“What do you think, Critter?”

The question that started it all. The multitasker’s worst enemy. I spend my work days on conference calls, and if I don’t have anything to say for a couple minutes, my mind wanders. Then, someone on the call says my name and I realize that I’ve done it again. I lost focus and I’m about to look like a slacker because of it.

What do I think about what? What is this meeting even about? Can I fake microphone issues? Connection issues? Have I done that lately? How offended would they be if I admitted that I wasn’t listening? Can I give a vague answer and hope that it fits?

That was me at least once a day, so I looked for solutions. First, I tried app and site blockers, like Focus. They kept me productive when coding, but they failed for calls. Work chat was always the biggest danger to my focus, and I can’t block work chat during calls because we use it for back-channeling.

So I had to think bigger. My hands were my problem, I realized. They clicked and typed and alt-tab’ed and all kinds of stuff that I didn’t want them to do, and I was powerless to stop it. Digital fixes weren’t good enough. How could I keep my hands busy without distracting my mind?

I discovered a booming industry of fidget toys created to solve this problem. Over the next couple months, I bought and either broke, lost, or threw away, all of these:

They all started out promising and got boring after a few days. Except for the Rubik’s Cube–I can’t focus on a call when I’m trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Eventually, I might have learned that superpower, but I never got past the “you suck at this” phase so I got mad and gave up.

Then, a friend sent us a hat for our baby, (which also fits his older brother pretty well):

Adorable right? And she knitted it herself! This changed everything for me. I knew intellectually that knitting and crocheting were things that people do to make hats and scarves. But it had never occurred to me that anyone could do it, that I could do it.

And! And! It keeps your hands busy!

I went to Walmart and wandered around until I found some chunky gray yarn and a cheap set of crochet hooks. I figured crocheting must be easier than knitting since you only hold 1 metal pointy thingy instead of 2.

I got to work the next day. Before my meetings started, I YouTube’d “crochet for beginners” and ended up at this video:

I followed along carefully and produced one nice gray yarn tangle ball. So I went back to the beginning, set it to 0.25x playback speed, and started over. After repeating that about 10 times, I made my first chain. Another 20ish times and I had created a swatch!

My first crocheted swatch

Could this be it? Is this the answer? I felt hope.

During calls that day, I made the same thing, except a little longer, and then folded it over and bumbled around the edges, stitching the 2 sides together and leaving the top open. That gave me a teeny little bag, so I tied a chain to both sides to give it a handle:

Day 1 and I had already made a thing. This could be it, I thought. This could be the answer! I saw them then: hats and scarves and blankets and bags. My future: gifts on top of gifts. Never again would I need to scramble for a last minute Christmas present.

And what focus! I didn’t zone out during a single call that day.

Days 2 through 10 were spent doing the same thing except much longer. I made a scarf! My hands hurt from doing the same stitch 1000+ times, but I had made a real thing that real people can really wear.

On day 11, I started a hat. Things get hairy when you aren’t going in a straight line. I was about a minute away from rage quitting and starting another scarf by the time I–with the help of YouTube–managed to crochet my first rickety “magic circle”, which is the foundation of the hat. Not long after that, I had this tiny little bowl:

Pretty soon, that bowl grew into a hat. The tassel gave me some trouble but I got there eventually:

Of course I had to force my 6 year old to model for me:

He was a good sport about it

The obsession hit. I read books about knitting and crocheting. I bought way more yarn than I needed, just in case.

You never know when you’ll need 2 slightly different shades of orange.

Over the next few months, I crocheted some other stuff:

And that brings us to today. I’m still at it, and I’m still enjoying it.

Has it delivered on the promise, you ask, or do I still live in fear of “What do you think, Critter?” It is everything I hoped it would be. I don’t lose focus anymore and I get some cool handmade gifts out of the deal. Win win!

It has its downsides. My hands hurt after a while. I still can’t figure out how to make a stupid magic circle without watching the video 10 times, and I can’t make anything without following a pattern.

The other day I tried to make a scarf–literally a long rectangle–and after a few rows I noticed that it was looking oddly triangular. So I kept that going and ended up with a strange triangle pot holder thing:

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” -Bob Ross

But it’s fun, it’s cheap (if you don’t go crazy with your yarn stash), and it’s surprisingly easy to make simple stuff if you follow a pattern.

And now, when I get hit with “What do you think, Critter?”, I can answer.