Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater, Part Three

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater
a continuing fiction

© S. Moss-Ward, 2010
All rights reserved. This may not be reproduced, except with permission.

Part Three
I didn’t want to tell Maxine my suspicion that the Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater was playing itself out belatedly in her and Guy’s relationship.  If the Curse applied to them, it was so delayed that it was beside the point.  Although maybe the thing about curses is that they can endure for, like, eons. 
My parents had had plenty of time to live in their relationship.  They were, after all, middle-aged, which means basically at the tipping point into decline, and Guy was always hammily bemoaning the fact that his life was half over.  Maxine called him The Gloomy Guy when he got like this, and she tiptoed around him, trying to make everything better, which was decent of her but futile, not to mention pointless.  I know she was worried, because she started telling me during a knitting session, after a really quiet dinner, when we all just sat there shoveling in the food and listening to our silverware scrape the plates, about how when Guy was in one of his gloomy spells he curled up into a metaphorical ball and was unreachable.
“Maybe you shouldn’t worry so much about him, Max, and just concentrate on what’s important to you,” I said.  This was a piece of advice that my therapist, Dr. Burger had offered a few times when I was kvetching about Maxine, and while I understood what she meant, I hadn’t actually put her advice into practice.  I was curious to see if it was something that might make more sense to a much older person, like my mother.
“Well, that’s easy for you to say,” Maxine replied.
I shrugged.  “Just a thought.”
I wondered if Guy had been so withdrawn during dinner because he was preoccupied with work, or with something else.  Like Chantal Remercier, par exemple.  He had looked so incredibly guilty at Starbucks.   I guess that having an affair in your mind is almost as powerful as the real thing.  Maybe even more powerful.
But honestly, what would a woman like cosmopolitan Chantal Remercier see in my tubby old dad, beyond his professional credentials?  In the academic realm he had a lot of clout, apparently—he held an endowed chair, and was always going to conferences or giving guest lectures, and he’d published a lot about Balzac and Henry James, both of whom, to be totally honest, he sort of resembled.  Then there I was, suddenly, barging in on the meeting of the minds (ha!) in all my chunky, shapeless glory, daddy’s not-so-little girl.  How’s that for a wake-up call, Chantal? This man comes with Baggage!
I sighed.  I felt sorry for Maxine, and for Guy, who was verging on pathetic.  Maxine was a lot of things, but she was never pathetic, I’ll grant her that.  She is genuinely talented in many ways, not just knitting.  She has a degree in Library Science and used to work in Rare Books before I was born.  She can read five languages and speak three.  She plays the cello well.  She’s pretty in a natural kind of way, and hasn’t gained more than a few pounds since the day she got married.  Next to me she looks so petite and trim.  I just wish that 99% of the time I didn’t detest her.
That’s what I tell Dr. Burger:  I wish I could like my mother.  Why can’t she just be decent to me? 
I see Dr. Burger on Thursdays after school; she has an office on Waterman Street in a building that used to be someone’s house.  I observed this casually, once, at the start of a session.  I said, “Maybe before this building was turned into offices, the room we’re in was the living room” (it has a fancy marble fireplace), and she said, “Perhaps we should explore that,” and I said “Why?” and she said, “Why do you think?”
That was when I’d just started therapy and didn’t yet know that therapists will grab onto a random comment and try to make it into a big deal.  Now I don’t waste time with chitchat when I come in for my session; I go straight to the point.  Mostly we have been discussing why my mother is the way she is.  Dr. Burger says she is probably conflicted.
“About what?” I asked.
“From what you’ve said,” she said, “your mother wants to be both your mother and your friend.  That’s why she wants you to call her Maxine, instead of Mom, for example.”
I pondered this for a bit.  “Well, if she’s trying to be my friend, she isn’t doing such a great job—you know, constantly making remarks about my weight, my schoolwork, about Ben.  It hardly makes me feel friendly.”
“Well, what does that remind you of?”
“I don’t know.”
“How about the way girls behave in school?” she suggested.  “Cliques, competition, that sort of thing.”
I thought this was totally ridiculous.  “No way,” I said, “Maxine is not like girls at school, she’s my mother, for crying out loud. I can’t compete with her, she’s in a whole different place from me.  She’s way better than me at a lot of things, like knitting just to mention one, because she’s had so much more practice.  It wouldn’t even occur to me to compete.”
“Maybe not to you,” said Dr. Burger.  “And you’re right, you don’t want to compete with her.  But maybe she competes with you.” 
“For what?” I asked.
“You tell me,” said Dr. Burger.
I started to laugh uncontrollably, so hard that tears leaked from the corners of my eyes.  “I’m sorry,” I gasped out, “but that is just so …not true.  I don’t know why I think it’s so hilarious….I just can’t see it…as…anything…. anything…but…ridiculous.”
