Spinning Yarns

My newest rule?

No knitting in the morning. If I do, this is what happens:

11 out of 13 projects, plus an old garden-rake head, an improvised knitting tool with a surprising number of functions

Four months into knitting and thirteen scarves (one of them seven feet long) later, my three faithful readers might notice that I haven’t blogged since summer. Nor have I made much progress on any other writing projects. I blame some of this on nearly dying and then anemia (lame excuses, I know!). But if I start knitting in the morning, there goes my day.

For a writer, common wisdom is that creativity should be reserved for the pen in the morning. This has long been true for me. At a panel on inspiration that I attended in June at the Chuckanut Writers Conference, authors Waverly Fitzgerald and Priscilla Long both stated that they do their “15 minutes of writing” first thing in the morning. That way, no matter what happens during the day, they have done their writing and can authentically call themselves writers. And the “15 minutes” generally extends into a longer writing session: the “15 minutes” tricks their minds into getting started.

Knitting, like writing used to, calls to me morning, noon, and night.

My second new rule?

No reading knitting books before bedtime.

Fired up with new ideas if I do, I’m still awake at 2 a.m., fondling my yarn, eating Ritz crackers, and jotting down ideas. My hematologist reassured me that my “sleep center disruption by physical trauma” was normal, but I did not confess to her that knitting was the sneaky new culprit.

When I’m in the thick of a writing project that’s flowing, it often wakes me at night. I’ve tried a series of lighted pens in order to jot down that perfect sentence or inspired plot solution without waking MIM. This type of insomnia, while problematical, has always felt like a success to me. I’m writing! One perfect sentence is worth a completely screwed up next day at the day job.

My knitting notebook is bursting, while my current writing notebook remains anemic. Midnight knitting feels destructive, though. It disrupts my life for little payoff other than a scarf with a gaping hole.


Also, do I need a second creative pursuit in which I sit on my ass for hours on end?

I’ve had other creative flings over the years.

Witness my cake decorating fiascoes over the past year, but I never felt fired up about decorating. I wanted the end product, not the process.

Over a quarter century ago, I made baskets. Basket making, like cake decorating, requires a large, dedicated chunk of time and space, as well as advance planning. The bark or reeds must be pre-soaked, and I flung water everywhere as I weaved long pieces of wet reeds—not exactly underwater basket weaving, but close. I wore a plastic apron, which I still own. I also experimented with paper making, using pressed flowers, which I’d forgotten about until a friend reminded me.

When I seriously returned to writing in my mid-30s, I gave up basket making. I knew early on that I couldn’t do both, not if I was to do either of them well. I gave away every shred of basket-making material, every reed, book, and awl, to a fiber-artist friend. I’d already given away almost all of the baskets I’d made, and I still use the few I kept.

Reed egg basket (with cat), small cedar bark basket w/ dyed raffia, pine needle basket, cherry bark basket, and large unknown-bark basket
Naughty cowl being stretched on The Rack until it decides to stop being too small. I also use the rake for unwinding yarn skeins and winding them into balls.

Wow! Unlike a row of composition tablets filled with scribbles you couldn’t pay me to try to decipher, I still have these creations to show for my efforts. Like basket making, knitting is tangible. Even the cowl that didn’t fit over my head is a finished something I can hold in my hand. And stretch over the head of my brother’s old garden rake.

Knitting is portable and fits into small slots of time and space. Except that once I get going, I can’t stop, even when my knuckle joints are aching. No need to trick my brain into that first 15 minutes when it comes to the clacking needles instead of the heavy pen.

Knitting is social. I can pretend that I’m listening while someone else talks, rather than retreating to my room and donning ear protection designed for the gun range in order to block out the world while I try to make sense of the world. Perhaps I need that right now: to be in the world I came too close to exiting prematurely rather than sealing myself off from it.

It makes sense that a creative person would “fill the well” with more than one creative pursuit. But at what point is a second (or third or fourth) creative outlet charging a low artistic battery, and at what point is it procrastination? Putting off the hard stuff while pontificating that we’re being creative?

Knitting is a fling. It’s easy. Well, okay, maybe not so easy. But everything about it is fun and new, and I have no expectations. With writing, I’ve put in my 10,000 hours and expect a lot from it and myself. Can I ever get back to that fired-up joy about creative writing? Perfectionism is a hard mattress under a leak, while experimenting with a new craft is inner-tubing down a brisk river on a sunny day.

Writing is my long-time spouse, while knitting is a kitten. A donut hole. A sexy neighbor who changes in front of the open window.

At what point is an alternate creative outlet good for a writer, and at what point is it a voracious monster that gobbles up our true calling—the tough one—instead of feeding it?

I don’t have the answers. All I know is that I’m coddling my giant monster in her 7-foot-long scarf. Maybe somebody I’ll strangle her with it, before she strangles me, but for now the companionship is toasty warm.

14 thoughts on “Spinning Yarns

  1. Haha! So true. I can’t read writing books or write before bed either –my mind goes on overdrive. And I like your analogy about the sexy neighbor. Got to recharge the creativity. 😉

  2. Just to let everyone know, the scarf with the hole was redone and became a lovely, lovely 76th birthday present for Jen’s hates-the-cold Mom, which has required us to plan a winter trip from sunny Hawaii to cold Seattle so that I can use it!

  3. Lovely writing and I’m so glad to hear about the fate of the scarf with a hole from your mom! And what is that wooden comb-like toothed thing? Do I need one?

    • Melody, that’s the head of an old garden rake I got at my brother’s garage sale. I had thought to use it when I’m turning skeins/hanks of yarn into balls, because why buy the proper tool when something else will do? But it’s been perfect to stretch the too-small cowl on. I keep wedging more objects in: in the case of this photo, an eyeglasses case, I think. I’ll add a caption. I forgot to take a photo of the completed scarf before mailing it to Mom. Perhaps I can add that, too, since she emailed me a photo.

    • With what I have spent on knitting in four months (I made the mistake of sitting down and adding it all up), I’m afraid I’ve cast all my financial eggs in the knitting basket at this point. I gave a lot of baskets away in my day but I doubt anyone still has theirs. Maybe my Mom?

      • Not a basket but the wonderful large dream catcher that hangs in the window of my painting-sewing-guest room.

  4. Loved this, Jennifer. You’ve reminded me of how annoyed I used to get when I was knitting in the shop and a customer would dare to toddle in and interrupt me …

  5. I enjoyed this thoroughly. You’ve evoked the joys of knitting so vividly, my fingers are itching to get out my needles and take up a new project.

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