Friday, February 29, 2008
It was my agency, asking me ever so sweetly if I could go into work at 8 PM. Yes. 8PM. And what time is 8 PM if your usual bedtime is 2 PM, and you usually wake up at 10PM?
At this point the thought of flushing my phone down the toilet passed through my head, but a little voice said 'OK', and my fate was sealed.
I assume this little voice is having a psychotic break from reality or something. That she speaks to both Joan of Arc and Elvis. Because why anyone would say, 'Why yes, I would love to come to work on the subway at 8 PM after having spent the day writing down my entire life history and feeling like the poster girl for a female proctology exam, especially since I have a class to teach the next day!' in that cheery voice one usually associates with Disney princesses and automated bill collectors, is beyond me. Unless that person is completely, mind-numbingly INSANE.
Which, fortunately, I am, or you wouldn't find all this so entertaining.
So, after one hour's worth of sleep, I got up, got dressed, and went in, because some muckety-muck at The Firm had a Very Important Document that had to be proofread and it Simply Couldn't Wait until the proofreader was conscious and not seeing spots.
When I got in, I found out that I had arrived four hours early for a job where the muckety-muck had changed his mind- the document needed more work. In fact, it probably wouldn't be ready for proofing until around noon.
Sooo. I found a chair, sat down, clocked in (ka-ching! $100 dollars for me to sit around doing zip for four hours) and played solitaire. In a room where the lights were so bright I thought a police officer was going to walk in and work me over with a rubber hose.
And now you know why I like night shift- because what is normal lighting for most fully-awake people makes me feel like acid has been thrown in my eyes.
Imagine however, that I am not fully awake. Imagine for a moment that I have only had one hour of sleep, and that the night before I'd only had four. Imagine that the lights are stressing me out. Imagine that I am annoyed and am putting a brave face on it.
In other words, while I am being so calm and nice on the outside, inside I am praying to whatever Deity might be listening to Please Kill Me Now Before I Get a Gun and Shoot Everyone In The Office.
Somehow I made it until midnight, when the people who are in the office where I work in what is near-darkness to a normal person leave, and I can go to my cave without clawing out my pupils with my bare hands at which point I fled. Work came in- a ton. I have no idea what any of it said. I'm not sure it was in English. Then in the morning, when there was an evil yellow thing in the sky and it was freezing enough to make one's parts fall off, I went to Port Authority, caught my bus to Westchester, and tried to find a quiet place on campus where I could sleep- but no basements with unhallowed earth and a large rectangular box or two could be found. So I tried to hid in my office, which was doing a good imitation of Grand Central Station at rush hour, since all the adjuncts have to share it.
Somehow I managed to avoid murdering a single student, although I did give them a rather colorful togue-lashing during which words like 'moron' and 'nimrod' might have popped up- they haven't been good about handing in work on time.
then I came home, got four hours' sleep, went back to the Firm, had a job that lasted six straight hours while I was exhausted, and then went to the Spa.
Sometimes I wish I could scream without being put in a straitjacket.
I will write more tomorrow, and put up some lovely pictures. But right now, I'm going to sleep, and I don't care who knows it, especially since my life-changing exam is being administered to me tomorrow.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Before the government allows you to warm a seat in their exam rooms though, you have to tell them all about your life- your last ten jobs, your greatest triumphs, what you think makes you good enough to represent the US Government abroad. That meant going through my entire work life, tracking down people who might have to vouch for me, and so on.
OK. On the surface I am a pretty cool customer. Public speaking doesn't distress me. I can boss around undergrads with the best of them. But we all have a secret shame, and mine was that, although my parents loved me, they had me pretty much convinced that I was invisible.
I have spent most of my life as a ghost. I'm the second best friend who holds the camera, the audience member, the girlfriend, the red shirt. I'm a Beta. I would have made a great spy, or a con artist, or a courtier. There are people who have known me for close to twenty years who have no idea what my hobbies are, what my favorite color is, what I like for lunch. And to a great extent I reveled in it, or at least accepted it. And then Smirky McSmirkersons came along and spoiled everything.
Smirky thinks he's very funny. He thinks it's amusing to taunt his girlfriend about how she's more brilliant than he is, and how he stands in awe of her. He giggles with glee when he tells me I'm compassionate beyond his capability, and have the patience of a saint. This is because Smirky apparently didn't realize that after spending a childhood learning to make myself invisible to people who don't like blacks, women and strange opinionated types, I somehow never learned how to become visible on command. In fact, pretty much the only times I have been visible of my own free will have been when someone else has been unfairly picked upon, or when I've in front of a class. Or, online, amusing the perhaps 5 people who read this.
I spent most of today fine-tuning the application. It was strange. I didn't realize how high my grad school average was- I've been carrying around the pain of college, where I was a bored and depressed underachiever, for most of my life. And then I called people to let them know they might get calls from the government- and they remembered me. The mother of two boys I tutored told me for the first time that I had made a real difference in her kids' lives- one is going to Harvard, and the other to one of the best prep schools in New York. She told me I should call again when her son gets home from college so we can hang out. The secretary of the high school where I worked in 1985 recognized my name and voice- back then I was teaching and then disappearing after work as quickly as possible. She gave me the number I needed, for an old friend who is still working at the school- and who told me she can't wait to tell people (what people? I'm a non-entity, remember?) I got the advanced degree I dreamed about getting back then. It took me so long to get it in part because I was so busy getting potential dropouts to graduate and not become drug dealers, I put my own dreams aside. I'm having lunch with her next week, and we'll talk about my coming in and trying to inspire a new set of kids. Another call was to the first college where I adjuncted- the chair was my boss back then, when the department was part of a mishmash of academic gerrymandering. He and I joked and we're having lunch in two weeks. He's going to see about any adjuncting positions- he says he'd love to have me. I left that place because of the memories surrounding 9/11 (the school is downtown), and had seen myself as a quitter ever since.
I know- like my sweetie, you all are probably laughing right now. You read my blog and say the writing's good. But you don't understand- my life has always been lived for other people. I was a happy go lucky loser. A genial failure whose name and face no one remembers. The person who gets cut out of the picture because I don't fit in the frame. This never felt like low self esteem, and I don't think it ever was- it was an acceptance of a reality that didn't just exist in my head. But now Smirky and a bunch of other people are telling me that I'm not a ghost to them, that I actually matter, and not just because I make good cookies or crochet a bit, or have boobs the size of my head. I matter because the very things that make me invisible to everyone else are the very things that make them treasure me; I thought I'd lost that ability to be seen clearly when I was widowed and was no longer a reflection in my husband's eyes.
