Argh!guy

I’m a perfectionist. There’s no way around it. I like to do things right from the get go and then move on to something new. I don’t do well with errors or mistakes. They stump me. Which is why I’m tangled up in knots with knitting.

For my first project, I’m making a pair of fingerless mitts. All I need to know to complete the mitts are casting-on, knit and purl stitches, sewing, and binding off. These are knitting’s basics, and everything after that builds on these skills.

I know how to cast-on; most of the time I’ll use a Long-Tail cast-on. I certainly know how to knit. And I’ve grown to love to purl. The stockinette patterns is, to date, my favorite. I can combine the two, as the mitt’s instructions ask for, but – try as I might – I have not finished any of the attempts I’ve applied my hands and needles to. Something always goes wrong that makes me want to start over again.

While someone else might plod along and continue stitching, I pull the yarn and start over. I’ve started the mitts about six times already. I’ve gone through several balls of yarns, and last night I botched and started the mitts over again.

I thought about abandoning this project and starting up a different one. Maybe mitts are not to be part of my knitting repertoire. But, as the class goes, this is the most basic of assignments, so, what does it mean when I can’t finish a basic pair of mitts?

The errors I make are common ones: adding a loop without meaning to, decreasing the number of loops without wanting to; dropped stitches, glaring holes in the fabric, knots, frayed yarn, and inserting the needle the wrong way and ending up with a mess.

Knitting, thus, remains fun and a practice for self-reflection. With each row, I notice something about myself I try to work with in between each stitch.

When I began to knit, I wanted to have fun. I have my infinity blanket and practice pattern swatch to knit and try new things. On them, I hardly make any errors and knit along while listening to podcasts or partaking in conversations. Knitting those two projects is fun. The mitts, not so. They are becoming a chore perhaps because I want to knit perfectly. Every time I see a error, I get upset and wonder what I’m doing. Every time I end up with more stitches than what the pattern calls for, I feel like I haven’t made any progress.

I keep forgetting, at the moment, that part of what I’m trying to learn is to let go of this need to do things perfectly. I remind myself not to compare and expect to knit like others who have been at it for years. As I pull the yarn, I imagine myself to be the old woman of Lakota lore who wakes up every morning to find her knitting work undone, lest the world comes to an end the moment she knits her last stitch.

So I grunt and Argh at every mistake I make, but I try to learn something in the process. I’ve learned two diffrent types of casting-on to needles in addition to the Long-Tail. I’ve begun using circular knitting needles for my work and enjoy their compact size and efficacy. I’ve decided to start working on a shawl for my mother, in addition to the mitts, as a long term project. I’ve begun to develop my yarn-snob attitude and look down on synthetic fabrics from MegaCrafts stores.

Knitting, thus, remains fun and a practice for self-reflection. With each row, I notice something about myself I try to work with in between each stitch. Each row may be devoted to my wanting to knit perfectly, or to my frustration of not getting every stitch right. While knitting, I feel the real me slowly come out of his shell and assert himself. Last weekend, during a family lunch, I took up my knitting on the couch while the rest of the the men-folk watched a soccer game and no one said a word about it. Except my brother in law who asked, “What’s that you’re doing?” Knitting, I said. “But why,” he asked again. Because in all the years you’ve known me, haven’t I always done something crazy? I’m just taking it up a notch just to keep you on your toes. He nodded and said, “You certainly have.” And we left it at that.

I’m in the Argh! period of knitting, but that’s to be expected. I gave myself six months of trying to make something before deciding what to do about this new hobby of mine. So far, I’m pleased with my progress and I look forward to learning more. Of course I’d love to be knitting sweaters, scarves, and blankets for myself and other people, but I have to wait and practice enough to get to the point where I’m able to taken on such projects. That day will come, sooner or later. Until then, Argh! I’m starting them mitts again.

For knit’s sake!

The other day, as I was browsing Facebook and Instagram, I was bombarded by ads that made me feel less than adequate. The ads promised to help me read ten or more books in a week or less; practice a kind of yoga that would make me look fit and ripped in less than a month; and dress like a Hollywood star but at a quarter of the cost. One ad promised to help me travel around the world by posting nothing more than selfies on Instagram, making money in the bargain. How could I say “No”?

