Looking ahead

I suppose I shouldn’t apologise for this post being overdue. I mean, it’s March; that’s technically still within the first quarter of the year. Umm, just. I did mean for it to come sooner though. However, to be honest, I didn’t plan on the year to date being such a slog. My health has been wretched; chronic fatigue ebbs and flows but right now it’s a deluge. My mental health has just as bad; lots of little stressors have been taking their toll and even though they’re comparatively small things like job applications, doctor appointments, and being proactive about intimidating things, the sheer number of them is overwhelming when I’m already on the back foot, health-wise. In summary, chronic fatigue and anxiety are one formidable tag-team.

But anyway, without further ado or excuses: I love to overthink things – though I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face that this is ultimately a better option than not thinking at all – so naturally, I’ve been doing a lot of mulling over ways to improve my knitting in 2018. And by that I mean not only working on my technical skills and the quality of my finished objects, but also improving my relationship with the craft. After pondering and brainstorming on and off for a while, these are my knitting priorities going forward.

More selfish knitting!

2017 was not really a bad year as far as knitting goes, but as I mentioned last post, a lot of the knitting that I did was for other people. I don’t want to say that that’s a bad thing, because it isn’t. I love knitting for people, as long as the knits are appreciated and used. That said, it’s a sad state of affairs when your craft starts to feel like a chore or another pressure in your life, and unfortunately I did cross that line a few times last year. And it was always in the pursuit of knitting for others. I don’t regret every gift project, but there were a few undertakings that really never ever should have happened.

I should point out that this is not because people make unreasonable demands of me. Unlike a lot of knitters, I’m rarely beset by people asking for hand-knits. It happens, but honestly not all that often, and when it does happen it’s often requests so laughable* that even I let the asking party down gently right away. My problem is that I volunteer myself. It’s completely my own fault. I don’t even know how this happens; probably a bad combination of social anxiety and compulsive generosity. Someone mentions that their friends is having a baby and suddenly my mouth is open and I’m offering to knit something. Again, this isn’t a problem if it only happens now and then, but I am apparently a serial offender. The other problem? I always end up regretting offering in the first place, usually because my energy nowadays is so finite that knitting gifts for other people ends up turning into a chore. And that doesn’t work for anyone. The people for whom I’m knitting surely wouldn’t want that for me. I don’t want that for me.

As such, in 2018, there will be less offering to knit for others. And these projects will be limited to fun-to-knit patterns in yarn I actually like. *nods* I’ll also consider giving things away when I’m done, but no more creating obligations for myself.

* I’m sure that a lot of people wouldn’t consider an adult size pullover an unreasonable request but I’m sorry: unless you are a member of my immediate family or one of a tiny, tiny handful of friends that might as well be family, I am not knitting you a jumper. Especially not one with all-over cabling. I won’t laugh at you for asking, but I’m sure as hell not doing it either.

Treating knitting like a chore, every once in a while

Okay, so I know that in the last paragraph I said that it sucks when knitting begins to feel like a chore. Well, that’s true, it does. The thing is, however, that it’s necessary in moderation. Hear me out.

I tend to do this thing where I’ll knit furiously away on a new design (because it’s inevitably when I’m winging it without a pattern that stumbling blocks happen) until I reach the part where effort is required. “Effort” in this case meaning doing something challenging, doing something that requires thought, mathematics, research, troubleshooting, etc. You know, the things that I’m hoping/assuming everyone puts off now and then. The problem is, if you don’t tackle these things now and then, you never get anywhere interesting. Your projects get put down in favour of something shiny, new, and easy. You lose your momentum. The project gets put in the “I’ll finish it someday” pile, never to be seen again. It’s not ideal.

As such, I’m going to try to have a couple of sessions per week where, for lack of a better phrase, I treat knitting like a chore. I take the measurements. I crunch the numbers. I teach myself the proper cast-off. I sew the seams. I make the decision to rip back and do it over. And so on. The thing is, none of these things are terribly unpleasant. On the contrary; when I sit down and make myself do them, I actually find myself engrossed quite quickly. They’re not terrible tasks; they’re just ripe ground for procrastination. And this year, there’s going to be less of that.

Having an easy option

Speaking generally, if I spent a lot of 2016 coming to terms with the fact that, for better or worse, chronic fatigue is now a thing in my life, then 2017 was my year of learning to manage. This is a good thing; my health is more stable now, and frankly I’m a lot happier when I am tackling problems proactively rather than just dwelling. But it’s also meant making some pretty tedious lifestyle changes, getting better at picking my battles, and sometimes just reconciling myself to the fact that some days are a write off. That sometimes accomplishment needs to take a back seat to rest and self-care.

How does this relate to knitting? Well, while I’d love to spend all of my days churning out complicated projects and new designs, that takes brain power that I don’t always have after I’ve slogged through the day’s mandatory activities. Chronic fatigue takes it toll on mental energy just as it does physical. Sometimes the two coincide, but sometimes they don’t. Because of this, there are days when I have the physical energy to knit but not the mental energy to think too hard about it. I know that some people hate endless stocking stitch but sometimes, it’s exactly what I need, usually when I just want to be soothed by the process and feel productive at least in some small way. Too often over the last year, there were times when I wanted to just knit but didn’t have a correspondingly easy project on which to work.

It’s a terrible shame to let the desire to create go unsatisfied, so this year I’m going to try to have at least two projects going at any given time; one a little more challenging, and the other something simple that I can pick up when I just want something simple. While I can see myself applying this strategy to knitting up some of those voluminous scarves that I always seem to crave when it’s cold, right now I’m doing my best to knit through my backlog of sock yarn. This is my current favourite pattern; I’ve been churning out pairs of comfortably oversized socks to wear in bed and around the house once autumn turns into winter. For all that I don’t really wear my hand-knit socks out and about all that much, there’s nothing better for snuggling up indoors in inclement winter weather.

