Thursday, November 10, 2011

Causal Relations: Knitting and Its Consequences

                Looking for inspiration for a new blog post, I turned to a trusty copy of The Bedford Reader.  Bedford provides a guide to different college writing modes (narrative, comparison-contrast, classification, etc.)  The class set I have of this title was purchased some years ago when I taught Advanced Placement English (when public school money hadn’t dried up and it was easier to purchase texts for advanced students).  I hoped to somehow make a leap from a list of suggested writing topics in the book, such those found on a list in the definition essay chapter that includes “sorrow,” “responsibility,” and “dieting,” to my own future blog post about knitting.  Needless to say, the topics related too closely to my own existence to pique my interest by their novelty.  And none seemed to relate to knitting.  Wait, maybe responsibility (or lack thereof).  I could use the fact that my whole October food budget was spent at the Southeast Fiber Arts Fair to support whatever thesis statement I developed.   

     Moving on through the text, I skimmed through the chapter entitled “Cause and Effect.”  Either the cause and effect essay or the definition essay prompt will appear on the state-mandated tenth-grade writing test for which I prepare my sophomores each year.  (We don't know which mode of the two forms will be required of the students until the actual day they sit down to take it.)  While the test typically presents students with a specific topic on which to write, when they write practice essays in class or for homework, I often give them some choice.  Oddly, students typically choose to define "a good friend" or “a smile” or some form of abuse (alcohol, child, etc.) or to rework those same topics into cause-and-effect essays.  Judging from their choice of topics, maybe all this testing has left them uninspired as well. 

                When I turned to the list of suggested writing prompts in the cause-and-effect chapter, which instructs the student to  explain either the causes or the effects of a particular situation or practice, I found some attention-grabbing, but irking writing prompts, including: 

Friction between two roommates, or two friends

The growing popularity of private elementary and high schools

The fact that most Americans can communicate in no language other than English

The increasing need for more than one breadwinner in a family

     I don’t care to write about those topics, as I deconstruct them every day in grumbling sessions I initiate with my husband, who is unendingly patient as I regale him with tales of the horrors my teaching day, my relationships with strong-willed female friends, and of my financial distress.  (My husband is both an Anglican priest and a public high school French teacher, so some items on the list hit home in areas of concern to him--the last suggested writing topic is particularly relevant to both of us.) 

                There is one subject listed on the page, however, that jumped out at me:  “Some quirk in your personality or a friend’s.”  Wow, I thought.  I have what others perceive as a quirk--my knitting hobby/obsession.  What are its effects?  

      ·         I have begun to purchase all of my clothes (and some of my poor, unwitting children’s) at 
               Goodwill, so I have money for yarn, fiber, and tools. 

·         My house fails to have a unified design scheme or style.  The enormous yarn swift clamped like some festive umbrella to the sideboard in the dining room and the bags of fiber by the fireplace for spinning (the cat especially likes these) foil any attempts at “shabby chic” or “faded gentility” or “oversized football-player friendly” or any other styles my house might at one time have possessed.

·         I have become a bag lady.  (It’s not that I knit at work . . . really. . . . But just having one or two of my projects with me behind my desk makes me feel prepared for any contingency.  (I’m comforted by the fact that if we have a five-hour lock down—where lights are off, doors are locked, and students and teacher crouch on the floor to avoid getting shot at by campus intruders—I’ll be ready.)

      ·         We have steak a lot less often.

·         My 11-year-old has one more reason to have a dramatic fit.  “Pleeeaaaase, don’t knit on the car line,” he wails with tears in his eyes.  “It’s embarrassing.”  He’ll probably undergo years of therapy someday because, after his pleas, I continue to knit as we wait to move up in the torturous line of mothers in mini-vans dropping off their kids at his school.  We have a VW Jetta and my son’s discomfort is compounded because his peers can look down into my car.  (The fact that there are piles of fast-food wrappers, empty cups and soda bottles, and other unsavory detritus of the life of a working mother in clear view surprisingly leaves him unfazed, though.)


·          I spend even more time in the bookstore.  Like the shoes the elves provided the shoemaker, each day there are new knitting magazines (some with nifty freebies) on the racks at my local Barnes and Noble.  Not to mention books.  I spent nearly an hour anguishing in the bookstore last night about whether I should buy Stitch London. This book has some neat patterns for cute little bobbies and the queen and her corgis in it, but I really only covet it because of the pigeon pattern and included yarn and needles cunningly tucked inside the front cover.  Not only is the pigeon absolutely adorable, there’s a Facebook page where knitters can post images of their pigeons.  I don’t even want to plumb the depths of what my desire to post a stuffed pigeon on Facebook says about the effects (or causes) of my knitting passion. . . .


·         I have begun a slow process of brainwashing my husband.  “Just think, dear.  We can open `The Good Shepherd Sheep Farm and Wedding Chapel,’ or maybe `The Pastoral Pastor Anglican Chapel,’” I told my husband a few weeks ago (after a visit to the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair where I interacted with all sorts of adorable four-legged fiber producing creatures).  My husband, who is allergic to wool (he really is; he breaks out in hives), and who grew up burdened with doing farm chores in rural North Carolina, shares none of my romantic aspirations.  The pained look that crossed his face at my words is reminiscent of the one he had when I told him, a couple of years ago that I’d registered us for a weekend alpaca workshop in Asheville, NC. 

·         I talk to strangers, of all races, ages, and nationalities.  Knitting, whatever its potentially adverse effects, draws people in.  I’ve discussed my hobby with German, Indian, Nigerian, Japanese, Greek, Chinese, South African, and Greek individuals, to name a few.  I’ve had little girls tell me about their grandmothers and great-grandmothers.  I’ve made connections in stores and in on-line communities.  I felt like a celebrity the year my son attended tutoring at a Kumon Learning Center, because, as I sat in the waiting room, I always had an international crowd asking me questions and listening to my suggestions for yarn and pattern sources.

Knitting is a well-spring, impacting  many areas of my life.  If my sophomores handed in a cause-and-effect essay with the structure of this blog post, I might take my red pen and question their structure and organization.  “Limit your topic,” I might write.  But, ultimately, I’m not certain if the results of knitting can be circumscribed in an essay or blog post adhering to the prescriptions of a writing guide.    The consequences of my humble hobby are unfixed and open-ended, much like student essay responses that are worth reading. 


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