As anyone who knows me can tell you, in my freshman year of college, Colleen and I did big multimedia presentation on the Plymouth Cordage Company, going into the company archives at Harvard and walking the old ropewalks just north of Plymouth Rock. I can go on about the shipments of manila fibre, and the postwar change to synthetic rope and cheap sisal twine, about the challenge of building immigrant communities around a mill, the brahmin ownership and so on.
The premise of ropemaking is, of course, the opposing twist. You take fibres and twist them against each other to create long and reliable strands to do all the work that rope has done in the world, from raising sail to driving equipment. My grandfather knew this when he built a machine from old Ford parts to twist binder twine into rope on the farm, the kind of engineering ingenuity I was taught to honour.
In listening to a history of WWII, I was struck by how twisted Hitler’s thinking was. He could always find a new reason to believe he was right, that he was touched by destiny. Twisted thinking has always been a hallmark of humans, of how we screw ourselves up to find the answers we want rather than engaging the real challenges that face us.
The world, I suspect, is based on the same premise as good rope: opposing twists. Twist a fibre or idea in only one way and it leaves the strand weak, with no strength to take weight or shock. But twist the same with others twisted in the opposite direction, left hand/right hand, and you can build a strong and durable cord. Twist those cords together and you end up with powerful rope that can do important and valuable work in moving and controlling what we need to move forward.
TBB noted that my writing tends to cycle back on itself. I set out a premise, then I go around the idea to look at it from all sides, tying the views, including the unusual ones from different viewpoints back together, coming back to the premise. That circling around is my own version of building opposing twists, building the rope stronger by twisting and untwisting, right and left, rejoicing in the tension between strands rather than trying to eliminate it.
I remember one at a trans group meeting when I was responding to someone’s argument. “You are going around the point!” said the person who was challenging me. “Just wait,” said another person. “She will soon get back and tie it all together.” How can you tie things together without having enough rope, and how can you have good rope without trusting opposing twists?
I know that I need to create a new life. I know that life demands that I be more out there, more assertive, easier to see as product.
That’s hard for me, because I am the kind of person who has always thought she has to make her own rope, laying down the opposing twists in my own life.
Ropemaking, though, doesn’t just happen on an individual basis. In fact, for most people, ropemaking is a social experience. We come together with others who have their own twists and together, as a couple, family, office, community, village, corporation, tribe or nation, our opposing twists come together to make a strong, resilient and durable structure, a rope that ties us all together, snaking through human nature.
It’s not my job to always hold all the opposing twists inside. It’s my job to play my part in a bigger society, letting my unique twists play against the twists of others, to build a better and stronger future.
Rope is a beautiful thing, elegant and almost alive with the plants that gave it life, with the hands of the ropemaker, and the extended energy of the people who use that rope to make things happen.
And it’s beautiful because it takes all the opposing twists and makes something much more than any single bit could deliver.
Just like in building a better world, a better future for all.