A Touch of Gray

I found my first gray hair yesterday.

There it was, shining out in radiant silver on my brush, immediately obvious among its dark siblings and the near-black bristles.

It was 21 inches long, and according to Robert, it came from right above my left eye.

I was incredulous.  How could I have not seen it for the years it had been growing there, so near my face?  How had I not seen it while braiding my hair one morning?  How could Robert have only noticed it last week?  How could he have NOT told me about it, leaving me to be blindsided by it getting shed onto my brush?

I cried.

I’m not sure why– I wasn’t really sad or scared or feeling another negative emotion– but it happened.

Honestly, I’ve been looking forward to my hair turning so that I can dye it without having to bleach it first.  I’ve been hoping I would be one of those people who grays in dramatic stripes at the temples, for maximum badassery.

But I suppose it was another reminder of my failure to force my life to conform to the plan.  The first indication that I might run out of time to buy that farm, build that house, learn to use my spinning wheel, find purpose for all the great things in my upcycling.

There’s plenty of time yet.  I’m not even 30 yet.  But though the days are long and practically innumerable, the years are short and oh-so-finite.

This is a season of transitions.  The election is coming, this is our last year of “unofficial” homeschooling before Númenor has to be registered with the state, today is the first day of autumn, next week is the start of Robert’s school year, and I’m aging.

Well, I mean, we’re all aging.  Everyone and everything is aging.  Hell, the universe itself is aging.  But you know what I mean.

It’s a little bittersweet, no matter the benefits that might come along with it, this dance of out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new that we do each autumn equinox.  I love the bustle of harvest and holiday preparations, canning the applesauce, snuggling in bed in the mornings, mulching the raised beds, adding new insulation to stuff the cracks, the dance of the hand-me-downs with the smalls, the creeping nightly frost, boiling down the salt, cinnamon and leaf mold in the air.  But I’m going to miss the feeling of summer sun on my bare feet, spending the warm evenings at the drive-in, taking my knitting out to the backyard and letting the breeze play with my hair, fresh berries and sun-ripened tomatoes, the smell of warm earth and cedar sap.

I guess the bigger transitions are like that, too.  You look forward to the new things, but leaving the old ones behind means sharp reminders of how good they were.

I never really enjoyed being young.  Being young, you want so badly to be older so you’ll be taken seriously, so you can have your independence, so your life can really begin.  But now I’m seeing it as a time of beautiful potential– you could be or do anything with your life, when it’s all stretched out in front of you like that, but by the time you’re older, you’ve already made choices and spent time and set yourself on a path.

Ah, well.

To grow up will be a very great adventure.

Especially once I have enough gray hair for it to show up when dyed purple.

10 Things I Need to Make this Fall

Now that we’re mired in the part of summer that’s too hot for much of anything– certainly unseasonable for having a big pile of flannel in my lap– but about to leave the last heat wave of the season, I’ve been looking forward to some cool-weather crafting and giving some thought to what needs to happen.

Here’s my list, necessities and fripperies in no particular order, of the top 10 things I need to make in the coming season:

