Monday, January 30, 2006

Why I Knit - Part I

It might not surprise you to know that when I was in school, I was considerably smaller than the other kids in my class. And with a December birthday, I was very very young, too. Littlest, youngest. They did not make uniforms for my school small enough for me; I had to wear a similar uniform from another school that had a nursery school. Luckily, that school was called Episcopal Academy, and their "EA" monogram was mine too. Never mind the humiliation I felt when I went through first grade thinking that my mom was so dumb to have my uniform monogrammed, while no other mom did. I totally bought that story, as well as the one that the school had "run out of penmanship books," but had ordered an extra one, and that we had to wait months and months for one to come in for me. Now, as an educator, I understand that, even in the 70s, penmanship books were not delivered by mule; they didn't issue me a handwriting book because I couldn't write. I was just too damn small and way to young to have the fine motor skills you need for Catholic penmanship. As an aside, this is just one of the many reasons why I think nuns have a bad name, and I am happy to put out a "good teacher" story about a wonderful nun who knew better than to give me a handwriting book until I was ready, rather than rap my developmentally unprepared knuckles with a ruler.

But, art class was another story. I hated art class. I loved gluing and cutting, coloring, and imagining, and believe me, it was better than religion class. I was a kid, after all. Art class for me, though, was an exercise in total frustration because the picture I had in my head, never, ever ended up being on the paper. I could never make my projects look like the art teacher's examples. And while my first grade teacher knew better than to expect anything other than fat-pencil writing from me, the art teacher was a product-over-process teacher, and my products were always terrible. My gluing was messy and gray smears marred every project. My erasures ripped the paper and my papers were always cut with that tell-tale zig-zag edge of someone who cannot cut in a straight line. My brown bag puppets and my construction paper jack-o'lanterns always looked sloppy, especially compared to the ones I imagined they would be, never mind my more developed classmates.

I guess I continued to develop, and maybe I grew a little, because eventually I did get a handwriting book, and often got the comment of, "Good work, Lizzie, but can it be a little neater?" across the top of my paper. I began to simply accept that I was sort of sloppy, and had to work harder to have the neatest paper in the class.

And one day in May, I made the most beautiful art project ever. We were making Mother's Day gifts. May Pole centerpieces, made on paper plates, with a pencil in a styrofoam block for the pole, and curling gift-wrap ribbon draped down around the plate. And mine was beautiful. No glue glops or cock-eyed pencil poles, just billowing pink and purple ribbons, neatly tacked down around the edges of the ruffled paper plate with dainty drops of glue. My art teacher praised my work, and I knew it was my best creation by far.

I had even considered making a second one for my grandmother, and was wondering if we had these kind of paper plates as I sat in the back of the station wagon that Friday as my mom drove us home from school. I had carefully perched the maypole on my lap for the long ride home, and while I had shown it to mom briefly on my way to the car, I couldn't wait for the oohs and ahhs that would come when she could really sit down and admire it when we got home. I pictured it sitting at the center of the dining room table, looking so festive and happy.

And then I vomited all over it. I wasn't often car sick, but on that warmish day in May in the backseat, I puked in my lap and totally destroyed my Maypole. And with it, all aspirations for art. In my disgusted, disappointed, nauseated state, I decided that I was no good in art. That was that. I still liked kid stuff like spin art and spirograph, and loved those complex coloring books of the 70s with geometric shapes and prisms and things. But I gave up on art that day. My projects were finished with no flair or excitement, just a slap-dash-get-it-done attitude. I never tried learning to draw or paint, never experimented with pastels or charcoal. No apple prints or even the occasional craft. Because I knew that I was no good at art, I never enjoyed the messy, energizing process of making something, and slowing down long enough, to just keep trying until it is the way you want it to look.

I instead gravitated towards writing, singing, and performing throughout my life. I once took a pottery class in college and seriously almost failed. I could not do the wheel. I didn't have that gentle fingertip touch on the clay, and I went full blast on the pedal, going 60 miles an hour making lopsided, thick pots whose handles wouldn't stay on. Never mind that I was easily and always the filthiest potter in the class, and in a class full of cute boys, this was not Demi-Moore-in-Ghost-sexy. More like Demi Moore slogging through the mud in G.I. Jane.

My most creative period was when I was teaching English. I was immersed in writing and literature, teaching writing, and developing unique lessons for every day of the school year. I was encouraging creativity in my students and was constantly stretching myself to come up with new way to get the most out of my students, or to help them connect with their creative selves.

I quit teaching and became a Mom, and while we all know that motherhood is the ultimate creative experience, it left me wanting another outlet, and so, with Mo, my inspiration, I picked up the needles again after many years away. And I could do it. And suddenly a new way to create was open to me, to create with my hands. And if I am precise enough, and careful enough, I can make my sweater look like the picture in the magazine, or I can, with the right yarn and right stitches, make a garment that matches the one I imagine. I fantasize about the next project, and the project after next, and don't hesitate to rip something out or try something new to make the garment right. Knitting is the first time that I have ever used my hands to create something I can feel proud of.

And today I can say that I am actually making a sweater that will be my first semi-original pattern. And unfortunately, since it is a baby sweater, this, too, is likely to be barfed on too.


Ann said...

Oh, dear little Lizzie! I'm so sorry about the art project! Nothing like vomit to destroy the artistic urge ... I wish we had been buddies in elementary school -- I was in Catholic school when we lived in Montgomery, I was horrible in penmanship! But we did have a great teacher, a hippy-like nun -- go figure! Post the sweater when you can ...

Mo said...

I can just see the maypole now. What a beautfully written essay. You've left me pondering "Why I Knit." Maybe we'll see it soon.

Μπουργκάς - Αλεξανδρούπολη said...

Good Job