I'm crying right now, because I've been given a chance to rewrite my mental life story, and see myself as a success. I'm not just the friend's strange daughter who is smart and unnerving but never talks to anyone, or the weird girl who reads Milton for fun, or the wife and then widow of a political activist, or the next door neighbor who isn't seen for months. Part of me always knew this, but I've avoided making moves that would put me in the spotlight- backup singers don't dare take the spotlight, except in the 30's musicals I love so much.
The Japanese are as obsessive with making lunch cute and pretty as they are about styling pretty much everything. Instead of a plain soup and a sandwich, a lot of Japanese (especially children) eat lunches packed in special containers that are chock-full of foody goodness and which incorporate ideas of shape, color, and seasonality. I became interested in bento a few years ago by accident when I stumbled across J-List, an online store that has both gorgeous and adorable boxes of different sizes for both men and women.
However, to really understand bento, you have to look inside the box, and that's where my favorite site Lunch In A Box comes in. Biggie, who is the brilliant proprietress and a former resident of Japan, takes you by the hand and explains everything about bento- what kinds of food carry well, how to maintain food safety, how to pack healthy fruits and veggies that even the most persnickety child or adult will eat. Because I have such a bizarre work schedule where it's hard to buy non-starchy food I've taken to packing my lunch almost every night, and reading Biggie's site has helped me keep from getting bored. the essence of bento is variety- a little meat, some veggies, some fruit and maybe a small dessert, all packed to be as enticing as possible. Bento, as Biggie points out, lends itself to using up leftovers and to make-ahead dishes, so that a fully-stocked box can usually be assembled in 15 minutes, more for less.
Eating bento style has helped me lose weight- no small feat when you consider that the average night-shift worker gains weight and is more prone to heart attack than those who work during the day. But if you're still not convinced, you might want to go over to Flickr and search for 'bento'. There are tons of people photographing some of the most beautiful homemade meals you've ever seen, and sharing recipes with each other. You'll also find that not everyone is using fancy containers from Japan to store their meals- chances are if you have a couple of takeout containers, you too can put together some amazing bentos.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Bottle Carrier - DK weight yarn, size H hook.
Ch 4 sts, and join with sl st in first ch.
Round 1- Ch 3 (counts as first dc); 11 dcs into ring. Join with sl st in top of ch 3. (12 dcs)
Round 2- Ch 3 (counts as first dc) and dc into top of ch 3. 2 dcs in each st around; sl st in top of ch 3. (24 dcs)
Round 3- Ch 3 (counts as first dc) and dc in top of ch 3. Dc in top of next st. *Make 2 dcs in next st, dc in following st**, repeat from * to ** 11 times and join with sl st at top of ch 3. (36 dcs)
Round 4- Ch 3 (counts as first dc), and dc in top of ch 3. *Dc in each of next two sts. Two dcs in next st, dc in each of next two sts**; repeat from * to ** 11 times and join with sl st at top of ch 3. ( 48 dcs)
Round 5- Ch 3. In back loop only, dc in each dc around; join with sl st in top of ch 3. (48 sts)
Round 6- Ch 3. *Dc in each of next two sts. In third st make popcorn st. ** Repeat from * to ** to ch3 and join with sl st.
Round 7- Ch 3. DC in each dc until end; join in top of ch 3.
Round 8- Ch 4. *Skip next st, dc in following st. ** Repeat around, and join in top of ch 3. This will give you the net stitch which is wonderful for making carryalls and bags. Repeat round 8 unti you have reached the height desired for our bottle or other liquid container.
Round 'A'- Ch 3. Dc in every st around. Join at top of ch 3.
Round 'B' - ch 3. *Skip next st. 3 dcs in following st. ** Repeat until end and join in top of ch 3. This will give you some nice shells.
Round 'C'- Repeat Round 'B'. join with st st in top of ch 3 and fasten off.
Chain 60. turn, sl st back along ch. Fasten off. This is your drawstring. Thread throughevery other four dcs in Round A. Join the ends. Make another, and do the same thing. you'll now ahve a carrier for your soda, water bottle or tall coffee thermos.
Tomorrow or later this week, i'll add the bento box cover pattern, and then the embellishments.
Friday, February 22, 2008
I am usually not very girly with flowers and all, but I love Victoriana. At the time I started this project I was making flowers a lot and selling them to a local hatmaker to pay the bills. I was constantly doing piece work in between working two regular jobs, and I did it two holiday seasons in a row. However, doing this massively improved my crochet skill. Since I was sick of the flowers I was making, I went online and found some other patterns for myself- I'll try to find the link to give credit. And somehow, those flowers and leaves (a combination of large and small roses, violets, and matching leaves) ended up on my project.
As I worked on this, I was reminded of how many people see black hair as somehow inferior because it doesn't hang loose on it's own- it's wooly and relatively stiff. Yet African hair has a sculptural quality that lends itself to braiding, fading and geometric cutting. I realized that crochet is the same way. It's in many ways stiffer than knitting. It can drape, but not with the same ease. A lot of people see this as a flaw. But in truth, crochet has a sculptural quality that lends itself really well to the floral motifs on this lunch set. The design is both sturdy and delicate, rugged and feminine. Essentially, this set is my masterwork. It brings together my vision of myself as a worker, a steampunk, a neo-Victorian, a crocheter, a woman, a feminist, and a person of African descent. If for some reason I could never crochet again, I could still be happy- because I came up with these designs on my own and put them together in a new way.
I put the whole dirty mess in the bathroom sink, and after washing it about 5 times with shampoo until the water ran clear, it was a bit less fragrant. The photo shows what it looks like after washing, complete with crimps, dirty locks, and bits of grass and vegetable matter (hay and grass and burrs, to all you farm types). It took a day and a half to dry, at which point I ripped off a tuft and combed it with a dog slicker from PetCo. You know what? The part I combed spun up beautifully, and I'll put up the results later.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
I've been in that shop before, but this time I took a really good look. I was happy with their selection of crochet books. They don't have a wide variety of hooks (mostly Clover Soft-Touch) but they have them in the same display with the knitting paraphernalia. But most importantly, they offer intermediate crochet classes on a regular basis- and as far as I know, they are the only store to do so in the NYC area.
