Crafting, Resilience

Maybe the crafters here will not be surprised by this: the more I continue with knitting, the more I’ve come to realize that, in certain situations, the most politically empowered thing one can manage in troubling times is to start cultivating sanity and resilience through little, everyday practices, building from there.

While it is not required, some form of creative grounded-ness can be a very good foundation for staying receptive, open, and taking engaged actions in the world towards benefiting other people. Knitting and crafting tends to be seen by the people I know as a quaint “hobby,” maybe an escape-hatch or a “womanly” way of unwinding. Little do they know (or do they? I’m kind of a blabber-mouth) that cultivating craft in my life is part of a broader commitment that includes developing the clarity, strength, and sanity to stay socially engaged and be of help in the areas that matter to me. This commitment goes beyond knitting; it also includes being trained in teaching and research (where, I hope, the things I write can add to the chorus of voices that, specifically, is opposing the kinds of anti-immigration laws, policies, and public discourses that are unfortunately cropping up in many different places. More on my research here).

Knitting and making things has made all the difference between, on the one hand, trying to do this work while nursing a constantly battered sense of hope that social shifts could produce a more equitable world, and — much more preferable — doing this work while allowing the process to teach me to cultivate resilience. In other words, crafting isn’t the cure for, say, the kinds of micro-aggressions (and more) that women, POC, and various minorities encounter, but it can provide a home-base to return to if a day or incident has been trying. The need to cultivate a source of clarity and resilience grows greater in light of the reality that women (speaking for myself here) tend to be socialized to internalize or blame themselves for problems that are structural or systemic (why is it more habitual to castigate ourselves if we are less than perfect at balancing the demands of life than, say, to question the unreasonable gendered expectations placed upon us, and ask for a hand?).

The knitting has been a companion for all of this. It has been, for me, one of the best apprenticeships in recognizing and practicing real agency again. With every project — with every stitch! — I subconsciously remind myself that something new is possible, that new things are possible and can be brought into being with a little bit of practice, knowledge and patient action (oh, and mistakes). And if I’ve developed a habit of reading about others’ crafting tales, it’s partly because they also remind me of the unending emergence of new things in the world — splendid things reflecting the world of care, ingenuity, and loving engagement the maker put into them. Seeing this helps me to dig deep into my life and experience, and begin to look for ways to be involved and continue to take action on a broader scale. In the process, I am finding it helpful to draw on that same crafter’s energy and keen eye for possibility and transformation.

Happy Crafting, folks. Wishing you an empowered week.

loyola
…sometimes, it also helps to find a pretty view. Loyola U. campus, looking east over Lake Michigan
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Little Paper Sheep

I hope your week is going well and is feeling springlike and full of new energies. 🙂

Nothing too big to report on my end this day, except that I had a hankering to make some little paper sheep – a combo of watercolour paper and Black Magic india ink (I love that stuff). Since teensy sheep call for teensy scissors,  I was aided by a quite portable pair of Swiss Army scissors. The little ones that, very much like these sheep, you can put in your pocket.

I’m not yet sure what to do with these sheep or where they’ll find their home; for the time being, I’m letting them explore their new environment on their quite wonky paper feet.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

paper sheeppaper sheep 2paper sheep 3

Book Review: Knitting for Good

I just finished Betsy Greer’s Knitting for Good: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change, Stitch by Stitch (2008, Trumpeter Books) and wanted to share some thoughts. Having discovered the ‘personal’ benefits of a regular craft practice over the past month, I was compelled to seek out writing on how to connect these benefits to broader questions and issues (as previous movements have taught, the personal is political).

Each chapter is written in an autobiographical voice, including testimonies from other knitters. Each chapter also includes a pattern for various ethical knitting projects. While the book is mainly about knitting, I think that its main principles apply across the crafting spectrum. Specifically, Greer re-iterates the importance of sharing creativity during personally and politically trying times. She identifies creativity as a human need:

Beyond providing people with basic needs such as food, water, clothing, and shelter, creativity is the most important thing we can pass on to those in need. Being able to embrace your own creativity is a step away from hope. (129)

I thought long about why I felt this to be true.

I realized that creativity is not merely a step away from hope – it is an enactment of hope. Crafting and creating enact the courage, conviction, and confidence (however shaky) in our own transformative agencies – the belief that something beautiful, good, and true can be crafted from raw materials and shared, whether these materials are our most beloved craft media or are, for instance, our social relations, or the difficult circumstances that we are often thrown into and have no choice to confront. In the various forms they take, I try to see struggles as raw material for fashioning – in the least – some understanding and compassion. I only have to remember the times when this agency felt foreclosed to really appreciate that creativity is a profound enactment of freedom and hope.

For Greer, this kind of creative engagement stems from self-knowledge – discovering what is within our own physical, financial, emotional, etc. capacities to give, and giving from that place. The key point that I think Greer articulates is that there is no standard for giving and no standard giver – the meeting point between someone’s resources and an existing need in the world will differ from person to person:

The key to working towards the greater good is knowing what to give and when to give it….Once we know what we can give, our power lies in that sphere. If we’re lucky, that sphere will become larger, expanding our capacity to want and need to work toward making the world a better place.

What resources and talents can you share to make a few people’s lives a little better? Although writing a check is a good thing, what if you either don’t believe in throwing money at a problem or don’t really have much money to throw around? Consider the basic needs we all have…Create items that address those needs. (129)

Her concrete suggestions include knitting protest banners; using knit/crafted pieces to share and express our perspectives; donating handmade items, or their proceeds, to global and local charities we stand behind; and starting local craft groups for exchanging ideas and mutual support. These are all great ideas that are compelling me to think (and craft) bigger.

For now, I would like to hold the idea in mind that creating is an ethical beginning in its own right: it enacts a desire for the better – a vision of the good – in concrete material ways while producing, cultivating, and also sustaining the person who creates. It’s a sustenance that gives me enough stability to reflect deeply on where I can take further action, and gives me enough joy to buoy me through, allowing me to pursue my course of action in the face of doubt and skepticism (both others’ and my own). Creating can also generate hopeful, joyful, and even comic symbols (words, objects, images, sounds, icons, amulets) that remind us of our strength, humour, and resilience – the stuff of longevity.

This hopeful creativity, I’m learning, can be a very effective antidote to fear and its by-products. Art and craft are one way of engaging with difference that does not reproduce the fearful politics of recrimination that we see emerging around the world today. Similarly, this book reminds me that taking a critical stance on social inequalities (a lot of recent talk has focused on ‘calling out’ and refusing to normalize forms of discrimination) is not mutually exclusive to cultivating joy and exuberance in our everyday lives. I sometimes suspect that cultivating and sharing creative exuberance (love this word) can be a powerful form of lived critique, and may have as great an impact on our communities as more direct forms of protest. I write this with an awareness that different forms of mobilization have their importance, but I think this message is at the heart of Knitting for Good, and I continue to reflect on it.

Wishing you creative peace & pleasure in the week ahead!