I want to write, but it’s hard to write things right now. My work situation is tentative. My health situation is mildly distressing, but also tentative.
I want to use my words!
Awww…. isn’t he cute?
Barry Manilow Live!
Here Comes the Night
Because It’s Christmas
The Greatest Songs of the Fifties
The Greatest Songs of the Sixties
And here are some pictures from last night’s concert in Chicago, at the Chicago Theater. One bucket-list item, checked off!
The text above is from a draft post I started writing just over three years ago. I did have a ticket to see Barry at the Chicago Theater, but he ended up cancelling the show when his recovery after some surgery was coming along more slowly than he had anticipated. I didn’t know the show was cancelled until I was already in Chicago to see him, and it turned out that quite a few strings were attached to my ticket and my attendance. I did enjoy my walking tour of downtown Chicago and my dinner at a Top Chef alumni restaurant, which I did blog about (see From the Bucket to the Sprout), but overall the weekend was rather emotionally tumultuous. Enough said about that — it’s in the past and it can’t be changed.
A couple of months ago I was browsing Facebook when Barry made the announcement that he would be touring in 2015, for the last time. It was time for me to get another ticket. And I did. I’m going to get to see and hear him live this Tuesday night in Milwaukee, and all I have to do is figure out how to get there myself and where to park the car and have dinner.
I don’t always wait 35 years to see someone in concert. But when I do, I’m over the moon.
In 2014 I actually did a lot of knitting. It’s hard to tell this because I didn’t spend much time on Ravelry fussing with my queue, creating new project files, updating old projects, or taking and uploading digital photos of my projects at each stage of progress. (Actually, I didn’t spend much time on Ravelry doing anything.) But I always had a project to take to Knit Night, and things slowly got done.
I finished the Drunken Octopus Sweater.
I finished Citron.
I finished Traveling Woman.
I finished a pair of socks.
I also knitted slippers for my appreciative grandmother, squares for a group-project blanket, and probably a few other things for people who really didn’t care much one way or the other.
In 2015 I’m still looking at my pile of WIPs (Works in Progress) with an eye to finishing them before I start any new projects of substance. A few of these WIPs are small and need just a bit of focused attention (green wool slippers) to move them to the “finished” column. Some of them are big and tedious (Scrabble blanket) and will take many months to properly complete. Others are ambitious and filled with complex lace or cable patterns, and got stalled out early.
That being said, a baby was recently born on the other side of the country, and in a fit of love and familial compassion I whipped up a pair of booties for him and even threaded them with blue organza ribbon. And then I thought up a simple baby blanket scheme (I wouldn’t call it a pattern, but I suppose you could if you wanted to) and cast on and started knitting like the wind. The baby’s already been born, you know. You have to knit more quickly after the baby’s been born, or you might as well forget the nursery accessories and start planning a size 10 Wallaby pullover.
I’m finding now that I’m taking more time to think about which project I want to finish next, and why. I need to think about why I’m knitting it, and for whom I’m making it (if it’s not for myself). I need to think about when and where I’ll be able to work on it. Some of these projects will need some serious recon time before I might be able to take them to a public place to work on them.
This type of thoughtfulness seems to be spilling over into other areas of my life. I’m more thoughtful and deliberate about how I spend my limited time at home, what I wear to work, how I want to accomplish a task, and how I interact with friends and acquaintances. I don’t feel the need (or perceive the value) of rushing through things as quickly as possible. It’s all right, and sometimes better, to reply with “no,” or “wait,” or “let me think about it,” or “I’m not sure, but probably not.”
Quick reactions often lead to more crises for me — I don’t have the time to fully understand my situation, realize my options, or decide upon the optimal solution. It’s good to be able to slow things down when I can, to have some space around the decision point. It gives me more time to take care, to make a better choice, to think more than one move ahead. (It might even aid my chess game.)
One of the things I’ve been thinking about is my writing. I didn’t do much blogging last year, but I did start a journal. I reviewed a movie on another blog. And I wrote a lot of song lyrics. I lost count, but there were a few dozen. Most were shared with just one or two trusted friends, but some were “published” only for my own sight as I still need time to deal with both the wording and the emotional message being expressed. I intend to continue the journal-keeping, and I also intend to return to this blog with more frequency, whether I’m writing about my knitting projects or some other topic.
