Fixin’ to Cast On

I love the Southern expression for PMS: Fixin’ to Start. I love that Southern expression period, Fixin’ to fill-in-the-blank.

Fixin’. It’s that time between intention and action.

Knitting has taken on a life of its own for me.

Since I wrote about my early attempt at knitting, the knitting group in Sequim, and my move to Sequim, I spent a week at the Port Townsend Writer’s Conference in a workshop with Ann Hood. I signed up because I am writing Beans and Meatballs and the Pink Stuff.

I did not know anything about Ann Hood before I took the class. I just liked that her blurb said our writing had to answer the question, “So what?”.

On the first night of the Conference, I learned that eleven years ago, her five-year old daughter spiked a fever and within 36-hours had died from a virulent form of strep. It left her unable to write or read. Knitting became her path through grief, until she could write and read again.

Writing for me has been my way to stitch together senseless, random, seemingly unrelated experiences so they come to make sense to me—the sense that is an acceptance of the senseless, random, unrelated way that life unfolds. The story they tell.

After help from my friend Jennifer, who introduced me to the knitting group, I started my first knitting project—a scarf. It is perhaps, the ghost of that unfinished scarf that wanders aimlessly through the universe wondering if I’m ever going to learn to cast off.

She did the casting on for me. Slipknots are still very slippery for me; I don’t get them. Then I began knitting. I don’t know if it’s under, over, around, and through but that’s what I kept repeating as I pushed the needle through a loop, wrapped the yarn around it, and pulled it onto the other needle.

“What are you making?” Nettie asked me.

“Stitches, as far as I can tell,” I said, marveling that I was beginning to see rows of stitched together yarn.

I stuck the ends of the needles with the few rows of stitches clinging to it into the ball of yarn and went home. But, was I a knitter, I wondered.

This question kept me up one night.

“Write about what keeps you up at night,” Ann Hood had advised during the workshop.

I did, then stopped midway through my eloquence, wondering, was I just making this up? Was I really afraid that being a knitter would catapult me into my grandmother’s world?

Stuck in the middle of what I was trying to write, I decided I should try being a knitter.

I decided that knitters knit. So I pulled out the needles with the few rows of stitches clinging to it from the ball of yarn and began knitting as I watched The Daily Show, because that’s what I thought knitters did, they knit while other stuff was going on.

Under, over, around and through. Under, over, around, and through. Under, over, around and through until I had a good six or seven rows—maybe more—of yarn stitched together. I was amazed.

I held it up to admire it. One end had loops hanging down from the third and fourth row. Instead of a nice neat straight edge, it looked like it had an ebb and flow, like the lines waves leave on the beach.

I tried to talk myself into calling it a design decision—an improvisational one. It could be a symbol of the yin and yang of knitting.

But I couldn’t talk myself into it. I decided that while knitters might be able to improvise, what I had was just bad knitting. So I unraveled the yarn, wrapped it around the ball, stuck the needles into the ball of yarn, and decided that I just wasn’t a knitter.

Jennifer was having none of it.

“I’ve knit since I was sixteen,” she said. “It takes time to learn.”

In the meantime, a perfectly innocent suggestion from my beautiful, smart, talented stepdaughter that I take advantage of social media to promote my writing sent me into a tailspin. I felt like a dinosaur. One might say I became unraveled.

This kept me up one night, the night before last night’s knitting group.

I decided that I would go, but not bring my ball of yarn with the needles stuck in it. I needed a break from feeling totally incompetent about life.

As always, the food was magnificent, the company as down to earth and grounded as the meal. Eva, our hostess, took me on a tour of her art studio, showed me photographs of her pottery in which she had embedded leaves and her projects with the children she had taught. On the way out of the studio, I noticed the Green Man she had embedded in the concrete entry. The leaves that surrounded his winking face were imprints of kale and mustard greens.

Back inside Eva’s house, a work of art in itself, I sat across from one of the other Karens. She was transforming earth-toned, almost string-like linen thread from a large spool into rows and rows of stitches. She showed us the scarf she had made for a friend, stitched together from another spool of linen, this one green, the color of new growth that shoots up through the earth in spring. Instead of rows and rows of tight stitches, there were rows and rows of soft lacy loops. She had changed needle size throughout the project to create subtle changes.

I told her that I had unraveled the rows and rows of stitches I had done.

“You can learn a lot from unraveling,” she said.

I don’t know whether my grandmother ever unraveled anything she started. She probably did. But I never heard about it. I appreciate my grandmother’s commitment to knitting. She seemed to always have a pair of knitting needles with rows and rows of perfect stitches falling from them. I think that for her, perhaps as it did for Ann Hood’s grief, knitting was a way to deal with the unacceptable. But I suspect that for my grandmother, knitting was a coping mechanism for a cast-in-stone way of being, her way of containing the shameful secrets she protected: her husband was a philanderer and he and her son were child molesters.

That was the world, the world of protecting shameful secrets, that I was afraid knitting would catapult me into. As a writer, my job is to shed light on those shameful secrets—to make them human. I thought the two worlds were incompatible—that once I cast on, I would never be able to cast off.

“I just knit scarves,” Karen said. I was relieved to hear that—to see that there was tremendous creativity in knitting scarves. She said that with one project, she had figured out how to integrate a wayward loop into the final scarf. The acceptance of imperfection.

I slept well last night. And I’m back to writing. And, I suspect there is a way to integrate my desire to write enduring human stories with the fast-paced new fangled world of social media.

Tomorrow, Jennifer’s going to get me started again, helping me cast on. Perhaps the ghost of the scarf wandering the universe will find peace at last as I knit rows and rows of stitches, making my way to the moment when I learn to cast off.

2 thoughts on “Fixin’ to Cast On

  1. You are such an awesome writer, my dear! Loved reading this, and happy that you’re learning so much about how to be happy. Remember that “sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care”; at least, according to this guy named Hamlet. I think he was a prince or something…


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