Monday, December 17, 2012

WE vs THEY

                     I have met the enemy, and he is us. ~ Walt Kelly

On Friday, December 14, the unthinkable happened. A young man walked into an elementary school in Newton, Connecticut and shot and killed 20 young children and 6 staff members before taking his own life. As the drama unfolded, we also learned that before this climactic act of violence, he had murdered his own mother in their home. This was a terrible tragedy, a terrible day for the whole of Newton, the whole of America, and the whole of the world.

But what has struck me as even more terrible has been the response to this shooting.

As human beings, our response to that which hurts us is to lash out. To, in effect, hurt back. We react to bad news first with denial, then with anger. It seems to be how we are programmed. And we need somewhere to direct that anger. We place blame. We find a villain.

Some are blaming the guns. Guns ARE a problem. Guns serve one purpose. They are tools of death, and too many people take the use of them far too casually. But guns are not THE problem.

(Sidebar here: Could someone please explain to me, in a calm, rational manner how the ownership of semi-automatic weapons designed to kill large numbers of enemy combatants efficiently equals personal freedom? Really?)

Some are blaming the lack of services for the mentally ill. It is true that there is a dearth of care for those with mental and emotional issues. We understand so little about mental illness and about our own minds that it is easy to look away from it, and to cut funding from budgets, because there is no cut and dried solution. Again, a real problem, but not the only problem.

Some have tried to blame the mother. After all, SHE bought the guns. SHE was a "gun nut". SHE was divorced from her husband and raising a troubled son alone. What those people seem to be forgetting is that SHE was a human being, doing her best, who was also a victim of this violent rampage. NO ONE, no matter their faults, deserves that.

Still others are blaming the media. The media "glamourizes" these terrible events. No, they don't. It is the media's job to answer the five W's: what, when, where, who, and why. We want to know what is going on around us, and the media is our connection to that information. The media's biggest failing is that, when it cannot give an answer, it makes something up to keep you interested until the truth comes out. THAT is the problem with the media. They can't just say, "We don't know, but we'll tell you later when we have some facts." because people will turn away and their sponsors will not have anyone to slog Cialis and laundry detergent to. Again, a problem, but not THE problem.

And some are blaming the lack of enforced prayer in schools, because God does not go where he is not invited. I'm not even going to go there.

The terrible tragedy in Newtown is, sadly, just another terrible tragedy in a long line of terrible tragedies. This year has seemed particularly bad for mass shootings, suicides amongst bullied teens, atrocities committed by governments against their people. (Or maybe it's all just the media's fault for reporting it.) This year has seen a lot of talk about stopping shcoolyard bullying, as bullying at the government and corporate level has reached an all-time high. This year has seen the horrible divisiveness of the US election, the violence of the election in Quebec, and the awfulness of the red-neck rhetoric in the election in Alberta. This year has been a year of WE versus THEY. We must fight the other side, be it bullying, the opposing political philosophy, the different religious belief.

It strikes me, as I look at the events of last Friday in sequence with all the other events of 2012, that the problem with the world is not guns, or mothers, or media sensationalism. It is us. We NEED to find a bad guy, a scapegoat, an OTHER.

We have a WE versus THEY mentality. Good versus Evil. Right versus Wrong. And in order for us to be the ones who are right, the OTHER has to be wrong. Right-wing versus left-wing, rich versus poor, black versus white, pro versus con. There are two sides to every argument, and no middle ground. And it has to be a full-out, cage match battle to the death. No surrender.

So, what if we changed the terms of engagement? We want to have WE versus THEY. It seems to be our human instinct. Okay...how about we redefine who WE and THEY are?

Several great philosophies have proposed this: There are only two human emotions, love and fear. When we act, we are acting from either one or the other. Acting from love results in charity, acceptance, and kindness. Acting from fear results in anger, cruelty, and violence. Acting from love is hard, because it requires us to look inside ourselves and see not only our strength, but our weakness and helplessness, and to accept them. We can then see the weakness and vulnerability in others, and accept it. Acting from fear is easy, because we look outward at what we fear and we can blame it and make it the enemy. We do not have to accept it, we can battle it, strive to hurt it. And if we cause fear to someone else in the process, all the better, because then we are not alone in our fear. The more fearful we are, the harder we fight and the louder we yell.

When we lash out at blame the shooter, the NRA, the media, we are responding from fear. We were helpless to save those poor children, we feel impotent, we are fearful. So was that young gunman.  He reacted to that fear the only way he knew how. He was helpless and impotent and fearful, he strove to fight that fear with violence in an attempt to feel less fearful and more powerful. He shared his fear, and spread it, not only amongst the students of Sandy Hook, but throughout the world. He multiplied his fear, giving him power and sapping ours.

WE can respond from love, while THEY continue to respond from fear.

When we respond with love, if we feel compassion not only for the victims of the shooter, but for the shooter himself; if we understand that the more aggressive one's actions are, the more fearful they are; if we forgive our perceived enemies, WE become the strong ones. We accept that we are not perfect, therefore our view of right and wrong are not definitive. We accept that another may see things differently, but that does not change the rightness of how we see it. We understand that everyone has the same weaknesses that we have, and that their perceived power is actually the manifestation of their fear. We no longer feel threatened by them, and we become stronger.

Here is what I propose: The next time something happens that makes you feel helpless and powerless, accept that you are powerless. Cry. Curl up in a fetal position on the floor. Let that helplessness wash over you. And then get up and dry your eyes and do something kind for yourself.  Make a cup of tea, take a hot bath, go for a pedicure. Then go do something kind for one other person. Hug your child, let someone in ahead of you in traffic, pay for the next person's coffee. And move forward. Do not cling to that thing that made you helpless. Look forward to tomorrow. Tomorrow will bring its own challenges, but you will be just a little bit stronger, because you did not let fear win today.

When WE approach the world with love, we are not battling an external enemy, we are battling the fear inside ourselves. WE do not need to do harm to others to win. WE need only to accept that they are as weak and as powerless as we are. And then we see that THEY are as human as we are, and that they are not the OTHER, they are just as much WE as we are.

None of this is going to undo the terrible things that have happened. We cannot bring back those 28 people who died on Friday, or the 250-some-odd who have died of gunshot wounds since then. We cannot undo the harsh words that were Tweeted. But we can move forward and choose to apply our WE versus THEY instinct in a more constructive manner. We can choose to battle from a Love versus Fear standpoint instead.

And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us fight from love instead of fear, we won't need guns, or mental health services, or angry words, or blame. Maybe, just maybe, we will cease to be WE versus THEY and just become US.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

50 Shades

Ten days from today is the first day of winter (or the end of the world, whichever comes first), but I am already suffering from the winter blahs.

I'm really not a cold-weather person, in spite of the fact that I have lived in a cold-weather climate all my life. I tend to bundle up and hibernate for the wintery months. I am not a snow enthusiast, and the long, dark nights make me lazier than usual. But the thing about winter that drags me down the most is the grey.

When I look out at my garden, which is my favourite place on the planet in the summertime, all I see is grey. Even the spruce trees outside the gate take on a greyish tone in the cold, grey light...


The view out my studio window offers even more grey...


My usual cure for all the grey is to spin and knit bright yarns. But this year, as the darkest day of the year approaches, I find myself immersed in grey, even in my work.

Yup. Every single thing I am knitting right now is...you guessed it...grey...


A shawl, a sweater, and a mystery Christmas project. All grey.

And over on the spinning front, things are not much better. I'm working on samples for a few projects, but mostly, I'm combing a lovely Gotland fleece. A lovely GREY Gotland fleece...


