In knitting, there is a thing called *gauge*. Gauge refers to the number of stitches and rows a knitter makes per inch using a certain weight yarn and specific size needles . Gauge varies from person to person, so it is very important to make sure you are achieving the gauge a specific pattern calls for. Well, only if you want your project to come out a specific size.
Emily taught me to knit the year she underwent treatment for breast cancer. We had a lot of time on our hands that year what with chemo drips being so slow and all. I was a tight, persnickety and particular knitter. Which was surprising to no one. With teeth and ass clenched tightly I held my needles in a death grip that left them permanently bowed as I painstakingly attempted to make every single stitch identical to the one before it and the one after it, my forehead beaded with sweat. I still don’t know what kept me knitting as relaxing(sic) as it was in those early days. I guess it was either keep knitting or watch the healing poison that is chemotherapy go into my beloved’s veins and contemplate cancer. At any rate, I kept knitting. With my first projects I avoided gauge altogether, choosing to knit stuffed animals, toys, small blankets, things where end size didn’t so much matter. When I wearied of knitting non-functional, purposeless things, I moved on to scarves and hats, where 4 stitches per inch or 5 stitches per inch didn’t make a discernible difference in a one-size-fits-all hat or the length of a scarf. But let’s be honest, how many hats or scarves does anyone need?
I felt that the act of knitting was difficult (if not painful) enough, without having to achieve an exact number and measurement set by someone else. I told myself that gauge was overrated. I convinced myself that I couldn’t achieve gauge because it had to do with numbers – specifically math – and everyone knows that math and I do not mix well.
But then I realized there was more to this getting gauge problem than just math. Or just knitting. The reality was I was not *getting gauge* in life. Always a few stitches short of where I wanted to be, a few too many for where I was, I simply do not fit into a specific paradigm or pattern. Whoa, right?
In life as in knitting, I found it easier to dismiss gauge out of hand and do my own thing, be my own person, create my own pattern. I practiced rejoicing in the not fitting in, the uniqueness of being me. In high school I was voted “most individual” – that being shorthand for *coolest odd duck*. The photo I had put into the yearbook was of me standing on my head. Whoopee for weirdos!! But like knitting useless items, being unconventionally and singularly irregular can get wearisome. Odd often equals lonely. There is strength in numbers. And support, and security, and friendship and companionship and love and laughter and camaraderie and…
Sometimes I do want to fit in and have it be easy. Sometimes I want to just belong, not long to be. Sometimes I just want to get gauge. Maybe I do want to knit a sweater for a change. One that actually fits me. It shouldn’t be so hard.
I was heartened (read that: thrilled) when I read the article about the scientist who recently proved Einstein’s Theory. Her name is Dr. Nergis Mavalvala and she is Pakastani. And, she identifies as an Out Queer person of color! I felt like my grandfather who used to point out all the important Jews – I literally hear his voice in my head every time I see a photo of Bernie Sanders – how excited would papa be?! Someone commented (on Facebook where I first read the article) that there was *no need to identify her* as any of those things. But I disagreed. And I got into a heated argument with the (white, straight, Republican) man who made the initial negative comments about not rubbing anyone’s nose in her queerness. There is a distinct pride in identifying with someone *like you* who is actually part of the mainstream without necessarily being one of the mainstream, seemingly doing it well and feeling just fine about it. Dr. Mavalvala went as far as to say, “I don’t mind being on the fringes of any social group. You are less constrained by the rules.”
Yes, there is that. And I don’t want to, in any way, pretend that being an *oddball* is all bad. Don’t get me wrong, I have benefited in many arenas and in many ways by my eccentric outsider status. While I felt lonely and abnormal inside, others viewed me as cool, unique, individual. High School friends I’m in touch with now through social media such as Facebook tell me they were envious of me and wished they could have been more like me – unconventional, more distinct, less swayed by the crowd. Clearly they could not hear my inner narrative. But it also shouldn’t be all or nothing. I’m seeing that more and more as I get older (and wiser – cough cough choke). There must be a way to strive for happy medium.
That’s why we need people like Dr. Mavalvala. And people like my knitting hero, Elizabeth Zimmerman. EZ, as she was fondly referred to by knitters, put forth that whatever your gauge, it was the right gauge. She transformed knitting by turning it upside down and making the knitter, and not the outside imposed pattern, the key to success. Of course I still don’t understand her mathematical formulae, but I do resonate with her desire to make everyone relevant, worthy, connected, capable. No knitter left behind. I like that.