Writing


You’d think I’d never mattress stitched before

When I first started knitting, I never ripped anything back. Ever. I knit it and it was done and however I had knit it, that was right. Okay, if I made a mistake in a pattern–if I dropped a stitch or forgot a decrease, I would drop the stitches down and fix that little part. My knitting was always technically correct. The pattern was right–all the knits and purls and yarn overs right where they belonged. But it never was spectacular knitting. Because sometimes the drape of the fabric would be wrong. Or I had the wrong gauge. Or the colors would pool. Or the yarn was too busy for the pattern. I did not rip back for things like that.

The tiny mistakes, those were okay, because anyone could have a little slip up and miss a stitch. They were easily fixed, and no one would even know they had happened. But the big mistakes…oh, how could I ever admit to such errors in judgment and taste? Those things pointed to the idea that maybe I didn’t have “taste” or “a knitter’s eye” or a real creative vision. Because I had chosen my yarn and my project with an idea of how I wanted it, and if those choices created a terrible project that went sideways, that meant that I had failed. And the finished project would sit in a box, proof that I had no idea what I was doing.

The problem was that I was a perfectionist.

No, that’s not right. A normal perfectionist would definitely rip out the green scarf knit on size 8 needles in worsted weight yarn that had NO drape whatsoever. She wouldn’t persist in knitting this thing that felt more like chain-mail than a nice soft scarf.

The problem was that I was a perfectionist who never wanted to make a mistake.

And I admit it. I still am. I want everything to be perfect the very first time I do it. The first draft of what I am writing should be the most perfect poetical and breathtakingly honest and true words ever written in all of history. The first time I work on a scene, I should automatically be able to perform it as if I were Dame Judy Dench herself. The first time I try a new recipe, it should be the best food anyone has ever eaten. I don’t want to have to edit, or work deeper, or make adjustments.

This isn’t laziness on my part (I swear). It’s just a near crippling fear that if I don’t get something right the very first time I do it, I will never be able to do it right. Ever. And that would make me a failure. No one wants to be a failure.

But lately I’ve been getting the idea that my definition of “failure” might be a little bit skewed.

It all started when I started reading more knitting blogs and listening to knitting podcasts. And I realized just how much trial and error goes into designing and knitting. These were people who I considered really amazing knitters. People like Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and Brenda Dayne spoke with such ease about projects that had gone totally sideways, about ripping stuff out and starting over ten times.

And suddenly, something clicked in my head. Obviously, they had gotten things to be so good by making and fixing a lot of mistakes. And that didn’t make them failures as knitters. So maybe I didn’t have to consider myself a huge failure either?

Suddenly, I was willing to look at project and say things like “This yarn is not working at all. I have to use a different yarn,” and actually rip it all out and start all over. And even more important, I was willing to not beat myself up for having to start over.

And I find myself at least slightly more willing to not immediately admit defeat when other creative attempts don’t come as easily to me. I know that a few years ago, I would not have been nearly as willing to stick with spinning after the terrible yarn I made. And I never would have survived my scene study class, which involved a lot of going back and trying a scene over and over and taking critiques. I would have been far too fragile about it all if knitting hadn’t gotten me used to ripping something out and starting it over and trying it again with minimal feelings of failure.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have times when I want to swear off all knitting (or acting or playing an instrument or whatever) altogether. Sometimes it’s so frustrating to try and try and feel like you’re going nowhere. But it happens a lot less than it used to.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pick out some terrible seaming I have done on my Wispy Cardi (pictured above). My mistake: seaming without blocking first. And that’s okay.

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So I’ve noticed in the past year just how much space I give up to people and things I don’t like. Or don’t love. I have limited time and limited money, and yet I spend piles of that time and money on things I don’t like all that much. And I let people I don’t like occupy far too much mental real estate.

2012 is going to be the year this changes. No, I’m not doing anything like quitting my job to pursue a life of playing my ukulele and knitting and growing flowers. I mean, no, I don’t LOVE my job. But I need the security, the stability, the health insurance. And I figure that since my job, which is all right but I don’t love it, gets 40 to 50 hours of my time a week, the rest of my time should be spent doing things that are amazing. Things that I love.

So what DO I love?

1. My friends and family. The few people who truly love and support me for what I am. And I need to differentiate those people from everyone else, and stop caring about everyone else’s opinions of me.

2. Knitting. I love creating beautiful things out of yarn. I don’t like stressing about time commitments and quality, so I am going to focus on giving myself enough time to finish projects and on being patient with myself when I need to fix mistakes.

3. Music. I love singing. And playing my ukulele. And my guitar. And the piano. And playing with my bandmate. I am going to devote time to learning all of these instruments better and to working out more and more songs.

4. Theatre. I love being onstage with people and creating stories. I do not love the competitive, nasty, back-biting nonsense that happens so much in theatre. I do not love working with people who don’t love theatre as much as they love the idea that they are going to be stars. I’m going to only do shows I love, with people who love creating something as a team.

5. Writing. I do love writing and I need to do it more without worrying so much about quality. Being an avid reader means that I have very high standards about what is good. But I love the act of writing, so I need to do it more. Quality will come later.

6. The Earth. I love this world I live in and I need to do more to make sure it is good and cared for. That means working more toward a healthy planet. I have some terrible habits that are bad for the environment that I need to change.

7. Myself. I don’t mean that I love myself in a narcissistic way. But I spent years hating who I am, and to be honest, sometimes I still do. This manifests itself in some behaviors that are self-destructive, or at the very least indifferent to my health. That needs to stop. I will take care of myself and love myself and protect myself and give myself a good place to live and be.

8. Humanity. I don’t believe in any kind of god. I firmly believe that all we have in this short life we are given is each other. I need to do more to make the world better for the people in it. Really, this is an oblique way of talking about activism and political involvement.

So, that’s it. My project is to devote myself to what I love. And how have I done so far?

I rang in 2012 with wonderful friends–musicians who are just good people. I spent yesterday at a party with many of the same good people. Today I cleaned my room up, read some, learned a new song for my ukulele, and went to another party, with more good people. So far, so good.