Then my time was up.
A few days later Ben and I were sitting outside the pastry café in De Pasquale Square, having cannolis and iced cappuccinos, a tasty after-school pick-me-up.   We enjoy De Pasquale Square and surroundings for the cheese-ball “European” feel with the fountain and little café-ringed plaza, for its people-watching advantages, and the variety of food options—pastry, pizza, pasta, whatever.  I told him what Dr. Burger had said about Maxine, and he said, “Well I don’t know about the competition thing, but she could be jealous.”
“How sick is that?  Why the hell would she be jealous?”  I found myself almost yelling these words.
“I really can’t say,” Ben said slowly.  “It’s just that from what you tell me she’s kind of like my sisters; they’re always fighting about one of them having something the other doesn’t, and Lucy can’t keep away from Betsy and Betsy can’t keep away from Lucy, even though my parents tell them to back off; so they cool it for a while and then something incredibly petty happens and they’re at each other again.”
Because I respect Ben’s insights, I decided to meditate on this, though I didn’t admit it to him.  Maybe I had been too fast to laugh at Dr. Burger’s words, which Ben’s observations somewhat supported.
Then we compared answers to our French homework for the next day, and began collaborating on the essay we had to write (independently) over the weekend:  If I Could Be Any Character in Any One of La Fontaine’s Fables, I-X.  We got extra points for translating it into French, but first we had to do the English version. 
After we’d both had three cannolis and two coffees, and had written more than half the paper, it was starting to get dark and my cell phone rang. Maxine, wanting to know “where the hell” I was.  Why was she so angry?
“In library hell,” I lied.  “I have to research a term paper.”
“You could have called to tell me.”
“Sorry,” I said in my most unsorry tone of voice.  "I’m leaving now.”  I clicked off and started to stuff my backpack.
Ben asked, “Why didn’t you tell her the truth?”
“She doesn’t have to know everything I do.”
Ben said, “That’s her job, sort of.  To know where you are.”
I said, “Oh. My. God.  Whose side are you on?”
He said, “It’s not about sides.”
I said, “You’re right.  It’s about…it’s about… respect.  If she respected me more, she’d know I’d be home in time for dinner.  That’s what I told her this morning before I left the house.”
Ben laughed and shook his head in an infuriating way, as if to suggest he was above it all, and said he was going to Venda Ravioli to get some olives to bring home, a surprise for his mom.  Did I want to come?
I thought for a few seconds before saying no, I had to be going, and caught the bus to Kennedy Plaza without him.  I felt upset with him, almost betrayed, and, at the same time, strangely isolated.  
Of course, sitting on the bus you’re in that kind of twilight zone mode of isolation anyway, when you make no eye contact yet are highly aware of your fellow passengers—who smells boozey, who’s snoring, who’s talking on a cell, whose packages are jamming into your legs. I thought about Ben’s doing that nice thing for his mom, buying her the special olives she likes. Maxine never seemed impressed by what I gave her, not that I gave her a lot of stuff, but like on her birthday or Mother’s Day, she’d take whatever little thing I’d made or bought and say, “well isn’t this something,” and it would be displayed for a few days on the living room mantelpiece, and then it would somehow disappear.
I pulled my knitting from my backpack.  Ben’s scarf was done and I was halfway through the cap.  His birthday wasn’t for a few weeks, but I could hardly stand the suspense.  As I worked the yarn over the circular needle, I wrote a story in my mind of how it would be when I finally gave him The Present.  I’d do it casually so it would really be a surprise, like I’d phone him on a Friday night around ten and ask if he wanted to go with me the next day to the community garden where we did the service stuff our high school required. The “servitude,” as we called it, wasn’t so bad, really—at least you could be outside, and sometimes there were cute neighborhood kids who wanted to help you dig, or water, or plant seeds.
So Ben and I would go to Olneyville on the bus, and put in some hours, and at some point, maybe when we took a break, I’d pull a couple of Snapples out of my pack and give him a Kiwi-Strawberry (his favorite), and then I’d pretend I discovered something else and I’d hand him the neatly-wrapped package.
“What’s this?”  he’d say.
“Oh, just something I made.”
“For me?”
“Open it.”  I’d busy myself so he didn’t feel like I was watching him slyly.
“Oh, wow.  You made these for me?”
Then I’d smile a little and say, “Well, duh,” but without sarcasm.
“These are incredible.  I can’t believe you made these for me! And the color is just so great!”
“Happy birthday, Ben,” I’d say, and I’d hug him gently.  And he’d hug me back, and…
The bus stopped and the doors whooshed open, and the driver cut the motor.  We were at Kennedy Plaza.  I stuffed everything into my pack and got up too fast, dropping my transfer on the floor.  It floated under the seat.  A lot of people were lined up behind me and they all seemed to be bearing down, impatient and in a hurry, as I clogged the aisle, down on my hands and knees, trying to retrieve that very flimsy little piece of paper.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater, Part Two