It turns out that a good half of the staff is made up of people who know and love crochet. Not only that, they love it when you recommend books to them- I told them about my love for Debbie Kooler's Encyclopedia of Crochet, and they are going to order a copy to decide whether to stock it in the store. not only that- they are convinced that crochet is starting to make an enormous comeback, since they are getting more people who are coming in and looking for crochet supplies and patterns. They also have hard to find items like thin leather bottoms for slippers, hairpin lace kits and felting forms, and they hold spinning classes too.
So as always, show them the love and drop some change.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
I was at my local Greenmarket during the dead season. Right now nothing is growing, so all the veggies are from late last year's harvest except for the greenhouse tomatoes from one farmer. The meat, except for the poultry, was slaughtered late last year also, for the most part. The milk was fresh- it came out of a cow the other day. The cheese came from a sheep, and the reason it was free is because one of my favorite sheep farmers forgot to bring me the fleece she was going to sell me, and gave me cheese as a present. The loaf of bread was baked early this morning, and is never sliced- I laugh whenever I'm online to buy bread and overhear someone asking for sliced bread.
I love my Greenmarket, even in the dead season. But there's one thing that makes me angry. Even though I know that many of my farmers take EBT (the New York State equivalent of food stamps), I don't see a lot of poor people taking advantage, because they don't know that there's a market where even in the dead of winter they an get fruits and vegetables for their families. Yet in my city right now there are whole neighborhoods where the local stores don't sell fruits and vegetables at all and the supermarkets sell their 'fresh' food in a state I wouldn't give away to a starving person in Darfur. Yet this isn't true just in New York City; my mother had never really heard anything about the farmer's markets in Baltimore and other parts of the state, and when I visited New Orleans, most of the people shopping at the market there were tourists and wealthier cognoscenti.
Why is this happening? Part of it is advertising. Greenmarkets and farmer's markets, which can be found in various forms all over the country, usually aren't found where they are needed most- in poor areas. The local papers that cater to ordinary people don't mention them, and certainly don't mention the kind of bounty that can be had, even in winter. But I think it goes deeper than that. A few years ago, as an experiment, I brought in fresh bread and jam from my market to my students, and ran a taste test. They were skeptical, but after tasting, they were shocked. Pretty much every single one of them said that in tasting the bread, they realized they had never in 18+ years taste real unchemicalized bread before. They had never tasted real jam. Not only that, but they liked the taste of the the food I brought in, as it was better than anything of that kind they'd had before. My sweetie had a similar epiphany when he had some of my local milk. He said he hadn't tasted milk like that since childhood. He also bought a bottle to take home with him, and refused to share it with his brother. His favorite part was shaking the bottle to mix the cream back in with the milk. Now he frequently mentions how he lusts after that milk (and the sausages, apples, and other market items I buy) and is unsatisfied with the milk from his supermarket.
What would happen if every American got to taste what food is really supposed to be like? What if they learned that real bread goes stale, and that when it does one can make fabulous French toast with it? What if people learned that real milk tastes so rich that a small glass is satisfying, and one can enjoy it without pushing up one's cholesterol? What would happen to all of the fast food restaurants and crap food in supermarkets?
As yarn lovers, this concerns us, too. What would happen, for instance, if people had access to yarn that still felt like it came from an actual animal, and was dyed in natural colors? What would happen if people realized most clothing and accessories feel awful because they are made from inferior textiles, and that really good textiles can actually be made while sitting on the subway or talking on the phone? That beautiful, well-made objects that fit do not have to just be within the price range of the rich; that if people began to work together to spin, knit, crochet, tat, sew and quilt items in small co-ops, more of us would be warm, well-dressed, and not suffer from allergic reactions brought on by the very clothing (and the chemicals therein) that we wear? That we could be at least partially free from the slavery we are now forced into to major corporations who don't care if clothing is badly made, poorly constructed, and falls apart in weeks?
The next part of the burgeoning DIY revolution is not in making cute toys or adorable scarves- it's going to be producing viable, beautiful and carefully-made items, not just for the young and thin and trendy, but for all those who will want to work together with farmers to take raw materials, turn them into fabric, and clothe people at a reasonable rate of money or trade. The same also goes for decent food. If we want a happy and healthy society, we'll have to move beyond creating joy for ourselves, and making sure that others can partake, too. It's a matter of figuring out how best to do it; currently, New York City is opening a Greenmarket in Harlem, and has a well-established one in the the South Bronx.
I played hookey on the big day and stayed home, baked a cake from a box (unusual for me- I felt lazy) and did some crochet (what a surprise). I should have slept, but no. I spoke to my mother the night before (she called me in the middle of my sleep cycle, effectively waking me at what for me was 3 in the morning and wanting to have a conversation), went to work, came home, and decided my ankle was sprained. It was fun not going to School.
The best part of the day, however, was saying smoochy stuff to my sweetie. For thise of you underthe age of thirty, it might be a shock that old people such as myself still get romantic. Even more shcoking is that I can get romantic after having been widowed. Yes, widowed. As in, Having The Love Of Your Life Drop Dead.
The truth is, people obsess over the wrong thing, like the divorce rate. Yes, people get divorced, and that's rough. Horrible, even. But falling in love, being happy and then having that person die- that's the fate which faces exactly 50% of those who marched down the ailse and worked it out. Loving someone- really, truly loving someone- means that you may very well have to bury the one you love, and not always when you are 93, either. The good news is that widows and widowers not only have a high rate of remarriage, but a lower rate of divorce in in the new marriage than do those whose first marriage ended in divorce. So in case you thought there are no second chances- there are. Frequently. You just have to want them.
My sweetie is wonderful in very different ways than was my husband, but both were and are very funny guys with skewed sense of humor. They both work(ed) hard and sometimes forget that I need attention- but I'm a workaholic and more than a bit of a misanthrope, so it all works out. Both were/are romantic souls who try to hide it. I love them both in very different ways, but I'm honored to have had not one, but two very special men want to be in my life. It's all good.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
You may have been wondering where I teach. Twice a week I get on a train and go up to Westchester to a medium-sized state university and teach social science. I like the school. The students are only 60-70% dim-witted and I don't see my fellow faculty most of the time. The ones I do see are incredibly intelligent and funny people, and make me feel honored to be among them. But my boss- well, that's another story.