So, to break the monotony of the unrelenting grey, I spent Sunday spinning a fabulous hand-painted roving from Spunky Eclectic. The colourway is called Undertow, all blues and greens, my favourite colours. Dyed over a grey NZ Crossbred fibre. And as I spun, guess which colour dominated. Yup. I now have this glorious blue-green-GREY 2-ply woolen yarn...


I surrender. I am just going to have to ride out these grey days.

But I would like to point out that the title of a very popular book has it wrong. There are waaay more than 50 shades of grey. And I appear to be knitting them all.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Back on Track

Okay, so maybe the title of this post is a wee bit optimistic.  Perhaps it should read "Getting Back on Track. Slowly. Very slowly".  But the point is this: I am trying.

So, to get you up to speed, here's how the latest derailing went down...

I went to Disneyland. Via Vancouver. Where things went slightly sideways.

The trip to Disneyland was one we have been promising ourselves we would do for years. We wanted to do Disneyland at Halloween, as well as go to Universal Studio's Halloween Horror Nights and Knott's Scary Farm.  We are kind of into the Halloween thing around here, and the Disneyland thing, so what better family vacation could we want. The family is growing up and moving on with their lives, but we managed to coordinate dates and the long-delayed trip very quickly became a reality.

Steve and I decided we would load Miss Julia into the car and drive out to Vancouver to meet up with Brendan and Lexi, who both live out there. The plan was that we would all fly to LA from there after a few days of relaxing in Rain City. The drive through the mountains was lovely, with fall colours and misty skies making a every turn on the road feel like driving into an Impressionist painting...


We arrived in Vancouver on a cool, rainy Sunday evening and spent Monday afternoon visiting some of our favourite spots. In keeping with the Halloween theme of the trip, we decided that we would ride the Stanley Park Ghost Train while we were in town, and toddled off to get tickets for that night. We met Miss Lexi and her Significant Trout for a quick dinner, then set out for Stanley Park.

And this is where is all goes wrong. Driving through downtown Vancouver, we were hit by a driver who ran a red light. We saw him at the last minute, and Steve did his best to avoid being hit, but he nailed us on the rear wheel-well and rear panel of the car, doing significant damage. We were bounced around a bit, Steve said his neck hurt, a few heads were bonked, but overall, we got off lucky. The driver who hit us continued on his merry way without stopping. However, several witnesses, including a Trans-Link bus driver, all stopped. Police and ambulances were called. It was a BIG DEAL. One witness went to the trouble of pursuing the offending driver and getting his full license plate. The police response was quick and supportive, the ambulance crew friendly and thorough. If we had to have a car accident, this was the best possible way for things to happen.

Steve was assessed as having a neck injury and whisked away to the hospital for further testing. I was the only licensed driver who knew how to drive a standard, so I was left with the car while Julia went with him. I stayed with the police for a bit and called the insurance company before determining that the car was drivable,  then we crept over to the hospital. Steve had shown all the symptoms of a heart-attack on the ambulance ride over, so they had whisked him away into a treatment room the second he got there and he was being monitored. It was determined that he was not having a heart attack, but was in shock and that he did, indeed, have mild whiplash. He was given a fistful of painkillers and sent on his way.

It was at this point that I looked at my watch and realized we still had time to make it to the Ghost Train. So we went to the Ghost Train...


...and it wasn't until we got back to the hotel that we actually spent a few minutes looking at the damage to the car. It didn't look bad, but it was then that it hit me that we had had a very close call.


We spent the better part of the next morning dealing with several departments of our insurance company, negotiating the particulars of getting repairs on our vehicle, then we jumped in a cab to the airport and went to Los Angeles.

Disneyland was awesome, all decked out for Halloween...


Knott's Halloween Haunt was a blast, with 13 haunts to visit...


And Universal Studios was fabulous...


My Mom flew in and joined us for a few days...


...and everyone had an amazing vacation. It was wonderful to have the whole gang together in The Happiest Place on Earth. It was a marvellous week of escape and fun.

But, before we knew it, it was over and back to Vancouver, and reality. Our insurance adjustor dropped the ball on arranging a rental car for our return, and we wound up stranded at the Vancouver airport. Six tired travellers, stranded.

Steve managed to procure a stretch limo to get us all to our hotel, and got everyone sorted out and sent to bed. We got up in the morning to discover that there had been any number of SNAFUs courtesy of our insurance company's bureaucracy. After much phoning, miscommunication, phoning again and yelling, we finally got our hands on a rental van to drive home while our car was in the shop.  So, the next day, we loaded up the car, tucking Brendan and his gear in, too, since he was headed to Edmonton for work, and set forth.

Now, no trip to the Coast is complete for us is complete for us without a stop at the Krispie Kreme in Delta, which we have worked into our route out of the city. And while we were there, we figured we would stop for a quick lunch at the McDonald's in the same parking lot. Not the most nutritious of lunches, but not the worst thing that happened to us in Delta...as we were driving out of the parking lot, a guy backed his ancient Suburban into our van.

The whole thing seemed like a bad joke. Fortunately, Steve kept his wits about him and dealt with the driver, who tried to claim we had driven into him, until he saw the van-full of witnesses. His tune changed pretty quickly, insurance info was exchanged, then we were off to a local office of the car rental company to file a damage report.

We got home without any further incident, rolled into Halloween, then November. I got the paperwork on Fibre Week finished up as we awaited word on what was going on with our car. We were sort of in limbo, with a dented mini-van. I have spent much of the last month of my life waiting for phone calls, looking up information, answering the same nine questions over and over again. I have been juggling two accident claims, medical claims, unexpected travel expenses, and a mountain of paperwork. What I have not spent much time doing is the things I love. My work, my writing, my spinning and knitting. This has caused me great consternation.

We finally got the word that our car was going to be ready over the Remembrance Day weekend, but that we were expected to drive the rental van back out to Vancouver and drive our car back.  By this point in the year, a scenic drive through the mountains holds a little less appeal, and the day we were planning to set out brought a massive blizzard through central Alberta, so we put the trip off a few days.       We wound up heading out for Vancouver on November 13, just about a month after the accident.

I have to say that I was more than a little anxious about the drive and about revisiting the scene of the crime, so to speak, but it turned out to be a good thing. Both Steve and I needed to get a sense of normalcy back, and we did. We got our car back. We hung out on Granville Island and ate fish and chips. We had sushi with Miss Lexi. We walked on the pier at White Rock. I wandered the yarn shops. I went for coffee with the remarkable Astor of knittingAstor.com. Everything was lovely. It turned out to be a bonus vacation.

As we headed back toward home, we had a wee bonus side trip, courtesy of my friend Lynn, who arranged for us to visit shearer Joh Walker and her family's flock of assorted Down breeds in Fort Langley. When I got my fingers into the fleeces, I was back to work. The accidents, the stress, the aggravation at all of the bureaucracy, all melted away with the first whiff of lanolin.

There is still a ton of paperwork and we are being passed between insurance companies like a rotten egg. But things are straightening out. We have our wee car back, and we are settled in at home with no more sudden road trips in the foreseeable future. We are back to what passes for normal around here.

So, after a month in paperwork hell, I am getting myself back on track. I have Christmas knitting that needs to be done.  I have some very exciting projects coming up in the next few months. I have some great classes to prepare for. And I have some spinning to do.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

In Which We Get Caught Up

Wow.  It's been a while.

It's not that I've forgotten I have a blog, it's just that I haven't had much to say.  (I KNOW! Scary, huh?)

