Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The First Step

As I have probably mentioned once or twice, we begin our transcontinental voyage today. There will be stretches without internet access so I will be posting when I can. We have several stops before actually getting to the first knit together in Winnipeg on Tuesday, June 1st, including a stopover with the blogless Janine - knitter, spinner, and farmer extraordinaire. Also an amazing cook - she sent me a list of menu possibilities that was about a mile long, all of it homemade including cheese, bread, and more. She is a destination in and of herself.

More soon...

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Other

With all the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, I have been feeling very badly about the fact that we are signed up to spend the next five weeks driving a gas-guzzling vehicle. My original plan was founded on the idea that I could use my grant money more efficiently if I wasn't paying for gas plus motels or B&Bs and food. Now I am feeling very dirty, like I have met the problem and it is me. Alas, the payments have been made and we will board our 25' long, class C RV on Wednesday afternoon. Considering that the largest vehicle I have driven in years and years is a Prius (or as our neighbor likes to say, our Pius), I am a little nervous about handling such a large thing. I guess you get used to it.

I have been scouring the internets for tips on driving and camping in RVs. Turns out there is a huge amount of information available - websites, blogs, email groups. From what I have been reading, I think I can generalize and say that the average age of a typical RVer is about two decades older than me and their political leanings are much further to the right than mine. They are very concerned about TV reception and like dogs.

So, I have to find that place within myself that is a 65 year old, Christian man who loves his Fox TV.

I know he's in there somewhere...

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Pen is Mightier Than the... Javelin?

One more great photograph from our comics class with Rami Efal. It has been a highlight of our homeschooling year.

And here are two photographs from the Waldorf Olympiad held out in Garden City, Long Island. The students were divided into city states and competed in five events: long jump, discus, javelin, wrestling and relay race. This being Waldorf, there was much ceremony and no actual competition - athletes were judged on beauty, skill, distance and form.

Finnian was in Sparta (are we surprised about that?) and Lucy in Athens (again, no surprise there). What was a surprise, although I suppose it shouldn't have been considering the amount of time he spends with his homemade swords and sticks, was that Finnian blew everyone away with his javelin toss. Not that he was competing, mind you. He had it all: beauty, skill, form and most of all, distance.

Is it possible that he has found a more constructive use for his love of waving around long sticks?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cue the Marvin Gaye

Let's get it on....

It's time to turn the lights down low and check out some of yarn that has come into my life recently. It hasn't all been about RV campgrounds, dumping stations and East Toledo. Oh no.

Sensuality...who's got it?

This is little taste of sweet sugar comes from islandsweet. I just can't get enough. I have learned, baby, that you have to act quickly when you see what's right. So, I snapped this one up as soon as she posted it. Oh, the ones that got away...they still burn in my memory.

Let's see that again. Uh-huh. That's right.

And this one. From her William Morris series. William Morris is

I don't think I can keep this whole Marvin Gaye thing going.

Back to normal voice...

This lovely comes from my friend Sono, who has a large inventory of handspun that she someday plans to sell on etsy but has yet to get around to actually doing it. In desperation to rid herself of the stacks of yarn before a home renovation, she brought three baskets full of yarn to our weekly Waldorf Fair Trade Cafe at the BWS. I had my eye on this one from the moment I had seen it drying on a railing in her house. I raved and raved about it and when I saw the baskets last Thursday, I raced over to snatch it up. It was gone! Someone had already bought it and I had missed my chance. A tearful moment. But no...Sono pulled from her bag a small package - a gift, if you can believe it. She gave it to me.

Since that meant I now had a small sum of cash that was meant to be spent on yarn sitting in my wallet, I purchased two other skeins that are becoming a cute children's hat and mitt set destined for Wee Ball Yarns.

And because I know how to spin too...

Here is an amazingly gorgeous skein - all 440 yds of it, thank you very much - made from two colourways from Capistrano Fiber Arts. I tried to order more so I could make myself a sweater from it but she doesn't have any and doesn't have plans to make any more. Le sigh. I guess it also is destined for Wee Ball. I am not listing anything new just now, however, since we are leaving so very, very soon.

And this....50% cashmere and 50% silk spun two-ply, lace weight. So light and soft, like the breath of an angel on your cheek.

