Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Of That of Which I Did Not Write: Frustration

I've been away for awhile.

At first, there was a fallow time, in which nothing much went as planned. I started a well-reasoned blog about the virtue of sometimes doing nothing; of being still in the midst of frustration.

I didn't finish it (though I'll include it in the end). Somehow, words went by the wayside, even as I talked my way endlessly through frustrations and worry over things like my computer glitch interfering with my writing plans and my pay cut--especially the latter. Even as I dealt with the cognitive dissonance of my pride in supporting my family with no state help (and on a salary that people bluntly told me they could not support their solo selves on, let alone four people) coupled with the fact that my margin of error had slipped to a thin line, well...even then, there was a strange center of stillness that I kept well-hidden.

(And for any family member that might have read the above--don't tell the folks or other siblings, all right? It'd only make them worry needlessly. I can pay what few bills I have and feed all the peeps--we're getting on fine.)

It stayed with me, though, that silence. It followed me on college campus visits with Thing 1, and made even my excitement that one had an experimental farm with sheep and guard llamas quiet.

That picture alone, normally, would have been a blog full of fun and cheek. But from me: stillness.

I blogged briefly about driving to Iowa, a quick flash of my normal online presence, but I didn't include returning to my childhood home and showing my children all that is left of it--grass-covered ruts that was the lane that led up the hill (such a cold walk in the winters of the 70s when little girls still wore dresses to school most days) and then on aways before you even reached the house which was leveled to make more fields

and the corn crib in which I used to scamper, up near the rafters on the beams that ran from crib to crib, and from which I almost once fell. I landed straight on the beam rather than the concrete slab below, knocking a tooth loose as I clutched tight to the splintered wood and stared, wild-eyed, at the dirt grayed cement below. Fortunately I was at the age where losing teeth was expected. My parents never discovered we'd been doing that which we were forbidden.

(And ever since then, I have been unable to step from edges that lead to drop offs; no cliff diving at water parks for me, though I've tried.)

I settled into the heat-haze routine of Iowa. It was in perfect sync with the stillness hidden inside the talk, though in Iowa, the talk became muted. It was quiet conversation that slipped from person to person with the ease of a perfect string of purl stitches. Who married whom from which clan of Beckers or Hertles or Nissens and who had suffered the loss of parent or spouse or child or self; the pattern of interlocked lives falling like rows from my fingertips, so that even the woman from one town over who cut the hair of Things 3 and 4 could create with me a genealogy of common acquaintances, though we had never met before that day.

I took the Things to the lake I'd lived at in the summers as teen and I watched them in the water as I knit on the grass above the beach

and joined them in sandcastle making

and meandered with the butterflies.

Then suddenly, we were back in Maine and the school year slammed into me full-force. The tutoring center took on a new life and took off. I was given a class to teach with students bright thinking, even when they believed they weren't (I'm working on that). I'd established a rep, it seems, as an approachable teacher who knitted while they did their in-class writing and who not only demanded the world from them, but who expected that they'd deliver it. (I have had a few students tell me that if they can't earn an A from me, they are aiming for as close to it as possible and I like it that they use that word: earn.) I had days (and still do) where getting ten minutes to slam down lunch between non-stop appointments felt like a major accomplishment.

Stillness, it seemed, should have fallen by the wayside. Certainly writing and knitting had as I rushed home to feed Things and run to activities with them. By the time I returned from wherever we had gone and got everyone to bed, I wanted simply to sleep.

But somehow the frenzy made my hidden stillness that much more noticeable. Despite how absorbed I had been in my job and my family, that quiet core was still there, searching its way about, humming softly along without much input from me.

What I didn't notice at first was how that stillness had wrought a change in my pattern, as clear and entrancing as the movement of one motif to the next in the shawl on which I am working.

The silence has slipped through me and about me and transformed parts of me in ways I'm only just beginning see. I'm watching with interest as the old repeats give way to an entirely new series of airy open spots and dense clusters--the yarn overs and double decreases of my own life. (Which other knitters will understand immediately and which my non-knitting friends who read will sigh over, then gently tease me about later.) The pattern has changed.

It's not a break, however, from the old. The same two stitches that create everything in knitting still function in my life; in essentials, I am as ever I was. My common denominators have not changed. Instead, I'm building on those basics, taking all that has come before and the gift of the beauty before has created to branch off in unknown ways.

In short, I'm making it up as I go, and waiting to see what the free-form of space gives me.

So far, it has given surprising people who have created patterns of deceptively simple beauty.

