27 February 2010

Tangling with Procrustes, or No Gold Medal this Year

It will come as no surprise to people who know me that I often do not know myself as well as I think. A lineup of the men I've dated would be a good indication of that.

So when Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (The Yarn Harlot) alerted her readers that the 2010 Knitting Olympics were on, I decided to sign up. It wasn't until late on the day of casting on, when the Olympic Torch was probably already cold, that I even decided which project I would take on.

I considered mittens (I've knit one pair before; they are MIA and my hands are colder than they like), a baby sweater, a vest for Afghans for Afghans, a slew of things. I tore up Ravelry trying to find a pattern for a vertically knit, preferably seamless sweater for my generously sized self that I could make out of the shitload of this yarn (in the Natural Denim color) that I have been squirreling away, skein-by-40%-off-coupon-skein at one of the Big Box of Yarn stores. I looked at shitloads of patterns for lots of yarn that's kicking around (or, more likely, floundering lonesomely) my house and car. That I do not (yet) have a stash at work is one of my last tenuous arguments for any sort of sanity.

Then I remembered this yarn: Wasonga by Curious Creek Fibers, in a colorway they no longer have: Emerald City. It is the color of true love; of intellectual curiosity piqued, satisfied, and piqued again; of joy and creativity and spiritual renewal and....

And I had no blinkin' idea what I would do with it, but when I saw A. the color, B. there is no silk in it, C. that it is not made in China, and D. the name of the colorway, I knew it had to come home with me. The price tag made me balk briefly, as I don't usually spend this kind of money on myself.

So, when I had that yarn in mind, I began looking at Ravelry again, and found The Garden of Alla shawl. At first I thought it was typo, but, if Wikipedia is to be believed, The Garden of Alla was a bunch of famous apartments that used to be on Sunset Boulevard, owned by Alla Nazimova (unfortunate last name, nu?), an actor who is alleged to have had affairs with Oscar Wilde's niece and one or two of Rudolph Valentino's wives. And, most scandalous of all, she was the godmother of Nancy Davis Reagan.

The shawl hooked me in the heart, I fear. Here, for the Ravelry crowd, is a bunch of pictures that may help to explain my obsession: here's a slew of people who have made them, and here are some pictures I especially like. There's something about the arches of yarn-overs, the spaces between the knitted portions, that makes me think of cathedral domes or something.

Here's the punchline. Tomorrow is the end of the Olympics, of the snow-and-ice variety and of the wool-and-swearing sort, and I have most recently finished row 37. That's the sort of half-circle at the nape of the neck that looks like leaves. The rest of the shawl bears little resemblance to the start.

This is where adjustable expectations comes into play. See, when I made the commitment, I was not aware that the original was knit in worsted weight, while mine is sock yarn. So I am, essentially, creating the Golden Gate bridge with spider silk instead of I-beams.

The day after I cast on, I stopped at a local yarn store and was assured that a size 4 needle was perfect AND that I didn't need to punish myself if I didn't finish the shawl by the deadline. I had already been considering gold, silver, and bronze medal dates, and when I got back that day to the folder with all the project stuff in it, I wrote the following:

"Gold---I finish the shawl by Feb. 28
Silver--- " March 28
Bronze---" May 1

AND I don't kill anyone. It is not fair to get more knitting time by sitting in jail."

It has occurred to me since that I have taken on a task that is not merely a stretch of my knitting prowess and ability to manage my time well, it is a Procrustean bed of a project, requiring its own folder for pattern, pep talks, swearing, planning, and ribbon band. But the facts are that I am still trying, I am making something for myself, I am also knitting what is likely to be the first of many projects for kids in Haiti, I am still working that pesky day job, feeding the dog, and seeing to other commitments. And no one has died at my hands.

Those are seventeen pretty successful days.

22 January 2010

Months later, she poked her head out

from the pile of wool, books, badly written papers and dog hair, and exclaimed, "Uh, oh! This new idea is either brilliant or bughouse."

I was just visiting here, the blog of Franklin Habit, whom I admire greatly and whose writing I adore with the heat of a thousand suns, and my verification word was "dymobl." I thought first of Diebold, then hissed.

Then I read it as "die mobile." Thought I, "Yes, I was planning to be mobile until my death."

