Friday, August 15, 2014

Why I quit knitting (for now)

          When I was a teenager my family took a trip to Cedar Point where one of the most memorable moments for me wasn't the Demon Drop or the Gemini roller coaster.  We were exiting the train when we happened by a man standing near a booth that read something to the effect of:  Guess Your Age.  I was sixteen at the time, but looked much older (or so everyone told me), so I thought I'd give it a try.  Now I don't remember if the man guessed my age correctly or not, but I do recall that he let me in on his trade secret:  look at the person's hands...they always tell the tale.
          I've never forgotten that, even though I didn't always take good care of my mitts.  There's a chapter in my memoir entitled "My Mother's Hands" in which I write about my first small step into self-care when I was a first grade teacher.  My hands were perpetually cracked, the skin splitting from using chalk.  From washing my hands constantly.  From not paying any attention to the way my chapped hands persistently ached.   The simple act of using emollient hand cream allowed me to pay more attention to the tools I used for everything from grading papers to peeling carrots.  From driving my car to turning a page in a book.
          Our hands are miracles of nature.  They are our greatest healing tool.  They can convey emotion and mirror our language.  They can symbolically contain that which we want to control and that which we need to release.  And ever since I left the classroom in 1999, they've been knitting at least an hour a day...every day for nearly fifteen years.
          I realize now it's time to least for a while.

          Since summer started I've lost interest in a craft that has been a source of comfort and healing for me and a source of joy for the many people whom I've gifted with a pair of socks or handwarmers or a toy or two.  It didn't happen overnight.   Looking back, I realize it took me a lot longer than usual to complete a sweater for my little pal Satish's older sister, Leena.  I found that I put my needles down after only ten minutes (or less).  And now I'm working on a sweater for a friend's child and it's getting harder and harder to muster up the energy to finish it.  I only have one sleeve to go and I'm pacing myself, but hands are certainly telling a tale. 
          Yesterday I finished up my Rolfing three-series and I admitted to Tony, "You told me years ago I'd have to give up knitting eventually.  I think you're least for now."  My hands have been perpetually numb.  My right arm was out of alignment and revealed how I'm still struggling against an incipient scoliosis that rears its head whenever I make life transitions...or when my life abruptly changes without my say so and I have to just roll with it.
          Tony nodded, then explained that the repetitive action of knitting helped me deal with anxiety and now I probably need to find another outlet.  "I get on my Harley and blow off all the crap from my work.  There's nothing like it in the world.  You should buy a motorcycle."
          I shook my head and told him that didn't resonate with me, but hiking and biking and gardening were ways in which I've been managing the ever-changing energy of life that swirls around me.  I'm not really a social creature; I prefer the quiet harbor of my home and have had friends stop by frequently in the past few months.  When I do venture out, I avoid noise and crowds.  They're just too exhausting for this introvert who is happily at home with a good book or a meaningful conversation.  Still, oddly enough, more and more I find myself sans knitting projects when for more than a decade it was my pabulum of choice.  My peaceful pacifier that helped me pass the time (and create a whole lot of loot to boot).  Now I don't need it anymore.

          Last night I had an experience which taught me that, while I may choose to knit again in the future, it's not the best decision for me in the present.  My little cat, Aditi, had a severe allergic reaction to some shots and I took her to the emergency vet around the corner.  She had spiked a temperature of 104; was agitated and uncomfortable.  After assessment, the vet gave me some options, one of which was to treat her, then watch for a couple of hours and I could take her home if she improved. 
          "I live two minutes from here," I said.  "So why don't you give her some fluids and the steroid and we'll see what happens.  I'd like to have her home with me if I can."
          The vet agreed that would be the least invasive choice, so while they gave her a little piggyback of saline and a couple of shots, I headed home to take out my contacts and change into some warmer clothes.  Who'd have thought I'd pull a pair of woolen socks I'd knitted on a flight to New York in 2003 (yes...I remember when I made every single pair) in the middle of August?  Still, as I walked through the house, checking on my other cats, I saw my bag of knitting on the floor next to the couch.  I didn't think twice and kept on walking, picking up a couple of New Yorkers and a novel I've been reading instead.  I knew that knitting would make me more anxious.  Would stimulate that part of me that needs a pacifier and the constant rhythm of movement to soothe my fears.
          I knew I needed to just sit with Aditi.  
          Sit with my discomfort of her feeling so awful.  
          Sit with my fear of "where's the money going to come from to pay for this?"  
          Just sit with it all as it happened.
          And as it happened, all was well in the end.
          By eleven o'clock, Aditi was calm and drowsy.  She was released from the hospital and we made it home five minutes later.  After a light snack and a long drink of water, she soon fell asleep, curled up next to me and stayed there all night long.  This morning I woke to find her snuggled in next to her brother, Forest, and although she's still lethargic, if she hears something going on outside an open window, she'll make her way there to investigate.  I'm certain that in a few day's time, she'll be back to her sprightly, naughty, lovely little self.
         As for me...well, in a week or so I'll have finished the sweater for my friend's child and will put away my yarn and needles -- for now and perhaps for a long time.  Once my hands heal and the work initiated on the Rolfing table integrates that much more, I may venture into a project or two, but only because I want to create something new.  Not because I want to placate my pain or grief or sadness or anxiety.   It certainly wasn't a bad thing knitting helped soothe me when I most needed it.  No one would walk around with a gaping wound without a Band-Aid.  Knitting was a most wonderful way to weave together a new place of being while helping me deal with life as it was all those years ago.  I'm thankful for what it was back then and even more so for what it might be in the future.
          So now, you'll find me hiking at Wildwood or biking on the UT park trail.  Reading a good book in my backyard or maybe even (gasp!) trying out a new recipe in the kitchen.  I'm finding ways to weave in a new story of hope and grace and peace.  Activities which allow me to get out of my knitting chair and move into the world in ways that resonate with both my introvert and my free spirit.
         Oddly enough, my hands never hurt when I'm writing or practicing yoga.  In fact they feel much better after afterward.  That's the surprise and the know that the tale my hands are telling now will allow me to continue to do that which I enjoy and resonate with the most.  

This photograph of my hands was taken by Lisa Logan.
You can find more of her incredible work at