Reading is the one skill I can say comes naturally and easily for me. I can’t even begin to list what reading has meant to me in my life, but for today suffice it to say there was no “low” reading group for me. From the beginning of school I regularly enjoyed a lofty position in the “high” reading group, grimacing as the other poor souls in my class struggled to sound out sight words. My early success in reading led me to believe, falsely, that all other things would come easily to me as well.
I’ve been thinking about that because I recently was given one of those questionnaires you get when you join an organization. What are your accomplishments? List your other skills. And what would people be surprised to know about you?
The answer to all three questions was “Nothing.” I can’t do anything but read. I have no skills. Nope. Can’t do anything well. And nothing about me would surprise anyone. Needless to say I didn’t turn in the questionnaire.
I’m fairly new to the whole “knowing how to do things” game. I grew up too late to be one of those little Southern girls who could embroider a hankie, converse in French, sketch my friends’ likenesses, dance the quadrille, and thrill my the menfolk after dinner with my singing and delicate playing of the pianoforte. Had I lived in those times, I still don’t know if I would have been very accomplished. I was an impatient child. I expected to learn and master skills without effort and persistence. If a particular activity frustrated me, I would just quit. Why did I need to learn to make a beanbag when I had Little Women right in the next room?
Also I was something of a klutz with a nice dose of performance anxiety. If I had chances to practice gross motor activities repeatedly, such as roller skating, I would eventually catch on. But fine motor activities were harder. Apparently I held my pencil in “lazy valley.” For years every one of my school papers was returned with a big red “MESSY” written across the top, until the fourth grade when, in a clever act of deceit, I traced my classmate Claire’s perfect penmanship and inadvertently grew some new neural pathways. I just knew my fingers were way too big to handle a tiny needle and thread, and besides, one had to continually rethread the needle. Overwhelming, AND boring!
When I was older, my mother, who sewed beautifully, told me that if I could read I could sew. That was SO not true! Do you hear me, Mother? Assuming one could lay out the pattern and cut the fabric, one had to be able to operate the machine without fearing sewing one’s finger to the table. Between choosing a pattern and the finished product there were just too many critical mess up points for me. In middle school a friend helped me sew a jumper, but my mother pronounced it unwearable. Ouch. Mothers don’t know their own power.
As a result I grew to be an adult who knew how to do one thing well: read. Since reading IS the one absolutely vital skill for a productive life, I am not complaining. But arriving on the scene of adulthood with few other skills caused problems of its own.
I married and had children. I had neither decorative nor practical skills. If buttons fell off of our clothes we simply never wore them again. My stomach still hurts when I think of having to sew those thick Boy Scout achievement badges on my boys’ uniforms, before the meeting in one hour, before my husband came home, while something burned on the stove. What was so challenging was that when I was frustrated I didn’t have the option to just set the task aside; I had to move out of my comfort zone or else send naked children to school. I am sure the pressure made me a very cranky Mommy at times, and is no doubt underlying cause of all my childrens’ neuroses!
As I became older I finally had the time, and seemingly out of nowhere, a deep undiscovered well of patience to learn to do some things. My desire to do, to make, to create, finally won out against my poor self discipline, lack of skills and self confidence. I dreamed of sewing bright, contemporary quilts, dyeing fabric, painting, knitting, making mosaics – everything in the world, really. I now have a whole list of activities I enjoy doing badly. Right now I am mostly knitting. But whatever I may be doing at any given time the skill level is the same: remedial!
About eight years ago when my sister taught me to knit I envisioned being one of those people who give handmade knitted items as gifts. After so many years as a hopeless klutz, I thought that learning these skills would be a nice boost for my self esteem. But along the way I’ve learned that the object is not knowing how to do something. The object is knowing myself better.
Here are a few curriculum highlights in the “low group” of knitting:
1) My senses require that I have my hands in the tangible magic that is yarn and to delight in the endless ways to invent with it.
2) My spirit requires that I savor the sweet deliberate motions of knitting and enjoy its meditative qualities.
3) Each knitted object has a story and a process of its own. Within the finished object are all the memories of what was happening in my life at the time.The mistakes are part of the story. The mistakes are a vital part of the story.
4) I must follow my own knitting path. I listen to what others may say about the benefits of double pointed needles or knitting two socks at a time, but only I can know which is best for me.
5) I must learn in my own way. If I must read instructions 400 times, so it is. If I must start over half as many times, I accept that also.
6) I must remember not to take myself too seriously. If my knitted washcloths look like pieces of fuschia colored naan, and my scarves like snakes that went through the garbage disposal, that’s just part of the fun. After all, they are definitely original creations!
7) I give myself permission to be lost, to need help and to ask for it. This may be my proudest achievement of all. Not knowing is not a reflection on me; it’s just part of the glorious process of creativity.
You may have realized that I am in no hurry to graduate from the Remedial Knitting Group. I am as serene as a bag on unspun wool at my Tuesday night knitting group, where the skill level of the other knitters ranges from brilliant to super extra brilliant. Unlike the first grade, there is no penalty for taking as long as I need to complete an item or to lovingly start the whole thing over again.
Will I one day knit up a pair of flawless socks? Present a baby afghan I designed myself? Follow the yarn process from shearing through spinning and dyeing? I’m sure I would be pleased if I could, but if I don’t, that is fine too. This Remedial Girl is learning plenty anyway.