Post cards from the Abyss
categories: unquiet things
I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately.
Earlier this year I wrapped up my most ambitious knitting project to date. Unfortunately, since that time everything I have touched has been an absolute disaster. I have scrapped not just one or two, but three projects because I either could not understand the pattern (which I find incredibly humiliating) or because I have stalled due to some mistake and no matter how many times I rework it, something is still wrong. It’s all been very disheartening and discouraging. I am not someone who has to deal with depression issues (though my counselor sister would tell me I’ve had some sort of low-grade depression my entire life), but this situation has really thrown me for a loop and it’s about as close to depression as I get. I sort of feel like that shawl was the best I was capable of and it is all downhill from there. What’s the point? &Etc.
I can almost hear people rolling their eyes about this “problem”, but knitting is the one thing I am good at. And I feel good, knowing that I am good at it. And lately, well, I’ve not been good at it at all, which makes me feel like a giant loser and kind of like I’ve got nothing to offer the world and I might as well give up on everything, lock myself in my house, crawl into bed and do nothing but eat honey mustard & onion pretzels and sleep for the rest of my life.
Is that the most pathetic thing you’ve ever heard? I bet it’s close.
I’m not sure what other folks do when they feel as though they are failing at everything they attempt, but I’ve found that going back to the beginning, starting over with the simplest steps – that’s a good place to be when you are feeling you are the lousiest at things. And even if you don’t wind up with ground breaking results, you’ve gotten yourself back into the rhythm of an activity you enjoy and you remember all of the reasons you love it in the first place.
I know it might sound a little silly, but those tiny stitches combined with that intricate pattern really takes a toll on a body – both physical and mental. After finishing it, I had been looking for more and more complex patterns to tackle, and maybe what I should have done after completing such a challenging venture was uncramp my knotted fingers, unhunch my twisted back, and relax into the mindless slide and slip of stitches between the needles – something simple, and quick, and that hardly requires a pattern.
In taking my own advice (for once) and doing just that, I bound off the last stitch on the Boneyard shawl yesterday. Just a simple triangle shawl with some ridges for visual interest, knit up in a lovely rustic yarn that a dear friend brought back from Finland a few years ago – and it’s flawed, don’t get me wrong… I was three-quarters of the way through before I realized I missed a crucial bit of the instructions and had to start all over again, and then on top of that I didn’t have very much of the yarn left to begin with, so it’s made a rather dainty sized shawl.
But honestly, I don’t care about any of that. I finally finished something again. I didn’t stop. I didn’t give up. Well, I guess I did give up on those other three patterns but I imagine I will revisit them in time. But I didn’t give up on the concept of knitting as a whole, as something I fill my time with, and something that I enjoy immensely. And it’s made me realize the reason that I love knitting so much, and why I might just actually be good at it. It is the one thing I always go back to, that for whatever reason, I have found that even if I fail over and over and over again, I don’t want to give it up. I can’t.
I love it because it is something that I can’t not do. (And coming from one of the most apathetic people on the planet, there is a great deal of importance in that statement.) I deeply treasure this ability which I cultivated – on my own with no help at all – and it has become so much a part of who I am that it’s little wonder I was so upset a few weeks ago when I was failing endlessly. I wasn’t just screwing up a knitting pattern, I was having an identity crisis!
This is all very rambling, and probably not at all interesting to people who don’t knit (and barely, I’m sure, to even those who do). I suppose I was feeling down and wanted to write about it and share and ask for feedback. What do you do to get back on track with your crafty endeavors when you have a setback? How do you keep yourself motivated when your results are less than you’d hoped for? And what are you all working on right now, anyhow? Talk to me about your successes and failures and how you move forward to do more.
Those honey mustard and onion pretzel pieces from Snyder's of Hanover ARE delicious, though.
S. Elizabeth says
Oh my GAWD. SO GOOD. And after you've eaten an entire bag you taste and smell like them the whole day but you don't even care.
lisa botany says
The Boneyard Shawl is lovely!
I think it's probably a good idea to follow up any really challenging, brain buster of a project with something quick and easy. Just to let your brain unwind a little.
S. Elizabeth says
I'm going to have to remember that for next time, Lisa! For there will be a next time! Just not...anytime soon.
Right now I am working on a cowl in the same pattern I have already knit twice, heh.
