NEW YORK – In the fall of 2017, as I packed up all my summer garments in preparation for a new winter, I found a ball of wool tucked in the back of my closet, with the needle positioned exactly where I had left it nearly half a decade ago.
Today, as I picked up that wool to finish that scarf that I had abandoned, I remembered that part of myself that I thought I had lost over time.
Four years ago, I had turned to the time-tested art my mother had taught me in my teen years: crocheting. I had just graduated college with the rose-colored desire to take a year to dip into the job market before plunging into the day to day grind of graduate school.
I had initially started out with a pile of wool and a crochet needle with lackluster enthusiasm; however, it wasn’t long before that hobby became a habit.
A serious compulsion.
I would return home from a long day of teaching and lesson-planning to the comfort of weaving thread in an endless bind.
I would spread out my newly-acquired treasures in the attic, seat myself perfectly between the window, which streamed a faint glow of moonlight, and a candle, lit among a collection of paintings of flowers and angels. I would spread myself on the daybed and lose myself for hours in the rhythm of crocheting.
Complementing those crocheting sessions were countless trips to the local crafts store, which would always leave me with an armful of wool—some in purple metallic, some in sequenced gold, some multicolored, and others in dusty rose.
I had so many thoughts—more than I could ever grasp—that I felt that if I could just stitch them into this half-made scarf hanging from my hands, then I would be able to make some sense of them—maybe I would be able to understand my life a bit better.
I had this fantasy that I would be able to read my thoughts through each loop I knotted. The wool became my alphabet, and the seamed loops, my speech. It was that philosophy that turned that little scarf into a blanket, eleven feet tall and six feet wide.
As I would crochet, I would remember a story I had read of a little girl who recalled her childhood days of watching her grandmother knit for her and her sisters.
She spoke of how, every once in a while, a silver strand of her grandmother’s hair would fall into her lap, and her grandmother would move right along, weaving those fallen pieces right into her latest work.
Years later, when the little girl—now grown woman—shared her grandmother’s sweaters with her children, she remembered her grandmother’s hair tangled in the sleeves caught in her daughter’s arms.
Somehow, that story had stayed with me. That urge to knot down something fleeting and intangible into the sheaths of thick wool worn in the deep of winter. That shadowy part of us that simply cannot face loss. That desire to hold tight to that which is not ours to keep.
However, four years ago, I gave up on a scarf I had excitedly started out. I went to stitch another loop and never touched it again.
In the last few years, I had wandered from dance clubs to coffee shops to sophisticated museums, and manicured nature centers to find that part that I had left dry in the cold. Somehow the rigor of routine had left me all the more vacant and unfulfilled.
I wanted to once again touch that nerve inside that I had numbed. I wanted to feel the joy, and the accompanying pain, that were woven tight within those nerves.
For, I found that even when I wrote, the words weren’t mine, but of those artificially concocted by my intellect. I wanted to feel myself in the raw again. Unpolished, rough, and slightly broken.
But it was here all along. In my closet in an old plastic bag. My needle and thread. All a reminder of the sides of myself that I had hidden from the world.
I had been wrong earlier—it wasn’t the loops that caught the fragments of my life, but the motion of crocheting itself. The movement from needle to thread—rhythmic memory—held the thoughts that I strove to parse out years ago.
As I looked at my collection, the scarves I made years ago didn’t speak to me, as I had expected them to.
I could not “read” the loops, as I had initially desired. But, with the yarn in my hand and the needle pressed between my fingers, I could instantly remember those thoughts I had long hushed away.
There’s some beauty in that. I had placed an inordinate amount of value in the objects I had gathered from the past: it’s a delight to know that the present action of crocheting—of actively working with my hands and creating something new—could seamlessly bridge darkened motions of the past with the clear-view movement of the present.
So I wove rows upon rows of flowers in violets and blues. I thought maybe, just maybe, I could pour the boundless grief and joy of life into the patterns with each stroke—that that pest of futile agitation would find some reprieve in the dense garlands below.
And in three weeks from that moment, I saw my unfinished work of years back bounce into the bright boughs of a lilac wood, blooming in the very groove where my apathy was once buried.
(Lavanya Mookerjee, has received the Tim Marks scholarship for the Arts, the Academic Excellence award and the 2013 Franis J. Ryan award for “Best Undergraduate Research Paper” at Eastern American Studies Association Conference. She was also a digital humanities panelist for 2017 Modern Language Association Conference and an invited researcher at Georgia Tech’s Humanities Data Visualization workshop. She is currently working while pursuing a second post-graduate degree.)