Healing

Ta-Nehisi Coates looks at the past for a better future

The Water Dancer, a novel with qualities of historical fiction and magical realism by Ta-Nehisi Coates, had been on my Books To Read list for a while. When I finally got to it (I listened to the audiobook) I thought it was brilliant.

The novel is a story about family and freedom told in the context of slavery.

The main character, Hiram, is both the property and the son of Howell Walker, the man whom he calls “Father.” Hiram works as servant to his brother, Maynard.

Hiram is smart and a gifted storyteller with an extraordinary memory. He remembers everything he sees and hears. But he cannot bring forth the full and clear memory he most desires, that of his mother, the “Water Dancer.” His father sold her away when he was about 5. 

He discovers he has another power called conduction and eventually works in the Underground Railroad with the woman known as Moses.  

Hiram’s experiences help him gain perspective and understanding. He witnesses family, belonging, obligation, freedom, justice, and love in action.

The Water Dancer is a great book and I was eager to explore more of the author’s work.

A letter to his son

Between the World and Me is a narrative to his teenage son after the news that police officers will not face charges for the death of a black man in their custody.

The author imparts his hopes and dreams for his son. He speaks of the challenge he will face to protect his body in a society that proves again and again it does not value his body. 

He shares his own experience growing up in the rough streets of Baltimore and of attending Howard University. Of broadening his perspective as he traveled the country and to Europe. 

The author’s deep desire to protect his son comes through clearly.

Also clear is his realization all parents must accept, that his child will have to find his own way.   

A case for righting past wrongs

His article, “The Case for Reparations,” published in The Atlantic magazine June 2014 issue.

It’s a long essay that addresses systemic racism, from slavery to Jim Crow to redlining housing practices and unjust incarceration. Coates makes a compelling case for reaparations in order for America to end the pain of racial divisions. He does not propose exactly what amount or form of “reparations” would be adequate, but he does address bill H.R. 40, Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. 

The author says of the Commission: 

Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.  

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, accessed on theatlantic.com 6/11/2020.

Impacting future leaders

The final Ta-Nehisi Coates item is his guest lecture to the West Point Corps of Cadets in 2017. 

But whether you agree with him a hundred-percent or not, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a deep thinker. His ideas provoke thought and consideration on difficult subjects, like justice, race, American history, and leadership. 

I highly recommend you read or listen to his work. At the very least, he will give you something to think about.

Go to Ta-Nehisicoates.com to learn more.

crochet lessons

Crochet and life lessons reinforced

I decided to learn to crochet mostly because I liked the idea of making stuff people could wear. I had no idea learning to crochet would reinforce many life lessons for me.

My new hobby came about after I’d finished a few needlepoint projects and wanted to try something different. How hard can it be? I thought.

My mom, who sews beautifully and used to crochet, gave me a quick lesson on how to start a chain using just my fingers because neither of us had a hook.

I went to a yarn store by my house where the sales clerk recommended a bamboo hook and offered a bit of yarn remnants (project leftovers). “You’ll want to get a light colored one so you can see what you’re doing,” she advised.

I decided on a small pastel pink yarn that looked like it could have been used to make a blanket for a baby girl.

With yarn and hook in hand and just enough information to wade into the crochet ocean, I was on my way. 

My fingers cramped as they adjusted to the new movements and I stitched long chains, then pulled them out and chained them again. I was finally ready to try a turn, means hooking the yarn to the original chain and making another row.

My fingers resisted moving as instructed on the Youtube videos. I strangled that first ball of pink yarn into submission. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my stitches were so tight I nearly had them in a chokehold. 

My practice swatches looked like the equivalent of writing with the non-dominant hand. You could tell what it was, kind of, but pretty shabby.

But I kept at it. 

That pink yarn was starting to look a little frayed, so I ventured into a sewing and craft store for more. In the yarn aisle stocked with hundreds of skeins of various brands, colors, material, I had no idea what I wanted or what was best for a beginner to use. 

I met a woman there in the aisle who said she was new to crocheting too. 

She had already made a bag and lots of blankets. And she taught herself. 

I was impressed and envious. 

I felt such a long way from where she was. She said she’d only been at it a few months. I’d been at it a few weeks and my stuff was all crap. 

“You’ll get it,” she encouraged. “It takes practice.”

While watching TV and listening to audiobooks, I practiced my basic single crochet stitch and figured I’d graduate to more complex stitches later. 

I made a coaster with bright-yellow yarn I’d forgotten I had. 

The coaster turned out in more of a rhombus shape not square (due to not counting and turning correctly) and rolled up on the ends (due to stranglehold stitches).

But it was done. 

Curled crocheted coaster (left) and Curled multi-colored, crocheted pot holder (right).

Next project

I thought I was ready to move on to something bigger and decided to make a scarf.

There were tons of instructional YouTube videos, but the problem with those is that experts do them and make everything look so easy. I had to constantly rewind, watch, rewind again, stitch, undo the stitch, watch again, etc. 

That period of learning tested my patience and I’m not sure what kept me going but I did. 

The scarf turned out wearable and functional, not beautiful. The edges were somewhat curvy, not clean, so I decided to put a border on it. Unfortunately, my stitches are so tight I actually broke my bamboo crochet hook trying to add the border. So I added fringe.

