1993: Frisco

Now that I had a permanent job, I was living in an apartment of my own. It was a “garden” apartment that did, in fact, have a tiny bit of arable dirt bordering a square concrete patio. I remember planting basil, marigolds, and chili peppers that I hung on a string to dry in my kitchen after the “harvest.” I don’t think that I ever actually used any in my cooking, but it’s just fun to grow peppers. I did grow enough basil to produce exactly one batch of pesto.

The kitchen wasn’t much at all, but I tried to learn how to do something with it. One day (it probably took me all day) I made two cups of hummus and managed to use every appliance and mixing bowl in my possession. It may or may not have been the cleanup from that experiment that led to my never making hummus again.

just 1981 Buick

A car, a white picket fence, and an apartment of my own. What more could I want?

It was a very small apartment, a little bigger than one person needed but certainly not big enough for two people. I wasn’t the entertaining type, so I didn’t need room for a crowd. By 1993 my boyfriend had moved to my town and was renting his own garden apartment in a building near mine. Still, something was missing. We put our heads together and decided that what I needed was…a cat.

One Saturday we paid a visit to the Cat Welfare Association‘s facility in Clintonville. It was a no-kill refuge that (somewhat obviously) handled only cats. The narrow building next to the train tracks was packed with cages, and cats of all ages and colors — in and out of cages, as there were dozens of cats that roamed freely about the building, sat on the tops of the cages, and jumped up and down from the windowsills — put on their most plaintive vocal performances as we walked the length of the shelter. I didn’t know what kind of cat I was looking for, so I spent a lot of time looking into the cages of the cats who commended my attention.

I made three trips up and down the aisle until the feline chorus began to subside, and that’s when I saw a cat I hadn’t noticed before. He was a grey tiger male seated in the back of his cage, with his tail tucked around him like a B. Kliban cat impersonating a meatloaf. When I looked at him he uncurled his tail, stretched, and came to the front of the cage. His calm demeanor said, “I’ve been waiting for you to notice; can we go home now?”

The new cat was of undertermined age, though no youngster; he was already neutered and declawed. Now that he had a home, I had to give him a name.

He was a confident, calm, and self-contained sort of fellow — not clingy or codependent. I named him after the most confident character I could think of: Francisco d’Anconia from Atlas Shrugged. (Of course, that would make his full proper name Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastián d’Anconia, but I never had occasion to use it.) Of course, what I called him was Frisco, the nickname given to Francisco by his childhood (and sometimes adulthood) companion Dagny Taggart.

Kliban cat window

Frisco - apt - cropped

I’m realizing as I write this story that it is, in fact, chronologically incorrect. My best Frisco story involves a trip to Oxford to visit my boyfriend for the weekend, so obviously we didn’t go cat-shopping together after he moved to my apartment complex, but before. The strands of time are starting to tangle, but each separate part of the story is true and there is no intention to deceive.

What’s the best Frisco story, you ask? Well, not knowing how I could leave him alone for the weekend, I took him along with me in the car on a trip to Oxford, which was a two-hour drive each way. The apartment where we were staying didn’t allow pets, which wasn’t much of a problem as Frisco slinked from under one piece of furniture to under another one. When we returned to Grove City he didn’t come out from under the bed for a day or so.

The next Friday afternoon I was getting ready to go to Oxford again. When Frisco saw me packing a bag he hid under the bed and refused to emerge.

“Okay, buddy,” I said (I may be paraphrasing). “I know you didn’t have a good trip last time. You can stay here this weekend. I’ll give you extra food and clean out your litter box when I get back. Cool?”

Slowly, tentatively, he emerged from under the bed and eyed me cautiously.

“I swear,” I said.

“Cool,” he said (I may be interpreting).

Frisco - condo - cropped


Knitwise, I made a lot of progress on Nakia’s Infinity Scarf in the last week, getting all the way through the first yarn. I broke the yarn and was ready to put the project aside until I found more of the yarns, then I decided to catch up on the Black Panther Shawl discussion thread on Ravelry. That’s when I discovered:

  1. What the designer really meant by a “twisted stitch.”
  2. That the pattern called for four skeins of a discontinued colorway of Noro Silk Garden rather than just the one I’d been fortunate enough to find.
  3. In fact, almost all the yarn called for in the pattern had been discontinued.

So. The scarf/shawl-in-progress is still in the project bag until I summon the will to tink, rip, or frog the project back to just before the row with the twisted stitches.

In the meantime I have knitted, bound off, and started a second Baby Trekkie Washcloth. It has the commendable features of being an easy to knit project made from an available yarn on comfortable needles to eminently readable instructions. Usually this is the kind of thing I would call “boring.” This week I call it “welcome.”

When I haven’t been knitting (or rueing the day I ever learned how to knit) I have been finally starting to train for the Scenic Shore 150, a two-day charity bike ride culminating in Door County, Wisconsin, and benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I did this ride four years ago, and last fall I got a terrific discount on registration and therefore planned to shake the dust off of myself and my bike and do it again.

Unfortunately, the weather so far this year has been absolutely terrible for cycling. When we didn’t have unseasonable heat in May, we had unseasonable cold in June — or 30 mph winds, driving cold rain, or tornado watches, take your pick. It was the kind of weather that would make you give up cycling forever if you were foolish enough to go out in it. So I didn’t.

Last weekend the weather was, finally, perfect. I finally got myself off the couch and finally got back on the bike. And back on, and back on, and back on. I have to do this efficiently; I have only next weekend for training and the following weekend is the ride.