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater
a continuing fiction
© S. Moss-Ward, 2010
All rights reserved. This may not be reproduced, except with permission.
Part Two
The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater goes like this:  if you knit your boyfriend a sweater, your relationship will die.  I think it’s a pretty interesting concept, and you can look at it two ways:  if it’s true and you value your relationship with the Boyfriend, you probably don’t want to knit him a sweater.  But, if it’s true and you want to get out of a bad relationship, then you probably should knit him a sweater.  But then you’ve gone and put all that work into a sweater for someone who isn’t worthy, so what’s the point?  There are much easier ways to serve the dude his walking papers.  “Just say no,” as the anti-drug crusaders like to tell school-age hostages at weekly Assemblies.
I’ve made exactly one sweater in the decade that I’ve been knitting. (Yes, Maxine says I was a late bloomer, having learned to knit at the advanced age of six.)  The sweater was for me; I did it during the summer between middle school and high school when I refused to go to camp and was too young to have a job except the occasional babysitting gig, so there was a lot of time to kill.  
The sweater ‘s so large it looks like it was designed by Omar the Tentmaker.  I knit it that way on purpose, using Debbie Bliss Chunky Cashhmerino that Maxine didn’t want anymore, on size nine needles.  It’s mostly green, but there are some blue and purple touches at the cuffs, neck, and bottom-band.  I like it because it covers me very completely in my favorite colors, and on days when I don’t want to think about my body, it does the job.  I look down at my beefy jeans-encased legs and beyond them, my feet in their fortified shoes— hefty black Doc Martens—and it’s almost as if they’re miniature instead of size ten clodhoppers.   They seem miles away, because the green field of the sweater, rolling down to mid-thigh, resembles an airplane view of farmland.
If I had a boyfriend I definitely wouldn’t knit him a sweater.  I might, though, knit him other things—scarves and hats, probably.  I do have a friend who’s a boy—that’s Ben Golden, my best friend, and the only other person at our lame inner-city charter high school who’s not African-American, Latino, or Asian—and in fact I’m knitting him a watch cap and matching ribbed scarf for his birthday, May 4th.  He hasn’t the faintest idea, so this is very cool.  I know he’ll be incredibly surprised.
I got him to come to the yarn shop on Hope Street with me when we were out one Saturday, strolling pointlessly in our neighborhood and strategizing about the next debate club meet—we were supposed to generate a list of debate-worthy topics and preliminary arguments, and, as per the edict of Mr. Frank, our coach, present them to the other social misfits on our team.  Television is a bad influence.  Walmart is good for America.  Public schools should require students to wear uniforms.  Torture is justified for national security.  Whatever…
“Hey Ben, just stop in here with me, ok?  I want to look at some yarn.”
He said, “So what else is new?,” and blew a giant bubble of bubble gum.  It finally popped and stuck eerily to his lips, until he pulled it off.
“Just for a few minutes,” I said.
He said, “’A few minutes’—famous lost words, Bee.  Why don’t I just go over to Gourmet House and order us some hot and sour soup?   You can show up when it’s cold and sour.”
He knows my favorite dishes, and that I think there’s nothing more fun than having a two-hour lunch with him in Gourmet House, sprawled in one of the decaying leatherette booths, eating yummy Chinese food and drinking so many cups of tea that if I laugh too hard I’ll wet my pants.
I said I was interested in wool for a project but wanted his opinion.  “I’m going to knit something for my dad,” I lied.
“Why?” Ben asked.  “Doesn’t he have enough stuff from your mother?”  Despite his justifiable skepticism, he allowed me to pull him into the shop.
“What do you think of this?” I said, holding a skein of Noro Kureyon up to his face.
“Weird,” he said.  “Those colors….”
“What about this?”  I showed him some caramel-colored alpaca and swooshed the yarn across his cheek so he could feel how soft. 
“It’s ok,” he said, suppressing a yawn.  “What are you going to make?”
“Oh, I’m not sure,” I said casually.  “But I find yarns so inspiring.”
“That one’s decent.”  He pointed to some plain worsted, lots of colors stuffed into its storage cubbyhole.
“You really think so?”
“Sure.  It seems more like the kind of yarn that real clothing is made from.”
I couldn’t believe how unimaginative this sounded, especially for Ben, who always wears interesting tee shirts and creatively distressed jeans.  That day his tee shirt said Beer:  It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore.   He had on some very worn Levis with two shredded knees and a lot of white bleach stains, and a cool beige suede bomber jacket he’d found at the Salvation Army store when we’d shopped there last year.  It had a long ballpoint pen mark on one sleeve, but otherwise was in very good condition.  And, of course, his usual Converses.
I bought four skeins of the worsted the following week.  Marine blue.  Blue is a good color for Ben, because his eyes are grey and they brighten around blues and greens.  That’s what I was knitting when Maxine and I had this quasi discussion about the Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater. 