Resolutions are fun to make (remember my own Sheep and Wool Challenge? yikes), and intentions are just intentions until they’re backed up with action. One of last year’s epiphanies was that, to be blunt, nobody is interested in what I want to do. But if I actually do something, some people might be interested in what I did. Most people won’t be interested, and that’s fine. But I still need to do the things, for my own varied reasons. I’ll share some of the things I do. If you are interested, or appreciative, or appalled, or intrigued, give me your feedback. And please feel free to share with me the things you’ve decided to do.
This weekend I cast on for a shawl. I know what you’re saying: “Wait a minute! She’s finally going to write about knitting in a knitting blog?”
This shawl is worth writing about because I’m actually re-knitting it. Not making a second one from the same pattern; re-knitting the same shawl with the same yarn. A few years ago, I cast on for this shawl. (Should I look up the exact date? You really want me to look up the exact date? Really? FINE. I will go to Ravelry and be right back.)
On April 6, 2012 I cast on for this shawl. (Are you happy now?) I had wanted to knit this pattern, Traveling Woman, for some time and I had just the yarn to make it with, an Araucania fingering weight wool in tonal teal. It’s not an overly complicated pattern really — it goes from fiddly to tedious to Pay Attention To Me — but I was working other projects at the time, and from my project notes on Ravelry I can see that I made my fair share of mistakes. Because of the pattern repeats in the lace sections, though, I could usually tell when I’d goofed up somewhere, and I could un-knit those stitches, give my knitting a little more attention, and re-knit the section.
This worked until I was (if I recall correctly) about two rows from The End, Completely Done, Finito!, and Off The Needles. Somewhere in that row I made a fatal mistake. (I was probably tired and knitting with my eyes closed. This doesn’t work very well, as you can imagine, and it’s a particularly bad technique to use with lace.) It was probably a simple mistake because I don’t have enough technique to make complex mistakes. What made it fatal is that I couldn’t determine how I’d made the mistake. That meant that every time I tried to undo it, I was actually making things much, much worse.
At last I realized the truth — I couldn’t go forward because I couldn’t fix the mistake, and I couldn’t go backward because I couldn’t fix the fix to the mistake. So I did what any good intermediate knitter would do. Somewhere around the end of August I sent the whole project to time out. And because I was so frustrated with it (really, with myself) I actually sent it to that special farm Up Nort where old dogs go to romp forever in sun-bathed grassy fields. I told it that it wasn’t its fault (I lied) and that my friend Brandy would take very good care of it and maybe fix it (I lied), and I sent it packing.
On January 1, 2013, I sent a text and asked Brandy to take this project off the needles, pull it apart completely, and wind the yarn back up into a ball. She texted back: “Are you sure?” (Actually, there may have been a 24-hour waiting period imposed. Brandy really wanted to make sure this wasn’t an impulse decision.)
I was sure. A few months later it came back in a box as a humungous ball of yarn.
I wanted to do things differently this time. I wanted to give the shawl more time and attention. I wanted to be monogamous with it. (Knitters, you may laugh heartily now.)
So this weekend I cast on for a Traveling Woman shawl. It’s the only thing I’m working on right now. It’s coming along just fine, so far.
And it’s actually part of a very, very small knitalong. Brandy is making one, too.
Recently I’ve been trying many new things, but mostly to slow down, take my time, think about what I’m going to do before I do it, and notice (without judging) how I feel. And while these things are valuable to try to do, it’s not on every day that I’m able to do them. My days seem to swing back and forth between “take your time and find your path, my child” and #notenoughhoursintheDAY. When you have three and a half minutes to be somewhere in ten minutes and you can’t find the car keys which are ALWAYS in the same place but today they’re NOT, and someone just realized you really meant to get in the car NOW (and he is, frankly, pretty pissed off about it), and someone ELSE for some reason can’t find their SHOES even though they were WEARING them when they got HOME half an hour ago and HOW could you lose your SHOES in thirty minutes when WE HAVE SOMEWHERE WE NEED TO GO, there isn’t the luxury of sufficient time for mature reflection and dispassionate self-analysis.
