Noticing a ball of wool isn’t just wound like a yo yo in first position can be an epiphanical experience for a kid. It’s like drawing your first picture where hair doesn’t fall in two neat strands down either side of your subject’s head. A penny lizard’s tail can grow back, but it’s stubby and wonky, and there is a difference between a Crunchie and a Violet Crumble.
It’s that stuff, it’s home, it’s school, it’s whatever other kids did while I spent my latch-key afternoons watching Buffy, that turns us into more-complex-than-they-sound balls of wool.
At 1:00am I found a metaphor that works very well for my own mind. I presume I’m special enough to come up with an original analogy, but not so much that my mind can’t be equated with others’, so I’ll speak with uneducated universal authority. Also, sorry it’s wool. It puts me in the camp of people who have display pictures of lanterns and thought Frankie was a good idea.
Back track. By adulthood, we’re balls of wool. We start knitting ourselves into scarves. Some of us try to knit more difficult things, like jumpers, socks, and alpine-ready ski suits. Some of those more ambitious types fail—perhaps they weren’t knitting from the right pattern and had no one to tell them how, or maybe they’re really bad at knitting. They can usually salvage something, even if it is a scarf. My mother is a lovely scarf of this sort. Cashmere, without the cash.
I was quite a nice ball of wool in my first year of university. I was friends with lots of other balls of wool, and a couple of lovely jumpers. I was very slowly starting to knit something, but when people noticed, I thought I should speed up. I was told other people knit faster, and you need to start knitting quickly if you want a nice ski suit.
My interpretation of this was to pull at the ball of wool to get more thread for knitting. Not doing it properly, just making the wool increasingly tense, so it became harder and harder to get anything from it at all.
When the ball couldn’t get tighter, I didn’t know what to do. I’d cast on quite well. I was a couple of lines in and hadn’t missed any stitches, but I couldn’t pull anymore. This happened just as everyone else was getting to a point of knitting that it starts to take a form.
My ball of wool started unravelling. The problems which weren’t noticeable when I was pulling at my project seemed like a kitten got hold of my ball in the middle of the night and started hi-jinking, But it didn’t stop. At an infuriatingly slow pace, I kept unravelling, never managing to re-wind the wool because I was still trying to get my stitches and couldn’t stop to look at the mess. I had a complex project to work on. I had to focus on the ski suit, not the tangled mess of a former ball of wool that I was using.
I started hitting knots, but I was okay with a slightly imperfect ski suit. I’d realised my ski suit should be a representation of the wool they came from, and if that had knots? Fine.
Then I finished one of the more complex bits. An arm pit that would be hard enough if you’d set your ball up properly. I stepped back and realised there’s no fucking point trying to make a ski suit from a tangled mess of wool on the floor. A ball that’s lost all evidence of the quirks that made it such a great ball of wool in the first place. The arm pit was like the underarms I drew alongside neat strands of hair as a child. not great.
So, the ski suit can wait. I’ve got sixty years to knit a ski suit, and maybe I don’t even like skiing. I’m taking some time to put my ball of wool back together.
Out of the metaphor, I can’t even fucking knit.