Who I used to be

People often ask me how I find the time to knit.  I have three children, and I’m home with them full time, and for whatever reason, many people seem to find this incompatible with a hobby.

The answer is that knitting fills a hole for me.  Before I had three kids – before I had any kids – I was an art student majoring in illustration.  So was my husband, actually.  That’s how we met.  He was a senior my freshman year at art school.  He was leaning toward animation by that time, and I was painting a lot, and tending more and more toward oil paintings.  I never achieved the level of proficiency I wanted.  When I got pregnant with our first son, I left art school.  I was actually planning on leaving anyway.  Art school is a strange little racket, and I found that it didn’t satisfy my craving for intellectual stimulation.  I had also found that oftentimes, art school professors are hired because they are successful, but not too successful, artists which is all well and good, but does not mean that they know how to teach.

So I got pregnant and left school, which wasn’t how I’d intended to leave, but it was a way to leave.  We moved across the country, and I knew that while my art career was temporarily on hold, it was not over.  I knew I had the dedication it took to stick with it, however hard it might be.  I knew it and knew until a few years passed and I realized that I wasn’t painting anymore.

Some people do push on.  It’s difficult.  Oil paints are toxic and sometimes take hours to set up.  They sometimes take hours to clean up afterward.  They never technically dry.  And I don’t have a studio.  But if I’d been more determined, more capable, and more of an artist, I wouldn’t have just quietly quit without noticing.  I was a good painter, but I wasn’t a great one, and looking back, I wasn’t ever going to be great.  Just good, which is fine, but not what I wanted out of life.

This is a detail of my favorite painting that I did at art school.  It was a self portrait, good, but not great.

Anyway, there was a big hole in my life when I stopped painting.  For a while, I made huge elaborate meals, until I realized that I was trying to replace art.  Then I tried to get back into art, using acrylic, watercolor, charcoal, and pencil instead of oils.  I thought that might work, but I’d become so self concious, and those just aren’t my mediums.  I started comparing my work with Mr. Kninja’s, which was an unwise thing to do.  He’s a very talented guy.  Eventually I turned to making things that I could pick up and set down while they were still in progress.  Knitting is the best substitute I’ve found so far for fine or commercial art.  I don’t feel guilty when I’m knitting because I can do it between other activities or while I’m doing something else.  I don’t feel guilty because the end result is something tangible and practical.  It’s a wonderful activity, and I love it, and I can do it and still be a fulltime mom.

I have tried other ways to keep my art going.  Until the 12th of this month, I ran a little webshop at spiffygrits.com.  I still own the domain, but I’m not a business person, and the shop was a dismal failure.  I used it as an excuse to draw, though, and I made a lot of weird little tee shirt designs and it was fun.  I don’t regret my failure so much.  It was never my dream to make tee shirts, but it was nice to have a reason to draw and not to feel like I was being self indulgent.

A few Spiffy Grits designs:

Today, I’m not really trying to be an artist.  Some day I would like to return to painting, but I don’t want it for a career.  I want it to be something like what knitting is to me now – something that brings me a lot of pleasure and something that I love and do lovingly, but not the focus of my life.   What that focus will be, I’m not 100% sure.

My passions now, though, are different than they were.  I just finished the first draft of my first novel, and writing gives me a sort of satisfaction that nothing else does.  It’s a way I can spread out and, although it’s not necessarily clear here, I think it’s a place where I have more ability than I did as a painter.  I’m passionate about history and research and women’s issues.  I’m going to be 28 next month, and I still haven’t finish my undergraduate degree.  I haven’t had a high powered career – just a few little essays published in odd places or broadcast on the radio.  I haven’t become great.  But I feel like I’m going somewhere now, and that part feels good.

So, back to where I started, I find the time to knit because if I didn’t, I’d be profoundly unhappy.  Making things is part of who I am and who I used to be.  If I don’t make things I become depressed, or worse, I destroy things.  I must have something to do with my hands.  Right now, knitting is my best option, and I love it.  I don’t think I’ll ever quit knitting, because I don’t see any reasonable necessity for it.  This may sound like a depressing reason for knitting, but honestly, it’s a part of my life I really do love, and even though it turns out that I am not an artist, even though my first passion will not be my last, I don’t think first love is always all it’s cut out to be.  I had a youthful perception of art, a romantic ideal, and now I find that I just don’t want that.  The romance of art is what makes it somewhat unappealing to me now.  Knitting has a practical, stodgy reputation that means it is largely overlooked by the fine art world.  (Fiber arts was the department at my school that was vaguely looked down upon by many of the fine artists.  It was populated almost exclusively by women, many of whom were doing very innovative and exciting things with looms and sticks and strings.)  As long as knitting makes me as happy as it does now, I’ll be at it.

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3 Responses to “Who I used to be”

  1. Lori Says:

    It must be the mood I’m in today, but you made me cry. But in a good way, I think.

  2. kellyjn Says:

    I think who you are today is an awesome person. I’m betting that the experiences that you are living now will allow you to be (not a better, necessarily) an artist with a different depth. The fact that you are creating through knitting is awesome, and I only wish I could do what you do.

    You’re cool. THAT’S who you are today.

  3. Sue Says:

    I loved the comments to this post. I agree…you ARE an awesome person with so many gifts! How you write a novel, design and construct beautiful knitware, maintain this blog, cook wonderful meals, and care for your family is a wonder! This post takes me back to the days when we’d go to the park and your little 4-yr-old self would take long grasses and weave them into something interesting…
    Love,
    Mom

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