Saturday, September 02, 2006

Now Let's Not Re-invent the Wheel Here...

Now there is a cliche I grew to really really hate. As a young teacher, all passion and theory, I was all about reinventing the wheel. There was never a lesson plan that couldn't use some tweaking, some improvement. I never just copied a handout or used the suggested activites in the teacher's guide. My wiser, more experienced colleagues would often counsel me to not work so damn hard, when someone else had done a damn fine job designing instructional materials that were at least as good as what I would spend hours redesigning.

And I spent hours on it. I had notebooks full of detailed lesson plans, transparencies, evaluation rubrics, project materials. I was compulsive, but very very good. And after 6 years as an English teacher, working 80 hour weeks, I began having anxiety attacks in faculty meetings and committee sessions. You see, I couldn't be a good teacher without doing all that work. It took all those hours for me to be able to perform in a classroom to the level I wanted. It gave me panic attacks and a case of IBS, but damn it, I had to do it better every time. Classic type A overachiever, right here!

So I left the English classroom and switched to the Library/Media Center. I love libraries and I loved being a librarian. Mostly because it was all the fun of being a teacher and practically none of the headache. I could be around the books, and talk to kids about reading. I could help kids with writing and research. I could play on computers. I could collaborate with incredible teachers and interact with a cool group of kids. I could be crazy compulsive about planning lesson plans, because I would teach the same lessons over and over again. By the time the 6th group of 8th graders came through for the research paper lessons, my presentation was perfect, my materials impeccable, the implementation flawless. I didn't have to prepare 4 separate lesson plans for each and every day, grade at least 50 papers a night, make phone calls to parents, and have my heart broken by kids who just weren't going to make it day after day.

But even as a librarian, I reinvented the wheel day after day. And my co-librarian, an incredibly wise and way more experienced person than I would just shake her head at me as I obessively researched and meticulously redrafted every lesson she taught for more than twenty years, everything I needed in her filing cabinet.

But somehow, 5 years deep into motherhood, I have let go of those compulsive ways. It crept out at first, when I was an uptight first time mom, and really thought about each and every detail of Rosebud's life, and took every decision very seriously. But eventually, I relaxed. I didn't want perfection to be part of the tone that I set for the family. I gave in to the rhythms of motherhood and toddlerhood. Messy houses, late bedtimes, and some occasional fast food and maybe a little more TV, it turned out, didn't kill my children, but releasing the pressure to be perfect certainly made me happier, and created a peaceful, accepting atmosphere in my home.

As a knitter, though, sometimes I feel the need to achieve. I want to be the best knitter, and I want my garment to be perfect, not just good enough. But I rarely have the patience (or math ability) to really do the planning necessary to design the perfect garment, so I usually submit to the commercial design, accepting my humanity and all its limitations. Thus I am pretty content following a pattern for my knitting, and modifications are rarely of the design itself, but more of the techniques or finishing details.

So for Pepe's sweater, I had this idea in mind:

A wide-ribbed cardigan, with a zipper. High-ish neck. Drop shoulder. Simple, irregular striping for interest. Found a few examples of patterns in my knitting library that almost worked, but not quite. I began making notes like mad.

Then I pulled out the Ann Budd and began swatching. And then I found this pattern on Knitty. Pretty much exactly what I want. You know, the wheel, that had already been invented.

But I think I want a modified drop shoulder?

Hmm...what kind of ribbing do I want? I was thining K3, P3....

How do I get the ribbing to work right on the edges so the seams look right?

How should I finish the edges? Maybe some applied i-cord, or some slip stitch i-cord?

It just was so much thinking when I could be knitting. Knitting a sweater that is pretty much exactly what I had in mind, with most of these problems just all worked out there for me.

So, I decided to simply just knit Accordion as is.

Because you know, there's no reason to reinvent the wheel here.

I guess I really am growing up.


Devorah said...

I do not disagree with reinventing the wheel with teaching. You always have to do it to at least a small extent in order to make the lesson fit your style. Maybe not to the extent that you did ... I remember the first time I used a colleagues lesson. It went very badly because I tried to teach it the way she did and we were very different people.

Congrats on learning to let go -- at least in knitting. I am still fighting that battle.

Martina said...

Good for you! It is fun to reinvent the wheel when it really needs reinventing but when you find the perfect already invented one, use it I say! Life is so musch more than perfection! It is imperfection.

Marnie said...

oh good for you! i've always wanted to knit accordian. so maybe yours will motivate me. besides, this is my year for knitting already-written patterns. because i constantly reinvent the wheel. and the poor wheel needs a break.

Sally said...

I've also discovered that letting go is not such a bad thing. That's not to say that you just let everything go straight to hell, but relaxed is better. It shows in your demeanor, your kids - you guys are happy people. And if you let go with your knitting, you will have happy knitting.

See you this afternoon!

Anonymous said...

for the mascot's sweaters, I used ann budd's "handy book of patterns" as my base.

I changed the stitch designs for the 3 pullovers so that they look different from each other, even though they all use budd's pullover stitch calculations.

since budd has done all the figuring for me, I can "design" what I want!

and no, I don't feel guilty!

anne marie

Ann said...

Go Liz Go! The accordian will be great -- I know that I'm a knitter not a designer. I've tried just "intuiting" changes rather than thinking them through with little success. I've had a bit more luck with the math and figuring when my intuition has failed. But I do best when I can relax and let the knitting happen. I can't wait to see Pepe in his cute handknit!

Anonymous said...

I can't remember the last time I followed a pattern exactly. If I didn't spend, at least, 5 hours tinkering and fiddling with numbers and schematics, I'd never start a project! LOL!

I'm glad you're coasting, while I'm still climbing.