Some days you have to have a different method for figuring out how you’re doing. A good day — no, a great day — is like being at DEFCON 5, or Threat Level Green. That’s the day when I drift around the house, ruminating on my good fortune at being able to breathe freely, make my own decisions, and generally appreciate my relative autonomy. That’s the day when I react to good things by muttering “sweetheart” as I go about my business.
Now, I realize that muttering “sweetheart” to an almost empty house makes no sense. I’m not addressing myself or the dog. I don’t have a sweetheart unless you count the memory of having had one, many years ago. And that really just doesn’t count.
I think I say it — almost autonomically — because I feel happy. Comfortable. Settled. Cuddly. Peaceful. Forgiving. All the things you feel when you’re with your sweetheart and all’s right with the world.
Now, that being said, a more difficult day — a DEFCON 3, Threat Level Yellow Day — doesn’t get the same utterance. That’s the day when I feel I’m moving against the flow, swimming upstream, and generally working at cross purposes with the universe. That’s the day when the word “asshole” spills from my lips. It’s not a “Fish Called Wanda”-level “ASSSSSHOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLE!” bellowing, just a kind of muted growl at seemingly constant low-level frustrations.
For a long time, I thought that these were the only levels I had. And then came a DEFCON 1 kind of day. Threat Level RED. An “I can’t go back to bed, so you’d better get out of my way” kind of day.
I don’t remember who or what set me off, or how it ever got resolved. All I remember now is that I was channelling the language of an extremely dissatisfied sailor. Whatever I was wandering around muttering, it probably sounded like “!@#$%ing @#$%s!!!!!!”
I like the “sweetheart” days much better. Pretending I’m not alone. Pretending someone understands completely. Pretending that everything, the way it is right now, is just fine and will never change. Oh, sweetheart, that’s just the way I like it.
(Note: These pictures are from the Internet for illustrative purposes only, and were not taken by me or at the Scenic Shore 150.)
1. Overheard on Day Two, from the first of five riders tucked in behind a tandem: “It’s like driving 80 miles an hour on the freeway behind a guy with a radar detector!”
2. Consecutive rider numbers on riding partners are cute. The older the riding partners are, the more adorable it is. If they both look over 70, your heart just melts.
3. A Conversation I Had With Almost Everyone:
Them: “Is this your first time on Scenic Shore?”
Me: “Yes, how is Day Two?”
Them (after a dramatic pause): “Well, it starts out very pretty as you ride out through the park. The first 45 miles are pretty flat. BUT THEN…”
4. A lunch consisting of a tuna salad sandwich, a chocolate chip energy bar, a kosher dill pickle spear, pasta salad, chocolate milk, and fruit punch Gatorade sounds like a lunch assembled by a psychotic nine-year-old, but when you’ve just ridden 50 miles it is the perfect combination of carbohydrates, protein, fluids, salt, and sugar. And it does not matter in what order you eat everything, as long as you eat slowly. (I am not making this up… it’s exactly what I had for lunch on Day Two.)
5. Overheard on Day Two, at the rest stop 13.5 miles before the end: “There’s nothing better than finding beans you didn’t know you had!”
6. After Day One, most people crept into their tents at 9:30pm. Everyone else went into the lounge area of the main building at UW-Manitowoc to watch the day’s recap of the Tour de France on the wall-mounted television. We sat quietly, numb from riding, mesmerized by watching other people ride. The Tour might be the only sporting event whose audience ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT want to participate in it. Collectively, everyone watching on Saturday night had completed either 79 (the organizers lied about the 75; we all noticed) or 100 miles. In the morning each one of us was going to rise, eat a bizarre breakfast, and ride another 75 miles. And we were convinced that every single rider on the Tour was insane.
7. Those pockets on the back of a cycling jersey can hold so much stuff that at the end of the day you might find things you forgot you’d stuck back there. On the second day mine held a berry-blend protein bar, a squeeze packet of lemonade-flavored electrolyte gel, the aforementioned Sport Beans, and a Stinger vanilla waffle. And my smartphone.
