Monday, January 28, 2008

Rewiring my brain

SMI32-stained pyramidal neurons in cerebral cortex, from Wikipedia
I knit English style, and if I had a knitting belt, only the left needle would move. Even without the knitting belt, the end of my right needle is often in my lap, the tip resting in my work, with my right hand shuttling the yarn and my left hand bobbing the needle over the tip of the right needle. And yet last week I was knitting continental.

Anyone who has knit both will understand the strange feeling of fighting your muscle memory and abandoning all dexterity. Why would I do this? One of my coworkers is trying to learn to knit. She has a book, and had met with a friend, and had her knitting with her at lunch, and had supposedly forgotten everything. So I had her try--pick up her work and try--to encourage her to try to remember while I was hovering to give her guidance.

And then she picked up the yarn in her left hand! And that was all. She really didn't remember, and wanted me to show her. "Ok," I thought, "I've seen it done a million times. I've seen drawings. I can do this."

I took the needles and the yarn in my left hand. My hands didn't want to move. My brain couldn't send the right signals. And then the image of my own hands knitting English developed in my mind, as if a ghost of myself were superimposed and knitting in the same space that I occupied. And then I really felt as if my brain were rewiring itself as the ghost hands began to knit, and I shadowed them in continental style to their rhythm--the rhythm I would have if I were knitting English as usual. I saw the yarn being thrown over the needle in my mind as I picked it with the real needle in my hand, and I was off. Slowly, laboriously, as my brain rewired and sent new signals to my hands, I showed her how to knit continental, taking a turn here and there to fix a problem, until she could take over with some guidance here and there.

How does Timson knit? I have no idea. He just can't knit in public--in front of anyone, really. Perhaps it's a gnome thing, but whenever other eyes are on him, he freezes, needles motionless.

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