Friday, October 10, 2008

Mrs. Beetons: Part II... "See No Evil"

Let me start by saying that this discourse is inspired by knitting my second pair of Mrs. Beetons. To rehash, this incredibly simple and abundantly gratifying pattern was published in Knitty, an online knitters magazine. It was designed by Brenda Dayne and was designed to conjure the British Victorian lifestylist, Mrs. Beeton, both in design-era and in frugality. For my second pair, I utilized a lush brown alpaca (altering the pattern slightly to accommodate a bulky yarn), topped with Rowan kidsilk haze in "ice cream." They emerged from the needles completely evocative of the Victorian era and the perfect gift for my girlfriend, Liz, who covets anything lacy, old, rose-scented, ...in short, reminiscent of days-gone-by.

As I was knitting these little wonders, I noticed how many people asked me what they were for, or what you are supposed to do with them. There is a certain New England skepticism toward anything one would wear which is not (above-all) PRACTICAL. I pondered these lovely wrist warmers and put myself in the shoes of a woman in 1861...first a wealthy one (more like my first all silk pair), then a poor one (more likely to have this rough spun chunky weight, less refined pair)...and I think BOTH types of women would have DELIGHTED in owning anything so absolutely FRIVOLOUS. In fact, the very fact that they are- above all- frivolous, is more than half the appeal. During a time when people couldn't run to Target or order online from anywhere at any hour ANY THING that might pop into their heads (and even a lot of things they could never pre-conceptualize), the shopping-world was pretty basic. Women mostly wore what they could make with available materials. Wealthy women could afford finer and more unusual materials, including silks and beading, etc. To own something of beauty was, at that time, a rather big deal...and something "frivolous" an almost unthinkable luxury.

The next stop for my vagrant mind was on my dear new friend, Jenn Mason. Jenn is a paper artist who has published several books in the field of scrap booking and is now segueing into creating a lifestyle line (a la Martha Stewart). Her belief is that one should incorporate creativity into all aspects of one's life. On her most recent blog, Jenn very kindly tagged me for my trivial input into the blogging world... and it got me thinking...

Though I do not feel worthy of mention, in a way I am the ideal example of the importance of "creative living." I have experienced some of the most ugly, brutal, unpleasant situations humanity has to offer: I have bandaged limbs of lepers in India, had to reluctantly shake poor beggar children off my legs, worked in the trauma ER of Charity Hospital in New Orleans (where the US military sends its docs to train because it has the highest incidence of penetrating trauma in America), I've evacuated three children in the face of hurricanes, brought people back to life from the dead...I know first hand that there is a lot of really unpleasant stuff out there. Raising three boys (or ANY boys) is not always pretty either- lots and lots of flatulence jokes and reptilian pets! And when I reflect on these experiences, what I remember is the moments of levity or beauty which made it all bearable. I have a real psychic NEED for beauty...for loveliness...to counteract the psychic challenges of life.

In New Orleans, I worked with a female physician whom I consider one of my greatest mentors - Dr. Anand. In addition to being indisputably competent, she carried inside herself a peace which made her refractory to the chaos of the trauma ER. While the medical world swirled around her, she was still. Whenever she worked a night shift, I noticed she brought with her a fresh flower from her garden and carefully placed it in a small glass of water on her desk. This simple gesture magically transformed the institutional office desk into a refuge of sanity in the otherwise hellacious environment of the ER. From her example, I gathered that it is not GRANDIOSE beauty that matters...but SIMPLE beauty. It is the transformation of the ordinary to an unexpected bright spot in one's day which inspires living.

So back to the Mrs. Beetons...

I realize now that what is so very appealing about Mrs. Beetons is that they are not in any way, shape, or form necessary items of clothing - they make NO pretense of utilitarianism. Mrs. Beetons are meant for not other purpose OTHER THAN TO BEAUTIFY. Can there be any better reason to knit?

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