Sunday, May 24, 2009

Stitches in Time

"Wow. You missed your era." 

My 2nd year theatre professor said this to me in 1992, at our first rehearsal in costume for Little Shop of Horrors. I was in full early 60s regalia: capri pants, belted bright yellow sweater, beehive hairdo and leather jacket. With the very voluptuous figure I had at the time (a good 60 pounds heavier than I am now), I looked the part. "Yes," I thought, "that's it! I missed my era. Born at another time, I would have been what the magazines said I should be. I would have been 'That Girl'." Instead of the exact opposite of "That Girl" that I was, in the era of big blond hair, blue eye-shadow, and tall, bony frame that was the aesthetic ideal of the time.

I have often thought that I missed my era, in many other ways, too.

Way the first: Music. For as long as I can remember, the music that has moved me the most has been that of a long bygone era - that of Vienna in the the late 18th century, of Beethoven, of Mozart, and later of Rachmaninoff and Liszt and Mahler. I pressed my ear against the console stereo and listened to Tchaikovsky ballet music as a toddler, making up the story of Swan Lake in my head, and decided then and there that all I ever wanted to do was make this music. While my friends listened to Duran Duran and had pictures of Nick Rhodes torn from Teen Beat on their bedroom walls, I practiced piano five hours a day and had a life-sized Beethoven poster on mine. Not exactly a ticket to Coolsville for a teenager in the 1980s.

Way the second: Knitting. I've had a lot of "hobbies" in my life, but none so enduring and as satisfying and endlessly entertaining as this. Every time I turn a heel, I feel connected to history in a small way, knowing that my accomplishing this little feat of architecture (no pun intended) is essentially the same as has been done for hundreds of years, all over the world. That there are still no machines that can shear a sheep, that much of the yarn I use was spun or painted or dyed by a person, not a machine, that the act of creating things to warm those I love out of string is somehow so ... human. The first time I brought a sock to knit during Grey Cup (an annual tradition that involves me and my dad watching football, eating really fabulous schmancy food and swearing at the refs), I looked up to see him frozen in space, holding a baked brie, tea towel thrown over his shoulder, wearing a huge smile while tears streamed down his face. "What?" I said. "Nana used to knit socks while she watched football, too." (My Nana, his mom, gone since 1997, loved needlework and football in almost equal measure.) So when I knit, I feel connected to my personal history, too. To her.

And Way the Third: Bread. I bake bread. Every week. The Love of My Life and I have eaten my homemade bread pretty much exclusively for going on two years now. I love the simplicity of it, the 5 ingredients, the - again - human involvement, that it's not enough to follow a recipe and throw things into a bowl and then the oven: the dough needs kneading. It needs me. And the recipe is same as it has always been, simple, universal, honest. Ancient. Another era.

But Love of My Life said something last night as I was knitting by the lake and mentioned this "missing my era" idea that changed my thinking about this whole classical music, knitting, bread-baking thing of mine. He said, "Ya, but you wouldn't have had the choice then."


He's right. Two hundred years ago, I probably wouldn't have been permitted to have the incredible musical experiences that I have had as a solo pianist, accompanist and chorister, and certainly not those I enjoy today as a member of a Celtic-rock band. Knitting and bread-baking would have been required, mundane, daily "women's work" that would have been something I would have had to do whether I was in a mood to or not, made out of whatever I could get my hands on. And anything above my station in life as a woman - like a university education, and a job, and a bicycle, and the freedom to play accordion on stage while wearing a mini-skirt and drinking beer if I feel so inclined - wouldn't have been any kind of option for me. And that, my friends, would have been a terrible thing indeed.

The Love of My Life is right. I didn't miss my era. I was born at just the right time. Thanks, Mom & Dad.

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