Shirley Anne Scott: Art in the time of physical distancing

August 2020

What book(s) and author(s) are you reading right now and why?

I don’t find summer a great time for innovation. For me summer is all about sensuous living – I go back to things I know are going to be right for the mood of the summer. Every night I read from Earthly Paradise. I read it continuously – when I finish it I start it again. It’s an autobiography of Colette drawn from her writings. She has swelling sentences that fall on you like a wave and, in the summer, that’s exactly where I want to be. However, in the afternoons, sometimes you just have to go to Three Pines. My afternoon reading is Louise Penney’s A Better Man. I love her books – she mentions every single thing they eat and drink. I have been reading right through the pandemic – I have a lot of choice and have spent a lot of time reading. Sometimes I want to be in France, and sometimes I want to be in Scotland, and sometimes I want to be in Three Pines. With reading I can travel in my mind – it’s a lot easier and often a lot nicer than the real thing.

Is there a particular genre of films you find yourself watching? Or do you have any recommendations of series or movies on a streaming site?

Summer TV to me is a total wasteland. I don’t care what is on and I’m not watching it. Not a bit. I am shockingly behind in current movies, TV, events, etc. That’s done me a lot of good. The big screen is not for the summer; the big screen is what I see out of my living room window. I am not watching TV anywhere.

What music or artist are you listening to right now and why?

Van Morrison is my man and I could have all Van all the time. But I don’t listen to anything in the summer except whatever I can hear through my window; there is lots of time for recorded music. I don’t need it right now. If you can actually listen – I live in a beautiful quiet place – to hear a dog and a kid laughing. I sing myself to sleep every night singing Moonlight in Vermont – it’s a wonderful experience and a great way to fall asleep.

Are you able to keep to a routine in terms of your own work?  Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for others who are struggling to work from home right now?

I always work from home – it’s easy for me. I love my routine. I work early; I always work from 6am to 10am. Those are my best hours and that’s when I solve the difficult problems, like how to write the pattern for the trigger finger of a mitten – it’s very tricky. I can do all of that in the morning, Easily. Afternoons are a dead loss; that’s housework, errands, and I do my reading in the late afternoon. Evenings are reserved for making the things I like – without having to write the pattern down. I have to be careful with what I work on last thing at night because I often dream about it when I go to sleep. I often knit in my sleep and get colour schemes in my sleep.

Social media is exploding with daily check-ins, poetry readings, virtual art gallery tours, etc – is there anything in particular you have discovered that has delighted you?

I don’t bother with any of it. I only check myself on social media to make sure people know I’m still alive! I do what social media I absolutely have to in the summer but other than that I try to avoid it. It just eats up everything. I know there is a great deal to read on it but I would rather think my own thoughts.

How has food provided a comfort?

In every possible way – when has it not? Slow food has been wonderful – the cooking has been as important as the eating. The cooking is the real fun. The picture you build up in your mind about how wonderful it’s going to come out. Which sometimes works. I’ve had to freeze a terrific amount of food because I’ve made so much. To have something simmering has been a great comfort. I’ve been cooking a lot of the old hippie food. Split peas, barley, corn meal, oatmeal. We didn’t even have quinoa in the old days! All of that with brown rice and a can of tomatoes. Bunch of spices. Combine that in different ways and you can live on that for a long time. [I’m growing] sprouts in the pandemic because I didn’t want to go shopping for vegetables so often. That’s old hippie food [too].

Can you describe the physical situation you are in right now – what location, who you are spending this time with.

I live alone and even though our restrictions are fewer I am still alone a lot of the time. The loooonnnng weekend was long – it’s always long for single people because we don’t have families to be in touch with. I’ve been trying to write in my journal what this summer has meant to me. I haven’t found the words yet – it’s been a long, hot, very beautiful summer. But thank goodness my old social habits and connections are in place again – on a smaller scale.

In your opinion, what’s the best thing about being in NL during a global pandemic?

Access to the natural world. No crowded streets. You can always go and look at the ocean and that will help an awful lot. The 450-square-foot condo – oh my god – I can’t think of those other places. Still great beauty here.

Any overall words of wisdom to share?

To knit is to live. Soak it up. There may be times ahead we are going to have to be decisive – this time we’re in right now isn’t one of them. Not in the summer.

What do you miss the most?

A good night dancing. The embargo on public dancing has hit me hard. A good hot night out on the dance floor does a person good and this year it’s considered unsafe, which is probably correct but also a bit immoral, which is hard.

Shirley Anne Scott, aka Shirl the Purl, is a handknitter with a special love for history. She is “intrigued by the way that people who lived precarious existences in wild rough places created works of knitted art, almost always without the benefit of such a simple thing as electric light, and often without the benefit of literacy. My work springs from admiration of their work.” A librarian by profession, she wrote Canada Knits: Craft and Comfort in a Northern Land (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1990), and her latest book (co-written with Christine LeGrow) is Saltwater Gifts, just published by Boulder Books.


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