Queen Midas

I’ve been pondering an essay for quite a while, years even, and I’m finally going to write it.  FINALLY.

The rough outline is how accepting money for something you love changes things.  Sometimes for the better (yay, I paid the mortgage!) and sometimes for the worse (oh noes, I have to knit again, dang!)

I have many loves in my life – I have a rich life and I love easily – but high up on the list is my love of knitting.

I don’t say a love of fiber (although I DO love fiber) because there are parts of the fiber world that I’ve held myself separate from.

Spinning, for instance, has escaped me.  Not because I don’t think I’d love it, but because I know that my lungs react very badly to floating fibers (I’m no longer able to knit with mohair or angora – at least, not without a respirator!)

But knitting – that’s a pure love.  Crochet is a love, too, but a separate love.

Crochet is like an aunt I love to visit, and sometimes I feel I love her more than knitting (my own mom) but when push comes to shove, I just feel more comfortable with knitting.  But I like to spend my summer vacations with Crochet and hear stories about Knitting when she was a kid, and sometimes I like to complain about Knitting to Crochet because I know it won’t go any farther…

I’m lucky that I’ve been able to pay the mortgage with my knitting chops for many years, although I’ll admit it’s been a thin ride the past few years.  This is for many reasons, but mostly because I just haven’t put the focused energy and effort into my knitting / design career recently that I did for the first 8 years of this century.

And THAT is due to many things.  At the risk of proving my 5th grade teacher right and falling into my natural ‘excuse maker*’ role, I’ll list some of these reasons…

1. Exhaustion.
It just gets – well – tiring to push, push, push the designs.  I feel as though I’ve taken a year+ off from the pushing, and it’s time to get back to the rock and the uphill path.

2. Health (my own and family heath).
I have allowed things to stand in my way, and I’ve enjoyed it sometimes, too.  But I enjoy creating, designing, more than almost anything.  So it’s time to get back on that horse.

3. Laziness.
This is different than exhaustion, this is just me being not as hard working as I should be.  Sometimes laziness shows itself by a lot of busywork – ironic, but true.

4. Inspiration (or rather, lack of…)
I’ve found it difficult to be as inspired as I used to be.  There may be many reasons for this, but the upshot is that I’ve tried to use my down time to re-ignite the spark that keeps me designing.

This last reason – Inspiration – is the most fragile card that holds up my little design house.

When inspiration hits, it’s a beautiful thing.  Taking that inspiration, converting it into a do-able project and keeping the excitement going until the last word of the pattern is written and the last line of the schematic has been drawn, well – that’s the hard part.

That’s the Queen Midas part.

That’s the point where you go from taking lovely photos on your vacation to trying to SELL those photos to a magazine.  Or making amazing cakes to trying to SELL those cakes to the public.  Or dreaming up great designs and trying to RECREATE those designs so other folks can work them up, too!

And that’s the hardest part.

Sometimes, just for fun, I’ll just knit.  I’ll cast on and just GO.  And even though I’m just making a quick hat, a mitten, a scarf – something for ME only – I still find my mind counting, figuring, resizing.  My brain goes on auto-pilot, determining-without-really-trying what number is most easily divisible and will therefore be the BEST number to use in a pattern (after all, resizing a pattern begins from the moment I begin thinking about the cast on!)

I try to turn this skill off – to cast on a devilishly hard number to multiply so my brain will just give up – but my mind continues to force it.  My brain will snicker to me “Okay, so you insist on casting on a multiple 10 instead of 12 (the magic number)  Well then I’ll just force your hands to work up an 8 stitch pattern with 2 ‘gutter’ stitches that will repeat easily!   Mwa ha ha ha!”

So I’m never entirely able to escape this, “Let’s recreate what I’m doing in 6 sizes!” skill that I’ve developed in my brain.  It’s a gift, but it gets old, too.

Currently I have several pieces I’m working through.  Most are easy enough pieces, but I’ve reached the point in all of them when the pattern must be written down, and that means resized, calculated, edited – all that stuff.

I could tell myself that I’m not good at this part, that it’s getting harder and I can’t do it anymore, but that would be a lie.  The truth is, I am tired of this part, so I’m being lazy about it, but that won’t get the work done.  Bus drivers get tired of getting up at 4:30am to drive that bus to get everyone else to work on time, but they still have to do it.

Recently a gifted tech editor I’d hired to look at some of my HoTN pieces threw her hands up at my insane and bizarre way I write my patterns.  I’m an odd one.  And she was entirely right.  But when I look at her notes on my patterns, I just can’t get my mind to work in that way.

I’m stubbornly intuitive.  Or intuitively stubborn.  A bad combination.

I’ve been through this before with several patterns, most notably with my circular shrug.  The editors at Vogue just couldn’t get what I was going for – and I don’t know if I was as clear as I should have been.  So the pattern was written in 3 sizes and no one was really happy with it.  What I wanted to do was create a universal pattern which could be worked up in ANY size, and eventually I did that, but it took me quite a long time buried under the numbers and worksheets before I could emerge with the pattern.

This is the point I’m at with many of my HoTN patterns, and I need to either steele myself and just dive into the math, or accept that it’s beyond me.

