A few weeks ago Donna Druchunas posted a list of her ten favorite knitting books. One of the books she mentioned was Knitting Heaven and Earth by Susan Gordon Lydon. She said, “This is hands-down my favorite non-pattern book about knitting, and the best writing about knitting I have ever read.”
I ordered it so fast I didn’t even realize I’d gotten a used copy. I don’t mind buying a used book, but when I do, I like to make sure it’s a clean copy with no writing in it or serious damage. I’m actually a little OCD about these things, so when the book arrived and I saw that a previous reader had highlighted passages throughout it in red crayon, I was pretty disappointed.
I’d just finished another book, though, and because of the no-being-between-books-or-you-could-die rule, I needed to start something else right away. So I dove in. And an interesting thing happened.
Almost every time I reached for my pen to mark something important, the red crayon person had already marked it.
At first, the red crayon annoyed me. I just tried to ignore it and keep going. In the back of my mind, I thought–if it turns out that I really like this book, I’ll get another copy.
As I read my way through the pages, though, it began to seem interesting that the red crayon person and I had marked so many of the same things, especially since not all of them were obvious things someone would mark. I felt my heart start to soften. I began to be less annoyed by the red markings. In fact, by the time I was halfway through the book, I realized I was really okay with the fact that the red crayon person had been there before me.
We began to have a sort of dialogue. When I marked something the red crayon hadn’t, I wondered why. Did the red crayon person not think that passage was significant? Had her mind wandered for a moment–wasn’t she paying attention? And when the red crayon marked something I wasn’t inclined to call out for a future me, I thought, “Mmm-hmm, now I see what you’re all about.”
I’m pretty sure the red crayon person is a woman, for instance, and that she’s probably a bit older than I am. I got this from the passage she liked about the women’s movement. Susan Gordon Lydon says that if she’d told the other feminists she knew in the 1970s that needlework could become a spiritual path, they’d have laughed her out of the room.
I also wonder if the red crayon person may have had to deal with breast cancer. She marked the lines that read: “Suddenly everything was different. Welcome to breast cancer land. Life as you know it is now over. All your plans, all your dreams have been replaced by nameless terrors and fears.” My heart sank for her, and when she marked again, I marked right along with her: “Above all, I didn’t want to lose my ability to knit.”
Knitting has a power.
I’ll never know what the woman with the red crayon ultimately thought about the book, but it seems fair to say that many of the same passages spoke to both of us.
I differ from Donna Druchunas in that I don’t think this is the best writing about knitting I’ve ever read. It’s as much an exploration of a certain period in the author’s life as it is a book about knitting. I agree, though, that there are a number of places where something essential is captured about what it means to be a knitter.
Plus, it includes one of the most fascinating tidbits of information about Elizabeth Zimmerman I’ve ever heard. Apparently, she used to knit while riding on the back of her husband’s motorcycle! (The red crayon wasn’t impressed.)
So anyway, I finished Knitting Heaven and Earth last night, and I’m glad to have read it. Some of it will probably be with me forever. Certainly, the warm feeling that there are other people out there who know that knitting is so very much more than a hobby is something I’ll hold onto.
In the introduction to the book, Gordon Lydon references E.M. Forster’s famous epigraph to Howards End, “Only connect.” She says:
Knitting connects. It connects us to one another. It connects us to our deepest selves, to the vastness of our ancestral knowledge and internal landscape. It connects us to the elemental forces of the universe, the pull of gravity, the solidity of earth, the majestic roll and swell of the oceans, to weather and wind, the animal, bird, and vegetable life around us, the ethereal heavenly spheres where our inspiration flourishes. Humble though it is, I believe knitting has the power to connect heaven and earth. And according to the I Ching, or the Chinese Book of Changes, when heaven and earth unite, what happens is profound and enduring peace.
Knitting does connect. I see it all the time, even in this funny experience of encountering another knitter through the marks and margin notes she left in my book. I hope that wherever the woman with the red crayon is now, she’s knitting. And I wish her peace.
I’m off to listen to Swing Out Sister’s Where Our Love Grows. I have a feeling I’m going to like it.