You may recognize the title of this newsletter, borrowed as it is from the opening chapter of Moby Dick. While it is unlikely that my Loomings will bring you anything especially cetacean, the things you find here are born of a similar impulse to what Ishmael describes in Melville’s first chapter: something to combat the damp, drizzly Novembers of the soul; something that says look and look well; something of the nature of work and its role in all this. Something, in sum, to help one make do.
In the particular case of this newsletter, I’m pursuing the ways in which I make do with the forever shifting circumstances of the writing life and how ways of making and doing—one thing or another—intersect with and enrich each other.
You’ll find here, fortnightly, an essayette—narrative or exploratory or experimental, with all due gratitude to Ross Gay for offering up that term in The Book of Delights—that explores craft, creativity, or inspiration, as well as a few recurring elements: what I’m making, doing, reading, or encountering, with the hope that you’ll share what you’re making, doing, reading, and encountering also.
Today, for example, like all days, I am making tea and making peace with a big day, my fortieth birthday, which seems like something that is happening to someone else. I will spend the actual day teaching and holding advising meetings, but I took myself out for my birthday during AWP for a fantastic tapas dinner at Oloroso, which was accompanied by a sherry flight I asked the bartender to curate for me. The place wasn’t busy yet—I have always leaned unfashionably early with dinner—so he was able to take a minute and tell me about each of them, to talk about grapes and history and let me try drinks from the same grape at various stages of oxidization. Something that I love very much is listening to someone who knows something I don’t. Since there are so many things in the world I don’t know about, I have many opportunities for these good moments, and this one was extra-good. The last of the sherries, a 1990 Pedro Ximenez, was as rich as a mouthful of honey, a distillation of Córdoba’s orange light and the plumpest raisin you’ve ever eaten.
What I’m making:
The process of converting wool (or silk or bamboo or linen) into yarn is one of my favorite transformations in the world—right up there with the process of caramelization. To make yarn, one applies twist to some sort of fiber. That twist can be applied with nothing more than the fingers, or a spinning stick, or a spinning wheel. The thinness or thickness is merely a matter of tension and preparation. Practice makes it easier, of course—as with any doing—but it’s not a complicated process, not in the basics. The pleasure, for me, is all this softness and texture, the way the colors arrive depending on the choices I make. This, made from a wool batt from Fossil Fibers, has these thrilling pops of contrasting silk—gold, here—that provide both texture and color. Beneath this deep teal, there is also a long run of a bright, new-foliage green. I have decided to spin this as a gradient singles (yes, we use the plural: a singles). When this bobbin is full, I’ll have choices to make: I could leave it as a single strand; or I could ply it back against itself to make a two-ply yarn (in which the green beginning and the teal ending come together in contrast); or I could ply it against itself using chain-ply, which will keep the colors together; or I could spin up the second matching batt I have and then ply these two together, green end to green end and teal to teal. At present, that’s my plan: a long, two-ply gradient, mostly because I love the look of a gradient, all skeined up.
I don’t yet know what I’m going to do with this yarn, once it’s done. That’s the case, honestly, the vast majority of the time. I spin simply because I enjoy every part of the activity. I will eventually use this yarn for weaving or knitting, but I’m never troubled by the how and what.
That’s such a difference from how my writing usually unfolds. While I don’t often plan out what happens in a piece—preferring, always, to let the work lead me, as it arrives—I almost always know what it’s going to be, whether long or short, fiction or nonfiction. It’s a strange contrast to know what it will be but not know—for such a long time—how: if it’s working, if any of the starting words are going to make it into the final iteration of the piece, if the piece is worth finishing at all. The fiber arts, in my experience, provide much more immediate feedback: the spun yarn holds together or it doesn’t. The knitted fabric looks good or it doesn’t. There are more exacting tests—washing and the finishing process for both knitting and weaving will effect the final item a lot—but generally speaking, the “first draft” of a piece of knitting or weaving doesn’t lie outright. If the knitted sleeve measures out too small on the needles, the vast majority of the time, it’s going to stay that way. If the colors on a piece of weaving interact in a muddy way while it’s on the loom, that contrast isn’t going to improve once it’s off.
The certainty of this process is one of its central appeals, a welcome counterpoint to my other acts of making.
What I’m reading: The Unseen, by Roy Jacobsen, translated into English by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw. This is the first book in Jacobsen’s Barrøy series, a multibook saga following the girl Ingrid and her family on a remote island in the North Sea. The pacing of it is both satisfying and enigmatic; the novel unfolds slowly, both its events and the characters’ commentary on said events arriving clad in understatement. There is a peculiar equality in tone and expression that I find absolutely magnetic, emphasized in many places by the parataxis of the comma splice: one independent clause, another independent clause. This, that. The matter-of-factness of the grammar makes room for the reader to experience the circumstances of the novel with the lack of sensationalism necessary to survive the very life the islanders live. I’m very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
What I’m writing: In this case, what I’ve written: I have two pieces of micro-fiction in Passages North 43, “August” and “Spinster,” which, coincidentally, connect with both food and spinning. It’s an absolutely gorgeous issue, and I’m so delighted to be published here.
I’ll close with a wave to my newly discovered birthday compatriot, British professional cyclist Tao Geoghegan Hart, who understands privilege and how to leverage it. Now I’m off for the day’s doing: sneaking a watch of a few kilometers of the Dwars door Vlaanderen bike race with breakfast, then off to work.
I enjoyed this very much! My day begins with writing and then I get out of my head with the tactile & visual experience of fiber. Of course, I keep a notepad close by, especially when spinning. It's like a spell that conjures poetry.