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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Startitis
January 25, 2010 - 8:37pm

After blogging at this site for well over a year, I start to fear that I'll repeat myself. And, sure enough, when I sat down to write a post about knitting, I discovered that I'd done it before. That earlier post was a pep talk of sorts, a reminder to myself that I need to make time for things I love that aren't directly related to my work. Sometimes that can be hard, since one of my greatest pleasures, reading novels, is indeed directly related to my work and therefore hardly "counts" as a leisure activity.

But these days reminding myself to knit seems like less of an issue — what I need, it seems, is a reminder to finish what I start. Or, perhaps even better, to start what I can finish.

Let me explain. Among some knitters, I've occasionally heard the term "startitis" — the tendency to start, but not finish, many projects. I never really understood the problem. I mostly knit fairly small projects, things I could complete in a few weeks or a month, knitting on the couch during downtime. But suddenly I find myself with several unfinished projects lying around in various stages of completion — the shawl I started almost two years ago that is still a bit beyond my level of competence, for example. The scarf that I almost certainly can't complete without another ball of a yarn I bought in England and haven't yet tracked down here. The socks that I gave my husband for Christmas, still on the needles.

Well, of course, it's the socks that are the real problem. Sock knitting is fussy and precise — unlike shawls and scarves, socks need to fit — and, while I enjoy the precision of the architecture, it does involve a little more attentiveness on my part than some other projects. (Skilled sock knitters are now laughing into their double-pointed needles as I reveal my complete amateur status here.)

So the socks are going to take a while, and in the meantime I've started a couple of other projects that are, well, easier — more likely to be finished in the next couple of weeks. Project monogamy, I've found, is not for me.

And that actually is a lesson that carries over into my working life. A course takes fifteen weeks, and there's a certainty about the ending that comes with the rhythms of academic life — there will be papers to grade, presentations to evaluate, and then it will be done. But other projects — working on curricular revision, say, or embarking on a research project — are more amorphous, indefinite in their contours and their likelihood of completion. I enjoy the attention to detail that they require, the intricacies of construction (if I change this, what happens here?) — but some days I need to work on something more limited, something I can finish.

So I'm going to stop apologizing for my startitis and make sure I always have both kinds of projects on hand — some that are small and easily completed, others that may continue for months or even years but that offer larger challenges. And one day maybe my skills will be up to my ambitions, and I'll even finish that big shawl.


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