I’ve taken to spinning on the deck these fine August mornings, and by spinning I mean spinning wool. I have fifteen pounds of merino I want to spin up to eventually weave into a blanket on the eighteenth century loom I finally resurrected here.
Nothing makes me happier than that loom. It is built like a house (an old house) out of squared timbers, mortise and tenon jointed. Given the age of the loom, the timber used to construct it—something fine-grained like maple—is virgin. The built-in seat is chestnut and the back beam, a massive round piece, is a tree trunk. It is a piece of machinery that was made to weave all the cloth used for a family of that time. None of this fiddly craft stuff. That is what I love about it—its utilitarian integrity. Which brings me back to spinning.
Not many people spin fiber these days, since there’s no need. Our clothes come from the store. But spinning is much more than a long-forgotten, unneeded task; it’s a state of mind. When I first started spinning this merino, I was frustrated because it was different from the wool I was used to. It had a shorter, finer staple (the length of each individual fiber) so my usual long-draw method of spinning didn’t work. I had to re-learn it. My hands had to become comfortable with a different way of doing things and my brain had to tell my hands what to do. Spinning uses both sides of the brain—the left, logical side calculates pressure and drafting angle, while the right feels the twist and intuits the motion. When it all goes properly, the logical structure set up by the left-brain becomes second nature and the intuition of the right brain works unimpeded within it. When that happens a sort of magic occurs. You are in the flow.
Spinning thread, in Greek mythology, is the metaphor for a life. Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis measures it, and Atropos cuts the thread to end it—the Three Fates.
When I’m spinning in the flow, I understand that life is nothing more than the doing of it. I try to spin an even thread; I try to smooth out the bumpy parts, hold my breath through the thin parts, correct the thick parts, but the most important part is to let the thread go into the bobbin, otherwise I can’t spin the waiting fibers into new thread. It is twist, try, trust, and let go.
Whether the thread is perfect or not (and it is not) is not the point. The point is to spin, ever mindful of that third Fate with her scissors.
The soft mewing of a wood duck as she calls to her chicks distracts me, and does that tiny cacophony I hear in the blueberry bush mean that the kingbird chicks have hatched? And the bullfrog! Can’t be more than ten feet away as he booms out his message. I am writing outside on a beautiful June morning but that may not be the best idea if I want to get this done.
However, I wanted to talk about expectations.
I have a lot of unfinished projects: A quilt that’s just pieces of squares, a half-finished chenille scarf on the loom, a partially completed crewel work design, a sketch for another piece of embroidery and pounds of wool roving that would like to be spun.
So when I read in one of my writing books that the biggest mistake beginning novelists make is to not finish their projects, at first I thought: ”Uh-oh, better remember that.” The odd thing is though, that I think of myself as a person who makes up her mind to do something and does it. That doesn’t seem to gel with all the unfinished craft projects.
When I sat down to think about it, I realized that the craft projects were all begun for specific reasons. I started making the quilt squares when I moved to this new house as an intuitive way to help me piece my life into a new pattern. I put the scarf on the loom between semesters in anticipation of needing something repetitive to do as I teased out the words for grad school papers. I embroidered to infuse some color into dark winter days.
These projects were all started to fill a need, and now I realize that they are incomplete because those needs have been met: I have a new life in a colorful pattern, turns out I didn’t need the loom project to jump-start my writing brain, and with the end of winter the colorful spring began. So although the projects are unfinished in one sense, they are finished in another sense–the sense that my expectations around them have been met.
If a project is no longer fulfilling, ask yourself why. Maybe it’s because you’ve already completed it. It’s not the actual physical finishing that makes something complete, it’s the fulfillment of the expectation.