a reprimand of the Eight Years, the sacrifice we made? Was it complacency? What was it?”
The former first lady also spoke about overcoming her fear of change and realizing that she couldn’t stand in the way of her husband’s desire to run for president in 2008. He gave her the right to veto his decision.
“Opportunity is on the other side of that,” she said, speaking of fear.
She also spoke about the pandemic, saying her family handled it better than most because they were already used to isolation from the eight years they lived in the “bubble” of the White House.
She spoke about how hard it was — and still is — as a First Lady, making new friends she can trust, and how much fun it is to see her daughters “grow up” while they rent an apartment in California share. The girls had returned to Washington to live with their parents during the pandemic.
Sasha had completed a semester at the University of Michigan before returning home. Malia, who was enrolled at Harvard, spent her senior year at home and ended up missing a graduation ceremony because of COVID-19. So her parents held a ceremony in her backyard, complete with opening speakers.
“It was me and Barack,” Mrs. Obama said, laughing. “We told her how lucky she was. She got us both.”