Knitting a Book…One Stitch at a Time

At various appearances, book clubs, conventions, I’ve talked a little about how knitting socks connects to writing a story…and it does, although I didn’t start out writing stories as a kid with any such awareness.  But what I’ve said before has new and deeper relevance in my struggles with both writing and knitting after the 2018 concussion..and on the physical end, with my struggle to ride again.

I quickly found that I could not read as well (just barely read) and could not write coherently or imagine a storyline, even one already planned.  Over time, struggling to regain at least the ability to read and write, I began to grasp what was missing.  I still had vocabulary and I could still form sentences.  But I could not focus for more than a couple of sentences at a time, or through a long sentence.  I could write briefly about concrete things–what I had for breakfast, what the weather was, etc.–but had no awareness of the parts of writing that aren’t about vocabulary and simple sentence structure.   My nearest friends encouraged me to keep trying (and bless them for that) but said (and again–I needed to hear it) that “This doesn’t sound like your writing, keep trying.”  The characters I tried to make up were…like bad TV sitcom characters, flat and obvious.   I didn’t understand them, so they had no real motivation for what they did.  When reading, I couldn’t read more than a paragraph at a time (sometimes not that) and couldn’t connect it to other paragraphs even after several readings.   The *sense* of a story wasn’t there.  The vital connection of motivation to action, that chain of cause/effect, didn’t connect.  I had never outlined, in the formal sense and trying to outline now didn’t work because I had no reference points…the “hilltops sticking out of the fog” image I’d used before for the way I write had become the blank gray of fog filling the entire visual space.

When I tried knitting, while I couldn’t read,  I couldn’t concentrate long enough to knit a complete row–I could lose my way between one stitch and another.  I had several pairs of socks partly worked, at that time–nothing unusual, I’d learned to overlap them so that the many rows of ribbing could be done in small increments while the trickier and more challenging parts (the heel flap, turning the heel, and reconnection of heel to the “front” of the sock)  were going on, and by the time the sock was finished, so was the ribbing, and the more interesting parts had now arrived.  But I couldn’t do the simple knit-two/purl-two of ribbing without getting lost, making mistakes over and over, so the ribbing was crooked, full of holes and bulges…I’d knit a purl stitch, purl a knit stitch, slip a stitch without noticing, put in  a yarn-over, knit into the wrong part of the loop, or even between stitches.  And though after years of regular knitting I had been able to fix the mistakes I made quickly and easily…now I couldn’t.  I couldn’t even pick up a dropped stitch and get it back on the needle.   Though I’d developed (from a basic “sock recipe” in Yarn Harlot’s Knitting Rules) my own sock patterns for my particular feet, and had knit quite a few dozen pairs of socks, post-concussion I was unable to visualize how to cast on, cast off, get increases and decreases pointed in the right direction (left leaning/right leaning)…and worse, trying to look up how-to videos now made no sense.  I’d been knitting without a formal pattern, “feeling” what a planned item needed the same way I “felt” what a story or a book needed.  Since knitting is concrete, fully visible and tangible, visualizing the intended complete product was easy once I’d made one (and sometimes before.)   And yet now, the concept of a sock–even holding a sock in hand–did not make sense.

Gradually, as I went back and started reading slowly and intently, books I’d read as a child, the reading skill and speed picked up.  FAR more slowly than I wanted.  I didn’t, after making a mess of the projects in hand, start trying to knit again.  Maybe I should have.  But reading and writing still felt like one FAIL after another, and as most of us know, failure on failure on failure saps the energy to keep trying.  I didn’t risk it with anything but the writing.   Story after story fizzled after one paragraph…three paragraphs…two pages.  Not until I was reading within 15% of my previous speed and difficulty (still wasn’t up to science journals then, but could read “good” magazines) could I write something longer than a page or two of “fiction.”  In quotes because that was the intent but not the outcome.  I moved up and spread out from the few I could read at first–adding in genres I’d used to enjoy and had copies of: mysteries, thrillers, political, science fiction, fantasy, and checked chapter by chapter–had I “gotten” it all?  Could I remember the gist of it?   I began several books (none made it very far–I would lose what horse people call “impulsion”–the feel of a story that wants to go forward, that derives its energy from the characters, whose motivations sprout plot the way good compost sprouts and nourishes plants.

