Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Fun with photography

My big Christmas present this year (per my request) was a telephoto lens for my camera.  I am really fairly camera-ignorant (working on it), so I totally rely on my sister-in-law (who is a serious photographer, see: GerrBear Photography) to enable guide me in my much more dilettante-level camera play.  Thanks to her, we got a Sony a6000 last year.  Ostensibly, the reason we got a new camera (and I say we, but I mostly mean I) was because we were hoping to hike the JMT last summer.  We figured we'd want an excellent camera, but also a camera that was lighter than our digital Nikon SLR, so we got the Sony for my birthday in February, to give us time to play with it and get it all figured out before we hit the trail.  However, life (in the form of an unexpected need to do summer school for my younger daughter) and the Park Service (in that permits to hike the JMT southbound from Yosemite to Whitney Portal are nigh-impossible to come by) conspired to make that goal unattainable.  Rick and Tess did a shorter backpacking trip instead, and put the camera to good use.  But let's be honest, it's mostly mine (my argument here being that I'm the tiny one in a family of large-handed giants, so I deserve to have a camera that's easier to carry around - right?).

So for Christmas, I got this 55-210 telephoto lens, and I've been fooling.  My beloved SIL also got me an online class to learn more about my camera, which I am really excited about.  I'm committing to making more space for creativity in this next year, and taking pictures is one of the places where it's easy to play around - no chance I'll break something, or waste something (no film!), or any of the things that can feel inhibiting.  Just me, taking the walks I'd take anyway, keeping an eye out.  Which I did twice in the last couple of days.
I seem to be focusing (ha) on a a few different areas, now that I can capture them more clearly with my camera.  One of those is birds.  Birds in the water, like this blue heron.
And this - I want to call it a loon, but we don't have loons.  Anyone know who this is?

And birds in trees.
I love crows and ravens.  They have so much to say, and they are so curious and sure of themselves.

This little guy stayed still for me until I'd gotten my shot, then went about his business.
And birds in the air.

Of course, birds aren't the only ones whom I can see more clearly.  This guy posed for me, quite happily:

Next time, trees!  What are you playing with these days?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A deep breath, and then...

I don't know about you, but I have this sneaking suspicion that someone put Christmas earlier than usual this year.  It might have something to do with the timing of my semester: grades are due tomorrow (I managed to get them filed on Tuesday), and my online intersession class begins today.  So I've been madly grading for the end of last semester, and prepping a class to start online.  My annual conference was also late this year (the weekend after Thanksgiving, instead of the weekend before); that probably has something to do with my sense that December has gotten, shall we say, compressed.  I've also been heavily involved in helping Kivrin get ready for finals - her last two (and the hardest two) are today.  And, of course, there's doing the part of Christmas preparations that have to get finished in advance of the actual days leading up to the holiday (presents for people I love who are far away; thinking in advance about food that we need to get from the farmer's market; etc).

So all of this is to say that, after several weeks of unremitting work (trying to compress my full-time job into the shortest possible days, then coming home and doing hours of homework with Kivrin each evening and weekend, thinking about holiday plans, etc), for one brief and shining moment, I have a very tiny breather.  My class has successfully launched, and there'll be nothing to grade for a couple of days while students get their feet under them.  Kiv's finals are over, and her semester is done.  Most of the holiday shopping is done, and now I get to think about the things that I really take pleasure in - cooking for and spending time with the people that I love most.  And even that I can't do right this minute.  I should clean the house, but that, too, can wait. 

It's weird to be at semi-loose ends.  It feels almost decadent to think: I could (gasp) knitIn the middle of the day.

So I'm not (yet).  I've finished the socks for my friend's son's graduation - I just need to graft the toe and weave in four ends, and they're good to go.  And I'm beavering away, for as much as my hands will allow, on the special birthday present I'm knitting for a friend, out of copper wire.  I was inspired by a fabulous exhibit at the Mingei maybe a month or so ago, and I promptly bought a rather outrageous amount of wire, with all kinds of plans for it.
I'm finding, though, that I can only knit so much of it at one time before my hands begin to hurt in a way that makes me think I should take frequent breaks.  I should also say that I'm not starting with jellyfish (although I have some ideas involving a lightbulb and a hanging lamp...), but we'll see how things go.