But “No” is exactly what I said. Instead, I turned off my computer, set my cell phone to night-time mode, picked up my yarn and needles, and began to knit.

Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I worked in advertising. I was a MadMan for several years. My job as an art director was to make sure people wanted what we were peddling. The images, words, models, and layouts were designed to make anyone who saw them want, crave, and think they needed our goods. How? By preying on people’s insecurities and self-doubts. By tugging at people’s fears and making them think: if I have this, I’ll feel happy and fulfilled. If I buy those things, people will like me and I’ll be popular.

Happiness is something I do, not necessarily something I feel

We made a lot of money for our clients. Peddling their goods was good business for us, and it helped me live in one of the most exciting, and expensive, cities in the world. I loved living in New York, and to a degree, working as a MadMan. People thought it glam, fun, and exciting. I had “made” it in the big city, and I felt important.

The job was not without its detractions. I worked long hours; sometimes I had to work weekends. The stress was relentless; deadlines were near impossible to meet. Clients were never happy. Everyone always wanted more, faster, better, cheaper. It was a never-ending cycle of madness.

When I couldn’t take things any longer, I turned to meditation as a way to manage stress. I was tired, unhappy, and losing friends fast. I had no social life, and the few friends I had left stopped inviting me out because I was undependable. I didn’t know if I would be able to attend a show for fear of having to work another late night.

The point is to knit and let go of any expectation of perfection or getting it right. The endless fabric is a knitted journal of my knitting work.

Meditation helped. I learned to manage stress. I became more proactive in managing my emotions. Meditating even helped with my insomnia. The more I practiced meditation, the freer I felt and the more I began to understand the unhappiness I was causing through the ads and advertising I was creating. I was part of the problem, I decided. I made people feel anxious and bad about themselves. I urged them to buy things they didn’t need. My work was the reason why people turned to meditation – and medication – so they could feel good about themselves!

Over the years, I’ve learned to practice mindfulness: being aware and staying present in the moment. From cooking, sitting, drinking tea, or knitting, mindfulness helps me unwind, relax, and let go of thoughts and feelings that make me feel less than happy. Over time, I’ve come to realize that happiness is something I do, not necessarily something I feel. When we practice an activity that brings us joy, peace, and contentment we find happiness not at the end of the process, but immediately in the moment.

Knitting, and learning how to knit, has become a way of meditating — of practicing mindfulness —  and feeling happy. When I knit, I turn off the television, unplug my cell phone, play classical music, and I knit and purl rows. I can do this for several hours. From the beginning, I told myself to never mind the errors, dropped stitches, frayed yarn, flying needles, or botched castings as I learn to knit. I’m a beginner, after all. Mistakes are inevitable.

What’s happened is that whenever I knit a feeling of well-being and calm settles over me. I feel lighter, better, quiet when I knit. I’m happy!

I knit for knitting’s sake without a specific project or goal in mind. I sit and decide that for the next ten rows I’ll do a garter stitch, and the following 30 will be a stockinette stitch. Once I learn how to rib, I’ll throw that into the mix and whatever else I learn to do in the future will be included as well. The point is to knit and let go of any expectation of perfection or getting it right. The goal is to learn from mistakes and, as the endless fabric evolves, keep a record of my work and improvement. The endless fabric is a knitted journal of my knitting work. The goal is to keep on knitting. Knitting for knit’s sake!

KnitMan.pngIn this way, I stay present with my knitting, watch as my thoughts rise and dissolve, take those pesky little thoughts that undermine my confidence, and gently dismiss them as mere thinking. The process is no different than when I sit to meditate. I’m not trying to stop thinking; I’m only becoming aware of my “monkey mind” and returning to the task at hand. Breath by breath; stitch by stitch.

That’s how I quiet my mind. This is how I de-stress. That’s how I feel better and how I undermine the ads on Facebook, Instagram, or wherever else that try to make me feel less than. By knitting, for knit’s sake, I’m learning to stay sane and happy in the moment.