Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Another f-word - fog!

Thank you all for the many interesting and thoughtful comments on my last post.  I truly enjoyed reading each one of them, and I wrote back to everyone for whom I have an email address (I think one of the best bits about writing a blog is the follow-up conversations).  (And Polly - thanks for sending your students this way; if any of them want to comment, they should please feel free, and/or they are welcome to send me an email.  I wonder if it mightn't be a thought to have our classes have a virtual conversation sometime?  I'd love to know more about your class!)

But in the meantime, today I finally got a bit of another of my favorite f-words - fog.  I really, really love fog, and I have been lamenting the total lack thereof around here.  While the East Coast was getting slammed with Sandy (I hope everyone back there has come through the storm with a minimum of damage, and that you and your loved ones are all safe), we got Santa Anas.  Not nearly so frightening (unless they come with fires, but this time we got lucky), but it does mean wild temperature swings and very very dry air, all of which makes me cranky.  (There's just something weird about going to swim at 6:15, when it's 48 degrees - outdoor pool, btw - and then, by noon, it's 78+ degrees, and the air conditioning is blasting in the building.  Dudes, how do you even dress for that?)(OK, I know the answer - layers.)

But this morning when I woke up, the world was blanketed in fog.  Tilly and I went for our weekly walk at our local open space, about which I've written before, and today it was a new and mysterious world.
I had already determined to try to add another leg onto my usual walk, and I found myself utterly disoriented in the fog.  This little open space is usually dominated visually by what everyone calls "the mountain" (not a mountain) - an old volcanic core that sits in the middle of a network of trails like the one in that picture.  And I couldn't see it at all - it was invisible in the fog.  I wandered along my path, utterly sure that I knew exactly where I was, until I came out in a place that didn't seem familiar at all.  It took me a long moment to realize that I was back where I'd started, heading for the creek crossing from the other direction - everything looked weirdly familiar and utterly strange at the same time.  There's a metaphor in there somewhere, I'm sure.
It's funny how the fog, by blocking those eye-catching long views, calls attention to the immediate and intimate.  Bird-song and laughter were all there to hear, even when the noise-makers were invisible.  I could smell the rotting tules - the water levels are low, and it's that time of year.  Would I notice that, if I could see the ocean in the distance?
And there were beautifully skeletal plants, reminding me that it's Samhain - time to step back and notice that the world is turning again, heading for the dark time, when things rest quietly, when decay makes room for new growth in the spring.
This always feels to me like it should a quiet, contemplative moment in the year's cycle - odd, as it comes right as everyone seems to be gearing up for holiday madness (already!), and I find myself wanting to sit, just quietly, rather like Ferdinand in his field, contemplating the cyclic nature of change.  Somehow this time of the year, my motto goes from being "You can't win for trying", to "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose."  (I should note that, in this mood, I tend not to mean it in its wry sense, but instead in the sense that, underneath all the hubbub and busyness and surface changes that catch our eyes from day to day, there is a deeper, longer stillness and coming-around-again that I find comforting.)

I'm knitting some things that feel like foggy weather does to me, too, appropriately enough.  I've finished the body of the Wine Dark Sea II sweater (I'm wearing the old, baggy, comfy one today).
I'm worried that it might be too short, so I'm blocking it, to find out for sure.  If it is, I'm going to rip it back and add a few inches.  I really want to get this one exactly right.  I am, though, very happy with the neckline shaping - I never seem to get v-necks right, but this one fits just the way I wanted it to.
The edging has turned out well, too!

And I'm working on a new pair of socks.  (As a quick update, I turned the heel on the Silk Road socks, only to find out that I'd made an assumption - and you know what they say about assumptions - that was wrong.  So some ripping back is in order.  More on that next time.)
These are, I think, going to be part of a series of socks that I'm calling in my head Longjohns Socks.  Basically, what I wanted from these is a pair of socks that feel like pulling on longjohns - warm and comfy and comforting.  They're knitted from the toe up, so as not to waste an inch of this yarn (Zen Yarn Garden cashmere sock), with my happy bottom-of-the-foot eye-of-partridge heel flap, and, for this pair, a double moss stitch leg.  I've found a couple of other stitch patterns that I think would suit themselves to this kind of sock, so I'll probably knit another few pairs in the series, with some of the "luxury" skeins of sock yarn that I've stashed away for "special".  I might even write these up and put them on Ravelry - do you think this is the sort of thing more people than I would like?