I might also go with the girls to the beach this afternoon.  It's low tide, which is the right time to take the dog down and see the sunset.  Nothing makes Tilly happier than the beach.
And I'll get to play with my camera.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Moving along

It's the end of the semester, which usually means at least some degree of chaos.  This semester was more chaotic than usual, with the fires that broke out here in North San Diego County.  Campus was closed on Thursday afternoon (leading, I understand, to the usual madness of trying to get nearly 20,000 people off campus all at once; I am SO glad that I left early that day!), and stayed closed until Sunday afternoon, meaning that I missed my last day of class, and fielded a lot of worried questions from students in the lead-up to finals this week.  We were largely out of the way, although the Lilac fire was close enough that we kept the pets indoors for a couple of days, in case we might need to evacuate, and one of my friends ended up staying here for a night when her neighborhood came under mandatory evacuation orders.  If you've been following any of this, you also know that San Luis Rey Downs lost a lot of horses, so there's been a lot of talk and sadness and stress about that at the barn where Disco lives.  She was safe, but we have all been keeping a weather eye on the horizon, looking for smoke.

The winds died down for a few days, but we're expecting that they might pick up again today and tomorrow.  And it has stayed brutally dry.  Last week, the humidity hovered between 3 and 5%.  Lately, it's been up around 15% (woo-hoo!), which, if you've never lived somewhere quite this dry, is really pretty awful when it stays that low day after day after day.  You just can't stay hydrated and moisturized enough.  It also means pretty dramatic temperature swings.  We're getting up into the 70s during the day, but during my morning walks, before the sun comes up over the hills, it's around 40 degrees.  (I know - not that cold for you guys, but it feels pretty chilly to me!)
 The grass crunches under our feet as we begin our walk, and the leaves are frosted and beautiful.
The trees stand, patiently waiting for the first rays to touch their uppermost branches - I can almost hear them sigh in relief as the sun comes above the hills.  And I can definitely hear the crows hollering as they seek out the warmest places to perch and warm their wings.

The house stays cold, even as it warms outside.  This is a benefit on hot days, but right now, when it's 65 inside, I'm pretty chilly.
Loving my warm sweater!  Who knew it would be useful here in Vista?  (I kind of figured this would be a sweater I wear to the mountains in the winter, but it's also good for sitting at the computer and working.). Gwilim thinks it's cold, too.
Meanwhile, it's all grading, all the time here.  I think this picture pretty much captures my current state of affairs.
Stay warm and safe out there, y'all!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Some travels

My yearly conference of choice is the American Anthropological Association's Annual Meetings, which always come either the weekend before or after Thanksgiving - this year it was the weekend after.  It moves from place to place, alternating between East coast, the center somewhere (last year it was Minneapolis, and I got to see Ellen!), and the West coast.  Since it was DC, Tess flew in to meet me, and I got to have dinner with my brother, who lives there.  We don't see one another often, so it was lovely to get to visit, if only for a brief while.

I'd hoped that Tess and I would get to do some touristy things.  I wanted to see the Smithsonian's Museum of African American History, but wasn't able to get tickets in advance, and I didn't find out until too late that they open up same-day tickets in the afternoon; I would also have liked to go to the Museum of the American Indian, which I adore, but this conference is pretty insane, and I just couldn't manage to get away.  To give you an idea of how insane, there were 6500 attendees this time around, and there are usually somewhere around 40 concurrent panels at any given time.  Very few of which I got to attend this year, because I was elected to the Linguistic Seat on the executive board, and much of my time was spent in - you guessed it - meetings (which is how I made so much progress on that sock I posted about last time).

Tess and I did manage to get away for a few delicious meals (Ethiopian food, mmm....).  And some shopping (new shoes!).  And some tea.

You can see that knitwear was involved in the weekend - that's the cowl I knitted for Tess, getting good use (I thought about saving it for Christmas, but gave it to her when I saw her at Thanksgiving instead - I am very bad at holiday knitting in general, because I tend to hand out my FOs as soon as they're off the needles; Rick already has his Christmas socks, too).