To be direct about it, my boss is an idiot. A moron. A benighted self-important dimwit. My boss is such a twit that he makes the average fifth-grader look politic and wise. And, with all due respect to the chairs of academic departments and the difficult, boring, thankless, and hard work they do, I want to punch this jerk in the head. Hard. Until my hands hurt and my knuckles bleed. And then I want to hit him again.
It started a year and a half ago, when I finally found some ambition, spoke to a friend of mine in the humanities department where I teaching, and asked him to approach the then chair with a an interview for a possible job. Robert, blessed be his name, is a senior faculty member and has clout everywhere on campus. Considering that he comes across as a bit geeky (look up the word 'bookish' in the dictionary, and Robert's picture will be there, waving back at you), he is quite the social mover and shaker, and I begged him to use his clout in my favor, which he did. And so I nervously went off and met with the then chair, a woman who was absolutely wonderful and who pretty much defines the adage of 'sisterhood is powerful.' One thing led to another, and she offered me an adjunct position in her department, two classes in areas out of my expertise, but which wold have pushed me to grow as a teacher. I was thrilled. Quite frankly I would have taught pretty much anything she had asked, but I felt humbled by her trust. Dr. Helpful, as I'll call her, made me want to stay in teaching for the first time in a while.
That was last spring, towards the end of the semester. I taught two mythology classes for humanities, and began to look up information in the subjects for my classes. Yet sometimes I have this inner voice that talks to me, and I've learned to trust it. And against all logic this inner voice was telling me not to order books yet.
Towards the end of summer I got a call from the department, asking me to come in to see the chair. Which I did, and found not the woman who had signed me up, but someone else. We'll just call him Dr. Lunkhead.
Dr. Lunkhead told me he was the new chair, and he wanted to meet with all the adjuncts and say hi. He had one of those faces and voices that seem very friendly but make you feel in your purse for your wallet. He proceeded to ask me about my academic background, and when I told him my dissertation topic, he decided I wasn't qualified to teach my course. I should really be teaching something else. He looked over the schedule, saw an opening, and gave me two sections of the same course that he felt were better suited. Now, I can pretty much teach anything if I have time to prep- but at this point I had about two weeks to order books and decide on a syllabus. We talked some more and I asked him if there were any openings in the department, and he said there really weren't (whic hwas the opposite of what I'd been told by Dr. Helpful). He also expressed concern because he didn't know how I could live on an adjunct's salary.
If you didn't know, adjuncts make crap money. However, They usually work at morethan one school, or have some outside job- so this was rude. Quite frankly it was none of his business how or if I was making ends meet. And then the capper came- he told me that there would be seminars where professors could present during the semester, and when I mentioned my work again, he said the seminars were full up for the year.
I left his office smiling like an idiot while imagining what he would look like with a crochet hook shoved up his ass. When I spoke to Dr. Helpful later that day, she told me that Dr. Lunkhead an his friends had pulled off a coup and gotten her removed; it seems they didn't like a woman being in charge. I told her what had happened to me and she said it was typical of him to act very sympathetic while pulling the rug out from under people, especially women, and trying to make them feel unimportant.
I spent the semester avoiding Dr. Lunkhead. I ignored his idiot emails in which he suggested people go to this or that museum, while mentioning that he had no idea if one could get to those places without a car- but never putting the website urls up that had links ot how one could get to the museums by bus or train. I ignored invitations to departmental events, just so I wouldn't see him. When the department secretary had a baby, I made mittens and a hat, gave them to him to send to her- and he told her someone else had made them.
Today I had to go see him regarding some paperwork, and asked him again about seminars for the semester. Presenting at a seminar is a good way of getting the word out about one's work while having yet another item to add to a curriculum vitae, so I wasn't seeing him just to gaze upon his beauty. He told me that the next semester was completely open, who was on the seminar committee, said I should contact them and asked me what subject interested me, and I said I was intrigued by the networking capabilities of Ravelry, and how it not only connected people but seemed to have it's own versions of class conflict. He informed me that I shouldn't get my hopes up because they were concentrating on the idea of community since the department would be offering some certification in that area. I said that I was talking about community, and he said that it wasn't community as they were viewing it. This went around in circles for a while until I finally reminded him that my doctoral work had been on community- and he said that maybe they might have a slot for me. I walked out, came into my office, ran into one of the committe members, and have an appointment to speak with her later today. Meanwhile, I'm feeling so glad that I can't get arrested for my thoughts.
But, lest you think I'm shallow and only about the shopping, my discomfort goes deeper than that. the North American Indian section looks just like Papa Franz might walk through the doorway at any moment- and not in a good way. Many of the dance costumes in the African Section are not sufficiently labeled as to provenance. The Middle East Section has a fanciful case showing how many Westerners think everyone there flies around on magic carpets- its silly. And to top it all off, in typical chicken/egg fashion, the museum is so full of children that it's hard to really look at the exhibits, which very often lack the perspective adults would want it the first place. Much of the signage presumes that the viewer is ignorant about natural history, and even afraid of it. I can understand that- most people in the US don't get sufficiently exposed to the sciences. But except for the evolution section, much of the museum talks down to people, which is a turn-off. I love the special exhibitions (I'm still raving, years later, about both the viking and Voudou shows from several years back) and the IMAX shows, but otherwise there's just not enough to truly hold my interest for hours at a time.
If the Natural History is the lunk-headed but sweet husband I'm supposed to love even though I find him to be more than a bit of a bore, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the sexy, extravagant lover with whom I have trysts as often as possible. The Met doesn't talk down to patrons. I presumes they already have some desire to see art, and want to learn about it. The Met isn't afraid to challenge the viewer by juxtaposing objects in special exhibits. It sells you all kinds of dust-catchers, but most of them are for adults. Even the ones for children presume a certain level of sophistication. While the Natural History does offer a dinner dance/jazz musicale once a month, The Met offers a classical ensemble every Saturday and Sunday on the balcony while serving sophisticated snacks and cocktails at a cash bar. But most importantly, the Met takes me all over the world with its excellent shows that have featured everything from specific historical sea-changes in art history, to photographers, to particular styles and mediums of art (the just recently closed tapestry exhibit was an eye-opener.) On top of all that, when I'm feeling poor and needy, the Met tells me not to worry, because even if I only have a quarter to donate, it will let me in even as it Hoovers money out of the purses and pockets of the rich and the touristy. Going to the Met is like meeting up with my fabulously wealthy and well-traveled sugar daddy on a Viagra binge and a bonus from Goldman Sachs, and allowing myself to unwind and enjoy the pleasure of his company.