Okay, it's not so much that I haven't got much to say as that I have lots going on that I can't really talk about yet because it's in the still-working-the-bugs-out stages, or that it's someone else's story to tell first.  There are patterns and projects and things going on here that I am very excited about, but nothing is quite ready to see the light of the day just yet.  Let it suffice to say that there is much planning and spinning and knitting and writing going on around here.

I did get a few things finished over the summer.  This...



...Fiori Di Sole, by Rosemary Hill (Designs by Romi), in Manos del Uraguay Manos Lace (70% baby alpaca, 25% silk, 5% cashmere).

And this...

...Emily Shawl, by Mandy Moore, in handspun and logwood dyed paco-vicuna.

And much knitting of Halloween-themed projects that have yet to be photographed.

There has also been much sitting in doctors' offices and hanging out at labs going on.  I came home after Fibre Week feeling even more wrung out than usual, but I wrote that off to the burn-out I was clearly suffering from and went on.  But, even as I rested and got my head back in order, my energy didn't come back.  I have had ongoing issues with headaches and nausea, and was always tired and short of breath.  I slept late, and was ready for bed again by suppertime.  I was tired and irritable and anxious.  I basically had a bad case of the blahs.

So, off to the doctor I go.  And his first response was: menopause.  He wrote me a scrip for anti-anxiety meds and got ready to send me on my way, then decided it had been a while since I had had any blood tests and that we should check all the usual things--blood sugar, cholesterol, iron, hormones.  Oh, and while we're at it, let's get some ultrasounds and a mammogram.  I walked out of the office with a big fistful of requisitions and started making the rounds of the labs. (And I  DIDN'T take the anti-anxiety pills!)

And, lo and behold, a week later, the good doctor calls.  Something showed up in the blood tests.  No real surprise there.  I have ALL the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, and a family history of cholesterol issues.  And guess what?  Blood sugar and cholesterol: textbook numbers.  What DID show up was a vitamin B12 deficiency causing a low red blood cell count, a condition sometimes called pernicious anemia.  (Love that word "pernicious"!  It's synonyms include sinister and devious. I picture a Snidely Whiplash kind of anemia.)


Pernicious anemia is easily treated with vitamin B12 shots, and the doctor assured me that I would feel better after the first shot.  And I did.  I am now well into the series of shots prescribed and I'm back to my old self again.  After having the pharmacist give me a couple of the shots, I took over and I'm doing them myself.  No more headaches, energy is up, and even the daily aches and pains that I had gotten used to are gone.  (Seems like nothing will cure my irritability, so I've just decided to roll with that.)

Yay.

Except.

Pernicious anemia and vitamin B12 deficiency do not occur spontaneously.  They are symptoms of about elebenty-billion other problems.  So we are now going through that list of problems, one by one, eliminating the possibilities.  We have narrowed it down to either a digestive issue (possibly celiac) or a bad reaction to pain killers that I took for the Kraken earlier this year.  Or both.  Or neither.  As each set of test results come back, new ones are ordered.  And so it goes.

The testing, however, will just have to wait a couple of weeks now, 'cuz I'm going to Disneyland!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Terrible Tale (Not For The Faint of Heart)

Gentle Knitters and Spinners, come close and lend an ear.  I have for you a Tale of Terror to share...

Just last week, in a town near where you live, a Spindle Princess was searching for the last balls of Yarn she needed to finish a Sweater for her Dear Husband.  This Sweater had been promised to that noble man as a Christmas gift, but time had passed too quickly and the Princess did not get the Sweater finished.  The lovely Sweater had been set aside for many Smaller Projects that filled the small spaces in the Princess's busy days.  For you see, the Princess had many other tasks beside knitting, and precious knitting time had become hard to find, so finishing a Big Sweater was something easily set aside.

But, as the Summer wore away and the evenings became cooler, the Patient Husband asked his Princess if she would have time to finish the Sweater before the Autumn Chill set in.  The Princess, being a Good and Loving Wife, promised that she would and set about knitting the yoke of his Sweater.  She knit diligently for two evenings, and on the morning of the third day, discovered that she needed another ball of Yarn from the Stash stored in her Tower Room.

So our Princess ventured upward into her Special Place of Yarn Storage to find another ball of Yarn.  And there, she was met with a most vexing sight.  The ball of Yarn, so carefully stored in a Charming Basket, was frayed and broken in several places on the outer surface of the ball.  She searched for the source of this destruction, but could find no clue as to how this terrible thing had happened to this lovely Yarn.  The only explanation possible was that her Wee Manx Cat, who was know to devour bits of fleece at most inconvenient times, had developed a taste for Fine Merino Yarns.  The Princess carefully wound the broken Yarn into small balls and went about her knitting, silently cursing the Cat.

As her knitting progressed, the Princess began to fret that there would not be enough of the Yarn left to complete the Sweater now that the Damaged Yarn had been removed.  She recalled that she had purchased More Than Sufficient Yarn in case of just such a circumstance, but was at loss as to where this Surplus Yarn had be stored.

So, once again, the Princess ventured into her Tower Room to search for Yarn.  She had to move Boxes of Fleece and other great treasures that had accumulated over the Summer, but found no sign of the precious Yarn.  So she ventured deeper into the Tower Room.  She sorted through the Weaving Basket, finding yet more Frayed Yarns, but not the Yarn she sought.  Then, she spotted one ball of the Yarn on the top of her UnFinished-Objects Basket, and thought "Hallelujah!"  Her search was over.

It was then that the true cause of the damage to her Yarns was revealed, for underneath the sought-after Ball of Yarn lay another Ball of Yarn, covered in tiny white flecks.  As the horrified princess watched, the tiny white flecks began to squirm and move.  The princess rolled this writhing mass of yarn aside and revealed.....



....MOTHS!!

Hundreds and hundreds of tiny, wriggling Larvae, dozens and dozens of Adult Moths--tiny little Harbingers of Doom for any Yarn unfortunate enough to cross their paths.

On closer inspection, all of the Yarns in that Basket were infested with active Larvae and had been well shredded by their insatiable appetites for Fine Fibre.  Two Sweaters, both of Handspun Yarn, were riddled with holes and their surfaces were shredded as if by the claws of a Ravening Beast.  The Basket itself was crawling with the Horrid Creatures.

Our Princess wept in Bitter Despair at the Cruel Fates that had befallen her precious Yarns and Sweaters, but then she became filled with a Steely Resolve.  She armed herself with Plastic Bags, a Vacuum Cleaner, and a sacred bottle of Cedar Oil and went forth to battle the Squirming Menace.  For hours she laboured, bagging and vacuuming and spraying, then moving onward to seek any refugees seeking to escape her wrath.  Yarns were inspected, then bagged and placed in a Freezing Compartment to destroy the Younglings of the Invading Horde.  Many Yarns were simply bagged and hauled to the Trash.

The rampage continued long into the night, with even the linens from the Tower Room being laundered, though they showed no sign of having been inhabited by the Invaders.  Fine Fleeces were searched for the Offending Creatures, and most were found free of the beasties.  But two--TWO Fleeces showed signs of Moth Habitation.  Two Fleeces from Different Sources, but both stored near the UFO Basket, but both riddled with Moths and their Offspring.  Needless to say, these Fleeces and their Inhabitants were destroyed without Mercy.

So, the Princess now stands guard over her precious cache of Yarns, armed with her Cedar Oil and her Zip-Lock baggies, ever-vigilant.  She jumps at the flutter of a tiny dust mote in a sunbeam.  She shudders at the sight of a fleck of white lint on a carpet.  Yarns that were not even near the Tower Room but safely stashed in a Zippered Bag, nestled in the Princess's purse, are inspected thoroughly before being worked into ongoing projects.  The Princess may never be the same.



