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On Trying to Save The Old Knitting Factory by Betsy Cornwell

Writing.ie | Magazine | News for Writers | The Big Idea

By Betsy Cornwell

Part of me has thought all along that the knitting factory and I were meant to be. Like I was drawn here by the universe or something. All the pain I’ve been through bringing me here. This is foolish and melodramatic, I know. Trauma has no deeper meaning, as I have known since I was a very small child who should never have had that kind of knowledge.

But I have had this horrible Faith That It Will Work Out all along. The knitting factory has been one of the things that’s kept me going. Like, given me a will to live, you know, through the pandemic and the detritus of my marriage and everything. I have kept writing, and I have chased this beautiful place that I could give to myself and other single moms, because it felt like refusing to be bullied by the winds of fate. I thought, if I could do this magical and wonderful thing, it will mean that none of this has beaten me. I can make a good story out of these bad circumstances. I can win.

The boiler broke at the knitting factory a few months ago. I have been taking cold showers and boiling water on the stovetop for my kid’s baths because I wanted to save that money for the down payment on the building; of the 17,000 I’ve raised in crowdfunding so far, 10,200 has gone to rent for the property and about 3,000 to other repairs and renovations, so I had just about enough to cover the new boiler. I have been hoping that my own savings, the advance I have coming for my next novel, and the advance for the book proposal I wrote about the factory would cover a down payment for a mortgage. The sale price of the knitting factory is 179,200 euro, so that doesn’t seem like a total pipe dream; at least I thought not. I was OK with spending the crowdfund on what we needed to make the house safe and livable for our first year, since that was part of the rent-to-own agreement I made with the current owner.

But after talking with some friends recently, I reluctantly admitted that I deserve warm water, so I ordered the boiler replacement and sent a deposit. I figured I had just about enough to cover the rest of the boiler payment and my personal expenses for the month.

But I’ve just been hit with some big personal and family expenses. These things together are enough to knock out my own savings completely. Completely. I looked at my checking account tonight and saw a single digit. I haven’t felt so sick in years. I need to buy the knitting factory by October 1 or the owner will put it back on the market.

I am despising myself so much for every non-essential purchase I made this year. I bought drive-through coffee and nice groceries and online-shopped for clothes and, like, little foolish treats that kept the lockdown from feeling like an utter, horrible abyss. Before the pandemic, I got most of my clothes and my kid’s at charity shops. My own income went down this year, and my spending, mostly by necessity and occasionally by needing-a-moment-of-happiness-on-a-hard-lockdown-day, went slightly up. I wasn’t living in what anyone would call decadence — for fuck’s sake I’ve been showering in cold water for months because I’ve been so afraid to spend money — but still, the money is spent and I am hating myself for it. My own money was spent on surviving the last year with some sanity and happiness intact. The crowdfund money was spent on rent and a boiler, and new mattresses and bed frames because rusty springs were poking out of the mattresses that came with the house, but couldn’t we have sucked that up? Couldn’t I have been more thoughtful and responsible and rational? Spent on a new drill so I could fix the broken curtain rods and install fencing, which I also bought with crowdfund money, so my kid wouldn’t fall into the lake. Spent on a driveway gate so he wouldn’t run into the road. I can’t hate myself for these expenses. But I want to. And I want to hate myself for the boiler. I could have dealt with cold water for a few more months.

My kid’s godfather talked me down from this self-loathing ledge. He said expecting myself to live without pleasure during a pandemic is very American, very puritanical and Calvinist. And I know he is right.

I look back at this past year at the knitting factory, this past year of COVID, and I don’t see a single day when I wasn’t working at or beyond my capacity. I am, goddammit, proud of the effort I’ve put into this project, regardless of the outcome. I’m just so sad and ashamed that it still might not be enough.

I could, I don’t know, try to crowdfund the whole darn asking price. It’s not an expensive building, as buildings go.

But looking at my account balance and seeing a single digit, after those unexpected expenses hit me all in a row, really scared me. It brought me back to when I had just left my marriage and had nothing, nothing. Not even a home. It was that fear, that nothingness, that tiny brief experience of homelessness which is nothing to what so many people have suffered, that scared me enough to imagine any way I could into a stable home. I remember ringing the doorbell at the domestic abuse center with my baby on my chest in his carrier, knowing we couldn’t go back to our house that night, knowing we didn’t have anywhere else to go. I remember the nights in a hotel in another town where my ex wouldn’t find us. I remember staying in a friend’s guest room while I looked for a place we could afford. I remember my friends helping me pay my rent when it turned out I couldn’t afford even that tiny bungalow one month. And then I think, how dare I have thought I could buy a house. How fucking dare I.

But I couldn’t not have tried. I guess that’s the only thing I keep coming back to right now. I remember how scared I was, how scared I’ve been the last three years since we left our home, my baby and I. I couldn’t not have tried.

I have also been thinking that what would make me the most sad about this project not working would be giving up the space for other single moms — and that means that the central goal is not actually me owning a home, as much as that was the driving force behind the idea all along. So I am thinking of proposing to grant organizations or individual investors if *they* would like to buy the knitting factory as an investment property and I would pay them rent until it’s set up and then they’d get the profit from the b&b side of the operation. There are many options still.

I just hate feeling so scared again.

I want to forgive myself for trying, because I couldn’t not have tried.

It could still work. But it doesn’t feel like a story I’m telling any more, that has to work out somehow in the end. It just feels hard. And I feel tired, and defeated, and ashamed.

I think I just need someone to tell me they think I’ve done as well as I could.

(c) Betsy Cornwell

Visit Betsy’s website here and the crowdfunding page for The Old Knitting Factory here.

About the author

Betsy Cornwell is a New York Times bestselling author living in west Ireland. She is the story editor and a contributing writer at Parabola, and her short-form writing includes fiction, nonfiction, and literary translation and has appeared in Fairy Tale Review, Zahir Tales, Luna Luna, and elsewhere. She holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Notre Dame and a B.A. from Smith College, and she teaches fiction writing at the National University of Ireland at writing retreats in Kylemore Abbey. She lives in The Old Knitting Factory in Connemara with her son.

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