Saturday, August 30, 2008

Closely Knit

As you may (or may not) have noticed, I haven't been writing a whole lot lately. I am in a bit of a funk. It comes from having a very demanding and difficult new job, all of the nuances of which I don't fully understand, a 3-year-old starting preschool (which he is crazy about, by the by), and a husband starting a new school year. In addition, I have family who are in a crisis of heretofore unseen proportions, a mother-in-law who is visiting at the end of the month, and a KitchenAid stand mixer which has been calling to me. It's been saying "Make bread in me! You love carbs!" It's true, I do love carbs. And I've been making some truly unspeakably good bread. Even as I write this, there's a loaf of sandwich bread cooling on a rack on the counter right next to a loaf of hearty olive-rosemary country bread that's rising. When I'm feeling sort of fractured, like all of my loyalties are being jerked in different directions and my time being swallowed until there's nothing left to give, I bake.

If I were smart, I would be talking more of this out on paper, or with a good therapist. But I don't have time to find a good therapist, or an hour a week to spend with him, and my creative energy has other outlets that need it right now. For example, two of my friends are getting married in eight days (to each other; I know that might have gone without saying but it's good to be, you know, clear.) Look, aren't they cute together? I can't believe I've known that guy since we went to church camp together when we were 15, and I can't believe I've only known that girl for a couple of years. Anyway, I so wish that I could be there when they get married (despite my fear that a hurricane will wash them and their entire family into the Atlantic Ocean, or that if I were there my husband might make me go to DisneyWorld) but instead I am just frantically knitting them a wedding present. And it's so awesome too! I can't wait for it to be done, mostly so I can put pictures of it up here.

Lately all of my emotions are sort of being knit into things. I am deeply concerned about the effect that my cousin's problems are having on my mother. On the one hand, I am not currently the squeaky wheel of the family, which is a good thing because my mother tends to drive me slightly out of my head when she has nothing else to think about (I tend to get emailed demands for me to tell her everything that Max has said for the last three days), but on the other, she seems totally unable to cope with anything that my cousin is experiencing. Later this month, he will report to Morgantown, WV, to the minimum security facility there, and while I am reassured by the fact that he is close by and that we can visit him if he wants (I am fine with it if he would prefer not to be visited too, of course) I am inexpressibly sad that an exceptionally good father, friend, and human being will be incarcerated, separated from his children, friends and family for the next eighteen to 22 months. What troubles me most of all is things like this, and this. And my cousin, while hardly blameless in this situation, was a member of his city planning comission, former candidate for the city council, a member of his church, a freakin' PTA dad! And he's a criminal? Quick, send a SWAT team.

Anyway, for my mother, who is taking all of this very hard, I have started a lacy, comforting, cozy shawl out of the most gorgeous yarn I think I've ever seen, in every shade of a sunset. I will put up pictures of that as well, because, God willing, she will never know that this blog exists, because if she did, I would have to stop talking about how much I wish she wouldn't wear a bikini on public beaches (Mary, you're 68. Just say no.) She really needs something lacy and comforting and cozy right now.

I know it's not the answer to everything. But I will say that there is a lot of crap in life that knitting can get you through--either by giving you a creative outlet for all of the emotions that you don't have any other outlet for, or by giving you a finished product that helps to take some of the sting out of everything else that stings. In addition, knitting is fun. It is great for teaching your brain to turn off to everything else and turn on to what is in your hands right now, to be in the moment in a way that I have never found a way to do in any other way. Giving away things you've created feels good, better than going to Target and looking at someone's gift registry. I look forward to Christmas now, and birthdays, and new babies, in ways I never have before, because I can give the people I love something that I've spent my time and energy on, not just my money. And your hard work yields a tangible result, something to put your hands on or in, something to wrap around your neck, something to fall asleep under.

If any of this appeals, if knitting sounds like a possible cure for whatever is ailing you, if it sounds like something that you might enjoy or something to do while your husband (or wife, I'm equal opportunity) watches something unspeakably boring on TV, if the thought of seeing your child wearing something you've created for them speaks to you, let me offer you these small bits of advice. They're not about learning to knit--you have the internet, obviously; you can work that out for yourself. They're about the things that will keep you knitting once you've figured out the fundamentals.