And that is why the Metropolitan Museum of Art is my hands-down winner in the mega-museum sweepstakes- because I don't live next door to the Louvre or the Victoria and Albert, thie Smithsonian has a lot of populist crap that doesn't interest me, and the Vatican is a little too top-heavy on paintings with tortured saints as the primary subject.
Monday, February 11, 2008
I wanted to talk a little about spinning. A few weeks ago, in a fit of insanity, I decided to learn how to spin. Apparently, tea, crochet, silent film, cooking, reading and steampunk don't afford me enough entertainment. Nope, I needed another hobby. Preferably one that I could justify by saying to myself that I was saving money by making my own yarn, as opposed to admitting that I had found yet another wasy to have my hard-earned cash sucked out of my pocket.
The truth is, learning to spin can get a bit pricey if you don't know what you are doing and have no self-control. You will be tempted by all the pretty drop spindles, wool batts, and other nonsense out there, and forget that you are still only learning to spin. However, for once I must actually have some self-control, because I am not knee deep in wool yet and I only own one spindle (although another one, for spinning silk, is in the mail).
So, I'm going to tell you about my Adventures in Spinning. I bought a Louet top whorl because that's what they had at one of my local shops. I did this while tired and coming off an eight-hour shift, so I didn't even notice if they had any bottom whorls. to explain- a top-whorl spindle looks like an old-fashioned top, only turned upside down, with a hook in the short end. You twist some yarn on the shaft (I found it was easiest to do a hand twist), bring the strand over the whorl up to the hook, twist it a bit more so that the filmy, loose wool (called roving) won't pull apart, and, well, spin. It helps if you have four hands. And an extra foot. Since I don't, I sat on the bed and did it, and it worked out well.
My first bit of yarn came out looking pretty funky, but hey, that's what the learning process is about. I did have some help- I contacted my Ravelry friend Camanomade, and asked her about spinning, and she sent me tons of fiber so that I can actually afford to eat while learning to spin. but, evil creature that she is, she sent me a variety of fibers, to tempt me and make me a yarn junkie. No doubt the first hit is free.
Over the past three weeks I've spun combed wool (which took practice), kid mohair (hard but not too hard, once you realize your strands are supposed to be hairy), combed silk (very slippery- I really needed a lighter spindle), more wool (uncombed, which makes slubby but interesting stuff, and lets you know if you can really spin or not). I'm a zennist, and in Zen it's said that one should have no preferences. I'm finding that having no idea how any of these fibers will behave actually helps a lot, as I have no expectations. I am finding that my product is getting less slubby (bumpy), more smooth, and I'm spinning continuous thread for much longer wtihout the fiber running out. I'm also finding that I can unwork slubs now, and that I'm keeping a much more constant thickness in my product.
I now feel ready to make more professional-looking yarn, which means I'm about to take some of the singles (individual strands of yarn) I've made and ply them (make a thicker strand of yarn). I also did some looking around, and after seeing roving at what were to me ridiculous prices (confirmed to me by Camanomade), I found some nice inexpensive roving online at Knitch. Currently on the spindle is some really soft Corriedale top in silver, which is a really soft fiber and therefore takes some concentration. Eventually, I want to learn how to slub my yarn on purpose so I can make boucle (thick and thin) yarn.
What this all means is that I'm having a lot of fun.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
My mother dyes her hair red, also. Her natural hair color is lighter than mine- she claims it's mouse-brown. I have no idea what my mother's natural hair texture is like anymore. I can only imagine that it's slightly less woolly than my own. While I've seen my mother's scalp go ever so slightly natural, I've haven't seen her hair in full bloom since I was maybe 7, when she had a fashionable afro for a while. Ad even then, her hair was red.
When I started dying my hair, I did so by worshiping at the High Church of Manic Panic. I wanted a hair color not found in nature, except on flowers. I realized that I was simultaneously mocking and paying homage to my mother's Nice and Easy fetish. For me, hair color was about wanting to look unnatural in a totally different way. But I've never been obsessed, and as I actually like my normal hair I've often left the Manic Panic (or henna, or clairol, or whatever I was using at the moment) alone.
But every now and then the face that looks back at me seems tired and wants a change. Lipstick will cheer me up; I'm a creature of habit and buy similar shades every time. But coloring my hair makes me feel as bright as a new penny, and I treat color like wearing a hat- I'm not loyal to any particular shade of red.
Today's shade actually looks normal, maybe because today I want to cover the silver, which is beginning to annoy me. It's annoying my because I feel about 20 today, and my hair says maybe 30. My birth certificate says something else entirely, and if I weren't so vain I'd be happy to be mistaken for 30. However, I want to be a young flirty matron, not a grave one, so on went the hair color. When I teach I like to claim how elderly and cranky I am, and there are days when I actually feel that way- but I like being young, too. It's nice to have that choice, since so many women don't.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
My local Greenmarket has wonderful raw and cooked ingredients. I bought bacon today from the incomparable Violet Hill Farm- I think they have some of the best bacon in North America. I also bought some apples from Terhune Orchards, and some potatoes from yet another stand. Tonight's dinner is bacon cooked with potatoes, onions, and apples. In winter I like making as many one-dish meals as possible. It seems more homey that way, and I can do it fairly on the cheap.
Still, I needed yarn, and for this project it had to be blue. Therefore, there was only one business with whom I could shop: Catskill Merino, a farm located in Swan Lake, New York which is owned by the Wyatt family.
Catskill Merino makes yarn the old-fashioned way- they grow it on their sheep. Then they send it out to be spun, and do the dying themselves. Their yarn isn't cheap- it's $13-$16 a 125 yard skein. However, is soft, pliable, and dyed with natural dyes such as fustic, cochineal, madder, and indigo and set so they won't run. If you are looking for yarn to go into your historical project and you actually want to feel the yarn you buy, this is the way to go, since these are the very types of dyes that were used from ancient times through the early nineteenth century. The yarn takes J, K, and L size hooks, as it's thick like some of the well-known Noro yarns (needle sizes are 10, 11, or 12).
How do I know which hook sizes? Because the information sheet given to you when you buy a skein says so. Which means Catskill Merino is crochet-friendly and therefore (say it with me) deserves your business.