We did manage a quick visit to the Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden at sunset.
Where we visited Yoko Ono's wishing tree, and made a few wishes of our own.
(Blurry because it was really getting dark.)  Serendipitously, we got there just in time to hear the sound sculpture that is part of the garden, and which is triggered by the fading light of sunset.

We walked on the mall in the gloaming.

We also took a last walk in Rock Creek park on Sunday afternoon.
Appreciating the fall foliage
before taking the long steep (!) escalator
down to the train, and thence to the airport, and making our various ways home.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mulling over harrassment - long and anguished

OK, you know this had to happen, right?  I mean me, sharing some thoughts about #metoo and sexual harrassment and Franken and Moore and the whole thing.  Please feel free to skip this if it isn't your cup of tea, and return next time for our regular programming.

I have, as I'm sure many of you have, been watching and contemplating and contextualizing and trying to understand and processing how I feel about each of these revelations and their consequences or lack thereof, and wanting to write something about it, but haven't quite been sure where to start.  It seems to me that there are so many threads that must be followed to come to even some sort of understanding of the whole fabric that, as it were, clothes this moment in history - which one to pick at first?

Having just spent a weekend at my annual conference (and there's a post in the queue about that), the American Anthropological Association's Annual Meetings, I've been thinking a lot about positionality.  The idea there is that the various elements of my position - elements which are commonly thought of as identity, but which I would think of as being much more fluid and less stable than the noun "identity" suggests - have a significant relationship to my perspective on the world.  They should, therefore, not be taken for granted; there is no objective or right or unmarked position from which anyone can stand and opine.  So, it's perhaps worth coming right out and stating that I am: a European-American, cisgendered, straight, married, upper-middle-class, non-theist/animist, feminist, progressive woman who has two daughters and a PhD in the social sciences.  And so much more, as you know (a knitter, a horse owner, a hiker, a reader, a friend - the list, as it does for all of us, goes on).

For the purposes of understanding my thoughts about sexual harrassment, the label "progressive" up there is perhaps the most relevant.  To me, being a progressive is different from (although with some overlap) being a liberal, and means that I believe that we, as a society, can do better than we have in the past.  Not by rejecting everything from the past part and parcel, but rather by learning from it, and reaching toward something better in the future.  For me (and I wouldn't presume to think that this is how all progressives think), that means doing my best to create a world that resembles the Beloved Community discussed as early as the early 20th century (the philosopher Josiah Royce), although it is perhaps most associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The way I tend to think of the beloved community is this: that when we look at other human beings, we see ourselves.  As an animist, I actually would extend that to the planet as a whole, but that's a discussion for another day.  By seeing ourselves, I do not mean, being like ourselves; I mean seeing them as full and complete human beings, with the same desires for respect and peace and safety and well-being that we have.  Seeing here means holding all the complexity of another person with affection and acceptance.  If we look at another person and see ourselves, surely we would not want them to suffer, to be lacking in the resources that they need to live a full life, to feel fundamentally that they are not cared for and respected?  Love informs the beloved community, not power.

Power informs sexual harrassment, not love.  Not only power, but a lens that views women as not-people, not-self - instead as available for the whims of men either because those men are in power or because they want to feel powerful.  (I realize that men are also sexually harrassed by other men; however, for the moment, I am going to center the perspective of women for two reasons: one, that perspective so rarely takes center stage, and two, the vast majority of those who endure sexual harrassment and assault are women.)

There are a number of threads that feed into a culture that accepts harrassment as part of the normal workings of everyday life.  One of the most insidious is the one that frames men as a) highly sexual, b) inherently violent, and c) out of control of both their sexuality and violence.  The onus for controlling men's sexuality and violence therefore falls on women.  It is of critical importance to note that this is a social construct: men are not inherently more sexual or violent than women, and they are certainly not more out of control of their impulses than women.  A culture of toxic masculinity both gives men permission to understand themselves this way, and traps them into that understanding, denying them access to their whole selves, selves that need and want love and affection and a full range of emotion, selves that often pay serious physical and emotional prices for locking away those sides of themselves.  The NYT had a great article today on exactly this, the power of touch and how critical it is for all human health, and how men's touch is so frequently given only two avenues for expression: violence, and sex (and how often those two then become conflated).