The part I’m concerned about is not the ride itself — I’ve done it before and can do it again. It’s fantastically well supported and even if something unexpected happens and I can’t finish, I won’t beat myself up. I will go as far as I can and do my best for a terrific cause. What worries me is the fundraising aspect; I’m only halfway to my modest goal even though I’m sponsoring myself to the tune of $10 a training ride. (Yep, “pay to play.”) If you know someone who’d like to donate to a great cause, send them to this post and ask them to click on the link at “Scenic Shore 150.” We thank you for your support.

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Published in: on July 9, 2018 at 11:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

1989: The First of Four Elephants

Several life-changing events happened to me in 1989, but in order to choose a story to tell I will have to ignore a very large elephant that happens to be crowding out almost everything else from the room. One of the rules I set for myself in this storytelling series is that I would try not to tell anyone else’s story, and writing about my first marriage definitely qualifies as telling someone else’s story — even if the someone else isn’t likely to read it or to care about what I might have to say. This rule is self-imposed, and it’s about respect. It’s my rule and I’m sticking to it.

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In the spring of 1989 I took the GRE and applied (and was accepted) to graduate school at Miami; in May I graduated with honors from Miami University with a double major in Creative Writing and English Literature. In July I got married, took a brief honeymoon in Denver, and returned to Oxford just in time to take an intensive pedagogy class for graduate assistants who would be teaching freshman English in August. In that class I met someone who would become a fast friend; in fact, you could say he owns the second elephant.

The summer of 1989 kicked off a complicated and stressful time in my life that persisted for entirely too long, and I didn’t often make the best decisions. Thus, we witness the generation of a series of elephants which shall not be discussed. (Special note for those who are 22 years old and think they know everything about the world: You don’t. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you. But it’s all right; I know you’re not listening anyway.) I’ll let you know when one of my elephants has wandered into the room, and we can talk about something else while it has a bit of hay and water.

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To avoid talking about my elephants or anyone else’s, let’s go back in time a bit to the spring of 1989, when my capstone project for the Honors program was due. Because my degree was in creative writing, I didn’t have a research project to present. My requirement would be fulfilled when I read from my work, to an audience in Hall Auditorium. I repeat, my degree was in creative writing. Not speech, communication, theatre, drama, broadcast journalism, or performance art. In silence and solitude I had written my words, considered them, revised them, and offered a portfolio of short fiction to be evaluated by my “thesis” committee in the creative writing program. Now, for the sake of the Honors program, I had to make the transition from the page to the stage.

Hall Auditorium, located on the other side of the campus library from Bishop Hall, was originally constructed in 1908 and named after Miami’s fifth president, John Hall. Over the years I had attended several events there, including a reading by Tom Wolfe and a performance by the Second City Touring Company. It has a seating capacity of 750, and in my day it was sometimes the site of huge lecture sections of Western Civilization classes.

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After a $6.5 million rehab in 1992….

It looks pretty big when you’re in the audience, and it has the curious property of looking even larger when you’re all alone on the stage, looking outward.

Mine wasn’t the only “act” on the agenda for that afternoon. I waited backstage for my turn to approach the microphone and read my work to whoever was in the audience — other members of the Honors program, I assumed. The student before me concluded their talk, received a round of applause, and walked off stage left. Everything was going just fine as I walked on from stage right. I placed my pages of text on the podium, took a deep breath, and began to read.

I heard my voice, small and soft in the large space. When I was a few sentences into my story, I noticed strange looks on the faces of the audience. When I was a few paragraphs in, I realized that they could not hear me well and it was possible that the microphone, which had worked perfectly for the previous speaker, was now not working at all.

As I continued to read, I brainstormed. Had the person before me turned off the mic before walking away, and had I been expected to turn it back on? No. Had the mic really just broken without warning? I wasn’t sure, but something did seem to be broken. Was it going to come back on? Perhaps. Should I keep reading, trusting that the mic would turn itself back on? Maybe. Should I stop reading, apologize, and start over?

The repercussions of my last question to myself were what made me decide to just keep reading and pretend that all was well. I was keyed up enough as it was; if I stopped now there was no guarantee that I would be able to calm down enough to start the reading all over again. I also couldn’t fix the mic, so there was no guarantee that it would be able to start all over again with me. There was a tech person on the stage, just behind the front curtain. Presumably they would be able to fix the mic if it were broken. (If I broke down, I wasn’t sure that I could be fixed.)

If that’s true, I asked myself, why haven’t they come over, stopped me, and fixed the mic? Maybe it’s not broken after all and I just THINK it’s broken.

So I kept reading, paragraph after paragraph, maintaining the gentle momentum of the text, staying as calm as I could. The short story itself was more of a tone poem with plenty of onomatopeia and internal rhyme, with a rhythm like a rocking chair, and it propelled me forward.

Two sentences before the end of the story, the microphone came back to life. My voice boomed through the auditorium as I read the last few words.

“Thank you,” I said, and exited stage left to a round of tepid, confused applause as my legs tried to turn to jelly.

I had done my reading, even if nobody heard a word of it, and there was no way they would get me back out onto that stage again.


Knitwise, I have completed the Grey Shawl of Eternity. Have I the proof of this accomplishment? Nay! I cast off last Tuesday night, displayed the shawl to my Jefferson knitting group, and folded it up and tucked it into my knitting bag. I then started a project with the only pattern I had on hand – for loafers, of all things – with the closest yarn to what it required, an orphan skein of brown-and-white marled bulky wool that ranged from extremely thin to extremely thick. It wasn’t fun or satisfying, but it was knitting. Two days later I took the shawl to my Whitewater group, unfurled it, and handed it over to the woman who had given me the donated yarn in the first place. While she wrapped herself in the Shawl of Eternity I knitted two more rows on the unsatisfying loafer pattern, paused, and then pulled out the needles and frogged the project.

Kate Hepburn knits

What would Katherine Hepburn knit?

I am open for suggestions.

