Keeping My Hands Busy

A couple weeks ago, I felt massively stressed. Jittery, pacing, the works. All I wanted to do was sit still and relax, watch a documentary, forget about my own life for a while. However, I was so tense and filled with nervous energy that I could not stop fidgeting. First I was messing with my phone every thirty seconds. Then, I set the phone down and went to get a drink. Drink in hand, I sat down and picked up the phone again to check facebook, despite knowing full well that nothing had changed. A wave of guilt arrived and I felt I should clean, so I took out the trash. After fighting this madness for twenty minutes, I finally had an idea that had half a chance of calming my nervous motions so my mind could relax — one that didn’t involve intoxicating substances.

Yarn time!

For a number of years, I couldn’t just sit and watch television mindlessly. Sitting and staring at a mindless box wasn’t nearly enough stimulation, even though I enjoyed the information being presented. So I did projects. I would knit, or assemble papercraft, or build and rebuild endless pyramids from my color changing Silly Putty. Resurrecting the habit of keeping my hands occupied so my mind could focus on something else was enough to calm me.

Normally I like to work with good quality yarn. It’s often easier to work with than the cheap stuff, and it feels nicer. When I do, though, I like to select a pattern that feels somehow worthy of the nice yarn. Then I end up reaching beyond my skill, choosing a too-complicated pattern, and ruining my nice yarn by tearing out all my stitches and restarting five or ten times.

This time, however, my goal was different. I didn’t care about making something I wanted. I had no plans to wear or give away my result. I had a large skein of black Red Heart yarn that had been given to me, so I felt neither monetary- nor quality-based obligation to the yarn to do a nice pattern. It was ugly and coarse and cheap. In short, it was perfect for finding a mindless stitch and working like mad. After a quick review of the basic granny square, I went at it, crocheting at a speed that left no room for quality or beauty. Finally, with my nervousness channeled into my hands, my mind could relax and tune out.

Of course, at such a speed while my mind was elsewhere, I made mistakes. There are spots that are too tight and the rare ones that are too loose. There are sections with two or four stitches instead of three, and a couple where I skipped a spacing chain that I should have had. I wanted to go back and tear out those bad parts, to make my work perfect. However, I stopped myself. No, I decided, part of the freedom of this project was to do for the sake of doing, without the concern for the perfection of the result. I left it. And, while the perfection-focused part of my brain panicked, the let-it-be part won a small victory.

As I worked, I realized that there was something strangely poetic, almost an artistic statement, about this project. I was producing something that is the physical embodiment of my nervousness: It’s crappy, ugly, feels unpleasant, and serves no purpose but to expend energy. When I was done, there was no reason to keep the result. It is a project that has no value except in the doing, and even that is questionable.

Finally, I finished the result seen above. I did the majority of that in one tension-filled week. Considering how slow I usually work (because every stitch must be perfect and will be redone until it is) one week on a simple pattern is incredible.

This feels like an object lesson that can apply to this blog, and my life. It’s a reminder to just do. I write so few posts because I try to make them perfect. If this is supposed to represent my best work to show off, so the logic goes, it should be good. The original point, though, was to document my work, good and bad, regardless of how the projects or their documentation turn out. Don’t ignore quality, but focus on quantity. If you do lots of work and try to learn every time, you’ll get better faster than doing a little work and trying to make it perfect.


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