Tuesday, January 29, 2013

We love you Ryan!

So, Ryan Gosling was asked, by GQ in Australia, how he would spend his perfect day. His surprisingly lovely reply was “knitting.”

Here’s how he continued.

"I did this scene in Lars And The Real Girl where I was in a room full of old ladies who were knitting, and it was an all-day scene, so they showed me how. It was one of the most relaxing days of my life.

"If I had to design my perfect day, that would be it. And you get something out of it at the end. You get a nice present. For someone who wants an oddly shaped, off-putting scarf."

We will happily forgive him his suggestion of the old lady and oddly-shaped knitting stereotypes. Because, really, who saw this coming? And what might this do for our craft?

I wrote, in the November 19th post, that one of the reasons knitters don’t get the respect they deserve is that men don’t do it. Something that is considered exclusively female just doesn’t get the credibility, mileage, or respect of something that is gender-shared. That’s just the way the world has worked for a very long time. (Never mind that the original knitters’ guilds were men only. That was a long time ago and now easily dismissed.)

Once the industrial revolution hit, and knitting (and the men who did it) went into the factories (where the money was made), hand-knitting became almost exclusively female: women at home did it because it was cheaper than buying the factory-made goods. That marginalized hand-knitting in a world that was increasingly motivated by profit.

Fast forward to modern times, where—with globalization—a hand-knit sweater is much more expensive than what we can buy in stores. And if money were the only currency, you’d think this would make knitting precious and special. But, no, people (well, really, women) who knit were people with enough disposable income and time that they could make what they could easily buy. In a world increasingly motivated by expediency, knitting made even less sense to people who didn’t do it!

It seems that we can’t win for losing!

But thank goodness for the movie stars. Someone watches Julia Roberts knitting, or hears her rave about it, and knitting is hot and sexy and the new best ever thing. (That’s what happened at the turn of the century.)

And now we have one of our hottest male stars saying the same thing! OMG, how fabulous! I cannot wait to see how this unfolds! Maybe knitting will become the best new trend among gorgeous young men! The possibilities surely make this old heart beat faster. 

PS If you have not seen Lars and the Real Girl, you now clearly must. (It really is a lovely movie. But even if it weren’t, it’s probably something we all must do in support of our new guy?)

Friday, January 11, 2013

What keeps us from moving forward?

My last post, plus the New Year, lead me to address the following (posed long ago on Ravelry): "I keep wanting to experience new things with my knitting. But then I go back to what I know how to do. I seem to be stuck somewhere within my comfort and can't seem to blast myself through that wall that's preventing me from moving forward."

I have a virtual arsenal of quotes, and stories, and opinions on this subject. And I'll begin that assault in a moment. But before I do, just let me say that while we can speak to this from our heads, we cannot think ourselves out of this place of safety. It is our feelings—usually fear—that need be conquered. So while you read what follows, listen to what resonates emotionally.  If you feel something, a button has been pushed . . . and that's where you need to go looking.

Okay. Let's start with a concept that I embrace.

There is no such thing as a mistake.

How in the world can I say that? Because you cannot be born knowing everything there is to know. (There are people who think they are, but we're grateful we're not married to them.) Your parents, your teachers, your knitting instructors could not anticipate and teach everything you need to know.

So . . . there are things you don't know and mistakes you are capable of making. And you will make them . . . until they bite you . . . and you think That isn't serving me very well. And so you do the work to learn what you need to learn to not make that mistake again.  And what can we conclude from this?

If we are capable of making a mistake, then we needed to make that mistake in order to learn what we needed to learn to not make that mistake again. And so the mistake is just an experience we needed to have so we could learn and grow.

Maya Angelou said it much better: You did the best you could until you knew better. And when you knew better you did better.

If all that seems too theoretical, let me give you a practical example, paraphrased from the book Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

On the first day of class, the pottery teacher announced a new way the class would be graded. The half sitting to the right would be graded on quality (the usual way): one perfect pot would earn an A, etc. The half sitting to the left would be graded on quantity: 50 lbs of pots would earn an A, 40 lbs a B, etc.

When grading occurred, a curious fact emerged: the pots of best quality came from the quantity side of the class. That side had turned out lots of pots, exploring ideas to produce some really good work. The quality side, on the other hand, had produced no wonderful pots: they had sat theorizing about the perfect pot rather than putting in the hours of trial and error to actually get there.