Then "dye mobile," [as a verb and adjective pairing, so "mobile" rhymes with "global"] and here's where the trouble began. (Cue T. Rex's glam Druid anthem "Ride a White Swan.") If you are old enough to remember David Cassidy, jeans that were spray-painted onto people's bodies, and David Bowie wearing a year's supply of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner's daily cosmetic regimen, you may remember the Energy Crisis of the early 70s. As always, Americas' patriotic responses were immediate and varied. Some did nothing, other turned their thermostats up to 75, figuring they'd be the last to freeze to death. Some people responded by downsizing to Torinos. Some bought mobile homes large enough to be considered sovereign countries by the U.N. Some made clothing from newly-devised petrochemicals.

And some people cooked dinner in their cars. Really. They tried to save fuel by preparing their food in the morning, wrapping it in aluminum foil, schlepping it to work and stashing it in the refrigerator, then, after work, strapping the cold food package to the engine block and cooking the food on the way home. I think there were car cookbooks. (Is there a Ford fondue in your future?)

So, having read my verification word as "dye mobile," I started wondering if the same thing can be done to yarn. Soak it, drain it, roll it and toss it and mark it with 'B,' hit it up with some coloring agent or other, wrap it in plastic wrap and then foil, then let the car engine work its magic. Voila! Toyota Turquoise! Prius Purple! Buick Bailout Blue!

Godawful Gray Felted Gunk. How hot does an engine get?

I have some 30+-year-old wool given to me by Mom a couple of years ago that's lovely, but it may need a spin on the color wheel. I've got Lion Brand Fishermen's [sic] Wool that was the first yarn I bought that was not Red Heart, each skein a half-pound reminder that not only did the Sweater Curse work before I even had a chance to cast on, but that the Man Who Wasn't Such a Good Idea After All (#5,217 in a series) was a big guy. What the hell did I plan on doing with it, anyway, knit him an Econoline cozy? He wasn't that big (and as a good-sized woman myself and a lover of justice, I despise fat jokes); I am trying to report here that I bought a veritable shitload of wool.

So, instead of grading the last of the papers, I shall be doing some online searching about engine cookery and merrily extrapolating fiberwise.

I love the smell of wet wool in the evening...

(Hmmm... "Die, Mobil" just came to mind, and considering how I feel about corporations as people with the right to free speech, and especially Exxon-Mobil (ask an otter why), I rather liked it.)

15 June 2009

On the wing

On Thursday, I stopped in for a visit to a local knitting group for the first time, and had just given up hope that others would show, when I saw a woman giving up her recon mission for the same crew. What gave her away was the wooden knitting needles (old old old Susan Bates' straights, as it turned out) sticking out of her bag. She joined me at the booth I had set up house in, and, later on, so did a much younger woman whom I had met during a huge, much-hated grading binge two weeks before.

We knit and schmoozed and knit and schmoozed some more, me working on the huge frickin' Felted Bag of Doom referred to in my previous post, then made plans for Saturday's Worldwide Knit in Public Day. (As if I don't do this most days of the week, if only at stoplights.)

It has been striking me upside the head every now and then that if I used something roughly the same sizes as the suggested yarn AND the suggested needles, I wouldn't be here. So now, as I write, the Denial Fairy is taking a vacation to pester someone else, and it occurs to me that I may be making something that will hold exactly two LP records or a set of twenty 12" x 21" index cards. Christ.

I'm going to have to measure it, revamp the directions to make a base that is mathematically related to the sides, and rip out the whole shooting match. Shit. The good news is, I will have enough yarn this time, as I won't be trying to knit a windshield cozy.

And ever more good news is that on Saturday, while knitting in public with glee, talking with a friend whom I have not seen for quite a while, talking with new acquaintances, talking with some of the most charming, enthusiastic, inquisitive little kids I've met in a long time, I saw this season's first ladybug. (One landed on me and rode for a while many years ago when I was walking to campus. I was on my way to find out if I had been accepted into grad school. I had been. I love me some ladybugs.)

It felt as if the Universe were smiling on me.

Today, though, I fear I have pissed off the protector of winged (read as two syllables, please) beasties. When I got home today, my mailbox showed evidence of the presence of squatters. Well, not exactly squatters, as they don't squat. But a couple of birdlettes (sparrows, I think) had taken advantage of the fact that I haven't removed the mail for a couple of days, and they had built a 6" x 4" horizontal twig condo in my mailbox, between a human rights group's invitation to contribute and a big-craft-box store sending me coupons.

