No Knitting in 2013.
January 8, 2013 § 15 Comments
Carl Larsson, Blomsterfönstret
I do not know a more pitiful sight than to see a woman tatting, knitting, embroidering–working cats on the toe of some slipper, or tulips on an apron. The amount of nervous force that is expended in this way is enough to make angels weep.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in a passage that has haunted me ever since I think I read it as an already-crafty little girl in So You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?
It’s the night before school starts for me, which makes it as portentous a time as I can hope for. I’ve been feeling badly about my silence here, especially because that silence–which I’m now breaking–isn’t exactly without cause. My friends, 2013 will be the year in which I will not knit a stitch. (What now, old knitting blog old pal? You’re not exactly the travel blog you were born to be. You can be something else.)
I haven’t (recently) had some cataclysm of disenchantment, and stand here shocked, splattered with epiphanic muck. Nor have I lost the use of my hands in some unspeakable accident. But, over the past six months, I’ve lost the need to read knitting blogs, keep pace with my twitter feed, or know which patterns are in the Ravelry Top Five.
But it isn’t just Internet fatigue–it’s not just that I’m tired of trying to drink from this bundle of fire hoses. I’ve noticed that in my case–and I’m speaking only for myself–that that kind of knitting I find myself doing is a bad habit, a pernicious habit.
Them’s strong words. But hear me out.
It’s commonly been said (here, by me, all the time) that knitting is an apotropaic act–that it’s something we do in times of trial in order to keep hard times at bay. It’s something concrete and pragmatic to do in a crisis, a means of rehabilitation, and a welcome distraction from life’s other demands. It’s making warmth and building community.
It’s certainly been that for me. I didn’t want to move to a new town when I was 15, but couldn’t do anything about it, so I knit a bed worth of blanket squares. I was frustrated in love, so I knit a sweater. I worried about my research, so, instead, I knit a pair of socks. I was in love with another boy, so I knit a stuffed-animal cat and some stuffed-animal birds (true). I worried about traveling to Germany and knit a blanket. I rode my bike across Germany and knit 6 pairs of socks. I resented a roommate’s boyfriend and made a shawl. I worried about exams and made another shawl. I resented another roommate and made another shawl. While I worried about graduate school applications, my place in the academy, and the academy’s place in the world, I churned through endless pairs of socks, gloves, and a dress.
And so on.
It isn’t that every work I’ve wrought is a full-blown exorcism, laced with my poisonous feeling du jour (“Here, friend, have a hate-sweater.” I promise, neither my blood nor my choler is on your gifted knitwear.). My full-to-bursting pine chest of sweaters, hats, and socks isn’t a Pandora’s box of embodied anxiety. But I’ve found that, for me, knitting acts as a form of stress amplification instead of stress relief. Instead of distracting me from my worries, it gives me the mindspace to endlessly brood over them, all while providing visual proof–in the form of a physical, useful, item, no less–that I’m getting something done.
Plus, I’ve spent six years voraciously learning everything I could about knitting. At the end of all the unlocked achievements (cast ons, bind offs, finishing, stranded and intarsia colorwork, double knitting, aran cables, Bavarian twisted stitches, Estonian lace, all the Barbara Walker, two-socks-simultaneously like in War and Peace, knitwear design, spinning, dyeing, shepherding) was, as you’d guess, a satisfying fluency in the craft. But something had changed. I could read all I wanted–it was all beautiful, but nothing was new. I understood it all. Knitting, to me, wasn’t art or self-expression any more. It was a compulsive habit that had become something that felt a lot like that self-imposed slavery, addiction.
I’ve got an incredible ability to focus and a dogged, enduring sort of energy. Like everyone else, I’ve also got a nearly infinite capacity for anxiety. Knitting, for just about as long as I’ve been doing it, has been a perfect, enormous energy sink–procrastination masquerading as productivity. I think I’ve known it all along, in the back of my mind. All that I mulled and fretted over as I stitched, I could have been working to fix and change. Instead, I’ve sat in passivity, and wound up with more handmade accoutrements than I could ever need. And this handmade life I’ve been living? I haven’t found that it imbued with one more ounce of meaning and grace than any other (No, really, no, not at all. SO, whence meaning and grace? A: Other people.).
You know how at the end of Matilda, Matilda isn’t able to move things with her mind anymore? Instead of discharging her excess mental energy via eyeball-zapping telekinesis, she’s finally got harder schoolwork, which uses it up. And that’s a good thing. I think I’ve been using up a majority of my focus, energy, and creativity in my knitting (Zap Zap, four sweaters for Christmas presents). I mean, have you seen my output? It is incredible, not because I’m incredible, but because I’m relentless.
But, tomorrow, I’m starting on a path that will take my every ounce of work and devotion. So, until I’m ready to come back, I quit.