Unless we dive into our materials and just give it a go, often what holds us back from moving beyond our comfort is fear—of frustration, of failure, of waste (time or money?), of humiliation.

How do we deal with our fears? By embracing the following truths.

  • Frustration is painful but an inevitable step on the road to learning. As Winston Churchill said Creativity is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
  • There is no such thing as failure. As Henry Ford said Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.
  • I believe that there is no such thing as a waste of time. Our left brain, which is the clock-watcher, is also where established patterns reside. So when we try to establish a new pattern, this side of the brain feels out of control,  gets critical, and accuses us of wasting time. This is no reason to give up. And fortunately, knitting is a right brain activity in which time is irrelevant. (I truly believe that whatever we are doing in any given moment is exactly what we were meant to be doing in that moment. This helps me get through life.)
  • There is no waste of money in knitting: we are much to be envied because we can rip out our materials and re-use them.
  • And finally, humiliation is something we do to ourselves. (No-one can do it to us unless we let them.) And why would we do this to ourselves? We should treat ourselves as we would a grandchild.
So, what to do when we find ourselves stuck? *Try something new. Be prepared for frustration. Ignore the yammering left brain. Be persistent. Be prepared for mistakes. (Understand that these are lessons to learn before proceeding.) Learn (or teach yourself) every fix-it technique available to knitters. Employ them until you achieve success. Repeat from *.

And, sadly I suppose, be prepared to produce an occasionally truly ugly sweater. We could have a competition. But I promise you I'd win! I'd have to, if only because—over 56 years of knitting—I’ve produced a great volume. But I look at these sad pieces and comfort myself with a quote by Chekov: One would have to be God to look at both success and failure and know one from the other.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

flow, persistence, and buyer’s remorse

The other day I watched a documentary on happiness which talked about the concept of flow as being an essential component. It mentioned knitting as a way to achieve flow, which made me think of re-visiting this subject.

The word’s been around for a long time to describe a state of being we might all wish to achieve. But the American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gave it a particular definition and set of parameters that should help us understand and achieve it.

He made a simple, two-axis scale in which skills oppose challenge. And his premise for a state of flow—which he called the flow channel—is that we achieve it when skills = challenge.

 But Csikszentmihalyi went further—describing the states we are in when outside the flow channel. And here’s where things get more interesting and—I think—instructive.

If challenge is too high for our skill level, we are anxious, frustrated, stuck. If skills are too high for the task, we are bored. And the kicker is that human beings are much less happy when they are bored!

So what does that mean for us?

Let’s just establish that knitters are never bored and look to the other side of Csikszentmihalyi’s chart.

It’s not difficult to get frustrated with our knitting: wrong yarn, wrong pattern, wrong level of challenge, wrong garment for our body, wrong garment for our wardrobe. The mistake, however, would be to pitch the project. Much better to
  • figure out what’s wrong with it,
  • rip it out,
  • do the work to fix it.
When we do this, we produce a result that’s worthy. And—in doing the work of figuring, ripping, re-figuring, and re-knitting—we raise our skill set. And so the next time we tackle a similar project, we are higher in the flow channel! This is a result much to be desired and remembered every time we pack away a not-wonderful knit result.

Buyer’s remorse
So we’ve all bought clothing we should not have. The sales person told us we looked “cute” (not a word I think should ever be attributed to my 63-yr-old self, so there was my first clue), or maybe it was “on sale” (but what kind of bargain is it if I never wear it?!?!), or maybe we were having a good hair day or out-of-body experience (so everything looked good). Whatever! Been there, done that! (Hang with me, this does relate to my previous discussion.)

I have had this experience many times with clothing . . but . . . never with yarn!!!!! I have never regretted a yarn purchase!!!

Yes, I’ve knit with yarn that didn’t work out. But even so, I have not regretted the purchase. I’ve just learned that it was the wrong project for the yarn. Good lesson! And what comes next? Rip and re-knit!

Imagine how lucky this makes us! No buyer’s remorse because we can use this yarn again. Add to that an opportunity to raise challenge and enter the flow channel at a higher level because we’ve learned something that raised our skill level. Nothing to regret no matter the outcome!

Is this New Year’s Optimism speaking? I think not. This is the nature of my world, a place I happily inhabit!