Friday, March 17, 2017

A funny thing happened on the way to the barn...

A post with musings about partisanship and conversations.

So, a funny thing did, indeed, happen at the barn a bit ago, and I've been mulling it over off and on ever since.  First, full disclosure:  I have bumper stickers on my car.  This is actually a fairly recent phenomenon (I was always a bumper stickerless sort of person until recently; I still wear my bumper stickered status kind of uncomfortably - it may change).  The bumper stickers on my car are: Coexist; A woman's place is everywhere; the Obama sticker that says "Hope over fear"; I'm with her; and 13.1.  My basic policy about bumper stickers is this: they must say what I stand for, not what I stand against.

So, I recently pulled into the ranch where Disco boards and drove (slowly! speed limit 5 mph!) over to the bathrooms to change.  As I did, I noticed a man walking in the same direction from the covered arena - I pegged him as a dad waiting for his daughter to finish her lesson, and smiled.  I tend to feel friendly towards people at the barn, assuming that, whatever else may be true, we share some interest in horses one way or another.  He seemed very occupied with examining my car (which I should also note, in the interests of full disclosure, is an old and very dirty Prius - I do a lot of driving, some of it on dirt, and it shows).  I headed into the bathroom to change, and when I came out, he was past my car and turning to look at it, again, over his shoulder. 

I got in, started up, and was pulling out when I saw he'd circled back.  I unrolled my window.  Looking back, I was still in the mode of assuming that our common element was horses, and I think my expectation was that he was going to ask whether I had a horse at the barn, or whether I worked with one of the trainers, or something along those lines. 

He said, "I couldn't help but notice your bumper stickers."

At which point, I wondered whether we were on the same page, in a social justicey kind of way.  Once in a while, people will comment on liking one of the bumper stickers.

He said, "We don't see eye to eye at all, politically."  Oh.

"Oh?"  (Because I wasn't quite sure where to go with that.)

"I voted for Trump, and I have to tell you, I am very happy right now."  (This was a few days after the first immigration ban.)

I made another semi-interested, noncommittal noise.  Mostly because I was taking it in, and trying to figure out exactly what was going on.  In the moment, my sincere feeling was that he'd never actually met anyone who thought the things I had on my bumper stickers, and he was checking out the liberal in the wild.  Friends later suggested that he was trying to pick a fight.  Maybe I was picking up on that, too.  But my strongest feeling was this: he was not seeing me as a person.  I don't know what he was seeing, but it really wasn't me.  He said,
"We really do not see eye to eye!"

And I, not knowing what else to do with that uncomfortable feeling that he wasn't seeing me, and I really would feel much better if he did, stuck my hand out the car window and said,
"Hi.  My name is Jocelyn.  It's really nice to meet you!"

He stopped short.  His hand was halfway out before, I think, he realized what he was doing (those social norms are strong, aren't they?), and he responded by introducing himself.  I told him it was nice to meet him, and he said again: "Well, we really don't see eye to eye."  I said, "That's one of the nice things about a democracy!", and he excused himself and wandered off.

It was weird.  It was weird because I still don't really quite know what he was hoping for in that conversation.  I do think that, whatever it was, he didn't get it.  I think I went seriously off-script.  I'm just curious what the script was supposed to be. 

In a larger way, I also found it interesting that he approached me to tell me that he disagreed with me.  It's not something I would do.  I noticed the same thing yesterday, as I was standing outside my Representative's office with signs - some people would make a point of flipping us off or giving us a thumb's down.  It caught my attention because I regularly drive past a protest outside a health clinic - I don't agree at all with what the protesters stand for, but it wouldn't occur to me to flip them off; it doesn't seem like a conversation starter, you know?  On the other hand, maybe I'm just assuming that such a dialogue can't happen and avoiding engagement?  In other words, should it seem hopeful to me that someone would approach me about my bumper stickers - incipient conversation - or was it the verbal equivalent of the flip-off - no conversation, just an opportunity to say I don't agree with you?  Conversations seem so important, and yet so impossible, right now; I'm not sure what to do about that.  (Although a friend just sent me a link to a roundup of interesting articles about conversations and how to have them: here it is.)  What do you think?  How do you handle seeing visible signs of some stranger's non-alignment with your views in the world?