  1. Tea towels.  The flour sack towels that wrapped a few of our favorite kitchen gadget wedding gifts are finally sprouting holes and wearing out.  I’m thinking the new ones are going to be mid-weight natural linen, but the same dimensions as the old ones.
  2. Coat for Númenor.  Another year, another coat.  This one is definitely going to be lined with some of that gorgeous Portland bridges fabric I picked up a few years ago, but I’m not sure what the outer fabric will be like or what pattern I’m going to use.  I might draft my own pattern.
  3. Hoodie for Númenor.  Something fun and slightly funky, as usual.
  4. Twin-size comforter for Ithilien.  In the depths of winter, the nursery gets pretty cold in the middle of the night.  At the moment, we have only one twin-size comforter, and that can cause strife.  I’m planning to whipstitch together a couple of old flannel top sheets, fill with some fluffy recycled fiberfill, and tie it down to quilt it.  The only trouble will be that the sheets I have are green and green-red plaid, and Ithilien is a red-loving kid who might object to the forest tones.  But it’ll be warm regardless.
  5. “What Lives Here?” picture book.  This is one I’ve been puzzling over for some time.  The smalls are always asking what kinds of animals live in our area, especially when we go on drives.  I’m currently working on a collage-style picture book showing different ecosystems and settings and filled with the different animals that might live there.  It’s a huge undertaking, even limiting myself to a 20-mile radius around our house, since we live in a transitional zone between at least three climates.
  6. Toy ankylosaurus for Ithilien.  I made a stegosaurus for Númenor a while back, and Ithilien demanded an ankylosaurus.  How one knits an ankylosaurus I am not sure (possibly with lots of bobbles?), but I’ll figure it out.
  7. Autumn leaf babies.  If you’ve been around a while, you might remember my spring raindrop babies.  I’ve been trying to work up to a whole four-seasons set: snowflakes, raindrops, fruit (or maybe sunshine?), and autumn leaves.  I love dollmaking, and these little felt-and-wood sweeties are downright addictive in their simplicity and appeal.
  8. Altoid tin boredom busters.  We recently inherited a big box of mint tins.  They are the perfect size to tuck in a pocket or purse and you can fill them with anything.  So I’ve been trying to develop a set of toys and activity kits inside Altoid tins for when we travel or waiting at restaurants.
  9. More petticoats for myself.  Hopefully at least two more cotton ones (black, I think) and if I can find room for it in the budget, I would love a woolen flannel one for winter wear.
  10. Halloween costumes.  This year the smalls have both decided on light-themed costumes, which means getting creative with LEDs and possibly wearable circuitry.  Númenor’s might yet be merged with his hoodie, but we have yet to have our first formal design meeting, so it’s very much still TBD.

 

 


 

What about you?  What are you looking forward to making as the weather changes?

Words for Scary Times

People are telling you to be afraid, to lash out, to barricade yourself in for fear of losing what little you have.

People are telling you that you’re doing it wrong, that you’re too loud, too brash, too unpolished, that your laugh is grating, that your smile is a sneer.

People are telling you that you take up too much space, that your standards are too high, that you’re being unrealistic, that you’re part of the problem.

That’s the language of fear.

Don’t let it close your mind.

I know you better than that.  You do, too.

You are brave.  You are a force for good.  You are fighting the good fight.

You are strong.  You speak truth to power.  You keep coming back and trying again.

You are loving.  You are the lullaby in the night.  You are the warm embrace.  You are the hope for a brighter day.

Don’t run away.  Reach out.

Don’t hoard.  Share.

Don’t see enemies.  Build community.

Don’t stand silent.  Speak up.

Don’t shrink.  Bloom.

 


A lot of people are struggling right now, me included.  These are the words that came to me today– I thought they might do someone else some good, too.

Stay safe out there, friends.  Take good care of yourselves, and each other.

 

 

Go Outside and Breathe

I know it’s late.

It’s hot.

It’s buggy.

You’re tired.

You just want to sit inside all day and do nothing, run out the clock on this day, and maybe try again tomorrow.

That mosquito bite on the sole of your left foot is driving you crazy and has made you shy away from sitting outside in the gathering dusk or the rising dawn or the fleeting midday shade.

Your stomach aches, whether from too much food or too little or the wrong kind you’re not sure, but it’s uncomfortable.

Your children are wild and full of evening energy, and their whooping and leaping makes you anxious and unnerved.

The thought of the sun on your skin reminds you of your uneven tan, its obvious lines, and how, if you were a responsible person, you probably would have bought sunscreen before late July.

I know.  I understand.

But sometimes you need to go outside anyway.  Even though it’s not easy.  Even though you’d rather plug in and tune out.

Because the grass is dried to hay-blond and its susurration in the breeze tells a secret.

Because the mourning dove is trying out his gentle call from that oak tree, right there outside the kitchen door.

Because the hills seem so close you could reach out and touch them but also a part of a golden fairyland in the lateral evening light.

Because the cross orb weaver on your tomato plant is just putting the finishing touches on tonight’s silken net.

Because the sky is still so blue.

Because the hens are clucking softly to themselves as they forage for a few last bites.

Because the blackberries are so ripe they stain your fingers no matter how tenderly you pick them.

Because the butterflies are chasing each other over the brambles and across the fences.

Because the wind smells sweet with hay and spicy with cookfire smoke and fresh from the river.

