21 September 2006

It All Evens Out in the Wash

Have you ever paid attention to your verbal ticks? Ever really thought about the phrases that you say on a regular basis? More than the “umms” and “ahhs” that we all slip into our regular speech, I think the phrases that we throw in there are pretty telling.

I dated a guy once who said, “Whaddya gonna do?” at every pause in the conversation. It was fitting, really. He was a very nice, attractive guy who was extremely athletic and active, but he was also on the downer side. He thought of himself as a dork with no friends, someone who basically lost at the game of life way back in high school and was doomed as a result. His phrase was his way of letting everyone else know that some people win, some people lose, and he was always going to be the one left alone with just his rock collection and his pet orchids. Yeah, seriously, he collected rocks and orchids and refused to even entertain the possibility that there may be more to life than a highly regulated schedule and a budget figured out to the penny. He stopped drinking orange juice because he calculated the daily expense and deemed it excessive. He switched to making his own kale juice for breakfast. We weren’t exactly a good match. Whaddya gonna do?

One of my phrases is “It all evens out in the wash.” When my friend Erica and I go out to dinner, inevitably one person needs to chip in an extra dollar or two to break the twenty or get the tip to work out. We try to take turns so it all evens out in the wash.

I always thought that my job evened out in the wash. I’m supposed to work 20 hours/wk in an office for my grad stipend. I basically just guessed it, working extra when things were stressful and assuming that the days I took off early, came in late or just plain ol’ goofed off probably made up for the late nights. But last week was a doozy so I decided to actually count my hours… 34. I’m pretty sure I don’t goof off 14 extra hours a week. Not really evening out in the wash there. Makes me wonder, should Erica and I start keeping better records on our dinner dates?

And so it goes with knitting. I’ve learned that my stockinette is quite different between in the round and flat. I’ve heard that’s a common problem so wasn’t too concerned. I recently finished a plain jane, top-down raglan Cotton-Ease sweater with a very deep v-neck and while knitting, I knew there would be a slight difference between the top section and the lower once I joined in the round. But hey, just throw it in the wash and a good block will cure all, making all those wonky stitches even. Um… not exactly.

I did a little bit of homework and discovered that for those of us with flat vs. round issues, there are a few “fixes” out there, namely to tug on each stitch when you’re purling during the flat knitting. There are also different ways to knit continental. I can’t seem to find the link at the moment, but in the round, and for most knitting, you’re knitting into the front loop. When I was taught to knit, we knit into the back loop. The matching purl stitch corresponded and evened out the stitch you were essentially twisting and overall, your stitches turn out nice and neat, very even and no gaping line at the back. Yes, clear as mud, but I swear I’ve seen this written out somewhere on a real knitting site and when I knit this way, my stitches don’t turn out twisted. So in general, I do it my way for flat knitting and the “right” way when in the round. But what to do when you’re doing both on the same sweater? (I’ve actually got a few fixes in mind that someday I’ll swatch up and see if I can figure this out… my own little knitting experiment, how exciting.)

Honestly, there are so many other problems with this sweater that this is a very minor concern at this point. (I’m saving the full sweater shot for later when I get a chance to finish a post I’m working on about knitting and body image. Betcha can’t wait for that stimulating reading.) Part of me is even looking forward to doing some swatching to figure out my “issues” and what way works best for me. (I’m also planning to order the E. Zimmerman books so I feel a wee bit more “bad ass” with knitting my way or whatever seems to work.) Anyway, as to the knitting issue, eh, I’ll figure it out eventually… like maybe after I catch up on my other washing… like the dishes, the laundry, and my living room floor.

What struck me in this whole debacle is just how wrong I was about my assumptions about what “evens out.” I suppose in a fairy tale world where most people are kind and giving and fair, it does even out if you give a little extra here and get a little extra there. But I think it’s also one of my ways of not thinking about things. I just assume that it’ll be fair, no need to really keep track, just go with the flow and don’t make much fuss about precision.

