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Monday, December 16, 2013

The Story Scarf

Last year, Sarah told us about "knitting a book is like writing a sweater" but I'm going to tell you that stories are scarves.
Actually, just this scarf.



This scarf is made with a mind-bogglingly simple pattern by fellow writer Ivy Reisner, simple enough that when I really started knitting and crocheting, this pattern was the first project I made -- and four of the first seven projects. And here's why it's like a story. It's made of scrap yarn.

Every line in that scarf is made of the yarn left over at the end of another project. So when I look at that, I see the green from some slippers I made my daughter, gold and blue from a hat I donated to the homeless shelter, blue leftover from fingerless gloves that went to someone on the Giving Tree, and yarn from a Christmas gift I sent to another writer when she was having a really terrible time. (She may read here, so that's going to drive her nuts, figuring out which is hers.) Most of the yarns are 100% wool, so they're warm and nearly waterproof.

It's all one piece now, and it looks like it belongs together. It was up to me to meld the materials so they all worked together. The only thing "new" in there is the brown, which I knew would work well with all the colors. And I left out a lot from my leftovers bag, too. The oranges, the pinks. They wouldn't have gone with the greens and golds.

Then I gave it a good soak and a wash, and I blocked it, and it's soft and supple and warm. 

Your stories are made of the "leftovers" of your life, the half-thought notions, the experiences that left you questioning your ideals, the stories you heard around the dinner table when you were too young to understand. Your stories emerge from the bits and pieces of a life lived fully, and when you're "crocheting" a story out of what seems to be nothing, you're drawing from the scrap bag of your own experience. 

And it's up to you the writer to decide what to include, what to leave out because it's a lovely bit but it just doesn't match the rest of the story, what new material to add to unite it all together. It's up to you to decide what order the scraps go in and just how long to make it. It's up to you to work the details together such that they seem as if they always were that way, no matter where they came from.

That's why there won't be two stories identical, no matter how similar they seem, and no one will ever have a scarf like this one. Even if another knitter had all the same leftovers in her yarn bag, she probably wouldn't put them together the same way.

Writers and knitters/crocheters know the value of a single effort. As Ivy Reisner says (again, although I don't have a citation for this one) that a single stitch alone isn't going to produce anything, but thousands of stitches do. As a writer, you know one single word alone doesn't produce a book, but thousands of words do. Stitch by stitch, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, row by row. And in the same way, one person alone can't end injustice or hunger, but many of us working together? I think that's pretty powerful. It's aggregate effort, and you're doing it every time you pick up your work.

Moreover, if your writing is a gift -- from God, from Fate, from the muses -- then you have a responsibility to use all that gift to benefit others. You're going to want to use up every last bit of your gift to bring light and warmth to others with this gift you've received. We belong to each other, so you're going to be leveraging your word-craft to help other people. 

Novels may be your passion, but you're also using your words every day to encourage, to explain, to persuade. You can be conscious about finding ways to volunteer your wordcraft -- maybe writing press releases for a charity or an organization you love; maybe helping a deserving student write a college entrance essay.  Maybe the best thing you can do for someone is to listen to them, because as a writer, you know and appreciate that what they're sharing with you is a story -- it's their heart.

To you all of these efforts might seem like just your "leftovers," but to other people, they'll see the whole of what you're doing and it will make their world better. 

Kind of like my scarf. Although it's not mine anymore because last night I gave it to the homeless shelter. The recipient won't know which strand came from a hat I made for a friend and which is from the hat I made for my son. But I hope he wears it and feels warm all over. Warm and loved.

Stay warm. Warm others.





---
Jane Lebak is the author of The Wrong Enemy. She has four kids, three cats, two books in print, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and spends her time either writing books or making scarves. At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four kids. If you want to make her rich and famous, please contact the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.

4 comments:

Kenda Turner said...

As a knitter and a writer, I really enjoyed this post. "...stories are made of the leftovers of your life..." So true, life's threads and colors all woven in. Thanks for for the neat "image." Pretty scarf, too!

Wendy said...

Happy holidays, Jane. I really enjoyed the way you tied visual images to the writing process.

Rashda Khan said...

Love this essay! So wise and true...thank you for sharing!

writerrobynlarue said...

Crocheter/quilter here and I totally agree. I LOVE this paragraph (so true!):
Your stories are made of the "leftovers" of your life, the half-thought notions, the experiences that left you questioning your ideals, the stories you heard around the dinner table when you were too young to understand. Your stories emerge from the bits and pieces of a life lived fully, and when you're "crocheting" a story out of what seems to be nothing, you're drawing from the scrap bag of your own experience.