Right now, a Steller’s jay is stopping off in your fir tree to select nesting materials.

Right now, a train whistle is echoing off the ridges and over the water.

Right now, the breeze is freshening just a little and the sky is ocean-deep.

Right now, the scent of warmed earth and crushed blackberry is more summery than anything you’ve ever known before.

From out here, the children’s cries are muted and distant, and you can love them for their untamed nature.

From out here, you can’t hear the big bad world– or those mean-girl voices in your head– at all.

From out here, the work piled up on your desk doesn’t seem quite real, and you can have faith that there will be time enough for everything.

When you’re outside, you can breathe.

Try it.

Breathe in deep through your nose.  Open your mind wide and be present.  Breathe out slowly through your mouth, open your chest and release your spent and troubled air.

Breathe.

This is but one day of a lifetime.  Nothing has to be finished nor perfect today.

Breathe.

This is where you are now, and it is good.

Breathe.

This is all you are, this moment in the setting sun, this place full of hay-scented grasses and straw-colored hair on little heads, all bowing to you in recognition and shaking irreverently in the breeze.

Breathe.

 

You are the breath of your home, your family– you, too, must go in and out.

Regularly.

Deeply.

Consciously.

To release the toxins, and let the trees worry about recycling them.

To take in what you need to live, what the mosses and the weeds give back to you.

So go.

No more excuses.

It can’t wait until tomorrow, not this time.

Go.

Go outside, and breathe.

 

It Matters Monday: Ghostbusters Matters

“Safety lights are for dudes.” — Jillian Holtzmann, Ghostbusters (2016)

We saw the new Ghostbusters movie last weekend (spoilers herein).

It was AWESOME.

AND, importantly, it was a movie about women: a lesbian, a fat woman, a black woman, and a hopeless nerd.  I was asked a few months ago how I could possibly be excited to see this movie just based on the knowlege that it was a gender-swapped reboot, and the answer is, because gender MATTERS.

We’re not talking about Charlie’s Angels.  This was a movie about women being the main characters, driving the plot, existing for their own stories rather than being the decoration or the macguffin in someone else’s.  There were no gratuitous shots of cleavage or pantylines, no slow-motion walk-ups in full hair and make-up, no jokes or lines about the characters’ attractiveness.

The jokes were about female experiences: Kristen Wiig’s character is taken aside by her boss and immediately assumes he wants to talk about her attire being inappropriate for the workplace (even though she is dressed very conservatively).  There’s a practical joke that features a queef.  There are jokes about high-heeled shoes being impractical and getting stuff stuck in your bra.

The tension is also about female experiences: A white dude is given a media platform to crucify the Ghostbusters as an “expert,” to audit their narrative “objectively.”  The GBs are told over and over again that their work is a hobby, amateur, unprofessional, unnecessary, poorly-conducted, and that they should expect to be publicly shamed and disavowed even by people who know about ghosts (which Melissa McEwan at Shakesville sees as an extended metaphor about feminism).

I was excited to see this movie from the first time I heard about it.  I wanted to see a woman in a major motion picture who was as much of a sexual being as Venkman, as much of a hopeless nerd as Ray, as scary-smart as Egon, as frank and relatable as Winston.

And this movie DELIVERED on that.  Robert said it was like they put the original GB characters in a blender and poured out four new characters– but it’s more than that.  Each of the four is her own person, with her own priorities and her own story arc.  All of the important aspects of the Ghostbusters as characters carried through to the rebooted characters, in new but simultaneously familiar ways.

And, like Brave and Frozen, little girls are going to see this movie and it will expand their horizons.  They’re going to see that science is cool, that femmefolk can be friends without being catty and spiteful, that they can be funny, powerful, irreverent, strong, smart, scary, sexual, fat, brown, and heroic, just like guys can.

They’re going to see that, even if The Man doesn’t recognize your accomplishments, people will still see you and value what you did.

They’re going to see that they can be the heroes in their own stories.

And little boys are going to see women doing and being all that stuff, too.  And that will change the world for them.

Because media representation MATTERS.

WIP Wednesday

Lately I’ve been stuck.  Overwhelmed by the world around me, unable to concentrate, mired in several long and intricate projects at once…generally in a funk.

This week, though, I hit upon a bit of a solution.