I should mention that this mid-week post came courtesy of a weekend working in Northern California (language revitalization trainings) last weekend, and another trip to Tehachapi this coming weekend.  I tend not to have much energy for posting when I travel that much, so I thought I'd better grab the chance while I could.  So I probably won't post again until mid-next week at the soonest.  In the meantime, I wish you all a contemplative Samhain.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The F word

No, not that f-word, people.  The other one.  The one that should have come up during the Presidential debates this past week.  The one that people seem to avoid like the plague - and as a linguist, I always find it intriguing when people do that, and then I wonder why, and then I write posts like this one.  You know the word I'm talking about: feminism.  For those of you who are less in the mood for that kind of contemplation, there is knitting content in this post (ironically, in a post-modern sort of way); please feel free to skip to the end for that.

I don't know how many of you watched the debate this week, but at one point, one of the questions brought up something near and dear to my heart: a woman asked what each of the candidates would do in the next four years about the fact that women (still) earn about $.73 to the dollar compared to men (for doing the same jobs with the same qualifications, she didn't say, but I will).  There are a couple of things to talk about, vis-a-vis the answers. 

Thing the first is the one that's been all over the interwebs ever since: Mitt Romney's answer and his (now-infamous, and probably never-to-be-lived-down) binders full of women.  As soon as he said that, I thought - this one's sticking, and as a linguist, of course, I find it interesting to think about why that is.  What is it about that part of his answer that is so utterly meme-able?  There were so many other things about his answer that I found noticeable that didn't take to the airwaves in the same way.  For example, when he said that he received no female candidates for posts in his cabinet, the question I think he should have been asking right away is not, how do I get binders full of women to ask to apply, but instead, why aren't women applying to work in my cabinet?  What message am I failing to get across that makes women feel that they don't want to apply?  What broader social forces are at play that make women not apply to positions of power more generally?  What is going on here?  But OK, he didn't.  The next issue with that answer was the fact that his protestations that he knows qualified women sounded all too much like a recognized trope when a person with prejudice is confronted with that prejudice, and they respond: "But I have lots of friends who are X".  That phrase usually doesn't mean what it sounds like it means.

The binders full of women, though, that's what struck a nerve (judging by the amount of space devoted to it on social networks).  Interestingly, it's the way that it's been used to mock another powerful man altogether that I think gets to the heart of the problem with it.  I'm not sure if any of you have seen the Bill Clinton "I heard there's a binder full of women!" pictures going around (I've seen at least three iterations, and heard about several more), but it seems to me that those point to the issue here: it's about objectification.  It's about the idea that women are interchangeable, available, tokens.  Because the binders full of women don't get at the real problem - why women didn't apply, why women are still paid less than 75% of what men are paid, why there wasn't a woman standing on that stage answering those questions - and because those binders don't get at answers to those questions, they seem far too much like a pat on the head, a brushing-aside or covering-over of a very large problem.

Because let's be honest - neither candidate answered the question worth a damn.  Both of them talked about access, about the idea that women should have access to jobs.  They're right, women should.  But if we end up doing the jobs that men do for 25% less, then do we really have access to the "same" jobs, with the same benefits?  Does that really address the question of why women are considered to be 25% less valuable in the workplace?  Or of why that number has been going down again in recent years, rather than up?  Does it address the fact that most single-parent homes with children in them are headed by women, who then must support those families on 3/4 of the income their male counterparts would get for working as hard as they do?  Does it address the fact that when women do, finally, begin to get access to a particular career, that career loses prestige and, concomitantly, pay?  (If you think I'm wrong, look at the difference in pay in medical careers like family practice as opposed to surgery - still male-dominated; or look at what's happened to professorial pay since women gained more, although still not equal, access to the halls of academia; look at the differences in pay between the areas of academia that have more women in them relative to those that are still male-dominated.)

Speaking only as an N of 1, I have seen this same thing happen to me.  A year after I was hired in my current job, my department hired a male professor who had not yet completed his Ph.D.  He earned more than I did, even though I had both the degree and more years of experience in the classroom.  More recently, my department hired another male professor who is, as yet, untenured (note: I have held my job for nearly eleven years, have had tenure for five years, and I am currently the chair of my department); he is paid almost exactly what I am paid.  Both men are valuable colleagues, worth their pay.  But why are my experience and skill (and my degree), not worth more?  I have published as much, earned as many awards, taken as little time on leave, etc etc.  But I am not worth as much.  And for anyone who would say that money isn't everything - that is true in a philosophical and existential sense, but in a capitalist society (which, for our sins, we are), money is one of the most central ways by which we judge, and reward, our perceived sense of what a person is worth in a particular role.  More practically, money is how we feed ourselves and our families, clothe our children, give them opportunities, help others in society.  It might be nice to think it doesn't matter, but it does.