So, Gentle Knitters and Spinners, beware!  The Moth is a devious foe, hiding deep in the locks of Fleece, waiting to strike the Unwary.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Time. And Space.

Time.

And space.

That is what I have given myself this past month.


Time to spin.  Time to knit.  Time to read.  Time to sketch.  Time to catch up on movies.  Time to walk around and stare up at the trees.  Time to do nothing.

And space?  I've been a little more reclusive that usual lately.  I have stayed home instead of gallivanting around town.  I have retreated to my garden when family is home.  I have been lax about answering emails--even those from friends.  I have hermitted.

And you know what?  It felt GREAT!


I had no idea how overwhelmed I had become with all the going and the doing and the people and the emails and the Twitter.  I thought I was living the dream.  A busy career, and active family life, a big circle of friends and acquaintances.  And I was right, to a certain extent.  It was really good.

But I had no idea how much time and energy all of that was taking away from me until I walked away from it.  Don't get me wrong.  I wasn't miserable.  Oh, I was getting a little testy.  I was letting little things stress me out.  I wasn't sleeping.  But I didn't feel that bad.   Really.  I was loving it.

Truth be told, at first, I found it stressful to be doing "nothing".  I was constantly leaping up with the feeling that I should be doing Something Important.  I felt anxious and fidgety.  So I made myself sit.  I set knitting targets:  "You can't do anything else until you knit 6 rows of lace."  I would not allow myself to go to the grocery store until I had filled a bobbin with singles.  I learned to sit and be quiet.

I spent three weeks thinking that way, and I found that I could sit and do nothing.  I could feel "busy" when all I was doing was spinning.  I found a pace that worked for me.  A balance.

Now, I am starting to ease myself back into being busy.  This week is the deadline for Fibre Week proposals and I'm checking the emails--and answering them!-- three or four times a day.  I invited a friend over for dinner.  I am going out for lunch with my daughter.  I am getting out of my pyjamas before 3:00.  But I am also saying no.  And taking time, every day, to do small, quiet things that make me happy.

And now I see why I had to stop and rest for a bit.  I was am a stress junkie.  I like to have too many things going on at once.  I like to be the one running around doing ALL the things.  It makes me feel good to solve all the world's problems, then go home and cook a gourmet meal while answering emails and knitting a little bit of lace.  I feel powerful and capable when I do those things.

Not so much when I was sitting, alone, in my garden, making up a mitten pattern.

And WHY NOT?  Making up a knitting pattern is a good thing.  It's something that not just anybody can do.  I am still powerful and capable.  But it didn't feel the same.  The rush wasn't there.

That's when I realized that I had a problem.  Like a heroin addict,  I had started out with the thrill of a small dose of stress--a gram of paperwork here, a gram of travel there, a spoonful of committee.  But after a while, the thrill got harder to find, so I needed larger fixes to feed my habit.  I had to add a couple of grams of curriculum review,  then a spoonful of article writing, and a couple of big parties.   And another four grams of travel.  And pretty soon, that wasn't even enough to get me high.

So I quit.  Cold Turkey.

Now here I sit.  I have survived the withdrawal, and I can look back and see where I was.  And how far I have come.  I can find a thrill in answering one or two emails.  I feel like I have Accomplished Big Things when I get 6 rows of lace knit in an afternoon.  I'm happy with making hot dogs for dinner while I listen to my husband talk about his day.  I feel powerful and capable, without the constant go-go-go.  I'm good.



For now.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Catching Up

The Prodigal Blogger returns!

I am a sporadic blogger at best, but the past few months have been ridiculous.  I was overwhelmed by work and exhausted, so I stepped away from the job.  Right in time for some travel.   So I will use "I have been to interesting places, doing interesting things, with limited internet access" as my excuse for the latest blog silence.

I am home now, and settled for a bit, so it's time for some catching up.

Here's what I've been up to:

I have been married to Mr. Stephen Boyd for 30 years.  It has not always been easy, but we have somehow managed to cling together through all of it.  This, in our opinion, was worthy of a special celebration.  A cruise, at trip to Disneyland, something "big".  And what did we decide?  Sentimental fools that we are, we decided to go to our honeymoon destination and do it in the style we could not afford 30 years ago.  We went to Victoria, BC.


We drove through the mountains, dropping in at Vancouver to spend a couple of marvellous days catching up with our two older progeny, then off to Victoria.  We stayed in the lovely Magnolia Hotel and Spa (but did not spa), we ate fabulous food, and we walked our little feeties off.  We did not "do" anything.  We wandered, we drank wine, we talked.  We bought matching PFDs for kayaking.  It was AWESOME.


After a couple of days of that, we meandered up the Island to Nanaimo, where I was going to deliver one of the last Master Spinner books that I had marked.  That turned out to be a delightful side trip when the our hosts, Liz and Mark, proposed an impromptu kayak trip before a lovely salmon dinner...



We had to leave the paradise of Protection Island and mosey on, but we were going to Qualicum Bay, so it was worth the moseying.  We spent the next day wandering beaches in the rain...



...and enjoying the excellent local food at The Shady Rest Pub.

Then it was time to head back to the real world.  Back through the mountains and home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

Where we stayed for about 10 days.  I had a birthday in that time span, so we ate cake.  I weeded the garden.  I warped and wove a wee scarf.  I cast on a wee shawl.  I designed a pair of mittens, which are still progress.  I tidied the studio.  Nothing very interesting at all.  It was great!

Back on the road for the August long weekend, this time to Edmonton.  We hung out with family, we raided not one, but two farmers' markets, we visited with friends, and we did the doctor thing for Miss Julia.  (Her Juvenile Arthritis appears to be in full remission and all is well there, so it was a good visit.)
Then back home, where I have spent the last 2 days pickling and preserving and baking all the goodies we picked up at the farmers' markets.

Whew!

So, now I knit.  And spin.  And rest up from all of the "resting" I've been doing.

And blog.

Because now I have TWO blogs.

After much frustration in searching for recipes for sweet treats that do not call for processed sugars or, worse, artificial sweeteners, I have started adapting and inventing my own.  And I want to offer them to those who are seeking, as I am, alternatives for diabetics or others who want to eliminate sugar without relying on artificial sugar substitutes.  So, because I have so much free time, I have started Life After Sugar.  Go check it out when you have a minute.

There is pie.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Teaching, and Doing It Right

I want to start out today by thanking everyone who took the time to comment on my last post or to send me an email about my decision to step back from the Master Spinner Program.  The last couple of weeks have been very difficult for me, running the gamut from a giddy sense of freedom to deep guilt and regret.  Your kind words and support have been a great source of comfort and equilibrium as I am going through the adjustment.

Another part of the adjustment from busy college instructor to independent fibre artiste has been a great deal of navel gazing on the subject of teaching.  Do I want to continue to teach?  What do I want to teach?  Why do I want to teach?  HOW do I want to teach?

I have come to realize that I have some pretty strong beliefs about teaching and what it takes to actually be a teacher.  I am not talking about educational theory, or pedagogical techniques.  I am talking about the act of teaching.

Over the years, I have seen great teaching and I have seen terrible teaching.  I have seen these teachers in elementary and high school classrooms, in colleges and universities, in festival workshops and in seminars.  I have been inspired and nurtured, and I have been discouraged and even bullied.  I have taken the observations and lessons from all of these teachers and distilled them into my own style of teaching, and here is what I believe:

Teaching is a selfless act.  Teaching involves setting aside your own ego, your own beliefs, your own need for power and attention, and giving your students what they need to succeed.  Teaching means looking at a topic you may know inside and out with fresh eyes every time.  Teaching means taking things you think you know apart to look at the tiny details, then reassembling those things with others watching.

