Pollyanna

Some small parts of life have become difficult lately and therefore not-so-small and instead rather large and all consuming. Trite as it sounds, when I feel this way I find the best cure is to do something for someone else. And luckily we are in the phase of life where there are always babies and heartbreaks and bare walls and empty bellies. Double luck: the skills I have honed all lend themselves to these situations perfectly.

This may look like a garage, but I know that it is a hangout for two old men who play chess together with the doors open and grow tomatoes in front of that fence.

This may look like a garage, but I know that it is a hangout for two old men who play chess together with the doors open and grow tomatoes in front of that fence.

Roof leak on its fourth return? Cast on a baby sweater.

Spider mites in the fig? Write a love note.

Laid emotionally flat by a stranger’s road rage? Say yes, without hesitation, to something, someone.

Anything having to do with health insurance and the marketplace ever? Carry the neighbor’s groceries up to the third floor with her. Roast a chicken for the ones you love. Check in, hold space, repeat.

I don’t have any logic to back this up, it’s just a recipe for small happinesses.

A note on Pollyanna: the version I think of is this one, where Pollyanna very much resembles my mom as a little kid. But, plot twist, the copy we had was recorded off the TV by one grandparent or another and cut off abruptly with P. in the hospital in a bad mood and unable to walk. That unintentional editing resulted in a very different moral than the original, but I must have picked up on it somewhere else.

Grief like this

Our birth/death calendar has quite a few February entries, some new this year. Hello brand new Carolyn Grace, and goodbye dear sweet Frankie. As time goes by I am more and more amazed with all the different ways that grief presents itself. So big and so small. So brutal and so gentle. With my Opa and Julie my life stopped each time, paused, skipped, stuttered and started back up wholly different. What I grieve of them is their love of me, selfish as that sometimes feels. They loved me unconditionally, they reminded me often, they held me and then they were gone. I am left loving them in a world where I am a little less shielded, a little more vulnerable. It is a loss I feel in all things, and one I’m used to.

On the anniversary of Matt’s death we didn’t go to the woods as planned. We got things done and ran errands and cooked dinner and we stayed just a few feet away from one another all day, gently orbiting. I grieve Matt differently and deeply. Without him in it the world is noticeably less. I felt safe with Matt alive, even two states over, and he was there for me in ways I didn’t know I needed- tattooing me when I felt lost or lonely, bringing over rabbits and teaching me to butcher them when I was hungry, driving me home when it was dark and I was alone, and making a ballpoint pen move with his mind when I was in desperate need of some wonder. He did his level best to set Tavi and me up together and now our sadness and loneliness over his absence commingle.

This time last year I couldn’t read this poem, and now it’s tucked in my mind like a touchstone.

Beaver Moon - The Suicide of a Friend
Mary Oliver

When somewhere life
breaks the pane of glass,
and from every direction casual
voices are bringing you the news,
you say: I should have known.
You say: I should have been aware.

That last Friday he looked
so ill, like an old mountain-climber
lost on the white trails, listening 
to the ice breaking upward, under
his worn-out shoes. You say:

I heard rumors of trouble, but after all
we all have that. You say:
What could I have done? and you go 
with the rest, to bury him.

That night, you turn in your bed
to watch the moon rise, and once more
see what a small coin it is
against the darkness, and how everything else
is a mystery, and you know
nothing at all except
the moonlight is beautiful-
white rivers running together
along the bare boughs of the trees-

and somewhere, for someone, life
is becoming moment by moment
unbearable. 

From 'Twelve Moons', Poems by Mary Oliver

Elizabeth Zimmermann

A few days ago I saw an Elizabeth Zimmermann quote used to push the idea that the online knitting community should be talking about knitting and only knitting, not racism. It made my heart sink, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot (my reaction- not the bull-thistle belief that knitters should only talk about knitting).

Image found  here

Image found here

My initial response was “How could you! That’s not what she was talking about! Slander!” and I was mad mad mad because I feel such tenderness for EZ- she taught me to knit as much as a dead person can teach a living person to do anything with their hands. But as I mulled it over I realized- I have no idea what Elizabeth Zimmermann thought about racism. I have no idea how she felt about gay people. As she was a white, British born, rural-Wisconsin-dwelling person of my grandparents’ time it is probably safe to assume that she was not taking on any anti-racist work or out advocating for LGBQTIA folks or we would have heard about it (though I do think she may have fallen a little left of the curve, and we know from The Opinionated Knitter that she and her husband were staunchly anti-Hitler). And while she does not specifically dive into her thoughts about racism in the knitting community*, she took a strong stance against the hand knitting industry of her time, standing up to magazines and big names and even yarn suppliers and eventually going her own way and dismantling (or rather- rewiring) the system via typewritten newsletters and PBS and wool yarn shipped out skein by skein.

What I am trying to say is not that I believe EZ was racist, but rather I don’t know. And I realize I have made a mistake, and assumed without much thought that the Opinionated Knitter’s unwritten opinions probably aligned with mine, because I agree with so much of what she has written about knitting, wool, bread, and the beauty of midwestern nature. What I realized when reading that IG post was that other people, people whose beliefs I do not align myself with, assume the same thing.

I have two thoughts here and I am having a hard time spitting them out. The first is that Elizabeth Zimmermann’s example encourages knitters to stand up against what they see as wrong. It in no way limits knitting conversations to yarn and needles. While she did say: “Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubles spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.” nowhere did she say that the proper way to practice knitting is to shut up about all other matters- in fact her other famous quotes encourage knitting while listening to the news, knitting while engaging in interesting conversations, etc.

My second thought is a reminder (for myself as well) to practice caution while holding up white people of eras past in admiration. I’ve learned this as a lesbian- idolizing this dead artist or that writer of long ago and then stumbling across their horrible homophobic beliefs is a gut punch every time. I’ve had to parse this out with my own family members. What I’ve learned is to be specific- to admire someone’s prose or fashion or crosshatching rather than blindly lift up the whole unknown identity that comes along with it. So here I am saying I adore Elizabeth Zimmermann’s knitting patterns, I admire her merging of knitting, painting and writing. I agree with her about wool. But I have to stop my praise there, with the known, and cannot in good faith extend it to how she treated the grocery clerk, or how she interacted with knitters of color or how she felt when finding out someone she knew was gay. And no matter how much I wish I could ask her, I can’t.

*If anyone out there knows better than my guesses, please correct me.

P.S. In my researching I found this thesis/dissertation that was interesting!