…But is it art?

Fear not – this isn’t going to be one of those posts that wafts about the idea of whether knitting is an “art” or a “craft” and what that particular semantic exercise means in terms of intrinsic or perceived value of the pursuit or of the finished object, the role of gender differential in determination of worth, etc. etc.

Actually, from my postings of late, probably nobody expects me to talk about knitting at all any more (is this a knit-blog?  Well, no.  Actually not.  It’s the blog of someone who happens to knit and goes through various fits of actually writing about it.  I think the first three years or so of the blog was almost entirely knit-free, as a matter of fact.  Interesting, that – well, to me.  Stop with the parenthetical digressions before you lose your readers, J.  Oh.  Okay).

No, what I meant to dash in and link to and dash away again was more about two ideas I’m sort of holding up next to one another and seeing if they have anything to do with one another or if they’re just two things I happened across yesterday.  One is the re-thinking and re-crafting of an art* form, introduced into my current thinking queue by Steve Martin’s biographical essay in Smithsonian about his early career.  Here is a guy who took the idea of “joke” and turned it on his head.  In my humble opinion, he and some of his contemporaries (Monty Python in particular) enlarged the entire idea of comedy.  Instead of the ordered logic of: setup, punchline, laugh, this group went along with something more along the lines of: setup, pick one or more of the following:

  1. random digression
  2. oddball silliness (e.g. a fish-slapping dance, banjo playing, nonsense words)
  3. OJARIL**
  4. any combination of seeming opposites (stiff authority and silly walks, superheroes and suburbs, scripture and instruction manuals, etc.)
  5. taking a complete and utter absurdity of a premise and carrying it solemnly up to and past its “logical” conclusion (Cf: The Parrot Sketch or Upper Class Twit of the Year, or Martin’s “I gotta get me a pair of cat handcuffs and I gotta get ’em right away. What a drag…I found out my cat was embezzling from me…He’d go down to the bank, disguised as me—little kitty nose and glasses, little kitty arrow through the head…”)

…and in the case of the Pythons, then off to a Terry Gilliam cartoon/fever dream that would end up morphing into the next sketch (because they never could end their sketches, or so it seemed).  I seem to recall that Martin’s bits tended to either trail off or ram straight into the next one as well (not having a cartoonist stashed somewhere on his white-suited person). 

Oh, and by the way, insert “laugh” wherever you like in the above.  There’s no punchline to wait for.

Compare that (or not – like I said, I’m still holding these ideas up next to one another and seeing if they have anything to do with one another) with these “reviews” of milk at Amazon.  It strikes me that this is almost the creation of a new form of expression.  Coleridge poems reimagined as odes to milk, neo-noir vignettes featuring milk, extended absurdist plays on the notion of “jugs” somehow wrapped into a sweetly nonsensical story of a couple’s engagement, and of course the inevitable haiku.  All written as a response to the idea of how innately absurd it is to write a review of a commodity item.

Is there a connection here, apart from the temporal one of my having seen both of these yesterday? 

*Humor is so an art form.  Work with me here.

**The Python’s term for Eric Idle’s rambling and yet rapid fire monologues.  It stands for “Old Jokes and Ridiculously Irrelevant Links.”

I don’t do resolutions

But recent discussion with friends has shown me how much I’ve fallen away from some things I used to enjoy. Namely, creative stuff. Yes, I do this, and I twiddle with sticks and string and come up with (mostly)wearable stuff. But once upon a time I used to fiddle with watercolors and other fine art stuff.

So, today I bought this


And looked at this


And made this

Art.  (Sorta)

If I hear “Well, if it keeps us safe…” in a so-called security line One. More. Time.

In the end, IÂ’m not sure which is more troubling, the inanity of the existing regulations, or the average AmericanÂ’s acceptance of them and willingness to be humiliated. These wasteful and tedious protocols have solidified into what appears to be indefinite policy, with little or no opposition. There ought to be a tide of protest rising up against this mania. Where is it? At its loudest, the voice of the traveling public is one of grumbled resignation.


(Yes, I’ve been more or less off the grid. Back in a more organized way soon.)

Memery by way of Think-Link

Cici was kind enough to want to know what randomness I could come up with in eight easy bites.  Despite promising myself no memes, I realized I had several not-quite blog posts rambling around in my head, as well as some responses to stuff I had read, so I figured I’d come up with eight of them.