I took this fancy new linen bag my mom found for me at the thrift store, stuck a couple little balls of scrap yarn in the bottom, and went on a baby sock knitting adventure.

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When I first learned to knit, I swore I would never be a sock knitter.  The tiny yarn, the slippery double-pointed needles, the complex technique, the repetition (because you have to start all over to make the second sock…) and the need for a fairly accurate fit made a seemingly insurmountable barrier to my ever taking up that particular craft.  But after a couple years, when I had to be knitting for a baby anyway, I finally decided to give it a try.

That first pair of plain Jane worsted-weight cotton (!) baby socks may not be anything special or even particularly beautiful, but they represented a major victory in terms of facing my fears.

As a cripplingly anxious person, to have attempted something so far out of my comfort zone and met with even modest success was a major testament to what force of will could do for me.

In the few years since then, I’ve knit cabled boot socks for Robert, basic socks in shockingly bright colors for the smalls, tube socks I invented myself, intricate socks as gifts in tiny yarns and grown-up sizes, and even a selfish pair of gray show-off lacy socks for myself.

And my baby sock collection has slowly grown to cover most sizes and most needs, because the best way to try out a new sock style or technique or color combo is to make a pair of tiny trial socks, and because baby socks are such an excellent way to use up leftover bits of lightweight yarn.

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This week, I’ve tried roll-top socks, plain socks, and snuggly winter socks (which Ithilien promptly lost somewhere in the nursery), and now I’m working on a second pair of socks knitted lengthwise in a cheery self-striping yarn.

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From here, I’m going to try the really adventurous stuff: manual vertical pinstripes (I’m thinking gray and purple) and Victorian socks on two needles.

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And hopefully, by the time I’m done with all those, the mental fog I’ve been in will lift, the world will be a little kinder and safer, and we can all carry on doing our real work.

“Hostile Indians”

Today I was reading an older article (2008) in Mother Jones about the racial context of the Second Amendment, and I was stopped in my tracks by this stunner of a paragraph, apparently written unironically.

None of this figured into Tuesday’s arguments at the Supreme Court. Instead, a majority of the justices, especially Kennedy, seemed to buy the story that the founders were inordinately concerned with the ability of early settlers to use guns to fend off wild animals and Indians, not rebellious slaves. (Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick counts pivotal swing-voter Kennedy making no fewer than four mentions of a mythical “remote settler,” who Kennedy suggested would have needed a gun to “defend himself and his family against hostile Indian tribes and outlaws, wolves and bears, and grizzlies.”)

Justice Kennedy doesn’t surprise me by this “hostile Indian tribes and outlaws” comment.  But for such a radically liberal publication as Mother Jones to use the phrase “fend off wild animals and Indians” is surprising.

This article is about white-on-black racism, its historical context, the implications of the legal system created by the Continental Congress.  That is very important to discuss, but surely we can find a way to do that without casually supporting the narratives that legitimize the Amerindian genocide.

In this one little paragraph, these two sentences and paranthetical quote, we hear Indians described as “hostile” (if defending your homeland from invasion by violent oppressors is hostility, why are the participants in the American Revolution remembered as heroes instead of dangerous aggressors?), and see them apparently unthinkingly categorized with animals twice.  They’re wild, they’re outlaws.

Nowhere in this piece of writing does the author show even the slightest effort to assert that, EVEN IF the framers of the US constitution had intended the second amendment mainly to allow frontier settlers to defend their illegitimate seizures and occupations with lethal force, that STILL would have been an inherently racially violent act.  Nowhere does the author push back on the narrative that white occupation of the Americas was a neutral or even heroic process.

I expect better than this from you, Mother Jones.

On America and Greatness

I don’t think it’s a secret that I love living here, that this is my home.

But I cringe when I hear politicians talk about America and greatness.  No matter who, and no matter how– whether it’s President Obama describing the things that make America great in a State of the Union, the Trump campaign’s “Make America Great Again” swag, or Hillary Clinton stumping about how America is already great.

I wonder if they really believe what they’re saying, or if they just know that it polls well.  I wonder if they’ve ever really thought about it, or researched it, this idea of America being somehow superior among nation-states.  I especially wonder about Obama, the black child of a white single mother, and Clinton, the civil rights activist and feminist icon– do they have to train themselves out of looking contemptuous when they spout these phrases?

