Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In the zone

I started running when I was at university, in Sydney, in the early 1970s. One night, to clear my head after a long day spent writing an essay on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, I decided to go for a jog before bedtime. I closed my books, switched off my study lamp, put on my sneakers, and headed off through the silent campus to the university oval.

It wasn’t long before I became dependent on my nightly, solitary pounding of the turf. Initially I had found running in circles relaxing, but I soon became obsessed and would run and run until my mind had stopped chattering and I had zoned out.

For some people, the need to achieve this altered state of consciousness starts at a very young age with spinning; they twirl themselves into a dizzy state of grace. For me, it had started with knitting.

I have had a couple of close encounters with the fever that knitting can produce in the addictive personality. The first occasion was when I began knitting myself a jumper at around age thirteen. As with any addiction, I didn’t know when to let well enough alone; the sweater grew into a dress that reached my mid-calf. It was hairy mohair wool, in a murky, khaki colour.

My mother tried to dissuade me from wearing that dress to an Easybeats rock concert. ‘Don’t you think it might be a bit hot, Rob?’ she asked.

I must have looked a fright. I still have flashbacks whenever I hear their song, Friday on my mind.

After that experience I managed to put down the needles until I was a student in my third year at university. At the start of the Easter holiday, when it was miserable weather outside and my flat was toasty warm, I picked up again. My flatmate Anne was away for the holiday with her boyfriend Chris. I knew I would be undisturbed.

I decided to knit a sweater for my youngest brother, Col. I rationalised that it wouldn’t really count as indulging a habit if I was doing it for someone else. Having learned my lesson from my earlier foray into the craft, I chose a neutral-coloured plain wool, and cast on.

For four or five days, I hardly moved from the mattress on the floor that served as our couch. At the end of each row, I felt compelled to turn the needles around and start another one.

By the time I had finished the jumper, I had lost any awareness of the world outside my own head. The floor was littered with the evidence of my addiction: the paper wrappers from dozens of balls of beige four-ply wool. I knew I couldn’t go on this way, ignoring my studies and trying to conceal my shameful secret. I didn’t want to become another knitting casualty, with early-onset arthritis in my fingers and no hope of a decent future. It was time to give up the habit once and for all.

I took the needles and wool wrappers and disposed of them in the rubbish bin outside our block of flats. As I crawled under my quilt, I sighed deeply. It had been a close call.

I’m relieved to say that it’s 35 years since I last knitted.

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