Thursday, March 30, 2006

Why Blog?

“So who reads your blog?” my husband asked me recently. It was just after I’d posted the last time and was trying to express to him that satisfaction of having completed a post.

“Well, no one,” I said. “At least not as far as I know.”

“Why do it then? What’s the difference between writing in a journal and posting stuff publicly on a blog no one reads?”

Well, after a slight pause to reflect as I got ready for bed, I had an answer for him. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, too, and thought I’d just weigh in on the topic in this public space that no one seems to visit.

Why post to a blog, indeed. Let me list the reasons:

1. If you’ve always wanted to be a writer and you happen to be a shy perfectionistic sort of person, you tend to hold what you put on a page or screen pretty close. Right now, for instance, I happen to be writing this on an airplane for posting later. I can’t stop looking around me, over my shoulder—is anyone reading this? It makes me cringe to think they might be. There’s this temptation to change my working font size from an easy-on-the-eyes Times New Roman 12 to about an 8 or 9. So the thought of being read, my labored-over thoughts scrutinized by strangers, makes me break out in a cold sweat that is entirely unrelated to the turbulence we are currently encountering over Salt Lake City. But I’m supposed to be a grown-up now. A grown-up who, although the dreams of youth are fading, still wants to be a writer. So although I could decide to fantasize about becoming the next Emily Dickinson posthumously, I think it’s a much better idea to just take a deep breath and get some stuff out in a place where there’s at least the possibility that someone might read it and respond as they are so moved—to gripe, praise, ridicule, send me an invite to a lurid porn site, or whatever.

2. Because I am a perfectionistic sort of person, I can’t blather on without a clear sense of organization as I likely would in my journal. Or at least I should say that I feel the obligation, if I am blathering on while writing something for the blog, to form a point, a thesis to my blathering, if you will. So although I may start writing a post with a less than 100 percent clear purpose, I will labor over it until a theme seems to emerge. At least that’s the way it seems to me. Maybe some of you nonexistent readers would care to disagree? I didn’t know this would happen when I first started doing this, but that is what happened right away. Writing for a blog forces me to form my thoughts as mini (or sometimes not so mini) personal essays. That’s harder work and more time consuming than writing stream-of-consciousness style in a journal for one’s own eyes only, as valuable and therapeutic as that may at times be. But I’ve found that to be a good thing. When you force yourself to write personal essays, you make those fleeting inspirations work themselves full circle. I’ve found that by the end of most posts it’s (A) taken me at least two times as long to write as I would have thought when I first sat down, and (B) surprising conclusions are sometimes reached, or at least are fleshed out more than they were when I first started.

3. Although I have come to consider posts crafted pieces of writing, they are nevertheless crafted quickly. I like the pressure of writing these pieces in a short period of time. I haven’t thus far started a post and then come back to it for days at a time, carefully rereading and revising. No. It’s something in between writing a formal paper and writing a journal entry. Write something coherent, hopefully entertaining, and with a clear theme, but do it in one sitting and get it published.

4. I find it interesting to see what voice emerges. I like to feel myself taking a risk and letting that uninhibited writer side take over, knowing that sometimes my critical side tries to censor it and say I can’t possibly commit whatever it may be to a public place because it’s just too whacky and yet forging on rebelliously, typing away about the alchemy of crochet or about warrior horses that represent some inner drive or about Seth and just letting what's true to me actually be expressed.

5. This one’s more personal, less about my concern about invisible readers. I love it when something really magical happens and I discover something and it works. I’m thinking particularly of my very first post. I loved how I was reading Thoreau and found that great stuff about him and his journals. Looking back, that very first post pretty much summed up why I blog: because I hope that my mini essays become the basis of my life’s work, that they will help birth something larger.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Alchemy of Crochet

I've been obsessed by crochet, and also obsessed with being daunted by the thought of learning crochet. What? you ask. I'm a good knitter. I've been knitting on an off for about--can this be true?--fourteen years now. More on than off during the past two. Nothing scares me about knitting, anymore. Stitches might fall off my needles, but I'm pretty confident I can fix them again, though I might lose a row or two in the process. And then crochet entered my life.

My friend Anne crochets. She's the type of person who just picks up a skein that catches her fancy and starts embellishing the bottom of some tired old sweater and makes it into something uniquely hers. I'm not like that, as much as I might wish I were. But from time to time I'd catch a look at her handiwork. One day last spring Anne gave me my first lesson with the old hook. I liked it, it was interesting. And then I started seeing crochet everywhere. For a long car trip to Michigan last summer I bought myself a crochet book (Kid's Crochet, you have to start somewhere) and thoroughly taught myself the essential single crochet. I also taught myself to single crochet through the front or back loop and thereby make crochet ribs. I was literally hooked, fascinated by the fact that there was only one live stitch in a piece of crocheted fabric, so much less danger than knitting. And you could branch off in any direction, add to it, make circles, and those things from memory lane that I began to covet in their elusiveness--granny squares.