“I’m interested,” Maxine said.  “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“That depends what you mean by ‘boyfriend,’” I answered.  “Ben is a boy and he is my friend.  Just. A.  Friend,” I emphasized.
“Oh…Ben.”  Maxine sighed.  “Don’t you think he’s a little, um, limited?”
“No I do not,” I replied, feeling suddenly agitated.  I mean, what right had she to imply anything negative about him?  He was always very polite when he came over, and a few times had helped her do stuff in the house, like carry heavy boxes to the attic, when Guy wasn’t home.
“Ben and I are number one and number two in our class, in case I forgot to remind you,” I said.  “He’s really smart.”
“Yes, that’s definitely the case when you go to a very small school and you’re a big fish in a little pond,” Maxine said.  “Your father and I saw this as a definite advantage over sending you to Moses Brown or Gordon, where you’d have to claw your way to the top.  Now you have a good chance of getting into a decent college.”
I stopped knitting and looked at her.  “Thanks for the validation, Maxine,” I said. “I always thought you sent me to the Vincent A. Cianci Academy for Creative Community Service because you didn’t want to cough up a big-bucks tuition for private school.”
“Well, that too….oh damn, I dropped some stitches.”  Maxine held up the Icelandic shawl she was knitting in several natural shades of fingering-weight wool and stretched it out with her hands.  It was cobwebby and beautiful against the light.  Then she pulled it off the long circular needle and ripped out a few inches, her lips pursed and brow furrowed in concentration.  For a long time neither of us spoke.   “There,” she said, at last.  “It’s ok now.”
We smiled at each other, and I felt suddenly kind towards her, to my surprise.  Maybe it was because it’s so pleasing when a knitting mistake can be easily fixed. Unlike relationships, which demand constant work.
“The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater is just a crock,” Maxine said.  “Because after all, it’s just one of those folklore things, and if I may say so myself, I knitted a sweater for your father before I’d even known him six months”—they’d met in their freshman year of college—“and look what happened!  Twenty-eight years later we’re still together!”
I knew that sweater well.  It was a Fair-isle pattern in various browns, rusts, oatmeal, grey, and black.  He still wore it on special occasions to please her, but it was getting way too snug around the middle and clearly was no longer comfortable.
I did not think it useful just then to mention that earlier in the week I’d accidently encountered Guy in Starbucks, having an earnest conversation over lattes with a woman who wore an extremely short black leather skirt, a tight red sweater, and black lace stockings that ended in black high heels. Ben and I had cut AP English on Wednesday and hopped off our usual bus way early, at Thayer and Waterman, instead of Rochambeau and Hope.  We desperately needed caffeine and liked the Starbucks environment, where you could sit and talk for however long, and there was good people watching, mostly Eurotrash students and self-important types from Brown. 
When I saw my father sitting on a slowly-twirling barstool at a counter next to this sex bomb, looking like he wanted to, ugh, climb into her heavily lipsticked mouth, I latched onto Ben’s arm and tried to move him past the sugar/milk/napkin station really fast so we could get the hell out, but Ben was in a cranky mood (it was the late-afternoon sugar slump, I swear) and said, “What the fuck, Bee?” and just then Guy looked up suddenly and saw us.  He stopped twirling his seat and stared.  I stared back.  He was wearing a blazer, buttondown shirt and tie, and had on his grey dress slacks.  In other words, not his usual teaching attire of baggy corduroys worn smooth in the seat and knees, and a stretched-out, gut-defining turtleneck going thin at the elbows.
For a few flashing seconds his face was absolutely awry, as if someone had pasted his shaggy eyebrows on upside down and squeezed his neck until his eyes popped and his grey-brown hair fizzed out from around his bald spot, but he swiftly composed himself and said, in his booming, faux-hearty voice, “Oho!  Who have we here?”
I swear to God, every head in Starbucks turned from their coffees, laptops, conversations, newspapers, and books, and looked at me, looming there like a giant hairball in my enormous sweater, my hand gripping Ben’s arm like he was a little kid having a meltdown and I was his mother dragging him to his room for a time out.  It was like the world just stopped.  I could feel myself start to sweat as if the coffee bar had suddenly become a giant sauna, and I croaked out, “ Uh, hi Dad.”
“Chantal,” Guy said suavely, to his cocktail waitress companion.  “This is my daughter, Barbara.  And her friend, um,…”
“Ben,” I supplied.  Ben smiled and said “Hi!”
“Very nice to meet you, Chantal,” I said.
“Chantal Remercier is a visiting professor of French Literature, from the Sorbonne,” Guy told me.  “We’re discussing an important translation project we may undertake.”  He smiled grimly and looked at me in a manner both ominous and shleppy.
“Oh,” I said.  “Nice to meet you, Professor Remercier.”
“Not at all,” she said except it sounded like this:  Naht et oll.  

