Yesterday I spent an hour on Tariq Road looking for a shop that sold knitting needles. And in this process of traipsing around, using bakeries as landmarks, I found myself in the kind of shop I would have had to wait in with my mother: full of neatly labelled boxes of buttons, thread, the dozens of tiny little objects that go into making a finished garment. Even amid the crush it felt slightly jarring. I always wonder in Karachi: am I trying to relive my childhood? Am I treading the familiar because that’s all I know? But the reality is that just because I am amid familiarity doesn’t mean I am copying what I saw an adult do. I can make that landmark, that routine, that place, my own. The way I am in that place doesn’t have to be the way they were, it can be mine. And it is. Even if it is weird to turn around in a shop and realise you’re the adult.
I saw Homecoming last weekend and it was amazing and - as cliched and trite as this may sound, but nothing else makes sense — inspiring. It was beautiful and sensational to see someone who cares about the art that they are creating and projecting in the world and how that is seen, how that is absorbed and how it encourages someone, what it represents, what it pushes to the forefront.
it reminded me of a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about lately. what we leave behind when we leave the world; or even while we’re in it: what do we contribute? What do we teach? What can we teach? What is useful beyond just us? What does it mean when you are talented, but you leave nothing behind for anyone to learn from?
it also reminded me of how I often feel this lack of visible female joy in my own space. For generations, Noorjehan was the woman people saw on TV, singing to the country about love and desire. What did it mean that people saw a woman who dressed flamboyantly, who dressed for the diva she was, and how that portrayal of glamour and talent, to celebrate yourself and joy is missing.
Sure, there are images of joyful women — in lawn ads. Playacting, not living. Because to be successful seems to mean that women must rid themselves of joy, to put on a serious face, to downplay success and themselves, to make themselves smaller, their clothes a little blander so they can blend in, their hearts bigger, bigger to take on the hurt caused by this world, to continue to forget, and forget, and forgive, but to never be visibly happy, to be proud, to just be.
I finished the introductory prep courses for Launch School! I’ve also worked my way through some of the exercises again and the more I practice the more I realise the value of understanding how everything under the hood operates. Today I’m going to work on the section on regular expressions again. Also, I laughed so much at this hilarious [almost 2000s-esque?] programming take on thank u, next.
I had a very bizarre week of knitting — literally every project I started ended up badly, I bought three skeins of yarn that were not the right weight for my ideas — I just could not meet gauge — and then I had to rip a sweater and then a scarf because neither were working. It felt like trying to write a draft that just doesn’t seem to come together. (or like the year I got rejected for every single fellowship i applied for, coolcoolcoolcoolcool) I’m having a second go at making the Caramel sweater with Robin Double Knit yarn, and about 38 rows in, it seems to be going fairly well. I’m glad the curse seems to be lifted somewhat, though lets see how this sweater goes.
Here’s my finished Noro striped scarf-inspired scarf though!
I finally saw the Fyre doc on Netflix, and it fills me with delight that Ja Rule thinks he can do another festival. The grift, it never stops.
In December, I bought some angora wool in a shop in Antalya (I learned the word for wool in Turkish is yün!) and when I say some I mean I bought six balls of yarn with wild dreams of all the things I would make. I'm making a Noro striped scarf-inspired version, holding two strands of the yarn together. It is gorgeous and I cannot wait to use it.I'm then going to finally start a sweater, which I am mostly terrified about.
I am currently in Lahore, or more accurately, I am currently holed up in a room in Lahore since I caught some bug right after I arrived, which coupled with the toxic air has destroyed me. I now have a hacking cough not unlike that of the soundtrack of a horror film.
This is the air quality here. Delightful.
On work: I am not quite sure what I'm doing next. I have some projects that have been on hold that I'm hoping to start up again. I've been working my way through the back-end prep section of Launch School which has been really fun and forced me to engage with the concepts in a very different way. I've done some intro to Python work as well as FreeCodeCamp, but this feels like a more immersive experience.
Things I have heard/read/liked: I started reading Michael Pollan's book on psychedelics but I haven't picked it up again since the life-sapping cough. The Assassination - a podcast by Owen Bennett Jones on his investigation into the murder of Benazir Bhutto - is excellent. (There is a great line in there about BB criticising the coffee Jones served to her.) I am also just finishing the first season of Slow Burn about Watergate. And I’ve been binge-watching Brooklyn 99 and it is so, so good and I have not laughed (and coughed!) this much in YEARS.
Today I finished knitting a scarf.
It took around five months, and today I cast off the final stitch, and snipped off the last yarn end, while listening to thank u, next on repeat.
I've wanted to learn knitting for ages. I tried a few years ago and gave up: I lacked the patience or discipline or focus.
I'd never really tried again. Then Alanna Okun -- who is also a brilliant editor -- wrote this piece for NYT Smarter Living about how to start knitting. And something struck: I could start it. I could knit that very same day. I bought the book Alanna recommended on Kindle. I looked up how to say knitting in Arabic on Google Translate, then traipsed all over downtown Amman looking for a shop that sold wool, only to find a tiny store tucked inside a market. (I would only discover weeks later that there was a massive wool shop five minutes away, but well, anyway.) I got needles from a stationery shop (I actually went in to ask the manager where I could buy needles) and then I tried to start learning.
Which wasn't easy. At all. There were perhaps some dregs of muscle memory, but I could barely fathom anything. How exactly was a knit stitch supposed to work? Why were all my cast on stitches so wonky? Where was the wool going?! Could a needle even go there? Did I even know what knitting looked like?
I saw a lot of YouTube videos, and then I found Judy: I slowed down her hugely helpful videos, and for hours I followed her hand movements trying to match wool for wool. I’d read Stitch ‘n Bitch, then go online and look for Judy demonstrating what I’d just read.