Teaching is NOT the act of imposing your beliefs, ideologies, and dogmas upon your students.  Teaching is not a power trip.  Teaching is not a marketing tool for your products. Teaching is not a road to fame and glory.

Teaching is a shared journey with your students.  Being a teacher means that you have to look at the topic from both your point of view and experience and the student's point of view and inexperience.  It means putting aside your own assumptions and judgemental tendencies.  It means being immensely patient and accepting of the faults and foibles of others.  Being a teacher is like being a parent; you have to put the interests of others before yours to do it successfully.

A passion for or a deep knowledge of a topic does not make a great teacher, though it certainly helps.  An enthusiasm for sharing something you love does not make a great teacher,  though this helps, too.  What makes a great teacher is the willingness to travel on the students' journey.  The willingness to embrace the needs of others and fulfill them.

I have tried over the years to live up to these beliefs.  I have not always succeeded, but with every class, I strive towards these ideals.  I have several friends who are  great teachers, both as fibre workers and in the public school systems, and they also aim towards these ideals.  They understand that teaching is not for the teacher, it is for the student, and I have seen some remarkable acts of generosity from these great human beings.

Now, not every teacher will be a great teacher, but the really good ones are working hard and learning and striving to become great.  Some of them use humour to overcome weaknesses, or take summer classes to brush up on topics they have not mastered.  Others find a niche where their strengths are better used and their weaknesses matter less.  Some find that a particular grade or a type of school is better suited to their style and strengths and they choose to teach there.  Others choose to write textbooks rather than present in a classroom.   Still others have found a place in on-line delivery.  There are many options and  many routes to great teaching.  Good and great teachers seek these options out and try them on until they find the one that fits.

And for those who are teaching who do not strive to place the student first, who cannot meet curriculum requirements because they conflict with personal beliefs, who pass out colouring sheets for "art class", who believe that belittling a student forces them to work harder to prove themselves...for you, I have this to say:  The world would be a better place if you stopped teaching. It really would.

Step aside and let the teachers who really want to TEACH do their job.

In the words of that great teacher, Yoda, "Do or do not.  There is no try."

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Not the Blog Post You Were Hoping For


For the past 5 years, I have had the great pleasure of teaching for Olds College's Master Spinner Program as well as serving as the Fibre Arts Program Coordinator for Fibre Week. I have learned more in the past 5 years than I ever did as a student in the program, and I have had the great joy of leading literally hundreds of students to their "aha! moments". I have travelled to places I had never considered seeing, and met wonderful people, many of whom I now consider friends.  I have taken great responsibility for the Program and the well-being of its students.  I have been treated as part of the team by the administrators.  I have been blessed.

This has meant that I have kept a demanding teaching schedule, often prepping for the next session as I was travelling from the last class.  I have also worked as a volunteer on the module revisions for the MSP.  And as the volunteer Fibre Arts Coordinator for Fibre Week (a full-time job in and of itself).  I have become embroiled in the day to day operations of the Master Spinner Program and in the minutiae of Fibre Week arrangements.  And I have maintained a schedule of private workshops, as well.  I have been, well, busy.

And while all of this was going on, I had a life going on outside of spinning, too.  I have had loved ones with cancer and others with chronic illness,  I have had serious injury and family crises. I have had plumbing problems and renovation nightmares.  I have had bills and groceries and laundry and car pools.

So, along comes Fibre Week, where I not only taught several workshops, but performed my above-and-beyond duties as Coordinator, emceed the fashion show, subbed for a teacher who needed to run out for a medical appointment, counselled students, problem-solved with the administrative team, started planning for 2013, and generally ran myself ragged.  And I did a poor job of all of these things.  I was running on fumes, faking it all the way.  Everything was harder than it had to be--minor concerns became crises, setbacks became panics, each little discussion became a battle.  All of those little problems that we encounter every day quickly became catastrophes.  There were things that I simply could not cope with.  There was something seriously wrong.

And what was wrong was me.  I may have mentioned that I'm tired.  My perspective was skewed, my organizational skills were warped, and even my usually sharp wit was getting duller and duller.  Then, on top of everything else, I got hit with a stomach bug midweek.  By Friday, I was a zombie--and not the fun, flesh-eating kind.  Just a staring, shuffling, mindless husk.

The long drive home gave me plenty of time to think.  And think I did.  I thought about the dozens of students I had taught over the years.  I thought about the MSP modules and the changes that I have been working on and those that still need to be made.  I though about the planning for 2013.  I thought about my co-workers, my friends, the townhouses, the travel, the weather, the food, the fibre.  And I thought about myself.  For the first time in years, I thought about what I want.  And what I want is a rest.

I thought about taking a week or two and then rolling back into things--I was scheduled to be in Michigan in three weeks--but I've done that before and found myself up to my neck in paperwork and emails and phone calls before I even knew what was happening.  I had to pull the plug.  I have resigned from the Master Spinner instructor roster and I have ended my commitment to the module review for now.  I will be continuing in my role as Fibre Arts Program Coordinator until a replacement is found, but then I will be stepping away from that, too.  I have to cut myself completely off for a while, or I will just start doing all the things again. It is all too easy to get caught up in the needs of the program, of the students, to feel responsible for everything.  I have to step away.

This is a massive change for me, and I am grieving the loss in my life right now. A warm word would go a long way, if you have one to spare for me.  But I will recover, and I will continue to teach.  I will get around to finishing those articles that I haven't had time for and submit them to publications.  I will make things.  And the Master Spinner Program will go on.  I hope that my students will all continue on and become the great spinners I know they can be.  I hope that other instructors will step up and take on some of the duties I have been performing over the past few years.  And I hope that, in time, I will rest and recoup and reclaim my energy and get to a place where I can revisit the Master Spinner Program and they will have me back.

But, for now, I rest.

Friday, May 18, 2012

...But Is It Art?

                    art:  (√§rt) noun 1. any form of human activity that is the product of
                       imagination and skill...
                                                       ~Gage Canadian Dictionary

With art and The Arts on my mind a lot lately, I have become very away that we all define art as something different, depending upon our own individual experience.  I have been told that art is only what you can hang on a wall.  That it is things like opera and ballet, obscure entertainments for the elite, but not for regular folks. That the people on the street don't understand art unless they have a university degree.  That true art is made by those passionate amateurs who squeeze it in between their day job and sleep.  That those who wish to be paid are "sell-outs", or worse, con-artists.

I have also been told that what I do is not really art.  The kinder critics inform me that I make fine craft.  (The "fine" is there to differentiate it from "macaroni-and-glitter" craft.)  Those less kind inform me that making yarn is not an art-machines can do it.  That knitting is not an art-grandmas can do it.  Weaving, well, sure, that's an art-except that since I only do plain-weave, maybe not so much. And best of all, I have been told that if I were a "real artist", I would be making art, not teaching.

I have been told all of these things, and more, by people who themselves profess to be artists.  And if artists can't agree on art, how can the rest of the world?  So I've decided it's time to re-define "art".  Or, rather, remind people of the actual definition of art.

Art is not something other, it is a part of the human experience.  Art stems from our observations of the world around us, both the natural and the mechanical.  Art comes when we apply the physical skills we have to our observations.  And for some of us that means painting a picture.  For others, it means telling a story.  Yet others dance.  Or make yarn. 

All of us are born with imagination.  We all have the power to observe the world around us through sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches.  We all have responses to our experiences.  We laugh, we cry, we get angry, we hurt.  We live.  And all art is is the expression of the experience of living.