1988: All Greek to Me

At the start of my senior year at Miami University, Republican presidential candidate George Bush made a campaign stop on campus. If you’ve never been in the path of a presidential appearance or even a candidate-for-president appearance, let me assure you that this is a Big Deal. The preparations must have been weeks if not months in the making.

I was not generally a political person at this point, though I generally learned toward the Democrats. However, when I was the editor of our high school paper I had interviewed State Representative Mike DeWine, a Republican, when he visited and gave a speech. He seemed like a sensible person, and over the years it was the memory of that interview that reminded me to vote for the better candidate rather than just for the familiar party. I voted regularly, though as a temporary resident of Oxford I chose to vote in my home district by absentee ballot rather than cast votes for local candidates, and on local issues, with whom (or which) I was unfamiliar.

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When I saw how the lines were being drawn in advance of the visit, with the rich fraternity boys aligned with the College Republicans, I decided to wander over to a meeting of the College Democrats and see what they had going on. It turns out that they had some advance news of the level of security there would be for the speech. If you looked like a Democrat or in any way in opposition to Bush, you would be separated and kept far back of the main spectator area. Well, that hardly sounded fair. After all, we just wanted to listen like everybody else. But wait — they had a scheme that might get some of us close enough to see and hear the dignitaries.

The scheme was to make some smallish political posters, roll them up, and smuggle them past the checkpoint up our pants legs. It sounded about as likely as hiding under the bed to escape the detection of professional thieves, but it just might work. And against all odds, it did! I found myself up near the front, behind a row of the most muscled college students I had ever seen, next to a couple of equally incredulous fellow Democrats, all of us with posters stuffed up our pants. (Sure enough, those who had been caught were escorted far behind the crowd to where they could barely hear the speech.) But I had made it though the screening. Now I just needed to wait for Bush to appear, take out my little poster, and wave it around. I wasn’t trying to start a riot or make trouble; honestly, I was really hoping for Bush to unveil his economic plan at this point on his campaign trail.

The warmup act came on, and I was dismayed at the hateful rhetoric and ethnic slurs that were made in order to whip the crowd into a patriotic frenzy. “I went to college too,” said one speaker, “but I didn’t need to take GREEEEEEEK.’ The crowd roared at this insult to Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis (and possibly at the thought of easing the university’s foreign language requirement), missing the irony that most of the college students supporting Bush seemed to belong to fraternities and sororities. The rest of the speech was more of the same, and I grew disappointed and disillusioned as I waited through it. Surely Bush himself would take a higher ground than this, and we would get to hear about his plans for the country rather than just attacks on his opponent.

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Bush in Troy, Ohio, in 1988.

Senator Bush came out, and so did our little posters for 70something Democratic senatorial candidate Howard Metzenbaum. We cheered and screamed and waved our posters, attracting the attention of the row of frat boys ahead of us. They took our posters, tore them up, and knocked us to the ground. I was furious but wasn’t really hurt. Senator Bush didn’t take a much higher ground than the other speakers, and after a few minutes of campaign clichés he was off the stage and escorted away by Secret Service, having convinced me of nothing. (His next stop was a meeting with the university’s Board of Regents, with whom he discussed his economic plan.)

After the main event broke up, there was a small counter-rally by the most liberal of the faculty members. Students who recognized their professors in the group gathered around and joined in for a while, briefly re-energized. Then that rally, too, broke up and we headed back to our dorms.

Postscript: Democratic candidates Mike Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen lost the election in November to George Bush and Dan Quayle, a poor speller from Indiana (Google “potatoe” if you don’t believe me) and no Jack Kennedy, helped along by the unfortunate image of self-admitted policy wonk Dukakis riding in a tank, looking like a geeky little boy playing Army. (Oh, and Howard Metzenbaum won!) The 1988 election was regrettable in many ways, but compared to recent events it seems bland and filled with naivete. Maybe it’s a good thing we can’t look too far into the future; we might stop walking forward at all.


Knitwise, I swear to all that is holy that I have just a few more rows to go on the Eternal Grey Shawl. I would have a better guess at this if my digital kitchen scale would cooperate, but all it does now is turn on and display which mode it is in (g/oz). The batteries are new, so something else is clearly wrong with it that I’m unable to fix. Every time I sit down to knit, I do two rows. I may be able to knit two more rows and then bind off tomorrow night. If it turns out that I had enough yarn to knit one more row, the extra yarn can go sleep with the fishes, the mermaids, and/or Jimmy Hoffa. I will be DONE.

So, let’s vote on my next project!

(A) Finish the Scrabble Blanket already!
(B) Pick a WIP, any WIP.
(C) Knit whatever you want as long as it’s not grey.
(D) You said you could crochet. Were you lying?
(E) Knit an elegant and impractical shawl in luxury yarn!
(F) Knit Nakia’s Shawl from Black Panther.
(G) ________________________________________________

Be honest, now. This is for science.

Published in: on June 4, 2018 at 9:56 pm  Comments (2)  

1987: The Macintosh era

In the spring of 1986, in the midst of the end-of-year confusion and grief, a minor miracle occurred. Miami required all its freshmen to live on campus, but on-campus housing after that was secured through a lottery system. I had been assigned a disturbingly high lottery number, and since most of the on-campus women’s housing was held by sororities (of which I was not a member), it wasn’t looking good for me. There was a separate lottery held for the very few available spots in the honors dorm, but I was sick the night of the lottery and I did not attend. Wonder of wonders, word soon reached me that someone had drawn a number on my behalf, and I had a space now saved for me in Bishop Hall until I graduated. Did I want to accept? Yes, a thousand times yes!

Bishop Hall

Bishop Hall, home of the Honors Program.