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater, Part One

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater
a continuing fiction
© S. Moss-Ward, 2010
All rights reserved. This may not be reproduced, except with permission.

Part One
Mother and I were knitting, as usual, after dinner, and as usual I was thinking about what I’d rather be doing than sitting here with her, needling away, but as my existence is completely stinko at this particular moment as it has been for an amazingly long time, there was no better option.  Face it, Bee, I told myself, you have no life, except what happens in-between your ears.  If you go to your room and read or do homework or both (and who admits to doing that kind of crap on a weekend?) or call Ben for a marathon chat (impossible, since he is in Boston this weekend for his cousin’s bar mitzvah and has told me not to try; he will be very occupied), she’d flip into Hurt and Injured Mode, where she goes all silent/looming depressed and makes me feel that there is this Brewing Problem that must be addressed or else it will become a Big Fucking Deal, and when you ask her what’s the matter she says “Nothing” in a tiny quiet voice. 
Instead I decided to take the bull (cow, actually) by the horns, so I said, “Max” (because ever since I turned sixteen she has insisted I call her by her first name, Maxine, just to add another factoid to the list of her irritating quirks and mannerisms), “was your wedding dress the biggest project you ever knitted, or have you ever done anything bigger than that?”
“O-o-h,” she said wonderingly, kind of singing the sound, as if she had to dredge up the information from some deeply buried memory bank.  This was not the case, actually, since there is nothing that Maxine thinks about more than herself, and she is an expert on her life, although I might be the next-most-expert person on her life, since I have been hearing about it forever.  Or maybe my father. “I think so.  Because by the time I was your age, I’d already knitted a couple of queen-sized bedspreads—in crochet cotton, on…hmm…number two needles, I think.  Maybe number ones, I’m not sure.  A kind of lace-sampler pattern—must have been twenty or thirty different squares, all cleverly grafted together so that the joins were practically invisible. The lace samples were edged by strips of embossed patterns, and then they fell straight to the floor in an overall, very open lace that looked something like a fishnet.  So light and airy.  Lots of yarn-overs.  That took the better part of the summer, I think.  I’d do a couple of hours in the morning before I went to the day camp where I was a counselor from eight to six, and then I’d work on it after I had dinner and practiced the cello for an hour or so.  It took a long time, if I recall correctly.  I think maybe from early June to the middle of September.”
I noticed my hands were clenched tightly around the wooden needles, and I was slipping stitches from left to right rather forcefully.
“How long did the wedding dress take?”  I like to raise this topic whenever we need a “time out.”  It brings her to a pleasant era, when she was just beginning her rise to glory, already showing so much promise that people were in, like, total awe.  I have heard the wedding dress story in many different forms, at many different times.  I have often wondered if she was subtly trying to influence me to knit one myself. (Barf.)
“You know, Barbara dear, it’s hard to remember, it’s been so long…plus, I started it years before I married, just for the fun of it, and it was made in pieces over time.”
Just to fill you in:  my mother, Maxine Goodman, was practically born knitting.  Our house is covered, literally, with demonstrations of her skill, ranging from recent afghans and pillow-covers, to stuff dating back to her preschool years.  (Really.  There is a framed pair of moth-eaten red mittens in a shadow box thingy hanging in the back hall of our house.  She made these when she was three or four, if we are to believe her.  Do we believe her?)