1. Weather: It was cold enough this morning that I ran in my new quilted vest purchased from my favorite purveyor of inexpensive workout-wear: Target (it’s also bright pink enough that John burst out with, “Run Barbie, run!”).  I watched my breath puffing in the cold air and thought about how swiftly we have come to this chill, austere point in the year.  I was also grateful for the end of Daylight Savings, since I have a few weeks’ reprieve from running in the dark.  My mom, an afternoon walker, had a simultaneous notion in the opposite direction.  You can’t please everyone.

2. Semantics: How telling is it that the original last sentence of the paragraph above was, “You can’t please anyone?”

3. Knitting: I am simultaneously working on a cozy cashmere vest and a rough-ish wool sweater.  Both items are for me (Mine!  All mine, I tell you!).  Both have their charms, and though they are very different textures, it appears I have entered my Tweed period.

4. Holidays part 1: I am horribly behind in my Christmas shopping.  Normally I am one of those really annoying people who starts Christmas shopping in January.  Aside from a few purchases squirreled away from our vacation this year, I have no idea what I’m doing.  This is a recipe for disaster: panic, overspending, and disappointment (mine, at least) are sure to ensue.

5. Holidays part 2: Having knit for everyone (and I mean everyone) on my gift list last year, almost nobody is getting a handknit gift this year.

6. Television: We are watching the old BBC series, “All Creatures Great and Small” from Netflix.  I remember it being a high treat when I was a kid.  It may be even better now.

7. Family: I am eagerly awaiting my best friend’s baby, who if she doesn’t arrive soon of her own accord is going to garner herself an eviction notice.  I keep getting e-mails from Maria titled, “Still Pregnant.”  This is good news at 4 months.  It is tedious news at 9+ months (and yes, I am aware that pregnancy is measured in weeks and perhaps days and possibly hours at this point – all I know is the kid was due on the 5th.  She’s late, and Auntie Jill is a punctual sort.  Get out here so I can meet you and commence spoiling you, kiddo).

8. Blogging: I am selfishly delighted that Lianne is blogging regularly.  She’s a delight and a wonder to behold, the way she approaches the world with humor, insight, patience, and intelligence.  I only wish that she were coming to visit me on her travels.

You’re supposed to tag eight people at this point, but I shall do the cop-out thing and say tag yourself if you wish to participate.

Courage, Miss Honeychurch, courage and faith… The steel knives… are in the other carriage.

There are two kinds of faith: stupid and smart. Where the atheists fall apart is when nobody bothers to explain the difference to them, and I speak as one of them; overcoming the stupid kind of faith inevitably leads to a denigration of the smart kind, because they both look the same from the outside.

Interesting – I’ve never quite put it that way, but I have had friends with a swift and dismissive way with faith and religion that has sometimes bothered me deeply. I’m not one of the faithful myself, but I have a lot of respect for the things that motivate people (respect as in, “I have a lot of respect for that dog’s ability to take my arm off”). There’s a sort of juvenile whistling in the dark that is characterized by, “F**k that s**t – it’s stupid. Opiate of the masses, dude,” and this automatically dismissive attitude is not only dangerous because religion in the service of hate and fear can create chaos and pain – but also because religion in the service of love and caring can create hope and joy. It may not be the same hope and joy that a TV show provides us when we see Martha and the Doctor view Tim Latimer’s wartime honors with poppies on their lapels, but it’s a sibling or cousin.

What use is hope and joy? Well, I for one believe better things and better worlds can be created out of it. Certainly, from my perspective our entertainment is made better by it (the creators of works like “Saw” can keep their unrelieved brutality – I don’t have need for it in my psyche). But doesn’t inspiration have real, practical value also? I see photographs of the Great Wall of China, and I have to grimly acknowledge the accomplishment, but it does not make me want to go out and build. However, when I see labors of love – fine lace, a beautifully crafted home, the soaring and capricious gravity of a Calder mobile – my hands itch to make, my brain starts to weave words that might be worth reading.* I see something, I think about what it might mean: if there is joy there, it gets my own creative process moving.

How this differentiates (or if it differentiates) from the mad experience of having one of my HS English teachers get up at a chalkboard and ask a class of wary teenagers to identify all of the potential themes we could from William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” letting us gradually spin ourselves into a sort of giddy oblivion culminating in the realization that when you say everything depends on something (even or especially when it is as prosaic an object as a red wheelbarrow or simple wooden cross) that yes, in fact “everything” means exactly what it says, I don’t know. There is a code, and it’s no code at all, and those who say, “This means only what it says on the page,” and those who say, “This is symbolic of X and never Y,” are both as incorrect as they can be.

Religion, like art, either speaks to our selves – our personal experiences – or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t speak to you it may or may not entertain. If it does… it can inspire.

