If you had been following my progress as a knitting teacher, you might have noticed that I'm doing my best to expand my territory. Not that there's anything wrong with regional teaching; on the contrary, it's great to work close to home. But I realized early in my teaching career that if I'm to make ends meet (and spit splice them), I need to fill my calendar up with engagements, which means working farther and farther away. For the last two years my goal has been to teach closer and closer to the left side of the (US) map. Last April I made it all the way to the middle (Minneapolis), which felt like a huge stride, but I still had my eyes on the prize of Eastern Seaboard.
But last summer I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime: a plum of a job teaching, at nothing less than Clara Parkes' Knitters Review Retreat. In Canandaigua, NY. At the time, and every day hence, I pinched myself and tried not to panic. I even (sort of) managed to hold it together when Clara invited me to give a talk at the event.
I worked hard on my speech. I designed special mittens. I made beautiful little kits for the students. I knit a sweater to wear there. I left no opportunity for fabulousness unexplored, so great was my desire to make a good impression on Clara and the top-flight knitters I knew I would meet in Canandaigua, NY.
The kits were ready right on time. I found tights to match my new sweater. My Terror-O-Meter went to 11 every time I thought about the speech. I made it to the airport with time to spare, and finally began to relax a little. I started to feel good about all my hard work and preparation. Digital slide projector, laptop and all the cords to make them go? Check. Baggage handler at terminal implored to care for my box of mitten kits as it it were his firstborn (with commensurate tip)? Check. Noise-canceling headphones so I can arrive less frazzled and ready to teach and do my speech? Check. Class material rehearsed and ready? Check. I was a bulletproof knitting teacher. I had anticipated and contemplated every possible problem. I was ready.
I even managed to relax and enjoy the first 6-hour leg of the journey East. Like some reverse pioneer, I was looking forward to my adventure, and the people I would be having it with. And that bright spirit stayed with me, right up to the moment I missed my connecting flight.
I had been sitting at the gate (which I knew was the right one), with my boarding pass in hand. And there were all these heavily-accented PA announcements, which overlapped each other and were unintelligible. And I waited. And I waited. And then I noticed that it was quiet. Yeah. Too Quiet. I went to the desk at the gate and asked the status of my flight. "Oh, that left five minutes ago."
I have never ever ever in my life missed a flight before. And now, somehow I had managed to do it, at the threshold of my most important career assignment, to date. I may have cried a little.
My friend (and quasi-neighbor - she lives in Portland, too), Sivia Harding, who was also teaching at the retreat, was there too, and she also missed the flight. At least I wasn't the only one who never heard the boarding call. We did our best to reassure each other. The next flight was in four hours, but there was no room on it. We'd have to wait and try standby. We called Clara and begged for forgiveness. Clara was lovely and advised us to have a glass of wine while we waited, and let her know if we got on.
It was a long four hours, but Sivia and I were glad to have each other for company. We stayed positive for each other. Sivia called a clairvoyant friend to ask what our chances of getting on the plane were (the answer was 70%). I texted my sister, who has scary parking-space mojo, to please work her magic on our flight. She said she'd do her best. And that was all we could think to do. We settled in, helplessly.
When the flight finally boarded, all the stupid stinking "ticketed" passengers showed up. So Sivia and I couldn't get on. Which meant that we had to wait for the next flight. Which was seven hours away. We found a hotel (somehow - it's all a miserable blur now), and slept in our clothes for five hours of it. All I remember is Sivia saying "Thank God the people we're going to are Knitters." I was only mildly consoled. Assuming we could get onto this third airplane (whose very existence I was beginning to doubt), we had already missed all of the Thursday activities, Clara's opening presentation, and the welcome dinner. And worst of all, we would be showing up two hours late for our own classes. Clara was going to have to reschedule the whole day because of us. Not the way I had hoped to make an impression.
We made it to the gate, rumpled, red-eyed and exhausted. Desperate, too. And when we scanned our boarding passes to get on THIS plane, the sensor screeched, and the flight attendant said we weren't scheduled to be on the flight. Would we please step to the side? Sure. Of Course. Step to the side while all the other people get on but we don't. Step to the side while my whole knitting career flies away, for the third time in 12 hours. Step to the side and emotionally bludgeon myself some more for somehow not getting on that first plane.
And then a nice man made the computer stop screeching, and let us on the plane.
Sivia and I were in a fugue state, right up until the point where we landed. Our feet touched the ground in the Rochester terminal and we hugged and squealed and jumped up and down like sweepstakes winners. We had done it. Somehow, we had completed the one-hour flight that would FINALLY take us to the knitters.
Things were looking up, because we were reunited with our bags (my precious mitten kits!) with surgical precision. Audrey, a retreat attendee-turned airport refugee rescuer, came to collect us in her very own car.
We arrived exactly 15 minutes before the start of our rescheduled teaching times. That was enough time for me to ditch my slept-in clothes in favor of the newly knit sweater. And matching tights. I added breath mints, and more deodorant than was strictly necessary, just for good measure.
Everything after that was perfect. And by perfect, I mean that I could not have imagined a more delightful teaching and learning experience. The spirit of that group of knitters is positively transformative, and I parted from them feeling both creatively and spiritually well-fed.
Here we all are:
So what have we learned, Dorothy? It really is true that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray. And those of knitting teachers, too. But it turns out that even the realization of my worst fear was survivable. And being forced to let go of the misery and embarrassment of it all in order to teach the second I arrived was actually the best part. I did a good job, once I got there, and not just because I had something to prove. I did a good job because I had worked so hard to be prepared. Even though the wheels had fallen off, I still had everything I needed to pull it together.
And of course, I was in the safe and forgiving arms of the Knitters.