Another thread is one which treats women as somehow not belonging to the more general class of "people".  Women are framed as weak and in need of protection; they are also framed as the purview of men.  I can't tell you how many times I have heard people say, either "I was raised" (if the person is a man), or "I raised my boys" (a parent speaking of sons) "to respect women/to never hit a girl"; these often come in one breath.  To which I invariably respond (or bite my tongue to stop myself from responding), why just women and girls?  Why don't we raise our boys to not hit people?  And to include women and girls in the class of "people"?  This framing reinforces an understanding of women as weak, and in need of protection (usually by a man, which in turn reinforces our understanding of women as belonging to men).  Imagine how different things might be if we raised people to respect people, where respect means many things, including allowing all people the integrity of their bodies.

Related to this thread is that of our treatment of women when it comes to reproduction.  Women's bodies become the belongings of society.  We regulate their access to birth control, and to reproductive health services, including abortion.  Powerful men who enact the laws that regulate these things publicly sometimes encourage "their" women to make use of these services, up to and including the abortions that these men attempt to make illegal, when it suits the interests of those powerful men.  Our nation's handling of women's bodies is, to my mind, one of the places where we are farthest from the beloved community that I spoke of earlier.  If we truly value humans and human lives, why would we not do two things: ensure that women have access to safe, legal abortions, and, at the same time, work our hardest to create a world where that service is needed rarely?  By that I mean valuing all life: the lives of mothers before, during, and after conception and birth, and the lives of children after they are born.  This means easy and affordable access to: birth control; prenatal and postnatal health services; health care for infants and children; real food; high-quality public education from kindergarten through college; safe places to live and play; either support for mothers who decide to stay home, or high-quality affordable child care for those who need or want to work outside the home; a living wage.  Also, a world in which they do not have to fear sexual assault.  Do you see?  Women are vulnerable.  Laws which deny women full and free rights to their bodies and to choices about reproduction treat women as lesser humans and as society's possessions.  Our current system, which limits women's access to birth control and health services, and which doesn't support them in raising healthy children, a social system which simultaneously supports men in (and even encourages them) harrassing and assaulting women with few, if any consequences (and certainly even fewer when it comes to then raising and supporting children who might result from such assaults), is a nightmare.  It is also the natural result, and perhaps even definition, of patriarchy.

It is in the context of this nightmare that the assaults that we are hearing about occur, and have occurred for lifetimes.  It is in this context that women live with these assaults as the tax that they pay for being born in a woman's body.  If women were people, in the way that men are people, can you imagine how the world might be instead?  I am reminded here of Muriel Rukeyser: "What would happen if one woman spoke the truth about her life?  The world would split open."

And to some degree, that is what has happened.  I think it's time and past time that we split this particular aspect of the world open.  This is what I mean by being a progressive: I don't think that our past practices serve us here in creating the beloved community in which mutual respect and love govern our relationships to one another; the patriarchy that our current social relationships are founded upon doesn't allow for that - because it is, rather, a social order grounded in power relationships.

And here's where things get complicated.  It seems to me, in watching what's happening, that progressives such as myself are embracing this moment as a chance to split the world open, to try to realign our priorities to include all humans in our vision for a just, fair, and equal society.  The ousting of politicians like Franken, a man whose public face supported women's equality even while his private life included actions that were not in alignment with that, is a reflection of the desire to ensure that accountability happens, even for men whom we like.  What scares me is that it appears that conservatives are not interested in creating the same culture of accountability and change within their ranks.  (I want to note here that I'm speaking of general trends, not individuals.)  The fact that our current sitting President was elected after being heard on tape bragging about assaulting women, coupled with what looks like the immanent election of Roy Moore, is what points me towards this conclusion.  That worries me on a couple of levels.  If one of the two groups who struggle for political power in this country is trying in this moment to stand on principle and oust men who actually support policies that support women, while the other of those two groups is willing to abandon principle to elect men who are harassers, in order to maintain power - well, we have a problem.  It means that we disagree fundamentally on whether it is important to value women in this society that we are in the process (always and forever) of creating.  It also, I think, means that we have fundamentally different ideas about what it means to respect women.  The perspective that I have articulated here holds that respecting women means treating women like people; the more conservative perspective, as I see it represented in a broad range of public discourse, holds that respecting women means protecting them, preferably in the safety of their homes and roles as child-bearers and -rearers; it also separates the worlds of men and women, and holds that separation as natural and proper, instead of understanding it to be an aspect of a very particular historical moment.

