America. We Need To Talk.

This past week I intended to parade more photos of blocked finished objects on the blog.  Instead, I spent the week mourning the deaths of citizens and police officers.  I’ve had to take a break from Facebook and only visit in short periods, preferring the eye candy of Instagram, after the first three days or so of responses.

My take on all of this is, America, We Need To Talk.  Seriously.  We need a literal or figurative Coming To Jesus about this issue of racial violence perpetrated by the State, and the perceived need for retaliation.

Can we acknowledge that despite our country being birthed in a spirit of Some Animals Are Created More Equal Than Others (according to George Orwell), the time has come to move past this premise?  Can we acknowledge that many of the current laws, law enforcement cultural conditioning and assumptions were birthed in a time when slavery was not long past and women may or may not have yet won the vote?  These assumptions are outdated, but they survive.

Can we acknowledge that we as a society are divided and wounded, and that it will take deep cuts to reach the poison, but that this is the only way to heal?

If we cannot acknowledge, and believe it when we say it, that we do not yet live in a post-racial society, that the echoes of a history of slavery still reverberate, that people are still afraid, which is irrational, so difficult to counter, and yet unwarranted, then we cannot move forward.  If we cannot look at the cold, hard, facts and say This is Unjust: the disproportionate police stops, frisks, imprisonments, and deaths of people of color; if we cannot know and understand that laws governing drug arrests and sentencing were born out of racial stereotypes and perceived threat to white women (property of white men), and stand up and say This is Unjust; then we are destined to fail as a society.  We are destined to fail to heal, fail to understand, fail to excise the poison, and fail to thrive.

I am tired on behalf of all of us that have ever felt the need to protect the feelings of someone more privileged in society, be it based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, or wielding of financial and political power.  I am tired of protecting the privilege of those that have always had more power.  I am thankful for white male allies that do not accept the current patriarchy as the only possible paradigm.  But I am also tired of the surprise each time some horrific event transpires (or some event that turns into three – or more – awful national events in one week) and the cycle of acceptance and exhaustion that leads us to ultimately tune out and attempt to move on.  I’m tired of the nay-sayers of white fragility that have chosen not to develop the compassion necessary to be shocked when they learn of others’ experiences, and due to discomfort or perceived threat choose instead to silence the other.

The fact is, nothing has truly changed if we only react with a sad-face on Facebook.  The most important communications I’ve seen this past week have been the lists of concrete actions we can take to change the manner in which law enforcement is implemented in our local communities.

And – we need to have more discussions about the underpinnings of our laws.  Is it still assumed that black men consume coke and, on it, are a threat to white women (property of white men)?  Is it assumed that Mexican men consume an outsized quantity of marijuana and (see last sentence)?  Is the law still on the books in the state of Ohio, for example, that assumes women are the property of some male family member by categorizing rape under property law and damaged goods?  Is it still legal in Texas for a man to rape his wife?

We need to talk about colonialism.  We need to talk about slavery.  We cannot look at the current state of our society, from either the perspective of the minority or that of the privileged, and say this has not influenced our thinking, our behavior, the very assumptions upon which our laws are built.  We are not “colorblind.”  We are not “post-racial.”  We need to decide whether we care about our neighbors, about violence in our communities, about what it means to continue to tacitly permit extrajudicial beatings and killings in a country whose privileged masses collectively think we are the greatest democracy in the world.

When we hear the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” it should not engender a vision of the antebellum South in which white men had the weapons and wielded them over their women, children, and slaves.  It ought to be a phrase that begs a vision of a freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, as it says in our Declaration of Independence. We ought to assume at this stage that “all men” refers to all humans, and reassert that the purpose of government is to protect our “unalienable rights.”  Let us recommit to that ideal, while understanding that the road is long, the night dark, the struggle has not ended, but that so long as any of us is in virtual or actual shackles, none of us is truly free or safe.

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Happy July 4th!

  1. Pendant Stole
  2. Garden Shawl
  3. Fountain Pen Shawl

 

I don’t have anything special planned for today, and it has been a particularly wet weekend here, so I haven’t joined any of the community outdoor activities either.

But I began watching the “John Adams” miniseries, and while I don’t often feel particularly patriotic, the luxury of living in a free nation I suppose, it makes a big difference to watch a version of history that makes it real.  I feel more connected when I can connect to historical figures through their characters as they are represented on the screen, and to understand the reality of their daily circumstances in the months and years leading up to independence from Britain.

Of course, every account, especially one presented on the screen, is biased and fictionalized to some extent, but I believe that we can learn a lot from fiction, too, and many fiction writers write to teach and to convey a message.  In this case, it is to understand in a way that allows me to put myself in the shoes of some of these historical figures the reasons that they needed to express in a document the truths they held to be self-evident.

Having lived in countries in which people are less free, I know the struggle is important.  In this day and age, we as Americans are still struggling to ensure that these truths, about the rights of humans, that our forefathers held to be self-evident, are manifested in each citizen’s reality, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

So it seems a little disingenuous to me to say “Happy” July 4th, but perhaps “July 4th observed and the struggle continued” is more appropriate to echo my sentiments.  Not as catchy, I realize…

Are you celebrating the 4th?  How are you connecting with the historical significance of the day?