So, what I want to know is, why did neither of those presidential candidates talk about (here it is, brace yourselves) feminism?  About the idea that there should be a social movement that advocates for women, and that continues to do so until women are treated as equal citizens, and that people of both sexes should proudly sign on to such a movement?  Why did neither of them mention the Equal Rights Amendment - you know, the one that would acknowledge, under the law, that women are the equal of men?  Why do people insist that there is no point in such a thing, that women are already equal to men under the law?  If that were true, why is it that women still do not have the opportunities that men have?  Why are we treated differently?  I have two daughters, and I hate like hell the thought that when they grow up, they will still be part of a world that values them less, that tells them that their roles as mothers are critical to our society but then says that their roles as mothers makes them less-valuable people (and it is still true that mothers are paid even less than their single counterparts, while fathers are paid more than their single counterparts - in other words, parenthood makes men good risks, but women bad risks in the workplace).

Dudes.  I am a feminist.  That doesn't mean that I hate men.  It doesn't mean that I think all women should burn their bras, neglect their children, go into the workforce, be the same as one another, create a society in which women dominate men and abuse power.  It does mean that I think that women should have access to a full range of options for personhood, that they should be paid equally to men when the option that they choose is to enter the workforce.  I also think that women who stay at home to raise their children should have access to social security earned during the years they are at home with dependent children, in their own names (rather than having to depend on their husbands' - or, worse yet, trying to access some portion of their ex-husbands'), and, maybe, even access to affordable healthcare?  Call me a socialist, but if we tell people that one important path a person could choose to take is to be home with their children for part of their childrens' growing up, then we should put our money where our mouths are.  (Note: I think stay-at-home dads should have the same benefits.)

I don't think that's going to happen until a couple of other important things happen first.  One of those is for women to stop back-biting when their compatriots choose a different path than their own.  I work outside the home, and have since my girls were little.  That does not make me a bad mother.  It doesn't make my husband a hen-pecked man whose masculinity I have taken away by refusing to allow him to provide for his family alone (I have been told both things more than once).  A woman who stays home with her children is not an anti-feminist by definition.  Breast-feeding neither makes a woman a great mother, nor a bad feminist.  Not breast-feeding neither makes a woman a bad mother, nor a great feminist.  When did we get so judgmental of one another?  When did we decide there was only one path to successful womanhood?

The second thing is that men need to get in on this game.  Until fathers are willing to demand paternity leave in equal amounts to women's maternity leave, until they are willing to say, "I need flexible hours so that I can get home with a sick kid if I have to, so I can leave at 5 and get the kids to soccer, so I can leave earlier two days a week since the kids' #$%*!! schools insist on having early-release days, as if 2:30 weren't already a ludicrously early hour to get out of school", until that happens, workplaces will still think of mothers as drains on company resources.  Until women are paid equally to men, families will be stuck in a cycle of protecting a father's job more than a mother's, because he brings more back to the family.  Men have to stop buying into the (empirically untrue - go ahead and do the research, I have) story that men aren't nurturers, they aren't good at raising children, they don't "bond" with their children the way mothers do, so they don't "like" being with their kids the way mothers do; they have to stop allowing society to cut them off from the pleasures of living a balanced life.

I realize that my rant here has focused on families, on women who have chosen the path of motherhood, and that the choice not to have children at all is yet another one of those equally-legitimate but all-to-often-criticized options that women should have access to.  I also haven't talked about the issue of double jeopardy, women who face both sexism and racism in trying to access their right to the options that should be available to everyone.  I am not ignoring these things because they're not important, but because I was mostly focusing on my personal experience here - I'd love to get comments from folks who are dealing with those things as well, to bring voices of experience to the table here - middle-class white working motherhood isn't the only story (it isn't even the majority story), it's just the one that I know best.