Now, not all of us have been trained to wield a paintbrush or execute a perfect arabesque.  In fact, most of us have not.  But we can still see the beauty around us, and we can choose a way to express our response that fits our skill set.  We can create a cozy home, or tally up a tidy column of numbers, or build a solid shed, or plant a garden, or cook an appetizing meal.  We can go to plays and movies, read books, or follow the patterns designed by others to make our own object of beauty. We can stand still and appreciate a beautiful sunset.  We can show a child how to arrange macaroni in the shape of a flower and sprinkle glitter on it to make it pretty.  In doing all of these things, we celebrate imagination and skill. 

There are those who have trained their minds and bodies to execute a skill that conveys their experience to the rest of the world.  Painters, dancers, singers, writers, designers, architects, sculptors, filmmakers, and makers have all worked hard to find a way to express that experience.  They share their observations with the rest of the world through the products of their labours.  They place experience in a physical context for us to see.  We don't always recognize the perspective, and it may make some of us uncomfortable, but for others, that viewpoint resonates and they see the art.  Our own skills may not extend to the designing and making of beautiful objects, but we all have the skills to choose, to combine, to rearrange, and to place context on the expressions of others.

Art is not other.  It is not strange, or unapproachable.  It is not a privilege reserved for the very rich or the very educated.  Art is our human experience, made physical.

Go out and make art.  Or live life.  It's the same thing.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Full Disclosure and The Other Side

On Friday, I issued a tiny crie de coeur here on my little blog about string.  I told the story of staff firings at our local college from the point of view of the friends I have who worked there and from students who will be impacted by the choices made.  I framed my comments in the context of the larger picture of the way the world is going and how those in the arts are perceived. (If you didn't take the time to read the link I provided, you missed out on a lot of the context.)  The cuts made to the Keyano VPA are, in my opinion, simply a small local reflection of a larger attitude, that Oil is King, and arts don't make money.  It was, simply, another blow in the battle.  One that struck close to home

What I didn't expect was that my post would be picked up and passed along the way it was.  I figured my Mom and the six other people who read me would shake their heads, mutter that I was off on another tangent, and the world would go on.  But picked up and passed along I was.

So, after two days of silence, the college has issued an official statement in response to the outcry by not only myself, but others stunned by the suddenness of Friday's events.  You can read it in it's entirety here: http://keyano.ca/news/open-letter-editor.

I encourage you to read this statement, and to make your own conclusions.  I also, however, stand by every word of my post as the truth as it was presented by those effected by these events.  I do realize that the official perspective and the personal perspective are vastly different.  I know that people exaggerate when telling tales to make their side look stronger, and I know that people in shock tend to use strong language.  I simply repeated the tales I was told, in the words they came to me in.  I am simply a chronicler of my experiences, and of those experiences shared with me.

I still feel that ANY cut to ANY arts education is a matter for public discussion.  I still feel that the manner in which the community was informed-or not informed-of the upcoming "improvements to arts delivery" was, at best, ham-fisted.  Perhaps, Keyano Folk, if you had been open and honest in explaining cuts and re-alignments in the first place, there would not have been the response to my post that there was.   Those six readers would have muttered, and that would have been it.

I would like to add at this point that there is a real need for trades training in our province.  I know that. I would also like to say that educational institutions do have to shift and grow as the focus of our society and economy changes.  But these changes were implemented with no warning to the college's staff, students, or community.  When change is introduced gradually, we move with it and adapt.  When you put a frog in a pot of cool water and gradually increase the heat, he will remain still until he is cooked.  When you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, he screams and tries to fight back.

So this little frog screamed a little.






Friday, May 04, 2012

Another Sad Day for the Arts

Why does it seem like the only time I post anything to this blog lately is when I get my knickers in a twist?

Perhaps it's because I am creatively and physically blocked right now.

Perhaps it's because I am turning into that cranky old blogger who has nothing better to do than bitch.

Or, perhaps it's because so many stupid, petty, oppressive and small-minded people are doing so many stupid, petty, oppressive and small-minded things around me lately.  The list is never-ending,
and here's another one:  At 11:30 this morning, the faculty of the Visual and Performing Arts programs at our local college (Keyano College) were rounded up and given 15 minutes to clear their offices, then escorted from the premises by security.   They were not met with by the administration and gently informed that their programs and jobs had be cut.  They were not given pink slips.  They were not even notified by email that this was their last day at work.  They were escorted out.  By security.  Like common criminals.

These people had done nothing wrong.  The plain and simple truth is that the Board of Governors and the new president of the college crunched the numbers and the arts lost out to in-house training provided for the oilsands industry.  Plain and simple.  Money talks, and the arts walk.  Every. Fucking. Time.

It does not help that I read this little essay on the perception of a "cultural elite" from Salon this morning, either.  It speaks directly to the American experience of the arts, but the principle applies here, too.  For those who do not wish to follow the link, here is a brief summary: Art is something that children do.  It is a nice hobby for housewives and retired people.  Anyone who wants to be a professional artist is actually just trying to avoid having a real job while they live off of our hard-earned tax dollars.  Artists are "the other"-they are not regular, hard-working folks like you and me.  They do not belong in our country.

Now, I consider myself an artist, and I don't know about you, but I think I work damned hard.  I work 8-10 hours a day, if not longer, at my art.  I do not apply for an endless string of government grants.  I use the money I earn to pay my mortgage and buy groceries and make car payments and give my kids braces, like regular folk.  I PAY TAXES.  I am a regular working person, just like Joe Lunchbox, and I do not feel that I am entitled to special privileges because of what I do.  It's my job, just like being an accountant, or a doctor, or a truck driver.  Or a college president.

I am now one of a fistful of people who are making money in "the arts" in this community.  And I am not making "a living".  I am making money.  Modest money.  Nor am I making my money in the community I live in.  I have to travel hundreds of kilometres before I can get paid to do what I do.  And the way I make my money is to teach.  I teach people who dream of making art, of being creative, of living a life that is satisfying to their soul.

And that is all the young people of Fort McMurray want to do, too.  Not every kid who sings in a school choir is going to be the next Justin Bieber.  Not every kid who gets their artwork put up on Mom's fridge is the next Picasso.  And to be a working artist, they don't have to be.  Why shouldn't they have a chance to explore the art that makes them feel complete in an educational setting close to home. Why are we sending our best and brightest away?

Two of my three very artistically inclined children had to do just that.  And one of them was educated at Keyano College, in the very program that has now been slashed.  He, among other alumni, IS making a living (though a meagre one) as an artist.  My daughter had no other options, she had to leave this community to become a make-up artist, and she is now thriving in the fashion scene in Vancouver.  These are two home-town kids who could have added richness and variety to the community, but the opportunities were dwindling.  And now there are none.

So, Fort McMurray Moms and Dads, if you want your kids to stay in town, don't give them dance classes or piano lessons.  That sort of thing has no future here.

Teach 'em to drive a truck.

'Cuz that's what Keyano College wants them to do.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Empire State of Mind

Okay, so it's been a while again since I posted.  But this time I have a great excuse: New York.

Yup, that New York.

I had been invited by the Spinning Study Group of Long Island to come and do my Spinning Superior Socks workshop for them a while back, and I was, well, thrilled to say yes.  I have never been to that part of the world, and was pretty excited to have the opportunity to go.

There were several versions of the trip planned.  In one version, Steve was going to come with me and spend a week in Manhattan.  That fell through.  In the next version, I was going to meet Number One Son to celebrate his 25th birthday in New York.  That fell through.  In yet another version, I was going to fly to New Jersey and take a commuter plane to Long Island.  The airline changed that.  I was beginning to feel like the trip was doomed.

