Featured Post

The Unhappy Hooker

The Unhappy Hooker

I tend to be an anxious person by nature.  I’m sure it’s genetic because everyone in my family is, or was, also an anxious person.  At any sign of danger my whole family jumps ahead to the worst case scenario when other more normal people have barely furrowed a brow.  My ancestors were undoubtedly the first lemurs up the tree.

Tossing a mysterious series of autoimmune symptoms onto my naturally high anxiety has not helped matters any, either. I spent all last year 97% convinced I was dying and this year 37% convinced I am dying and I’ve observed that pondering one’s imminent demise is enough to throw the calmest person into a tizz.  

I am not the calmest person.

Various methods of relaxation have come and gone into my life.  My favorite and most effective was alcohol, but at some point it starts to dawn on ya that you’re no longer using alcohol, it’s using you.  That had to go. Immediately upon giving up alcohol I discovered Twitter and learned in short order that it’s all too easy to replace one thing you’re overly fond of with another thing you’re overly fond of.  So that had to go too. Writing is my favorite thing ever, but it tends to rev me up, not calm me down. And while I enjoy things like television, gaming, music, and books, they’ve never had the kind of kung-fu grip on my brain that could snap me out of an anxious cycle.  If you’ve ever sat and tried to read while thinking about what your MRI results are going to reveal, or in my case wondering how on earth you can convince a recalcitrant doctor convinced you’re a hysteric to order you an MRI to begin with, you know exactly what I mean. It’s too easy for me to keep that unpleasant mental script going while passively reading or watching tv or even whilst fighting pretend zombies with pretend plants.  I need something that requires active mental input from me to chase the scary hobgoblins away.

So lately I’ve been trying crochet.   Yeah, I mean like with yarn and hooks and stuff.  Now, crochet is something I tried a long time ago when I was young and newly married and still operating under the mistaken assumption that I’d grow up to be June Cleaver someday.  But that crochet was nothing like the crochet of today. You had to buy patterns, for starters. And frankly, the patterns were crap. They were too hard (I swear, some of them you needed a Master’s in Engineering and years of advanced algebra to decipher) and took forever to make due to their complexity.   Not only were the patterns themselves expensive, they required a small fortune in yarn to make them. Times have thankfully changed. I can go on the Internet right this minute and choose from thousands of patterns available for free for not only big and complicated projects, but little tiny projects that take very little yarn and can be done in a couple hours.  And most of them are very simple patterns that you don’t have to be a whiz with a hook to put together. There are even tons of videos on You Tube that even show step by step how to do the harder stitches I could never figure out before.

It’s so much funner when you can actually FINISH a project in a reasonable amount of time.  I’m a Gen-Xer, ok, I have the attention span of a gnat, I need more immediate rewards than a blanket no one will ever use that takes me 6 freaking months to complete.  But now they’ve got patterns for cute little things like stuffed animals and hats and hairbands. And scarfs (or is it scarves?). I’ve never worn a scarf in my life before and now I’m a scarf aficionado.  I own like 3000 of them. I’ve made everyone I know practically a scarf. People see me coming and they’re like “no scarves (or is it scarfs) please, give me zucchini instead”.

And the yarn.  Oh, the yarn.  Not only did yarn used to cost more than the price of a new sweater to obtain, it was also very skinny (skinny yarn can be challenging to work with and it takes way longer to make things out of, since it takes many stitches to make up an inch of work) and it was very VERY ugly.  You probably have memories of awful homemade presents given to you by well-meaning great aunts made of some sort of inflammable man-made fiber that was not only horrifically itchy but so stiff that it was just this side of uncooked pasta. The colors were apparently leftover dye from 70’s era leisure-suits – ochre and day-glo green and burnt orange and joker-suit purple and the ubiquitous cat-hair-attracting Amish black.  But the yarns that they’re selling now are just magnificent. Glorious, even. You can buy angora and mohair and merino and alpaca and even yarn made out of bamboo. You can buy variegated and heathered and tweed and marled and hand-dyed and speckled and freckled yarn and yarn that’s dyed to make rainbow stripes as you crochet with it. It comes in earth tones and neutrals and pastels. You can buy big yarn and giant hooks and make a scarf in an hour, or not-quite-as-big-but-still-pretty-big yarn and a slightly smaller hook and make a scarf in two hours. There’s even yarn so big you can’t crochet it with a hook at all and have to use your hands as hooks. And in a triumph of capitalism, most of these new and wondrous yarns are not any more expensive than those bricks of space-age material that once passed for yarn 20 years ago…many times you can actually get yarn even cheaper if you love a deal as much as I do and are willing to shop around.

This is how people end up dead under a mountain of hoarded yarn.  Just sayin.

