Tag Archives: learning

too hard.

photo 1 (26)I make a lot of different stuff. Since I was in my teens, I’ve made clothing, quilts, embroidery and cross stitch projects. There have been forays of varying success in needlepoint, drawing, metalwork and sculpture. Cooking, baking, canning, and various side alleys into fermenting, fizzing, and pickling things. Sometimes I take to these projects and sometimes I don’t – occasionally I stick with them long enough to get good. Except for knitting. I can’t do it. Nothing about it makes sense to me, and everything about it feels uncomfortable to my body. I’ve been taught to knit three times, and each one was more befuddling and less lasting than the time before.

So when I recently needed something to do that would take my mind off a hard situation and keep my hands busy, I thought, “Right, I’ll teach myself to knit once and for all.” I bought a set of bamboo size 8 needles (short ones! that may have made all the difference.), and a skein of generic yarn, and I hit YouTube to figure out how to cast on. I watched a 1 minute and 31 second video approximately 20 times until I kind of thought I had it. Then I pulled all the stitches off my needles and did it again. And again. And again. And then one more time until I felt comfortable attempting the knit stitch. Which I did, by the same process, and knit several rows and then pulled it all out and cast on again just to be sure I remembered how, and knit more rows and pulled it all out again and redid it. At this point, hubris set in. I thought, now I’ll learn to purl! It’ll be fine.

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It was not fine. I watched an assortment of six different videos about how to purl and I could not do it. It’s backwards, for pity’s sake. It’s unnatural. I went back to knit stitch and decided I’d just work on perfecting my tension and holding the needles more naturally. Which I did, only by then I’d reached the point in learning something new where you start to be really bad at it, even though it was going ok before. So I may as well learn to purl, dammit, because I’m now dropping stitches after knitting 40-something perfect rows. You don’t have to be an expert at everything. It’s just 20 short hours of commitment to learn something new. I was already about 8 hours in, don’t turn back now. Back to YouTube I went, and three more videos later I finally found one that I could follow.

Knitting is one of those magic alchemy things, like making marshmallows, where the final product is greater and more complex than the sum of its parts. You change one small thing, the direction of the needle encountering the yarn, and it changes everything about what you’re making. I purl now, I know how. These days I’m practicing even turns at the ends of rows, as well as stitch tension and holding my needles properly. My practice piece of knitting looks janky as sin, and I have never been prouder of anything I’ve made. In a couple weeks, I might even try reading a pattern. It’s too hard, but so is all the good stuff.

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I’m experiencing a learning phase right now, in several aspects of my life. It’s one of my great pleasures to immerse myself in something that someone I like is good at: I thrive on enthusiasm. It makes the information stick better, and there is nothing more fun than giving a good teacher pleasure by learning something they’re passionate about. So I’m having a pretty good time, discovering new things and improving at them. 

That being said, the water is nearly over my head just at the moment. I’m learning something new that I hope will improve my creative life. I’m exploring and getting better at something that I do for fun. I’m adding to the roster of my professional skills in order to improve my life in general. I’m learning things about myself. A lot of the time, this feels like too much information, and I’m positive I’m not taking it in. Too much practice, and I feel I’m just stumbling around in the dark. But here’s the thing about learning, particularly if you’re pushing yourself too far: it all makes the blade sharper. I’ve been surprised again and again at how much of what I’m learning comes back to me a week or ten days later at the appropriate moment, even if I was absolutely blurry-headed when the information imprinted. The new things bubble to the surface as I need them, and old things that I’ve forgotten about, but that are somehow relevant, come with them. Like the paperclip metaphor for memory: pick one up and a whole string of them comes with it.
This evening, I was experiencing some guilt over not getting more work done this evening. Then I started mentally reviewing my week – things I knew at the end of last week, and things I know now. Things I was afraid of last week that I plunged in and did this week. This week has ticked quite a few boxes for me, and the next two weeks are looking about the same. A lot of information, a lot of trepidation, some challenges that definitely feel too hard. My jewelry making has suffered some neglect, as has my business housekeeping.  But I spent this weekend resting and recharging, letting my new information settle in my bones. Next week I’ll keep adding to it, and even if I miss the mark, I’ll know more than I did this week. My world is getting bigger.