An Engineering Problem

Crochet is an interesting beast.  I eschewed this art for many years because it smacked of femininity, and because my great aunt used to make these gods-awful crocheted toilet paper-cozies in shades of honey mustard and vomit, with a plastic cheapo doll body protruding from the top.  See, the cozy was supposed to be her dress skirt.  As a child it disturbed me, “What happened to her legs?!”  Nightmares of dismembered women in vomit colored dresses were soon to follow.

My grandmother knitted some.  Not much, but some.  Enough to gift me some knitting needles, to teach me to knit and purl, and set me about the task of making headbands in solid shades of scratchy acrylic.  Everything was red or ecru.  I came to loathe these colors.

Knitting and crocheting seemed time wasters for old ladies who had nothing better to do than make ugly doilies.  Most of the patterns I’d find in the yarn sections of craft stores confirmed this: bulky monstrosities in Christmas green rife with pompons and stupid ducks.  Who in their right mind would ever make these things?  Give them as gifts?  Be caught wearing them?

But stroll by the windows of any boutique clothing store, and there were sheer lace vests in rust or teal or sunflower, sweater coats of mohair in the same soft grey of a baby bird.  I’d go in knowing the price tag was absurd.  I’d look at the interlocking patterns of yarn, and wonder.  Someone designed this.  It was made.  I’d run my fingers over the material, knowing it was knit, knowing how the sleeves were stitched on, but marveling at the drape of the cloth, the absence of any other seams.

I grabbed a crochet hook one day, this clunky size Q, in order to make some plastic bags into a thing other than landfill stuffing.  I think hard about materials, about how to minimize waste.  My grandmother lived through the Great Depression, you know.  I’m a New Englander, after all.  I’m GREEN, dammit, look at the color of my hair!  After looking up a basic single crochet stitch and turning all the bags in the house into a series of strips tied in loops end to end, I managed to knot out a number of garden mats to save my knees while digging in the dirt.  So that’s crochet.  And I began thinking about mohair sweater coats vs. toilet paper cozies.

There are actually quite a few yarn shops in Tallahassee, it turns out.  The first one I crept into, I felt rather small and mouse-like.  This is not my usual thing, you see.  I tend to feel more comfy in a wood shop, even just dicking around.  It’s the drill press, the wood lathe, the table saw, you see.  I’ve known them intimately since childhood.  Yarn smacks of girliness.  And newness.  I hate being new and foolish and girly about things.  But when I started looking, I realized this was nothing like the yarn baskets my grandmother and great aunt kept.  The walls here were dominated by natural fibers in bold gashes of fuchsia, dandelion, aqua, and a thousand gorgeous shades of green.  I talked a while with the owner, learned the shop was closing permanently, and skittered out bearing three skeins of worsted wool yarn that meandered through the shade of spring’s best new leaves to royal purple and ended in magenta.  I had no idea what I was going to make with this.

Even still, I grew my collection: fragile airy crochet thread of unforgiving cotton, smooth balls of bamboo/silk mix, and ever more hanks of bright wool: sock weight, fingering, sport yarn, and abundant loose bulkies.  It was in my third shop, Wooly Bully, that I was able to pick up, feel and begin to identify yarns: this is mohair, this angora, here’s a cotton/acrylic blend.  It took a bit of help, but I was starting to understand it with both eyes and fingers.  It was in this shop, with the proprietor’s mother, that I was able to finally feel like myself, wondering aloud about tensile strength, bulk of finished product, asking questions about how to match texture to application.  I began thinking of these things in terms of engineering and materials science.  It became a beautiful question of geometry and the physical properties of my material.  All that fear of so-called girliness— which is actually a fear of perceived irrelevance and disdain from others— had evaporated.

After we’d discussed the use of odd fibers, raffia, hemp cord, stripped computer wire, she encouraged me to continue doing what seemed most natural: build the stash, play with textures, increase my knowledge that way.  Savage my test swatches.  Stress test them.  I can’t say it hurt that we started discussing yarn bombing and science fiction.

And I realized as I walked out of the shop that the last time I’d felt so at home with learning a skill was when I watched my father turn wood into cabinetry, wood into work benches, wood into objects I recognized day in and day out.  My father, who approached these things as an engineer.  I was suddenly interested in this beast.

But there’s one loose end still to attend to. I needed yarn the color of honey mustard and vomit.  To make a bag.  You know.  In case I ever find the missing legs of those TP cozy dolls.

A Series of Goodbyes

The universe doesn’t let up, and it doesn’t play favorites.  Entropy just continues: a snowball rolling downhill.  One death followed by another.

Someone said to me, in an effort to provide some comfort, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”  But I’ve seen no evidence that this is the case, whether or not there is a god.  I see evidence that we just keep on going until we don’t.  And we all hit the point that we don’t.

Until we get there, we have little rituals to ease us from one moment to the next.  Rituals of goodbye.  We are always saying goodbye.

So here is a goodbye:

Analog: Second Hand Stories
My grandmother was
a hard-edged
Depression-era
woman.
The corners of her mouth
turned down.
The glass was not half-empty
because there was no glass:
you drank from a pot,
a ladle,
your hand.
Make do.
Save the tin foil from
your lunch wrappings.
My grandmother told me
stories.  Like: 
how her mother owned a bakery and
made cakes for the children after Sunday school,
and how she frightened her sisters
with the snakes she found in the brush,
She told me:
     “My grandmother was
     a real live Indian woman!”
as if her grandmother
were a unicorn
or a primitive on display
at a World’s Fair
     (see, they’re not like
      us, ci-vi-lized)
It was hard to look at
that hard-edged face
(corners of her mouth
down-turned)
to admit, then,
that I loved her.
It was hard to see 
what was written
in the wrinkles of her
skin, to know it is
not her alone
I’m seeing.
Her world is there,
etched in the creases near her eyes
which saw the water fountains
“colored only.”
It was not my world.
It was not my world.
We invented continuity

with the radio.

A City Ghost

Too often I am a ghost haunting old places.  I can’t tell why Tampa still feels like home.  I’ve been to spectacular cities.  She is not one of them.  She is made of old brick façades hiding worn down cigar factories, half-cocked new apartments encroaching on the steel grey of the port, and a handful of wistful minarets.  She’s a bad lover.  I adore her unreasoningly. 

I come back to the banks of the Hillsborough River, and see the Florida that I know how to read as Florida, gators basking in the brush, Spanish moss screening oak hammock and cypress dome.  That slow brown water, dark as tea.

So I come back to old places years after having moved on, pretending I’m awake and not sinking back through the years.  I come back to old places and realize they never leave go of us, collecting like dust on our shoes.  We carry them with us.  We recognize them in other cities, where they set off our memories in a firework display.  So I will take Tampa to Boston.  I wear her through Tallahassee.  I will shake her out in Seattle after the rain, let her dry off, and don her again when I’m ready to fly back south.  I will see her in whatever I love and whatever I hate about these places, I will see her magnified and repeated where ever I fall in love, where ever I come into my own.

She will not be alone.  Other cities will stick to the hem of my jeans.  They will make an impossible skyline for me.  It will be superimposed over every other skyline I see.  No other skyline will measure up to the rust laden docks of my personal Port of Tampa, the libraries of my private Cambridge, the streets of my Queens in miniature. 

It will not be enough. I will go back.  I will always see something other than what’s there.