I mean, surely they know.  They have marginalized identities, they are well-educated, they are politically left of center.  Surely they can see the opressions and injustices of the past and present– the racial warfare that accompanied the birth of the nation, as transatlantic slave labor created mercantile prosperity and westward expansion was synonymous with Amerindian holocaust; the toxic patriarchal agenda that permeates all levels and ages of American history, erasing the accomplishments of historical women and constraining modern femmefolk to a life of second-class possibilities; the racial, sexual, orientational, and gender-based disparities that have followed US society into the 21st century.

America isn’t great.

It has never been great.

Not for everyone.

In fact, America as a society has only ever served the needs of a small minority of the population.  Perhaps it was, or even is, great for them, I wouldn’t know– at no time in history has there been an iteration of the US in which I would be in that minority.

The American Dream– come here, work hard, and by dint of your effort alone become rich and well-respected– is a myth.  It’s a convenient fiction perpetuated by the oligarchy, designed to discourage lower-class rebellion in a cultural context where Calvinist predestination remains highly relevant and wealth disparity is stark and endemic.

There have always been a few people living the gilded life while many starve and freeze and even more hustle and graft to support them.

That, to me, doesn’t fit the definition of greatness.

In order to insist on America being great, whether now or in the past, one would have to somehow magically exclude from consideration that the prosperity of the US came through the blood of chattel slaves, over the bodies of slain indigenous people, and in the ruthless industrial consumption of children, elderly widows, and vulnerable immigrants.

In order to insist on America being great, whether now or in the past, one would have to forget that nearly every major liberal victory in its history was a case of America being late to the party, an embarrassing truth in the face of a pervasive narrative about America the great Enlightenment political experiment, especially as the US remains behind the curve today.

In order to insist on America being great, whether now or in the past, one would have to quietly pretend that its status as the sole superpower was somehow more related to its inherent superiority, or at least to the deliberate actions of its leaders, than it is to the confluence of greed, indescriminate slaughter, and simple accident.

America isn’t great.  Has never been.

No amount of firecrackers and political rallies could change that.

America could be great someday.  Maybe it’s even on the path to greatness now.  But ahistorical national pride won’t bridge the gap.

Let’s have bold, critical conversations about the American state instead.  Let’s talk, not about how great America is, but about how great it could be if we perservere.  Let’s talk about how to make America great, how to honor the promises of the liberal principles and founding narratives we hold dear.

Let’s talk about how to create liberty and justice for all.  What it means for Lady Liberty to lift her lamp beside the golden door.  What we can do now in order to form a more perfect union.  How we can come together, and be one out of many.

All that starts with saying, out loud, in your biggest speech of the year, on your bumper stickers, and in your stump speeches, that America isn’t great– yet.  That America continues to fail the poor, the elderly, people of color, immigrants, queer people, women, and the differently-abled.  That America cannot be great when there are still children facing hunger, women tasked with preventing their own rapes, communities fighting the extinction of their cultural identity, cities bereft of safe drinking water, families unable to make the best choices for their children, people who don’t have enough of what they need to thrive.

A nation is its people.  America won’t be great, can’t be great, until each and every American has the resources and support they need to live a great life.

And on that day, I will fly the flag and be proud to be an American.

Because on that day, America will be great.

No

I can’t write about knitting or sewing this week.

I can’t.

Too much has happened to me this week.  There’s too much anger and sadness in me to compose a few blithe paragraphs about handwork right now.

I want to share with you what’s on my mind instead of what’s in my work bag today.

Today is the first day after the heat wave here on the west coast.  I know that the majority of media sources in this country have just started to cover the record-breaking heat, because, as with most things, if it doesn’t happen at least as far east as Chicago, it might as well have happened in another country.

Don’t get me wrong, I love living on the frontier.  I love standing knee-deep in the Pacific, looking west, and feeling the wilderness around me.

But I didn’t hear about the oil train derailment that happened a scant 10 miles from my house for hours after the fact, and even then it was only because I went to a local news website trying to figure out why there was so much traffic stacked up on highway 30.

