Suddenly this feels like a strawberry summer.
First there were the freshly picked local strawberries at our most recent farmer's market. Of course we have had strawberries at the market in summers past, but there was something especially sweet about their appearance on the scene last Friday. A tenderness hung in the air, carried along somehow with the cheerful red berries piled gently into green pulp baskets. Optimism by the quart, it felt like that.
Then last night came a full strawberry moon coinciding with the summer solstice. We sat outside to watch it rise, to behold its light flooding our small field. Rare to see the clouds so clearly at night, with the wind's unseen hand moving them like Matisse rearranging pieces for his Cut-Outs.
The strawberry moon is the sixth moon of creation, and its medicine is reconciliation. Now is the time to welcome everyone home, regardless of their differences, a time to let go of judgement and self-righteousness.
I wish more people had been sitting out of doors last night to see that moon rise, to feel the summer wind, and to recognize the vast mysterious workings of the universe. Our nation desperately needs this special moon's medicine. Right now, particularly, we need optimism by the quart and wide open fields of reconciliation.
We need a long strawberry summer.
Stress is sometimes described as the gap between expectation and reality. To reduce stress, then, we must manage our expectations.
Stress over my knitting results from setting goals that are too ambitious in terms of output. Typically I am the only one who knows my plans and so I suffer the stress alone until I get a grip on my own expectations.
Of course knitting stress hardly moves the needle on the Richter Scale of Life, but practicing coping mechanisms in a private arena with little potential for negative impact on others is helpful. Hopefully I can apply what I've learned, amplified, to more meaningful situations.
Anxiety is something larger and darker than stress, and much more difficult to effectively manage. Stress arises from what's happening in the present: someone is sick right now, the car is broken down right now, the train is late right now, the rent is due right now, etc. But anxiety arises from something that lies ahead still pending: the results of medical tests, the threat of a hurricane, the response to a submitted job application, the realities of aging and mortality, etc. There may be little we can do in the immediate right now to impact the future situation, but we worry over it. We experience feelings of insecurity, dread, or fear.
Nothing about knitting causes me anxiety, but anxiety severely impacts my ability to knit productively, and that can lead to stress as I don't meet my expectations. When I am anxious, my brain is like a hamster on a wheel in a cage, running fast 'round and 'round while going nowhere. I can't focus, I can't establish any rhythm, and I make dumb mistakes.
Writing is also very difficult when I'm anxious. My thoughts swirl in a vortex and the only thing I seem capable of writing about is what's causing the anxiety. Hence no blog posts for two weeks.
It's a form of writer's block, I guess, but the problem isn't that I can't get any words to come out onto the page; it's more like I'm trying to keep a lid on a pot that's bubbling hard, threatening to boil over at any moment.
Many experts recommend writing about the blockage as a way of curing it. Just get the wheels turning, they say, just put some words down and you'll get going again, the content doesn't matter. Just write what you feel.
So here I am today, writing to say nothing more than that it's hard for me to write about knitting when I am feeling so anxious about current events.
Though I haven't yet found the exact passage to gather the context, Kahlil Gibran is said to have believed that "our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it." Wherever the words come from, I recognize their veracity.
Waiting for a loved one to arrive home again after a trip, I want somehow to control the journey, to guide the plane to safety. Waiting for the results of a medical test, I want to exert some influence -- to pray, perhaps, or positively visualize. I don't want to acknowledge my own powerlessness. I want to believe that my fervent hopes and wishes matter to the outcome.
It seems then that to eliminate anxiety, I must acknowledge that my sphere of influence is tiny and the only person I can control to any significant extent is myself. Most of what happens in the universe is beyond my ability to impact, and only when I surrender to this truth will I find some measure of peace in my daily existence.
The cold, hard fact is that I cannot keep the plane from crashing or change the medical diagnosis no matter how much energy I put into worrying or positive visualization, either one.
So it seems the advice about curing writer's block works, now that I have made myself follow it.
Because already, just from sharing my anxiety with you, I am starting to feel myself bat away the notion that my sphere of influence is inconsequential.
It may be tiny, but it's mine to use as I will.
And you have one, too.