My new roommate, MaryAnn, was an upperclassman who was already living in Bishop; she already had friends there, she was engaged to a soldier stationed in Missouri, and she was incredibly talented within her program of study but fought a valiant battle to succeed in her liberal education courses. She was a great storyteller and knew how to tell just enough to build the drama. At the end of our year as roommates, she secured a single room for herself, which was perfect for the studio work she would need to do her senior year. I lost track of her after that, but I’m sure that she’s an immensely successful interior designer somewhere. Here’s to you, MaryAnn!

My new roommate for my junior year was Becca, a sophomore paper science and engineering major from Kentucky. Though our classes didn’t overlap and we didn’t do much together socially (mostly because I never went anywhere except to author lectures and poetry readings), we worked out well as roommates and shared the same room for two years.

During my freshman year I was introduced to the brand-name, honest-to-goodness IBM PC. I spent untallied hours in several computer labs across campus writing, rewriting, and reformatting my papers in PC-Write. By today’s standards the program was a horror show. Every change seemed to create more changes, and something as simple as changing the left margin became a programming chore as you revised and resaved the RULER.DEF file before starting the program and creating the file that would be your paper. You never knew what the paper would actually look like until you printed it out, then you had to make edits and do it all over again. I was spending many hours more than I needed on my papers, just on the formatting.

IBMPC

In fall 1987 I took a class on Environmental Geology; it didn’t exactly have a lab session, but there was a software program the instructor wanted us to use for a certain type of simulation. For this work we went to a different computer lab — a small room in Upham Hall that had about half a dozen Macintoshes, probably Pluses, ready and waiting for us.

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Every function on the Mac was startlingly easy to perform. It worked just the way I thought it should work. I clicked and dragged my way through the unit on fault lines and was soon spending time in the lab when I didn’t need to. I befriended the lab assistant, who made me a copy of a newly released word processor called Microsoft Word 3.0.

“How would you, say, change the left margin in an open file?” I asked one day.
“Just drag this triangle over,” he said. That was it for me!

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In October there was a Macintosh open house at the student center. Macs back then weren’t terribly powerful or, to be honest, affordable, but the Shriver Center Bookstore was an authorized Apple reseller and they wanted to drum up some business. They had my full attention, and within a year I had a Macintosh: my boyfriend’s mother worked for the University and we were able to use her discount and take out a loan on a Macintosh SE with a massive-at-the-time 47 MB hard drive sitting in one of the floppy disk slots.

For Becca’s sake — she and her classwork were IBM-compatible all the way — I picked out a keyboard (the DataDesk 101) that simulated an IBM PC extended keyboard. If she wanted to use my cute little computer she could just type away without worrying about those odd “apple” and “cloverleaf” keys that didn’t correspond to the IBM keyboard in any obvious way.

At a later point, I added a modem to the setup. (I still have it, but it’s in the basement, which is a Dark and Scary Place that may be inhabited by other species, so I’m not planning to get up and retrieve it at this very minute.) It was a whizbang 1200 baud modem, which meant that it downloaded text faster than my reading speed, which was somewhere between 300 and 450 baud. The downside was that it worked, as modems do, through the phone lines. For those of you readers substantially younger than I am, this meant that the modem connected to the phone line in place of the phone. If you received an incoming call during your “online time” you were disconnected. (This is why you wanted unlimited online access rather than a plan which charged you by the minute. This is also why my generation invented TTFN and LOL and ROTFL — we were saving time, and time is money!)

The primary reason that I had a modem at all was because of the Miami University Bulletin Board System, or MUBBS. This was the cyber-hub of Miami’s geek community a decade before anyone besides William Gibson was using the term “cyber” in front of any other word. At the MUBBS in-person meetings I was often the only female, which I enjoyed. We had online handles, we created and moderated discussion forums, and eventually we created and managed social events such as hackathons. I remained a member of this community through my time in graduate school, but am now in contact with only two of its members. Wouldn’t it be cool to find out that in the interim, they’ve set up a secret and invisible Facebook group that you wouldn’t know about until you hacked your way into it? That’s just the kind of thing they’d do.

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Miss you, Steve.


Knitwise, it’s now escalated to a slogalong on the grey shawl. I promised my knitting groups that I would knit on the shawl while I watched the qualifying and race sessions for the Monaco Grand Prix, but that didn’t happen. I was too busy coming up with elegant hors d’ouvres and shopping for champagne splits to concentrate on pedestrian occupations such as KNITTING. (Also, the race was rather exciting.) I do want to reiterate that I kept my promise not to knit on any other project until the Boring Grey Shawl was complete, so there’s a gold star for me. Just in case I can get some credit for completing non-knitting items, I would like to mention that over the Memorial Day weekend I put the winter coats away, cleaned up my kitchen, started training for a 15-mile bike ride, and made asparagus soup AND roasted asparagus. So there.

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My asparagus, James’s stoneware, Dad’s table.

What’s on your needles? I hope to report some progress or even a finished object in the next post. We’ll see how it goes. This Friday I will be chaperoning a group of eighth graders on their class trip to the Wisconsin Dells, and I might need more recovery time than I think.

Published in: on May 28, 2018 at 10:45 pm  Comments (2)  

1985: Back to the Future

Monday, May 14

This post will be written and published whenever possible this week; tonight I am finally going to see Avengers: Infinity War! Shh! No spoilers!


Monday, May 21

Why did Back to the Future seem to mean so much to my generation? The action took place in the year I graduated from high school, but several months later. We graduated a month before it was even released, so seeing it in the theater wasn’t even a bonding experience for the Class of ’85.

Perhaps it was its celebration of the 1980s and the Reagan Years, even as it subtly mocked them. Perhaps it was the DeLorean — an older classmate’s father owned one, and it seemed like the coolest, most exotic ride in the world. Perhaps it was Michael J. Fox, fresh from “Family Ties,” which was set in Columbus (okay, probably Grandview or Bexley). Perhaps it was Huey Lewis, whose 1984 “Sports” album (okay, tape cassette) went platinum seven times over and was a huge album in a year of huge albums (the soundtracks to Purple Rain and Footloose immediately come to mind).