8. Cyclists are quite proud of their bizarre tan lines. Because of the gear they wear, they usually tan in a patch on the back of the hand, from the shoulder to the wrist, from mid-thigh to the knee, on the top of the nose, and at the back of the neck. And since there’s not really a way to cover these areas and tan the rest, that’s just the way it is.
9. It’s okay to judge the cyclist ahead of you by their calves. Cycling is NOT a weight-loss activity. You can do it every day and it only seems to tone and reshape you on the inside. Except for the calves. You can quickly tell who just started riding (they have calves), who has been training for a while (they have muscular calves), who has been doing this for some time (they have “cut” calves with great muscle definition), and who wants to turn pro (you can see every tendon in their calves, and they complain that the route does not have enough hills to present a challenge). Thighs are not always a fair way to judge a cyclist. Young female cyclists may have muscular thighs. Older female cyclists may have big-looking thighs that hide their muscles. Long-distance cyclists of any gender may have long, lean, yet muscular thighs. But professional sprinters and track cyclists will have thighs as big around as a normal person’s waist.
10. You can do it. No matter how crazy your goal might seem, you can do it. Practice, train, and dream… and train some more. You can do what you thought was impossible. But you have to try.
One of the most exciting parts of falling in love is that feeling of being chosen. You’ve gotten the seal of approval from an Other who finds you smart, funny, attractive, and generally Worth Spending Time With. An Other who thinks your crazy plans are cool (and not so crazy). And you get double bonus points if they often finish your sentences and seem to finish your thoughts. You haven’t just found someone who likes you — you’ve found another of your kind, someone who loves you, appreciates you, and “gets” you without having to be told how to do it. We enjoy the sameness, the recognition.
Online dating sites are packed with the profiles of the hopeful ones who think, “Pick me! This is me in my profile. Find me interesting, find me worthwhile. CHOOSE ME.” We want to be discovered, understood, valued, and selected. When someone chooses us, we can feel complete. Authentic. Motivated. Inspired. Confident.
It feels good to be chosen by the right person. What if that right person were yourself? What if, instead of doing anything to win someone else’s approval, you did everything to value yourself, chase your own dreams, and equip yourself with the tools to achieve them?
This would be tough to do. Think for a moment about what it would mean to be emotionally self-sufficient and intellectually self-confident. The person who doesn’t need anyone else is the same person that “society” will marginalize at its first opportunity. If you didn’t actually need anyone else’s approval, support, or even commiseration, would you feel lonely? What could build and sustain your self-confidence to keep it (and you) happily humming along for the rest of your life without companionship? And if/when that little engine breaks down, who fixes it and how?
I’m guessing you would need to create and maintain your own support system. You’d need to be your own best friend, and always treat yourself with kindness. This would also be tough to do, especially in a society that treats self-confidence as cockiness and egotism, but then again, if you’ve already been ostracized, do you care what society mutters behind your back?
Could you surround yourself with an invisible cocoon of support? Could you walk into a room, any room, with the confidence of someone who had just received a kiss and a bouquet of flowers? Could you, without enabling schizophrenic tendencies, be there for yourself and provide yourself your own comfort when you ran into obstacles, got sick, or just generally felt that you weren’t at your best?
Personally, I’m getting tired just thinking about all the effort that would take. But it may well be a path on which I find myself. It’s one thing to perceive myself as witty, clever, and generally fun to be around (and sometimes the homemade bread comes out of the oven looking pretty nice, too), but if nobody else agrees with me enough to take a chance on walking a little closer to me and seeing if things work out, then I need to walk on regardless.
I’m not sad, and I’m not completely alone. Of course I have my children and my family and my friends. I have cyberfriends and blog-readers and friendly acquaintances and fellow kniterati. But sometimes I’d just like that have that “someone more” in my life again, even if logic continues to not-so-gently remind me that it’s something I’m not likely to get. So, for now, I’ll just pretend that I already do. I don’t have to bruise myself in the dating websites or hang out in bars or do whatever it is that people do when they’re hunting for love. I’ll just accept the love and care that are already in the air like wifi, and keep on walking forward.
I have started writing again. Maybe it’s more correct to say that I have resumed being a writer. Anyway, I’ve been musing over some of the things that have helped me resume a former identity and be more comfortable with it.