After a year and a half I tried knitting again.  No luck.  Messes, knotted globs on the needles.  Pull it off, wind up the yarn, put it all away–didn’t need the frustration.  Knitting and writing both depend on the brain’s ability to visualize the desired whole (for creative work–people who “just follow directions” turn out useful and beautiful items without this, I think.  My mother was a creative person; she had an aunt (for whom she’d been named) who did perfect knitting and crochet from directions only, and no matter how many times she produced a certain motif, needed directions to do it again.)   I couldn’t follow the directions, because the socks I made were unique to the feet I made them for.

A year passed.  Another year passed.  I was “better” but still not there yet, and with increasing age realized that I might not get there ever before advancing age put a lid on the pot.   I began yet another book, and tried for patience and acceptance and all those related virtues.  For those who don’t know me personally,  in horse terms I’m a hotblood, not a coldblood–Arabian, not Percheron.  (Though these days I look fairly draft-type.)  The urge to write, though, growing stronger.  The book started full of energy, and when it faltered, I was able (with a lot of difficulty) to shove it forward through the mud…then it would roll along, then fall into another mudhole.   I wore my failing socks as they developed holes; I tried darning and managed to bring one or two pairs back…but then they wore through again.  Last year I started a pair of socks, and very slowly felt my way back into knitting, still unsure it would ever work.  The book finally came to an end; I sent the draft to my agent, who kindly but firmly explained what was wrong with it ( a lot).   I set about rewriting it.  With every passing month, I could see more and more what the book needed, what I’d not been able to see while still concussion-fogged.   That fog had started, I realized, with the *previous* head injury, when I never lost consciousness and thus didn’t think of it as significant.   I was determined to see if this book could be fixed somehow…and then we had the blackout and Big Freeze and my feet were cold and miserable (actually we were cold and miserable period.)   I grabbed two other pairs of holey socks and darned them faster than I’ve ever darned before (or since)  and put them on.  Took a former project (way back, never finished) and got it off the needles for my husband to wear.  Survival mode cuts through a lot of loss of confidence and puts the task in front of you  as “this or freeze” (or in other circumstances other possible ways to survive.)

We survived.  In the days of no power, I had grabbed snarly mess of  the blue pair of socks, plus started a longer scarf for my husband.  With knitting (much of it outside, in the carport, where we cooked) and cooking in serious emergency mode confidence slowly returned (well until the last night, which was just plain horribly cold and I couldn’t sleep for fear of it.)   When the power came back on and stabilized, I reread the first chapters (already revised) and saw that they STILL needed the elusive “impulsion”…and finally figured out what that was for this book.  So far first reader is in agreement.  I can see, as I work on it chapter by chapter, what’s not there, what is there that needn’t be, and it now feels  “on the bit.” in the sense that race horse jockeys and event riders mean it (not the nose tucked in sense but in the sense of  the horse has locked onto a fence and is taking the rider to it, not backing off, confused, wandering, etc.)   The knitting was off and on for several weeks, but I felt confident enough after the heel turns to look at a WEBS ad online and order some new yarn.*  It’s been hard to find a brown I really like, that has a good feel.  I cast on the brown pair of socks.   And now the blue socks are past the gussets and onto the foot, the brown socks are well into the ribbing,  husband’s new scarf is 2 feet long (and if it had been sunny today there’d have been a picture…or more.)   The part of the brain that “holds” a project in some mental form seems to be working again, so God willin’ and the crick don’t rise I expect to finish socks and book, and maybe more writing beyond that.

*I have plenty of yarn.  The yarn I was working through before the concussion would be a lot less if  I’d been knitting at my usual rate the last three years.  But knitters know that new yarn coming in, especially yarn you haven’t knit with before,  is a spur to casting on more RIGHT NOW.   The blue socks are in Ella rae Classic (wool), the browns are CloudBorn (superwash wool), the scarf for my husband is in Berocco Comfort (acrylic), all worsted weight and being worked on US 5 double pointed needles (socks) and US 7  cable needle by KnitPicks (scarf).

