1971: Before I could read

A few decades ago, my father asked me if I thought it was possible that someone who knew how to read could view text in their native language and not be able to read it. I never asked him why he had asked the question, but I believe that my answer at the time was No – I didn’t think that a literate person could not be able to read something.

I still think that answer is basically true. A stroke or a bout of aphasia could impair your ability to read for a certain amount of time, and acute trauma could impair your perceptions to a degree that might include reading or speech, but I don’t know that personal literacy is something you can voluntarily disable. (Officer: “Didn’t you see that stop sign back there?” Driver: “The red sign? I saw it, but I decided not to read it. Did it say something important?”)

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When I went off to kindergarten at age five, I could not yet read. I remember the thick workbook that we used that year, full of colorful pictures and words and phrases in simple black type. I remember the meaningless, the flatness of it before I was able to crack the code. I also remember the thrill that came over me when I realized that I could do it — I could read the words! I could read all the words, including the ones on the previous pages. Yesterday I was going through the motions, but today I could really read!

Epiphany

Because my birthday is in the middle of summer, I can guess that I learned to read when I was about five and a half. But I had been surrounded by words much longer — probably all my life — and my parents thought I already knew how to read. I was outed during a visit to West Virginia, when I sat with my great-grandfather and we read my favorite book, “Hop on Pop.” Everyone was impressed with my precocious abilities until Grandpap turned two pages at once and I proceeded to recite the text printed on the skipped page. (You would think that my family members would have been even more impressed by my ability to memorize an entire book, but that was apparently not the case.)

After I did learn to read I was rarely without a book, or any other collection of words. I strayed from the shelves of books at my reading level so that I could try something more advanced. At the public library this meant moving from the children’s books room to the shelf just outside that held the Encyclopedia Brown series, and later to a book on how to write Chinese characters. At the school library this meant leaving the Matt Christopher sports series (and exciting titles like Catcher with a Glass Arm and Slam Dunk!) for the thickest book on the nonfiction shelf (which turned out to be a stultifyingly dull book about wildflowers or botany or something; ugh). I read voraciously in the two newspapers that came to our house every day, the Columbus Citizen-Journal in the morning and the weightier and more conservative Columbus Dispatch in the evening. I typed up my own attempt at a neighborhood newspaper on my manual typewriter in the fourth grade (there was only one edition; it’s quite the rarity) and eventually I began writing my own short stories and longer pieces.

Kids these days are a bit quicker on the draw than I was, and all of mine learned to read before I did. My third child, probably out of sheer boredom, taught himself to read at age three by playing Pixar movies with the captions on. His younger brother thought this was normal, and duly copied him. But all four of them have discovered, enjoyed, written, and illustrated stories much more complicated than “Hop on Pop,” to which dozens of homemade chapbooks detailing the adventures of Toilet Man, Captain Chale, and the TIME HOLE attest; the elder two are writing fan fiction and moving on to create their own complex and realistic fictional worlds, for which I occasionally serve as a sounding board and consultant.

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Can they look at something and not read it? I’ll ask them without telling them why I want to know.

 


 

Knitwise, I have finished the two pairs of slippers for my grandmother; I only have to seam them up. That’s close enough to actually being done to let me think about the next project I should finish: Oliver’s blanket. I will have some crocheting to do for that blanket to realize my original vision. (Actually, my original vision called for someone else to crochet the squares.) Alternatively, I could frog the squares I’ve knitted and just knit a regular freakin’ blanket, which might take less time but would have more joins. Where’s the fun in that? (To hasten my work I’ll try to think about how cold that poor newborn child must be during our round after round subzero temperatures, and I’ll ignore all the cuddly, snuggly Facebook pictures already posted by my friend, his doting grandmother.) When I’m done with the baby blanket it will finally be time to finish the Swedish Surprise.

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Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

1970: The very creaky chair

NOTE: As I find, or take, pictures of this chair I will use them to illustrate this post.