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In related news: am I the only one who actually really liked Kureyon Sock? I know it was a bit scratchy, but it got lovely and velvety after a few washes, and the yardage was incredibly generous. I honestly wish I’d hoarded more of it.

The above socks were churned out on my recent holiday; my work offered the contract staff some time off during a quiet period, so my brother and I managed to sneak off to my favourite haunt on the mid north coast of New South Wales for a couple of weeks. To say I appreciated the break would be a little bit of an understatement.

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My health was not the best so I didn’t manage to make it to the beach quite as often as I might have liked, but I still managed a good few swimming sessions. And for the days when I wasn’t up to it, there was lovely local wine, sock knitting, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Not to mention the consistently lovely sunsets.

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So there it is. My 2018 knitting goals are a lot more general than their predecessors, but sometimes a little less by way of specifics is just what you need, especially when it comes to creativity. I look forward to seeing if this approach makes any difference to what I actually produce this year. I suppose we’ll see!

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Here and there and everywhere: Crescent Head

After returning from Japan I stuck around in Melbourne for a time, doing Melbourne things (the long awaited, the fun, the boring and practical, and everything in between), but as the weather got warmer the Hume Highway started to call, as it inevitably does at the end of the year. And I am nothing if not a fool for the lure of the Hume Highway. So in December, we packed up my long-suffering old car and drove north for a couple of days until we found ourselves home again.

While I will always remain loyal to dear old Melbourne, the mid-north coast of New South Wales is, in my opinion, both gorgeous and hugely underrated, and I’ve spent so much time there over the years that it honestly feels as much home as anywhere else. I’ve posted about the area before, so I won’t go into detail (other than to say that it’s about four hours’ drive north of Sydney and if you’re heading along the Pacific Highway and have some spare time, do yourself a favour and visit), and at any rate, it wasn’t that sort of trip. No list of sights to tick off, and no rushing from place to place. Just a whole lot of sun, beach, trees, and good food. In summary (though ‘summery’ also works): I am one lucky bastard. Lucky to be able to visit such an amazing area, lucky to know about it in the first place, and lucky that it’s still as beautiful now as it was when I was a child.

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And for anyone who remembers balcony snake from last year: there were no actual snake sightings this time around, but there was certainly evidence that our little friend is still about!

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Maybe next year!

(insert joke about weird, snake-loving Australians here. Because, you know, guilty as charged)

New South Wales adventures, Part One – Crescent Head

My last post mentioned (briefly) that I was shortly off to New South Wales, firstly to take up a practical legal training placement in a community legal centre, and then for a much needed holiday once my studies were complete. My placement and the following break are now sadly past – we have since returned home – and while it is, of course, lovely to be back in dear old Melbourne, I feel I should make a few posts about the trip, partly because it occupied two months of my time, and also because the mid-north coast of New South Wales is surely one of the most gorgeous regions in the world, and certainly one of my dearest favourites.

The legal centre at which I was worked was located in Port Macquarie, a town approximately 3.5 hours north of Sydney. It’s a very lovely place, and we had a lot of fun wandering around the various walking tracks whenever I had a spare hour. Sadly, spare hours were few and far between as in addition to working full-time at my placement, I also had a great deal of coursework to complete, but we still had time to explore a few of the town’s several beaches and meander through the Kooloonbung Creek Nature Park and it’s lovely trails and board-walks (though don’t try the latter unless you are A-okay with flying foxes, as there are plenty to say the least!).

When I wasn’t working a the legal centre, most of my time was spent up in Crescent Head. Compared to Port Macquarie, Crescent Head is tiny (though technically, at around 1200 people, it’s tiny compared to nearly everywhere) but having spent a great deal of time there over the years it’s very close to my heart and a thoroughly lovely place to laze through the summer. It’s small, but it has two beaches and an estuary for swimming, excellent surf, gorgeous views, peaceful trails through the forest, rockpools, caves, a wonderful bakery, and more or less everything else you could possibly need for an idyllic time.

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We were lucky with the weather this time around (unlike that time when we got flooded in for a week and had to start eating the elderly and infirm spend most of our time inside) and for the most part had sunny days well suited to swimming, wandering, and day-trips (though more on those later).

We also had good luck on the critter front! There has always been an amazing range of wildlife in the area but the town outdid itself this year, especially in terms of reptiles.

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The resident blue-tongue lizards were tamer and more complacent about photographers this time around. And we had the sweetest little visitor slither his way onto the balcony of the house.

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(any non-Australian readers, please be reassured – I know that we have a certain reputation with regard to snakes but this little fellow was very small and at any rate, non-venomous)

Also, if this guy isn’t the most handsome little kookaburra you’ve ever seen, I will eat my (faded, well travelled and no doubt pungent) hat. I just love their comically huge heads!

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I didn’t manage to get a photo of the monitor lizard that had scaled the telephone pole near the beach, much to the dismay of the resident bird-life, but I did very much appreciate his determination! Nor did I manage to grab a picture of the very charming eel that we encountered in the rockpools one day, or any of the roving octopus that we saw commuting between low-tide puddles. Maybe next time. I am a fan of next time. While there are many places in the world that I have been and will probably never return, there’s a definite joy in returning to a place year after year and really getting to know it well. It’s a privilege, for sure, and one that I feel very lucky to have.

That said, it’s important to find time for variety, as even in the places you visit regularly there’s nearly always the opportunity to try something new. As we did, though that is a tale for the next post.