Basically, it's time to be talking about this (again).  It's always been time, but maybe the total non-answers to that question suggest that we need to get a little louder.  Maybe we even need to think about doing what Iceland did a few elections ago - to say that men have had their chance, kick them all out of government, and elect women instead.  Radical, I know - kind of fun to imagine, though, maybe?

So yes, I am a feminist.  AND I knit (not BUT I knit, please note).  And I am knitting, in fact.  I knitted all the way through that debate on Tuesday, and I ended up with these (started fairly recently, out of a need for some quick success):
Those are Plain Jhaynes, a pattern of Anne's that I somehow have missed all these years, made specially for using up a little bit of special yarn.  As soon as I saw them, I realized that they were the perfect pattern for the mitts I've been wanting to make to go with my babushka scarves, which, much as I love them, use a skein and a bit of some very nice yarn, leaving quite a bit to be used up in other ways.  This yarn is Jade Sapphire silk/cashmere 2-ply, and I love it.  The two babushkas I've knitted (this one and a blue one) are probably my most-worn bits of knitting, and I'm really glad now to have mitts to go with one of them.  So, to recap, these mitts are Plain Jhaynes (Anne Hanson), knitted on size one (Signature - how I do love my Signatures) dpns, out of Jade Sapphire silk/cashmere 2-ply, in a size medium.  They are meant to fit fairly snugly, to add just that perfect bit of warmth without getting in the way of, say, typing, and I think they're going to do the job perfectly.

The other thing I've been working on this week is my new version of the Wine Dark Sea sweater.  You may remember from the old version (here, on Rav) that I knitted years ago, that I aimed for a sweat-shirty loose fit.  Well, I got it.  In looking at my old pattern notes and measurements, and comparing them to the measurements I tend to use now for sweaters, I realize that I built in about eight inches of positive ease (!!) when I designed and knitted the first one.  I ended up with quite a bit of yarn left over after I knitted it (my very favorite, can't-get-enough-of-it yarn, Briar Rose Sea Pearl), and after weighing and doing some math, I decided I had enough left to knit another, more fitted (less than 1 inch of positive ease) version.  So I put together some notes for myself, and did some math based on my gauge swatch.
And off I went.  I'm almost done now with the waist shaping.
Only one more set of increases to go, then a bit more plain knitting, then I'll split for the armholes.  At that point, I'll be able to slide it on (I'm knitting this part in the round from the bottom up) and see how I'm doing, both in terms of ease and length.  And I'll go from there.

There are also a few acquisitions of yarn and fiber, plus a cookbook that I'm totally psyched about, but I think I'll save those for the next post.  In the meantime, peace out.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Finding my stride

It's Sunday, and I'm posting.  I think I'm starting to get back into some kind of rhythm (I'm not saying what kind of rhythm exactly).  I am knitting, I am posting.  Laundry is done, the house has been vacuumed, and there are plans for dinner (for which the food is in the house, even). 

We won't talk about the ever-expanding work to-do list, though.  (I got myself a very cool calendar program for my phone which includes a combined to-do list - it even lets me check things off when I get them done, which I find satisfying.  This is really nice on many levels, but on Friday, I changed the "due" date on something like eleven items to Monday.  This is the electronic version of the little post-it to-do list I used to keep in my paper calendar; I kept it on a post-it note so I could move it forward at the end of each week when it wasn't done.  I'm not sure if the fact that I know it won't get done and plan for it speaks of maturity and organization or the exact opposite.)

This week, a couple of things finally got finished.  It is nice to be able to see actual finished knitted objects.  The first is something small that I started last Saturday at Yarning For You's big kick-off for this year's Knit for the Cure.
It still needs buttons, but otherwise it's completely done, seams and all.  It's a Baby Surprise Jacket (which I have decided may just become an annual thing; they apparently sell quickly, and I find them entertaining to knit), knitted on size 3 needles out of Baah La Jolla, with matching booties (no pattern - I just wing those).  I'll try to drop it by the store sometime this week (I'm holding off on the buttons to see if they have anything cute there; otherwise I'll dig into Grandmom's button box for something simple - there are enough small white buttons in there to keep me buttoning Baby Surprise Jackets for years to come).