Typically I am alone when I knit, or sitting with my husband. Even when I go to craft fairs and markets, I am knitting alone, hopefully interacting with browsers by, but I am the only one with work in her hands. Yesterday, for a change, I sat in a group of women, all of us knitting.
Thinking how to describe what that shared experience felt like to me, the word that comes to mind is "together". More than simply being in the same place at the same time, we were brought together by our knitting.
Then "community", I thought, is what were together for those hours: a community of knitters.
But that didn't seem to capture all that had passed between us; it felt more like "communion". Yes, I felt we were in communion during those few hours.
From different backgrounds, of different ages, we assembled at the same time in the same place because of something we have in common. Surely we also have differences, but those were not the focus of our time together.
All three of these english words -- common, community, communion -- share the same Latin root: commūnis m, f (neuter commūne);
Any people living in close proximity form a community; place is what they have in common. But the reasons for living in the same place are various and we often have no voice in choosing our neighbors. It may be easier to observe differences than similarities.
"Community building", it seems to me, could more rightly be called "establishing communion". Living in the same place without taking time to understand one another in a meaningful way is not enough to help us manage when times are hard. We will not be able to lift each other up if we do not take time to understand each other.
"Knit" is a word that lends itself well to idiom: bones knit themselves together, brows are knit, etc. Communities can be known as "close-knit" or "tight-knit". With a positive connotation, this can mean that the people within the community care for one another, support each other, nurture each other. A negative connotation can indicate that the community is clannish, or clique-ish, or exclusive.
All of these thoughts and more passed through my mind yesterday as I sat knitting with women whom I did not know well, had not previously recognized as members of my local community, but found myself working easily with, in kind communion.
"And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed
and every morning revealed new miracles."
Frances Hodgson Burnett
May is my busiest garden month. I have several perennial flower beds that need tending before the season gets too far underway. Hundreds of plants reside in these beds, popping up now in early Spring to bloom once more.
Debris must be removed, the soil needs aerating, cramped plants want dividing. I spread yards of mulch, first watering with a delicious compost "tea". I relish the blend of creative and physical energy this work requires.
After the beds are made ready for the new year, reshaped and rearranged a bit, I wait to see what happens next. And what happens next is always a Miracle.
It's one thing to decide to cultivate monarda didyma because you've read it is a premier native nectar plant and a favorite of both humingbirds and bees; quite another thing to watch it grow and bloom and see the bees and hummingbirds appear and enjoy it, just as I hoped. Hummingbirds migrate from Central America each year, all the way to my stand of bee balm here in Delaware County, New York. What more proof of miracles could anyone need?
I also have a peony plant in my yard. Next month each supple stalk will be weighted down with a spectacular bloom. Before opening the hard round bud will be visited by ants, which will busily gather up a sweet nectar they find there, some 18" or more from the ground. After the bud opens, the ants will disappear. Some people say the peony won't bloom without the ants, others that the ants protect the peonies from other pests, some that the ants just love the nectar. What I know is that buds will form, ants will come and munch a lot, and then the peonies will bloom in gorgeous riot. All this with no more effort on my part than a bit of initial tending of their bed in May. In other words: A Miracle.
You know I love knitting. I knit every day and take delight in the process of making things to keep people warm. But knitting is not like gardening.
The results from the hours I spend knitting are entirely of my own doing, for better or for worse. If I don't knit, nothing happens; mine is the only energy at work. Knitting in that regard is pretty much a zero-sum activity. As beautiful or useful as any finished piece might be, at no point in the process does it have any life of its own.
When I finish writing to you this morning, I will walk outdoors and look for today's garden miracles, which I am certain are waiting there for me to find.
And this is Joy.
Our various forms of social media are perfect vehicles for the dissemination of aphorisms. "Like" and "Share" are such simple responses and we have become so well-conditioned to receiving information in sound-bite-sized portions that we seem content to take our wisdom by the teaspoonful, swallowing fast before clicking or swiping onward.
A good aphorism is pithy and packs a punch. It must contain a noun or verb that hooks you, niggling and worming its way into your psyche. Your gaze must be forced inward, if only for a moment.
In this example, "cling" is the operative word. Paired with "mistake", its power doubles. Neither word is positively value-loaded. We don't want to fail and we don't like to be seen as grasping or clutching. We prefer to be sure and strong, correct and independent.