1. Find a local yarn store (LYS) to support you. Here's mine: A Tangled Skein. Remember when you were in maybe second or third grade, and you and your friends had a club? You hung out with the club at recess and after school, you ate lunch at the same table, you wore the same things on the same day? Eventually you'd all get mad at each other, dissolve the club and re-form it to exclude whatever poor soul had somehow managed to get herself into the doghouse? Yeah, that's what a good LYS is like, only without the getting mad, dissolving and re-forming. When I say support you, I'm talking about supporting you like an AA sponsor would support you: my LYS is consistently full of knitters (customers as well as employees) who remember what I was knitting the last time I was there, ask how it's coming along, ask me what I'm thinking of doing next, have patterns to share, suggestions about yarn or needles or patterns they've liked or hated. There are soft places to sit and knit. The staff is as hands-on or as hands-off as you want them to be. Here's the best part: nobody will ask you what you're "sewing," nobody will ask you "How do you do that?" and expect to be taught how to knit a sweater in thirty seconds or less, nobody will tell you that "my Grandma knits" (Guess what? Your grandma probably learned to knit when she was ten. My grandma knits too, and she can probably kick your grandma's ass.)

2. Take a class. Your LYS probably offers some; if not, check with your local community center, art center, or community college. You can probably teach yourself how to cast on, knit a basic scarf, and cast off, but when you're ready to progress, it helps to get some guidance. Things can get pretty complicated, especially when it comes to things like choosing the right yarn and needles for a project, knitting something other than a rectangle, and certain aspects of finishing.

3. Don't buy crap. Okay, this is sort of important. Don't go to Wal-Mart and buy whatever post-consumer-waste-recycled garbage yarn and plastic needles they happen to have sitting on a shelf. It's like cooking: if you buy your groceries at 7-11, you will probably get ripped off and not like the result; also, you probably won't find half of what you need to make what you want. If you don't want to spend $40 on a skein of cashmere/merino blend for your first whatever, you don't have to. But at least go to someplace like Michael's and buy a decent-quality wool or wool blend. You will like the results better, it will be easier to work with, and you are more likely to continue. I call this the You-Can't-Polish-A-Turd school of knitting philosophy.

4. Get ready to fuck it up. You will tear out and re-knit your first piece. Over, and over, and over again. I guarantee it. And it will look terrible. You will drop stitches. You will yarn-over when you shouldn't. You will forget that the yarn should be in your right hand, not in your left, get turned around, and have some crazy looking short rows. Accept it. Prepare to throw away your first project and write it off as a learning experince.

5. Yarn will talk to you. It will say things like, "Buy me, it doesn't matter that I cost $30 and you're unemployed." It will say things like, "Your sister is pregnant. And it's a girl." It will say things like, "Your mother loves this color." It will say things like, "It doesn't matter that you have more yarn than you can possibly knit in this lifetime." You will pick the yarn up, rub it against your cheek, envision it wrapped around your neck on the coldest morning of the entire winter, picture it snuggled around your best friend's new baby. The yarn that talks to you will be the yarn that makes the things that you love the most.

6. Maybe you'll get obsessed, maybe not. Maybe you'll knit every time you sit down, or maybe you'll knit once a week. Maybe you'll never finish a project, or maybe you won't buy anyone a Christmas present next year because you've knitted for everyone. Maybe you'll learn to knit while you watch TV, read, listen to music, talk to your friends, or, like me, stand on the Metro during rush hour, or maybe you won't ever really become a knitting multi-tasker. But there is something in it for you. Give it a month and let it become a habit. Knitting has something to say to you.


Treen said...

Knitting IS fun, and addicting, and relaxing. When I think of knitting I think of the episode of Grey's when Meredith begins knitting furiously when she sees the hot vet come out with her dog because she's being a reformed whore.

I fear every day that my mom reads my blog too.

I am sorry about your cousin. My sister dated a guy for years that we all fell in love with, he pulled her out of her ugly and awful divorce and helped her love herself again, and after he had done tons of wonderful and selfless things for our family we discovered that he was a sex addict in his 40's that preyed upon seducing 16 and 17 year old girls. Your cousin isn't a sexual predator, but I know how hard it is to know the good side of a person when everybody else just gets to read the bad.

I'm glad you think my scrunchy face is cute, or at least adorable in relation to Gerry : ) We wish you could be there too, but at least somebody will survive the potential hurricane to blog in my honor if Hanna blows us to the island on LOST.

I love carbs too. Problematic since I have a dress to fit into in 6 days. We got a kitchenaid mixer for our shower and I can't wait for Ger to whip up some things for me, since I don't cook.

Kimberly said...

Ah, I love how you talk/write about knitting. Very true, all of it. I've been knitting for almost four years and I still find myself ripping out projects. Sprout loves his blankie and booties that you knitted for him. The hat's still too big, but it'll be perfect just in time for cold weather. Those gifts will mean so much to him when he's older, as much as they mean to me now. Thanks for sharing your love of yarn, and hang in there with the rest of your life. This too shall pass, which is what you have been telling me about the sleepless nights and crying.