The Machine



“What surprise!” she said. “I wouldn’t have expected to see a woman working on the equipment.”

I was the technician visiting to do some upgrades in the DC office and the office manager who made that comment didn’t know who I was. I was a little taken aback at her stereotype. “I’m just running cables. It’s not that different from threading a sewing machine.”

In my world, lots of women knew how to use a sewing machine. It was mechanical, but homey. When I learned to thread the machine, I followed the little maze of over-under-through to lead the thread through the needle at the end. The tricky bit was the bobbin which lived in a cave underneath the needle. I’d have to catch that bobbin thread to get everything started.

All that was very physical, and I could see right away that it was right. But it still wasn’t right if the tension was off.

See, the machine won’t work if the thread isn’t coming out at the right speed and the right rate. If it’s too tight, the thread breaks. That’s puts a halt on progress.

On the other hand, it can be too loose. When the machine is pumping but the threads aren’t following along the whole thing tangles. The seams are not tight, all messy and not even connected.

There are a lot of things to consider when adjusting the tension. The circumstances of the material, the sharpness of the needle and even the fitness of the machine, will affect how it has to be adjusted. It’s a very individual thing.

When I was sitting on the floor behind the equipment in that DC office, I was at just about the right settings. I understood the work that I had to do and could get it done.

I’ve been in systems where the tension was too high, the SNAP of the thread breaking ringing through my days. I admit I’d ignored it more often than not. It was me, not the system. The system had no time for me to be anything but exactly what it needed.

Sometimes that transitions into a free fall of no tension. With no constraints to pull my energies I can’t tell sky from land.

I don’t like either extreme. Took me some time to learn those are not the only options.

See, I am not a choiceless thread in a machine. I can change adjust the tension. I can change the circumstances.

It’s something I forget. I can change it. I’ve seen this before. I can make the changes. If I can just remember. I want to remember.