The Stories Strangers Tell: Knitting Adventures at 39,000 Feet

As a habitual knitter there’s always a small project that lives in my bag or backpack to work on if there’s a bit of downtime. It’s much more appealing to craft something tangible if a couple of rows can be thrown into a project than sitting and poking at a smart phone screen.

While sitting on a flight I pulled out a pair of Knitted Knockers (hand knitted breast prosthesis) to work on since I was trapped in the dreaded middle seat and there was absolutely no chance of a nap. Once in a while I’ll get a question or two about what I’m working on, but largely the yarn fidgeting goes unnoticed, other times like several other knitting in public adventures, there will a conversation I won’t forget.

Being trapped, both passengers on either side saw what I was up to pretty quickly. The first was a man in his mid-twenties who had just pulled out a game system. He commented that if he wouldn’t be teased that he would love to learn how to knit. Our conversation fell along the lines, of why worry about what his friends think, if he wanted to he could just knit in private, and there were plenty of men who knit. He asked a few more questions about where and how to start, and he was pointed towards his local yarn shop in Pennsylvania.

Now on the other side, sat a woman, well into her retirement years with a thick Brooklyn accent. “I knit. Mom taught me. Nothing fancy. Mom could really knit.” Really?

Her mother would knit her and her siblings new sweaters every year, ripping apart the sweater from the year before, knitting it a little larger and adding more yarn when necessary. When the yarns were finally too worn to reuse for the next year, the kids would pick from a handful of colors for their next sweater. Nothing too bright, nothing to extreme, simple colors that could matched if more yarn had to be added to in following years. She missed her yearly sweaters.

She asked me how I learned, and I filled her in. She asked where I bought yarn in Georgia, since she was going to be staying for a few weeks and wanted to make a couple of scarves for her grandkids. Filled her in there too, and how I was always there on Saturdays, but since it would be a long drive for her, I told her about a few shops I knew about near the family members she would be staying with.

Then she asked the big question. “What are you making anyway?” Knitted Knockers were explained and her expression changed entirely. It’s hard to describe what I saw on her face. Pain, grief, a touch of happiness, surprise. It was hard to read. I froze, and didn’t really know what to say.

She spoke first. I can still hear her story in my head.

Mom died in the early 80s. She found a lump in her right breast, and went over a year before going to the doctor about it. You’re far to young to know how cancer of any type was treated then. It wasn’t talked about, like it is now. There wasn’t support groups. There wasn’t information out there. The treatments were brutal. Mom had her breast removed. It didn’t heal well. It was always painful, there was no reconstruction choices. She was told to stuff the empty place in her bra, and go on with life. She began isolating herself. She was a housewife, she only left the house for errands stuffing her bra and wearing the baggiest clothes she had.

Mom found another lump in her remaining breast two years later. She chose to let it take her and was gone within a year. If she had one of these knitted things and felt better about herself, maybe things would have been different for her.

The woman went silent. I didn’t know what to say other than I’m sorry.

She spoke again.

The woman who started this organization and the people who are knitting these things are doing a great good in this world.

She picked her book back up and began reading. I took that as a sign that I should pick my needles back up and not speak further.

Others around us had heard her story and began sharing their own stories about family members that had fought cancer in many forms. I sat, worked, and listened. My neighbors in the row sat and listened.

The woman next to me, put her book back down, sat and listened in silence. Knitting triggered her memories of both happiness and pain. There were no more words between us for the rest of the trip.

I hope that the happy memories of the childhood sweaters and the scarves that she will make for her grandchildren will bring her comfort.

It’s been a few weeks since our conversation on the plane, she never made it up to Yarn Rhapsody during the time she said she would be in Georgia. I wish her nothing but peace.

Oh Hey There….

I've seriously neglected this little corner of the blogosphere for a bit.

I think most of us start blogs with solid intentions of posting often, but in all honesty it doesn't appear that many of us put fingers to keyboard often enough. I have difficulty in sharing bits and pieces of my life with strangers at times, and as much as I love knitting, it's hard to write about consistently.

After all look how many blogs and vlogs are dedicated to the fiber arts that do a much better job than I ever could, but I certainly intended this site on being much more than a class listing and review site.

Maybe its time to crack the shell a bit and share some personal bits.

It's no secret that I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It's been closer to hate/hate this year. There was a previous post on the topic earlier this year. At that point I had logged out of a few places until the burn of the Trump inauguration settled down on both sides of the political fence. The rapid fire back and forth of certain sites was maddening. It never really settled down, I've just grown to ignore more and more of it, or better yet have found that liberal use of the unfollow, unfriend, and block buttons can be liberating.

But here I am again. Frustrated.

It's not hard to figure out why. Just watch the news.

It's times like these when it seems like the entire country is whipped into a frenzy that I want nothing more than to draw the shades and pull a blanket over my head for a few weeks. That isn't an option though. No matter what happens, life has to keep moving forward. Unfortunately, it's also hard to share how I really feel about such polarizing topics. We (as in the general population) have lost the ability to listen to differing opinions and speak with civility. Instead of conversation we viciously attack each other. All I know to do is to keep being who I am, helping those I can, being a sounding board for those that need it, and a sanctuary for anyone that needs to escape the noise.

I'm more than happy to meet anyone at the local coffee house with a ball of yarn and a couple of sticks to participate in a bit of escapism, no hot button issues, just a bit of caffeine and peace.