Meanwhile, the wisteria are blooming, and the leaves on the sycamores are coming out, and the branches on the oaks trees on my morning walk are tipped with new red leaves, almost like flowers.  I think it's spring.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Some knitting!

First, thank you all so much for reading my last post, and for participating in the survey.  If you haven't responded yet but are interested in participating, it's still live - here is the link again:

Meanwhile, I did promise the occasional post about knitting, and I have, in fact, been knitting. Most of my time until this last week has been spent on one big project, but in the last couple of days, a few things came up and now I have three projects OTN.  It's starting to feel like old times around here.

First, the big project.  A month or so ago, I belatedly treated myself to a subscription to Kate Davies' latest project: Inspired by Islay.  Every week, Kate would send out a new pattern (on Wednesday)(also uploaded to my Rav library), and on Friday, an essay about the inspiration for the pattern, capped off by whiskey tasting suggestions and notes written by her partner.  And now that it's all done, hard copies of the whole collection of patterns and essays are being shipped out.  I love Kate's designs; one of my favorite sweaters (the Northmavine Hoodie) is her design, and I think it exemplifies her incredibly clean lines and well-thought-out design elements beautifully.  It's one of the sweaters that I'm most proud of (and that is most likely to get the amazed "you MADE that?!" - along with my Bohus).  (To my horror, I realize it's not on my Rav page - I really was out of things for a while there, wasn't I?  ETA:  Oh, wait, there it is!)

In any case, the Inspired by Islay collection has a number of patterns I'd like to knit, but the moment I saw the Oa, I absolutely had to have it - I treated myself to the yarn (Kate's own Buchaille) for my birthday.

I want this to be a good sweater so much that I swatched.  It's not that I don't usually swatch, but sometimes, I'll cast on for the sleeve and see how that goes (sleeves and swatches are about the same size, yes?).  Not this time.  This time, I knitted a swatch in the round (in two different needle sizes), cut it, and steam ironed it - exactly as called for in the pattern.  (Can you hear the proud tone in my voice?)
The only thing I did differently was to cast off in blue instead of white so that I could remember which side was done with the size three needle, and which with the size four.  I've been plugging away at the body devotedly since casting on.
That's probably a good seven inches or so of progress.  It's not speedy, but since it's only two colors per row, it's not too terribly slow, either.  I was planning to be monogamously devoted to this project, but, well...

I made the mistake of reading Mason-Dixon, and saw that they are partnering with Jen and Jim Arnall-Culliford to create a Year of Techniques, with a new pattern showcasing a new technique coming out each month (and uploaded to my Rav library - I really love that!).  Since I'm trying to create opportunities for myself to feel more inspired, I signed on.  I figured I'd knit the patterns as I have time (read: after I finish Oa), but then I saw the first project, which uses helical stripes, and I kind of had to try it.  Right away.  I hied myself straight to my LYS to get a Zauberball of mine own, but the only ones they had, while lovely, just didn't have quite enough long striping contrast, so I went off-script and got myself a cake of Alexandra's Crafts Sister, and cast on with that.
I have to say, these helical stripes are a giggle.  Once I really got it into my head that I'm knitting two rows at a time, it got much easier to see what's happening here - the upshot of the technique is stripes with no jog at all.
I'll take better pictures once I'm further along, but trust me - no jog.  No carrying yarns up the inside.  Just two balls of yarn, chasing one another around the armwarmer.  The pattern (which comes with a link to a video tutorial) offers a discussion of how to do this on circular needles or on dpns, which is what I'm using.  I have to say that I think this is probably easier on dpns, since I can drop the yarn at the end of one dpn, without having to move stitches around on the needles.  They say that you can do this with two-row stripes (up to four, even), but I can't quite get my head around that.  I kind of what to try it, though...  These are the Hyacinthus Armwarmers, and I'm kind of thinking I'll make more than one pair.  (In fact, maybe I'll order myself a Zauberball right now so it's here when I need it.  Hmmm....)

