the case for becoming a quarantine knitter

I began knitting in college.  This was in the mid 80’s, before knitting became cool and funky.

Knitting was for grandmothers, but I was drawn to the soothing presence of knitters in my dorm who remained calm during even the most heated floor meetings.  They sat there, smiling benevolently while clicking away on their needles, occasionally offering rational, compassionate advice.  I wanted to join them, and so I did.  During those years, I made nothing of any significance, just an unwieldy uneven swatch of garter stitch, but it didn’t matter.

Knitting, the process, brought me peace. 

For the next 30 years, I knitted off and on, picking it up and dropping it again. I managed to make some things.

This past November, after another hiatus, I picked up my needles again.  I can’t remember why, but I do know this time was different. I knitted with a ferocious intensity, every night before I went to bed, during the day when I needed a break from grading essays, in the car when I waited in the school parking lot to pick up my youngest from wrestling practice.  Within a three-month period, I produced multiple scarves, hats, and headbands for the people in my life.  I read books about knitting.  I surfed the internet for patterns. I joined an online knitting community. 

In February, while other people were stocking up on water and toilet paper, I was stocking up on yarn. 

Again, I wasn’t sure why except that I was suddenly in love with the many textures of yarn. I drooled over colors.  I learned I loved bamboo needles. 

My family members, colleagues, friends teased me.  Why suddenly, was I obsessed with knitting?

I had no answer, but now I understand.  I was preparing for Quarantine. 

I am ashamed to admit I was blindsided by the shutdown. On a seemingly random March Tuesday, a student ran into my office, frantic that Harvard had shutdown.  Would we go next?  She didn’t want to take classes online.

“Oh no, that won’t happen,” I said.  Two days later, it happened.  

And then my days exploded. 

Pre-quarantine, I hadn’t ignored teaching technology or our university’s online classroom management system.  I posted assignments and readings.  I bombarded my students with announcements and reminders.  Students uploaded their essays, and I graded them and reposted them with typed comments (since my handwriting is atrocious). However, while I understand the appeal for many, I never aspired to teach an entire class online I am old-fashioned, a Luddite, a classroom teacher who thrives on eye contact, syncing brainwaves and the energy in a physical classroom.  I don’t know how to do what I do in a class that only meets online.  

Then suddenly I had to learn, and that learning while teaching took time. 
I didn’t know I could fit more into twenty-four hours, but suddenly I was spending at least ten hours a day online but not continuous hours.  I ran back and forth from the computer to feed my teenagers, to console them, to help them manage their online coursework.  I ran loads of laundry, picked up cups and plates and dirty socks mushrooming around the hours. I went foraging into the grocery stores looking for the toilet paper that I hadn’t bothered to buy earlier.  

And then I worried.  I worried not just about my family but about those who live alone, those who lost their jobs, those without emotional, medical, financial resources.  I worried about those locked at home in abusive situations. I worried about those stuck in dormitories who could not go home or had no home to go to.

I could not and cannot think about quarantine in silver-lining terms as a time of peace and reflection.  While my family and I were fine, (we had work, each other, access to resources), I knew we were privileged.  All around me, there was and is so much need.  My neighbor and I discuss this.  Sometimes it is easy not to see, and then when we look closely, we see that need surrounding us, threatening to swallow us all up.  There is much we can do for others, but there is much we cannot do, and that powerlessness, the inability to reach and help so many is overwhelming.  One might shut down and not try to do anything anymore.

But that can’t happen.  Somehow, I told myself, we have to figure out how to serve and help while not burning up in our own worry. 

And so I turned to knitting.  This was not planned.  I just did it.  My usual method of self-soothing – reading – has not worked as well during this quarantine, and initially I found that detail unsettling. Who am I if not a reader?

Apparently, at the moment, I am a knitter.  

Every night, after shutting my computer, I knit, and quite unintentionally, I have found myself knitting for others. I knit fingerless mittens for friends whose hands are always cold from chemo, a scarf for a friend who lives alone and craves hugs, hats for friends whose company I miss, a sweater for my daughter, as I anticipate the day, now looming (or so we hope, for her sake), that she will leave our house for college. 

While my college knitting seemed to be about calming down, my middle-aged Quarantine knitting is about that but also very much about connecting in physical and emotional, even spiritual ways.  

Knitting is so very tactile, an antidote to the overwhelmingly virtual world I now live in.  

Knitting is connection.

I knit for other people. If I make myself a scarf, it is because I am practicing, to make it for someone else.  In this period of social distancing, I miss my friends, my students, all my people.  I watch my children miss their friends.  That loss hangs over all of us. When I knit, each stitch binds me to another person.  I think about the person for whom I knit.  I put that love into something tangible, something I can hold. 

Each stitch provides a moment of focus, on that person, on our time together.  It is so easy for my mind to race, particularly at night, scanning the horizon, moving from one worry to another.  When I knit, I can only focus on one idea, and that idea is that person I love.  And there are so many I love.  I am fortunate to have them, and I feel fortunate to recognize their presence in my life.

I have just turned in my final grades for the spring semester. I am preparing to teach online, but just one class.  Our state, our city, is slowly opening up, but still no real socializing or interaction.  Who knows what’s coming.  What will happen in a second wave?  No doubt each day will reveal the effects of this crisis on those in our community.

Aren’t we all bracing ourselves. 

Meanwhile, I am still knitting. 

Maria Jerinic is a contributor to and co-editor of Finding Light in Unexpected Places (Palamedes Publishing 2019) and a co-editor of Finding Light in Unexpected Places Volume 2: Covid 19 Edition (Palamedes Publishing, forthcoming).  Her essays can be found in the following anthologies, Cocktails with Miss Austen, 9 Lives: Life in Ten Minutes AnthologyKnitLit the Third: We Spin More Yarns, and in a collection of online journals. She teaches in the Honors College at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and is the mother of three teenagers. She needs to knit.