I looked for eggs, wondering what I would do if some were present, then removed the nest as gently as I could, even though my head was filled with childhood wisdom about birds smelling the presence of humans and avoiding the egg/chick/bird toys ever after.

I felt bad about destroying the beautiful spiral construction, and considered leaving a few scraps of nice wool yarn for nest insulation, but then realized I had a more primitive, equally usable alternate close to hand, all of the same dye lot. I scrubbed my hands around on the icky carpeting on the stairs and next to the discarded nesting materials, I added my donation of a handful of the Doglette's hair.

Boydog likes birds. If he caught one, he'd try to get in its lap, I'm sure. He will be glad when I tell him he's acting as a long-distance incubator.

In other news, now that I've been reasonable for several days since the end of the strike, now that I've rented two Bollywood movies that did NOT actually have English subtitles as advertised, and now that I've seen two parallel cinema movies that were very good but were utterly fluffless, it's time for a Punjabi wedding or a dancing case of mistaken identity or something, y'all.

Bring out the Bollywood, folks, or someone may get hurt.

07 June 2009


Now that this news has arrived, I can breathe again.

We have been undergoing a monumental technological clusterfuck at work (e-mail and phones out for most of a week, and it's not completely right yet---can anyone imagine this happening in the private sector and people not lose jobs left, right, and center?) which means that they had to quarantine the work-owned laptops. I don't have a TV (mostly by choice but influenced by an amount of twisted pride, I'm discovering), so I watch movies only on my (borrowed) laptop. So imagine me, visibly tense, perhaps flush with anxiety, grinding my teeth, trying not to whine, trying to fool them into thinking I'm a grownup, when they take my computer for two days and overnight. During a Bollywood strike.

Hai Ram, shouldn't that be illegal? In addition to the fact that this is a time when having a computer is vital to where we are in our work-year, and that it is one of the three or four highest-stress parts of our calendar, there's not a new Bollywood movie to be found. My local Bollywood palace did come to the rescue: they ran Jodhaa Akbar for $2 one week, and Swades the next. I went to both, even though I saw the first one twice in the theaters and I own Swades on DVD and have watched it three? four? times, perhaps. (Enough to absolutely dread SRK's a capella rendition of Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You" even though he sings it while bathing, bare-chested, outside. Sigh. Maybe he never heard the original. Maybe he learned it by listening to someone else's off-key version. Maybe he just can't sing. Just before I saw the movie again at the theater, it suddenly struck me that the song was by Foreigner, which doesn't seem accidental anymore.)

But seeing those movies again only slowed down the twitchings of withdrawal, preventing convulsions. I'm still down a couple quarts. Let it be known that I am not happy, Mumbai movie mavens. Mai khush nahi hoon. And my already bad Hindi's getting worse.

Working on this, in Lamb's Pride bulky in a gorgeous turquoise, is helping to keep nausea at bay. I fear it will be mammoth even after being felted, but I can't stop knitting. There are no new Bollywood movies out this week, and if I were to frog four skeins of bulky yarn, I would cry as badly as SRK was directed to overact when leaning against the gazebo at the wedding in Kal Ho Naa Ho, one of my least favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies. The heat of my tears might felt the half-knit yarn, and then where would I be?

I don't know how much more vicious and rambling the parenthetical interjections are likely to get; so next week's new releases had better be good, Mumbai, because I'll learn how to say "shit list" in Hindi, and then you'll be sorry.

08 February 2009

_Luck By Chance_

It's time to grade a stack of godawful papers. That's why I'm here.

I saw Luck by Chance today, and am terrifically happy that I did. Aside from the cameos, and my internal squeal of "Oooooooh! It's ______________" (fill in the blank with the names of Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna, Shahrukh Khan (insert sound of fluttering sighs), Rani Mukherjee, John Abraham, Abhishek Bachchan, Vivek Oberoi, etc.), and the pride that I (a white woman from the suburbs of a medium U.S. city now living in a smaller city) am probably more able to name more current Indian actors than American ones, I am glad to have seen the movie because it was a thought-provoking one.

I tend to doubt that Bollywood is best positioned to critique Bollywood, but there are not enough drugs on planet Earth to make me head to the American versions of People and Entertainment Weekly magazines for information. Wall Street Journal? Yawn. As far as I'm concerned, Hollywood and Bollywood can stay away from each other forever if Saawariya is any indication of what offspring the pairing is likely to produce. Does Slumdog Millionaire (which I loved and will see again) count as a "mixed marriage" of Hollywood and Bollywood if the director is a Brit?

