"Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
So does Proverbs 16:18 instruct us to be humble, to be mindful how easy it is to get carried away with ourselves. One step at a time, the author reminds us, even when we believe we are sure of the way.
Nothing that goes wrong with a knitting project can rightly be referred to as "destruction", but overconfidence can lead to costly mistakes, as this photo attests.
I am making a pair of legwarmers for a friend. The pattern is simple but elegant, the yarn is beautiful in color and feel. I have been enjoying the work, most of which has been accomplished while riding in subway cars.
And that, Dear Reader, is at the heart of my downfall.
When I finished Legwarmer #1, I decided to leave it at home rather than take it with me as I traveled. I had memorized the pattern, so why carry something I didn't need? I cast on Legwarmer #2 and worked happily away.
Looking at the two side by side, you might think I simply got carried away and knit too may repeats of the pattern. I wish that were the case, because then all I would have to do is rip back several rows and re-knit the top ribbing.
The mistake is far worse, requiring me to rip all the way back to the bottom ribbing and knit the whole body again.
The pattern has is a 4 row repeat: 3 rows of plain knitting, 1 lacy row. Those 4 rows are repeated 20 times. Easy Peasy. Inexplicably, for Legwarmer #2 I knit 4 plain rows between each lacy row. The number of repeats in each legwarmer is the same 20, but the second one is significantly larger because it has 20 extra rows distributed evenly along its length.
As Charlie Brown might say, "AAUGH!"
There are many Golden Rules in knitting, one of which I completely ignored because of my "haughty spirit".
As a result, I didn't notice my mistake (which I had repeated perfectly 20 times) until the very end when I couldn't remember how many rows of ribbing I had worked at the top of Legwarmer #1 and returned to my workroom to compare.
Now I will have the pleasure of knitting a third legwarmer and one of these 2 will disappear, remembered only by me, and hopefully you. Perhaps my good work wasted will serve to save us both from future folly.
The rule that I ignored is a corollary to the pithy carpentry caution: Measure twice; cut once. So here it is, plainly spoken: When making a pair of anything, ALWAYS, ALWAYS keep the two together and compare one against the other often as you work.
Nothing complicated about that, right? It's only common sense.
All of a sudden Spring is here. Just like that.
And just like that, Winter gone away.
A switch is thrown and the clock moves faster. So much to do; so few days. Yes, the busy birds nesting in drain spouts are delightful, but their cheerful banter is muted by the tick-tock, tick-tock in my head.
May 1st I will move from Brooklyn to Delaware County, exchanging apartment life for cottage life. Leaving behind all that I love in the city I will open my arms to all that I love in the country.
Then on November 1st I will return, and Autumn with me.
This migration pattern has become familiar. Goodbyes are less painful; recurring hellos more easily believed in. But still the process is difficult. Letting go while holding on does not come naturally.
Planning ahead helps lessen my uneasiness. For example, I am registered to volunteer at the New York City Marathon on November 6th. That note on the calendar promises my return. But it also contributes to the tick-tock, tick-tock. Each day between now and then is a pearl on a strand. Perfect in its roundness, too precious to waste.
Before leaving here, am I maximizing every opportunity?
Once arrived there, will I accomplish all that I want?
My calendar for the upstate months already contains many notes. Like the November 6th commitment, they are buoys I can spot up ahead. They help me steer while crossing open waters.
I have been invited to participate in The Jefferson Historical Society's Textile Day on June 4th. Knowing the date of that event tells me that the Hobart Farmer's Market will begin on June 3rd, the first Friday of the season. I will need to have new merchandise ready by then (7 weeks from today!) and the new DIY shop in the Hobart Book Village has asked if I might sell my work there or teach a class.
My garden calls out loud. I can hear it from Brooklyn. Perennial flower beds want cleaning, plants need dividing. A fence needs replacing and trees need trimming.
My husband and I will travel for 3 weeks in August -- a wonderful trip! -- and then, do you see? It will be September. Time for the West Kortright Centre Faire followed closely by the Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers on September 9-11.
Meanwhile I have words to write, meals to cook, guitar lessons to practice, books to read, guests to welcome, mountains to hike, albums to play, constellations to identify, and family to nurture.
And then there are the hours.
The hours spent in communion with birds.
The hours when I belong to the sky, which is never still.
Those are the hours,
the hours when I am home.
The strangest knitting suggestion I've had came from a woman who asked if I had seen the "Chicken Viking" hats. She happily Googled it for me when I looked at her askance and then assured me that she would wear it if I ever made it.
Remembering her gleeful chuckle may one day induce me to surprise her with it, you never know.
As unusual as the Chicken Viking hat is, there are plenty of exotic, eccentric items out there in the "Knitterverse". Human ingenuity knows no bounds.
If ever there was an idea after my own heart, it is this one. Knitting a poem! Can you imagine anything more perfect?