 

Everybody owes it to the world to make it a little bit better

Mostly the linked article is about coming to terms with not needing “stuff.” But I liked this quote, too.

“People doing good things on this earth, leaving the world a better place. It doesn’t matter what you do — if you do for cats, fine; if you do for Uganda, fine; if you do for trees,” she says. But “everybody owes it to the world to make it a little bit better.”

– Barbara Roche Fierman, as quoted in the New York Times, being interviewed about her tiny white apartment.

So what if I never finish?

Something finished:IMG_1925

This weekend, someone in my life asked me to face one of my demons. This was not an intentional discussion, and I suspect that if this person knew me better, the conversation would have gone in a different direction.

So much of knit blogging discusses stash, Flash Your Stash, Latest Stash Acquisitions, photos upon photos of the endless stuff that we all collect. I even did this in the last post, but mainly to show off a yarn dyer that I like who runs her own business and was raising money for charity.

The consumerist nature of most of it fatigues me a little, but on the other hand, it IS exciting to have all this potential at one’s disposal.

I said something along these lines recently to Mel over at Purling Plans: What is important to me about having a wheel, fleece, a camera, needles, yarn, even dye, is the potential for creation that exists within each of these sets of tools. We combine them to not only create beautiful materials, but eventually produce a garment, which we like to photograph and stick up on the blog. Not all of my materials are used. A lot of them currently sit by the wayside, waiting to go to Good Will or be selected for a project. I’m a self-proclaimed packrat, and I have a hard time getting rid of anything, even those ugly, lonely skeins that I bought way back when, before I knew how to plan my yarn purchases. (Back when I was utterly astounded to read that Eunny kept no stash at all. How was that possible?)

But, this post is not so much about stash. It is about the value of finishing things.

The day after the conversation I haven’t yet told you about, I opened my Interweave Spring 2009 to work on the Fountain Pen Shawl. Pulling out the shawl was a direct result of a previous conversation about finishing things – I picked up a UFO and started working toward finishing. In the magazine, there is a one-pager by Vicki Square that encourages us to start as many projects as we like. The idea is that finishing just for the sake of finishing doesn’t feed the creative juices. There are many other aspects to the type of knitting we do now (compared to the utilitarian fare of my grandmother before, during, and after WWII for example) besides just binding off and sewing on buttons.

My intent is not to just start a million projects and never finish any. But I suppose I have different levels of investment in each object’s finished status. If it’s cold and I really want to wear it, I’ll finish. If a baby is coming along, hopefully I’ll finish! When my aunt was diagnosed with cancer, I knit three hats in no time flat. Socks – I wear ’em lots, so I finish. Holiday gifts? Usually.

If there is a hard deadline, of course I finish. Not a problem.

But for me, knitting is a state of being, a constant activitiy, and part of that state wants meditative repetition, creating a tendency to put something down when I reach a hitch in the work. Another part wants experimentation, which leads to seeking out new patterns, new yarns, new techniques, new visual experiences. So, sure, many times I stop before finishing. This doesn’t mean the project is doomed, but frankly, it bothers me not a bit if it takes three years to complete. Not a bit.

The other day, I was confronted by someone completely confounded by this approach. I was told that I should not start so many things. I was told that the time I spend on knitting could be spent on other activities (Like what? -work. Work!). Sure, I suppose that’s true. I could clean more, read more, watch more movies, exercise more, cook more, pick up another hobby, or simply finish more knitted objects.

I’m content to ignore the advice, because I find that I’m interested enough in finishing. Most of us are more interested in starting, and I find no problem with that, unless you’re broke or there’s no more room in your house.

The aspect of finishing that is not so interesting is the elimination of potential. I know I keep using that word, but I find it’s the essence of why I collect stitch and pattern books, why I swatch, why I like having skeins or bumps hanging around and imagining their final destiny. Once finished, they’ve met their fate, and there isn’t so much left to the imagination.

Maybe my projects are more like large swatches, with the potential to actually become something one day. Would anyone wonder about finishing if all I had were a big box of swatches instead?

Don’t get me wrong, there is a great sense of satisfaction once something is finished, when we wear it around and someone asks about it, even knows that it could be handknitted. We all know that bashful pride when we say, Why yes, I DID make this myself.

In the mean time, I’ll keep plugging away on anything and everything that catches my fancy. This is my pastime, which feeds my need to create, to have color and texture in my life. I see my (slightly disorganized) collection of materials in my living space as a studio, in which I am responsible only to myself.

So what if I never finish?

“A livable bento box” vs. “Accumulation and its discontents”

This post is not about knitting.

This post is about living according to our means and economizing space.

I came across this article in the NYT and was fascinated by the notion of transforming a New York City apartment into something you would find in Tokyo (“only bigger”), partly because I spent my year abroad during college in Japan, and partly because I have always liked a clean, minimalist aesthetic despite not being able to achieve it.