The critiques of less-than-admirable Bollywood practices were more straightforward than snarky, and with a dash of compassion where others might be tempted to go for pure cynicism. (I just read that the director, Zoya Akhtar, is Farhan Aktar's sister, and this is her first movie as director---WOW! Are there lots of women directing movies in India? I tend to think not, but there's a lot I don't know.)

Farhan Aktar is remarkable; I love Dil Chahta Hai to distraction, which he directed and for which he wrote the screenplay, dialogue, and shared the story credits. After I saw Rock On!, a movie that I liked a great deal, I found out that he not only played the lead role, he was the producer, wrote the dialogue, and wrote and sang the songs. Does the man sleep? Perhaps excellence and insomnia run in the family. It almost hurts to look at him, he's so cute, but he's awfully young. He's 35, playing a 25-year-old.

Konkona Sen Sharma is stellar. She's got to be brilliant, as evidenced by her choosing and playing such a wide variety of roles in good movies; how else she can be such a talented actor and still play a mediocre one, as she has done in Luck by Chance and in Aaja Nachle? The two characters are quite different, too. She also wins a huge star on the sidewalk of my heart for actually appearing to be Indian without apology, rather than looking like some of my Italian-American relatives. I wish Bollywood was not so colorstruck. People are supposed to be a variety of colors, especially in South Asia. Anyway, she is lovely. If I were higher on the Kinsey scale...

Juhi Chawla would also have me sighing a lot. (If you're a bad typist, type her first name with your right hand. It's fun.) Maybe it's just me, but Bollywood is creating more roles for female actors over 30 that don't rely solely on Hindustani Helicoptor Maa-ji and Flaky Aunty-ji stereotypes. I hope this movie helps the industry think about the wisdom of discarding some amazing performers who have decades of good work ahead of them.

There's more, but the Internet connection is about to die at the coffeeshop, which really should be one word, regardless of what Webster says.

15 January 2009

In Case You Wondered

The words in quotation marks are borrowed from the web site in question.

"My emo band's name is Unopened Fabulous Homework."

(This is made even funnier by the amount of the poorly written crap that is waiting for me to grade it. This was written by the people who will stop being my students in just a few minutes. Cue celebratory disco music.)

"Take The Emo Band Name Generator today!" Take the generator? Take the generator? "Created with Rum and Monkey's Name Generator Generator."

04 January 2009

A Genre with No Name

(June 26 to January 4? I have no bad excuses and no good reasons. OFW.)

I am eagerly reading Love and Longing in Bombay by (sigh) Vikram Chandra, whose writing grabbed my brain, heart, and ear when I read Sacred Games. What I had initially thought was a novel turned out to be an 800-page commitment that I loved reading until about page 350, when I fell into a swirling, breathless, synapse-popping adoration of every word, phrase, and character.

But Love and Longing in Bombay is called a collection of five stories and it is not a group of stories, at least not any more than The Women of Brewster Place or The Men of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor, Sylvia Watanabe's Talking to the Dead, and other books that are of a genre that may have begun with Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. There are others that I am having trouble remembering. The Temple of My Familiar, my favorite work by my favorite writer, Alice Walker, may fall into this genre, although it has been a long time since I last read it, and my memory--- well, let's just say I do much better in the memory department than I have a right to, and I will leave miracles well enough alone.

All of these writings are the offspring of novels and short stories; their sections may be read separately, but when combined, they are greater than the sum of their proverbial parts. It may be that the characters interact in many tales and/or the themes collide and/or there is a frame that unites seemingly dissimilar narratives.

There are enough of these writings to merit their own name. So what do we call them?
  • "Portmanteau" comes to mind, but it carries too strong a whiff of Lewis Carroll whimsy, and I don't know that the French would approve or that they deserve the credit.

  • "Nova," a back-formation blend of "novel" and "novella"? Nah, the plural would be "novae," which is too unwieldy, and goodness knows, smacks of the villain elitism. [How did it become a social sin to be articulate? Don't we want world leaders to be both educated and thoughtful? I'll leave that rant for another time.]

