casting on and on

As some of my faithful facebook friends may know, I am now a knitter.  I, apparently, knit things.

So far, I’m mostly knitting mistakes.  I excel at beginning scarves.  Usually around row thirteen I realize that back on row six things went awry in some mysterious way.  I have dropped stitches and found extra stitches and created unexpected and inappropriate buttonholes.  I am particularly adept at creating a small outgrowth of yarn on the side of my work, errors that I creepily call Scarf Tumors.

I started making these mistakes a few weeks ago, when I took a beginner’s class with my lovely friend Heather at an adorable store called Knitting in the Loop.  (I chose this location solely because the pictures of yarn on their website made me want to create an afghan.)  During the lesson, I managed to mangle my skein of yarn into such a complicated knot that I probably could have taken it to sea and hoisted a few sails.  But I was happy to muddle incompetently through the two hours, partially because of Heather’s good-natured company, partially because it was windy and gloomy outside and warm and yarn-y inside, and partially because the store was frequented by many friendly knitters, all whose names were compounds that included “Mary.”

Mary Jane.  Mary Lou.  And, my favorite, Mary Charles.  I felt like I was back in the South.

I decided to learn to knit for a lot of reasons.  I need something to do when listening to my favorite podcasts.  Many of my friends have adorable babies or are expecting adorable babies, and these babies need hats!  And I am intoxicated by the yarn aisle at crafting stores and the language of knitters and their materials.  Who doesn’t want to cast on from a skein of chunky tweed?

But I’ve also realized that I need to cultivate some interests that aren’t set in the nineteenth century or shelved in the children’s literature section of the library.  It’s important to maintain a healthy enthusiasm for my scholarship, but at this particular moment in my life — when I’m gratefully but somewhat disconsolately teaching three sections of freshman comp, when my PhD remains curled in its cardboard tube in my closet, when I face six months until the next job list is posted — I need to focus some of this nervous energy elsewhere.

It may be months before I actually finish a scarf.  For now, I’m enjoying the yarn aisle and its chunky tweeds, and I’m making peace with slow and steady progress.  I may unravel four rows for every six I knit, but I’m persistent.

In my last post, I considered the merits and pitfalls of the blind and dogged persistence my chosen profession demands.*  I’m still uncertain about my own personal brand of this persistence — its origins and its limits, how long it can last.  I feel intuitively that my decision to begin this new hobby is connected to resolving that uncertainty.  Maybe knitting is a way to reconcile myself with multiple tries.  Literature, after all, is full of knitting women — those who weave fibers, wind wool, snip loose ends, presaging the fates of the hero.

And, once again, I cannot escape Heart of Darkness. Gah!


* My wise friend Deb recently wrote of trying to get a job in an English department: “It may be easier to become a supermodel.  Or an astronaut.  Or a supermodel astronaut.”  I hope she doesn’t mind me quoting her here.  It made me laugh at this whole ridiculous situation, which is a good thing to do.


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