By Hand is a monthly prompt that focuses on freeing our words by using our hands. This month, we’re exploring stitching and coloring.
I have a friend who is an ophthalmologist. She told me she is well-known at medical gatherings—conferences, board meetings—as “that doctor with the needlepoint.” Except, it’s cross-stitch.
She learned how to cross-stitch when she was five years old. Her mother owned a shop that sold supplies for knitting, crocheting, sewing, stitching, and other handcrafts. My friend has three children, all of whom have played sports, and she’s also been known to bring her cross-stitch to volleyball tournaments and basketball games.
She says she concentrates better when she’s doing something by hand. Since her hands do the specialized work of operating on people’s eyes, I would imagine that cross-stitching is fun for her fingers.
Fun. A lot of days, fun is hard work for me. I identify with the man in this article from The Onion:
Local man Marshall Platt, 34, came tantalizingly close to kicking back and having a good time while attending a friend’s barbeque last night before remembering each and every one of his professional and personal obligations, backyard sources confirmed.
Marshall, I feel your pain.
So as I headed into a weekend retreat—something designed to be fun—I brought along something that might be fun for my fingers. I don’t cross-stitch or needlepoint or do any other handcrafts, and I’d already colored my poets for Take Your Poet to Work Day, so I went to the store and bought a coloring book and some colored pencils for the weekend.
At least I can color, I thought to myself.
I pulled them out while we watched a movie. It had been a stressful week, and I woke up with a headache that was still going strong after coffee and black tea and an Advil. Knowing that I am good at ignoring what should be a pleasurable experience to marinate in worry, I reached for my handcraft. Instead of concentrating on my worries or on the movie, I concentrated on what contrasting colors of green to use for those mittens and which blue for the stocking cap. When the video was over, my headache was gone. I’d even strung together a couple of coherent thoughts.
I asked my doctor friend if she ever thinks more clearly during or after cross-stitching, if it helps her to solve a problem.
“Sometimes,” she said, as if she’d never connected the two.
Prompt Guidelines and Options
1. Do you have a craft practice? Do you color outside the lines? Don’t wait for a stress headache! Get out your stitching or coloring. How does working with your hands affect your thinking and even your listening?
2. While I colored, I was amused by how many different ways I could move the pencil to achieve the desired affect: circles, up and down, press hard, shade lightly. What motions do you use when you color?
3. Keep a notepad and pencil nearby while you work by hand in case inspiration strikes, or at least tap your unexpectedly brilliant question or idea into your phone.
4. Write a poem, vignette, or story opener that springs from your hand work. Catalog the necessary materials and write a catalog poem. Or write something entirely unexpected.
That’s it! We look forward to what you create when you do it By Hand.
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro