This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.
Knitters are normally easy going, accepting people, but I met one once whose goal in life was to ensure that everyone else approached the craft with the same limited, narrow confines that she used to run her circumscribed, seamlessly regulated life.
“I’ve never seen anyone knit the way you do,” was the first full sentence after the introductions. “It’s odd.”
“A German woman taught me,” I replied.
“Well, she taught you wrong. I’ve lived all around Europe for the last 20 years, and I can assure you that no one on the continent knits that way.”
She then proceeded to illustrate how my knit stitches were askew (they looked straight to me), and then provided specific instructions on the correct procedure, which looked askew to me.
But she was confident, and she had lived in Europe, and her words shook me to the point that when I returned home, I set my knitting bag aside, unenthused and desultory.
One part of me said to pay no attention to this woman, who chose to run her life with a belief system so constrained that Jesus himself would have difficulty making it into her heaven, but the other part – the shaken, dazed part – reminded me that she had lived in Europe, and, well, that pretty much said it all.
For two days, while my local yarn shop was closed, I drooped about the house, all pleasure in an activity that has brought me much joy and which I am actually quite good at, gone. I was surprised at myself, and at the way that this dislikable woman had destroyed my confidence and joy by means of a few well placed, thoughtless comments.
One thing I knew – I needed to get that confidence back, either by confirming with an expert whose opinion I trusted that the woman’s comments were valid, or that they were not. And I needed to get that confidence back fast.
“You don’t knit funny, your stitches are straight, and there is no one universal European manner of stitching,” my local yarn shop owner said. “Who told you this?”
I mentioned the name.
“Yes. Well Mrs. Knitware is a very nice lady but she does hold some strict opinions that aren’t necessarily valid. Don’t let her words destroy what you’re doing, because what you’re doing is right.”
I got my confidence back.
And I learned something in the process. No, not just to ignore the words of uptight, regulated and narrowly opinionated people (which I normally do, by the way), but that sometimes you are slapped in the face with such force that you reel, like a boxer, against the ropes
without understanding why, and with really very little justification, you are instantaneously drained of all energy, joy, confidence, sureness, and self-assurance in abilities that moments before you felt pretty darned good about.
It could be a comment from a juror, or an observation from a colleague artist, a whispered aside from a viewer at a show, a glimpse of someone else’s work, a passing remark on your technique – whatever it is, it’s a truly thoughtless comment that for some reason, in that moment, steals your soul and makes you question whether you’re any good at this at all, or whether you ever will be, and if it’s worth going on because you’re never going to get anywhere anyway.
Maybe this will never happen to you, but if you do this long enough, it probably will. And when it does, the crucial thing is to get help fast – in my case I found someone whose opinion and character I trusted and laid out the whole small, silly scenario, and let her walk me back into the light. To this day I still don’t know how I found myself so securely locked and trussed in that dark room with such breathtaking rapidity.
Obviously, we can all improve at what we do, but that’s not what this is all about. This is about the instantaneous sucking of your psyche by the vacuum of somebody else’s limited mind, and the inexplicable sideswiping it just accomplished on your very being.
Do whatever you can to get out of that dark room, and if you slam the door against the fingers of the person who shut you in, well, that’s just sweet.