Huey_Lewis_Cameo_1

“I’m sorry, boys, but you’re just too darn loud.”

Perhaps it was just that Back to the Future (BTTF) was a very, very good movie. It was well written, it was funny, and it was tremendously appealing. It wasn’t the first time-travel story enjoyed by a mass market — my own mother was addicted to “Quantum Leap,” and certainly two versions of “The Twilight Zone” had prepared us for time jumps — but it was the best.

Back_to_the_Future

“Great Scott!”

This still doesn’t explain my own devotion to the movie and, eventually, the whole franchise. I own more copies of the trilogy than I should admit, I own a car charger that mimics the flux capacitor, and I can’t turn away from a showing of any of the movies.

Fluxing

“Flux capacitor… fluxing…”

In the fall of 1985 I went off to my future, to college at Miami University. I had a new home, new teachers, new classes, new responsibilities, and a roommate. In my freshman dorm I was surrounded by girls — young women — from everywhere else (but mostly Cleveland). They brought their favorite music with them, and instead of Barry Manilow and Amy Grant I was hearing Genesis, UB40, Sting, and more.

In my first semester I struggled with calculus that I could perform but not understand, struggled to connect with a roommate who had goals and values so different from mine, and struggled with the weight of a course that compelled us to wrestle with the moral implications of the Holocaust. I also found new friends, new foods, new books, new places to watch people, and new places to be alone. I dated a young man who didn’t understand me at all, but before I broke up with him we saw several movies for a buck or two at the student center. Without someone to go “out” with, I might never have gotten out at all.

Gradually I expanded my circle of friends, took different classes than I thought I would, tried on a minor and dropped it, and came to find all my geeks in the small but extremely nerdy online bulletin board community of MUBBS. And on one school break, I got a ride home (or was it back to Miami?) from the guy whose father owned the DeLorean. The fall of 1985 was only the beginning.


Knitwise, I’m plugging along on the gray shawl whenever I remember that I really should pick it up because it’s not going to knit itself. ONE SKEIN OF YARN TO GO. I also purchased a new shawl pattern, with some stash yarn in mind. Never mind that I don’t know exactly where this particular stash yarn is, nor do I need a shawl, and neveryoumind that I’m not allowed to put another needle to another yarn until the BORING GRAY SHAWL is all done. Because what’s worse than knitting on a boring gray shawl? QUITTING.


Regarding Avengers: Infinity War, I’m not worried. I’ve seen movies before, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

1984: European Vacation

In the summer of 1984, after many months devoted to the completion of paperwork, the applications for passports, the purchase of traveler’s checks, and the sale of many thousands of suckers, candy bars, and assorted marketable treats, several students from my high school’s French and Spanish classes embarked on a ten-day trip to Europe. We flew from Columbus to New York, and then to Madrid and Paris before returning via Brussels.

European Vacation

The movie came out in 1985; clearly we were ahead of our time.

We spent so much time preparing for this trip that I’m astonished at how little I remember of packing, driving, and even most of the flying — the important part was the Being There. I do remember drawing each piece of my cleverly planned mix-and-match wardrobe that would stretch to the ten days of the trip. Nevertheless, it still seemed to take up most of the World’s Largest Samsonite, a monstrous tan (lockable!) hard-sided suitcase with wheels and a snap-in handle that was part of a four-piece set given as a Christmas present from my grandmother. (Deciding to open my largest gift on Christmas Eve was rather anticlimactic in 1983, as much as I needed the luggage.)

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The smaller piece was called a “train case.”

The most memorable moment of my first day in Spain was when I didn’t quite make it through a too-quickly-revolving door. My arm was caught between the spinning door and the frame, and it throbbed during our walking tour of Madrid. I managed to take a few pictures with my Instamatic as our teacher/chaperone checked on me from time to time. She finally told me that if it didn’t look better in the morning I would have to visit a Madrid hospital to be examined, to see if my arm was broken. Perhaps it was my fear of having inadequate language skills to manage a trip to el hospital Madrileño, but I woke the next morning with no pain whatsoever in my arm, and I never even developed a bruise at the site.

Miguel-de-Cervantes

Our group was arranged into smaller subgroups so that French students were always accompanied by Spanish students, so that in each country we would be able to translate for each other. This worked out quite well in my own experience. I remember practicing several helpful phrases before the trip, some of which we used successfully:

Where is the bathroom?

Can I take pictures in here?

How much does it cost?

One Coca-Cola, please.

The culinary adventure of Madrid was a platter of paella that we all sampled. I remember that it contained rice, mussels, shrimp, many other items, and some tasty bits of meat that looked like small drumsticks. It was delicious, and it took me a day or two to realize that the drumettes were actually rabbit, not chicken. I didn’t tell anyone.

Madrid was a great place for us to overcome as much of our culture shock as possible. The Metro was easy to navigate, and teenagers who might not have ventured outside of Ohio soon were able to buy a subway ticket, hop on a car, and wander a new city on the other side of the world. During a memorable trip to the Plaza Mayor, one of our party decided that a leather bullwhip would make a perfect souvenir; we spent that evening taking turns trying to make the whip crack in the confines of someone’s hotel room. (When we made a day trip to Toledo, someone else bought a sword to take home. It was definitely a different time.)