There are photos of Maxine and my father, Guy, on their wedding day, displayed on a wall in their bedroom, and one in a heavy-duty silver frame placed smack in the middle of the lid of the piano.  They both look like the hippies they still are, deep down, except more blatantly so because that was the style then.  Maxine’s hand-knitted wedding dress has leg-of-mutton sleeves and a square neckline; it is empire- waisted and cascades to her ankles in drapey folds, where the bottom meets a thick lace border.  The lace on the border, the bodice, the skirt, and the sleeves, is heavy and beautiful.  Her feet are bare and she has a circle of daisies on her head.  She’s gazing up at Guy, who’s wearing a striped, open-necked shirt, Jesus hair and beard, bell-bottom paisley slacks, and a big-buckled belt.  He’s barefoot, too. 
I always find it helpful to look at these photos when I am really angry with them both. (Often.)  It reminds me that Pride Goeth Before a Fall and all that crap.  Sort of like what T.S. Eliot says in (the world’s greatest poem, I’d argue) The Waste Land, about “O you who turn the wheel and look windward,/ Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.” 
Guy, for one, has quite a gut now that he’s in middle age, and even though he tries to suck it in and stand tall, nothing except maybe a million crunches a day plus bariatric surgery would repair the damage.  I know their little delusion, their little folie à deux, cannot last all that long, and eventually they will be unmasked, perhaps by me, perhaps by someone else.  Maxine will morph from domestic goddess and super-talented-at-everything person to Madame Defarge hunkered over her crappy stocking next to the guillotine, and Guy will be revealed for the Wizard of Oz he is, the world’s biggest fake, whose jollies now are porn on the Internet (like he thinks no one knows about this!) and the admiration of a few pathetic graduate students who have the bad luck to be his advisees.
Maxine’s hair is graying.  I told her she should have it colored and she said she wouldn’t pay anyone to do something she could do herself, and besides it was natural and why should she make it unnatural?  I said, “Because you would look twenty years younger.”  This was an exaggeration, but I deliberately exaggerated to make a point. 
“My body is very young, and my mind is ageless,” she said softly, but with great conviction.
This reminded me of how last week, when I was trying to get into the upstairs bathroom, she burst out after a shower in a cloud of steam and flung off her towel like a streaker, and ran past me, her boobs wobbling in a totally disgusting manner, laughing wildly, saying “Does this look like the body of a forty-six-year-old woman?”
Well, duh. 
“No,” I called.  “It looks like the body of an eighty-six-year-old woman who’s in really good shape.”
“You know, Barbie,” she said, knowing how much I hate that nickname, but that is part of her passive aggression, “you have no perspective on the human body.”
“That’s because I’m fat,” I said.  “Fat people think they’re normal, just like thin people think they’re fat.”
“You said it, not I.”
“It’s a fact.  Body Dysmorphic Disorder.  I don’t mind.  It’s reality.”
“You should mind.  It’s very distressing to see how much you eat.”
“So,” I said, “did you ever hear of this legend or whatever, called The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater?”
“Don’t change the subject, Barbie.”
“I have nothing to add to your observation.  Did you ever hear of this legend?”
“Yes.  Why?  Do you have a boyfriend?  Are you going to knit him a sweater?”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

You can't always get what you want...

