Sunday, November 14, 2010

Good Consumer. Good.

I feel like this post needs a kind of disclaimer because I am writing in a different style this time. I love snark, wit, and sarcasm and occasionally attempt to put it in my writing. This entry is an exploration of that tone. I'm not entirely sure if I will write more posts this way or even that I needed this disclaimer. Perhaps I'm just avoiding writing the actual post.


As a person moves beyond the first stages of learning how to knit they usually begin to be either a product knitter or a process knitter. In other words, they knit because they are product whores or because they enjoy the zen meditation state they fall into as they knit.

The images of these two types of knitters is not without their bias. A product knitter, I imagine, is the kind of consumer that capitalism happily produces, the person who lusts after what they cannot have and who works tirelessly to obtain ever increasing amounts of stuff. This person is the good consumer who, capitalism tells us, keeps our economy going.

The process knitter, on the other hand, sits on the floor in lotus pose calmly knitting through everything and doesn't care if mistakes are made or if the cat starts eating the sweater. This knitter uses good materials to enjoy the process ever more and is occasionally surprised that a finished object occurs at the end of knitting.

My current project has convinced me that I fall squarely into the product camp. I want it like a good consumer wants black friday to hurry up and get here already.

I know that I am a product knitter because I do not enjoy knitting this thing. I made a scarf for a friend some time ago out of a mystery yarn in my stash which I'm sure some well meaning person gifted to me. It is a purple worsted weight acrylic boucle. This means that its a pretty color, kind of lumpy, and splits like a needle going through fabric.

I didn't particularly enjoy knitting the scarf either, but I am trying to use up my stash because I'm poor and buying yarn when I already have lots seems silly. I designed a large reversible cable to go down the middle of the scarf. Why did I try to make a cable, something that needs good stitch definition, in a yarn like boucle that has almost no stitch definition? Because apparently I like to torture myself.

And not just on the one project. My dear friend asked for a matching hat for her coming November birthday. "Of course I'll knit you a hat to match your scarf! I'd love to. I have more of the same yarn too!" Great.

Since the scarf had a cable, the hat needs cables as well, because I need continuity or my brain will explode. That leaves me at today, knitting cables with a yarn I already know won't show cables very well and wishing the stitch definition on the hat was better.

Today I am a product knitter. People ask me why I knit. Sometimes I give them the product answer. I like to knit because of the things I can make. They are unlike anything store bought. They are my own creation. Something I give them the process answer. I like the feel of knitting. I like knowing how the decisions I make about my knitting will affect the finished object. Sometimes, it calms me down. This product/ process debate is really all just a cover up for the fact that I don't know why I am knitter.

I don't know why I am knitting a cabled hat in purple acrylic boucle worsted weight yarn, except that I want it. Except that my friend has been such a good friend to me for so many years. Except that every stitch is totally worth it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Curiosity and the Circle of Compassion

"The tendency to centralize into ourselves, to try to protect ourselves, is strong and all-pervasive. A simple way of turning it around is to develop our curiosity and our inquisitiveness about everything. This is another way of talking about helping others, but of course the process also helps us. We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves. The whole path seems to be about developing curiosity, about looking out and taking an interest in all the details of our lives and in our immediate environment."

Pema Chodron has opened a new world to me. Each of the short meditations in this book has pushed me towards a shift of perspective. I live mostly in a place of concrete. I spend a good portion of each day in my car going to or coming home from school and looking at concrete. My gut reaction has been to lament that I live in such a place, to lament the loss of the vast network of wetlands that was here before the concrete was laid. I wonder where all the animals went that lived here, but really I know that most of them perished. Pema has helped me to, not necessarily get rid of those thoughts, but to see my life and what is in it, to notice, to pay attention instead of dismiss. Instead of yearning to be somewhere I am not, I am paying attention to my own life. After all, I don't want to miss it.

Developing curiosity on the surface seems easy, but really is a radical approach to life. It is not simply to be curious or to notice when you are curious but to actively make yourself be curious.

And what of my knitting? I know the knit and purl stitch so well it feels like I was born knowing them. I know what they look like and what the feel like passing through my fingers. I know that I prefer to knit and that knitting ribbing is getting easier. How can I develop curiosity about something which is so much a part of me?

I pay a lot of attention to my knitting, not out of curiosity, but out of a desire for perfection. The acceptance that I am human and will make mistakes is something I will probably be working towards for the rest of my life. I have come to terms with and know this about myself. For me then, it is turning this rapt attention I have for my knitting into a curiosity rather than scrutiny.

I just finished a scarf for my dad for Christmas. A few weeks ago he asked for a scarf about three days before going on a vacation where it was likely to be cold. I valiantly started without much hope of finishing before he went on the trip and with the idea that it would likely turn into a Christmas gift. Which it has.

The scarf is a wider version of mistake stitch rib. On one row I *knit 3, purl 3* and on the other row I *k1, p1*. The pattern is reversible and deliciously squishy. About halfway through the scarf I noticed that on the *knit 3, purl 3* rows I was knitting a tad bit tighter. This meant that on the knit stitch ridges that the pattern creates, every other stitch was a little tighter than the other stitches. The difference between curiosity and scrutiny is the difference between a curious acceptance of how the pattern looks when I knit it and the desire to make it all be even.

I half-heartedly tried to make it all even but it didn't really work and so I relaxed. This scarf is more me than I could have tried to make it be me. Very few people will ever notice the discrepancy in the stitches that I am talking about. Perhaps the lesson for me in all of this is that I can still develop a curiosity towards my knitting in the way of developing an acceptance and even likeness for the ways I knit that are different from the ways others knit (otherwise known as mistakes).