Darin Kerr says
I think this is 100% applicable to almost any creative endeavor. In my case, it's theatre. No matter how awful my acting or directing turn out to be, no matter how many times I tell myself that I should take an extended break, I inevitably am back on stage in no time. The things we can't not do...
S. Elizabeth says
Ooh, I couldn't act my way out of a paper bag, so I have to tell you, I really admire and am fascinated by actors and those who answered the call of the stage.
OK, this is a little "longtime listener, first time caller" of me, but about a year and a half ago I directed a play (Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom) about zombies and video games and suburbia that I soundtracked almost completely with music sourced from your tumblr. So...indirectly, at least, you made it up on that stage in spirit. (Truth be told, I like your musical instincts so much that I thought if I were ever directing the right play, I'd send you some fanboy mail and ask you to design the soundtrack. Too much?)
S. Elizabeth says
Ok, so somehow I missed this reply 4 years ago and OMG NO THAT IS NOT TOO MUCH!
Well I failed to make my Boneyard shawl yet! When these things happen to me, it's usually time to make some basic garter stitch scarf or the "Cascade Slouch Hat" which is easy and makes me feel better about myself. I hadn't knitted anything in almost a year due to...well a long story I'll tell you later, and finally just doing something basic helped me get back into it. I also like to do mindless embroidery and am currently working on a crewel-work sampler that is anything but challenging!
S. Elizabeth says
Really! Heh! It was thinking that you were working on it that spurred me to start all over once I discovered my dumb mistake! It's a good thing I found out after the fact, hee hee. The pattern wanted you to M1 once at the beginning, twice in the middle, and once at the end...and I was only doing it in the middle, so you can imagine how oddly shaped it was looking and how mad I was at myself that I didn't notice it til I was half-way through.
Oooh, a story, eh? You must tell me when you have a moment - I am all ears!
Yeah, actually I had the wrong size yarn, the wrong size needle and got hung up on the M1s...I will make it yet! I'm glad the idea of it was inspiring though!!
I just finished crocheting (!!) a cat igloo (https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/cat-igloo). I can now safely say that I am a half-a$$ed crocheter.
S. Elizabeth says
A cat igloo! What a clever idea! I ...sort of know how to crochet, I actually learned a bit before I even learned how to knit, but I never quite got the hang of it. I later tried to learn a bit more so that I could embellish my knitting, heh!
I also tend to resort to starting over when a project feels like it's getting the better of me. Most recently I was about halfway into carving my first block of linoleum when I decided it would look much better if I abandoned it and started fresh rather than trying to fix mistakes I'd made while learning as I went.
The longer I work on something the more critical I become as I get to know every single centimeter of whatever it is. It becomes difficult to look at what you're creating without scrutinizing the tiniest detail. So I also find that stepping back and taking a little break to work on something less intense helps me continue with the more challenging project with more equanimity. My currently Valentine's D'Ys altar project has been fraught with challenges because I've been figuring out exactly what I want to create as I go alone, instead of mostly in advance - compounded by the fact that I've ended up having to work with a bunch of materials, tools, and techniques that are completely new to me, so I keep fretting about hopelessly messing up what I've already done. I don't mean to make it sound as though all of my projects are arduous trials, but simply to let you know that I sympathize with your frustrations. :)
I can so relate to this! I consider myself a beginner when it comes to knitting but lately I had been successful learning new stitches and tackling more challenging patterns so I became pretty confident of my skills. But the last pattern I tried to knit, I could not do it! There was one stitch I kept messing up and I just couldn't figure out why. I restarted the pattern four times before I got it right which was so frustrating I ended up putting it aside and starting another project, basically because I just got sick of looking at it. But I did learn to recognize that sometimes I'm not in the right frame of mind to concentrate on a complicated pattern and that there is nothing wrong with easy, mindless knitting, which can be meditative and relaxing. Sometimes that's what you need, and you don't always have to challenge yourself.
Rommy Driks says
Gods, I have too many creative endeavors going on to mention! But yeah, I've certainly had times where it just all feels like a losing battle. I suppose I switch off to something easier for a little bit - something not so demanding - until I'm relaxed enough to objectively look at the original project, figure out where I should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque, and fix it. Love the shawl by the way.
i know this feeling, and i know how hard it is to get past that feeling. sometimes i find doing something simple and easy as a sort of palette cleanser can help. regardless, you're so talented and will get there again! <3