  • "Helix"? It works as an apt metaphor; the amino acids accomplish together what they can not do alone and form something totally different in the meantime. It is derived from a Greek word descended from the Latin word that means "to roll, wrap," according to our friends at webster.com. In DNA, a helix takes on a third dimension that "spiral" does not, and the depth of the interactions among connected narratives is what makes this my favorite genre. But, the plural is "helices" or "helixes," and the term may require more explanation than it's worth.

  • My mind initially tossed up "masala" before another part of my brain shot it down, ground the idea under its heel, and kicked the mushy scraps into the gutter. The word comes from the Hindi-Urdu term for "materials, ingredients, spices" and, from the phrase garam masala, a blend of "hot spices," [Thanks again, Webster-ji.] is often used to refer to the mixture of genres in Hindi movies, which can have major strands of romance, religious tolerance, political activism, and thrillers without sweating from the effort. "Masala" is used too often for my tastes, if you will pardon the pun. At least it has not become as cloyingly ubiquitous as "awesome," one of my least favorite verbal tics in English. Of course, someone who uses "great," "cool," and (yes, dear Dog, yes,) "neat" as often as I do should not complain.

  • Hmmm. "Tenement tales"? I liked it for a moment, as it refers to many inhabitants and their separateness and connectedness within one structure, but the connotations are not pretty. It does get points for alliteration, but there is the air of an urban setting that is not always accurate.

  • "Condo stories" has the opposite class connotations, and "condo knitting," a style of faux knitted lace in which rows are knit alternately with one small needle and one very large needle, really frightens me, and I don't scare easily. I couldn't find any pictures that convey the horror well enough. Maybe there are sorts that do not bring about fiber nightmares.

  • In addition to the DNA image, there is a woven-ness in this genre with no name that could be fuel for naming, if I knew anything about weaving. "Shuttle," "warp," "weft," nope: in order they smack of sci-fi, sci-fi and/or twisted ugly shit, and a word that will need to be explained every time.

  • "Herringbone" just caught in my throat, and I am "acking" like Bill the Cat.

Any ideas?

To get back to where I started, one of the things I am enjoying about reading Love and Longing in Bombay is that some of the characters from Sacred Games show up in a prequel tale. (Celie and Shug Avery from The Color Purple turned up in The Temple of My Familiar, and I think I cried.) The character Sartaj Singh may in some way be based on the real-life police officer Vijay Salaskar who was killed during the attack on Mumbai in late November. Salaskar was interviewed for Maximum City: Bombay, Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta and may have been part of Chandra's research, as the two traveled together at times; see here for my blog entry about reading this.)

I have been feeling a rereading of Sacred Games coming on since I finished it. I had read about 100 pages and set it aside, then I was given a copy [Thanks, Mom!] and I read it after photocopying the 18-page glossary and using it while reading so as to not wreck my concentration or the binding of the book. I liked the novel Red Earth and Pouring Rain well enough---it is also made up of interconnected tales, but the frame story is overt enough to call it a novel--- but Sacred Games and Love and Longing in Bombay make me want to read everything Chandra has ever written.

But first, I have to read more introductory paragraphs to research papers. This example is from the writing of a 16- or 17-year-old student with no diagnosed learning disabilities; I have modified it slightly in order to protect the indefensible. I gave students guidelines about what an introductory paragraph should be, such as no first- or second-person referents and the inclusion of the thesis statement therein, but it is not evident from his writing.

My project is on the life of otter's. I'm going write on the haBitat, what they eat, How they Breed, even how they catch there food. I want to learn all about this fantastic animal.

Thesis: I am writing on how otter's live, Breed, eat. This will Be a fun project.

"Sweet Jesus, child," I thought. "It won't be fun for me. I wasn't planning to teach fourth graders how to write high school research papers. Do you believe in euthanasia?"


P.S. I tried adding links to titles as I wrote, but the different colors and my constant parenthetical injections made the page look as if I hadn't taken my ADD meds today, but I did, even if I have used blogging today as one of the most blatant excuses to avoid grading papers. So, here are links to the books written about above. Please don't tell me I "referenced" them; I'll cry.

Love and Longing in Bombay by Vikram Chandra
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
The Men of Brewster Place [the independent bookstore search engine wants to sell only as audio cassettes, for some damned reason] by Gloria Naylor
Talking to the Dead by Sylvia Watanabe
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker
Maximum City: Bombay, Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta
Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra