Since I began to knit again last year, I have found myself drawn to the color of yarn with such intensity that it sometimes startles me. I might spend an hour in a yarn shop staring at the shelves of yarn and pawing at one skein after another before, disappointedly, I admit that I can't find what I want, and won't settle for second-best.
Whence this love-affair with color? I was never the painter in my family; I preferred music and books to drawing and sculpting. Yet, the passion that I feel from color must have come from somewhere, or some time when my eyes were open wide enough to see.
The first time I remember feeling a certain way about color was when we were living in China; I became fascinated by a certain shades of brick orange and dark, deep yellows -- similar to the yellow in this ball of yarn here, the shade of goldenrod.
Perhaps I dreamed of colors because, for the first time in my life, I could not speak or understand what was spoken to me -- or, rarer still, what was written. Chinese characters on store-fronts and roadways might as well have been drawings to me, for that is how I interpreted them. Neurologists believe that, when one part of the brain is injured, other parts learn to function in its stead; a small miracle. But forget lesion -- what happens when a faculty is not injured, but instead rendered useless, as was my ability to speak and interpret speech in China?
There, I spent a humbling half-year deaf and dumb, but enchanted, nonetheless, by the smells and the tastes and the sights -- as if they could make up for my voicelessness. Those colors, like the yellows and green of the clay Buddhas at the Fragrant Hills, find strange parallel in the yellow yarn and green grass of the photos that I took yesterday at the Cloisters.
It took China for someone like me, enamored of languages and other sounds, to let go of words and explanations long enough to start seeing the patterns in front of my own eyes: the gray stones of the old hutong neighborhoods around the Forbidden City; the swirl of rice noodles in beef broth; the swoosh of the Beijing subway as it circled the outer boroughs; and the swinging wicker cages that old men would carry along to "walk" their birds. I sought an older, imagined China, growing more nostalgic for it even as the people around me looked ahead, towards the Olympics that are, now, almost upon us. I looked backwards, towards temples and emperors' gardens and pleasure grounds; they anticipated that the Middle Country would rise again, and prepared for it.
What does all of this have to do with my knitting? I didn't knit in China, and I never saw anyone knitting there, although my mother-in-law says that she used to knit her own sweaters after the Cultural Revolution, when everyone learned to make do. No, knitting doesn't have a lot to do with China, but I believe that color does -- or, at least, it has to do with my version of China, imperfect and fragile and beautiful in its wordlessness. I'm sure that, had I stayed longer and learned more Mandarin, some of the charm of incomprehension would have been lost, and I would have begun to read signs as words, not drawings, and look for a label for every passing sensation. Instead, I remained eyes-open, childlike in my delight and appreciation. Something of this same feeling I have now, when I grasp a yellow ball of yarn, take a strand between my fingers, and cast on for another project.
No words -- just yellow.