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I tried to knit this:
A handknit raspberry-colored ribbed and fitted buttoned cardigan
(Arpeggio by Maria Leigh on Ravelry)

It appealed to me because its design embodies a high order of complexity. Everything about it is difficult and demanding--the stitch, the construction method, the shaping, the sizing, the finishing. It's hard to cast on, hard to bind off, and unforgiving for every row in between.

I thought I could do it, but I couldn't. Everything difficult about it was, for me, actually impossible.

Admitting defeat on the Arpeggio sweater was a big deal. I abandoned knitting altogether for more than a year rather than face it.

[personal profile] vampirefan kept nudging me, though, and a couple of months ago I decided to reboot my relaxing hobby by making this:
Knitted wrap or shawl in Prairie-style colored rectangles
(from the All The Shades of Truth wrap pattern by Laura Aylor on Ravelry

I turned my nose up at the pattern because it embodied almost no complexity. It was easy to start, easy to end, and easy to keep track of in between. So I finished it. And what's more, I'm happy with it. (Thank you, [personal profile] vampirefan!)

Conceding to its simplicity has triggered a disturbing realization: my nature is not nearly as capable of complexity as I've wanted to believe. No matter how much I like the idea of tricky puzzles and nuanced, elegant constructions, I'm not very good at them.

I have a simple mind.

There's been plenty of evidence for this over the years. My spatial reasoning test scores were in the basement. I have no sense of direction. There's an absolutely chronic need to overdesign my projects and a concomitant failure to finish them. My past is littered with unused yarn and unwritten novels.

I've been a Squib in my career, too, unable to achieve modest goals through compromise and patience, stressed out by my colleagues' inability to see my glorious vision. Why are there all these DETAILS and MOVING PARTS and CALCULATIONS between here and there? And why are you bothering me with them?

Yesterday, [personal profile] ravurian accused me of wanting to write "something of genius, of brilliance, of consequence."

"Deliberately setting out to write that way," he said, "is a recipe for anxiety and stagnation."

He's not far from the mark: I want to make things that are complex. Wheels within wheels, technique upon technique, layers meshing together into something gorgeous and elegant and highly ordered: the cardigan, the novel, the uncompromisingly efficient program, the perfect small living space.

The fact is, I can't. It's not in my nature.

Stagnation and anxiety--not to mention self-loathing--from of all my creative failures has been heavier than I knew, and it's a relief to let them go. But I think I may need a period of mourning for the part of me, however imaginary, that I'm now killing off.

Maybe once it's buried I can do something with the mind I've actually got.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 25th, 2013 12:22 pm (UTC)
My favorite mug bears these words of Teddy Roosevelt's: "Do what you can where you are with what you've got." I've learned so much from them! Now from you too. Thank you!!
Apr. 25th, 2013 07:26 pm (UTC)
Well, Teddy certainly did a lot! I'm not sure why it's such an arduous journey--for me, and for many people I know. "Know Who You Are, Be Who You Are" has been my map and compass for most of my life's journey, and yet that missing middle piece, "ACCEPT who you are," seems to have been unattainable, so many societal messages run counter to it.

I sincerely hope that people younger than I am will have had less monolithic, one-size-fits-all programming, and will be able to get that middle piece earlier in life than I have.
Apr. 26th, 2013 09:42 am (UTC)
"...so many societal messages run counter to it." This makes it very hard--if anything, harder now than ever because of media's ubiquity.
Apr. 27th, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
My thought was less about the ubiquity of media messages and more about their increasing variety.

Someone born since the 1990s (and who has internet access, which is most of 'em) has been exposed to so many images, so much variety! They see pretty fat girls modeling clothes. They see gay people portrayed as regular folks. Women as leaders. A black president. They have easy access to knowledge of sexual variety, dietary choices, music and movies of the world, images and stories of all kinds of people from all kinds of places doing all kinds of things in all kinds of combinations.

It seems to me that that variety of images and stories might make self-acceptance a little easier for young people today than it was for me.
Apr. 27th, 2013 06:10 am (UTC)
I have not been good at commenting lately, but I just can't let this one go, Emerald.

If you have a fault, I'd say it's "unrelenting standards." And that's not a fault, it's a life schema. So you can't knit the super complicated sweater...that does not mean your mind is simple. I do believe I'm speaking to the writer of that brilliant novel, Restraint?

I understand the self-deprecating tendencies, as I have spent the last few days berating myself for various faults, but I do hope you can accept imperfect brilliance for what it is. Brilliance.
Apr. 27th, 2013 05:08 pm (UTC)
Hi Karen! I honestly wasn't coming at this topic from a self-deprecating perspective, though I can see how the post might have struck that note. I appreciate the gentle scold!

I'm really groping, as usual, towards a self-understanding that makes sense. To the extent that Restraint is a successful novel, I was able to write it because it's structurally simple. It's a linear story, running in a pretty straightforward way through time from Boy Meets Boy to The End. If it's brilliant (and you know I love you for saying that), it's because it has emotional impact, and that comes from the characters flowing in uncomplicated (if headlong) ways towards what they want, and smacking into the unavoidable consequences.

I was like the GoPro camera attached to their helmets. The documentary filmmaker along for the ride. I always, always get stuck if I try to be more than that in writing. And I've almost always tried to be more than that--to create complex, interwoven, multilayered tales with multiple points of view and nonlinear timelines--and that is why you don't see more writing from me. I wish I could write "Inception" or "Memento" or Foucault's Pendulum, but I can't.

So when I talk about accepting the simplicity of my own mind, that's really what I mean. Though you have a point about "unrelenting standards".

Anyway, thank you for making me clarify my own meaning--I needed to do that. And while you're at it, stop berating yourself, too!!! You're wonderful.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )



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