Dedicated readers of this blog know that one of my Big Themes is that of frustration. Knitting even the simplest item requires a certain vigilance, and there are so many variables factored into the maelstrom between start and finish that results can never be duplicated exactly. This is also the beauty of knitting, because uniqueness and surprise are in the final product.

Frustration takes many forms. It appears as dismaying results when following a pattern, requiring the knitter to rip out repeatedly or throw up her hands or, as I often do, put the damned thing aside until I have regained my composure (often a matter of months). Frustration develops from the way a yarn knits up because it isn't as nice looking as you'd hoped, or the colors seem off when viewed in natural light, or from the nervous apprehension that even though you swatched before starting the sweater and the gauge seemed correct, the knitted fabric appears too large or too tight. (This generates speculative bets, like "if I lose only ten pounds, I'll probably be able to wear this cardigan, though I might not be able to button it, but anyway it will look good casually hanging open.") Frustration may develop simply because the project is taking way longer than you expected, and there are other things you want to do with your life.

My friend Joan, a loyal knitting comrade (it was she who accompanied me to the Bristol Yarn and Fibre Expo last year, as well as to Wild and Wooly in Lexington, MA and The Island Yarn Company in Waltham, MA, chronicled on earlier posts of this blog), lives, as you may have already surmised, in Massachusetts. Specifically, in that metro-Boston suburban paradise, Weston. (Which is how we met, because our sons attended Weston High in the 1990s. Yes, friends, Weston was my home from 1991-2001, and I am grateful for its many advantages, especially the splendid public schools and library, the nature trails, the community farm, and the idyllic public swimming pool. I do not, however, miss its compulsive competitiveness and pernicious displays of conspicuous consumption.) ANYWAY, Joan is a superb knitter, and some months ago undertook a project that caused her great frustration, but she stuck it out and succeeded.

Herewith a photo of her Frank Lloyd Wright afghan (shown on a blocking bed of glamorous bath towels), a kit purchased from Knitpicks (, and her observations:

Frank Loyd Wright Inspired by Knitpicks.  12 pages of directions.. and colors much prettier than photo on pattern. ... made this a tour de force of determination.    I learned to mitre and pick up a million stitches. Instead of "48" square, mine came out more like a lap robe  at "39".  Am I a tight knitter or was it the cheap Susan Bates needles that kept catching?    The alpaca suri dream is supposed to stretch but in tight knit fashion I then messed up bind off refusing to revisit that Zen of knitting, the redo.

These are the words of a true knitting heroine, one who persevered until everything came out right, more or less.  Congratulations, my dear!

And while I'm on the subject of Knitting Heroines, Deborah Newton will be giving a talk to the Knitters Guild at Slater Mill on Wednesday, April 28th, at 6.30 pm.  The topic is Cable Knitting and Designing.  Here's the link to the flyer:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pattern language

Elizabeth Zimmerman's motto was "Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises," and that certainly is what I've been doing in these post-diluvian days.  Last week I began her classic February baby sweater from the Knitter's Almanac, for a friend whose second child, a girl, arrives in July. (How convenient for both mother and knitter to know what to expect.  I chose a shetland DK in girly pale pink mixed with lavender.) In typical EZ fashion, the instructions are weirdly casual, something on the order of (I paraphrase here) "cast on 50 stitches of DK using any needle between 2 and 5 and do eight rows of garter stitch interspersed with two rows of pattern A, then repeat from beginning, then start pattern B, then start making buttonholes, then when you have 4.5 inches add on sleeves..." etc.

This put me in mind of those pre-modern cookbooks with recipes like:

To make ye a pye, take ye first a goodly amount of floure and mix it with some new-churned butter and roll into a good sized pastie for the nonce.  Then fill with some amounts of large berries mixt with several drammes of lumpen sugare, and bake it all inside the hearth but to the side until it is well-nigh done but not overly.

It was pattern B that got me, as it refused to conform to the laws of lace organization, and after ripping out three times I decided this item needed to be put on hold because right now, with a flood-ravaged basement, I want no more tsurris in my life. I worked some more on my sock, which is soothingly straightforward. Then, feeling somewhat restored, I decided to return to the February baby sweater today, with renewed dedication to working out the kinks-- only to find that my copy of the Knitter's Almanac has disappeared.

This is a message from the universe, obviously.