Bullfighting Ring

Before we left Madrid, most of our group attended a bullfight. Regardless of how one might feel about the ethics of bullfighting, it’s a unique cultural experience and I don’t regret attending it; nerdy me had prepared for travel by reading James Michener’s Iberia and parts of Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. To me, bullfighting is a poetic art form that feeds the poor after each performance. Two of my closest friends felt differently and opted to spend the afternoon exploring El Parque de Buen Retiro, a stunning 346-acre park which no one else was able to see; life is full of choices.

Retiro Park

We travelled from Madrid to Paris by overnight train; I didn’t fully understand our chaperones’ instructions to purchase a meal before we boarded the train, since nothing would be available until we disembarked. I couldn’t sleep in the topmost bunk of our train compartment, just as I hadn’t been able to sleep during the transatlantic flight, and when we arrived in Paris I felt disoriented and half starved. Our first meal was at an elegant restaurant, and all I remember was poking at a beautiful salad composed of pieces too small for me to spear with a fork. Eventually I found something I could eat — probably a continental breakfast with those yummy croissants. And one of the culinary highlights of the entire trip was a meal at a restaurant just off the Champs-Elysées, where courses of delicious food were capped off with a simple dish of chocolate ice cream that truly tasted like chocolate.

Sacre Coeur

Sacré Coeur, Paris, France.

In Paris we shopped, toured the Louvre, bought watercolors and postcards in shops next to the Seine, looked in vain for Jim Morrison’s grave in Montemarte (hint: it’s in Pere Lachaise), had our choice of visiting Sacre Coeur or the Eiffel Tower (I chose Sacre Coeur), saw Notre Dame through a web of scaffolding as it was being renovated, saw the spectacular stained glass windows of St.-Chapelle, and had our choice of visiting Napoleon’s Tomb or the Eiffel Tower (I chose Napoleon’s Tomb and was the only one on the trip who didn’t climb the Eiffel Tower).

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Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France.

In the end, we flew from Brussels to New York, or was it Pittsburgh?, before landing again in Columbus. Unlike some of the other students on the trip, I had not sneaked off for American fast food while I was overseas. After my parents picked me up, I convinced myself that what I really, really wanted was a Big Mac. At some McDonald’s somewhere between the airport and our house I placed my order and tried to figure out how much my purchase was worth in American money; my brain had been doing currency conversions for almost two weeks and didn’t understand that a dollar was just a dollar again. What did it all mean, anyway? I was confused, exhausted, and jet-lagged. I didn’t even eat the Big Mac.


Knitwise, I have done somewhat less than the minimum daily required amount of knitting to make progress on the simple grey triangle shawl; it’s not going to knit itself, so I had better find more knitting occasions and start plugging away. Meanwhile, I did cast on for a project I can keep at the office. It’s a cotton washcloth which, by definition, can’t possibly go wrong. Nevertheless, I’m not creating the pattern I intended to make with the stitches that I am using. I could frog it and start over, I could tink it back a bit and write down what I’ve done so far, or I could leave it in its project bag and wait for a third solution to present itself. So far I seem to have chosen Option C.

Published in: on May 7, 2018 at 10:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

1981: Summer Camp of the Nerds

The summer of 1981 brought great relief. I had survived the eighth grade and would be going to high school in the fall. (Considering that our middle school and high school buildings were positioned about 30 yards apart, this was not so much of a big deal.) I had made it through two years of marching band and was attending summer band practice. (There was this thing called “band camp” coming up in August, but that probably wasn’t going to be a life-changer.)

My big deal was that I was going to spend one week in July at Miami University, in a summer camp emphasizing science and math. Not only was it a camp about science and math, but it was pretentiously and embarrassingly titled the “Summer Institute for Tomorrow’s Leaders.” Nice job, Miami. Apparently I had been considered nerdy enough to attend this camp the previous summer, but my parents hadn’t gotten my application in before the spots filled up — grossly underestimating the number of extremely nerdy seventh and eighth graders in the nation’s heartland. I was waitlisted for the following year, and off I went to Oxford, Ohio.

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Our drive of one hundred miles went due southwest along I-71, wound through Lebanon, south of Middleton, and north of Hamilton, and then ended at the top of a steep hill where State Route 73 would have run straight into a forested campus if there hadn’t been a stoplight. We were in Oxford. The sky was sky blue, the grass was grass green, and every building was made of weathered dark red brick crawling with real ivy, with cream Georgian columns out front. The campus screamed COLLEGE in 72-point bold type, and I imprinted on it like a newborn duckling on Konrad Lorenz.

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We stayed in the dorms, and my roommate for the week was a girly girl named Kelly. She had come equipped for the week with a curling iron, a metric ton of makeup, and cute clothes. If I had missed some memo that summer reminding me to be girly while I studied science, it was to be the first of many. In my jeans and sneakers I happily ran around all over campus with the boys while we caught moths, saw early LOGO programming on the Apple II, played 20 Questions on the DEC VAX in the lab in Kreger Hall, and worked out solutions to math problems of our own devising.

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For example, a bunch of us made it to Culler Hall to watch a Foucault pendulum in action. A sign next to the pendulum noted how long it took the bob to swing once out and back. The same idea came to each of us simultaneously: how many times would the pendulum swing in one year? We took out pens, papers, and calculators and calculated furiously. We were astonished to find that each of us had arrived at a different answer. This led not to arguments, but to a longer conversation about our different assumptions and methods. I was in nerd heaven. And when I was with the boys, it didn’t matter that I was a girl – all that mattered was getting the right answer or asking the right question. With the girls, it seemed to matter how girly you were. I knew I wouldn’t ever win that contest, so I ignored as much of girl culture as I could afford to.

