Saturday, September 21, 2013

Elves For Hire

There's something about knitting the sleeves of a sweater.  Some say it's because you have to knit 2 of them (obviously), while others can offer no explanation at all--they just sigh and say, "that's the way it is."

Because I'm here to tell you that nothing--I mean nothing--will derail a nearly-completed knitting project as quickly as the need to knit that second sleeve.  And in my case, it is truly absurd, because I will typically knit the second sleeve until it's almost done, and then I quit for a bit.  And by "a bit," I mean a good month or two.

Why?  I don't know.  I just do.  For some reason, that last 2-inch section of a sleeve cap represents the point at which the project has reached critical mass.  From that point on, it will be blown off for a good long time.

I realized yesterday that I have about 3 nearly-completed knitting projects and when I started sifting through to see which one I wanted to finally finish, I realized they were all at the point at which I needed to finish the sleeves.  And in most cases, it was only that damn second sleeve.

Sometimes it's a neckline or a collar.  That's even worse, because at that point, the thing is basically done and often it has even been sewn together, I've just left it in a condition in which it is still, fundamentally and unnecessarily, unwearable.

So that's what I did for a while yesterday afternoon.  I shamefacedly finished knitting the last 20 rows of a sleeve that has been sitting there for over a month now.  And then I knit about 20 rows of a neck-edging that has been sitting there for over a month now.  And then I knit the 20 rows on the other side of that neck-edging that has been sitting there... well, you get the picture.

I went out for ice cream last night to reward myself.  I'm hoping to turn the tide on this trend of knitting things until they're nearly finished and then quitting, but I'm not optimistic.

Because I do this all the time.  I can't tell you how many 20-page articles I've written over the years that have gotten to the 15-page mark and then simply sat on my laptop, unopened and untouched, as the weeks unfolded.

And then one day, I'll open the file up and say, "Well, this is dumb," and I finish it and send it out all in an afternoon.  I have 2 articles sitting on my laptop in that very state right now, actually.

I've been known to not frost cakes.  I've been known to not frost cupcakes.  A friend once said, "But... why?  You did the whole thing... the frosting's the best part... it's almost done."

In my world, it is debatable whether the frosting is the best part.  For those who will eat the cake (or cupcakes), yes, of course, it's obviously the best part.  But from my perspective, there is nothing enjoyable about the realization that that damn frosting is now hanging over you like a sugary Sword of Damocles.

Yesterday, I made a couple of pounds of homemade pasta.  This time, it wasn't the pasta machine that stalled my progress.

It was the fact that I didn't feel like taking the dried pasta off the drying rack, bagging it up and putting it in the freezer.  I just kept making more and more pasta and cramming it onto those blessed dowels.  I finally put it all away, only because I was going to go to bed.  (And because leaving dangling strands of pasta out overnight when you have 2 cats is just... not something you should do.)

I currently have no fewer than 5 books that have 100-150 pages left to go before I finish reading them.  (See that "What I'm Reading Now" section on the upper right-hand side of the page?  Yeah, I know.  I'm aware.  And FYI, that isn't even all of them.)  Last night, I sighed and stared for a full 15 minutes at the one that's lying on my bedside table.  And then I turned off the light and went to sleep.

I will regularly grade a huge swath of papers, only to leave maybe 5 or 6 unfinished.   They will then sit for days, waiting for me to get back to my grading.  (My sincerest apologies to any former or future students who have found themselves in that unfortunate last cohort: it's not you, trust me).

Over the years, I've come to a simple conclusion: I need elves.

I truly believe that I should be able to put all of this stuff aside and wake up the next morning and have it done.  I remember that as a child, I would read the Grimm's fairy tale, "The Elves and The Shoemaker" over and over again, thinking, "Oh my god, that is awesome... How does that happen?  How do the elves find out about you?  Can you get put on a list, somehow?"

Of course, given that I was about 7 or 8 years old at the time, I probably didn't say "god" or "awesome," but you get the point.  I'm pretty sure I asked my mom how we could go about letting the elves know that I needed assistance.

Setting aside the slightly unnerving fact that I would apparently prefer to have naked midgets in my home every night rather than simply finish what I've started, I think the story speaks to a universal human truth.

The "I-Don't-Feel-Like-Doing-The-Rest-of-That-Right-Now" Facet of Human Existence. 

Because I know I'm not alone.  It's everywhere.  I remember the first time I read Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," I thought, "You asshole.  Think you're going to call it "A Fragment" and blame it on some dude from Porlock?  Yeah, I see you."

The husband of a friend of mine once had a talk with my friend's teenaged daughter.  He told her, "If you start a load of laundry, SEE IT THROUGH.  Please.  Or leave a note for one of us, if you have to go out.  You're slowly killing your mother and I."

I was visiting them one day, and I saw what they meant.  They generously offered to let me use their washer and dryer, if I needed it, and I did, so I went to the basement.  Before I did, they warned me that their daughter had been down there earlier, "doing some laundry," so they didn't know what I would find.  They apologized in advance.

Their daughter had apparently decided to let something soak.  Turns out, it was a queen-size comforter.

She had stuffed it into the washer, dumped detergent on it, and let the machine fill, leaving the lid open.  And then she left.  All indications were that this had happened anywhere from 18-24 hours prior to my arrival.

I realized at that moment that this might be why, statistically, most murder victims are killed by a family member.

My mom used to worry openly about my tendency to walk away from an unfinished project.  She would reproach me every time I started a new project without finishing the previous one.  (This almost happened yesterday afternoon, actually.  I spent an hour investigating other knitting projects I could start, in order to avoid finishing the ones I have.  I truly think the only reason I didn't start something new is because the instructions I encountered all appeared to have been written while the designers were incarcerated in institutions for the criminally insane.)

Over time, my mom realized it was pointless.  I was going to start what I wanted to start, no matter what she said, and actually, as she pointed out, "You do finish all the projects.  Sooner or later.  Which is a bit odd, because most people leave them and walk away and that's the end of it."

I've decided that, in keeping with the wisdom of Van Halen, "I like to look at the long run, but I like to take each step one by one."

And until I get elves of my own, this is just how it has to be.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."