I recently read something that piqued my interest. It was posted on a social media platform and it spoke of a challenge that is facing many people at this time, a direct result of attempts by government, not just ours but across the world – to flatten the COVID-19 curve that has left many individuals and families divest of economic opportunity, or to put it more bluntly, the ability to put food on the table and shelter at our backs.
The post spoke of a trade in services, a bartering of skills, not a you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, scenario but an honest, stripped bare and exposed, this is what I can create, grow, fix, build vs this is what I need, that I cannot build, fix, grow or create myself – how can we help each other thrive during this time when we can no longer earn what we need to survive.
Money, well that’s a topic for another day, but let me just leave this thought here because it speaks to the point. We live in a world where our value has become something determined by certain skill sets and some of the highest valued skills sets having nothing to do with the ability to create, fix or build things with our own hands but more to do with managing or controlling those who can.
But here we are in 2020 living in world where for the moment, industry has ground to a halt, food production is at risk, companies are closing and people are losing their jobs, their income and their freedoms. Some of those high value skills are scrambling for footholds in the cobwebs of yesterday as we are stripped back to the bare essentials.
And let us be brutally honest with ourselves here, because if we aren’t, we are fooling no one but ourselves. Most of us have forgotten how to weave a fabric of existence that does not rely on money, forgotten the feel of soil under our nails, how steady a root holds its ground or the pleasure of nurturing a food source from seed to harvest. Our fingertips caress tiled letters on a keyboard, fashioning reality from the microchips and fragments of quartz embedded in technology instead of connecting to the tangible textiles of our existence. We have forgotten how to be self-sufficient, we have become the soft underbelly of complacency. It is these thoughts that have sat and debated with me over the past few days, days I too have spent tapping tiled letters, grappling problems and searching for solutions, all the while feeling the cold numb my fingers.
There is scientific evidence linking the use of our hands to cognitive ability, a reason why we spend the formative years of our development using our hands, experimenting with touch, textures and the feeling of our environment, why crawling is so important and why we learn to write in cursive. We have spent an inordinate amount of time getting to know our hands. They are unique, the fingertips that sense, that touch and feel are embedded with nerves that send messages to our heart, soul and to the brain, they interpret the world and send us signals. It is our heart and soul that uses the same hands to hold, caress and heal, to create, grow, fix and build.
So, despite the cold weather, why are my hands so cold? My brain is using them to send messages, typed on tiled letters, embedding my thoughts into the microchips and fragments of quartz inside my computer. My heart is open, my thoughts are pure, but the chill persists and it is only in the malleable fabric of creating something with my own hands that they find relief.
My hands have fixed and they have built and they have had seasons to grow where the harvest has been good, but it is in creating, through knitting and more recently crocheting that they make sense of things, where the pieces fit and where I have found a quiet akin to meditation.
I have been knitting since I was a child, in fact when I was old enough to start learning needlework and knitting, as was expected at school, I opted to rather learn woodwork – much to the horror of my teachers and peers. It wasn’t a snub to the art, I simply wanted to use the opportunity to learn something new.
Knitting has always been my staple, amongst the many new skills I have learnt over the years out of necessity, such as learning how to decorate cakes – because that is an expensive service to pay for – or simply curiosity, such as engraving – because everything deserves to be decorated. Yes, knitting has always been the staple and I have whiskey tins full of needles (plastic, bamboo, round, straight) and yarn (baskets and project bags) and even scrap cuttings here and there to prove it, but crocheting has always alluded me – until now.
COVID-19 has caused some major upheavals in our lives, but I always try to look for the positives and time to learn new things must be included on that list. I have always admired the intricate weave of knots and twists that fuse colours and bend shapes like only crochet can. I have marveled at the skill and mused at ways to fund the purchasing of those luxurious crochet blankets that I have desired, understanding the costs involved, the prices have never shocked me as they do others. It is an art and as I have read, you are not paying simply for the time it takes to create the object but also the years of dedication to the skill. Something that is made by hand embodies the energy and intent of the creator, it can be made for purpose but it is most assuredly also made with meaning and that is priceless.
So when I hear talk about people wanting to share their time and skills not for money but for something of equal and desired necessity, it gets my attention. It starts to feel to me like another item to put on the positive list, it fits most resoundingly with a return to self, an acknowledgement of the power we have within our own hands, to fix, to build, to grow and create and I can’t help but wonder how differently we would start to value ourselves if the experience and skills we listed on our CV’s had less to do with the building empirical economies and more to do with our ability to craft by hand the world we deserve to live in.
Yesterday is an experience lived, today is not too late and tomorrow is not a given, if we have learnt, as we should have from this experience, should we not start gifting ourselves the opportunity to learn new skills, to stop resting the value of our worth on the mechanics of industry and instead remember what it meant to make our own clothes, grow our own food and start carving the value of our place back into our existence.