Sex and death. Isn't that what yarn is all about?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Art, Art, I Want You

I have always walked a wary circle around the words "fibre artist" (or "fiber artist" if you must). It is not something I have ever thought of myself as being but people do call me that on a regular basis. I know that both Elaine Reichek and Janet Morton (two of my favourite artists using needlework) share my feeling that, for what we want to say, this fibre-y thing is working right now. Things may change - indeed I have been steadily drifting towards other media as my ideas have shifted.

Yet fibre-y things remain deeply attractive and compelling to me and so I find many metaphors to work through that require their use, conveniently enough. When I look around at what other artists are making using these materials, a lot of it is, to be brutally honest, contrived and kind of boring. It reminds me of when I was looking through books of 1970s fibre art last summer: 99% of the images were so predictable and dated but then, turn the page, and there was Anni Albers or Lenore Tawney. How to articulate why their work beams out in its strength while the others' works fade back into history.

There are artists working today in ways that feel fresh and sharp and unsentimental. These days, I feel like I am working ideas surrounding knitting and needlework more than the actual thing itself, so I am always delighted to discover people who are taking up the actual thing and making it new and exciting and relevant.

Here are three artists doing just that:

This is a work by Bethany Mitchell, an artist based in the UK. I came across her work as a link from another artist who I admire. I really like how she incorporates knitting and crochet with drawing without lapsing into cute or ironic. Feels very sharp to me.

Rilla Marshall is an artist living in Halifax. She has been making weaving that explore the communities where she has lived in Atlantic Canada. This is one of her latest pieces using fragments of coastline. I think she is on to something. It will be very interesting to see where she goes with it.

This piece, which I have a special love for given my interest in suburban sprawl, is by Mallory Weston. I stumbled across this piece when it was in an exhibition at the Hunterdon Museum in New Jersey. The artist is actually a metalsmith so I have no idea what possessed her to create it. It is called "Survival Bag".

Monday, May 17, 2010

Phase IV and How It Sucks

The all-important atlas arrived this morning. It comes just as I am entering into a new phase in the project process (Canadian pronunciation, please - that would be pro-ject pro-cess). Like grieving and death, there seem to be five stages to every project I take on.

It goes like this:

Phase I - You know what would be a great idea....! Yes, this is such an amazing idea that it will be fantastic in every way imaginable. It really should involve as much work as possible to fully realize it or it won't be the amazing, great, fantastic idea that I know will be so fantastically amazing.

Phase II - I had better plan out this idea a little. Hmmm, seems like a lot of details and possibly a lot of work, but hey, it's such a great idea that it will totally be worth it. Plus, I'm not afraid of a little work. Ha! I thrive on it!

Phase III - I know this is a good idea but it is really difficult and is kind of screwing up my life right now. But I know it will be ok in the end. I sure am tired.

Phase IV - Holy sh*t, this is insane. Why did I ever think up this horrible idea? When will I ever be released from this living hell?

Phase V - thank god that's over. It was great, 'though.

Note: I am at phase IV right now.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Comics Class with Rami Efal

This spring we have been hosting a small class at our house led by artist, Rami Efal. Rami is a dear friend and a very accomplished comic and graphic novel artist. I feel very lucky that he has the time to come each week and work with our children as they develop their drawing and story telling skills.

We started with an hour long class but quickly realized that more time was needed. The kids are completely absorbed in their work.

Rami's straight forward but gentle approach has made him something of a rock star in our household. He has a great way of listening and responding with respect to their ideas without a hint of condescension, a rare quality even among teachers.

Rami also is the creator of a newly published graphic novel, Never Forget, Never Forgive. It is a beautifully made work with a surprising story, although I can't pretend to know a lot about the genre. You can learn more about how it was made here. And then please go buy a copy here.

In November, Rami also is participating in a week-long multi-faith retreatin Auschwitz/Birkenau to bear witness at the site where several members of his family members were killed in the Holocaust in World War 2. The retreat will include meditation and Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist liturgical services, as well as a name-reading of victims. He will be reading the names of his grandparents siblings, mothers, fathers as well as the names of friends’ relatives who have fallen in the different wars of Israel.

To help pay for this trip, Rami has created the One-Face Project, where he will paint an ink portrait of a loved one and send it to you for a cost of $50. Check it out here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Knitting Sprawl - Art For Your Brain

Amazingly enough, we are leaving for the second part of our traveling Trans-Canadian RV adventure in about 10 days. It feels a bit like a I crammed several years worth of work into the intervening six months between when we left off in Toronto and now, but here we are, maps in hand, and ready to go (sort of).