I Am Not My Digital Life

I’ve had a rough week.  There were a few moments last night where I began working on a scorched earth blog post about just how crappy it was,  but after a glass of wine the delete draft button was hit.  Yes, it really has been one of those weeks,  work issues, tech issues, those kind of things, and honestly I was a bit fed up by the time I was able to sit down and begin kicking over to weekend mode.

After beginning to catch up on a backlog of podcasts this morning I’m glad I hit that delete button.

TED Radio Hour has been a staple on the podcast list for quite a while, and their recent podcasts, Screen Time Part 1 and Part 2, should be on the mandatory listening list for all of us that participate in social networking.  Both go into detail about how screen time and social networking have forever changed how we interact with others around us.  For me it was a stark reminder that I have been a little dependent on my “digital life”, for social interaction.   That’s an odd thing to say from someone who recently began a public blog.

Several weeks ago, I logged out of several social networking sites indefinitely, and after what felt like withdrawal for a few days, I’m finally comfortable with that decision.  There have been a few studies, specifically related to Facebook, about how active use can negatively impact mood.  For me,  shortly before the Presidential Inauguration, I hit the peak of digital misery.  My personal political views are irrelevant,  it had nothing to do with who was being inaugurated but everything to do with the constant stream of negativity that was filling the news feed about the inauguration.

I’m all for free discussion of beliefs and ideals, as long as it can be done civilly.  Too many politically themed posts became ugly personal attacks in the comments section, and after seeing several close friends ripped apart for articulately and thoughtfully expressing their views and feelings, I began fighting the urge to step in and defend those being attacked despite their expression of views that may not have aligned with my own.  I decided to step away.  Nothing I could say would have changed the mind of anyone who immediately chose to go the route of insulting personal attacks, but I would have ended up emotionally invested.  I then noticed a trend that the posts of friends and family became more negative in general, it seemed nothing good was happening to anyone.  Were they feeling the pull towards darkness from their own feeds?

I don’t want my digital persona to give people the impression that my actual persona is negative and argumentative individual because I took the bait to comment on another’s post, or through a knee jerk reaction typed something onto a screen I would have taken more time to respond to in person.  I have my moments, we all do, but overall I’m pretty positive (at least I think so) and easy to get along with.  Ignoring the temptation to write a scorched earth, negative post could have planted those seeds of negativity here, and I don’t want that.  I promised myself that if I was going to take the time to write a blog again, it would not degrade to day-to-day diary style posts about the little things, good or bad.  I have an actual, honest to God, paper journal for that.  This is a space largely for my passions, and occasionally for moments like this post where I feel the need to express thoughts and feelings.

After opting out of some toxic networking, it feels like I’ve gotten part of my life back, after realizing how much time was being sucked into looking into a screen looking for the approval or sympathy of my peers on the whatever little bit of info I threw out there.  I also didn’t realize how much anxiety some social media platforms had created by waiting on responses from others, especially on posts/comments that could potentially cause debate.  I’m almost embarrassed that I have looked for the approval of others through social networking, but let’s be honest, seeking approval is human nature.  How many of the people on these sites actually know me though?  It’s a small percentage.  Even the people who knew me as a child, or teenager that I’ve reconnected with over the years probably know little about the events or interactions with others in my “real life”  that have formed me into the person I am now.  To some extent, we’re still strangers, despite actually knowing each other at a point in time.  With a simple click you add this person back into your digital life, but does anyone really take the time to catch up?  Or do we just stalk their past posts a bit, and just assume we know what’s up?  I think too many of us get caught up on what we thought of these people when we interacted with them in the past and let them have far too much power and influence in our lives now just because we have given them the option to comment on a dinky post.  We also let true strangers that we may have friended out of a common interest  or  shared friend have too much influence.  Why was I giving up emotional real estate to people I barely know? I think I’ve become conditioned through years of social media use to sell that real estate to strangers.

The podcasts I referenced earlier brought up a disturbing point, well at least for me anyway, about what happens to the thousands of bits of data we put out there when we die.  I don’t want to be remembered through silly memes, soap box stands, and two sentence glimpses into life.  Our digital lives are not true examples of ourselves, and the idea posed in the 2nd part of the Screen Time series that it may be possible in the future to build robots with the personalities of the deceased by analyzing  their social media presence is horrifying.  There’s a wake up call.   Let me make it clear now, that my digital life is NEVER to be turned into a robot for anyone, period, end of conversation.  Grieve over me the old-fashioned way, with a night of booze and story telling.

At the end of all my rambling, I’m pretty happy with where I am right now, in both lives, digital and actual.  I have a presence through this blog, which through format alone allows for constructed thoughts, instead of vague snapshots.  Am I looking for approval from my peers here?  Meh, maybe a bit, once again, human nature; but is blogging driven towards that goal?  Not really.  I mean, I would like it if people took the time to read what I write, but it isn’t the end of the world if no one interacted.  In all honesty, with the way WordPress is structured a lot of unsolicited negativity can be deleted and ignored before it even hits public viewing space. In real life, yeah, it was a shitty week. Everyone has those.  I’ll reboot a bit, and face the next week on Monday.

Until then, I’m going to go make another pot of coffee and pull out the knitting needles and make the best of the weekend.