Remember Michelle Shocked, back in the 1980s, singing, “When I grow up I want to be an old woman . . . .” I always loved that song, when I was 40. Now maybe not so much.
I’ve spent several hours this past month having a very large, very strong massage therapist do torturous things to my left shoulder. I’ve never had trouble with my shoulders before, so being unable to raise my arm, scratch my back, or sleep on my side has been unsettling. After a long weekend with my daughter in which we just sat around shooting the breeze while we knitted for hours on end, the source of the shoulder pain revealed itself: it was the knitting.
All my left arm does when I knit is just sit there in a comfy chair and hold a needle while the right hand and arm do the work, so how does that make sense? And why haven’t I had this problem before in the past fifty years, during which I have knitted more socks and sweaters and baby doo dahs than I can remember? I guess body parts just wear out at some point.
I’m lucky: skilled massage guy, all the analgesics I want, even cortisone shots if it comes to that. I think of the women I travel among, women my age in the high mountains or soggy jungles, often tasked with making all the textiles for themselves and their families, maybe for sale as well.
If they knit, they do it with a baby on their back, walking down a road, herding sheep. If they weave, they do it kneeling on the ground, rocking back and forth, using their body to tension a wide warp, for extended periods of time. Just try it, just for ten minutes. I hurt to even think about it.
For all the hardships and lack of medical attention, many of these women live long lives. While we were doing the interviews for Faces of Tradition: Weaving Elders of the Andes, I met many, many women who looked ancient, bent, sometimes bent almost double, about my age, give or take ten years. (Full disclosure: I am 71.) Some of them don’t weave or knit anymore, because they’ve lost the eyesight or the arm strength or the ability to hold a loom in place while they kneel. They still spin, though – idleness is not an option. They hurt, but they still walk and walk and walk, because they have to. And given the chance, given any chance at all, they dance.