Friday, February 8, 2008
It's Karen's friendly face you see when you go to the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays to buy lamb, cheese, milk soap, hats and sweaters, and full sheepskins. And wool. I love her wool. It takes Kool-aid dye wonderfully and hooks up prettily. It looks like it would be perfect for socks, although Karen says it's worsted weight; I find it's perfect for projects like laprobes for the car. I often leave in in its natural buttery-yellow state. Karen will also sell you raw fleece once shearing time is done- I can hardly wait.
While most of Karen's yarn business is with knitters and she doesn't crochet, she is extremely crochet-friendly and deserves your business. Besides, how many other yarn stores can you go to where you can pick up a skein for $10 and get a lamb shank for dinner, too?
Last year around this time, if I'd had a rough week I would just have come home and slept, and then tried to eat everything in the kitchen. However, I made a resolution to take care of my stress in more healthful ways. In my case, that meant going to the spa again. I'm loving that place- I want to marry it. I want to move in, be a spa slave, and bear its children. Fridays are perfect for going there, because the place doesn't get busy until around 4pm. When I got there this morning at 10am (after working all night on some complex jobs and then checking my bank account and receiving the cheering news that the School hadn't sent out my paycheck due to some missing paperwork that I didn't need to fill out), I was stressed and a little... testy. Ok, a lot testy. I'd even go so far as miffed. So I did what anyone in my position would do- I changed into my spa uniform of shorts and tee-shirt, went to the third floor, rented a bathing suit and a robe, changed again and got in an outdoor pool of water that was delightfully warm and bubbly. After ten minutes I actually began to giggle.
More spa-age occurred, and a small nap was taken. I no longer wanted to punch the entire Human Resources staff at School in the head. I came home by subway, and just as I came above ground- there he was. One of the most annoying people on the Food Network, Bobby Flay himself.
My subway stop happens to be right at the location of the Union Square Greenmarket, which was open today. And there was old Bobby with fawning camera crew, preparing for another episode of his obnoxious show, 'Bobby Flay's Smackdown'.
This is how you know you are a New Yorker- any other person would have asked for his autograph, or stared for more than the minute I spent ogling until I could figure out what was going on. A tiny unrelaxed part of me wanted to challenge him to making sweet potato pudding without his having an entire truck full of supplies or a month of preparation, but the Spa Gods soothed my brow and got me to hold my tongue. It's amazing what a little warm water can do.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Why do I tell you this? It's simple. If you have sent even 5 minutes watching Martha Stewart and then look up the stores where her minions get her goods, most of them are in New York. The city is still a garment center, and it caters to many of the top designers. What does that mean for you, my little ducklings? It means you get to clean up at a discount.
Let's take Habu. It's in an unassuming building in the wholesale district. By suburban yarn shop standards, the neighborhood looks scary. But it isn't. Really. Trust me on this one. You can get off the bus at Port Authority and walk a few blocks to Habu, witch is off the ground floor, and since you are off the street you are in civilization again. You go down the hall, ring the bell, and some nice Japanese women will help you with stuff you've never seen before. The place is crazy- the place looks like an incredibly cool teahouse filled with textiles and yarn. The place offers weaving lessons, too, as that's their main market. They see to a lot of knitters, but on the day that I went, when I told them I was a crocheter, they were thrilled. They want to see more of us.
Anything you might ever want to crochet, they probably have it. Steel wire, linen tape, bamboo- it's there. I was in the mood for spring colors when I went, so I bought lots of lavender stuff. I could just as easily gone dark- Habu stocks lots of browns and blacks. They have yarn that looks like seaweed, and ribbon, and everything. This is beyond novelty yarn- this is art. Plus, they have constant sales, where you can buy little bags of yarn balls for $15-$20, so you can try out what the have and use the rest for edging, or plying with your own yarn.
I have to warn you- this place is not cheap. I dropped $60 or so in there without blinking an eye- but I intend to go back, especially now that I spin. But when you get back to your local crochet or spinning guild, you will be cackling your ass off and everyone will hate you. So there.
Of course, if you really want them to hate you, you need to walk a couple of blocks over from Habu and go to School Products. Ignore the name, sweetie- this place is not for kids. Why is it calls 'School Products'? I don't know- because 'Spend Your Last Dime Products' doesn't sound as good. Cashmere in cones? Check. Some yarn that Donna Karan ended up not using? Sure. Some no muss-no fuss Lamb's Pride? Uh-huh. Plus hooks and needles and ball winders. You are not going to get designer-quality cashmere thread in quantity any cheaper in New York. Even the Italian acrylic looks tasty. If you have any money left from shopping at Habu, you can come in here and give School Products some. Just remember that since they buy a lot of their yarn from designers and facotries, the stock changes seasonally, and sometimes they won't have what you like. Forget coming here with a set laundry list. Just go with the flow. If you have any money left after all this shopping, you can head downtown on the N/R and eat dim sum in Chinatown- I recommend Mandarin Court. Have some baked roast pork buns and picture yourself lording it over your friends when you get back home rubbing your hands together as you point out the yarn used in the Chanel jackets this year.
However, we all learn things about ourselves when our perspectives get changed, as I found out this past week. for instance, I'm now pretty sure that I'm going to have to add statues of Athena, Artemis and the Three Fates to the small altar space in my apartment, the one that has a Black Madonna and a picture of the Buddha on it.
I was sitting up in bed this Saturday-into-Sunday, teaching myself more about drop-spinning, when I stopped worrying if i was doing it right and just allowed the yarn to take over. The tv was on in the background and it was late by normal human standards- about two am. I was tired, and I'd had a long day, but the purple wool I was spinning was so beautiful, and it had a silvery sheen that made it irresistable. I found myself staring at the spindle and watching it spin, my left hand above my head, my right occasionally stopping the spindle or guiding its speed. And all of a sudden- I got it. I pictured a photo in one of the books I've used with students- it shows a group of Greek peasant women with drop spindles, and the caption says that women in Greece have used this method since ancient times. All of a sudden, sitting up in bed, I felt like I was sitting on the floor of a West African hut on a chilly night, the fire glowing nearby, as I spun the spring wool into thread for weaving into cloth for my husband's clothing. Or perhaps I was seated on a three-legged stool, like a woman in a medieval painting, spinning linen for the local church's altar-cloth. Or perhaps I was in any other of a number of places around the world, standing or sitting, spinning wool, flax, cotton, silk, goat, yak. After years of talking about women and crafting, and how in order to understand women in Greek mythology we need to understand why so many of them are weaving or spinning, I finally understood the universality and primalness of it myself. And it felt good.
