Looking at the Positive Side of Failure.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing CBC's Bill Richardson interview author, Anne Michaels at Kingston's Writersfest. During the Q&A afterwards someone asked her what advice she might have for aspiring authors who were trying to get their work published. She sighed heavily and admitted that no one was going to want to hear what she had to say on that subject. She then went on to say that they should learn to embrace failure, which seemed self-evident if not very positive, and distinctly not encouraging.

She went on to explain that it's only by learning the lessons that such long, hard slogs of being repeatedly rejected can teach us, do we find the way to success for each us as individuals. Needless to say, this wasn't a recipe for getting published but for living a satisfying life, no matter what success turns out to look like in each of our lives.

I had arrived at the Writersfest directly from having spent the day teaching our very popular: Sock-in-a-Day class and started thinking about what it meant to "embrace failure" in other contexts. It occured to me that although everyone of the class participants left that day with a completed sock of some sort, each sock looked very different despite the fact that everyone had followed the same set of instructions. They all had their own design features that were born of mistakes or misunderstanding the directions; each sock was a different size, had impromptu eyelets at different places, and more or less frilly tops while tension was being worked out.

It occured to me that one of the most important factors that makes all of my classes more productive and enjoyable is how we learn to laugh at our mistakes and what some would call failures. How boring it would be if everyone sat down with needles and yarn, and following the template before them, each participant created a perfect sock.

No one minds that the others are laughing at a mistake that they've made, as everyone knows that within a few minutes it will be someone else's turn to run into such a problem. From a teaching perspective, one person commiting an error (like knitting 2 needles worth of stitches on to a single needle to create a very awkward non-triangle) is a perfect opportunity to show everyone what to avoid. And mostly, I can use anecdotes of my own halting experiences over the years to warn them away from certain knitting potholes.

Anne Michaels was right, no one wants to hear that failure is the route to success, but it is true, none the less. Life would be extremely boring without mistakes, and consequently our successes would have very little meaning

On another note: on CBC news this morning, they were noting that the Cowichan knitters were claiming that HBC had ripped off designs of their traditional sweaters to create knitwear for the Canadian Olympic Team. Some of you may know that I began my commercial knitting career in the Cowichan Valley of BC and am a great lover of their designs. But in the spirit of embracing one's failures, I think that the Cowichan knitters should take heart that they were not awarded the contract and forced to produce these sweaters that would not have allowed for an ounce of creativity nor authenticity away from the designer's drawing board.

The sweater in this picture is not very authentic anyway, using raglan sleeves and a square collar and chemically dyed red yarn that never would be incorporated into a traditional Cowichan sweater.

Looking at it positively however, the fact that the Canadian Olympic team will be wearing knitted sweaters that somewhat resemble the traditional Cowichan sweater (which Vogue knitting has declared is the only true example of strictly Canadian knitting), can only invite excitement for their designs and for knitting in general. Long live the mass market that tells us what we want to wear.

One last point: I want to know how much they had to pay that girl to wear that dorky hat.