The first thing is reading. Writers read constantly, continually, and compulsively. When I was a writing student in graduate school and met my friend Stephanie (not his real name!), I chastised her for only owning about 3 books. How could you be a writer and not be reading every book you could get your hands on? I didn’t understand.
When I was growing up in Columbus, my family took both the newspapers — the morning Citizen-Journal and the evening Dispatch. They were read to me until I could read them myself. After that point I read everything that came into the house, and learned that excellent writing was to be found even in magazines that did not reflect my core interests. Because of my father’s hobbies and interests I learned to flip to the last editorial page of magazines like Guns & Ammo and Road and Track and enjoy the editorial gems to be found there. Even today, I’m thrilled to be in a waiting room of any kind if I can get access to Field and Stream, Sports Illustrated, or AutoWeek rather than pap like People, Us, or Family Circle.
Lately I’ve been actually reading my Sports Illustrated issues. The level of their journalism and creative nonfiction is such that I can enjoy almost any article except something on professional basketball. (That league is a shoe commercial; I don’t care.) I garner new data. I relish a clever turn of phrase. I want to keep turning the pages forever.
Advertising and commercials, though clever, don’t usually count as good writing. So I’m finding my reading matter in high-level magazines like SI, and in memoir (Carole King’s A Natural Woman), biography (Mark Zwonitzer’s Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?: The Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music), and fiction (Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series). Good writing takes you out of your self and your life and carries you somewhere else. It takes you to funny, clever, thoughtful places you could not have gone by yourself. Give me three pages of McCall Smith and a hot cup of rooibos tea, and I am in Botswana.
It’s not that I really want to world to go away. I like lots of things about the world. It’s just that I want the silence to be able to enter in, have a lie down on the couch, and get really comfortable. I love music, but when I listen to it constantly I realize I am listening to someone else’s writing, crowding out my own potential ideas and words and melodies. How much worse are television and radio for providing Hulk-level train-tossing derailments of your independent creative thoughts? So much of television consists of the reporting of distressing news, speculation on the future, the escalation of interpersonal conflict, and criticism of those who have talent and success. That kind of background noise really stifles one’s sonnet-writing abilities.
If I’m working hard enough at my writing, I’m not eating for the wrong reasons. We know what they are. Boredom. Frustration. Loneliness. Anxiety. Anger. Jealousy. Fear. Unrequited love. Confusion. And, ironically, writer’s block. If I come across a sentence that flashes across my vision and makes me chase it through the forest so I can write it down, I won’t care about that bowl of chips. The act of writing can burn calories by means of a pre-emptive strike.
I am such a fan of color coding that I should turn professional. I have certainly put my years into the craft. I color code my hanging files, my kids’ drink cups, and everything I can lay my hands upon. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve color coded my school folders, from the first Trapper Keeper until yesterday. Green is for life sciences like Biology. Yellow is for Chemistry and other hard/applied sciences. Blue is for History. But red… red is for literature, for writing, for strength through creativity. Red is a power color. Red is for blood, lifeblood. Red is for rage. Red is for anger, passion, fury, heart. If I want to find my old writing, I go to the basement, open a repurposed Hammermill Graphicopy paper carton, and pull out a red folder. Any red folder will do. My writing, from whatever era, will be within.
Writing is required of me. It is who I am before I am anything else. It is what I do when I am at my best. It is what I turn to when I am at my lowest. My people have been “makers” for many generations, mostly with wood, but I “make” with words. I may not have a published book, but I have journals, a blog (all right, many blogs), a Facebook page, and private notes in which I record my thoughts, my frustrations, and my songs. Some of my writing is shared and some of my writing will stay private forever. It takes the form it needs to take, and I do what I must do.
…and it ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. Just when I had finished my Sochi shawl — including the weaving-in, the rinsing, and the blocking, mind you — the provider of my telephone, cable, and Internet access decided, for mysterious and inscrutable reasons, not to put my accounts into my name as I had requested (and had indeed signed legal documents for that very purpose), but instead to cancel all my services.
