Prompted by the inexorably shortening days, I have, like the chipmunks in my yard, been gathering provisions for the coming winter. My main provision so far is an enormous needlepoint kit that, if I ever finish it, will be big enough for a dog bed or a baby mattress.
The design is a bouquet of blowsy rococo roses garlanded in blue. In needlepoint, I confine myself to botanicals because–unlike geometric forms, or, worse still, animal faces—they are utterly forgiving. Nobody cares if a leaf is slightly crooked, or a millimeter too long or short. But mostly I chose this particular design because the border and background are a cheerful yellow, and I expect I’ll need to have a lot of yellow around in the months to come.
A good needlepoint kit relieves you of the need to make decisions. It is a lot like painting by numbers, only slower. You can sit there in a kind of trance, lulled by the pop of the needle coming through the canvas, by the swish of the thread in its wake, and think of nothing, letting your hands do the work while your eyes rejoice in the color of the yarn.
You can’t be completely oblivious, of course, but compared to writing, needlepoint is like floating on your back in a warm pool versus doing the butterfly stroke in the North Atlantic. So I am a bit worried that I’ll find the embroidery frame (did I tell you that I have a magnificent free-standing embroidery frame?) more enticing than the laptop.
When the French writer Colette was in her sixties, she developed severe arthritis of the hip. Orthopedics in the mid-twentieth century being in a primitive state, Colette was eventually confined to bed in her apartment overlooking the courtyard of the Palais Royal.
Refusing even the relief of aspirin, which she said clouded her thinking, she continued to write until she died at eighty-one. But she didn’t only write—she also did needlepoint, and covered the seats of her dining room chairs with tapestry flowers and fruits. All through the German occupation of Paris, she wrote and embroidered, embroidered and wrote, referring to her pen and her needle as the paired horses that pulled her through her days.
At the moment, I too am suffering from hip troubles. Unlike Colette, however, I know that if only I can get on some surgeon’s schedule (they’re all backlogged due to the pandemic), I will get speedy relief. Like Colette and her fellow Parisians during World War II, Americans right now are having to contend with an enemy that, albeit silent and invisible, is as ruthless as the Nazi invaders. But unlike Colette I can protect myself with a mere scrap of fabric across my face, and I don’t have to fear the sound of boots on cobbles in the night.
My plan to prevent embroidery from taking over my writing is to save it as a reward for pages filled, although if past experience is any indication, the sheer relief of having written—and not having to write again until tomorrow—will be all the reward I need.