21 thoughts on “Knitting a Book…One Stitch at a Time

  1. And one assh*le “expert” told me concussions weren’t cumulative. They are. And like me you pushed as hard as you could every day (sometimes too hard) trying to get you back. I’m so glad you can knit as well as write again! And I’m glad you helped me keep the faith during the worst of my recovery and that I could return the favour. Although I do wish neither of us had to.

    1. Can I just say, channeling the Marine, that that “expert” deserves a good swift punch? I don’t think my first two were *that* cumulative, since they occurred years apart…the second did take longer to heal, but then I was out a lot longer with it, too. Though maybe the recovery length was a combination of the damage of both. But it’s the one where the loss of some fear afterward let me make my first real pro sales, both nonfiction (The Western Horseman) and fiction (“Bargains,” to MZB’s Sword & Sorceress III.) So some good came of it. The subsequent ones…not so much.

      Your writing about yours was *immensely* helpful…things like the feeling that the brain “heats up” and literally your head feels like it’s cooking inside when over stressed…that would’ve freaked me out if you hadn’t written about it. The hopeless feelings, the ‘no progress at all’ feelings…it was great to have those trail markers in the wilderness…someone else had been on that path. I had it lucky, working at home and with space to walk outside around and around if I needed to. I did finally learn to just crawl into the sack when I felt the boiling start up top. (Ice cream, or better an ice-cream soda with the ice cream held up against the palate, did seem to cool it down faster than anything else. Not good for the weight, but cooling the head seemed more important and all an ice bag does is make my hair wet.)

  2. Hi – This concussion thing is a real bummer. But I am glad that you are making good progress. On the one hand, don’t be pressured to write – but on the other, if cold will help you knit – I hesitate to beg and plead for another book but it would be nice. No Pressure, ha ha ha. So enjoy the spring and the horses and the significant other. Stay safe and sane.

    Jonathan up here in New Hampshire where it has been two weeks since my second shot.

    1. Happy for you that you’ve done the two weeks…we’re taking our son in tomorrow for his first shot. (Mid-thirties, autistic, so we’ve had him up here rather than in the city where he’s happiest–but the things he enjoys most are still closed, like swimming pools…and I don’t know if the ice rink is open.) We’ll keep him here until he’s had the series and the 2-3 weeks, and then see if he can handle the city with the new rules. Probably he can.

  3. We would all love another book (or three, or four), but your health comes first! Glad you are able to knit – I’ve rather lost my knitting mojo for a bit; it will return. My current project – crochet, actually, not knit – is so nearly finished that a hard evening’s work would do it, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. I do know what I want to d next, but haven’t quite planned it out yet.

    1. I can’t crochet; as a child I could crochet an edge, and then learned to do granny squares, but there’s something in the wrist movement now that is really ouchy, and I never mastered the details of crochet.

  4. David Hathcock.
    I was not aware for the concussion. I was just wishing for another book. If i comes, I will cherish it. If it doesn’t, I believe in re-reading ( and re-rereading.).
    With only one concussion, I have to blame my parses on age.
    Take care.

    1. Thanks for the good wishes. I would have said I’m doing so much better until I fell in the barn today and scared the horses. But I got up (with the aid of a pipe to grab onto) and the horses got fed and watered just the same.

  5. So good to hear from you. The biology textbook I’m using talks about the effects of concussion and relates it most to athletes. May I share your thoughts about recovery with my students?

    Happy Easter!

    Leslie in HOT Arizona, where it’s hitting 100 degrees. I don’t remember it ever being this hot this early.

    1. Certainly. If any of them are riders who’ve had concussions (most riders end up on the ground at least a few times, and many have head injuries) I have some specific comments about how it felt to get back on (probably too soon!) and the diff between a fall & broken bones, and a fall with concussion, and a fall with both. If you find someone who wants that, let me know. Most riders (mountain bike or horses) tend to minimize injuries but there are some important warnings for the first hours post-concussion. Like don’t decide to drive home when you realize you have no idea where to turn when you get to the interstate but figure your “trail sense” will lead you right. Do Not Drive. You can pass out again any time and your judgment is zero. Below zero. Into ignorant/foolhardy/stupid. (Yes, I drove back from the outer ring road around San Antonio into into the heavier traffic when I could not remember the names of streets near ours, or which way to turn. I “trusted my instincts”…I’m assuming a guardian angel was working really, REALLY hard that day to get me home in one piece. When I told my husband that I had been completely disoriented to time and place, but drove in, he turned white as a sheet.) So did my riding instructor when I told her. “Why didn’t you TELL us? You were chatting with us; we thought you were fine.” Apparently when my brain is turned off, I become cheerfully garrulous. As my cognitive skills returned (that time, pretty fast) I realized how stupid that was.