In my home library there is a rocking chair in which no one ever sits. Its spindled back, these days, is draped with a blanket I knitted a year ago; on the seat rests a round gold cushion that I use on the extremely rare occasions I decide to sit zazen. A tote bag with my current knitting projects hangs from one of the back posts. At night, my discarded daytime clothes lay atop the gold cushion; during the day, my pillows sit on the seat after I convert my futon from bed to couch.

The chair is positioned in the corner of the room, in front of a bookcase that houses sheet music for piano, guitar, and saxophone; books about musicians ranging from John Denver to Leonard Cohen; books about guitar building, playing, and repair; and at least a hundred compact discs, a few cassette tapes, and dozens of record albums. The cherry-laminate bookcase is topped with stereo components and flanked by speakers. If I want to find a disc or an album, I must first drag the rocking chair out of the way; that’s when I see the grooves that the rockers have pressed into my carpet.

Why do I keep this chair in such an awkward spot? The short answer is that it literally won’t fit anywhere else. It’s too wide to fit through the doorways of the upstairs bedrooms (I’ve tried), and none of my sons has expressed a desire to have it in his room. There’s not enough space for it in any other room in this house, and moving it to the basement would probably destroy it through heat and cold cycles, floods, and vermin.

A longer answer is that this chair isn’t something I want to use every day. It’s a family heirloom, and I’m afraid that if it were used more often it would break. When my children where little, just big enough to climb into it and really get it going, I was terrified that they would over-rock it and topple over backwards (they came close). I don’t even remember how it came to be my chair; perhaps when I started living on my own in my twenties, I had room for it when others did not and never subsequently gave it up.

There’s nothing particularly special about this chair’s construction. In fact, if you sat in it you might be convinced that its construction was about to fail at any second. It creaks when you sit in it, creaks when you rise from it, and practically screams if you rock in it. Yet it has surely been in my family for at least a century.

At some point several years ago I did a bit of research and found that this type of chair is called a grandfather chair because of the breadth of its seat; narrower chairs are called, predictably, grandmother chairs. In my family’s case this is a bit ironic, as the story goes that my father, now within one moon of turning 84, was rocked to sleep in this chair as an infant in his grandmother’s lap. I’m not sure which of my father’s grandmothers it was who did the rocking. Grandma Grace had four sons, including my grandpa; Grandma Naomi had two sons and three daughters, including my grandma. Either way, the chair had probably been used to rock many babies before my father came along – perhaps even the entire previous generation.

My great-grandmothers passed on in the 50s and 60s, and then Grandma passed on in the 70s. Her youngest son – of eight boys! – was just twenty years old when she died. Many years later I told him that I had the rocking chair. A smile spread across his face and he asked, “Was it really creaky?” He couldn’t have heard his brothers being rocked in the chair; perhaps he watched and listened as my cousins, his nieces and nephews and maybe even myself, were rocked in it. (If it were that creaky by the 1960s, it must have given us Lamb babies a tolerance for high levels of ambient noise, which is not necessarily a bad thing.)

It’s not a Windsor chair, an Adirondack chair, a Bentwood rocker, a Mission rocker, or anything you can call up on the first (or second) page of a Google Image search. It could be oak, might be maple, might be store-bought, might be homemade (generations of woodworkers and cabinetmakers run through all my family trees). But it’s irreplaceable to me and I will continue to take care of it.

This chair is the source of my first memory. My mother sat in this chair in the summer of 1970, rocking something in her lap that I thought at the time was a kitten. It turned out to be my little brother, and life would never be the same.


In my knitting life, I did in fact miss a day of knitting at least one stitch – last Friday, when all was chaos. That’s not so bad over the course of a month. There’s been more than enough going on to keep me busy and cause plenty of stress, which has driven me to do more with my meditation. It can’t hurt, and neither should the knitting.

I have finished knitting three of four slippers for my grandmother; after I finish the fourth slipper I will seam them all and then work on squares for a baby blanket for a friend who recently became a grandmother. Why is it that I am constantly knitting for grandmothers? I suppose that the blanket is really for Oliver, not Jenny. When Oliver’s blanket is done I will have some project choices to make: cast on for a local knitalong, or finish a project that was promised three years ago? Cast your vote in the comments.