Again, not beautiful, but it’s done. 

Since that first project, I have made a blanket for each of my grandkids, several scarves, and a potholder. 

I have a yarn stash like any respectable crocheter and have attempted more complex projects, but find crochet patterns overwhelming. 

I know the basics and enjoy my new hobby. 

It occurred to me recently that I’ve learned a lot from it. Crochet life lessons, so to speak. These are things I know and learning to crochet has reminded me. 

Strive for progress, not perfection. 

I watched Youtube videos following every step as meticulously as I could. My practice swatches never turned out like theirs. So frustrating! Theirs were perfect. Mine weren’t even close to perfect and hardly resembled theirs. 

And while that was frustrating, I had to be okay with my imperfect product because that’s where I was. I had to give myself a chance to get better. 

Needing my swatches to be perfect would have stopped me right at the beginning.

Crochet would have been added to the list of things I always wanted to do but never got the hang of.

Better to strive for progress over perfection.

Comparing myself to others is unproductive. 

That fellow beginning crocheter who said it took her a few months to teach herself and had already made a bag impressed me. Maybe I was a slow learner or not cut out to create anything. I always figured I didn’t have the “creative gene” that runs in my family.

My mom sews beautifully and my sister is an expert at creating beautiful work from garage sale, thrift store, or trash pile odds and ends. 

I never had much success in that area. 

But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. With a little instruction and A LOT of patience, I can. I may never be an expert crocheter and I’m certainly not a prodigy, like this impressive young man, Jonah

And that’s okay. I’d like to get better and I’ve already made huge improvements since that very first wonky swatch.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to start over. 

Crochet patterns overwhelm me, but I found an infinity scarf pattern that seemed pretty simple. It used simple stitches and then connected each round at a starting point. It seemed so simple!

I was using a super soft velvet yarn and the pattern sample was luxurious and I was so excited to make it. And then, about four loops in, I looked at it. Closely. And realized somehow, some way, the yarn had twisted. 

It would never fall right. And no matter how much I wished it hadn’t happened, or wished I would have checked it sooner, there was no salvaging it. It would not work out as it was. If I wanted to make the scarf, I had to completely undo it and start over. 

As upsetting as that was, I had to cut my loss of time and energy and be grateful I hadn’t gone further before realizing my error. 

Still, it bothered me that I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong. It all seemed to be going smoothly! I regretted my error, but felt lucky that I could easily pull the yarn and undo every stitch until it’s just a long string of yarn. 

Of course life isn’t that simple, but sometimes we hang on to things that just aren’t going to work out no matter how much you try to force it. Starting over seems impossible and sometimes it may be, but more often it’s the heavy feeling of regret at being left with just a long, frazzled string of yarn instead of the hope of having something amazing. 

I eventually had to abandon the pattern. Could not get the yarn to stop twisting.

Be okay with being a beginner and keep at it. 

So I’ve been doing this for a few months and you’d think I’d be able to crochet square blankets by now, but nope. I got so frustrated with myself when I was halfway through a recent project and realized it was taking on a trapezoid shape when it should have been a square. 

(I resist counting my stitches 😐 )

For a second, I thought. That’s it. I’m terrible at this. But I know that I’m terrible at counting my stitches. It’s math. I don’t like math.

So how do you get better at counting stitches if you hate to count your stitches? You decide to just do it and then practice doing it and figure out a way to count without it crushing your crochet spirit. 

Because if you want to make square blankets, you have to count your stitches. (I tell myself this but at the back of my mind I wonder if there’s another way!)

To get to the next level, you may need a coach or teacher.

I attempted enough times to know that if I want to explore more complex projects and be able to follow a pattern, I’m going to need instruction. 

My instructor will need to be VERY patient, knowledgeable, and kind. She’ll be able to see what I’m doing, point out where I’m going wrong, and steer me in the right direction. Also, give me incremental goals and skills to develop. My imaginary crochet coach is amazing. 

When you think about it, having a coach makes sense. Every professional basketball team has a shooting coach, professional football teams have a kicking coach, pro golfers have a coach. 

Don’t go it alone

I’ve found a crochet meet up of crocheters and knitters who meet once a week to chat and crochet and knit. I’ve only made the meet up a few times, but they’re always welcoming and helpful. They’re at all different levels, but the majority are very knowledgeable and I would say, expert. The differences in yarn materials, brands, stitches, strategies, etc. 

We talk about books, movies, our families. And we have crochet/knitting in common. 

Crochet and life lessons

I like to crochet, but never thought venturing into this new hobby would reinforce life lessons that have been reinforced again and again over the years.

Is crochet life?

Not exactly.

But for me, it’s like another branch of learning. That I get to create something to keep my neck warm in winter is a bonus.

So when you feel discouraged by some new challenge, remember these things:

  • Strive for progress, not perfection
  • Comparing yourself to others in unproductive
  • Sometimes the best thing to do is start over
  • Be okay with being a beginner and keep at it
  • To get to the next level, you may need a coach or teacher
  • Don’t go it alone

Have you picked up and hobbies recently? What have you learned? I’d love to hear from you.

For more on being a beginner, read Embrace the beginner’s mindset on the blog.