If you’ve never crocheted this all may sound so boring that my claim “this reduces anxiety by making me not dwell on my fears” but it really does because it’s a lot more mentally engaging than you might think.  A surprising amount of mental energy goes into crocheting. It’s way more than just the pattern or the stitch. The size of the hook, the size and texture of the yarn, the number of times you wrap the yarn around the hook – all of them make a noticeable difference in the outcome.  I can make a stripe or a bobble appear just by changing the spot I stick the hook into or how many stitches I put into one place. And as you crochet you can then ALSO do things like listen to music or watch TV – the things that have never been quite enough to fully distract me from my woes – and it’s working for me.   For now.*

It occurs to me as I write all this, that it’s possible, even probable, that I replaced drinking too much with Twittering too much and then I replaced Twitter with crochet. Psychologists have speculated about fabric arts being a type of addiction.  Maybe that’s just a pitfall of life if you’re the type of person who tends to get carried away with things – you get carried just as far away with the mundane as you do with the extreme..

I sometimes think many of the things we consider addictions are just healthy instincts run amok.  People with “food addictions” overeat because their appetite led to fat stores that would have saved their lives in a famine. “Sex addicts” are almost certainly more likely to pass down their genes to future generations even in a world before Tinder. Hoarders happen because in a more uncertain world, it made sense for people to keep everything that came their way in case they needed it later.  I am anxious because my ancestors were the first lemur up the tree and even though it’s no longer adaptive for me, that anxiety probably kept them alive in a more uncertain world. We do things to distraction because on some level it makes sense for us to do things to distraction. The challenge is finding that balance between pursuing healthy tendencies and carrying good things too far.  At least, as coping mechanisms go, with crochet I come out of it with something to show for it.  

I may still be an anxious worrywart, but my neck has never been warmer.

*But I’m only 37% convinced I’m dying right now.

Photo by starathena The Unhappy Hooker


Contributor
Home Page Twitter 

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

16 thoughts on “The Unhappy Hooker

  1. I am a crocheter from way back! My grandma started teaching me when I was probably five, one stitch at a time. I used to make chains of… well, the chain stitch, that were 20 feet long! Then she taught me others. Gradually she worked me up to a granny square and helped me make a doll dress.
    I still enjoy it, now that she’s gone, I still do it and learn new stitches with books or online- even though I rarely finish a project (I’ve been working on an afghan in my husband’s favorite team colors since probably 2003- at this point I’ve decided to call it a “throw” and told him to be happy with it.)
    But it is a great way to sit and be quiet and clear my mind.
    I think my Twitter usage has replaced crocheting. Winter is a good time to rectify that.

    Report

    • Yes I taught the kids to make chains but they weren’t quite ready for anything more advanced yet.

      Afghans are the bane of my existence! I have a couple half finished ones I should probably go back and complete, at least to “throw” stage.

      Your grandma sounds so awesome!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      Report

  2. When history is discussed, and the mention of ‘hunter gatherer’ is given, I pause and insert makers. So it ends up being ‘hunter, gatherer, maker’.

    I don’t think the tribes would have advanced without the makers. Excellent post.

    Report

  3. In some ways (except I am blessed not to have weird autoimmune issues, well, other than allergies and hives), I am a lot like you.

    I am a knitter, though, more than a crocheter. I can and do crochet, I just mostly use it to make stuffed toys instead of other things.

    I don’t know that knitting helps me “not dwell” on anxieties when they’re really bad – if I’m really troubled and anxious I have to read a diverting book (one that takes concentration, or has very detailed descriptions of places and things) instead.

    But for the day to day stuff, where I get so many forks stuck in me over the course of a day that I want to scream, being able to go home and knit for a bit – or even knowing that I have that opportunity – helps. And I can tell my mood is worse when I’ve not been able to knit for a few days, though I don’t know if that’s because I’m not-knitting or because I’m so busy (and have evening meetings and crap) that keep me from having any free time.

    But knitting does help me weather waiting places better. Even though I know it’s deeply eccentric and they probably laugh at me behind my back for it, I knit when I invigilate exams for my students, because otherwise, spending an hour silently walking around a classroom looking to see if anyone’s peeking at another person’s paper, or has smuggled notes taped to a water bottle, or something, makes me want to scream.

    Using the language of addiction annoys me a bit. Are people who exercise daily (I do, pretty much, and that helps with my anxiety more than ANYTHING I do) addicts to exercise? Or because that’s “healthful,” it’s OK?

    For me, knitting helps me be a little bit calmer. If I couldn’t knit (and get daily exercise), I’d probably have to be on meds for anxiety. I’m not sure that’s “better” than having a closet full of yarn and spending my spare time making socks and sweaters.