I also finished Scoria.  I started this one as a September KAL with some friends (we're all doing different patterns, so it's a sweater KAL, rather than a particular pattern KAL), and I did actually have all the pieces knitted by the end of the month, as well as a first pass at the seams.  But two of them turned out badly, so yesterday I undid them and re-seamed (one shoulder and the neck), and then reblocked it, which made a huge different.  I am tolerably pleased.
As Rick says, it's not as fitted as some sweaters I've knitted - I think the waist shaping could have been more, well, shapely.  That said, I still love the parts of this sweater that made me want to knit it in the first place.  The combination of the herringbone pattern and the lace:
And the neck:
It's a very well-written pattern, and this yarn, as always, works up beautifully.

To recap, this is the pattern Scoria, from the magazine The Knitter (issue 46).  I knitted the medium on size 3 needles, out of 7 balls of Plymouth Vita (a cotton/cashmere blend).  I think I probably could have knitted the small size (hindsight 20/20), which might have had the added benefit of not giving me fits of nerves over whether I'd have enough yarn (I did, barely).  The happy news is that I dug that yarn out of stash to knit this.  I have been trying to convince myself that for every new thing I start (new in the sense of new pattern or new yarn), I need to work my way through something already cast on, or in stash.  So all in all, a success.  I will wear this - it may even end up being this year's conference sweater.

Keeping in mind that desire to work my way through some languishing projects and languishing yarn, once these were done, I went back and picked up the second pair of Silk Road Socks - it is high time I wrapped those up.  You may remember that I knitted the first pair out of my own pattern, based on a silk woven funerary face covering I saw at an exhibit on textiles from the Silk Road (I saw the exhibit in 2010).  That pair went to Younger Daughter, as they were too small for me.  However, I had plenty of yarn left over, so I set about reworking the pattern to a larger size and knitting them for me.  I had some theory about perhaps entering them into the county fair this past spring, but, as happens, time got away from me and I realized that there was no way I was going to finish the second sock of the pair without making myself very very stressed, and so I set them aside. 

I've been avoiding picking them up again, partly because one of my goals is to write this pattern up, and it's mostly very straightforward, except for the heel turn.  I can describe what to do in an intuitive way that might work for some knitters (it essentially involves turning the heel as one does, using yellow yarn to ssk or p2tog if both stitches are yellow, and blue if both are blue, and if they are different colors, using blue unless that would mean more than three blues in a row), but that kind of description really wouldn't work for some knitters, so I want to work through it this time with my notebook in hand, and to take row-by-row notes.  That's been putting me off.  So I girded my loins and hauled everything out and set back to work.
I am now done with the leg of the second sock, and am working on the heel flap.  I transferred the notes for the pattern to my new knitting notebook (more on that in a moment), and now have some sense of what I already know and what I need to know to write the pattern.  The only question I have for myself is whether I need to knit one more heel turn for the smaller size (in "scratch" yarn, even - and without a sock attached) so that I can write that out row by row as well.  We shall see.

As for that notebook, that's something else I've wanted to post about.  It arrived in the mail from New Zealand, in a little care package from Stella, some time ago, and I've been meaning to share it.  If you don't read her blog, and if you want some inspiration, it is most definitely a place to go.  Not only is she a skilled and veteran knitter and spinner, she is also (among many other things) a lover of fountain pens (a woman after my own heart), and she (fairly) recently learned bookbinding, and has been making lovely books of various sorts, all with fountain-pen-grade paper - and this one has knitter's graph paper on every page.
She bound it so that it will stay open, with plenty of room to add in yarn labels and bits of yarn and swatches and all of the things that make a good knitting notebook.  And she covered it in wonderful paper.
Isn't it lovely?  I have been feeling rather far away, somehow, from my own design work and fooling around (in the creative sense) for the last little while, but this notebook has been rather calling to me to get back to it.  It's hard to ignore that kind of lure, and I'm glad I finally found the time this weekend to breathe a little bit and get my head around this project.  (There's a second project that I hope will get kicked off that's long been on my back burner; more on that in another post.)

And finally, on the subject of inspiration, I have to mention the other impetus I lately had to get back into the more creative side of my knitting.  Ellen and Jan, of Twinset Designs, have begun their own podcast (I think this calls for an exclamation point)!  I was delighted when I found out, and delighted during every second of both of the podcasts they've put out so far, and if you are looking for a new podcast (or if you are new to knitting podcasts and interested in diving in), I highly recommend it.  They are both designers, and prolific knitters - they're also both spinners - and I find that listening to them talk about the way they think about knitting gets my brain moving in interesting ways.  You can find out more about it here

And now I think it's time to go contemplate that second project...