*Though anyone might get it wrong from simply looking at exteriors:
Rev. Eager: Remember the facts about this church of Santa Croce; how it was built by faith in the full fervour of medievalism.
Mr. Emerson: Built by faith indeed! That simply means the workers weren’t paid properly.

Oh, no…

Stephen Fry has a blog.

Will any of us ever get anything done ever again? 

To get to Omega, it helps to have Alpha

I was chatting with my mom the other night about simple tasks and the fine line between appealing simplicity and tedium.  I think no matter how dynamic a person may be, they will enjoy a pursuit that someone else would label, “Warning: this task is so dull it could put a Buddhist monk to sleep.”  Sometimes, the line between the tedious pursuit and the enjoyable one can be so seemingly arbitrary that it baffles.  For instance: I hate hand-sewing woven fabric.  I’m not good at it, I don’t enjoy it, it bores me to tears.  But I will sit and painstakingly stitch a knitted garment together, or kitchener two pieces of lace into a single unit without a shred of boredom.  It sends me to a meditative place, alpha waves radiating happily off of my brain until I reach completion.

What is the difference that makes plying a needle so different from… plying a needle?  Beats me.  What I do know is that my usual stimulus-seeking, “are we there yet?” personality is somehow calmed and soothed by finishing or blocking a piece of knitwear.  Similar to walking a meditation labyrinth, the measured pace of these simple activities calms and focuses the mind.  Given that I am so often so intent on zipping through, getting to the end, getting things DONE and behind me, it’s reassuring that I have a calmer side.

Design Process

I have discovered that I design the way I write. An idea percolates up, there is a small burst of mental activity. This mental burst may be accompanied by a corresponding activity, or it may just add to a picture of the finished product. Notes may or may not be taken. Brain may be cursed at for deciding notes need not be taken.

Basically, there’s no real “process” at all.

Currently, I have a sweater in mind. It should fulfill the same functions as a sweatshirt – a go-to garment for a chilly day – but the design should be more flattering. Casual, but not too sloppy. Yarn should be soft, but reasonably hard-wearing. Comfy. A color that is somewhat complementary to the usual colors I wear. Collar, cuffs and hem in a slightly unusual stitch to add interest, but lying flat and producing no (or not much) extra bulk. Some ease, not too much. Slightly fitted at the waist.

When I visited New York with my mom, I went down to School Products and bought an enormous cone of their (in)famous cashmere/merino. As advertised, knitted off the cone it was sort of sticky and industrial.

After a couple of washings, it bloomed and blossomed and is generally yummy.

I also swatched for edgings – the one on the right is the winner.

Design swatches

Now I just need to finish my “Print o’ the Wave” stole before I launch headlong into this… That’s pretty much the only process here. Otherwise, it’s just swatch, measure, and jump.

Om Ganesha ya nama

I’m big on rewards. I like having things to look forward to, to have the sense of earning something, to cap an accomplishment with something that I will savor. Sometimes the treat is unrelated to the accomplishment, but more often it is thematically related, and sometimes even symbolic. For instance, if I get through the end of August and am still running (so far, so good), I will bestow an iPod nano upon myself, complete with Nike thingamabobs to keep track of my continued running progress.

Back in my unemployed days, I promised myself that I would buy a necklace from Satya when I found a job. As much as I live online, I envisioned going in to the shop and carefully selecting the necklace that would symbolize the resolution to the long quest that combined unrelenting tedium, abject terror, and bitter disappointment.

In the long-delayed denouement to this quest (I’ve been employed for over two years now), I went to Greenwich Village this weekend and purchased this. I was especially keen on finding a Ganesha (for a whole slew of reasons, not the least of which that an image of him was my computer desktop for months during my job search), and I loved the approachability of this iteration, which is less iconic than the usual framed approach. The addition of the gemstone’s color and the lotus were gravy – I have my little elephant-headed god hanging below the hollow of my throat.

A side-effect of carrying Ganesha around with me is that I’ve been thinking about obstacles – how they function, when they’re good, when they’re bad, and when you yourself can be the obstacle. Lianne has some good points about this today – to bend her metaphor to mine, what she carries or has carried has created her obstacles. To be perfectly obvious, it’s what we mean when we say we are getting in our own way. What can really be hard is knowing when we are the obstacles to our own goal.

I don’t know how I am currently being my own obstacle. In some ways, I am getting things right: for instance, I am no longer in my own way when it comes to exercise. I am back on the right track with my yoga practice. But I know there are things I want to accomplish that I am not getting done. I can’t even see the beginning of the road to getting there, or what to lay aside to lighten my load.

Do I need another reward? Some carrot to lure me onward towards my goal? Can the reward be the obstacle-remover itself?