Monday, August 18, 2014

Stitch by stitch

The other day I was feeling pretty frazzled, so it seemed like the perfect time to curl up on the bed with some live stitches that needed grafting and my audiobook edition of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.

In case you don't know this book, it's kind of a collection of bits of writing advice, and kind of a whole lot more than that - better than most self-help books, more insightful than many novels or wise old friends.

I read it years ago when I was well into my first decade of writing and writing and getting nowhere and not being able to stop anyway, and it helped me feel that walking in a slowly descending bog was not necessarily a terrible way to spend your life.  I bought this edition because I thought I could use a reminder, and because it is narrated by Susan Bennett, whose voice work is amazing.  Highly recommended.

The thing about a helpful book well narrated is that it is soothing.  As is grafting a toe shut or running in ends. You have to weave your needle back and forth through the stitches one at a time, and you have to give it your full attention.  No good worrying about how to clean cat sick off the couch, or where you might have put the possibly mythical backup socks you now need because you recently stepped in a puddle of washing machine overflow in what is otherwise the last clean pair of socks you own, which wouldn't matter if you didn't have to go out shortly to buy milk because you forgot to do it yesterday and it's now an ice cube out there.

Nope: for grafting, you have to be still and calm and empty, and keep your eyes on the stitches.

Conveniently, I got another book in the mail the same day - a hard copy book no less (it doesn't come in any other format, I tried) and poetry to boot.

I find poetry difficult. I never feel inspired to write it, rarely feel inspired to read it, and even then only when it's a short piece posted near the ceiling of a transit vehicle, so this was a departure for me.  But the book (Return from Erebus by Julia McCarthy, published by Brick Books) is written by a Hugs reader, and Julia has had so many interesting things to say in the e-mail correspondence we've been having I felt I would benefit from owning a copy.

Well.  I sat down with the poems and right away I realized three things:

1/ Poetry only meets you halfway, and it doesn't want you to do anything else while you're on your side of the journey.  It expects you to calm all the other noises in your head and let the printed words form a picture in your quiet mind.

2/ The reason I've avoided reading poetry because it's so hard for me to shut out everything else and do that.  It's probably the same reason I'm never inspired to write it, either.  Too chatty not to write everything myself.

3/ It feels really good to calm down and let poetry paint pictures in your mind, even if some of them are sad. And anyway, some of them aren't.

The upshot of all this is my usual mantra: knitting and stitching are good for your brain and feed your creativity so we are all very lucky to be able to do it.

I don't know whether Anne Lamott knits, but Julia does sometimes, and so does Binnie who's got a new book coming out next month.  Like Any Other Monday is a novel with Buster Keaton in it and I can. not. wait. to read it.  Like Julia, Binnie has a knack for putting together words that calm you.  (also, she's very good at putting together words that have you rolling on the floor.)

Meanwhile: I will keep on plugging away at my own writing and hope the bog yields a few more footholds here and there.

Ready for the aftermath of all that stitching?

Yep, Toffee woke up and caught me admiring my finished sock.  Here he is testing for stitch strength:

And softness:

And giving the international sign for approval (a swoon):

And generally being cute.

He really is a sweetheart, isn't he.

Well, that's it for me today.  It is Monday after all: things to do, people to see.  Hope yours is great and I'll see you back here tomorrow!


Unknown said...

I love this post! I also like Bird by Bird, and you've inspired me to go get the audiobook. There is a female poet writing now who I love...she had a book out within the past year. And if I manage to think of her name I will let you know...oh, it's Mary Oliver! I think I will get her audiobook as well. She is a great writer, beautiful writing but not obtuse.

Mary Keenan said...

Thanks for the lead, Paula! I'll look Mary up - I'm enjoying Julia's book so much I am feeling I should go digging into poetry a lot more.