In 2009 The Poetry Society, located in London, decided to mark its centenary with “a fun, grand-scale project in which many people could participate, that was about ‘poetry’ but also summoned up the idea of ‘society’, to reflect all the thousands of people who’ve kept the Society going since 1909. "
More than 1,000 knitters and crocheters contributed 12" squares, each with an individual letter, not knowing until the end which poem had been chosen. The result is breathtaking in size, measuring 28' x 43'. You can learn more about the project here.
So which poem do the letters spell out? I told you this project was one after my own heart.
Of all poems, they chose one of my favorties:
In My Craft or Sullen Art
by Dylan Thomas
In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.
Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.
Reading it is wonderful enough, but wouldn't you like to hear the poet himself read it aloud?
I can't think of a better way to celebrate Day 8 of National Poetry Month, now in its 20th year.
"If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it."
Recently I wrote about the pleasing distractions to be found in rabbit holes. That day I was commenting on the fun of them, their ability to soothe and calm, the potential within them for serendipitous inspiration.
But in truth rabbit holes are best suited for something else entirely. They are insidious inciters of procrastination.
And sometimes I fall into them unintentionally, in the midst of trying to be productive, when I specifically don't want to be distracted. Like this morning, for instance.
Planning my day early this morning, I saw a small task awaiting me, one I would like to get off the work table and into the mail. (Hiding the task in a drawer will not solve anything as I will know it's in there there tsk-tsking away.) I will feel so good when I drop the little package into the bin at the post office. This is a task I volunteered for MONTHS AGO, a simple little thing. The person it belongs to told me, "There's no hurry. Whenever you get around to it is fine." And so I have put this tiny task off, moving it to the bottom of my list over and over again as other tasks with deadlines (real or imagined) arose.
"Today," I told myself, "today will be the day I do this." And then I sat down here to write about it before doing it. Productive Procrastination, we call that.
First I needed an image to go along with the blog post. I love the one I found, don't you? In the process I discovered an artist, Mark Titchner, whose work I find interesting. 15 minutes well spent.
And then I needed a quote to match. Which is when the craziness began:
Who the heck is Olin Miller?!
If you know, please oh, please hurry quick and tell me.
The quote I found fits my purposes perfectly, but I don't like to use someone's words without proper attribution and the Internet is often mistaken in its beliefs about who said what, so I decided to look Olin Miller up for myself. Big Mistake.
He has quotes all over the Internet. Several fairly reputable websites attribute many, many quotes to him, but nowhere can I find any biographical information.
On a website called "Quote Investigator" I found a seemingly thorough investigation concluding that Olin Miller was the originator, in the year 1937, of some other quote. There he is referred to as a "jokester". On another website, Miller is quoted and described as an "American Businessman, Humorist, Poet, and Author (1918- )". Another site calls him an "American author (1918-2002)".
Notably, Wikiquote has no entry for Olin Miller, which was not a good sign.
I wrote to the aforementioned "Quote Investigator", who promptly wrote back that he had no biographical information for Olin Miller, either.
More digging led me to believe that Olin Miller was Poor Richard's first cousin, meaning either he wrote under another more famous name or "Olin Miller" itself was a nom de plume.
I spent so much time digging that "Quote Investigator" wrote me back again. He found an online reference to an Olin Miller who wrote a satirical political feature for a newspaper in Thomaston, Georgia. I found an obituary of sorts for that man, stating that he died in 1981 at the age of 87 and indicating that his writing persona was called "Piney Woods Pete". Apparently this feature was syndicated in 139 newspapers. But when I looked to find more information about that column, I found the obituary of another man described as "one of the writers behind the personality Piney Woods Pete."
So. An innocent search for a quote led me to a mystery I wasn't looking for. This mystery will niggle at me and niggle at me until I get to the bottom of it. I believe I am on the right track after these several hours, but I need to face the fact that getting completely to the bottom of it will not happen today.
The question now, after having made myself oh, so very busy all morning, is whether I will get that one little task done, packed up and sent off in the mail, or will I leave it for yet another day?
If I were you I would bet on the latter.
So then the question is simply WHY? Why does this happen with some tasks and not with others, and how does a small, simple thing become such a big, difficult thing? Olin Miler (whoever he is) points out the phenomenon but doesn't explain it.
And WHY, also, is it so hard some days to step around the rabbit holes?!
"Nature always wears the colors of the spirit."- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The gorgeous roving pictured here was hand dyed by Tabitha Gilmore Barnes. She is primarily a weaver, but the yarns she spins can also be used for knitting, and they are a joy to work with.
Tabitha uses natural materials for her dyes, drawing on her surrounding Delaware County landscape for inspiration. Her marketing slogan is "Bring Home the Colors of the Catskills", and looking at these rovings this morning indeed makes me long for my upstate home, though of course all these colors are not visible just now.
Just now Winter is demonstrating its reluctance to give way. The weather is snowy and blowy and gray. The wet cold threatens tender buds and shoots, waging one last battle before Spring bursts full onto the scene.
