My Mother Did Not Teach Me to Knit

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“For me, it just takes a little Bach in the early evening, well played. For one thing, it’s so wonderful to listen to something unabashedly complex again, after being clubbed on the head with the daily twigs and sodden noodles of mildly ugly, innocently simple stupidity. Here is the work of a fellow human being who drank and ate and breathed by deliberate choice from the coffers of the most ethereal and finely magnificent that the universe could possibly permit, and who then turned around and doled it out gratuitously—to us. To all of us. Is this why I wanted my mother to teach me to knit when I was a teenager, so I would have something to do with my hands while I was trying to keep from going crazy with wild joy at listening to music?” —Anita Sullivan

On the Other Hand

By Anita Sullivan

Knitting, a civilized exercise.

Knitting, a civilized exercise.

“To say how many green-greys there are is impossible.”—Vincent van Gogh 

Anita Sullivan

Editor’s Note: This column first ran in Weekly Hubris in May 2012.

EUGENE Oregon—(Weekly Hubris)—April 2020—I’m listening to Grigory Sokolov play Bach’s “Art of the Fugue,” which is like being present at the Dawn of the World and, for some reason, I think about how I always wanted to learn to knit, and never did.

These two things must be related; otherwise why would such a thought come into my mind?

The music is made of glass, it catches in my throat today because of all the things it is not: it is not plastic, it is not greedy, it does not want me to give it any money—the word is gratuitous. And I am so relieved that I sag back into the pillows on the sofa and cry. The grooves in my soul from this piece that I’ve listened to about 25 times in the past year, demand to be let out of their cages (I know, grooves can’t be in cages). Anyway, various metallic bars around the area of my stomach and lungs begin to loosen up. With some people, that takes alcohol. For me, it just takes a little Bach in the early evening, well played.

For one thing, it’s so wonderful to listen to something unabashedly complex again, after being clubbed on the head with the daily twigs and sodden noodles of mildly ugly, innocently simple stupidity. Here is the work of a fellow human being who drank and ate and breathed by deliberate choice from the coffers of the most ethereal and finely magnificent that the universe could possibly permit, and who then turned around and doled it out gratuitously—to us. To all of us.

Is this why I wanted my mother to teach me to knit when I was a teenager, so I would have something to do with my hands while I was trying to keep from going crazy with wild joy at listening to music?

My mother sewed very well. And unlike many women of her era, she had a Room of Her Own, small though it was. In the house where I spent my teenage years, her sewing room was a slightly swollen passageway between the dining room and living room, through which family members had to pass numerous times each day, holding our bodies stiffly vertical so as not to step on any pins or just plain disappear into a billow of material.

My mother relished fabrics. I often went with her on buying expeditions, and we would spend long afternoons strolling between bolts of cloth, each sending its seepings into the murky aisles like a kind of swamp miasma. I remember how colors could lurk and dodge, as they caught the corner of my eye everywhere I turned, even when I squinted and walked straight behind my mother, looking neither to the right or left (pretending to be bored), the colors would come out and make searing little imprints on my soul. “We’ll catch you later!” they seemed to be chortling and, sure enough, they have.

But I never learned to sew, much less to knit. My brain was just not cut out for this kind of work, and I guess my mother intuitively recognized this and therefore never tried to teach me, thus saving both of us frustration and disappointment. She sewed costumes for the local dancing teacher’s recitals. I remember numerous afternoons when I came home from school, her sewing space was full of giggling pre-teenage girls with various things sticking out from their small persons—like orange feathers, velvet cuffs, sinister black fedoras, dragons’ tails. She had a genius for tacking things together that didn’t require much fine stitching, and could be dismantled later without much trouble and packed away in a straw box for a different incarnation in some future performance.

Her sewing room was a blither of primary colors on those afternoons, I remember. But under her table and on the shelves and in bins along the walls was a secret bazaar of subtler hues. I swear you could feel the power of those cloths of many colors, gnashing at their bonds like souls in Dante’s inferno, wanting to pour forth and glare the world into cowering submission. I am grateful to my mother for making me aware at an early age of their powerful potential.

There was no room here for a civilized exercise like knitting. Oddly, my mother promised to teach me, but I’m not sure she actually knew how. She was given to larger gestures, to enterprises of verve and drama. She signed me up for piano lessons instead.

To order Anita Sullivan’s books, The Rhythm Of It and/or And if the Dead Do Dream, click on the book covers below.

“The Rhythm of It: Poetry’s Hidden Dance,” by Anita Sullivan.

Sullivan And if the Dead Do Dream

 

About Anita Sullivan

Born under the sign of Libra, Anita Sullivan cheerfully admits to a life governed by issues of balance and harmony. This likely led to her 25-year career as a piano tuner, as well as her love of birds (Libra is an air sign), and love of gardening, music, and fine literature (beauty). She spent years trying to decide if she was a piano tuner who wrote poetry, or a poet who tuned pianos. She traveled a lot without giving way to a strong urge to become a nomad; taught without becoming a teacher; danced without becoming a dancer; and fell totally in love with the high desert country of the Southwest, and then never managed to stay there. However, Sullivan did firmly settle the writing question—yes, it turns out she is a writer, but not fixed upon any one category. She has published four essay collections, a novel, two chapbooks and one full-length book of poetry, and many short pieces in journals. Most recently, her essay collection The Rhythm Of It: Poetry’s Hidden Dance, indulges her instinct to regard contemporary free-verse poetry as being built upon natural proportional rhythm patterns exhibited in music and geography, and therefore quite ancient and disciplined—not particularly “free” at all. This book is a finalist for the Montaigne Medal from the Eric Hoffer Book Award. More about her books can be found on her website: www.anitasullivan.org. The poet-piano-tuner-etc. also maintains an occasional blog, “The Poet’s Petard,” which may be accessed here here.
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