Knitting instead of writing

The holidays are officially here, which means a great deal of knitting and too-ambitious plans to make gifts, as well as that familiar feeling of sassy fatness from eating way too much.


one of many hats knitted this fall


Manischewitz-brined turkey for Thanksgivukkah

The knitting is beginning to take a toll on my hands and the development of carpal tunnel or some other form of repetitive strain injury. If I knit for a while, my fingers start to get tingly, and lately I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with my right hand asleep, and it takes a while for me to shake it awake. I may have to reassess the list of projects to make over the next month.

It has also taken over every free moment of my life, which means I haven’t written, not even in a journal, for a week now, and I’m definitely not fulfilling the contract I made for myself for the duration of the writing workshop I’m taking, which was to write for 45 minutes at least six days a week, which was nothing compared to my initial NaNoWriMo idea of writing 1,660 words per day, so I thought it was doable.

Today, I am proud to announce, I went to my first yoga class in a loooooong time, so the fat feeling is dissipating, while the motivation to do other things, like write in my journal, update my neglected blog, look for and apply to jobs, is increasing. All is not lost!

Back in grad school at Ohio State, I developed a daily yoga practice, which was excellent for my health in general but especially for my depression, and the combination of that with learning about mindfulness meditation made me think the clearest I think I ever did in my life. While reading Wherever You Go, There You Are, I had this very sad revelation that I had lost my way in life, that I had gotten distracted by other things, like material possessions–fashion, beauty products, academic degrees, social status, etc.–which I thought were essential to finding a good mate, a good career, a good life.

I was in a master’s program in Chinese literature, partly because I had acquired this desire to be in academia and get my PhD in something (it didn’t really matter, at the time, in what) and become a professor, like my parents. There were good reasons for wanting to go into Chinese lit, but not good enough, and I realized I wasn’t doing what I once thought I should do with my life, and that was mainly to be useful in the world, which came down to practicing nonviolence, because trying to help others starts with trying to stop harming others, and especially yourself.

At that time, I also realized I had harbored a dream of becoming a fiction writer for a long time but was always too scared to try it. Nearing the end of my program, newly on antidepressants and having successfully defended my thesis on Lu Xun, I decided to find a job in publishing in New York City and try to write. Then, of course, I discovered how hard it would be to find a job in publishing in New York City. That’s when I got distracted again and went into teaching.

The point is, doing yoga has helped me be more mindful, and it’s a good thing that I am starting to do it again. So: more writing, less knitting.


Of handmade pasta and knitting

On the Friday night before my Sunday birthday, Shane’s friend Enrico had me, Shane, and their friend Evan over for dinner, and when they found out that my original plan to celebrate my birthday by doing karaoke that night had fallen through, I think they might have felt obligated to make dinner a special occasion in my honor. It was indeed special, and I deeply appreciate their efforts. These guys are incredibly good people.

The three of them are playing Bach inventions together, Shane and Enrico on guitar and Evan on cello, with plans to provide musical entertainment at the Columbia econ department’s Christmas party. They are expecting me to join them on the violin for Christmas tunes. But more on that at a later date.

Shane and I had invited them over the weekend before, to play music and drink lots, and we fed them some slow-cooked venison (courtesy of Shane’s hunting family), which they greatly appreciated, so much so that Enrico, who is from Italy, vowed to make pasta for us the next time we got together.

After getting out of Spanish class Friday evening, Enrico went home and made pasta dough, rolled it out with a rolling pin, and hand-cut the tagliatelle he later cooked and served with a creamy mushroom sauce he just threw together. It was divine. Then he brought out a caprese salad. Oh my god, some of my favorite foods….

Note to the ladies: Enrico is single and apparently a brilliant doctoral student in economics, which means he’ll probably be making the big bucks after finishing school. Plus he is a great cook. And he even bought me flowers for my birthday!

I mention the handmade pasta on this blog because Enrico made a remark that is relevant to the idea of doing work that has visible outcomes/tangible results: He said that choosing to spend an hour making noodles often makes more sense to him than sitting and doing economics on a computer for three hours, after which he doesn’t see the result of his efforts anywhere in the world; but with pasta-making, you have pasta.

Like many people, I’m guessing, I completely relate to this — especially with the cooler fall weather arriving and as I feel a push to get some knitting done. All of a sudden I want to knit a million accessories for myself, not to mention the tons of holiday projects I’ve planned for other people, many of which have been in my Ravelry queue for years.

And instead of writing more, like I’m supposed to be doing, and reading the next book on my list, I just knit. A noodle, or a scarf, is just so much more satisfyingly and physically present than, say, an economics paper (or whatever economists produce), or a short story.

The Bee Garden: An Aran Sweater

One of the hobbies I picked up to occupy my nervous hands, which always have to be doing something, and that would be constructive instead of destructive, is knitting. Right now I have about 20 projects going and have been dragging my feet to finish. The only thing that gets me to finish a project is a deadline. I don’t just mean a deadline like, oh I’d better finish this by the end of the year or by Jan. 15. I mean that I only really ever finish something if (1) it’s a gift and has to be done near the date of the celebration (because I can’t often finish by a person’s birthday or by Christmas, and if I’m way late then I’ll wait till the next year, or the next), or (2) I really want to wear or use something on a particular occasion or season.

My friend Steven, whose knitting blog Bitches Get Stitches I follow, always tries to knit a sweater to wear for the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck every October. I thought, hey, I’ve been meaning to make myself a sweater for years (the only ones I’ve knitted were two for my dh and one rather ugly thing that I wore last year to Rhinebeck), and so I decided to start an aran sweater (with some red wool I got at a yarn swap and then used to make a horrible sweater dress that was completely impractical).

Hybrid sweater from Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern — custom fitted, because dh just loves his tops TIGHT.

The Dude Sweater

The only sweater a guy would ever ask his significant other to knit: The Dude (a brilliant pattern someone copied from The Big Lebowski)

The dumbest knitted dress ever before it got frogged

We watch quite a few documentaries on netflix, and over the past couple of years we’ve gotten into things about food and farming, like King Corn or Food Inc., or like today’s installment, Vanishing of the Bees. I am certain that when I become a farmer (because today is one of those days that I am sure that I will be), I am going to keep bees. To show my love for both plants and bees, I used plant- and bee-inspired cables for my aran sweater.

The sleeve I started recently, using off-center trellis from Barbara Walker’s A Treasury of Knitting Patterns

Back of the sleeve, using wave of honey pattern

The front of the sweater body, using trellis with moss stitch

Back of sweater body, with honeycomb pattern

The only thing now is to finish the sleeves and attach them and knit up to the collar. Unfortunately, I did not read the whole Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern all the way through, and she’s telling me to baste and cut and sew, and there is no way I am doing that! I am planning to try to do a seamless finish, like a raglan, but I am not sure how that will work with the cable patterns. The decreasing of the body will inevitably affect the cables, and I don’t know what will happen.

Knitters, any suggestions?