This apartment is 1300 square feet, larger than an entire house I recently imagined buying, but still – how to fit a family of four in, plus all their stuff? The slide show illustrates some ingenious uses of space, and although I can’t post any of the photos here, it is worth clicking over because the written description in the main article doesn’t do it justice.

Although I often ruminate about what it means to live within a given space, and live sustainably, I haven’t quite reached the point of acting on it. I know that this family put away all their worldly goods and clutter for the sake of the photo shoot, but there is still something in me that kind of believes they live like this all the time.

Mainly I appreciate the idea of economizing on whatever it is that’s there for us – space, food, clothing, necessities that are consumable or not consumable.

This idea is attractive to me, in this day and age, because in the US, it’s anathema to the currently promoted way of life: we do not have limits the way previous generations have. We can buy clothes every day and then throw them away (or send them to Africa, which has ruined the textile industry there, but that’s a different post). We don’t have to save tinfoil and turn it in to that formerly-ubiquitous junk guy for a dime to go to the theater, once a week, because there weren’t 17,000 showings each day. We don’t have rations.

I’m not trying to glamourize events or times that have meant hardship for many. I’m just saying, there is value in many of the approaches that have been taken out of necessity, which most of us don’t practice anymore. For instance, who can relate to rationing of clothing and materials that were instituted during WWII, and what that meant for clothing design? Cargo Cult Craft explores just this question and put herself on a fashion ration for a year.

The other article that I wanted to capture here is called Documenting Accumulation and Its Discontents and discusses an artist that has made a commitment to minimalism in her home with her partner, but has solicited stuff from people – and not just any stuff, but things that have incredible meaning and therefore could not be gotten rid of. Corinne May Botz, the artist featured, has convinced people to send her these items and promised them a photo in return. The only problem is, she’s not sure where to put the stuff.

I love this idea of sending away Things That Cannot Be Gotten Rid Of, but preserving them with a photo. I do suffer from clutterism and packrattism, but maybe this is a way to relieve the symptoms: Take a Photo, Send Away.

The quote I will preserve from this article was made by Catherine Roster, research director for the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization:

“Getting rid of a possession means abdicating all the pleasures and rights of that possession. And that freaks people out. It goes like this: ‘I got this from Aunt Maria; I can’t get rid of it. I spent a lot of money on this; I can’t get rid of it. I wore this a year ago, I might wear it again; I can’t get rid of it. If I get rid of it, I’ve lost all these opportunities.’ That’s a kind of death.”

Because indeed, is this not exactly the challenge of trying to become minimalist? For me it is, anyway. So many opportunities can turn into paralysis. The attraction of the bento house is also potential and opportunity, but devoid of accumulations.

Become What You Are

Lamb

I’m not saying I plan to become a shepherd (though I’m not saying I’m not?). Just that this episode embodies something about my current thought processes of late. Plus, what a great story! Thanks to the Twisted Threads list for pointing me in this direction.

I Am a Shepherd
Susan Gibbs
Former CBS News producer and current full-time shepherd

A few weeks ago, I went to a friend of a friend’s birthday party in Washington D.C.. I didn’t know anyone and ended up talking to a nice young man who had just been accepted to an Ivy League architecture school. He was excited and earnest, and eventually got around to asking me what I do.

This may sound like a simple question but for some reason, it makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes I say, “I’m a farmer” which is perfectly true, but it doesn’t ring very true to me. I think because it brings to mind crops, or cattle or something. I have a huge amount of respect for farmers, but I don’t really identify myself as one.

Sometimes I just say something vague about being in the yarn business. Non-knitters don’t really have anywhere to go with this, which is fine, and knitters look at me like I’m made of cake, also fine. I’m happy to answer questions about my flock, my farm, and my lifestyle. But, in all honesty, the ‘business’ part of “yarn business” doesn’t ring altogether true, either.

What I want to say when people ask me what I do, what I like to say and what feels like the truest answer is, “I’m a shepherd.” And the only reason I don’t usually say it is because every time I say it to a man – and I mean every single time – the gentleman smirks a bit and asks, “Do you have a crook?” To which I reply, “Yes. I do.” It’s annoying.

Most people have never met a shepherd and the idea seems sort of silly or precious. But shepherding is a noble and serious profession dating back more than 6000 years. Being a shepherd means being responsible for the care of a flock and being a good steward of the lands they graze. It’s about surrendering yourself to the rhythms of the seasons, slowing your life down to match the pace of the animals and being ever watchful, ever vigilant. It’s about putting the needs of flock first, doing your absolute best for them and then worrying all the time anyway.

I’ve never felt like I became a shepherd when I got my sheep. It was more like I always was a shepherd and I didn’t know it until the sheep found me. They instantly gave my life a purpose and they’ve continued to do so every day since then. I am a shepherd to my boots. It isn’t glamorous or sexy or easy to explain, but it’s all I want to be.

So, when the earnest architect-to-be asked me what I do for living, I looked him in the eye and said, “I’m a shepherd.” And he surprised me. He smiled sweetly and said, “That’s really great. You should have business cards made and put ‘shepherd’ on them.”

I didn’t say anything. I just pulled one out of my wallet and gave it to him.