    The other thing about knitting that helps me a lot is it’s “permanent.” You can look at what you made and it’s still there the next day. I make my living as a college professor at a teaching-oriented university. So much of what I do feels ephemeral: I go in to class and do a lecture or run a discussion or hold a lab, and at the end of the class, it’s gone, vanished into the ether forever, and I have to go back the next day and do it AGAIN. And grading: I get one batch of grading done and then there’s another one to do. And even the rare journal articles I write; there’s so damn much rewriting and revising (even before I send it in and let the reviewers eviscerate it, and afterward there’s either revision or revising followed by resubmitting [spin the roulette wheel again to see if it gets accepted[) that by the time it does come out, I’m so tired of it and feel so flat that I can’t even be happy. And that’s even without realizing that maybe five people will ever read what I publish, fewer probably than the comments I leave on a blog….

    And yeah, I find as I spend more time online, I knit less, and that should probably change. Or I need to figure out some way to have the laptop in front of me and knitting going and only check it every half-hour or so.

    Report

    • I totally agree calling everything an “addiction” is really irritating and I hate it when people do, but I couldn’t really come up with another way to describe the odd series of strange coping mechanisms (prolly should have just called them “strange coping mechanisms”).

      I totally agree with you – it’s the “death by 1000 cuts” type of anxiety that the fabric crafts really seem to help alleviate. Not the big things, but the steady background buzz that just happens to get louder at some times than others.

      You’re so right about the ephemeral nature of much modern work. I have a new set of clients every few days/weeks/months and start over again with them and I equate it to rolling a boulder up a hill every day only to find in the night that it’s rolled back down again. And everything I do is online, so what I consider to be “life’s work” really can be deleted at the touch of a button. There is a definite lack of permanence to our modern existence…we’re not building a rock wall that will stand for centuries, what we do and think and work on may be gone even before we are.

      I did used to really prefer knitting, I’m going to have to pick that back up again too.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Report

  4. Despite my grandmother’s best efforts, never quite got the hang of crotchet. I may be because I’m a lefty and just couldn’t coordinate the right-hand version or flip all of her instructions around from right to left. My sister is great at it though.

    I took up stained glass and mosiacs – it’s artistically applied fracture mechanics and I get to use a soldering iron, so I think it’s probably the ideal art form for an engineer. Plus if I mess up the broken pieces just get reworked into a different project. Of course it’s not something you can do while sitting in a doctor’s office, and it’s probably more expensive than crotchet. I’m not sure on that last point though. For mosaics I can get lots of material cheap at tag sales, second hand and ‘junktique’ stores. The real stained glass though… that can cost and the fancy glass has that same glorious appeal you describe for good yarn. Easily addictive.

    btw, on the fabric art as addiction point though, I know a couple people who have gotten addicted to spinning their own yarn, esp. using traditional drop spindles. Seriously, they are so far gone they have been talking about going in together on buying an alpaca (one of them lives on a farm and could add it to her menagerie), so beware. ;)

    Report

    • that is why I haven’t learned how to spin (Well, I tried a drop spindle a few times and couldn’t get the hang of it, I’m too clumsy, but people tell me I might be able to spin on a wheel): because if I go from “Knitting my own sweaters with purchased yarn” to “knitting with yarn I spun myself,” the next logical step will be “knitting with yarn spun from animals I sheared myself” and that’s just a bridge too far.

      Also I think my city frowns on alpacas or sheep within city limits, though I wonder if there’s some way I could persuade my university that their lawnmowing costs could be greatly reduced with an on-campus flock…

      Report

      • There’s always angora rabbits ;)

        Actually one of the spinning enthusiasts I know collects dog fur and spins it. It doesn’t make the softest thread, but for a dog lover, something knitted from their beloved pets’ fur is a great keepsake. She originally was doing it just because her long-haired dogs provided plenty of raw material, but she’s had several commissions from people wanting items made from their pets’ fur.

        Report

        • People raise rabbits in apartments, which seems weird but strangely the bunnies actually thrive in fairly small spaces. We have rex rabbits, which don’t have that good fur, but there’s always room for another bunny or two (somewhere my husband just shuddered like someone walked over his grave)

          Report

    • Oh I can’t imagine learning as a lefty, from a righty. I’ve tried to learn several things from my stepmother and mother in law, both of whom are left handed and it’s really tough.

      I’d always dreamed of getting into stained glass but never had the chance. Cool!!

      My husband really wants sheep for preventing fires around our farm. That one could actually happen! Hmmmm…

      Report

  5. Good post.

    I bought the beginner’s stuff for learning crochet last winter break (because who wouldn’t want an amigurumi Yoda??) and then things got really complicated and I never actually tried it.

    Hoping maybe this winter break will be the one where I learn.

    Report

  6. I don’t know if you have to be a Ravelry member or not (it’s free) to view patterns (I’m a member) but I’m just gonna leave this here for all of those who grew up with “Classic” Sesame Street.

    (There is also a knitted version for those who prefer to knit, but my experience knitting on chenille yarn have told me I’d rather crochet with it)

    I also have something like a dozen My Little Ponies made off of a crochet deer pattern I lightly modified….I am a little, um, weird, about amigurumi.

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *