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Narratives, yarn, and the stories we tell ourselves

Long before I officially studied the arbitrary nature of narrative construction, I was suspect of the human tendency to arrange life's events as a single narrative that follows a roughly traditional plot line. The human existence isn't a straight line; rather, life consists of a myriad of events and experiences connected only by the fact that the same individual is present and that other individuals within that person's circle recur. However, our brains are conditioned to organize the events we experience, the relationships we have, and our accomplishments and failures into convenient plot lines, in part because doing so helps us remember them and in part because we are surrounded by stories from the time we are infants.

The beginning, middle, and end of all things reinforces this tendency. We are born. We live. Eventually, we die. Tidy, neat narrative, except for the fact that the middle isn't a series of rising actions leading to the ultimate conflict crescendo and resolution.

Our lives are complicated, messy, and comprised of tiny moments. Our personal growth and progression isn't linear. Rather, we expand and contract based on our current circumstances as we react to outside stimuli. Yes, everything we have experienced before does shape the way we interact with the world and people around us now, but does the core of who we are, the root of our most basic selves radically reinvent itself like some fictional redemption storyline we read in a book or watched on tv? Not really. We are. (Notably, I did not say "we are this," because that would mean ascribing a label to our root self, which simply is.)

I think this is also why I resent... No, I downright detest and abhor pithy aphorisms and meaningless affirmational sayings. (I identify with the life coach in those State Farm commercials where he tosses out the woman's silly sign about "No mussin, no cussin...") For example, the saying, "Good things happen to good people." Ummm, NO. That's false and is typically uttered by shallow, privileged people who clearly lack an actual understanding of the Hindu and Buddhist teachings on karma. Billions of "good people" suffer and struggle through no fault of their own. And millions of "bad people" still get away with doing reprehensible things without repercussions for their actions. Telling others that good things happen to good people necessarily implies that if someone is experiencing something horrible, somehow they deserve it, which is a trash attitude to promote. While sure, there are plenty of horrible people who may end up deserving the consequences of their actions, calamities and life's difficulties are often not attributable to one's own behaviors.

So, why do we still cling to narrative structures that are inaccurate and ultimately don't serve us?

Part of this propensity is wrapped up in self-preservation. We find it easier to unpack the twists of our lives if we can pretend that there is a direct connection from one event to the next. Seeing things in this way also allows us to rewrite portions of that narrative that excuse our own behaviors and actions or ignore the messier parts. Additionally, as I noted above, we've been conditioned from the time we were young to see the world this way. We're told stories as children--repeatedly--which cements the idea that all things follow a linear trajectory. Furthermore, we're surrounded by entertainment (books, movies, television shows, games, sports, the news) that continually reinforce the idea of a plot line so much so that straight-forward narratives establish themselves as the norm, and we become uncomfortable with things that deviate from that repetitive beginning/middle/end.

This desire for linear narrative can also be what draws us to crafting. (Come on, you knew I'd get here eventually.) We start with the raw material--yarn or fiber for our purposes--and we have a beginning, which is typically the idea of what we want to make or the pattern that we intend to follow. Casting on, making a foundation chain, or using a leader for spinning are still all part of the exposition of our project's story. As we work through the pattern or the plan we have in our minds, we reach that lengthy middle section, where we've already finished the beginning ribbing or completed the bottom edging or woven the first few weft passes or wrapped enough yarn around the spindle that we are starting to achieve a rhythm. The middle might include learning new stitches, trying a new technique, making mistake that have to be ripped back and begun again, finding that you aren't enjoying the way the project is working up, maybe making adjustments to the pattern or plan. Sometimes the middle goes on for a long time and seems endless where you wonder if you'll ever reach the halfway point let alone start to see the ending. But then, sometimes quietly, sometimes too quickly, or sometimes not soon enough you have come to the final decreases, the edging pattern, the last of the roving, the end of the weft and it's time to start finishing.

Projects are narratives in themselves. They feed that part of of us that craves order and logic. They may be messy and have mistakes that are irreparable. Or, they may be the finest display of our skills and talents. They may be tossed into time out for years, or we may finish them in one sitting. They may remain unfinished, or we may frog them completely and decide to use the yarn for something else. This plot arc, if you will, is among the comforting aspects of craft, I think, because it offers us a sense of structure, particularly in times when we are in need of something concrete and knowable.

I've been fairly transparent about the fact that my Mom is on hospice because of pancreatic cancer. To be frank, I don't have the bandwidth for a lot of things outside of that central fact, and my tolerance for shallow things is not existent (hence the rant about meaningless affirmations above). But the one thing that has helped, that brings me (and mom because I often knit while sitting next to her bed) a measure of peace and relaxation (which we can actually measure because Dad now takes everyone's blood pressure at night) is handcraft. While hospice is about palliative care and end-stage comfort, plenty of unknowns exist and keep a body up late into the night sometimes. But, handcraft is stable; it has a narrative. I can start a project, and even if I can't quite focus enough right now to make it work (totally thinking of the Sheep Wooly Accomplices hat pattern by Bunny Muff), that's a clear narrative even though it may be on pause. Or, there are tidier narratives, like the Casapinka No Need to Panic sweater I finished in Kelbourne Woolens Mojave and have on the blocking tiles in the patio. Those things are concrete amidst all the things that are not, and helps soothe some of the strain.

So, when you are faced with difficult moments, I hope you, too, can turn to craft and remember that even if you can't concentrate enough to follow a pattern, even if you end up tearing out what you made only to start over or to find something else to work on, the narrative of that project is at least something knowable that you can use as an anchor even if things around you are turbulent and full of discord.

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