At the same time, that isn't the only thing that concerns me about this particular historical moment.  I worry about due process.  To some degree, Franken and Trump are easy cases - there is documentation, visual or audio, of their harrassment of women.  That, however, isn't true in all cases.  And while I happen to believe the women who have accused Moore and, say, Weinstein, at the same time, I am not an advocate of vigilante justice, and there is something worrisome about, say, firing people (e.g., Matt Lauer among many others) without some kind of due process.  And yet, we all know that due process is deeply (and I do mean deeply) flawed.  There are cases upon cases of men being let off with few to no consequences for atrocities committed upon female bodies (Brock Turner, I'm looking at you).  So I understand the urge to grab this moment and make. someone. pay.

I don't even know what to suggest here.  I only know that I am troubled.  That I believe with all my heart that women are people and should be allowed a full range of expression and self-determination.  That I believe with all my heart that men are people and should be allowed a full range of expression and self-determination.  That I believe that we can create a world in which those things are possible. But that we are far away from that world, and, I fear, getting further.  I reread this and feel that it's too long, and yet there is so much I didn't get to say.  I welcome your thoughts and insights.

ETA: As a reward for getting through all that, two humorously serious takes on consent and harrassment: (Tracee Ellis Ross rocks) (tea and consent)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Knitting update

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Knitting continues.  During my recent trip to Washington, D.C. for a conference, I knew I would need a small project that required little attention, so I cast on for a pair of socks to give to a dear friend's son who is about to graduate from college.  I cast on during the flight there, and was ready to graft the toe of the first sock by the time I got back.
The patterns is Anne Hanson's Fishbone Gansey Sock, which I have long admired but never knitted.  The yarn is Knerd String in fingering weight, a superwash merino in a colorway called Tidal Pool, which I quite like.  My friend's son got two new suits to launch his professional life, one gray and one navy blue, and these socks seem like they'd go with either.  I need to get cooking on the second one - my goal is to have these ready when she leaves for his graduation in a week and a half.

I'm also working on some hats for me and Rick; matching gloves for me are in the queue.
This one is for Rick.  It's a one-size-fits-all pattern, which makes me a bit nervous, given our relative head sizes, but we shall see.  The cables are fun.
It's the Montgolfier hat, in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, colorway Embers.  My LYS has just gotten the full line of Brooklyn Tweed, in all their colors, and I've gone rather crazy for it.  I got the same colorway in a fingering weight to make my gloves when I'm done with the hats.  And, I got* a whole mess of yarn (also Brooklyn Tweed) for a design project I'm doing for/with Kivrin.  She drew this some time ago:
And I made the mistake suggested that knitting it would actually be doable, if she wanted me to try.  So I've been swatching.
She has decided on the cable on the right.  This project has been backburnered while I'm getting through the graduation socks, and the hats (even if not the gloves) and one other secret project I'm working on.  But when I pick it up again, I'll work the cables further, and then play with a wider ribbing at the top of the swatch to see which she likes better.  Then it'll be time for math.  Updates as progress occurs.

Meanwhile, in case any of you are looking to get some holiday knitting patterns AND support a fabulous cause at the same time, I wanted to point you towards Anne Hanson of Knitspot's annual scholarship fund drive.  This scholarship goes to support a student (in the fashion/design/fiber field when possible) who is a part of the Foster Care to Success (FC2S) program.  All pattern proceeds go to the scholarship fund (and you can choose to add a little extra to the pot when you check out, too, if you want!).  Anne gives all the details here.  I'll be getting this pattern myself. 