So, in the end, between the airline and the Guild and the crossed wires all around, I wound up on a plane to New York all by myself.  Off into the unknown!

And I arrived here...

at JFK airport, where my driver (I know!), Frank was waiting for me.  He drove me across the island to the lovely home of my host family for the weekend in Stony Brook.

Now, I always build in a cushion day when I travel.  You know, a day to cover airline delays, bad weather, lost baggage--that sort of thing.  This trip was as smooth as glass and that meant I had a day to kill before the workshop.  I was offered a ride into the village of Stony Brook, so I jumped in the car and away we went.

Stony Brook, NY is a lovely little town on the North Shore of Long Island, so I wandered along the harbour and through the town.  Spring had come a little early to New York, so everything was green and scenic, so the shutterbug in me was well-entertained for the day...


The next day was the workshop.  There were 8 intrepid spinners who came out on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon to play with string...

...while outside, old-timey baseball re-creators were playing ball...


...and sheepies were grazing...



Meanwhile, we explored yarn structure and twist.  And the very talented spinners of the SSGLI had sock yarn by the end of the day.  (Happy Dance!)

That evening, a few of the workshop participants joined me at the guild president's home for a delicious dinner and a few glasses of wine.  And there were bunnies!  Angora bunnies (the very bestest kind of bunnies)....

Sunday dawned grey and wet.  As in raining cats and dogs.  The perfect day to blend fibres and spin more yarns.  We wound down the workshop just as the weather turned blustery and cold and we hunkered down for the night in a warm house with much knitting.

Now, during the course of the workshop, it sorta came out that I had never been to NYC before.  And that I wanted to go to NYC.  And it just so happened that I had a day before my flight.  Suggestions were made, directions given, and, suddenly, Monday morning, I was on a train to Manhattan.

I will admit that I was a little trepidatious about the trip.  I am not fond of concrete, crowds, and traffic and was afraid that the Big Apple would be overwhelming for this Country Mouse.  I could not have been more wrong!  It was love at first sight.

So, I touristed.  I went to the top of the Empire State Building, which was AWESOME. Windy, but awesome.  Even on an overcast day, I could see all of New York stretched out below me and I took way too many pictures of rooftops...



...and traffic...


...and Manhattan in general...

I had my day all mapped out, so, of course, I promptly made a wrong turn as I left the ESB and found myself wandering toward the Flatiron District, which is filled with amazing architecture.  More photos, including the building for which the neighbourhood was named...

...the Flatiron Building.

And, by happy coincidence, this neighbourhood is home to a New York institution that I had heard of from former MSP students...

...the Shake Shack.  Lunch was served...

...and well worth the half-hour wait in line and the elebenty-billion calories.

I took the time over lunch to get re-oriented and headed back toward my goals for the day, Times Square and the Garment District.  There wasn't really much to do at Times Square, so I took some more pictures...

...and mosied on.  I simply wandered the streets, taking a ridiculous number of pictures of buildings, including the New York Public Library...

....and more gargoyles and grotesques than you can shake a stick at...

...until I found myself in the Garment District.  Now, truth be told, this was my goal all along.  You see, nestled in a cozy little eighth-floor nook, just off 7th Avenue, is a tiny fibre paradise.  Habu Textiles.  Silks and stainless steel and wool and paper and linen and cotton and...Who knew so much could be crammed into such a tiny space, inside a nondescript door on West 29th?  Needless to say, yarn was acquired.  The perfect souvenir of my day in the big city.

The train whisked me back out to Long Island and I packed up my treasures.  The next morning, I was back at JFK and then back home.  Where I find myself in an Empire State of Mind...



Tuesday, April 17, 2012

In Which I Get Political

Okay, I know I've been gone a while.  And I know that this is a blog about fibre and string and artsy-fartsy stuff.  But I'm back, and I'm back with a vengeance.  Let the rant commence!

I am fed up with politics.  More specifically, I am fed up with the disturbing trend in politics towards picking on those perceived to be "different" in our society.  When attacking someone for being different from you happens in a grade school playground, it is called bullying.  When it happens in politics, it is apparently called "free speech".

First of all, for those of you reading this outside of Alberta:   We are in the last week of a provincial election campaign.  This campaign has been marred by extremist rhetoric and the ridiculous antics of a great many of the candidates and their supporters.  The mud slinging that has always made politics a rather dirty sport has been raised to a fine art in this campaign, and the hypocrisy has been mind-boggling.

I've always had a low tolerance for politicians.  And the promises that somehow never get kept.  And the pandering to special interests.  And the tax dollars being spent on big airplanes that never get delivered.  And political partisanship that places greater emphasis on who is in "power" than on the needs of the people who vote.  I think we all pretty much feel that way to some extent or another.  But, in the end, the roads and parks get built and the cities/provinces/nation carries on.

But this election campaign has been very different.  We have a new, untried political party entering the game, bringing us a new approach to politics in Alberta.  Hate and fear as political policy.  Terrible things, and I do mean hateful, cruel, sexist, racist, outright evil things, are being said.  Accusations of bias are being made against members of the media and they are being denied access to the candidates on that basis.  Individual citizens are being attacked for expressing their personal views on their blogs.

Still, I have sat back and watched.  I have my own political views, and yes, they tend to lean a little toward the left-I believe you can judge a society (and it's government) by the way it treats its weakest members.  I think that it is the government's job to provide a reasonable standard of living for every citizen, no matter their race, religion, gender, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, eye colour, or belly button alignment.  This sometimes mean I have to compromise one strongly held belief to accommodate another.  The reality is that we are all different and that we cannot all have everything our way every time.  It is up to a fair and just government to find the most workable middle-ground.

So why am I addressing politics on a string blog?  Because of Allan Hunsperger.

Mr. Hunsperger is a pastor at a church called The House in Tofield, AB.  He is running as a candidate for the Wild Rose Alliance Party in Edmonton-South West.  His official party bio seems innocuous enough, but over this past weekend,  his true stripes were revealed.   A blog post on Mr. Hunsperger's church's website The House Today (nope, not gonna link it!), revealed that Mr. Hunsperger has a rather dim view of our non-heterosexual citizens and that he feels that the Edmonton Public School district's policy protecting students from harassment based upon gender and sexual identification is "profane and wicked".
This Man of God then goes on to tell us that "accepting people the way they are is cruel and not loving".  (The original post has been deleted from the blog, but you can read it here.)

Now, fine.  Mr. Hunsperger is a minister of an Evangelical church, and he is entitled to preach whatever his belief leads him to preach.  But when one uses a public forum--and yes, the internet is a very public forum---to attack duly-elected public officials for protecting marginalized children, well...the shit may just hit the fan.  And hit the fan it did.

But this is still not the part that stirred me to action.

You see, freedom of speech is freedom of speech.  A lot of people say things that I find annoying, or misinformed, or outright abhorrent all the time.  And I probably do the same.  And we choose to ignore or question the things that we disagree with, depending upon our inclination at that moment.  Sometimes vile words fill us with indignation, and we respond.  Other times, we shrug and walk away.

Well, a few fine bloggers and journalists chose to respond.  They linked and reposted Mr. Hunsperger's blog post.  And this is where I got wound up.

Those who commented upon the diatribe of a religious zealot were accused of religious intolerance.  Yep.  The supporters of the Wild Rose Alliance played the God card.  You see, telling someone that they are going to "suffer the rest of eternity in a lake of fire" because they do not conform to the narrow norm set by Mr. Hunsperger's god is free speech and religious freedom.  But disagreeing with that statement, or even repeating it within the context of open debate is persecution.

