What We Talk About When We Talk About Knitting

My Grandma Dee was a knitter. Late in life, her specialty was washcloths. I doubt there is one person in my extended family without a stack of her knitted washcloths tucked away in a kitchen towel drawer. The colors might vary, but she always used Sugar ‘n Cream cotton yarn. Her favorite pattern had a pretty eyelet edge around the outside. Knit two, yarn over, knit across. Knit two, yarn over, knit across. A soothing rhythm in her effortless hands, she knew the movements by heart, her needles and right hand weaving air and yarn without even looking.

One Christmas, when I was thirteen, she tried to teach a few of us grandkids how to knit those washcloths. I stuck with mine for a few weeks and managed to finish it, though its oddly round shape and gaping holes looked nothing like Grandma’s perfectly uniform, knitted squares. I didn’t touch a pair of knitting needles again for almost twenty years.

We tend to avoid things we can’t do well. A perfectionist through and through, my memory bank is littered with failed attempts at artistic endeavor. Even here, in this safe little aerie, the writing’s gone silent. For weeks now, I have fled from the page, abandoned the keyboard. My pen is as dry as my mind.

Each time I tell myself to sit down and write, I hear a tiny voice inside me whisper that age-old question of doubt, “Why?”

Why write? What’s the point? There’s no purpose for these words. Useless, self-centered, navel-gazing words. What are you doing? Wasting your time. Chasing stories that don’t matter. No one cares what you have to say. Who do you think you are? You’re not a writer. Stop pretending. Can’t you do something worthwhile with your life?

I feel each question pulling loose a string in my heart, unraveling this lifeline that tethers me to the page.

Why write? All my life, I thought if I just tried long enough or found the right spark of inspiration, I could build something beautiful. A tower of words. A city of stories. I thought story mattered, and I thought I cared enough to keep trying. But these whispers of doubt won’t leave me alone.

What do you do with a dream when it’s dying? What do you say when your inner cynic tells you story doesn’t matter?

*  *  *

Every night after dinner, my grandparents walked down their creaky basement stairs to a cozy, wood-paneled family room with 70’s shag carpeting and brown plaid furniture. Grandma sat in a chair next to Grandpa’s recliner, and they watched TV. Iowa Hawkeye basketball…Johnny Carson…the good stuff. She knitted, and he snacked on peanuts from a little wooden bowl perched next to his weekly copy of TV Guide. He loved to tease her for knitting with her eyes closed. Her hands were never idle — even when she dozed off in front of the TV, she kept knitting, only to wake up and unravel the row she did wrong in her sleep and start again. Knit two, yarn over, knit across. Knit two, yarn over, knit across. Unravel. Knit. Repeat.

Not everything that unravels is ruined.

Maybe I’ll never be a famous author, and that’s OK. I can still find stories to tell. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. It doesn’t need an audience to be meaningful. If I can bear witness to this one life and find moments of beauty worth remembering, for myself and for the people I love, I will not have written in vain.

Knit two, yarn over, knit across. Unravel. Knit. Repeat.

“My story is myself: and I am my story. This is all you will know of me; it is all I will know of you. This is all that will survive of us: the stories of who we are, the ways that people speak our names and remember something we did, an event we lived through, a clever story we were known for, or hopefully, some wisdom. They are mostly gone now — grandparents, aunts and uncles — and you and I will soon be gone, too. What is left of their lives, and what will be left of ours, is story.” — Christina Baldwin, Storycatcher

2 Thoughts.

  1. I am so glad I found you through Edie’s dishcloth tutorial. You are a wonderful storyteller. I have read through some of your posts here (and soaked up your reading lists) and I love your writing. And I needed to hear this today: “It doesn’t need an audience to be meaningful.”

    • Thanks for your kind words, Carin. Yes, I often need to remind myself that creating something is still worthwhile even when no one else notices. I wish it were easier to remember that, but alas, it’s hard to stop looking for approval from others. I think it’s going to take a lifetime for me to learn that lesson, but every little bit helps! Practice makes perfect, as they say, so I’ll just keep practicing and making the art I love. Good luck to you too!

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