A good aphorism must resonate universally. It can't be true for only some of the people some of the time. Everyone must accept its authority, and imperative statements are more effective than conditional promises. That way we are left to speculate about the negative consequences, to envision for ourselves the dangers of non-compliance, and we suffer more from imagination than reality.
By my standards, then, this aphorism, "Don't cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it," is a good one.
But who cares? What is she going on about here this morning, you might be asking by now. Baseball is the metaphor for life, not knitting, you might be thinking.
All I can say is that the concrete lessons learned by knitting every day help me develop coping strategies that are useful in real life. And when this aphorism appeared in my social media stream this morning, it triggered an extended flood of anamneses, both knitting and otherwise.
Here's what I know: mistakes are never welcome, and the more time I've invested in a project the less likely I am to want to give up on it. In that sense, I do cling to mistakes, long after I realize I should let go, because I hate to admit the failure.
Near the beginning, I have no problem starting over and over, or even deciding that it will never work out the way I had hoped. It's no big deal then to give up and choose something else to work on.
But there's nothing worse than the sinking feeling that comes with finding a structural flaw late in a project. Immediately I start thinking of all the ways I can fix it so that no one will know but me. Or I rationalize that the accidental occurrence is better anyway. And all the while I am experiencing these doubts and reservations, I keep on knitting, throwing good work after bad.
Never once has continuing on like that led to a happy ending. The only way to get over bad mistakes is divestiture, as painful as that can be. From experience I know that I will feel better once the tough decision is made, but still I hate to let go.
When I finally give in, the process of ripping the bad work out is a cleansing one, and I feel my spirits begin to lift, though there is always much sighing along the path from sad to satisfied.
Rewound, resting neatly in my workbasket, the yarn no longer reproaches me. It reassumes its potential -- a potential that I know I have the power to tap.
"Once you have mastered a technique,
you barely have to look at a recipe again."
The cheery tone of Julia Child's words perhaps belies the time and effort required to reliably achieve good results without using a recipe. It takes many techniques mastered and well combined to create a tasty meal.
Yesterday I spent several hours knitting with no tangible result yet went to bed content, looking forward to beginning anew this morning. The time I spent working was not wasted by any measure; I made progress toward Mastery.
A friend has chosen some yarn and asked that I work it into a sweater for a new baby. She also chose 2 sweet buttons for me to use. With those parameters, I selected an appropriate pattern and sat down to work.
First I knit a few test gauge swatches in order to determine which needles to use and which size instructions to follow. I fussed about for a while making some decisions, read the pattern all the way through, then cast on.
I worked 2/3 of the little sweater and decided that I needed to be using a larger needle and following the instructions for one size smaller. Along the way I became familiar with the construction techniques and got a feel for the fabric I was creating. Gently I frogged the whole thing and started over.
With the second attempt I was pleased with needle and sweater size, but unhappy with the way the button placket came out. The designer used a clever technique that is new to me. Having done it twice now, I see how it works, how to make it lie flat and emerge seamlessly from the body of the sweater. The buttons will be the focal point, so an untidy placket would be an obvious blemish. Before heading off to bed, I gently frogged again.
Working yesterday I was pleased to be learning something new, even though I need to start over again this morning.
If I run across this type of placket in another pattern I will be able to work it correctly on the first try. I will also be able to incorporate it into future projects, combining it with other construction techniques I have already mastered to create new designs.
I am looking forward to beginning work a third time and am indeed confident that this will "be the charm".
Luck, however, will have nothing to do with it.
"We live in a web of ideas, a fabric of our own making." - Joseph Chilton Pearce
I dislike reading fiction and poetry (especially poetry) in translation. I do it, for obvious reasons, but all the while I am aware of not receiving all that the author intended to convey.
This quote I am using today, attributed to Joseph Chilton Pearce, contains two words that would give a good translator pause: web and fabric. Both are juicy, poetic nouns with multiple meanings.
The image I chose to pair with the quote shows my interpretation, but since the words were out of context when I found them and I don't know much about Pearce's belief system, I cannot be sure if I am receiving (and now resending) the message accurately -- and this is with both of us having English as our first language.
Merriam-Webster's simple definition of fabric is as follows:
1. woven or knitted material
2. the basic structure of something
With these two meanings, it is easy to understand why 'fabric' is poetic while 'material' is not.