There is one who understands how to give the gifts of laughter and honesty. (After all, what else can you do when but laugh when you learn that said friend has been given the moniker Lactose the Intolerant?) She's a rare person who somehow manages to create perfect symmetry between letting me move through things at my own pace while still handing me the truth about myself not only with no sting, but with provoking from me wry laughter, a calm self-acceptance and occasionally just a flat out giggle fest over the sum of my life for no real reason.

Her friendship has created a sea-spray of cascading motifs, of sympathetic pools of deeply dense stitches and open spaces of rippling laughter, that I will someday try to capture in yarn. Something delicate and shimmering and flowing, I think, that changes its light and mood in each new moment.

It's given to me another friend completely unexpected and, as it was phrased, whom I met in a curious way. One whose quiet observations and gentle questions soothe me. We both lead busy, busy lives and don't always communicate regularly, but even reading the line, "Every day I thought: I am going to write Heidi today," is enough to tell me that our friendship is present for both of us and that it adds something to each of our days. It's a stacking pattern which strengthens itself with each new repeat and from which a life-long friendship could well be knitted, in colors that are deep and comforting. If I could capture it in the reality of what my hands create, it would be a reassuringly warm blanket, the kind you wrap yourself in after a day spent in the snowy woods.

New patterns, new creations, new possibilities springing from my past and my present moments, all leading forward to a future of infinite possibilities and permutations.

I'm probably not writing very coherently at this point. It's late and I had planned on being asleep long ago, but there are moments and times when words need to come out, even if there is not much sense to be made of them. I know what this all means to me, but realize it may mean nothing to whoever reads it. And I've come to the conclusion, against all my training, sometimes the words simply need to resonate for oneself, the way that creating something with your hands means something unique to you that even the recipient of your labor may not fully grasp.

What is given and what is received are never exactly the same.

And maybe, even with words that flow out into world, that's all right.

What July Was Going To Say...(If you feel like reading something unfinished. If not, no worries. Just close the window.)

This month went nothing like I envisioned. I had a schedule drawn up for myself. Knitting or crocheting a bit each morning, a long morning of writing, lunch on the deck in the sun, and back to writing through the afternoon, with more crafting or time with friends in the evening.

I even set up an outdoor office

for the nice days.

The almost constant rain was actually the least of my worries. On my first day of writing, while flipping through the first novel for reference points as I worked on the second book, my computer wigged out. The screen went berserk, and when I finally got it restarted and under control, it let me know that the video card was not happy.

I've tried a restore to the point of last restore, going several months back. No change. I've updated the driver via the Windows update. Nada.

I'm operating in Safe Mode, with networking. Just to add insult to injury, the old laptop's fan is wheezing like an old dog in 1oo degree heat. My computer time is limited to short bursts with down time in-between to let the computer cool.

Somehow, all this seemed on par with other facets of life and I found myself doing something that is very atypical in our day and age, when time off from work is a frenzied attempt to squeeze in as many activities as possible.

I did almost nothing.

I ate when I felt like it is, as with all but the oldest Thing gone, it was not necessary to make big meals. I was brought up to speed in the world of zombie films by Thing One's dinner and movie nights. (Shaun of the Dead is still my favorite over the older ones, though now at least I know why, "We're coming to get you, Barbara!" is so funny.) I stretched out on the deck in the heat of the day and watched the clouds float, blue and gray and grainy white above me.

But perhaps strangest of all, I abandoned my to-do list and just knit on what I was absorbed in, the Hidcote Garden Shawl.

I centered all my frustration over not being able to write into one specific pattern. Rather than rail at what was beyond my technical capabilities (or my pocketbook's capabilities) to fix, I concentrated on the steady movement of my hands as they slipped wood and wool quietly through them.

I came to terms with my dyslexic's short-term memory problems by accepting the fact that I could think a number while counting, only to forget it by the time my fingertips touched the next two stitches waiting their turn to be tallied as I went down the purl row, trying to make sure I hadn't dropped a yarn over. I learned to touch a stitch and then look below it, counting by repeating the patterning I had just done a row before. My hands had memorized the pattern, you see, and so I let them do a repetitive chant of each stitch, and learned to tell the difference in the look of a yarn over stitch and a knit stitch that had moved down from the needles by the purl stitch above them as they sat in their places. I learned to fix a problem two rows down right where it occurred, rather than frogging out rows of lace knitting.


H2 said...

Reading this was like being on the magical mystery tour, hearing of your travels this summer and imagining the situations and conversations, the fun you must have had with Things. It touched me in ways I won't express here, and I'm thankful that I have grown to know you and can count you among my friends.

Fiona said...

This is a wonderful piece of writing and epitomises you as a complex, beautiful person. Ethereal as your lace shawl, strong as silk, you warm the people around you by your very presence.

I've told you before and I'll say it again, honey. You have some very lucky students.