Friday, June 20, 2008


This post works the way the rest of my mind works; there's a long list of experiences and resources that I learned about from people who don't know each other. These things rumble around in (the vast open space that is) my brain. Eventually things become connected that probably aren't. But making those connections is powerful for me, and if nothing else the process keeps me off the streets.

So, here's the deal. A long time ago, I learned from Green LA Girl about TED talks. I think she wanted people to go look at Al Gore's talk, which was wonderful. While poking around on the TED site, I came across Sir Ken Robinson's talk on creativity, which was so wonderful that I have watched it again and again. I've purchased his books and actually read them -the connection between buying books and actually knowing what's inside them seems to require reading them. But hope springs eternal, and I don't always actually read the books I purchase.

He is writing a book called Epiphany where he interviews people to learn about how they discovered their talent. His point is probably going to be that we educate people out of creativity, which is going to have disastrous consequences in the future. While arguably true, that's not my point today. So, I started to think about how I discovered my talent.

This is going to sound improbable, but it's true. I discovered my talent by knitting, hanging out with a community of women who knit, and teaching beginners to knit. A lot of my life started to come together, with knitting as a catalyst for that process. It's not that I need to get a job that allows me to knit all day, although that would be terrific. What I need to do, I learned anew, is have a life that allows me to teach, think, empower people to take charge of their own circumstances, and maybe write a little to help other teachers do the same. (I need more than that, but this is a powerful start.)

More importantly, though, I've learned about creativity and how essential it is to my life. I've knitted and sewn and embroidered and crocheted for almost as long as I can remember, but I've never thought of myself as particularly creative. Here's the sequence of how that's gone -and my knitting group experience seems to suggest that this is typical. At first you can't read a pattern at all. So, for most of us, that means we can't make complicated things. A desire to make those more complicated things leads us to learn about patterns. Then for a while we MUST follow patterns -or so we think. But eventually, we've made enough sweaters or baby booties or whatever that we can start tweaking patterns. "I want this sweater to have that pattern's neckline and that other pattern's stitch and ...." You're essentially writing patterns now, but you think of it as pattern-tweaking, probably. You're using the template in your head of THE SWEATER to create your sweater. Pretty soon, you don't bother even with the template. Some knitters, sometimes, can rethink the template and come up with something completely new. I offer you the disturbingly creative mind of Cat Bordhi as an example of what I'm talking about. That woman doesn't let ingrained templates frame her thinking, not for a New York minute.

The remarkable women and men who come to the yarn shop looking for knitting help have taught me something life changing. There are no bad knitters. There are inexperienced knitters, certainly. No one's born knowing how to do this; there is a day when you start. And that day will involved dropped stitches, random increases, and a few tangles. To start down the path that might lead you to become a creative knitter, you have to be willing to be wrong. And being wrong occasionally won't end once you're an experienced knitter. (Did you read my last Sam's Afghan post?) Creativity is not the same thing as being wrong. But if you're aren't willing to be wrong, you'll never be creative.

And some beginners are courageous enough to begin exploring that tension. From them, I am learning about nothing less important than the gift of human imagination. In the process of teaching people to knit well, I worry the most about two groups of people: the ones who think mistakes are failures, which leads them to believe fairly quickly that they are failures, and the ones who pride themselves on perfectly implementing someone else's ideas. These people will say things like "I rip whenever I see the slightest mistake." First, ripping isn't always the best way of fixing a mistake. And secondly, look again at your work. Have you made a mistake, or have you created something uniquely yours? Again, creativity and being wrong aren't the same thing. You might have made a mistake that must be corrected, for reasons of fabric structure or a deep psychological need to have your creation match the picture in your head. Those are both valid reasons, but please be willing to consider the possibility that the thing you've done isn't so much a mistake as a design feature.

OK, I've wandered even further afield than I meant to -and that's saying something. But here's the point. (Did I hear you say "Oh thank God"??) I know I'm good at some things. I'm beginning to suspect that, in fact, I was put on this planet to accomplish something that is uniquely mine to accomplish. And I learned that from many people -some of whom I may never actually meet. But I've learned the most from my knitting friends, many of whom think I've taught THEM something. These remarkable women should stand up and take a bow for having accomplished the marvelous. They've taught me what my role in life might be.

And that the police won't come if you make a mistake in your knitting. It's just sticks and some yarn. Pick it up and try something. Which is a life lesson too.


jill said...

No one's born knowing how to do this; there is a day when you start.

Yup. Back when I was teaching yoga, I used to run into people all the time who would say, "I would love to do yoga but I don't know how," or its sister statement, "I'm not flexible." My response was always, "Oh, and you think I was born knowing how to do this?" or "How do you think I got flexible?"

90-99% of the time, those people really didn't want to do yoga - maybe they wanted to want to do yoga, because of some sort of image they had in their heads about people who do yoga, and their statement was intended to say, "I'd love to fit that image, but I don't and here's a reason why I won't." However, there were a few people who really did want to and thought there must be some test or experience they had to have before approaching a mat. It was always neat to see the epiphany in those people's faces - "Hey - maybe I can try this!"

Which is to say, yo go girl.

jill said...

or, more correctly:

YOU go, girl.

Lianne Raymond said...

OK, based on your last post coupled with this one, you really need to go watch this:

JK Rowling on failure and imagination.

Girl, I can literally feel you getting your mojo back in full force.