One thing about doing all those other projects in between has been that I have kind of forgotten what I was interested in with the whole Knitting Sprawl project. I know I had an idea in there somewhere. Like a rusty, creaky wheel, as I get myself back in touch with knitters in central and western Canada and start to plot out our drive, I feel the whole thing begin to move a little more smoothly with use. Maybe I do have some ideas worth pursuing. Huh.

One thing that always comes to the forefront for me about this project is the power of conversation. Increasingly, I am drawn towards making projects that result in this ephemeral situation rather than a concrete, material object. I like that what remains is a connection in your brain, which you can develop and change and remember or totally forget about. Making art in people's brain tissue...there's a concept!

In any case, in order to properly mess with your head, I need people to actually participate. I set up a group on ravelry for Knitting Sprawl and I hope, if you haven't already, you will join it now. I plan to post much more regularly there so that people who have already participated in the project can talk with those who might in the coming weeks. I think there is a lot to talk about.

I just put up a new question, so please take a look and be part of the conversation.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Party Hardy

Occasionally I take a look at a blog called No Impact Man - the project of a guy who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who spent a year living in a way that was (almost) completely carbon neutral. Now he has a book and, I think, a movie about his experience. All this could possibly add up to him being a kind of self-righteous jerk but his blog suggests otherwise. I was particularly struck by this post.

In it, he wonders if we are going about trashing our planet, shouldn't we at least be having a much better time?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mirror, Mirror

Thank you to the commenters to yesterday's post. Admittedly I posted that in frustration with what I perceived to be the ginormous sense of entitlement that I sometimes observe in my children, with yesterday morning's behavior being high on the life's list. Although we exist in a land of plenty over here in our household, my children actually have a fraction of the stuff that most North American children have (no TV, no computer games, no Wii, blah, blah, blah) yet they still go about with a sense of "I deserve this and more." It can be a little overwhelming in how it makes me feel. But as Nathan said, and I know in my heart, they will get it when they get it. And who knows, maybe a little of the anger and discomfort I feel observing their awe-inspiring self-centered attitude comes from seeing myself reflected back.

Ouch! I hate it when my kids do that!

Oh ego, you are so large and so clever. Is it possible to feel egotistical about your own ego? I wonder...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


If you have read this blog more than a couple of times then you know that we are homeschooling our children. To be even more specific, we are unschooling. Unschooling got some bad press recently when the Today show did an awful piece about that was, from the get go, completely biased against it - George Stephanopolis admits it right at the beginning of the segment. I am not linking to it because it was just so terrible but you can find it if you really want to see it. But I am a huge proponent of unschooling because I think it is how people learn - when they want to know something, they become highly motivated seek out the knowledge and understand it thoroughly. Why not start young?

For us, unschooling also means giving our children the room to make mistakes. They make choices and sometimes those choices are not such good ones and, as Ronald Reagan once famously said, mistakes were made. Unlike Reagan, however, they own their mistakes. They really don't want to own their mistakes because it is so much better in the short run to find blame in someone, something, anything, else - taking responsibility for one's own actions might just be life's hardest lesson. So, while they don't usually appreciate it at any given moment, they are getting a leg up on learning this lesson, and in going through this with them, so am I.

Tuesday mornings we all head to Brooklyn for a day-long program for homeschoolers at the Brooklyn Waldorf School. They chose to participate in the program last summer when we were making some of our decisions about how to spend our time this year and now they are following through. We have been participating in this program for a couple of years and there are things they like about it and things they dislike. Somehow on Tuesday mornings, all they remember is the dislike part and we almost always have a fight to get out the door.

For example, this morning Finnian's first words were "why exactly do we have to go to Waldorf?" Sigh.

We have gone over this many times. We have gone over this as many times as there have been Tuesdays since January. Lest you think I am an ogre who insists that my children do torturous things despite any amount of pain in order to learn a life lesson, please let me tell you that this program is a combination of academic work taught with sensitivity and gentleness towards each individual and rich experiential workshops in foreign languages, cooking, drama, woodworking and games. Hardly a prison sentence, especially since they do these things with six of their closest friends. Yet to hear them talk about it, I am sending them off to the coal mines each Tuesday.

There seems to be no way to tell anyone that the life they are leading is perfect and, in this instance, full of such enormous privilege that, in any other era, they would be considered royalty.