I think it happened because I'd had another primal moment earlier inthe day. I'd gone to a local Korean healthspa that is rather like an old Roman bathhouse, only without the live entertainment and shopping arcades. The week before I'd gone on a Friday, when the crowd was mostly women and chidren, but it was fairly quiet. On this Saturday afternoon, however, the place was jumping. I picked up my key (an electronic watchlinke thing that one uses to open one's locker and tally one's food and drink), changed out of my street clothes, and headed for the hot tubs and saunas-
and was floored.
In the US, we hardly ever think about bathing and its meaning. for instance, exept when we are little, most of us never bathe with people of the same sex for non-sexual purposes. In fact, if you think about it, it's kind of odd that people consider the idea of seeing bodies that have all the same parts as their own to be horrifying and dirty. It's gotten to the point that in the US, you can be investigated for taking pictures of your own children playing naked in their bathwater, even if it's obvious that there's no sexualized content whatsoever. The only time that it's ok to be naked nowadays it seems, is if there are overt sexual or violent overtones; for some reason that's beyond me, heroes in violent movies usually end up in some state of undress and get covered with more effluvia than an Abercrombie and Fitch underwear model.
When I first went to the spa the week before, there were women there, but not as many. I remember undressing next to another American-born woman who was white, and she commented on her nervousness at having to be naked in front of strangers. I remember nodding, wondering exactly what beastly things she thought were going to happen during a shvitz. Being naked is something that hasn't bothered me in a long time, to the point where it's hard for me to remember when it did. The only person around I feel uncomfortable naked is my mother, and that's because she makes hurtful comments about my weight. However, like most americans, live nudity with no sexual context is a rarity for me. So imagine how I felt on saturday afternoon when I took off my spa uniform and looked through the open glass doors at the hot tub area and saw
Nude fat women. Nude thin women. Old women who sagged. women with newly-budded breasts. Women holding squirming babies in the kiddie tub. Women with tattoos. Little naked girls putting their hands between their legs and laughing. Little boys under the age of four clambering over their mothers' laps. Korean woman. Chinese women. Indian women. Russian women. Black women. White women. Brown women.
And not a single towel in sight.
Some had towels- around their heads. On the left side of the room, women were scrubbing and soaping, while sitting at low spigots with wooden buckets, and then rinsing themselves off. On the right, women were using European-style showers with no stalls. Women casually walked into and out of the saunas, climbed in and out of the tubs, talked, held babies in their laps, scrubbed each others' back, scraped their feet.
When I was growing up, I remember being fascinated by the concept of women bathing together. The Old Master paintings of Artemis and her train always fascinated me, even though I knew I was seeing a man's view of women. I also grew up in a neighborhood where at least some of my female neighbors went once a month to the ritual Jewish bath. When I grew up and moved to Manhattan, I saw old city-run bathhouses that had been set up for the working classes during the 19th century which had been turned into municipal health clubs. I have friends who have lived in the Near East who have gone to hamams. but I never thought I would walk into what seemed like a painting form my childhood, only with real, imperfect human bodies and genital hair.
I felt overwhelmed, and very safe. For the first time in a while, my aging body felt normal, not ugly. My rubenesque curves and rolls garnered no negative comments or looks. not only that, but after I showered, saunaed, soaked, plunged in cold water, and then began to scrub, I felt like a goddess. It was very Zenlike to be in a room where no one was staring, but no one was looking away, either. Quite frankly I had to look- watching television and seeing magazines had dulled my memory of what real women look like when naked. A group of young white women sat next to me, scrubbing each other's backs, while an equally young black woman loofahed her arms and legs. Eventually she asked one of them to scrub her back; she and I had been eyeing each other, unsure of the protocol and too shy to speak. I got up enough nerve and asked one of the women if she could scrub my back also, and we all laughed at how we'd not known what to say. we wondered if the men in their section of the bathhouse were avoiding looking at each other too. and there we were, starring in our own living tableau, and feeling terribly clean and beautiful, like the Virgin Goddess of Crafting relaxing after a long day of spinning and weaving.
So here I am, at the age of 46, rediscovering womanhood and feminity. Not the kind my mother taught me, which other had to do with body shame; not the kind my father tried to imposed, where I was supposed to proetend to be ignorant to reassure men; not thekind many of my teachers valorized, where in order to be a feminist I was supposed to turn my back on the simple artistic pleasures of cooking and crafting; but a much older femininity, in which women don't hate the body as it goes through stages, can be kind to each other without being at odds of being consious of class, race, or marital status, and can sit and spin and feel the golden thread that runs from us to our ancestors without apology.
Friday, February 1, 2008
I will be honest- I took the swear side. I won't repeat what I said here, as I used language that in a PG-rated world is still fairly unprintable, albeit funny. However, an idea was born; what if a Ravelry group existed where hardworking, highly intelligent, and often spiritual crafters could meet and let their hair down and be as free-thinking as they pleased? A place where using a hook or two needles wouldn't matter, and spindles would be welcome, too? And so at around 2pm today, a new Ravelry group was born- the 'lazy,stupid, and godless' group (the lower-case spelling is intentional, since members are presumably too lazy to use a shift key). It's is now 8pm ET, and the group is seven shy of the century mark.
What does this all mean? I think it means there is a hunger among crafters to join together, regardless of equipment, and have fun. The segregation in the crafting world is silly anyway- we are all trying to bring beauty into our lives. While this group has had a silly beginning, I hope that it will lead to more groups not preferring knitting over all other crafts. The group will soon be working on charity projects and other mutually-approved past-times while, with luck, becoming the home for some of the crown princesses and princes of the crafting world.