I am going to leave you to ponder Pearce's meaning on your own -to consider what web of ideas you are using to weave the fabric of your life -and come to the point I meant to discuss when I first sat down here to write:
Knitting is the making of fabric.
This might seem to you an obvious statement, but only fairly recently, after many years of knitting, did I realize that what I have been doing all this time is creating fabric.
Previously I thought about the process in terms of making objects - a sweater, a scarf, a sock, a hat. I chose yarn, followed a pattern, and manufactured something warm.
Then one day at a craft fair a browser by said to me, fingering a little dress I had made, "I love this fabric." I did, too, love that fabric; it had been a joy to create.
The dress would have been cute made from another yarn, but the fabric I had manufactured was an especially good match for the pattern, and the result was an above average garment that stood out from the others on my table.
After the woman walked away I kept thinking about her smile as she spoke, and her gentle hands.
Suddenly I envisioned yards of that fabric on a bolt, waiting to be cut out and sewn. I saw that woman selecting it from many other bolts, handing it to me and asking, "Will you make me something from this?"
"Long stormy spring-time, wet contentious April, winter chilling the lap of very May; but at length the season of summer does come." - Thomas Carlyle
Today is my second-to-last day before heading up to our country house.
This process of moving from one home to another, once very difficult, has become a routine I embrace and even look forward to, at least a little bit.
Twice a year I weed our possessions, deciding which to get rid of and which to keep. And then of those to keep, which should move from one home to the other and which be left behind awaiting our return.
I don't know if you are aware that all serious knitters have something called a "stash". This term applies to all the yarn we own that hasn't yet been used. Yarn is a fairly benign addiction, it's true, but "stash" is a good word for all these odds and ends. Knitters can be hoarders, and we can find the acquisition of beautiful new yarns hard to resist, even though we have plenty to work with waiting at home.
Moving back and forth has helped keep my stash under control. I have to maintain a balance between what I buy and what I knit because the difference between the two cannot grow larger than what fits into one plastic tub. With this regulator in place, I am able to practice a discipline that is contrary to my natural inclination.
When I return to my upstate garden on Friday, there will be few flowers visible. Perhaps a daffodil or tulip here and there will be in bloom, but the distance north plus the increase in altitude means that I will enjoy another spring.
May in Hobart is April in Brooklyn, and is my favorite upstate month, by far. May is the month of preparation, of setting the stage, of imagining the rewards my efforts might reap. I love to look at a bed with its plants still dormant and envision how it might look in June, in July, in August, and in September.
Yesterday I visited my favorite local yarn store, having first evaluated my stash. Spring and summer knitting is different from winter knitting, as almost no one wants to buy wool in June. I have several little bits of cotton in sweet colors, on their own not enough to make much, leftovers from last summer. So I bought a few skeins of solid colors that that will combine well with what's already on hand.
This morning as I pack my tub of stash, staging it to be loaded into the car on Friday, I am smiling. Smiling just the way I will next week when I stand appraising my still-dormant flower beds.
What rewards, I wonder, will my efforts reap?
"We know we cannot plant seeds with closed fists.
To sow, we must open our hands." - Adolpho Perez Esquivel
Outdoor Market season is approaching - one of the truest signs of spring. This is one of the most exciting times of the year for crafters like me. The fun I have choosing venues is akin to a gardener's joy at reviewing seed catalogs and placing orders, planning where to plant what.
The Hobart Farmer's Market will open June 3rd and continue throughout Spring, Summer, and Fall, concluding the last Friday in September. Unless I am out of town, please know that you will find me there each week from 4-7 p.m. I will bring my work to sell and something to knit. I always have an extra chair. too, for visiting. Typically there is live music at this market, which adds to the festive mood.
I just sent in my registration form for the Jefferson Historical Society's 3rd Annual Textile Day on Saturday, June 4th, and I plan to attend the West Kortright Centre Faire on Sunday, September 4th.
Since January I've been knitting in an insulated environment, inside a sort of vacuum. I miss the enthusiasm and energy of selling my wares directly in public venues. It lovely to have each of these events laid out before me, to envision the good times ahead.
Won't you mark your calendar, too? You know I'd love to meet you there.