I have not been an especially active blogizen lately. I have not posted in that other blog of mine at all since November 30. I have made increasingly rare commentous visits at my favorite blogs by other people (see sidebar at left). Were it not for Love Thursday (which, looky here, has rolled around again; whaddaya know), I would probably not have blogged at all since the last day of NaBloPoMo '06, even though I have tons to tell you.
I'm writing a novel. (Hey, everybody else is doing it.)
It's complicated, a long pleasure tale of magic and consequences. It's taking nearly all my words just to think it from pictures into pages. It's harder than spinning straw into gold. (Don't ask me why I think I know this.)
Writing didn't used to be so arduous for me, but then I used to live by myself and not be middle-aged.
And then, I also have this project to complete:
You are looking at over a thousand 3½" granny squares sorted by color into stacks. It's actually 1,120 if, as I strongly suspect, I counted the stack of the squares with the peach colored centers and red-violet "petals" correctly the first time and incorrectly the second time. I finished the last square just this month, when I found a little extra of that red-violet yarn I hadn't used up and quickly whipped it into just one more square, one more stray blossom petal floating through perpetual verdancy.
"Petals"? "Stray blossom petal"? What could I mean?
I conceived of this afghan, my first ever, as something to do while I waited for my life to recommence. As I now understand, it is just as true to say I conceived of it as something to keep my life from halting.
Like now, it was winter when I began, and in winter, I habitually pore over gardening catalogs for the colors and the dreams. I make elaborate lists and graphs, musing endlessly on spring and summer and fall and all the things I want to plant, how the dirt will feel in my fingers, how the colors will look in three dimensions growing in places that belong, at least for now, to me. Surely I've spoken of this before. It's how I get through the grey blahness of every year, the dirty bits between bright snows, and especially that last couple of months that should be spring but never really are, not often anyway, not here in Massachusetts.
The winter when I started this afghan was particularly harsh, our first snow having started falling on the morning of October 23 right as I was being wheeled down a glass-walled hospital corridor to have my leg cut off, and the catalogs started trickling in as early as December, as if the gardening companies knew how badly we needed those colors, how much more urgently than ever. I fingered the thin pages filled with flower images, visions of bright colors, petals both silky and succulent, descriptions of fragrances both sharp and languorous. I didn't know how I could wait 'til spring.
I decided not to wait. I decided to crochet a garden.
It would be a garden that ignored seasons, and zones. In my garden, sunflowers and forget-me-nots would bloom at the same time. Tulips of every color, even the deep violet Queen of the Night, would bloom simultaneously with red roses and hot pink peonies, even in August, even in December. Primula and delphinia alike would stay bright and vigorous, whether planted in shade or full sun, and though some petals might be allowed to brown artistically, for naturalistic interest, no stalks would ever wither. No stakes would be required to keep any flowers facing up. Night or day, winter or summer, the flowers would stay open.
As I crocheted my fantasy garden abstraction, the three cats I still had each came and slept in my lap or on the piles of squares I had completed. They chased the yarn while I worked it. They shed into the yarn. I looked forward to a day when my crocheted garden would cover our bed and they would snuggle into it cozily while they napped, with and without me. It won't happen, of course, except as a fancy in my head. They are all gone now, but bits of them, the fur and whiskers they shed as they liived and played with me and in the yarn, have gotten themselves worked into the fiber of this afghan. It couldn't be helped, and I didn't particularly try.
Hairs shed by my true love and I, his vibrant sable and silver, my thin pale gold, tangled themselves into the wool from time to time as the months passed. They have been worked into the fiber of this afghan, too. Probably a piece of everyone who came and visited us and shed a hair in our living room while I made these squares has been worked into this afghan. It couldn't be helped, as I said.
Of course it was my mother who taught me how to do stuff like this. I got really good at needlepoint, latchhook, and embroidery of every kind. See, I liked them, at least in small doses and with no deadlines attached. Apply the slightest bit of pressure to finish something, and off it would disappear into a box, maybe for a decade or more, maybe forever. Though my mother also taught me to knit and crochet, I found these more tedious and never took them further until now.
My mother the artist, writer and craftswoman was always busy. Her little brown hands gracefully, and nervously, as I now realize, darted in and out of constant projects, even when arthritis was biting at every joint nearly all the time. She made enormous, gaudy poppies out of tissue paper and wire. She tole-painted milk cans and other western artifacts found in the dirt outside ghost towns and dusty corners of antique shops alike. She made bean bags filled with real beans out of her own colorful, hand-knit squares into which she'd worked bright, simple graphics or from scraps of calico she bought in strange, out-of-the-way western towns, and also at places like tourist-trap general stores and Knott's Berry Farm. She could find something authentic anywhere and make it into something else that might be silly or kitschy but was always authentically her.
