By Amy Lane
To Damon and Poppy, who have rendered the art of the come-to-Jesus-meeting down to a beautiful science.
So The Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, waxes lyrical about what she calls the “finger dance”—the myriad tiny movements that our fingers make as we’re doing something as automatic as knitting. We’ve created a million stitches on a thousand projects—and each stitch is a miracle of small specific functions that we’ve repeated so often we’re not aware of it.
And yet, any knitter will tell you that there is always room for improvement. There is refinement of technique, a different way to cast on, a different way to move fingers in order to facilitate speed. On the one hand, why mess with a good thing, right? Knitting is occurring, a product is being produced, and the world turns apace.
On the other hand, moar knitting could occur, a better product could be produced, and the world could turn apace made just a teeny bit more perfect because a knitter tried something new.
It’s something to think about.
Recently (as in “am still doing laundry from”) I attended my publisher’s annual conference—this year, in Orlando. Now this year could have felt like old hat. It was the fourth conference, I knew most of the people, and in a general sort of way it felt more as though I were attending a family reunion than a work conference, and that was fun too!
But the emphasis this year was on marketing, and, well…
I mean, you may say I have my marketing all together—I’ve got a logo, a website, a twitter, a blog, a FB—what else does a girl have to do?
Well, apparently get my shit together—and I was told that with love, by two people I really love and admire back.
Now when I was younger, (read: forty) I would have reacted to this sort of career intervention with my characteristic grace. I would have sobbed into my pillow that the whole world was full of stupid-heads who didn’t understand me and I was doing just fine dammit, and didn’t they see I didn’t want to do any better?
And I would have been locked into my original finger dance forever, never changing, never trying, failing or possibly improving.
But writing is a different bag than teaching. For one thing, being called a “fat fucking bitch” is not an expected part of my week, and not something that should be happening if I do my job well. For another, part of being a writer is engaging my sensitivity to the world around me—thinking in symbols, recognizing the impact of the semiotic message on the people I wish to impress. Part of that is letting people know what they’re getting when they open one of my books—even if it’s that they don’t want to open one of my books.
So the advice was well given—and even better, I hope it was well taken, and on the way home, I read about the finger dance.
And I thought about that metaphor. How very often we get locked into the tiny, minute movements that create our day, our work, our product, our lives.
Fixing my marketing plan is going to take many changes to the small things I do on a daily basis, and on my larger approach to my work. It’s going to take breaking out of the trap laid for me by habit, by one-time necessity, by obliviousness, and creating new habits that will serve me better.
Why would I want to do that?
Well, if I’m knitting, I’m creating a more seamless product, and giving myself the tools to create something more complex and lovely than what I’m working on now. Being able to control a strand of yarn on each forefinger helps me to make a Fair Isle garment that’s regular and professional looking. Making cables without a cable hook allows me to knit cable projects at will and not to have to worry about bringing a cable needle in my project bag. Learning socks on a long circular needle helps make socks portable, without losing my sock every time I pick up my bag.
If I’m writing?
It helps me sell more books to people who want to read what I have to write.
It’s even simpler than knitting.
Well, maybe not simple to do--but worth it, I hope, in the long run.
So, a simple but profound lesson in the finger dance, right? Even simple and effective may always be improved upon. And more than that.
Even though writing (like knitting) is a solitary profession, that doesn’t mean that we’re actually in it alone. We tend to write in a community—and if you’re lucky enough to have a supportive community, then by all means allow them to teach you things. When I was younger, and would have resisted advice like this with all of my soul, that’s possibly because I was used to advice being a passive aggressive sort of punishment and threat: Change what you do or you are incompetent and we don’t like you anyway so you’re screwed. Or: Change what you do because you make us uncomfortable with your outlandish ways and your bleeding heart and we need that to change.
This lesson was different. This was, “We want what’s best for you, so here are ways you can succeed.”
Seriously—I’ve been out of teaching for nearly five years, and that sort of genuine desire to help still brings me to tears. I’m old enough—and hopefully wise enough—to allow those lessons to change me, because optimism and good faith should change us for the better. It should help render what was once merely functional into something elegant and transformative.
The Yarn Harlot turned knitting into “the finger dance”—and it obviously made an impression. My friends spoke to me about “the marketing waltz” and now it’s up to me to take their words and make my own impression.
Either way, I get to create with color—it is all good.