*Honesty compels me to admit that it was not, in fact, I who got the yarn.  My LYS had its annual sale a few weeks back.  On each of the two days of the sale, all yarn was 10% off - but during the first hour each day, it was all 20% off.  Unfortunately, I was teaching during that first hour.  Rick's parents were visiting, so I asked if he would mind taking his mom (also a knitter) and popping into the store to get my Brooklyn Tweed during that first hour - I mean, 20%, right?  I made a list for all three projects - sweater, hats, and gloves - and off they went.  Little did I know...  It took them over an hour in line just to get in the door, and then another hour or more to check out once they'd gotten the yarn.  I ask you: how many husbands would do that for their wives?  He's a good man, my Rick, a good man.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tuesdays on trail

Tuesday mornings always feel a bit special to me.  Lately, weekends have been taken up with Kivrin and homework, with brief breaks for a ride each day; unfortunately, that means no time for long weekend hikes.  Mondays are completely booked up.  It's Kiv's late start day, so I drop her off and go straight to work.  With sunsets coming earlier and earlier, there's no time at the end of the day to even ride, let alone ride and walk.  So Tuesday mornings, after I drop Kivrin off at school around 7:20, are the first day of the week that I get to visit my favorite trail.

I have been hiking on this trail now, week in week out, month after month, season after season, for years.  Sometimes I'm there regularly, sometimes not.  In the last few years though, I have gone at least once, and usually two or three times, a week.  This consistency, coupled (I firmly believe) with my practice of mindfulness, has led to a feeling of deep intimacy with that particular place, an intimacy coupled with the joy of always, still and yet, finding something new to surprise and delight me.

I heard an interesting piece some time ago on NPR (you will see the relevance soon) about picky eaters.  They interviewed, among other people, a psychologist who works with young people who are on the extreme end of that spectrum - one, for example, who would only eat one brand of frozen pizza for every single meal.  Out of curiosity, she did the same thing for a month: the same kind of the same brand of the same frozen pizza - for every single meal of every single day, breakfast lunch and dinner.  Now, what was interesting about this experience was that she found that she began to notice even tiny differences between these frozen pizzas - she was so attuned to that one experience that even little changes were magnified for her.  It gave her some interesting insights into picky eaters - the more restricted their palates, the more likely they were to restrict their eating in some ways, because the differences with new foods were almost too intense.

I got to thinking a lot about that.  When it creates an unwillingness to try something new, that level of attunement* is, I think, problematic.  However, it also suggests, to me, a conclusion that I find quite lovely: that deep intimacy and knowledge has the potential to lead, not to boredom and stultification, but to an attunement that allows one to notice ever-smaller details.  It means that the mundane has the ability to surprise and delight and teach, if we just pay careful and loving attention.

Which is how I feel about my connection to this little piece of place.  There is always something new to notice, and a deep sense of comfort in greeting old friends and noticing how they change through the seasons and years.

This morning it was cold.  Driving there, my car didn't think it was all that cold, but I well know that the trail itself, largely located in a little creek bed, tends to be anywhere from five to ten or more degrees colder than the surrounding area.  As soon as I stepped onto the dirt, I could feel the cold air, settled along the trail, licking at my ankles; it felt to me like a visceral demonstration of the urban heat island effect.  Because, while it was around 50 degrees in the parking lot, in the lowest part of the trail, the plants and earth were covered in frost.
As the sun began to touch the tops of the trees, though, the utter stillness that is typical for my morning walks was broken by the rustling of leaves - noticeable because the wind here doesn't usually pick up until later in the day.  But we're due for a Santa Ana, and as I crested a small rise, I could feel the currents of warmer air beginning to run down from the sunny spots further up the hill, before I descended back again into the cold still bottoms.
There were fun surprises waiting for me on my walk, too:
Someone decorated one of the little live oaks on the side of the trail with ornaments.  It made me smile; I'm guessing the tree feels rather festive, too.

Not to be outdone, one tree hung a leaf from a spider web, midair above the trail.
And of course the sycamores come with their own holiday ornaments.
This insight in itself gives me great pleasure.  I find that it applies to so many areas of my life: friendships, marriage, knitting - each, precisely because of consistency and time-depth, flourishes under attention.

 Happy Tuesday!

*Is attunement not a word?  It's marked as misspelled, and the option I get when I ask is "atonement", which is not at ALL what I'm going for.  If it's not, it ought to be.  Therefore, I declare that it is.