But not yet!  Because I'm on serious pink yarn duty.  I'm involved with a group of friends and colleagues who are politically active, and at our last meeting, one of them said she'd gladly pay me for yarn if I'd just knit her a pussyhat (she also offered to pay for my time, which is silly); everyone else in the room asked to go on the list, too.  I said yes.  Then I went home, talked to a knitting friend of mine who was there, and dithered.  I want to knit Oa!  And that's a lot of pink hats!  And I knew if I wrote to everyone and said that my love for them had overwhelmed my good sense, they'd all understand.

But (and here's my dark secret), I want to be the kind of person who knits for other people.  And I am not.  I mean, it's not that I never knit for other people - I spent all last fall knitting sweaters for the girls and my niece; I spent a year knitting a blanket for Older Daughter to take to college.  But you know what I mean - the kind of open-hearted person willing to say, yes!  I'll knit nine pussyhats!

Of course, because life is complex and I am of two minds about nearly everything, I also aspire to be a person who knows when to say no.  Because knitting for people notwithstanding, I definitely find it hard sometimes to say no.  So I decided this was an opportunity to sit with myself and figure out what I want, in this instance, at this time.  I thought carefully about the whole thing and realized that, honestly, by the time I finish Oa, it'll probably be too warm to wear it anyway (alternatively, we'll have a nice bout of May Gray and June Gloom, and I'll have it done for that).  And once Oa's done, I'll be harrassing my daughters to tell me what I can knit for them.  So, really, why not knit nine hats?  But I also knew in my heart that I really didn't want to spend hours knitting with, say, cheap acrylic yarn (shudder).  The upshot is that I realized I honestly was willing to put off Oa, and to knit nine hats (if that's what it turns out to be), if and only if I was doing it with yarn that I really, REALLY enjoy.  Read: it's not gonna be cheap.

So I wrote to everyone with the honest statement that I'd rather buy nice yarn from my LYS, and saying that I completely understood if people didn't want expensive pink pussyhats.  So far, most of them do, and I have cast on for the first one.
The yarn is Fibre Co Tundra (alpaca, wool, silk).  It's soft and puffy like baby ducks, the pink is a nice rich raspberry, and I'm knitting this up on a size nine needle - a bit smaller than called for, but I think the fabric is turning out well.  And I'm enjoying it.  I'm glad I spent some time teasing out what I wanted to do and what it would look like, and being honest about it.  I do worry that I'm committing people to spending money on hats that may not in the end, be what they visualized (too bulky, too hot, I don't know - just not what they thought they were getting), but I'm trying to let that go and enjoy the process of knitting them, now that I've gone through the process of figuring out what I want knitting them to be about.

All right.  I'll stop there.  I have a few fun stories to tell about my last couple of weeks, but I'll save those for next time.  What do you have OTN these days?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Pussyhats - the interactive edition (survey link included)

(Note: if you want to just go to the survey - which is for everyone, whether or not you knitted a pussyhat - you can skip below to where it says Here is the link.)

I think a lot of you may know that a knitting friend/colleague and I (hi, Marie!) have been researching the knitting community for a while now.  It started with a survey that I posted on Ravelry and advertised at the first Sock Summit (remember those?).  The response was pretty overwhelming - not only did I get over 2,000 responses in a very short time, but people wrote screeds in response to the open-ended questions.  We have also interviewed knitters individually and in focus groups.  My colleague and I are still (!!) coding the data; you people have a lot to say, all of it rich and thick.  I've gotten a paper out, and she and I are giving a presentation on more of the data in June, so we're starting to get a handle on it.  The goal is something larger, when all put together.

And then came January, and the pink pussyhats and the Women's March.  My first real exposure to the pussyhat discussion came before the march when I saw a response that someone posted on Facebook to a Washington Post article.  The article, entitled: "The Women's March needs passion and purpose, not pink pussycat hats", fascinated me.  Especially when the author referred to the proposed pink hats (this came out before the march) as "well-intentioned, she-power frippery".  Wow.