Yes, I was unplugged. Again. And without my home wifi signal, the smartphone I was fortunate enough to own was barely able to catch enough stray electrons to send out a text message. (“Watson, come here; I need you!”) Even more sadly, I was unable to watch the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics by any means — though I did finally find time to watch the opening ones. Sigh. See you all in Brazil!
This doesn’t classify as true hardship, as The Teen™ and I still had access to a great many hours of programming on the DVR (we finally watched the mini-movie about the making of “Doctor Who” that had been awaiting us since November 2013, and a Speed Channel special on Dan Gurney that had been waiting patiently since November 2012), and we augmented my Guitar Hero accessories with the purchase of a drum set. (Unfortunately, we can’t try it out yet because I don’t currently have any drum-compatible Guitar Hero games in the house. The day before I bought the drum set, I did. It’s all in the timing.)
So we’ve gone slightly retro here. The Teen™ is working on Lego Star Wars for the Nintendo GameCube. I’m slowly playing my way through a medium-level career on Guitar Hero II. I’ve made chicken soup for a sick friend. And with the shawl finished, I cast on for the second sock of a pair.
My Internet access is still down as I write this post, which I’m composing on an offline (gasp!) Macintosh with Microsoft Word (gasp! gasp!). I could put a brand new ribbon in the manual Smith-Corona, but I’m not feeling quite THAT retro at the moment.
I rather enjoy the relative silence we’ve had, although it has forced us to confront the paw-scrambling and wood-gnawing reality that we have been sharing our home at the end of a long winter with some equally cabin-fevered mice. We spent part of the weekend waging a violent turf war in which one rodentine casualty (so far) has been inflicted by intellectually superior human forces. I suspect that we may also have bats in the walls, but my main line of defense on that front is called “trying not to think about it.” And everyone knows that you dare not fight a war on two fronts, especially in the wintertime.
I almost had phone service again on Tuesday evening…but not quite. It took one more visit from another contracted tech guy to get that all fixed up. Funny: Mr. Wednesday took one look at the new phone modem that Mr. Tuesday had installed, and bemoaned my ancient technology [from, literally, yesterday]. He went out to his truck and brought in a single modem unit that he spliced everything into. It’s amazing to think that all this old stuff worked perfectly well on Friday night, then became obsolete as soon as my ISP flipped all my switches to “OFF” on Saturday morning.
The Olympics are underway! The Ravellenic project has begun! But while project-monogamous work continues on my Music From Another Room lace-edged shawl, that means that Citron must sit and wait until Music has been finished. Here sits lonely Citron, waiting for me to work the 19th row of a 20-row repeat (section four of five).
Project monogamy has its price. Not being a practicing project monogamist, I have a dozen or more projects on the needles at any given time. I can usually work on whatever suits my circumstances, timeframe, or mood by just picking up a different tote bag. I really did want to finish Citron before starting Music, but it just wasn’t feasible even if you take away the two evenings last week I spent going to Actual Live Theatre with my teenager. (I would curse Hamlet, but since he already died twice last week, it seems needless and o’er dramatic.) There are “just” 21 rows left of the main shawl, then 12 rows of ruffled edging, then a 540-stitch bindoff. If a row of about 200 stitches (knitting forwards, not un-knitting backwards) takes me 30 minutes, I probably have more than 34 hours left to put into it *before* weaving in the ends and blocking it out. When I look at it that way, it’s amazing I’ve gotten anything done on it at all.
Anyway, I cast on for Music From Another Room at the Sow’s Ear in Verona on Friday night, surrounded by a few of my favorite knitters. *waves* We were there for about two and a half hours, and I got a fair chunk of it knitted up. I didn’t take any pictures until recently, when I got into the striped section. And since I’m almost done with one of the four skeins of Peace Fleece, I’ll call it 25 percent complete.
While I knit on Music, my Citron will be on Row 19. For as long as it takes to knit the body, knit the lace edging, weave in the ends, wash it, and block it. Row 19 for the indefinite future. With any luck, that shouldn’t be after February 23.
That pretty much covers the knitting — slogging along on a woolen shawl until I finish it and can slog along on another woolen shawl. And when I’ve finished both of them, I have a wool sweater to seam up and finish. Then there’s this wool sock I need to cast on for. Thank goodness I love knitting!