Knitting and Memory

An excerpt from my book, The Fat Lady Sings.

I am a knitter. We knitters come in two basic types. The project knitter buys yarn and pattern for a specific project and knits that and only that until it is finished. Process knitters knit to knit. We love to look at, touch, and acquire yarn and usually have several projects going at the same time. The finished project is nice but it is the process, the knitting itself, that is engaging. Sometimes the project is never completed or it is unravelled and the yarn used again for something else. I love the feel of the yarn as it slides through my fingers as I knit. I stop frequently and pull the fabric into shape and touch it and look at it and enjoy the color and shape. Knitting a sock, knit from top to toe with a single thread which is never broken, I marvel at the genius of the first person who figured out how to “turn the heel” and change the sock from a simple tube into something which hugs the form and shape of the human foot. These days I knit a lot of lace, knit with fine thread on small needles with intentional holes, for lace without holes is not lace at all.

Some years ago I dreamed:

I am in my analyst’s office talking with him.  I am knitting as I talk. I’m making a large deep purple shawl, something to wrap myself in to keep me warm.  I see a hole, a place where I made a mistake and I know I will have to take out several inches of work to get to it and fix the error, that a short cut won’t work.  He says this work is like that.

In the dream, I am working with beautiful deep purple yarn. The yarn is deep rich purple, my favorite color. Purple – the color of the vestments of Lent, a color of mourning. Purple, “the red of passion balanced by the blue of reason, or the real by the ideal, or love by wisdom, or earth by heaven, or, psychologically, the union of opposing energies within an individual.”(The Book of Symbols, p.694) The color of royalty. The color of an ancient dye made by the Phoenicians from the sea snail. The color of grapes and lavender and wisteria and iris and violets. Purple is the color of the Crown chakra. “…the highest and most sacred values are represented by purple.”((The Book of Symbols, p.694

I had a large quantity of this very yarn for some time, a soft and elegant yarn 100% cashmere, almost unimaginably soft to the touch. Lustrous and rich in feel and color. I had the yarn but couldn’t find the right pattern, couldn’t find what it wanted to be. I would look at it on the shelf with my cones of beautiful yarns and try to feel, to imagine what it should become.  Then I had the dream, a dream about the purple yarn, analysis and my efforts to create something I can wrap myself in, something warm and soft. In the dream, I pause in my knitting to look at the fabric and see, several inches below where I am working, a hole, not a hole belonging to the pattern but a large hole, a hole which distorts the lace. 

I am not a perfectionist with my knitting. When I find an error, I don’t often rip out work I’ve done. I try to find some relatively easy way to fix it, to cover the error so no one will notice. But this hole in the shawl I am making from this yarn is one I cannot ignore or overlook. The knitter’s adage that if a mistake can’t be spotted by a man galloping by on horseback, then it needn’t be repaired just doesn’t apply for this hole. In the dream, I know I will have to rip out several inches of knitting. Many lace knitters use safety lines, a contrasting yarn threaded through the stitches every few inches making ripping back easier. They rip back to the safety line and needn’t fear losing stitches because they will be held by the line. I work without such a line. When I rip back, I must move slowly, stitch by stitch, paying as much, even more attention to the unknitting as I do to the knitting. Slow and painstaking work,

Some time after the dream, a designer who created wonderfully intricate patterns which usually feature a lot of beads, announced a new design, one she called “In Dreams”. And it was to be done in a mystery knit-along, with sections of the pattern made available every two weeks over a span of three months. As soon as I learned of it, I knew this was the project for this yarn. I had no picture to tell me what the final shawl would look like, only that it would be a semi-circle and have many beads. I had to be willing to knit each part as it became available and trust that the finished design would be pleasing to me and would suit my purposes. 

I began. I completed the first section. But the beads were wrong, too large and not the color I wanted. So, I ripped it out and began again. This time a significant error appeared right near the beginning. Ripped it out again. Finally I completed the first clue and began the second. The work goes along without incident until near the end of the clue, when I discover an error. I have to slowly and tediously take out several rows, nearly an inch of work. I must pay careful attention as I come to each beaded stitch lest I lose the beads, and there are nearly 100 of them, tiny beads, in each row in this section. I fix the error and then discover I have made it again, in the same place. Three times I have to unknit that inch of work, three times I have to work not to lose a bead or drop a stitch. Finally, on the fourth attempt I succeed in completing the pattern section. There are five more sections yet to come. And then another large error. I have to rip it out again. This is not smooth going.

I used to knit sweaters, for me, for my children, for my husband. And afghans. Then for a long time I mostly knit socks. These days I am drawn to knitting lace, the more intricate the design, the larger the stole or shawl, the better. What does it mean that I want only to knit designs with deliberate holes in them? Donald Kalsched tells us, “Memory has holes.” In my dream I am knitting a lace shawl as I do in waking life after the dream. In the midst of the intentional holes which shape the pattern of the lace appears a misplaced hole, a mistaken hole. Memory has holes, holes which both shape the pattern and disrupt it, as in my dream.

The word “memory” comes to us from the middle English/Anglo-French word memorie, and from the Latin memoria, derived from memor, which means “mindful.” It comes from an Indo-European root smer– — which in one form refers to grease and fat. How is memory connected to ‘fat’? Think about how difficult it is to get rid of fat. Russell Lockhart writes,  “It sticks. It adheres. It won’t leave. It leaves traces. A memory is what sticks, what adheres in the mind. Memory is the fat of the mind.”(Lockhart,Word as Eggs, p.188)  Related words that share the history of memory include remember, commemorate, memorable, memento, and memorandum. The word mourn also shares its derivations. The same root that gave rise to memory gives rise to mourn. Lockhart continues: “When someone has passed away or slipped away, we mourn. When we are in mourning, we are deeply engaged with the memory of that person. Our mind is full of memories. We can only mourn through memory and with memory. We mourn for what we had and can now have only in memory.” Memory, mourning and fat.