Telling someone that their statements are hurtful, that public attacks on a group of people based upon sexual orientation are inappropriate if you are running for political office, these things are not religious intolerance.  Telling someone that they are spreading hate by telling children that they will "burn in a lake of fire" because they are attracted to someone of the same gender is not religious intolerance.  Calling hurtful words hurtful is free speech.  We accept your right to say them, but be prepared to accept our right to say we don't like it.

If the WRP had left well enough alone, or even stated that Mr. Hunsperger's views did not reflect those of the party, things probably would have died down a bit.  Instead,  party leader Danielle Smith spoke out in support of Mr. Hunsperger's right to mix a narrow religious interpretation with politics.  And now, Mr. Hunsperger has removed the post that he had every right to write, and claims to "fully support equality for all people, and condemn any intolerance based on sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic," .  If his religious conviction was so pure, and his freedom to state it so unshakable, why is he backing down?

This has added impetus to the attacks upon the bloggers and journalists who have spoken out against the WRP and their rather impressive roster of, er....fringe...candidates and their support of "conscience rights" for government employees.  The culture of bullying, of media favouritism, of policy concealment, and of rhetorical slight-of-hand that pervades this party has given a voice to the angry and disenfranchised across our province, and those angry and disenfranchised individuals are using the airwaves and social media to yell louder and punch harder than ever before.  

Free speech goes both ways, folks.  If you do not agree with someone, you can walk away, as you would like those of us who disagree with you to do.  But the WRP and their supporters are not letting us walk away.  They are tweeting and blogging and phoning our homes.  They are name-calling, spamming, and robo-dialling those who do not agree with them.  They are bullying anyone who is not like them, and   bullying is violence, whether physical, verbal, or virtual via cyber-bullying.

And I do not want a government of bullies running my province.  It's time to stand up to bullies and to say that I have a right to my beliefs, too.  And I believe that politicians who are willing to tell young people that they will burn in hell for being born are people I do not want speaking for me on other matters,  not even the building of roads and parks

So I will make my voice heard.  I will vote.  And I will encourage all Albertans to vote.  For whomever you wish.  But vote.

'Cuz when the bullies start beating up your friends, you'll wish you had said something earlier.

Telling someone that their statements are hurtful, that public attacks on a group of people based upon sexual orientation are inappropriate if you are running for political office, these things are not religious intolerance.  Telling someone that they are spreading hate by telling children that they will "burn in a lake of fire" because they are attracted to someone of the same gender is not religious intolerance.  It is calling

Sunday, March 11, 2012

An Act of Shameless Self-Promotion

For those of you in the Vancouver/Lower Mainland region of British Columbia (or those of you who can get there on this short notice), I would like to remind you that Fibres West is coming up next weekend.  Why? Because I will be there, teaching, and my classes still have space.

So, in a blatant act of shameless self-promotion, I am here to say:  COME TAKE A CLASS!

My class sizes are quite small right now, but the organizers have decided to go right ahead and run them anyway.  I love small classes, because I get more one-on-one time with each student, which is great for you, too. And the organizers have agreed to keep registration open right up to the start of class time, so you impulsive types can just show up in the morning and join in!

The classes I will be teaching next weekend are:


Friday, March 16, I will be offering an abridged version of my most popular workshop, Spinning Super Socks.  We will cover fibre selection, worsted-style spinning, spinning to a specific twist per inch, and self-striping socks.  The cost is a low $90 for registration, plus a measly $15 paid to me for materials.


Saturday, March 17, I will teach Simply Elegant Spindle Spinning.  Learn how to spin, or improve your spinning, on a suspended (drop) spindle.  Perfect for yarn lovers who are ready to take the next step, or for those of you who wheel spin and wish your wheel was more portable.  This class is relaxed and gentle, and a lot of fun. (And it will be taking place on St. Paddy's Day, so who knows what shenanigans may ensue!) Registration is $90, and materials are only $10.

Classes both days run 10-4, with a lunch break.

So, if you have some free time on your hands, or were considering taking a class, or really, really want to get your hands into some nice fibre, go to Fibres West's website and check out the details.  And if you don't want to take a class with me, there are several other fine classes with space available, too.  And vendors.  Did I mention that there will be vendors? 

So head on out to Abbotsford.  Take a class.  Shop.  Revel in the fibery goodness. Or just drop by and say hi.

(But, seriously, you should take my class. Really.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

F-Words

Today's post is brought to you by the letter F, as in What The F---?

The prolonged silence since my last post should suggest to you that I've been away, which I have.  I have spent 2 of the last 3 weeks in the US, teaching a Master Spinner Program class in Las Cruces, NM.  But that will not be the subject of today's post.  Today, I am going to get political.  If I step on your toes or offend your personal sensibilites, I apologise, but this is a Big Deal to me.

The first F-Word is Feminism.  Women's rights are under seige.

When the US Congress convened an all male panel to explore whether or not contraception should be covered, I was taken aback, but not really surprised.  President Obama had made changes to the health care act, requiring employers to provided insurance that includes covering the cost of contraception (aka birth control pills).  Religious groups objected on the grounds that their religious freedoms were being overridden by this act. And in the ever more Divided States of America, this was a perfect political opportunity. So, in an election year, what better opportunity to draw attention to our defence of American decency than a panel on the rights to control birth control.


                                           (Image stolen from democraticunderground.com)

The nonsense that has followed would seem ludicrous if not for the fact that there are men vying for the leadership of that great nation who are jumping on the bandwagon.  The media is attacking women who use contraception as "whore" and "sluts", and male commentators are showing their total ignorance of women's bodies and how they function by describing, in excruciatingly incorrect detail, the methods under question.  The misinformation and blatant hate speech that has flowed out of the American media lately has been apalling to those of us watching from the outside.  I cannot imagine how it feels to be an American woman right now.

Surely, 50 years after The Female Eunich and bra-burning, women should be treated as equals by the men in their government.  Given a say in their own health, reproductive and otherwise.  Or, at least, invited to the table and allowed to speak freely. 

Apparently not. 

Our second F-Word is Fibre.  Or Fiber, for those of you south of the 49th who are taking a stand.

You see, a group of fibre artists in the US, led by knitters Donna Druchunas and Annie Modesitt, are embarking on a campaign to deluge their representatives in Congress and the Senate with, well, female naughty bits.  They have formed a Ravelry group called Government Free V-JJ and are providing information to help knitters find patterns for uteruses and vaginas (there are a surprising number of them, too!).  They are helping knitters find the addresses for their government representatives, and some members have even offered to hand deliver loads of uteri.

            (This uterus was knit by designer MK Carroll and the link to her pattern on Knitty is below.)
The very idea of knitters rising up in revolt may seem ludicrous, but it is actually part of a long history of subversive messages appearing in textiles.  Stories have been woven into kilim rugs for centuries-including the modern and rather disturbing War Rugs.  The Bayeux tapestry is alleged to contain coded messages of rebellion. World War II prisoners of war embroidered "Fuck Hitler" in Morse Code around the edges of samplers. 

Never underestimate the power of a woman with knitting needles.

The final F-Word is Freedom.

In North America, it's pretty easy to assume that we are a free society.  But freedom comes with responsibility.  We have freedom of speech, but that does not mean we can say hateful, hurtful things without repercussions.  We have freedom of religion, but that does not mean that we may impose our beliefs on someone who does not share them.  We have freedom, but we must work to ensure that that freedom is equally available for everyone.  We are only free as long as we are prepared to stand up against what we know is wrong.

Like removing a woman's freedom to control her own reproductive health. Or to just be treated with dignity.

If you want to send a uterus, or just knit one in support, you can go to Government Free V-JJ on Ravelry and you can find free patterns at Knitty and The Anti-Craft.