  6. Hoped we’d hear from you again soon, was worried but then saw regular posts/reposts on twitter so knew you were active. Healing just takes a lot longer as we age and more recovery time needed between training (suspect that’s just as true for mental tasks as physical). Hopefully spring and better weather will ease things.
    Take care.

    1. It’s getting better. I’m using a color code on the ms. as I go into each chapter to mark what I think needs deletion (at first glance.) Blue and orange are both easy to read but impossible to mistake.

  7. All I can say is Hooray! It’s been a long while to hear you write about anything but the horses close to this way.

    I know I and your Plot Daemon have had a tangle or two so I’ve kept quiet–and still plan to. Just glad to hear both the knitting and writing are starting to cantor.

  8. I am sorry your recovery took so long, but not terribly surprised as it took a long time for my cousin who was a couple of decades younger than you when she hit her head. Brains are tricksy things.
    Very glad you have managed to get your knitting and writing mojo back, I hope the riding follows on promptly!

    1. I haven’t figured out yet how to get my right leg (well, either leg) to swing over the horse’s back yet without help…either mounting or dismounting. Mounting, I can use the “tower” where I end up higher than Rag’s back and stand on the edge, squat down on one leg while reaching out with the other, and sort of slide off onto him. To dismount I need a person on the ground to push my leg up and over. It’s annoying. But once I’m up, I’m OK…at least at Rags’ fast walk and occasional very easy-to-ride spook. (The tower is a set of steps for a trailer that was set on a slope. A friend spotted it, and moved it here for me. It would actually be easier if Rags’ back was higher than the platform, but low enough I could swing my leg that high, so I didn’t have to attempt the one-leg squat, but what I’ve got works OK. I’m still too heavy to trot with him.

  9. I am so glad to hear that it is all coming together again. We all miss your posts … and are waiting for the Next Book 🙂
    On concussion: the Aussie rules football peole have recognised the effect of repeat concussions and have now changed the rules so there is a mandatory break of 2 weeks at least before a concussed player can return to the field.

  10. Ms. Moon, you haven’t posted much about your recovery, but I’ve been concerned, especially as I watch my oldest daughter deal with her traumatic brain injury (caused by over a dozen concussions including car accidents, falls off horses, and her son who at 3 found head-butting Mommy a hilarious game.) I’m sorry it’s been such a rough journey, and extremely glad to hear your hard work is resulting in such progress. Will keep praying for your continued recovery! And in the meantime, I will keep re-reading your delightful books, and finding something new each time.

  11. I’ve had multiple concussions in my life, being a kid with no fear, and probably little common sense. Then as an adult full contact martial arts, and horses. They are truly no joke and are probably responsible for some of the cognitive issues I have now. But something that I found was also responsible was malnutrition. I never actually thought I could or would be malnourished, especially since I am overweight. But I am and have apparently been for a long time. I got scared when I lost the alphabet while I was at work one day. And then finding that I could not remember how to do simple tasks on the computer that I do at work every day. Long story short I am taking a good multi vitamin for my age and sex and am recovering some of what I lost. I hope I regain it all, but time will tell. I am so glad to hear that you are coming through this tunnel to the other side. These kinds of issues are not only frustrating, they are scary as well

    1. Dawn: I do take multivitamins aimed at my age, plus additional magnesium because some of my other meds interfere with Mg absorption. Agree totally that both concussions and diet can mess us up…and it IS scary when things you’ve always done just don’t happen automatically (or at all!) anymore. Coming back is slow and not even…some things go faster, some slower. Some things improve in steps–plateau then a whole step up, plateau, then another step up. Knitting seems to have popped back up to almost 100% of pre-concussion speed (not yet accuracy!) in the past 2.5 months. I hope you regain all your competencies and the ability to learn new ones.

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