However, I did temporarily align with the girls when it came to deciding who was the cutest boy at the camp. I don’t remember his name now, but he was medium height with blue eyes and curly golden brown hair. The entire girls’ wing of the dorm was swooning over Mr. Cute & Curly, but by Wednesday I noticed that his roommate got less attention even though he was friendly, tall, and slender. I can’t tell you how it happened, but by the time my parents came to pick me up at camp’s end I had found a hand to hold as I navigated the campus. I think my parents were as surprised as I was when I introduced them to gangly, dark-haired Scott and took his picture on the front steps of Minnich Hall. Even though I never saw him again, it was a confidence booster. Thanks, Scott.

Bachelor

Four years later, when it was time to apply for college admission, no college ever measured up to the memories I had of Miami. No other school had a chance at capturing my heart. When I did attend Miami, my new experiences overlapped my old paths: in the lecture room where I had heard about moth selection and elementary statistics, I took a night class on American literature. In the Bishop Woods where I had captured insects, I later darted from computer lab to geology class in a spring rain. In the computer lab where we had played text games on the mainframe, I later had the chance to alpha-test a new computer called a NeXT. And in Bachelor Hall, where our group had composed a song, I later worked at my first student job, took English and math courses, survived creative writing workshops, and — much later — shared an office with my future husband as I prepared to begin graduate school and teach my own English class. But I’m getting far ahead of myself, and the future wasn’t going to be as simple as a well-crafted ambiguous sentence can make it appear.


Knitwise… I have spent quite a bit of time reorganizing my patterns and stash over the last week. I started and finished the blue-green rectangle that I described in my previous post, and went looking for yarn to complement it. When I went stash-diving for blue fun-fur yarn for a friend, I found the unfinished projects about which time had truly forgotten. Felted loafers, two steps from being done? I pulled them out to re-prioritize them. Red, white, and blue cotton yarn? I’ll re-home it. And I found several would-be project bags filled with some high-class skeins of laceweight. In some cases I can almost remember the patterns I meant to use to knit them up. These are bags of hope, of ambition, of misplaced yet admirable levels of confidence. When I can start them, I will.

Meanwhile I have cast on for a simple triangle shawl made of fuzzy grey-and-white yarn, with a eyelet rows three stitches in from each edge. I use the easiest pattern in the world, which works just as well for a small cotton dishcloth as it does for a king-sized blanket, and it will allow me to knit on with confidence and hope through all crises.

Thoughtful

In 2014 I actually did a lot of knitting. It’s hard to tell this because I didn’t spend much time on Ravelry fussing with my queue, creating new project files, updating old projects, or taking and uploading digital photos of my projects at each stage of progress. (Actually, I didn’t spend much time on Ravelry doing anything.) But I always had a project to take to Knit Night, and things slowly got done.

I finished the Drunken Octopus Sweater.

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I finished Citron.

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I finished Traveling Woman.

Travelling Woman

I finished a pair of socks.

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I also knitted slippers for my appreciative grandmother, squares for a group-project blanket, and probably a few other things for people who really didn’t care much one way or the other.

In 2015 I’m still looking at my pile of WIPs (Works in Progress) with an eye to finishing them before I start any new projects of substance. A few of these WIPs are small and need just a bit of focused attention (green wool slippers) to move them to the “finished” column. Some of them are big and tedious (Scrabble blanket) and will take many months to properly complete. Others are ambitious and filled with complex lace or cable patterns, and got stalled out early.

That being said, a baby was recently born on the other side of the country, and in a fit of love and familial compassion I whipped up a pair of booties for him and even threaded them with blue organza ribbon. And then I thought up a simple baby blanket scheme (I wouldn’t call it a pattern, but I suppose you could if you wanted to) and cast on and started knitting like the wind. The baby’s already been born, you know. You have to knit more quickly after the baby’s been born, or you might as well forget the nursery accessories and start planning a size 10 Wallaby pullover.

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I’m finding now that I’m taking more time to think about which project I want to finish next, and why. I need to think about why I’m knitting it, and for whom I’m making it (if it’s not for myself). I need to think about when and where I’ll be able to work on it. Some of these projects will need some serious recon time before I might be able to take them to a public place to work on them.

This type of thoughtfulness seems to be spilling over into other areas of my life. I’m more thoughtful and deliberate about how I spend my limited time at home, what I wear to work, how I want to accomplish a task, and how I interact with friends and acquaintances. I don’t feel the need (or perceive the value) of rushing through things as quickly as possible. It’s all right, and sometimes better, to reply with “no,” or “wait,” or “let me think about it,” or “I’m not sure, but probably not.”

Quick reactions often lead to more crises for me — I don’t have the time to fully understand my situation, realize my options, or decide upon the optimal solution. It’s good to be able to slow things down when I can, to have some space around the decision point. It gives me more time to take care, to make a better choice, to think more than one move ahead. (It might even aid my chess game.)

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is my writing. I didn’t do much blogging last year, but I did start a journal. I reviewed a movie on another blog. And I wrote a lot of song lyrics. I lost count, but there were a few dozen. Most were shared with just one or two trusted friends, but some were “published” only for my own sight as I still need time to deal with both the wording and the emotional message being expressed. I intend to continue the journal-keeping, and I also intend to return to this blog with more frequency, whether I’m writing about my knitting projects or some other topic.

Resolutions are fun to make (remember my own Sheep and Wool Challenge? yikes), and intentions are just intentions until they’re backed up with action. One of last year’s epiphanies was that, to be blunt, nobody is interested in what I want to do. But if I actually do something, some people might be interested in what I did. Most people won’t be interested, and that’s fine. But I still need to do the things, for my own varied reasons. I’ll share some of the things I do. If you are interested, or appreciative, or appalled, or intrigued, give me your feedback. And please feel free to share with me the things you’ve decided to do.

Starting Over

This weekend I cast on for a shawl. I know what you’re saying: “Wait a minute! She’s finally going to write about knitting in a knitting blog?”