Knitters (including the one who posted on Facebook) responded in ways that I didn't find at all surprising, given what we've seen in our data, and what I know of my fellow knitters.  Like: “We are going to protest on our own terms. We don’t have to do it in the way that the patriarchy deems serious or correct.”  And: "Knitters can walk and chew gum at the  same time. We can knit while we call our representatives, wait on hold while trying to get through to congress, we can put down our needles and make donations to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and sign endless petitions. We can knit while we attend PTA meetings and community organize." Both of these quotes capture sentiments that we see in our data; they also capture the sense of having to explain things about knitting that knitters know and non-knitters don't.

Other articles discussed not only the issues with pink, and craftiness (as an index of non-feminist femininity), but also with the word itself: "pussy".  People don't like it.  At all. 

In fact, the pussyhats are interesting in no small part, I think, because of the uncomfortable mixing of (assumed) prefeminist (maybe even antifeminist) knitting - and don't forget that color! - and the reclaiming of that impolite, raucous, uncomfortable word (the one we all had to hear our now-President saying on a hot mike): pussy.

Words for female genitalia are marked.  By which I mean, we notice them in conversation.  They are more derogatory, more shocking, more offensive, than similar words for male genitalia.  Calling someone a dick just doesn't have the same sting as calling someone a pussy - let alone calling them that other word for female genitalia that I don't say in class without a warning that it's coming.  (It's one of two words that I treat that way.)

Note: I'm a linguist - this is all data.  We have to be able to talk about these words; they both mean and do something in the public sphere.

So, what did these hats, in all their knitted, offensively-named, pinkness do in the public sphere?

The answer to that, I think, is emblematic of knitting and knitters in some very interesting ways.  They were aggressive without being mean; they were noticeable and visually arresting, and lighthearted at the same time.  My experience of them was that they were bonding; they created a tribe out of a disparate group of people.  When we finally crammed onto a trolley to go to the San Diego march (after letting two trains go by because they were too full of people to fit any more in), while there wasn't a sea of pink, the hats were definitely in evidence:

The women who created the Pussyhat Project offered a few reasons for their inspiration.  One that particularly caught my attention was the goal of letting people who could not go to the march nevertheless participate by knitting hats to send to Washington for people who could not knit their own.  That, right there, captures something that we see again and again in our data: knitters' desire to use their knitting to create community, and to show connection and caring for other people.   Recipients of the hats talked about how much it meant to them to get the gift of a handknitted hat from a stranger; it created circles of connection that went far beyond the day and location of the main march.  This, too, is something that knitters celebrate and work to create.

The pride in making something by hand, in the activism that many knitters participate in (whatever end of the political spectrum they may inhabit), and the surprise (re)realization that not everyone understands/participates in/experiences the joy of making something by hand - these also showed up in articles discussing the hats and the march.  I also appreciated this author's point that the hats (along with signs and clear backpacks) and the organization that they represent are a clear link to the kinds of (often unacknowledged) work that women do every day: tedious, detail-oriented, repetitive but necessary tasks (dishes, laundry, changing diapers - I'm looking at all of you).

All of this is to say that the pussyhat phenomenon strikes me as quintessentially knitting in action.  I know that by no means all knitters (or even the majority of knitters) agree with or support the politics of the march, or knitted a hat (or hats); but I still think that that this is a moment that captures the essence of how knitters see their craft in relationship to their lives more broadly writ.

So, Marie and I have put together a short survey on pussyhats.  It offers questions both for those who did knit pussyhats, and for those who did not.  We'd like to hear from everybody.  It's truly short - probably only five or ten minutes to fill out.  And we'd love to see it distributed as widely as possible.  So please, feel free to post it (if you let me know where you've posted it, I'd love to drop by and say thanks!), email it out, FB it, tweet it, whatever you want to do to get it out to your own community of knitters (again, whether they were pussyhat knitters or not).

Here is the link:  You can copy and paste it, or just click on it from here.  Thank you in advance for your input and help.

As a rather ironic addendum, I was so intrigued by the whole movement and how it relates to what we've learned about the knitting community that I utterly failed to knit any of my own, for me or for my girls (who marched with us).
I have since made up for it:
And I've been informed that I have a whole list of hats to knit before April 15.