If you do not see the way, you do not see it even as you walk on it, as they say.

Friday, May 07, 2010

More Unconditional Yes Images

Can you stand it?

Michele Cohen, the director of the Trustman Gallery at Simmons College recently sent me a CD with a bunch of new images from the exhibition. She had generously lent me her camera when I forgot my own. I know, such professionalism.

Here are a sampling. I hope you enjoy them!

These were two of the loans to the exhibition. On top are the pair of shoes that were worn at Michele's wedding. The bottom is a sweater knit by the donor's mother for one of her children. She felt it represented her feelings towards her own children - the kind of unconditional love that she felt as a mother.

These three items include a wedding photograph loaned by the president of Simmons College, a dress made of post-it notes and newspaper made a student who works in the fashion industry and has embraced unconventionality. The third item on the right was a late donation and I don't remember exactly the story behind it.

Here we have nail polish, which cracked me up, a basketball, and one person's representation of her dog.

Each of the loaned items had a story that was written down and included in a notebook in the gallery, so it was possible to walk around and read about each thing on view.

Here is a view of the commemorative porcelain pieces I made for the exhibition based on items I found in the archives. Only a couple of people really noticed them or made mention of them to me but I found them rather amusing. They were a bit peripheral to the central idea of the exhibition.

A shot of the floor of the living room, which was made from overlapping afghans. It was a great colour story happening.

The living room was centered in the gallery, taking advantage of the unique architecture of the space, including these amazing sky lights that made the room glow from within. So lovely. (Also a lamp shade that I covered.)

This is my mom, Rachel Heller, and me in the living room. Rachel was the student who organized the knitted trail up to the gallery. She also is an artist and the person behind the nail polish donation. She was a student in the arts administration class that I worked with - such a wonderful group of engaged, strong women.

This was one of the ways that we tried to go beyond the walls of the gallery and into the greater Simmons community in a physical way. I made up images that were placed in all the napkin dispensers in the campus dining facilities. I chose archival photographs of notable alumnae and put their names and class dates on them.

A detail shot.

PS. At the suggestion of the fabulous Rachel Heller, I made a fan page for myself on facebook. If you are on the dreaded FB, please join up! I suspect I will be using it as part of our central/western Canada Knitting Sprawl adventure.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Would-be Mashed Potatoes

Yesterday I posted something and then deleted it. It was a small story about last week's sesshin. Anyway, when I re-read it, I felt it trivialized something that was hugely important (to me), which is to say the whole sesshin experience. I just don't know how to write about it or even if I should. And so, delete, delete, delete.

Perhaps my change of heart and mind are reflective of how re-entry in to the rest of the world has been a little shaky for me this time. Sometimes when things open up, they expose a tender, raw place.

So, I offer you my version of blog comfort food.

Some yarn I spun as a commission - it is to be hair for a Living Dead Doll. I don't really know what Living Dead Dolls are, but this is the hair.

And this poem. Poems now arrive daily in my inbox. Carol kindly signed me up here and I have been enjoying them quite a bit. Not all are of equal quality but each is definitely worth reading. This one was a lovely surprise. Thought-provoking and beautiful, it also was written by a member of our sangha.

by Chase Twichell

Above the blond prairies,
the sky is all color and water.
The future moves
from one part to another.

This is a note
in a tender sequence
that I call love,
trying to include you,
but it is not love.
It is music, or time.

To explain the pleasure I take
in loneliness, I speak of privacy,
but privacy is the house around it.
You could look inside,
as through a neighbor's window
at night, not as a spy
but curious and friendly.
You might think
it was a still life you saw.

Somewhere, the ocean
crashes back and forth
like so much broken glass,
but nothing breaks.
Against itself,
it is quite powerless.

Irises have rooted
all along the fence,
and the barbed berry-vines
gone haywire.

Unpruned and broken,
the abandoned orchard
reverts to the smaller,
harder fruits, wormy and tart.
In the stippled shade,
the fallen pears move
with the soft bodies of wasps,
and cows breathe in
the licorice silage.

It is silent
where the future is.
No longer needed there,
love is folded away in a drawer
like something newly washed.
In the window,
the color of the pears intensifies,
and the fern's sporadic dust
darkens the keys of the piano.

Clouds containing light
spill out my sadness.
They have no sadness of their own.

The timeless trash of the sea
means nothing to me—
its roaring descant,
its multiple concussions.
I love painting more than poetry.