Recently, some of us on Ravelry were talking about crochet on the CLF group. Mermaiden suggested that instead of 'crochet-friendly' signs in the windows of yarn stores, there should be 'knitting-friendly' signs. I agreed, and in a fit of total insanity due to sleep deprivation, not enough St. John's Wort or vodka, and a general perversity, I wrote the following:
Yes. And we’ll have the cheapest and crappiest needles for them to buy. And we’ll sell lots of crochet thread, and tatting shuttles, and embroidery frames- and five skeins of Red Heart in the back, near the cat box. We’ll have ‘Hook and Cook’ meetings where we’ll bring snacks, and lots of free patterns for crocheters with pictures in color- and one really grainy xerox of a knitting pattern from 1955 for an ugly pair of socks. There will be beautifully carved crochet hooks available, and when people enter the store, we’ll ask them what they are crocheting, and give them great service. We’ll know exactly what size hook each kind of yarn and thread takes. But if knitters want to know the needle size for the yarn, we won’t look at the package. We’ll just look at them blankly, and vaguely gesture towards the Red Heart that smells like cat pee. We also won’t say anything if other shoppers sneer at the idea that anyone would knit, and we’ll talk about how ‘old-fashioned’ it is next to ‘modern’ crochet. We will have a knitting teacher- she’ll be a private contractor who will charge ridiculous amounts of money for one lesson, and she will only teach the basics. Meanwhile the store itself will have monthly classes on everything from doilies to spinning crochet thread, and crochet book authors will regularly be invited to the store.
We will have a book for ‘crocheters and knitters’- it will have one knitting pattern (for socks) and the book will cost at least $25. The author will make disparaging and condescending remarks about knitting in her other books, and talk about how she only recently learned how to knit so she could make some socks, since that’s all knitting is really good for.
Every year the store will join with other stores and major yarn brands, and have a ‘Crochet-in! and Knit’. The yarn companies will give away fabulous free items to crocheters including samples of sumptuous yarn- the knitters will get goody bags with one out of date magazine and patterns for garish baby socks from the cheaper brands. The crocheters will have a fashion show, famous crocheters signing their books, a display of hyperbolic crochet, and seminars on how to write patterns- and the knitters will get one tiny table on the outskirts of the event, with four chairs and a person from the local knitting guild, who will show them how to make socks. There will be a tent set up to teach all levels of crochet technique, a crochet clinic, and so on- and a smaller tent where only continental knitting will be shown. People who can’t grasp it will be told that it’s the only real kind there is. There won’t be any left-handed knitters there either. A small table will be there for the aging members of the local knitting guild, who will give out xeroxed patterns for socks, with no pictures to speak of. And if a single knitter complains, we’ll tell them that we understand, and that one day, when they learn a real craft like crochet, none of it will be a big deal.
I take a shower, figure out what to wear, and have some breakfast if possible. I make a quick lunch or grab a premade one from the fridge. I check Ravelry, write a note or two, and wait for my cell phone to ring. The call comes from the livery service that sends a car to my house every work night. Pretty snazzy, huh?
At 11:30 at night there is relatively little traffic, even in midtown. It usually takes 15 minutes for the driver to get me to work, and as he drives I fill out the voucher from work that pays the far. I'm outside the building at 11:45. I take out my work pass, say 'good morning' to the security guards and walk through a mostly empty lobby.
The floor on which I work is devoid of people except in my work area; four people are usually going off shift when I come in. The second shift people are made up of two proofreaders and two 'operators', or word processors, and a traffic coordinator. There's usually no immediate jobs when I come in. At night I'm the only proofreader on shift in the US. The others who work for the company are in India. I've never even spoken to them.
We have one operator who works swing and leaves at 3am. Three others come in on the same shift as I do, and and so does a fresh traffic coordinator. Except for the cleaning people, we are almost the only ones on the floor of the building until around 5:30am, when a few lawyers with overseas clients trickle in. I have never seen my floor when it's in full swing, except about once a month or so when we have proofreader meetings in the middle of the night (4 in the afternoon ET to you). A few lawyers come into our office from other parts of the building for the first three hours of my shift, bringing documents that need to be ready by morning. In most cases the operators handle them and they are passed to me for proofing; over in India, the same thing is happening, but at a busier pace because the work there is being sent from our law offices in Europe and Asia. when they have too much it spills over to us. Occasionally I get in-house documents- menus for seminar dinners, employee health info- and I get a lot of confidential documents having to do with finances, since we service major corporations whose corporate offices are in New York. What this means is that very often I have a pretty good idea of what companies are merging, which ones are breaking up, and which are about to undergo some major shift- and I can't tell a single soul. I don't even discuss the work with the operators, most of whom aren't interested in the economy anyway. Nor am I allowed to invest based on the documents I see, since I could get in trouble for insider trading.
My office has tons of windows looking out onto Times Square. I see the lights at a distance, but there's no sound. I'm too high up to hear cars, or the tourists who are straggling back to their hotels. The only thing I hear is the ticking clock in my office, the music I sometimes put on, and the conversations of the operators in the next room. The coordinator or an operator will drop in as often as needed to bring me work to proofread, and it's all very slow-paced and sleepy- which is dangerous because that makes it easier to make mistakes. I constantly guard against falling asleep. I only drink coffee during my first work hour, so that the caffeine will be out of my system before I go home to bed. Lunch is around 3am, when I open my lunch container and eat at my desk. Most night workers gain weight on shift, because the only food available is junk, an there are no stores open to tempt one outside for a walk. Bringing lunch keeps me reasonably healthy- I've also lost weight. but it's lonely work, and trying to keep from falling asleep can be difficult. Add to that the fact that the building's thermostat gets turned down; I'm perpetually cold and am usually swathed in scarves and shawls to keep from freezing to death.
When I get off from work I usually can't shop for another two hours- everything is only starting to wake up. socializing is almost impossible, since most people are going to work. My DVR records my favorite shows, and I plan ahead. I have to wait until the weekend to eat out unless I want breakfast. When I go home I force myself to stay awake for a few hours by reading, catching up on my favorite shows, going online, taking a bath. Then I roll into bed at 2pm for a nice night's sleep, and hope a telemarketer doesn't call me. I have velvet curtains at the windows to keep out sunlight.
Why would anyone want to live this way? Well, the money is pretty good. I get to crochet on the job when work is slow and I don't have other talks. I get to avoid sunlight- I've always had very light-sensitive eyes, and this way I'm not in perpetual pain anymore. I get to see museum exhibits in the morning, before they get crowded. plus, I get to pretend that I live in a spaceship. I intend to do this while I pay off some bills, or until I find something that pays more. It would be nice to see movies when they come on tv, or to watch the sun go down. But I get glorious sunrises, fresh bagels, and a chance to live like a vampire. In my book that's not too bad.