If we’re very lucky we will be able to have a part of what we really love in our daily work-for-bread lives.  But the trade off is that we’ll hit phases when we begin to almost convince ourselves that we don’t love what we DO love.

The knitting I love.  The explaining what and how I’m doing in such a way that other folks can recreate what I’ve done, that’s so hard that my head hurts and sometimes I hate it.

So my task right now is to find a way to LOVE the hard parts, the parts that don’t come naturally, the parts that take a little time.

Loving the effort, the hard effort, that’s my job for today.

11 thoughts on “Queen Midas

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and struggles! I was able to really relate to your comment about explaining so others can understand. Having been a math teacher for over twenty years, I was blessed with the ability to do and explain; but in knitting and playing music, explaining is much more difficult for me…I am better at the doing. We have a stitching group in progress at our church, so I am getting more practice at explaining knitting to beginners. Here’s to you and your persistence in making a living with that which you love!!

  2. I never found arithmetic as easy as reading. (You can see that I grew up with the three “r’s”.) And yet when I had my family finally into school years and I began working outside the house, I became a bookkeeper!

    That’s nothing I would have chosen, since I had no simple facility with numbers, but what I discovered is that if I went through all the dull stuff of entering numbers into the proper places and totaled and balanced and checked (because it was ME doing all this, not a computer)–then came the fun part.

    Hold your breath, put these numbers where they belong, and everything will come out…OOPS! And I got to figure out the puzzle. And tame it. And fix it. And celebrate my victory.

    That was the reward for me. I made those numbers do what they were supposed to do. I found the problem and fixed it. Me, me, me, I did it!

    I wish victory for you!!

  3. I run a company that places PC technicians that don’t show up for the jobs they agree to work, neglect to send in their timesheets and payroll paperwork so we can get them paid, then call and scream when they don’t get their check. I could go on and on and on. If I could make enough money to sustain myself, I would try hard to get into knitting as a career in a minute.

  4. You’ve expressed it very well. In a creative effort, whether it be a science experiment (my area) or an artistic one, there are many bits of the overall business that aren’t as much fun. I suspect that writing up the patterns may be a bit like teaching. Over time, hopefully, you figure out ways to explain in a way that doesn’t necessarily fit the way you look at it, but allows someone else to do it. Also, you just have to dive in and do math/pattern writing. It’s part of the business. You don’t have to love it, but try not to hate it. good luck

  5. I rarely encounter someone who is as hard on herself as you! You are amazing and busy and creative and there’s one iota of your business that you don’t like. OY!

    My philosophy has evolved over time. It used to be “pay someone else to do the tedious stuff” then it became “ok, i’ll try to do the tedious stuff because it’s not beyond me I just don’t like it” and now I’m at “I have to find an intern to do the tedious stuff because it’s driving me crazy and I don’t have the disposable funds at the moment”. As an attorney and writer, I HATE legal footnotes. They are insane. They are the things that summer associates are forced to do because no one else wants to do them and that professors hire research associates to do. So, I found an English/Journalism student (not law) at the local not famous university to do it. They need the experience for their first job resumes. They are not on a law track so don’t try to insert themselves into the writing.

    So perhaps you could look outside the knitting world. Surely, there is a math, engineering, or otherwise technical student who can deconstruct your work for credit, free, fun, or a modest arrangement. They usually love a puzzle.

    I hope getting comments on your life isn’t distressing. We can all manage everyone else’s life better than we can our own. You’re very brave to put it out there.

    Good Luck and Happy Thanksgiving.

  6. Looking at Brenda’s comment, I hope that I did not cause distress. I mean to be sending sympathy and encouragement, no criticism.

    • Oh, not at all! Nor Brenda either! I know I can seem hard on myself, but I think when I’m being introspective out loud it can sound like that. It’s good to know how it sounds to others.

  7. I haven’t been a regular visitor to your blog in the past, but that’s starting to change. I have really come to appreciate the raw honesty you bring to your writing.

    I remember a couple of years ago you wrote about the realities of publishing, which certainly resonated with me as an occasional freelance writer (why is it that the work that is the raison d’etre for the online/print magazine is the part that is discounted when it comes to payment???). A few years back, you wrote about the reader backlash you received about your kitchen renovation, at a time when you were receiving financial assistance. More recently, one post that has stayed with me was your piece about being unable to afford medication for depression. And today, I find your candid acknowledgement of the difficulty in making a living as a knitter and maintaining your inspiration.

    I’m sure it’s not always easy to write — it’s not always easy to read. But it stays with me — and causes me to reflect on my own experiences. In some ways, I think your writing reflects your own design aesthetic. It’s complex, it’s challenging, it’s an acquired taste. But the reward — for the knitter or the reader — is significant.

    Thank you for having the courage to write with such honesty.

    • Wow – thank you. I really appreciate your comment, it means a lot. I’m not always sure that I should be writing what I do, but I try to only write about the stuff I CAN write about honestly!

  8. Your posts give such a well rounded picture of what it really means to be a designer. I too would find it difficult to sell my work.

    Doing the math to extend a pattern to other sizes – that’s kind of scary, because you just don’t have the time or the test knitters to test every size. I can see why the whole exercise would be stressful.

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