Reflections on a Vocational Happenstance
"Multi-tasking arises out of distraction itself." - Marilyn vos Savant
I've written here before about the way knitting in public grants me the ability to fade into the background, to go unnoticed, to observe without being observed. Non-knitters see my busy hands and believe my attention is wholly absorbed. Actually, the opposite is true. Something about the repetitive process of knitting frees up other parts of my brain to roam more freely.
In fact, if I work in an environment where there is no other distraction, I am more likely to make mistakes in my knitting because my mind takes off entirely on its own and forgets the task at hand - not unlike the way I would sometimes arrive home at the end of a busy work day without remembering anything about the drive, having been on "autopilot" the whole time, my mind primarily absorbed with thoughts of job and family. Just as I have driven into my driveway without thinking that I meant to stop at the grocery before going home, so have I knit several rows past the point when I should have introduced some new design element. Repetition and routine, it seems, make maintaining a sharp focus more difficult. Like the horse who knows the way to the barn and will carry its sleeping rider safely home, parts of our brain function by rote unless we override them.
I had never heard of Marilyn vos Savant before this morning, which speaks to the value of disciplining ourselves to face the blank page each day regardless of whether or not we have something to say when first sitting down to the task. I haven't read enough yet to decide whether I generally agree with her world view, but this article on multi-tasking matches my own experience exactly.
To date, my favorite task to combine with knitting is listening to audio books, particularly non-fiction audio books. With the right story, I can knit a long time without mistakes. I have to pause the narration when reading new instructions or counting stitches and rows (my brain can't yet process two sets of words and/or numbers simultaneously), but otherwise the words filling my head are a good complement to the work of my hands.
I am especially pleased with this combination because reading from the printed page is something I do far less these days because I am knitting far more. At first I lamented this loss, but now I "read" more than ever, with the extra bonus of having something tangible to show for those hours. Also, I find I can tackle much denser material listening while knitting than I generally manage when reading from the printed page, which I think is because the part of my mind that would otherwise wander is held in place by my knitting hands.
The thing about multi-tasking is this, though. Once it becomes a habit, it's hard to stop. For instance, unless I am traveling with someone (other than my husband) on the subway, I knit as I ride. When circumstances arise which cause me to be alone there with no work in my bag, I become restless. And now when I am home alone and sit down to knit, I look for words to fill my ears. I have grown accustomed to needing something to go with my knitting, whether that something is morning conversation with my husband, CNN news programming, people-watching or an audio book, I am no longer content simply to sit and knit.
In the '90's, when I was a novice knitter, I knew a much older woman who would sit on her couch knitting complicated cabled sweaters while browsing women's magazines and drinking tea. Everything necessary to all three tasks was carefully arrayed (and perfectly balanced!) on the cushion beside her. I marveled at this proficiency and vowed one day I would be able to do the same.
It has taken a long, long time, but here I am, finally, multi-tasking away. Just like Polly.