Packing all your possessions into brown boxes eventually uncovers all manner of interesting things. There’s the Tupperware full of miniature Star Wars figures. A one hundred page book I wrote in sixth grade called “The Three Treasures”. A flash drive of Jessica’s Dad’s ebooks. Prayer beads. A broken accordion. Postcards from London. It’s challenging to encounter these reminders and symbols of life. You have to come to grips with your own materialism.
On the brighter side I found my old acceptance letter into the National String Figure Association. Yes. No joke. Just imagine 15 year-old MR with a length of knotty yarn eagerly flipping through a highly pedantic anthropological journal. “String figure enthusiasts are everywhere, but notoriously difficult to identify — I’m glad you found us!” Yes, Dr. Mark Sherman sure was glad of my support in September of 1999. In addition to ISFA I also remember memorizing whole sections of a C.F. Jayne’s “String Figures; A Study of Cat’s-Cradle in many Lands” (1906) in a corner of the Inyo County Library as well as printing off pages of the Arctic String Figure Project. Let’s just say I was serious.
The funny thing is that the moment I found these old journals and pamphlets I scrounged around for a length of twine and plopped myself on the couch to make a Kiwi and a Boat and a Gourd (and failing miserably at the Fox and Whale). String figures are truly fascinating. I always consider the ingenuity of people who did not have television. Instead they composed visual aids to epic stories, made magic tricks, constructed devices for predicting the gender of a baby, engaged in creativity competitions, or just passed the time. I love to consider the infinite possibilities that lay latent in a ridiculously simple length of string. The dancing of the fingers call forth all manner of beautiful things from such humble beginnings. I also love that moment when a tangled knot wrapped around your fingers suddenly stretches out into a beautiful image, mathematically proportioned, fragile and sustained by the even tension of your fingers, shining for a moment before slinking back into a common loop of twine. It’s like music, that structure from chaos and manifold variations.
I think I’ll hold on to some of these things a little longer. Who knows when I’ll find another “string figure enthusiast.”
PS!Just found two string figures collected from the Salish Native Americans who lived in the Spokane area. Extremely cool. Check it! One is called “Dressing a Skin” and the other “Pitching a Tent” which is identical to “A Fish-Spear” (and was called “Witch’s Broom” in my little Sister’s book as a toddler).