Looking at these rovings, I see that special spring green, the one we so dearly long for in February, and all the colors of a glorious Catskill sunrise. Flowers, too, I see. And storm clouds, and rainbows. Hummingbirds, swallows, and butterflies.
Now I'm wondering if I can show you, though my own photographs, at least one inspiration for each of the colors that Tabitha created: my own "Colors of the Catskills".
"Fantasy mirrors desire. Imagination reshapes it." - Mason Cooley
"I have a garden in upstate New York at the headwaters of the Delaware River . . . "
That's me paraphrasing Meryl Streep reading Isak Dinesen.
Oh, how I would love to sound so fine, to be such a good storyteller. I envy that ability to captivate and charm. Perhaps in some other lifetime. We'll see.
Meanwhile I do have a garden in upstate New York, this much is true. A perennial flower garden, around some portions of which there stands a fence.
In much the same way that I fantasize about cultivating Karen Blixen's charisma, I dream of replacing my garden's ordinary, everyday fence with one made of Shetland Fine Lace. And naturally I envision knitting this fence myself.
The plan is not as crazy as you might think, because at least one person has already done it. Anne Eunson, a member of the Shetland Arts and Crafts Association, knitted a fence for her garden out of fish netting twine, and it's perfectly gorgeous. Look here for step-by-step photos if you don't believe me.
The idea isn't very complicated. Using that pattern or another, I know I could knit a lace panel on super-sized needles and fasten it securely to posts. There would be a certain amount of trial and error, surely some false starts and many moments of frustration along the way, but I know I could figure it out.
I also know that if I begin knitting a fence, I will become obsessed with knitting a fence and the project will take over my life until I finish it. There will be no waving of magic wands, no instant results. It will take a lot of time and energy to transform the vision into a reality, and I won't be able to quit until I get it right.
So will 2016 be the year to indulge this particular fantasy?
I haven't decided.
But a woman with a fence like this, wouldn't you imagine her being at least a bit like Karen Blixen?
"The Elgin Marbles were supposed to be on the Parthenon. For many works of art, a museum is an artificial setting - a zoo, not a natural habitat." - Virginia Postrel
Recently I shared a poem by Marge Piercy, taking the lazy way out of blogging by giving you someone else's words instead of my own. Today I want to revisit that poem and discuss my reasons for choosing to share it.
Here's the crux of the matter:
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
I visit a lot of museums and galleries and exhibits. My husband is a tour guide in an encyclopedic museum. Generally I believe in (and support) the goodness of public access to art, and also in the preserving of antiquities. But sometimes I get to mourning the fact that so many objects created for daily use and not intended primarily as art objects are kept from their fulfilling their purposes.
Often I feel this same way when watching one of my favorite programs, Antiques Roadshow. Someone learns that the necklace inherited from a great aunt is worth a lot of money and decides to keep it forever locked away in a safe deposit box. Or a gorgeous Turkish rug is rolled up forever in the dark to keep it from becoming faded and worn. A glass vase spend years encased in bubble-wrap, safe in a box under someone's bed. I always wonder how the creators of those objects would feel knowing these ultimate dispositions, and imagine they would be distraught.
I've said this before, but I will reiterate: if anything I make is ever special enough that you consider hiding it away or saving it only for special occasions in order to avoid getting it dirty or torn or wearing it out, please reconsider.
My greatest pleasure comes from believing that my knitting brings warmth and joy to everyday living. I suppose this must have been true for the Hopi vase maker, as well, don't you?
"Laughter is an instant vacation." - Milton Berle
Sometimes I get to regretting what I miss out on by knitting so much.
For instance, my husband subscribes to The New Yorker magazine, receiving the print version by mail each week. The trouble with that magazine is its density. I find it difficult to dip a toe in without wanting to fully immerse and read cover-to-cover.
So my husband cherry-picks a few things each week to call to my attention. Sometimes a short story, but more often a cartoon. I have saved a few of these, taping them to the wall in my workroom or tacking them up on bulletin boards. They are too good to wind up in the recycling bin. And sometimes I just need a laugh.
Of course these days The New Yorker is available online, and there is a Facebook page devoted specifically to the cartoons, which I do follow. But there is something about coming across a cartoon in the printed pages of the magazine that is a better experience than scrolling through archives at will. The serendipity, I think, makes it more fun.
Recently an HBO film, "Very Semi-Serious: an Offbeat Documentary about Humor, Art, and the Genius of The New Yorker Cartoon" revealed the editorial/curatorial process that determines which cartoons appear in the magazine. Happily, this behind-the-scenes look did nothing but enhance our appreciation for the visual jokes we enjoy each week.
Even the gentle art of knitting has taken a ribbing over the years. (No pun intended.)
Here are four of my favorite examples:
" . . . the pitcher cries for water to carry . . . " - Marge Piercy
Today I am thinking too much to share words of my own.
This poem has something to do with what's running 'round in my head, so I offer it instead:
To be of use
by Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Source: Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982)