Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Spinning the First Fleece, Writing the First Book

By Liz Adair

When my daughter Terry returned from Bolivia, she brought me back a gift from Sonia, the lady she had gone down to see. They were doing work for SWAN, a 501 C 3 Organization that administers microloans to poor women.

When Terry gave me Sonia’s gift, pictured left, I acted as if I knew what it was. “How nice!” I said. A while later, I finally figured it out. Sonia had sent me a spindle. It’s a device the peasant women use to spin wool by hand as they’re walking along or sitting in the marketplace.

If you’ll remember the story of Sleeping Beauty, the thing that caused her to fall asleep was pricking her finger on a spindle. You can see that this one has a wicked-looking point on the end. If I fall asleep and don’t wake up, find a handsome prince to kiss me.

But back to the story: Terry assured Sonia that I would be delighted with this gift, and I am. I haven’t done any spinning with a hand spindle, but I got pretty good with a treadle spinning wheel.

As you can see, my wheel is missing some parts. A couple of moves and grandkids in the area has taken its toll.

My friend Janet Walker taught me to spin. She did spinning for an artist who had been commissioned to do a tapestry for a municipal building, and she said to me, “By the time you’ve completed your first fleece, you’ll know how to spin.”

She was right, but do you know how long it takes to spin a whole fleece?

Actually, prepping the fleece is about as time consuming as spinning it. You have to pick out all the manure and hayseeds and carefully wash it. Then you have to card it into soft clouds before it’s ready to spin.

That’s the way it is with writing family history. Not the picking out the manure part--though that may be an apt metaphore. What I mean is the "By the time you get it written, you’ll know how" part. You might as well learn by doing, because at each stage, you’ll have something to show for your efforts.

My first attempts at spinning were uneven and slubby, but I kept them and knit them into a wool cap that I got lots of complements on. People thought I had bought the yarn at an upscale boutique.

Likewise, when you write your first reminiscence, you’ll end up with a memory on paper that will last longer than you, if taken care of. A hundred years from now, the person who reads it won’t care that it wasn’t polished. What he will care about is that it was written down.
And…by the time you’ve written your first book, you’ll be a good writer.