She knit and knit and knit, crocheted, and knit some more. I never knew why, or how. She could watch TV and hold a conversation with you while designing a sleeve, never dropping a stitch or missing a beat. I'll be doing well if I can write this blog entry while playing my favorite Dire Straits album on that cheap little boombox that sits atop my temporarily defunct flatbed scanner. (And really, "boom" is such an ambitious prefix to apply to that strangely tinny little plastic box, but I digress.)
She taught me the basics, though, even though she couldn't give me a reason I could feel, not then. She taught them to me as life skills, like cooking, and though I happily picked up and developed the ones that were fun for me, I privately thought the idea of any of them as a life skill was kind of quaint, and let the habit of even thinking about any of them drift away in my 20s without a second thought.
A few years ago, with my mother's busy little brown hands long turned to dust, I found out why these things she taught me might be life skills even for a 21st-century semi-sophisticated intellectual dabbler who doesn't have to make her own cloth or beat it clean in a nearby stream. It's got to do with something my friend I call the "Gautama Elizabeth" once said about how she didn't mind waiting, because she never did wait, she always read or occupied her mind in some other way.
It's not that "idle hands are the devil's workshop." It's that unfocused consciousness and undiverted attention can create sheer, unadulterated hell. It's that sometimes to survive the most gruelling aspect of existence -- simply waiting for things to change -- you've got to have something to do while you wait or you will go stark raving mad. At least, this is something I discovered about myself. This is something I discovered while I was sick and too tired to do anything besides watch TV between shifts at work and trips to doctors' offices. This is something I learned more about after my leg was cut off but before I had a replacement, after I'd finished that commission for Karen but before I could think of something else to paint, after I'd written dozens of haikus and haiku-like scratchings about cocoa and cookies and everything I could see out my studio window, before I could return to work but not before I had to resume the visits to doctors' offices and the prosthetist that seemed to suck away my very soul as the waiting dragged on and on and ever, interminably, on.
I know now that Penelope's weaving might in fact have been knitting or crocheting. I know now that the ball of twine Medea gave Jason to help him find his way through the Minotaur's labyrinth was probably a ball of yarn from her own workbasket, that she probably had a workbasket even though she was a princess, that she would have had to. I know now that the fibers I used to make this afghan are all at least spiritually from that same ball of yarn, the same stuff used by Penelope to wait and Medea to anchor and map, and that it's the same ball of yarn my mother carried constantly to help her find her own way through her own obscure passages. I see how the people who spin are all spinning that same thread, and how it ties me to her and them even as I cut my parts into lengths and work it into shapes and give it away. And this is how I understand at last that these little tricks my mother taught me were life skills. They're more than life skills. They're survival skills. I survive because I make. My love, every kind, every stitch of it, is woven into what I make, and it survives, too, even as it passes into memory.
This afghan is as much a woolen garden of my fancy as it is a quoit recording my life, everywhere I've been in the last three years, everyone who's spent enough time in my company to cast a stray hair among my skeins of yarn. The yarn is the future and the past at the same time, it's the journey, it's a lifeline through dark and storm and, worst of all, that dead, blank calm between facts.
I may never finish this afghan. I may not live long enough to stitch 1,119 or 1,120 separate 3½" squares with dark green worsted wool and failing eyesight into one big, king-sized garden. I have so many other things to do, like paint my real garden when it blooms in the spring or write down this story that's consuming me. There are times in every life, though, when the water gets cloudy from all the kicking about, from all the busy-ness, and when that happens, all anybody can do constructively is sit still and wait for it to clarify. This afghan is something I can work on while I wait.
If I finish it, the imaginary garden with its formal rows and chaos of exuberant hues will warm us, and then someday someone else. If I don't finish it, the yarn will just pass on to someone else, maybe become food for someone else's survival skillset, maybe a warming layer for someone else's love, maybe a blanket for someone not loved enough. Maybe someday someone will divide it down and spread it around.
One garden or a thousand flowers, it doesn't matter. It's all from the same lifeline. And the knowledge of how to find it came through my hands from someone else's busy little brown ones because of love, which some argue is the real survival skill, and also the secret name of the lifeline.
Happy Love Thursday, everyone. Here's to ties that bind, deep roots, loops that connect, and the weaving of one day into the next and each life into every other.