This shawl is worth writing about because I’m actually re-knitting it. Not making a second one from the same pattern; re-knitting the same shawl with the same yarn. A few years ago, I cast on for this shawl. (Should I look up the exact date? You really want me to look up the exact date? Really? FINE. I will go to Ravelry and be right back.)

On April 6, 2012 I cast on for this shawl. (Are you happy now?) I had wanted to knit this pattern, Traveling Woman, for some time and I had just the yarn to make it with, an Araucania fingering weight wool in tonal teal. It’s not an overly complicated pattern really — it goes from fiddly to tedious to Pay Attention To Me — but I was working other projects at the time, and from my project notes on Ravelry I can see that I made my fair share of mistakes. Because of the pattern repeats in the lace sections, though, I could usually tell when I’d goofed up somewhere, and I could un-knit those stitches, give my knitting a little more attention, and re-knit the section.

This worked until I was (if I recall correctly) about two rows from The End, Completely Done, Finito!, and Off The Needles. Somewhere in that row I made a fatal mistake. (I was probably tired and knitting with my eyes closed. This doesn’t work very well, as you can imagine, and it’s a particularly bad technique to use with lace.) It was probably a simple mistake because I don’t have enough technique to make complex mistakes. What made it fatal is that I couldn’t determine how I’d made the mistake. That meant that every time I tried to undo it, I was actually making things much, much worse.

At last I realized the truth — I couldn’t go forward because I couldn’t fix the mistake, and I couldn’t go backward because I couldn’t fix the fix to the mistake. So I did what any good intermediate knitter would do. Somewhere around the end of August I sent the whole project to time out. And because I was so frustrated with it (really, with myself) I actually sent it to that special farm Up Nort where old dogs go to romp forever in sun-bathed grassy fields. I told it that it wasn’t its fault (I lied) and that my friend Brandy would take very good care of it and maybe fix it (I lied), and I sent it packing.

On January 1, 2013, I sent a text and asked Brandy to take this project off the needles, pull it apart completely, and wind the yarn back up into a ball. She texted back: “Are you sure?” (Actually, there may have been a 24-hour waiting period imposed. Brandy really wanted to make sure this wasn’t an impulse decision.)

I was sure. A few months later it came back in a box as a humungous ball of yarn.

I wanted to do things differently this time. I wanted to give the shawl more time and attention. I wanted to be monogamous with it. (Knitters, you may laugh heartily now.)

So this weekend I cast on for a Traveling Woman shawl. It’s the only thing I’m working on right now. It’s coming along just fine, so far.

And it’s actually part of a very, very small knitalong. Brandy is making one, too.

This particular shawl is knitted starting from the center back.

This particular shawl is knitted starting from the center back.

 

My, how it's grown! This is after 38 rows. I start the lace charts after 68 rows of...this.

My, how it’s grown! This is after 38 rows. I start the lace charts after 68 rows of…this.

 

Published in: on October 20, 2014 at 11:13 pm  Comments (2)  

The Sounds of Silence

…and it ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. Just when I had finished my Sochi shawl — including the weaving-in, the rinsing, and the blocking, mind you — the provider of my telephone, cable, and Internet access decided, for mysterious and inscrutable reasons, not to put my accounts into my name as I had requested (and had indeed signed legal documents for that very purpose), but instead to cancel all my services.

Before blocking.

Before blocking.

After blocking!

After blocking!

Yes, I was unplugged. Again. And without my home wifi signal, the smartphone I was fortunate enough to own was barely able to catch enough stray electrons to send out a text message. (“Watson, come here; I need you!”) Even more sadly, I was unable to watch the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics by any means — though I did finally find time to watch the opening ones. Sigh. See you all in Brazil!

This doesn’t classify as true hardship, as The Teen™ and I still had access to a great many hours of programming on the DVR (we finally watched the mini-movie about the making of “Doctor Who” that had been awaiting us since November 2013, and a Speed Channel special on Dan Gurney that had been waiting patiently since November 2012), and we augmented my Guitar Hero accessories with the purchase of a drum set. (Unfortunately, we can’t try it out yet because I don’t currently have any drum-compatible Guitar Hero games in the house. The day before I bought the drum set, I did. It’s all in the timing.)

So we’ve gone slightly retro here. The Teen™ is working on Lego Star Wars for the Nintendo GameCube. I’m slowly playing my way through a medium-level career on Guitar Hero II. I’ve made chicken soup for a sick friend. And with the shawl finished, I cast on for the second sock of a pair.

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See? I DO knit socks.

My Internet access is still down as I write this post, which I’m composing on an offline (gasp!) Macintosh with Microsoft Word (gasp! gasp!). I could put a brand new ribbon in the manual Smith-Corona, but I’m not feeling quite THAT retro at the moment.

I rather enjoy the relative silence we’ve had, although it has forced us to confront the paw-scrambling and wood-gnawing reality that we have been sharing our home at the end of a long winter with some equally cabin-fevered mice. We spent part of the weekend waging a violent turf war in which one rodentine casualty (so far) has been inflicted by intellectually superior human forces. I suspect that we may also have bats in the walls, but my main line of defense on that front is called “trying not to think about it.” And everyone knows that you dare not fight a war on two fronts, especially in the wintertime.

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Rattus rattus.

update

I almost had phone service again on Tuesday evening…but not quite. It took one more visit from another contracted tech guy to get that all fixed up. Funny: Mr. Wednesday took one look at the new phone modem that Mr. Tuesday had installed, and bemoaned my ancient technology [from, literally, yesterday]. He went out to his truck and brought in a single modem unit that he spliced everything into. It’s amazing to think that all this old stuff worked perfectly well on Friday night, then became obsolete as soon as my ISP flipped all my switches to “OFF” on Saturday morning.

Published in: on February 27, 2014 at 7:14 am  Leave a Comment