I’ve learned to knit several times. Most of those times the needles felt like impossible tools in impossible hands. My fingers were dumb wood, and the yarn would–I swear–actively spring out of place every time I tried to corner it. I gave up pretty quickly those times, because, you know, I had a life. And anyway, knitting is for grannies.
Then all of the sudden, I didn’t have a life. I had developed postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and I spent all of my time in bed or a recliner, getting up (if I was lucky) only to go to the bathroom. My choices were
- a) read
- b) carry on slow tired conversations
- c) brood foggily on my amorphous symptoms
- d) watch tv
Reading was difficult both because it required a bit more mental function than I could manage through my POTSy brain fog and because How do you hold the book when you are on your back and can’t lift your head? As for chatting, while I appreciated it when people came to sit with me, I couldn’t always do much with conversation, due to the aforementioned brain fog. And brooding on amorphous symptoms is universally recognized to have a multiplying effect on said symptoms. So I watched a lot of tv. A lot. Especially at night, when I was feeling too terrible to sleep but couldn’t manage anything else.
When I started to improve enough to sit up a bit more, I had reached a saturation point with the tv watching (yes, it can happen). I was so very tired of being an unproductive slug. I hadn’t thought of myself as particularly “productive” before–that is, I hadn’t thought of producing things as the measure of my worth as a human being. I had been a producer of intangible things–music, essays, stories, knowledge–and didn’t often feel that my life was missing the tangible. But now that my brain was reduced to fog and my body to slug-like jelly, I desperately wanted to make something. Something I could look at, and touch, and show to other people. That’s why this time when I learned to knit, it stuck.
A dear friend came to my house and showed me how to knit and how to purl. Just pull this new loop through this old loop, and soon you’ve got fabric. It seemed like magic. This loop through this loop. Fabric. Magic.
I decided from the beginning that I wouldn’t think at all about what my fingers were doing. I wouldn’t let my slow brain interfere with my fingers, trying to make knitting “more efficient” through conscious manipulation. I’d just be patient with my wooden fingers, and eventually they’d find their rhythm and turn back into flesh and blood. Eventually the needles felt like extensions of my hands, and I could fairly sing the yarn into place.
I found myself attaching bits of song to the rhythm my fingers made, singing them over and over again to myself like rocking in a chair. Fabric magic fabric magic. Knitting is rhythm made manifest.
My POTS has gotten a lot better since then. If I take care of myself–avoid heat, take the mornings slow, exercise just the right amount, eat the right things, and most importantly, don’t stay upright too long–I can function independently. While I can’t do everything I used to do, I’m now officially ABD in my doctoral program, which feels like a lot.
I still knit though. I’m hooked. Now I knit in addition to my normal non-slug-like activities. I even went to see Duke’s homecoming game with my significant other last weekend when it was 75 degrees. He somehow thought it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to bring my knitting to the game–as if knitting and football don’t mix, or knitting was just for grannies. I know differently on both counts, of course, but I conceded that not everyone is as enlightened as myself. Also the wool was just too hot to be holding on my lap in that weather. But guess what! The woman next to us was knitting a brioche stitch on circular needles, just like the project I’d left at home! She was old enough to be a granny . . .