Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Motherhood and More: It is no longer us vs. them — even ironing*

When I was younger, my sister and I had certain household chores.  Not always, but most of the time we all kind of banded together with my mother to keep on top of things like washing dishes and sweeping floors and cleaning bathrooms.  My dad was and still is the cook of the family – taking everything he makes seriously, even if it’s his beans and cornbread. 

But most of the cleaning fell to the girls.  And that was fine, it was just the way it was.  But as I got older, I became a bit more irritated at all the ‘women work’ we were expected to do.  And I wasn’t one to suffer in silence.  I complained and complained and complained and can almost, to this day, feel my mother rolling her eyes at me.

One subject that we constantly debated was the fact that my mom ironed my dad’s shirts.  To me this was the ultimate low.  Like – she was not valued as a woman and life partner because she was made to iron a work shirt.  And when she didn’t have time the task fell to me. 

One day, after a particularly sullen teenager outburst, my mom told me that in the future I would be happy to iron my husband’s shirts.

I think you can guess how I responded to that.  I don’t remember the exact words, but I believe it came with scoffing and laughing derisively because no way was I ever going to stoop to that level where I enjoyed being subservient to a man.

In college, my determination hadn’t waned much.  I fell into women studies classes because I took an English elective about women writers, but stuck around for a while, contemplating a minor.  While immersed in these classes, however, I became even more bitter and angsty over the plight of women.  I was not a joy to be around. 

But I didn’t want to be mad all the time.  I didn’t want to hate men.  Not that that was a requirement to take these classes, but from my experience they were all US versus THEM.  I decided I didn’t want to live like that, and there is a limit to how much wallowing one person should do. 

I did not pursue the minor.

It took years and years for me to find my place in the world, in my life, to figure out who I am.  And I realized that did not include being a bitter woman.  Yes, I agree that women still have a long way to go for equality.  But to me, real feminism doesn’t have to be such a negative, polarizing thing.  It’s not us versus them.  It’s having the ability to choose. 

And I was given that ability.  I chose to be a stay-at-home mother for years.  I chose to go back to work.  I choose, daily, to support my husband and family as much as I can, just as they choose to help me.  We’re in all of this together.  Sometimes I do more cooking and cleaning, but my husband does more outside work like mowing and changing the oil in the car.  Sometimes we work side-by-side to finish a task, be it raking landscaping rock or folding laundry.

So a little thing like ironing my husband’s shirt doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore.  I don’t feel undervalued any more than my mother did.  She was right.  I do enjoy ironing my husband’s shirts.  I like doing something for him to show my appreciation, my love, be it ever so small.

 (Also he’s really bad at it and does it wrong and it’s just better if I do it myself.)

*This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on August 27, 2014.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Homemade Friday: Octo Scarf

This scarf began because I needed to knit something.  Right then.  I didn't want to wait on yarn ordered online or knit another washcloth. I wanted something new and interesting and simple.  This obsession hits me every August, when school is back in session and it seems like it should be much colder than it is.  Especially now, when summer finally decided to show up after a relatively mild few months.

I want fall.  Now.  Everything in me screams for turning leaves and chilly breezes and gray skies and being able to eat soup without sitting in my own sweat.

And we all know that with fall comes the need for warm, soft handknits to keep close.  So I searched through my yarn, trying to find something that caught my eye.  This is especially difficult as my craft closet is piled high and only about halfway organized and contains a ridiculous amount of yarn and fabric and books about knitting and sewing and all the various tools that go with those life skills.  Plus there's always the danger of all of it collapsing down on top of me so I have to be quick when I go digging.  One time I found some leftover Christmas chocolate that I hid from my kids, so that was a good day.

I found a gray ball of Cascade Superwash 220 in gray.  I'd bought it years ago when I was cloth diapering Adele and made big plans to knit a bunch of wool soakers.  Hence the unused ball of yarn.

I thought it was a pretty color, and that maybe it would be enough for a scarf for Chris and I could mark one thing off of my list of winter accessories to knit for loved ones, while simultaneously getting my new project fix and convincing myself that I was 'cleaning' the craft closet by removing one ball of yarn.

I searched on Ravelry until I found something that would work.  The  Octo Scarf is a simple pattern, easy to memorize and even easy to knit in the dark while watching Boardwalk Empire.  Though in hindsight maybe that wasn't a good idea because when I was blocking the scarf I found a dropped stitch that I have no memory of dropping.

I worked the scarf until I had just enough yarn left to bind off, blocked it, and that was it.  I do wish it was a little longer, however, but it'll work.  I think Chris likes it, though he refused to model for these pictures.  That may have had something to do with the 90-plus temperatures and the fact that he was attempting to fit a bike rack on the car at the time.  Maybe.

