The String Whisperer

A while back, my mother bought a present for my kids at work: 300 skeins of embroidery floss for making friendship bracelets. They got access to the floss something like a month after she sent it, for a very good reason. I have not forgotten, you see, the Floss Box. (Cue crashing thunder and scream track.)

I am the oldest of four girls. Many girls (and boys, actually, but I never knew this growing up) love to make friendship bracelets. The thing is, much of the fun of making friendship bracelets is choosing from a fun variety of colors. Putting those colored strings away in some tidy fashion is less exciting. String + children = holy knotmare, Batman.

My mother’s floss box, a brown cardboard box that might have been a shoe box if it wasn’t, was tangled from the beginning. I mean, it’s possible that there was a point in time when it was filled with neatly-wound skeins from which we could easily take just one color, clip it, and return it tidily to its place, but if so, that time was long before my active memory begins. My earliest memories of being a fiber artist are of reaching into that tangled mass of vibrant colors to free long enough strands to make a bracelet with.

There may also have been a time when freeing those strings made me angry and frustrated, but the funny thing is that I have strong memories of being the only person in the house who wasn’t deathly afraid of that box. Somewhere along the way, I developed an inexplicable knack for liberating string from the knotty, grasping throng of colors. There was something zen about pulling gently at the hopeless clump until I could tell where it would give way and open up to let me do my untangling magic.

I haven’t lost my touch. I have a box of yarn at work and I am still the only one who can free enough yarn from the mass that’s been tangled by impatient hands. Granted, my competition is composed of people who have not yet finished developing their fine motor skills, but that somehow doesn’t make me feel like less of a magician when I unfurl a particularly gnarly bit. These hands? Wizards with the string.

This does not mean, however, that I have any intention of spending most or even really any of my time with the kids untangling string. Given my druthers, I would rather be refereeing a game of zombie tag or listening to my “ghost man” on third base making spooky noises. If I gave those two boxes of 150 skeins apiece directly to the kids, I would never see the end of the knots. Taking the time to wind at least one bobbin of each color (there are, thank goodness, many repeats in that mix) has delayed my kids’ delight in the fine art of friendship bracelet making but I think, in the end, my magic hands aren’t terribly disappointed that I won’t be needing to work them to the bone.


TNQDE: The Lunacy of Courage

I’ve mentioned already that being a camp counselor has been requiring me to grow. It seems like almost every day there’s something I need to do that would have been fairly firmly in the list of things I would be perfectly content to die without ever attempting. Strapping myself into a harness and being hauled into the air by a rope, for example, or teaching the fundamentals of number sense necessary to understand long division. This requires me to be something I never particularly thought I could be:


The AHCD defines intrepid as “resolutely courageous: fearless.” The word harks back to Latin. Our old friend in- means, of course, “not” and trepidus you might recognize from “trepidation.” Trepidus means “alarmed” or “afraid.” I haven’t dug the word up in the OED to find out where and how the word was initially used, so I can’t say anything about the original connotation of the word, but I do love the modern sense of perseverance that accompanies “intrepid.” Being intrepid is not just being brave, it’s determining to stick it out regardless of your misgivings.

Courage in itself is an interesting concept, from and etymological standpoint. “Courage” came to Middle English through Old French through Vulgar Latin from the Latin word cor, which simply means “heart.” I don’t know the history of the heart as a symbol for certain emotions, but it’s a persistent idea, and strangely juxtaposed to another word for courage: “bravery.”

“Bravery” actually has the most interesting history of the three words, so much so that I may get another post out of it later. For now, I’ll just skip to the amusing part and note that it hails from the Latin word barbarus, which they lifted most cleverly from the Greek barbaros, a word which means “non-Greek” or “foreigner.” The word is onomatopoetic and insulting, mimicking the barking of dogs, which is how the Greeks perceived the speech of anyone not speaking Greek.

Does this mean I have to be barking mad to enjoy life as a camp counselor? Quite possibly.