But then, for a bunch of months, I started obsessing about not knitting. I felt like I'd forsaken an old friend, and I turned in my hook for my needles and relegated my newfound passion to the far recesses of my mind. But then this fall my mom gave me this gorgeous granny square afghan that my great-grandmother, my grandma's mother, crocheted. It's got a black background, but the centers of each square are crocheted in a multitude of colors and combinations. It's like a bursting kaleidescope of color, no two squares alike. Again, I began to think about crochet--why oh why had I forsaken her? I was ready to begin our relationship again. I went to the bookstore one day and found, to my great delight, that Debbie Stoller, that hip knitting maven whose book Stitch 'N Bitch I refer to over and over, had just put out a new volume, on crochet, no less--The Happy Hooker. I was ready to reenter the world of crochet.

But despite Debbie's funny and encouraging tips and techniques, a strange and disturbing thing happened--I could not make myself progress beyond the tried and true single crochet. It began to verge on a mania of self-doubt and envy. I would never make a granny square. I even started dreaming about it. And I know enough about dreams to know that if I'm dreaming about being blocked and unable to learn to crochet, it must be talking about something else entirely. Let's review the facts: I try to pick up a new skill. I have some success. A voice says, "No, you don't want to do that, what about your old friend knitting? What will she think? Why do you want to learn something new?" And then, a long reprieve (a victory, that is, on the part of that voice who wanted me not to crochet). But suddenly I'm drawn back, determined once again, desirous of that elusive accomplishment--the granny square (and beyond that to lacy bolero jackets and the like). I find the perfect teacher (Debbie You-Can-Do-Anything-with-Yarn-and-Have-Great-Fun Stoller). Yet I balk. That voice again, "You can't do it, you can't learn, no, no, no, don't even try. It will be boring and frustrating and take too long." I began to long for this thing I feel will never be mine--the ability to read a crochet pattern and make whatever I want, just like with knitting. The first thing I will make, I think, is a granny square scarf. But no, this will never be because I am stupid and too old to learn and too lazy and, and, and...

This is not just about crochet, dammit, this is about giving up on myself. Not believing that adage that I want so much to live by--you create your own reality. All I know is this: by learning to crochet, really sticking with it and trying out the stitches one by one, making my way through the world of hooking with Debbie, and it all culminating in the successful creation of a granny square scarf will transform me somehow like some alchemical process. I will have fought some battle within myself and come out the other side that much stronger and more capable. I will be that much closer to embracing my life, taking its reins, doing the work I need to do. Yeah!

So last night I began my journey. I knit three fab swatches--not a granny square yet, but we're getting there. First, the single crochet (yes, I know, I already learned that one, but I was just warming up, and I made it in all the colors I'd purchased of this loverly Tahki cotton. Next, I branched out and tried my hand at a new stitch, the second Debbie recommends, the half-double crochet. It was pretty! (I'm a natural, I began to think.) And then, the big time--double crochet, my favorite swatch yet. Finally, before getting too sleepy, I attempted something really cool--a circle. I had to rip it out a few times, but I did it.

Still no granny square to report, but there was this: last night I dreamed of making granny squares, and for the first time it was flowing and easy to understand. I woke up thinking, "It's all about the double crochet--that's what gives you a little height!" I got up and flipped through Hooker to the granny square page--I was right! It is all about the double crochet. (Interestingly, I think I've diagnosed part of the reason for my slowness to advance--that darn Kid's Crochet book, lovely and useful as it's been, doesn't ever introduce double crochet [or the granny square no less]).

Yarn is a metaphor, isn't it after all, for life. A wound skein is potential, balled up. It needs to be woven into a fabric, into stories and connections and a unique pattern. Knitting is linear and back and forth and steady, and vulnerable, too. I like to think I am moving into the crochet period of my life, more free form, more whimsical and unpredictable. But sturdy and relatively secure, not easily unraveled. Through crochet, knot by knot, I will form a new foundation for myself.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Trashed on Friday Night

Trashed as in bone tired. It's that end of the week thing. Why do I feel so much more irritable, impatient, and downright agitated on Friday nights than on any other night? Once upon a time, Friday nights used to be exciting--dinner at some restaurant with friends, maybe a movie, a party that started no earlier than ten. Now, I'm lucky if I can keep my weary carcuss out of bed until ten. I feel old.

I haven't written in such a long time. I got into this frame of mind thinking each entry had to be an essay, all polished and perfect. Tonight I just feel like posting a little update--yes, I'm still here, still writing down my dreams, still knitting, still working at the same old job, still living in the same house with the same husband and kids.

Now I'm going to retire to a scalding hot bath filled with lavender relaxation salts and read my book, The Egyptian by Mika Waltari, one of the best-loved books in Finland, I'm told. Anyone out there ever read it before? It's a great book, set in ancient Egypt during the rein of Akenaten. The main character is an Egyptian physician named Sinuhe. I'm at this part where his "sister," the first woman he's really loved, has given herself to her god in Crete. He wants to rescue her from the god's house, but I just know he's about to find her slaughtered.

And that's really all I have to say for now. TGIF.