We were so very lucky in Mosier.  If the train had crashed the day before, the winds would have made the fire worse by orders of magnitude.  If the explosion or fire had been bigger, Mosier would have lost a school, homes, lives.  If it had been raining, which it frequently does in early June, there would have been no way to mitigate the spill of oil into the Columbia.  If the derailment had happened 10 miles further west, it might have taken out a freeway overpass, a number of local businesses, or even my house.

My house.  Where my children live.

I’ve been fighting against the bomb trains for years.  And this one nearly got me.

By contrast, I was quite physically safe from the Stanford rapist.  But as I read the victim’s statement and the letter the rapist’s father wrote to the judge, I wept the angry, familiar tears of someone who has lived her whole life embroiled with rape culture.

I remembered the first time I was sexually harassed– in line at the drinking fountain, in kindergarten, age 5– and I remembered how embarrassed I felt.  How I stood there stupidly and let him keep touching me even though my stomach was knotting up and my legs wanted to run.  How the words he said were permanently etched into my psyche.  How I never told anyone.  How I felt ashamed by the incident, like it was my fault.

The little boy who groped me and made sexual comments about my prepubescent body probably doesn’t even remember that it happened.

I remember him, though.  I remember his name, his face, his hair cut, even though we moved across the state the summer after I finished first grade and I haven’t seen him since.  And when I hear about men who are so assured of their right to touch women, who feel as entitled to their sexual attentions as the Stanford rapist obviously does, I think about that boy and I wonder if he ever learned about consent.  If he became the kind of guy who tells rape jokes and makes his sexual partners feel obligated to engage in acts they don’t enjoy.  If he went on to rape someone at a frat party in college.  If he became one of the relatively few men who are serial rapists– how many victims would he have by now, at nearly 30 years old?

I think it’s that survivor’s sensitivity that made me uncomfortable with Bernie Sanders from the beginning.  I wanted to like him.  I bought into the hype of his being a challenger from Clinton’s left who would force her left during the primary at least.  But then, I watched him debate with her.  I heard the dogwhistles when he accused her of “yelling”, tried to paint her as manipulative and dishonest, insinuated that she could be bought.  I read the things he wrote about women and sexual relations when he was younger.  I watched him treat his wife with incredible disrespect onstage at a public event.  I heard the contempt in his voice when dealing with female reporters.  I heard him insist that people who didn’t support him didn’t know their own best interests.  I watched his campaign double down on the idea that supporting Clinton because she’s a woman is stupid, wrong, even traitorous.

I watched him lie and cheat and steal and take no responsibility.  I watched him blame everyone else for his problems.  I watched him allow his supporters to run wild, threatening women and disrupting events.

I voted for Hillary Clinton.  Because women’s rights are human rights.  Because she listens to people and genuinely cares about them.  Because she plays by the rules.  Because she cares about indigenous people’s issues.  Because she has been a tireless advocate for the rights of children and women for her entire life.  Because she’s always been ahead of the curve on LGBT issues.  Because her staff is diverse and well-trained and highly skilled.  Because she admits it and apologizes when she is wrong.  Because she says the word “abortion”.

Last night Clinton became the presumptive nominee.  The first female major party nominee ever.  EVER.  I watched her speech.  I watched the commemorative video.  I cried.  I was so proud to have been part of getting her this far.  I was so excited for the general election.

This morning I read the news and learned that at his event last night, Bernie Sanders, who has repeatedly claimed that he’s an advocate for women, allowed 15 seconds of booing and hissing directed towards Hillary Clinton, the nominee of his party and the first woman EVER to be a major party nominee for president.  He didn’t even recognize the glass ceiling she shattered this week.

I realized that he doesn’t see her.  He doesn’t see women.  He doesn’t see ME.

And I’ve had about enough of being trivialized and ignored.  I’m done being relegated to the sidelines.

I have no more patience for those who marginalize me, be they east-coast-centered mainstream news sources, legislators who insist that shipping oil by rail is safe, teary-eyed rapists who think they’ve done nothing wrong, or political candidates who think it’s irrelevant whether they actually have a good record on women’s issues or just say they do in interviews.

My life is too wild and precious to spend it legitimizing all this bullshit.

So I am renewing my declaration of war against the patriarchy this summer.

gracedchin / Via etsy.com

And that is the work I have in progress this week.