But, ya know, this knitting thing… lots of precision, lots of fussing, lots of thinking. Sure, there are lots of things out there that don’t require precision, but sweaters to actually wear in public, well, more precision than I gave to this one. As to thought, well, I tried to give it thought. I measured and figured and tried it on and allowed for the droopage of cotton, but still, fugly sweater. I know that part of that is due to feeling less than confident about the body in the sweater since I’ve fallen off the gym/healthy food bandwagon lately. But more than how my jeans are fitting, I’m a little disturbed by how unconscious I am about things. I just take it on faith that things will work out, that all will be well, and then I’m surprised when they aren’t just peachy at the end. As with work, I assumed I was in the right range of hours at the office and have been wondering where all my time goes. (And let’s not even start thinking about all those other areas of life (reading knitting blogs) where I assume I’m just spending a few minutes and actually hours go by.) Huh, guess it doesn’t all even out in the wash.

This summer I was thinking a lot about happiness and what makes it and how I could get more of it into my life. One of my realizations was that I needed to live more consciously, think more about what I do and how I spend my time, assess rather than obsess over events, interactions, and so on. I guess in some ways I’m a lot like Orchid Man, too often assuming that I’m the losing side of life, not having it together, not being as good/pretty/smart/attractive/confident as others so it’s easier to throw up my hands and say “Whaddya gonna do?” I just prefer to not think about things so I adopt a que sera sera attitude which only makes a lot of the negative thinking worse rather than better.

So, in trying to be more conscious about my knitting, I’m starting to think that maybe I want to be consciously unconscious. I knit this sweater because I wanted something casual and easy. Wouldn’t I have had the same experience working on an afghan or a scarf, projects where you don’t have to worry so much about even stitches and getting gauge and fitting a body’s bumps and lumps? Sure, I admire those knitters who test and rip and plan, plot and scheme about their knitting adventures. I’m thinking about Grumperina and her awesome socks that she knits just to figure out how to do some fancy, complicated technique. She repeatedly writes that that’s the kind of knitting that trips her trigger. Me, eh, not so much. I’m starting to think that I’m more the Mason-Dixon warshrag kind of knitter, even if I don’t want to admit it. Maybe I’m a garter stitch kinda gal? Or maybe right now I just need comfort, non-committal, non-thinking knitting that’s going to turn out just fine, or that in the end, I won’t care if it has wonky stitches. Hopefully someday I’ll want to pick up my thinking cap again and restart all the lace patterns that I’m pretty sure I’m going to abandon for a few months.

I suppose the lesson that I’ve been trying to get through my head is that I’m more mindless than I realize or care to admit and I promote my ‘mindlessness’ in ways that I never realized. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with mindlessness. In fact, I think it’s essential. After all, I do most of my knitting in front of old CSI episodes, a little mindless treat that I am completely comfortable allowing myself. I suppose I was just struck by physical evidence of the outcome of a way that I think about the world around me and how that evidence flew in the face of my assumptions. It doesn’t all even out in the wash. You can’t just bury your head in the sand (or the stash of yarn beside the couch) and always end up with a finished object that you’re proud to post on the blog.

However, it’s pretty easy to allow for mindless knitting. Pick up scarves instead of sweaters, stick with socks over lace. If all goes well, mindless time and thinking time will “even out in the wash” and you’ll end up with a whole wardrobe of knitted objects to wash.


Lone Knitter said...

Hey, Leslie. Another awesome post! I think you should knit what you feel like knitting. I always knit simply and you know what? I have no desire to do things that look complicated. Sometimes I feel like a fake knitter because of it, but life is too short. I have a lace project that I never want to see again, and it made me happy when I decided that that was okay. I might redo it in garter stitch. ;)

Anonymous said...

I think we all go through phases in our lives, and if you are in grad school and working and have a lot of other things on your plate, this may be the knitting phase where you need something uncomplicated to balance out the more complicated parts of your life. Perhaps in the future when you are done with school and your career is humming along, you'll be ready to tackle a harder knitting project (along with a mindless one for nights you're just too tired -- we all need those!). Don't label yourself for the rest of your life with categories that maybe only fit your life now. :)

Debby said...

Sorry, I forgot to fill in my info above.