Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Distance - Essay from Newsletter 145

My first word for 2023

Rubber banding

I was having coffee with Rick a couple of weeks ago when I felt the end of my index finger snap backwards.

I don’t know what this is technically called, but I refer to it as rubber-banding. I reached over with my other hand and gentle bent the finger forwards the way it’s supposed to go but it happened again and to a lesser extent with some of the other fingers.

“Did you see that?” I asked.

He did. I flexed my hand for a while and it went away. It hasn’t happened for a long time so I thought that whatever it was had stopped. Unscientifically, when it has happened in the past I seemed to be underhydrated and drinking a lot of water seemed to help.

Lately I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee and forgetting Kim’s advice that for every cup of coffee I should drink an extra cup of water. Wet does not mean hydrating.

I’ve been trying to stay well-hydrated since the incident and it hasn’t recurred.


I worry about my hands because most of what I do all day is type. The rubber-banding thing is not repetitive stress or carpal tunnel - but it is worrying.

I used to knit while I watched television at night. I stopped a few years back because of the intermittent rubber-banding but a couple of months ago I noticed that it hadn’t happened in a while and I decided to make Maggie a lace scarf/shawl for Christmas.

Lace is fun and interesting. There are all sorts of methods for adding holes and for compensating for the holes you added by doing a two or three stitch decrease. Some patterns have you distinguish right-leaning decreases from left-leaning ones. I’m not sure it matters, but it’s more fun to embrace these differences and watch the pattern emerge.

I have a goal to make my own patterns at some point - but after three year’s off I began with a search for something I liked.

I found a simple enough pattern. Twelve rows repeated until the scarf was done.

Most western lace patterns have you do the fancy looping, decreasing, and ordinary knitting on odd numbered rows and purl all the way back on even rows.

I hate purling.

I don’t know why but I find it harder to do and a row of purling can take me almost twice as long as a row of knitting.

The pattern I settled on had me knit on all even rows. I’m not sure what the difference is in the final product. Those of you who are knitters can let me know and perhaps I’ll never purl an entire row again.

I had my pattern chosen and knew I’d be in Amsterdam in a week so I planned to stop at Stephen & Penelope’s shop and pick up some yarn.

Maggie looks good in any color but I wanted to choose something that would look good with some of what she already had so I chose Vintage Heather.

Counting issues

After getting started, the first interesting row of the pattern was knit three stitches and then introduce a loop, turn three stitches into one, introduce a loop. The net effect is you start with three stitches and end with three stitches but you introduce two holes in the process. You then knit nine stitches and do the fancy part again. So that’s twelve stitches that repeat until you get to the end of the row when you should have six stitches. You do the fancy part with the next three and knit the last three.


I knit back the even row and found that I had 94 stitches when I should have had 93.

So I compensated in the next row and did an extra decrease and then had 90 stitches when I should have had 93.

  1. I should always have 93 in a row.

And yet as I learned the pattern and continued to knit sometimes I would have more and some times I would have less.

The stitch where three stitches became one made beautiful thick lines but they weren’t straight lines because I kept adding or losing stitches. They were wavy but not in a regular way. The holes on either side of these lines only seemed to accentuate my errors.

And also I seemed to be using up too much yarn.

I was leaving Amsterdam in a day but I headed out in the rain to pick up another ball of Vintage Heather.

Except when I got there I couldn’t remember what color I’d bought. I stared at the racks and racks of yarn and a dozen of them looked close.

A kind woman took me to the register and asked when I’d been in and she was able to see that I’d bought Vintage Heather. “Sorry,” she said, “they’re out of that color.” She also told me that any other color would obviously be another color.

I thanked her and caught the light rail back to the conference. I was filling in for a speaker who couldn’t make it and needed to get back in time.


So I decided to keep going.

I don’t always. I started another project of Japanese lace and gave up after a dozen rows. But this one I decided to keep going.

Damn the wavy lines and that I might not have enough yarn. I would keep going.

The pattern and my lack of skill combined to mean that it took me about two and a half hours to do the twelve row repeat and those rows would be about two inches long.

Except that the scarf wouldn’t look like it does on my lap as I knit it. I would wash it and stretch it into shape and dry it.

And it would be draped around Maggie’s shoulders or folded and wrapped around her neck.

It would look fine.

And I started to learn the pattern. And I made fewer mistakes. I’d sometimes go through an entire night with 93 stitches in each row.

Soon I ran out of yarn from the first ball and realized I’d underestimated. There was about two feet of scarf from the first ball. This would be a nice six foot / two meters or more scarf.

I knit during the world cup. I knit while I rewatched British mysteries. I knit while I listened to podcasts.

One of the podcasts was a repeat of an interview with Andrew Stanton of Pixar. The women had worked with him and one of them said that when they were lost in the details of dialogue or other parts of a story he would remind them to look at it from thirty-thousand feet.

Get the distance to see the whole thing and appreciate what it is you are making.

When you are engaged in turning three stitches into one, it’s easy to lose sight of the scarf you are knitting and that stitch’s place in the scarf.

Distance doesn’t mean that that stitch isn’t important but it reminds you of all the other stitches involved and let’s you decide how much emphasis to place on this one stitch.

On the other hand, it is all of these stitches that combine to give you a single scarf and some stitches can lead to the unraveling of a lot of work.

There are times when I’ve ripped out work to get a particular stitch right. But with this piece - after asking Maggie if she minded - I kept going.

The night before Maggie came home I finished. My cast off was too tight. I decided not to worry.

I soaked the scarf and laid it out on towels and pinned it into place.

It was dry by Christmas Eve so I folded it carefully and wrapped it with the other presents.

After opening presents Maggie went off to see Father Gary’s service. I laid the scarf out on the cough to take its picture.

It looks nice from a distance. If you get up close enough you can see all the flaws. I’ve decided that that’s ok too.

Years ago Kim and I followed Duncan around Brussels as he taught a group what to look for in a photo shoot. He talked about the usual shots we take and then advised us to kneel down and get low, climb on something and get some height, get up close, or stand farther away.

Change your distance and perspective.

This year’s first word is Distance and it’s a reminder to me to notice and vary the distance and perspective with which I look at things.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 145. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

See also Dim Sum Thinking — Theme by @mattgraham — Subscribe with RSS