I pick up what I have been knitting and it contains memory. I see what the day was when last I knit on this piece. My hairs get knitted into the fabric as do my cats’ hairs. The daydreams dreamed, the worries worried, the interior dialogues are all there, part of the fabric that I knit. Each piece carries my life knit into it, its fabric also the fabric of my memory. I am knitting lace. I am doing analysis. There I am working on knitting the lace of my life, repairing holes that don’t belong, trying to work out the pattern.

Note: I intended to include a photo of the finished purple shawl. Alas, when I dug it out, I discovered it had been heavily damaged by moths so that it is now filled with many many unwanted holes. All that remains to show its complexity is this shot of one part of the design.

Personal Myth

I suspected that myth had a meaning which I was sure to miss if I lived outside it in the haze of my own speculations. I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: “What is the myth you are living?” I found no answer to this question, and had to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust. I did not know that I was living a myth, and even if I had known it, I would not have known what sort of myth was ordering my life without my knowledge. So, in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know “my” myth, and I regarded this as the task of tasks…”  C.G. Jung

 

I return to this subject over and over again, in my personal life and with the people I work with. Your personal myth is the story you have for making sense and meaning of the world. It is the story you are living. Keep in mind that myth is our story about our experiences as a human. It is not something that is false or unreal. Discovering and exploring  the myth you have been living opens the door for editing and changing the story. And in changing the story, you change your life.

Your personal myth might develop from myths you have read and heard — stories of Greek or Roman gods. Or it could be that you find your myth in fairy tales.  Or try writing your own fairy tale — begin with Once upon a time…

Years ago when I was early in my own analysis, I began to write a fairy tale. It was a new experience for me, though I had long kept a journal. I sat down one evening and began to write , starting of course with “Once upon a time in a far away land…”.  I didn’t have a preconceived idea about the story or where it would. I simply let it write itself and when the words stopped coming, I stopped. It was nowhere near finished after that first bit of writing and I didn’t pick it up again until the urge to write more came to me. The process continued like this — write until I had no more to write, stop and out it away, start again whenever the urge stuck again — for seven years. I was tickled by the length of time it took to complete the fairy tale because somehow 7 years felt like it belonged to the realm of such stories. In the years since then I have revisited the fairy tale, made minor revisions, reflected on it. Just this past week I have been with it again, this time contemplating a major revision. 

Here are some ways to get started writing your own myth:

1. Take the lyrics to a song you like — change them  and add lyrics that tell the story of your life’s journey. For example, consider the song “I Would Do Anything For Love” — could that be your story? How would you change the song?

2. Think of a favorite children’s story and put yourself into that story.

As your write, consider what is the story your are writing? How does it end? Is there a spell cast over you? How do you break it? And what do you feel as you write?

The Return of Yellow

In 1968, right after I graduated from college, I was maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding. I had a really pretty yellow dress for the rehearsal dinner (the less said the better about the dresses we attendants wore for the wedding). Then yellow disappeared. I cannot recall anything yellow I wore for 51 years after that event. The reason? None really though when I “had my colors done” sometime in the late 80s the woman told me I was a winter and that yellow was one of the colors that was not good on me. Or maybe I was afraid it would make me stand out too much – there is nothing subtle about bright yellow. Anyway a month or so ago I saw a bright yellow blouse and fell in love with it, the very blouse you see me wearing there on the right.

It has been as if yellow has returned from exile somewhere, from the Underworld maybe. I have had a big dream about daffodils. In contemplating something I want to knit, yellow was the only color that caught my eye. Looking at the DyeForYarn Etsy shop where I love to find yarn, this skein jumped into my basket and is on its way from Germany to me now –

Yellow of course is a color of spring and of egg yolks, both indicative of new life. Dandelions

There is another aspect of yellow — aging. Think about the yellowing of paper and linen as they age. And another — the yellow we attach to cowardice. Remember the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”? Yellow journalism. And there are many other associations one can make to yellow — like the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilpin, which if you haven’t read, do follow the link where you will find a full text of the story. There are at least 2 film versions of it also.

I am more a writer and knitter than a painter, but even there yellow has stormed in and is demanding time from me. So off I go to sit at my painting table and see what yellow wants to say to me. I suspect it is about Persephone who in getting lost in the yellow of daffodils was abducted by Hades to the  Underworld.

Doors

“The doors to the self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés 

Sunday Brain Dump

This morning for the first in what feels like weeks I woke up to sun and blue sky instead of rain or threat of rain. It’s Sunday — no work today except the minor chores around the house. My husband has designs on finally being able to rake the winter debris from the front garden so we can maybe sow seed for summer’s flowers soon. 

I think about picking up one of the half dozen or so books I am slowly working my way through. And I hear that voice inside that says “It’s a nice day. You should go outside.” And maybe I will later but right now I don’t want to. I even feel a bit defiant saying that to myself.

There are just a couple of days left in the blog challenge that has pulled me to write much more frequently. I have some ambivalence about this kind of challenge because of the way the challenge can take over and make posting about it and not so focused on content. If I do another, I want to stay focused on the writing rather than the challenge.

I am sort of simmering a couple of ideas about short workshops I want to offer. The Maine Jung Center is looking for proposals and I like doing workshops so… Maybe something about the meaning of Home? 

I am tickled that the Korean boy-band BTS has a new album inspired by Murray Stein’s book, Map of the Soul. Stein is a prominent Jungian analyst. The album, Persona, has made Stein and Jung popular among Korean teens. And I just read that their album is #1 in the US right now!