Monday, March 16, 2009

Worrying about all the wrong things......

This post is going to start with knitting. Yes, I know I have a knitting blog and all, but it really belongs here right now. You'll see. I get around to ringing. It works, too. Trust me.

There is this cast on I have been fighting for over a year. It should be really simple, but it has utterly eluded me. For round shawls, you start by making a loop with the yarn in one hand (not even a knot!) and then you loop back and forth with your needle to pick up your stitches for the cast on. Then, you pull your yarn end and the whole thing tightens up to a perfect little circular cast on, no muss no fuss. There are step by step pictures available on the internet and everything. And last summer, when I decided to cast on for my first circular shawl, I fought this fiddly maneuver countless times before giving up and using another, less perfect cast on. I mean, fought, too. Consulting the website, mimicking the needle path for the wraps, making sure the yarn was draping over my hand just so...

So today when I decided to cast on for another shawl that I am really excited about and clicked the link provided on the pattern for the cast on and was directed to the very same website, my feeling of defeat before I even started was intense and even physical - I felt like all my innards dropped a bit. You know, it's what they call that sinking feeling.

Why, then did I see today what all my careful scrutiny of last year did not reveal even through physical experimentation? I was focusing on entirely the wrong thing. I was focusing on the movement of the needle illustrated and not even thinking about what I was trying to accomplish - casting on! Meaning, that once cast on, my stitches should sit on the needle just as they would with any other cast on, facing the same way and ready to knit. So I sat down now with the goal on getting the yarn on the needle in the correct orientation regardless of what machinations the needle would go through, and got it on the first try.

This is usually where people would type "facepalm".

Except that I had a brainwave right then about my ringing (see? I told you we'd get to it!), so no smacking myself in the head.

I have been focusing on almost all the wrong things with my ringing! To be fair to myself and to those good people I ring with who are teaching me, it really is something I had to figure out for myself, and being as new to ringing as I am, I'm hardly late getting around to it.

In ringing with others I had become so focused on starting well that I had completely disregarded why we ring rounds to start. Not that poor starting is excusable, but before we were to the second pass of rounds I would start in beating up on myself if I wasn't perfect. Not that everyone else didn't need several more rounds of rounds (how do you say that?) to get their timing straight, but I was all tunnel vision when it came to ringing.

I was also coming down with a bad case of method madness. In my new found ability to move places with my bell, I lived in happy anticipation of Plain Hunt, after which I would learn to treble for treble bob methods and then Kent and Oxford would be mine, all mine! (insert maniacal laughter here) Then Stedman, and then who knows?

Focusing on methods when I still can't reliably tenor may have been a tad foolish on my part, but close proximity to more experienced ringers who are able to focus more on methods and less on basic technique has undoubtedly influenced me a bit. But I was at once putting pressure on myself even as I was enjoying the mental challenge, and I didn't really need that right now. I had already realized that I need lots more practice with basic ringing, and the relief I felt at letting method madness go for now really told me it was the right thing to do.

Last Thursday at practice I found myself feeling a little blue that I seemed to have hit a plateau. That night we had 4 visitors to the tower, and while answering a question for one of them I realized that what I was telling her was at complete odds with my feelings of stagnation. It was then I realized that there are no plateaus, just times for different kinds of learning. Some are so internal that I don't recognize them as learning, yet they still build on my base of experience and therefore qualify as learning, leaving me with no other alternative than to accept it. Which is hard. We are taught about plateaus in life, whether in dieting, where you get to a weight you just can't seem to get past, or in exercise, where your body seems to have adapted to an activity level and no longer responds to it positively. There are many other expressions of plateau we accept without question in our lives, and we usually have negative associations with them. Like the term "in a rut" or when you're "going nowhere" in a job or a relationship. We are taught that once you hit a plateau the only thing for it is to get out of it and the usual remedy is to change your relationship with the activity (or person) until you get a better result. The one thing we never think to do is embrace the plateau. Maybe, though, there are no plateaus at all, just a challenge to accept those moments and try to percieve what different types of progress we are making.

The thing about discovering you've been worrying about all the wrong things is that it begins a process of elimination of unprofitable activity. I now have that many fewer things to carry into the tower with me, freeing space up in my mind and body for new information. I must remind myself that there is still plenty of time in my ringing career to worry about all that other stuff, and when I finally get to those issues again I may be more prepared to deal with them in a positive and fruitful way. I just need to relax and reconnect with my inner sponge and soak up as much as I can for where I am now.


  1. That's outrageously wise of you.

    Or maybe I just think so because a week ago I had to repeat that same cast-on half-a-dozen times before I was happy with it. Not because I didn't understand it but because I wanted to find a way to make it non-awkward to do. Which is an admirable goal unless awkwardness is really part of its nature. And it is.

    IAC it has GOT to be just as true of ringing as of any other big learning process (um, can you say "life"?) that, well, the process is the process, including the pauses for absorption and the setbacks, as well as the epiphanies and the sudden surges of momentum.

  2. So does that mean you're making the Shipwreck shawl?

    (I am.)

  3. I love reading your insights into ringing and thinking -yeah I know exactly what she means. The big difference is the Chicken Goddess expresses herself so much better than I do. For me, reading your posts is right up there with watching the most recent episode of Battlestar Galactica on HULU. For me that's praise of the highest order.