Published in: on January 29, 2018 at 9:50 pm  Comments (1)  

Thoughtful

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.

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I finished Citron.

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I finished Traveling Woman.

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I finished a pair of socks.

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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.

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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.

If I Could Turn Back Time

This week I got all the way to this

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and turned it into this.

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When I took it off the needles I was also taking a load off my shoulders. The knitting was putting me to sleep. The thought of continuing on for two whole skeins to make yet another wool blend scarf nobody had asked for was just oppressive. I found out what the mystery pattern looked like, and that’s all I wanted to know anyway. I slid the project off the needle, pulled it all out, and wound it back over the skein and put the yarn back in the stash. It will be something else someday. I don’t know what; I don’t know when. Right now that’s none of my concern.

Doing something you’re good at and enjoy shouldn’t feel like you’ve been sentenced to the salt mines. If it’s boring you or annoying you, you can undo it and do something else. The yarn doesn’t really care. It probably wanted to be something else anyway. Knitting is one of those amazing activities that allows you to do a tiny thing over and over and over and end up with something tangible to show for it at the end (unlike, say, trying to clean a house that is full of children). It also lets you go back in time a bit to fix your mistakes (which would be handy with parenting a house full of children). And sometimes, moving your marker all the way back to GO and forfeiting your $200 is exactly what you need to do.

What I’m knitting this week:

This week I picked up a couple of projects that I set down some time ago. The first project was a pair of slippers everyone thought I was knitting so quickly. Well, I was… until I stopped. Funny how that works. I wasn’t quite sure how to do the next step in the pattern, so I put it all away for a while. Then my feet got ice cold and I thought, “How hard would that next step be to learn anyway?” Turns out it wasn’t hard at all. I now have one slipper done except for two seams and some weaving-in, and I’m nearly halfway done with the second slipper. That was Monday morning.

Top: woolen canoe. Bottom: Almost a slipper.

Top: Woolen canoe.
Bottom: Almost a slipper.

On Tuesday night I went to my knitting group and resumed work on the Drunken Octopus Sweater. I got the stitches all picked up for the ribbed collar band, and right now I’m knitting away on that section. When it’s done there is a bunch of seaming to do, and then it will look like a proper sweater while I pick up and knit the bottom edge and add ribbing to it. And add the button bands. And add buttons. It will be so satisfying to get this done, particularly because my office is cold in the morning. (But my house is cold at night. Do I really have to knit another one?)

Of course, pride goeth immediately before rows one has to rip back. I was so thrilled to be working on the sweater again that after a mere glance at the pattern, I was cranking out the two inches of collar I thought I needed. But after a while I started thinking, Shouldn’t there be a purl row for turning this collar? It’s going to be awfully bulky. When I had knitted for two inches I finally read the pattern. Knit for ONE inch, purl one row, switch to smaller needles, knit for one more inch. Ouch. Well, there was no way around that one, so I sat and un-knitted each stitch of 1×1 ribbing for six rows of 71 stitches each before being able to move forward properly. Yeahhhhh, that wasn’t much fun. Next time, I’ll read the pattern, or at least try to look at it for more than a microsecond.

Almost collared.

Almost collared.

I have knitted sweaters before, three of them. Two were so simple that you shouldn’t really think of them as sweaters, but as “children’s tops made with yarn.” The third sweater was Tyrone. If you’ve been reading this blog so long that you remember Tyrone, you understand why I don’t have anything else to say about it. (If you’ve only joined us recently, Dear Reader, search the blog for “Tyrone.” And be kind.) This project feels like a real sweater, and it’s a sweater for me. And it’s supposed to be a certain size. I don’t make many of those kinds of projects. Scarves, blankets, and hats are pretty forgiving, and you can almost always find someone with feet that fit the socks you just finished. This is an Intentional, Sized Thing. We’ll see how all that works out.

Published in: on January 23, 2014 at 9:01 am  Comments (4)