But every time I’d knit I’d end up with a big holey piece that curled up. I unravelled and knitted and unravelled until I got sick of the sky blue coloured wool I’d bought. Midway through a garter stitch patch, I switched to rib knitting, and it.. (after one abandoned try) started working. I was a genius. I could knit! I switched colours! I was making a stripy scarf.
Enter, my grandmother.
My grandmother is a champion knitter, who I have now also learnt was markedly obsessive about knitting as a young woman. She knitted sweaters (and many other things) for her children and grandchildren, and they were works of art: thick cable-knit sweaters, a sleeveless blue sweater with silver beads, a multicolour jumper. If I had adult versions of those sweaters now I’d wear them in a flash.
Part of the reason I was attempting to learn on my own was that I wanted to present her with some basic skills when I went to Pakistan.
I presented my patch.
She promptly unravelled it, while I stared aghast at days of knitting just... gone.
Then we started again. And again. I tried to learn how to cast on stitches from her. She doesn’t knit anymore, but her skills are incredible. I bought a few more balls of wool and began to make a striped scarf again.
This time, though, she said it had to be at least two-and-a-half metres long. So since August, I have been knitting, carrying my knitting from my house to my grandmother’s, knitting through conversations and people making social calls [on her, not me]. I have carried my knitting everywhere. I took my knitting on board a Daewoo bus to Islamabad, and the woman next to me started asking about knitting and then we had a great conversation about education and crafts. I’ve knit this scarf on a train to DC, on a jetlagged morning at a Starbucks in New York, in a cab, while watching a movie, while singing along to old Kishore songs, while upset about work, while trying to find the will to do anything at all. All the while I’ve realised that of all the things I’ve done and worked on in my life, knitting has felt the closest to an achievement. I made something. Which is sad: I also wrote thousands of words and that should count for something. But this is the problem with writing: it seems, bizarrely, intangible, like the value of me -- the hours I spend thinking and typing and rewriting - mean nothing. Every time I have a piece published, I marvel at how I did this: it feels like an out-of-body experience: how did I put these words and thoughts and reporting together? Why does it have seemingly less value than a physical object? But then I think: women’s work -- knitting, cooking -- isn’t valued at all either. It’s never art, it’s never considered for the incessant self-praise that so many men indulge in, and it isn’t valued at all. And so the thing you have to do is to value your own work: to praise yourself, and promote yourself, and to never think it is cringeworthy. No one else is going to do it for you.
And now I can knit, and I will tell everyone who doesn’t even ask that I made this. Me. I knit a two-and-a-half metre long scarf.
*Thanks to the helpful women at a knitters’ group in Amman who helped me bind off my knitting today!
Sex and the Single Girl was published in 1962. I first read it last year, and every few months I get back to it. I reread books a lot, but this isn’t the book I read to kill time before an appointment or eating alone. This is the book that I read when I feel uninspired and sad and in the opening-last-bag-of-chili-chips throes of misery, and every time I read it, I go away wanting to do better, be better, dress better, and to just get to work.
Sex and the Single Girl was revolutionary when it was published. But there’s still something about the book that feels startlingly different: that it doesn’t consider as strange or unnatural to build a life as a single person, a life for yourself, a life that celebrates the idea of independence, a life that is fun. The reason it feels new, still, is because it’s so imbued in practical advice. This is an actual guide; not the glossy version of single life, not the cliched parts, but the parts of SATC that were about the hustle.
Of course, Brown’s book is mired in the idea of getting — or at least, being appealing to a man — singledom with a view to getting somewhere. There are archaic, stereotypical views — particularly of gay men — and parts that will make you cringe.
But it’s the everyday routines where Brown’s advice on what to wear, how to decorate, how to spend, how to focus on work is absolutely fantastic. Sometimes I wish I could go back to my 18-year-old self and hand her this book. Brown’s advice is so different from the notions of indulgent self-care – sure, you should indulge in self care, but also do well at work. Brown is brutally honest – and right – about so many things, like byob – who wants a party where you have to bring things at? Or the merits of chilled rose – so far ahead of the last few years’ rose and frose trends. Or the joy of creating a jewelbox of a tiny, cheap apartment — more people, she writes, will say “That girl has the most divine apartment” than they ever will about a divine husband, which I would get inscribed on a t-shirt if I could. Brown doesn’t think it’s a compromise to live on a miniscule budget, but to feel pride in living within your means and having a career and to not feel shame or guilted into entertaining or dining out when you’d rather save it for the Balenciaga coat of your dreams.
Cupboards, she writes, should be almost bare: “Who are all these other people you’re feeding?”
Brown describes how she’d turn her ennui – once not being invited to a shower by a girl she’d apparently slighted – into opportunity, entering a competition (which a friend of hers had won previously, making her jealous) Brown doesn’t pretend to be immune from all the feelings that plague us – envy, jealousy, loneliness, exhaustion, weight. But she teaches something more important: that a single life is a great life. The fear of missing out is real, but don’t let being single — or being poor — make you think you can’t enjoy brunch. It is the life that other people should and do covet, not the other way around. And this is a lesson that’s perhaps even more important today, in a world of faux #goals (a word I have happily muted on Twitter and would on Instagram too, because in the immortal words of Chrissy Teigen:
Brown’s book is a compelling get your life together spiel. So: Why are you sitting around feeling sorry for myself? Why don’t you condition your hair and go out for a walk? Why don’t you drink a glass of cheap something and study up on your French? (Or Arabic or Farsi or whatever it is you’re doing?) What excuse do we have for sitting around and waiting for things to happen?