Sunday, 24 June 2007

Mind yourself

I like making new friends. I always hope that these relationships will grow and flourish with time and attention, and look forward to getting to know my new friend better. But, even though I fancy myself to be a good judge of character, every once in a while a nascent friendship will be floored when my new friend makes some revelation which hints at unspoken depths of difference. Perhaps we will be happily chatting, and they will suddenly express their deep admiration for Daily Mail pro-ranter Melanie Phillip's gentle phrasing and good moral judgement. And I that will be it: bar a bit of polite extricating, it's the end of the affair, and if I think of my Phillips-loving acquaintance again, it will only be to wonder at how tragically flawed my estimate of them was.

Ever since Knitty magazine introduced a regular article on "mindful knitting", I've begun to fear that my affection for Knitty has encountered its fatal obstacle. Tara Jon Manning was announced as a regular fixture in the Spring issue this year. I skimmed the essay, glanced at her blog and decided it wasn't for me. I suppose I thought something so obviously silly couldn't last long. I mean, she actually writes that,
Renewal is a doorway to a sense of fresh and awake.
Fresh and awake are adjectives. One might have a sense of freshness and awakeness - as they're nouns, it would at least be grammatically acceptable, although still a fairly insipid point and horribly phrased. But perhaps this is just an editorial lapse. Perhaps Manning doesn't habitually confound things and attributes. Or perhaps she had a very good reason for doing so, which I have missed because I am not a mindful knitter. I don't want to think about every stitch. Most of them won't even bear thinking about - which is fortunate, since most of my knitting time is snatched in between tasks, and if I decided to meditate on my knitting I'd quickly have my reveries cut into by the smell of burnt dinner. More than that, I simply don't expect knitting to be a spiritual journey. I like making stuff. I like learning stuff. I enjoy the action of knitting. That's enough for me.

But in the latest Knitty, Manning is back and with more of the same, this time on the subject of "stuck". Manning is not really feeling the knitting. By the end of the article, she's still not really feeling the knitting, but it has motivated her to tell a story about letting her-three-year-old son play outside, unsupervised, while she potters about inside thinking about how stuck she is. Being an unsupervised three-year-old, her son has a small mishap and Manning rushes outside to find a very distressed child snagged by his trousers on wheelbarrow. Now, I am as distractible as anyone. Last week, I looked up from my knitting to see that baby Moomin had eaten half a crayon. I felt pretty bad about this, and I'm sure Manning felt pretty bad about the wheelbarrow incident. However, you wouldn't necessarily know that from what she writes:
So, now my world is mirroring my state of mind back to me. The lesson is not lost on me – et tu Zane?
It's not an accident, you see, it's a lesson. And Manning sidesteps the fact that the accident was caused by her distractedness by implying that it was actually a consequence of the world mirroring her state of mind back to her. As if it weren't enough for us all to be blogging about our knitting - now reality itself steps in to provide a commentary. (I wonder what brilliant construction to put on the crayon-eating. Perhaps, as knitting was EATING INTO my writing time, so my daughter was LITERALLY EATING the writing implement.)

Although with the way Manning writes, perhaps an installation of boy-with-wheelbarrow is preferable to wading through the mangled corpses of the metaphors she strews so recklessly about. Is being stuck like being in a traffic jam, or like playing a child's game, or does it perhaps bear more resemblance to being in a becalmed boat? I don't know, and I am not convinced that stirring all these different images about together brings Manning any nearer to understanding and escaping the condition of being stuck. By the end, when she writes that "It looks like the light is changing; I think someone is about to shout 'Go!'", I had a very puzzled moment of thinking, "Hang on, wasn't it an oar she was after?"

Actually, Manning does have something to say about metaphors. She says:
We are very fortunate that our beloved handcraft of knitting allows for a multitude of metaphors. The leap to a first sweater might be undertaken during a time of personal growth and expansion. A “mistake” can hang us up, or it can be viewed as a “design element” that makes our work absolutely one of a kind.
Unfortunately, while "mistake" and "design element" stand in for each other, they do so not metaphorically but euphemistically - rather than rather as lesson and mirroring from earlier in the piece might be taken as euphemisms. Mindfulness seems like a euphemism too - for the ultimate in tedious, uninsightful solipsism. Of course, if it works for you, by all means do it. But don't proselytise about it, unless you want to see me quietly backing out of the door.

8 comments:

clarabelle said...

Sheesh. I've not come across Ms Manning before, but then I don't tend to read knitting mags, or books, or commentaries on Knitty (especially when they are entitled 'mindful knitting').

I just don't want to find ANYTHING ANNOYING about knitting, and this sort of trumped-up intellectualising (eg a mistake viewed as a 'design element') is just a pile of horsedung. Avoid it or just laugh at it, you unmindful knitter, you!

Queen of the froggers. said...

A while back on my blog I muttered something about knitting being a form of meditation for me. Your post was great, it made me realise that my knitting is not meditation... I am too focused on knitting as fast as I can to get the damm thing finished! It has to be mindful though 'cause when I zone out it usually means a major frog is needed! Mindfulness is concentrating on what you are doing :)
I am not very intelectual but the words she uses seem like gobbledygoop to me.

Sarah said...

Phew good job I stick to just looking at the pictures on Knitty :)

clarabelle said...

Hope you're ok, Webbo, with the flooding? We're right next to the Humber - there are a few fields flooded but we're high and dry. I used to commute to Sheffield and remember almost getting marooned there a few years ago due to flooding. Take care!

Nell said...

Phew, I do like a good rant!!

Are you swimming/evacuated/just a bit damp?? Hope all is OK

Seahorse said...

I have similar feelings about the 'mindfulness pointers' in Fiona Ellis's 'Inspired Cable Knits'!

Hope you're not flooded.

ms. pixie riot said...

I've never read anything by her, but I LOVED this blog post. You get a gold star.

ysolda said...

awesome rant! As far as I'm concerned Virginia Woolf wrote all that ever needed to be written about the meditative qualities of knitting. I glanced at the first of her articles and avoided the second. I just went to look at it - I think she may actually have set herself the task of using a different garbled metaphor in every single sentence, maybe she's laughing at her readers. I like that theory more than the idea that she is in earnest.