Here’s the scene: I’m writing on my laptop by candlelight. I woke to a house and a neighborhood without power this morning, and I’m using up the last of my battery juice writing about it. I have fumbled through the dark to my gas stove to make a cup of warming tea, finding matches and candles, and by candlelight, the laptop.
When the power gives out, I go into Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-gets-her-merit-badge mode, calling up my real and imagined frontier survival and camping skills, figuring out ways to stay warm, sheltered, fed. It occurs to me that knowing how to do things, having basic survival skills in your head and hands, isn’t entirely dopey or outdated. I try to imagine what I can do without the aid of a computer: I could make fire, make soup, read. I could knit.
I mentioned knitting in passing in a recent post and buddy Susan dropped me an email, pointing out that, “If you’re knitting your hands are busy, your mind at least minimally engaged, and that snack you might have had while watching the news, the movie, even reading the book (knitting and reading at the same time is laughably easy) gets postponed and postponed.”
Aha! I backed back into knitting recently (watch those needles!) when pal Lois, recognizing some symptoms of excess stress in my life (Okay I was raving like a lunatic, which she interpreted as a cry for calm.), suggested its therapeutic qualities, and I bit. I haven’t knitted in 25 years or so.
And you know, both Susan and Lois are right. Knitting is the bomb. Knitting keeps me calm by focusing my attention on needles and yarn, counting stitches and rows, attending to pattern. If you’ve ever tried meditation (and if not, why not?), then you’ll recognize the benefit of emptying your mind of anxious thoughts and lists of pressing concerns, giving your brain a break with a new and simpler focus. Occupying your two hands, managing needles and fibers you’d like to keep clean, it’s hard to binge on sticky or powdery or crumby things. We really shouldn’t jump up for a snack until we finish that row, and that little hesitation gives us plenty of time to really think through hunger, cravings, make decisions. Both calmness and snack hesitation help keep the weight off and health high. And though I admit I knit for therapy, darned if I haven’t some sort of garment (mostly scarves these days), on the other side of it.
Okay, it’s a sedentary sport, but for those times when I’m bound to be sedentary anyway, for those evening stretches in front of a ball game, the long waits, lectures and mass meetings, having the focus and the productive fidget of a ball of yarn and a couple of sticks is a fine thing, a saving grace.
While I long ago filed knitting away under anachronisms and family nostalgias (Why, I wonder? My own grandmothers were a showgirl and a doctor. I never saw them knit. The doctor was a demon with a crochet hook, but the showgirl was mainly good at looking pretty, helpless and coy until a kind stranger stepped in to clothe her. Who would you rather be stranded with? On the other hand, the showgirl lived a long, long time. Hmm…), knitting has undergone a kind of renaissance. It’s been taken over by a new generation savvy of recent fiber innovations, and clear about knitting’s soul-centering magic and productive addictiveness. These “chicks with sticks,” have taken their knitting online in entertaining and addictive blogs, and offline in Stitch ‘n Bitch meet-ups you can find just about anywhere.
And now I see my laptop battery wanes. I will attempt to light that fire, and knit by its light. Or perhaps I will go back to bed and whimper coyly until my husband makes fire. Decisions, decisions.