So I made him take pictures of me wearing his scarf.  It was really hot.  You're welcome, Christopher.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Homemade Friday: Warm, Soft Felted Mittens

Winter is coming.

I know, I know.  It's an overdone cliche of a phrase at this point.  I  blame the fact that for some reason we have free HBO streaming with our cable at the moment and have been able to catch up on Game of Thrones.  (Nobody say anything.  I don't want them realizing they've made a mistake before I finish watching the rest of True Blood.)

Cliche though it may be, it's a phrase I've repeated often to myself over the last few weeks.  Winter is coming and I'm not prepared.  I'm a knitter, which means it's against the knitters' code and handbook and pinky promise to buy winter hats and scarves and socks.  And now that I can make gloves, I probably have to add those to the list.  That's not to say that I don't buy them when I have to.  I just feel really, really guilty when I resort to store-bought winter items.

And so the pressure builds to Make All Of The Things, especially since this winter is supposed to be as hard or harder than last winter, which was pretty brutal compared to normal Kentucky winters.

Sebastian may be okay on his hat for this year, as I think his last one still fits.  (Remember the Snowflake Hat?)  And if he can't wear it, then Adele can.  So I'll only have to make one hat for the kids.  But I'd like one for myself because I haven't made one in awhile.  And Chris will need one.  Then there are scarves.  Everybody needs scarves.  And socks - which are a bit time-consuming on account of the thin yarn and tiny needles.  And gloves.  Everyone needs gloves.

Add to this the fact that I am attempting to prepare for a festival by knitting the crap out of some washcloths and hats and whatever else is quick and practical and beautiful, and you can see that I am constantly consumed with thoughts of yarn.  But it's a good type of obsession.  The only issue is the amount of projects I want to knit versus the realistic amount of time I have to work on them.  But I'm okay with that.

However, sometimes I'm a selfish knitter, and can't force myself to stop working on a completely elective and unnecessary sweater for myself even though I have a ton of other practical and necessary things to knit.  In case you were curious, it's the Starbrook Pullover and I love it so much.

These felted mittens were an experiment of sorts.  I began them because I knew they would be fast and I was hoping to be able to knit a few pairs before the festival.  I think they're practical and kind of awesome, you know?  The whole felting process is pretty remarkable to me.  You take something you've knit, that is huge and loose-gauged and ridiculously floppy, and run it through the washing machine a few times and create a solid, warm, strong item.

As with most things I make to sell, I want to keep it.  It is difficult to let go of something I've taken the time to design and fight with.  But ultimately, most of what I make is for other people.  I like seeing people enjoy things I create.  It's rewarding and awesome and puts a huge smile on my face.

So these will go to the sell stack.  And if they don't sell, well, then maybe they'll find their way back to my hands.

(Do you know how hard it is to take a picture of your own hands?
(Also - if anyone is interested in purchasing them - you can find them here! I can also make them in any size or color so feel free to design your own!)

(And if you'd like another look at the shop, you can find it here:  jaimalaya on Etsy.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On writing and Hemingway and being a real writer

Yesterday I had to drive to Springfield to interview a couple of boys for a story.  I say 'boys' but they are 20 and 26, which, come to think of it, is really an entirely different generation technologically and musically and grown-up-nessly.  (I like to make up words.  It's my prerogative as a survivor of a liberal arts program.)

But anyway, since I was going to be on the rode for almost an hour, I thought maybe it would be a good time to think about blog posts and possibly putting a bit more thought into what I write, having a theme, avoiding the stream-of-consciousness that normally comprises this space.  I've been wanting to share a story from my youth, because I haven't done that in awhile.  And I'm not talking about a journal entry.  I mean a fresh take on an old story.  I like to tell stories and I think I'm good at it.  But the problem is that I can't find one that I want to tell.

I downloaded a voice-recorder app so I could record whatever came to my mind on writing. And now those thoughts sit on my phone.  I haven't listened to them yet.  I haven't taken notes or made an outline or even began a stream-of-consciousness post on something I suggested for myself that later could be refined and edited and tweaked.  I'm just not feeling it.  I don't know why.  Maybe I haven't found the right story.  Maybe I am out of practice.  Maybe I just don't want to face the stories that would be the hardest to tell but the best to write.

Hemingway said, I believe, to write drunk and edit sober.  I fully understand what he was trying to say.  It's hard to write.  It's hard to put yourself out there to be judged, to share a part of yourself to people who may not appreciate it.  Also - it's extremely difficult to write honestly, to be honest about yourself, your life, your experiences.  Because those experiences are usually shared by other people, who may have a different view of what happened and who may not appreciate your view.  People could be hurt or upset or take offense.  And so the stories stay where they are.  In memory.

And sometimes with writing I become tied up with the words.  It sounds silly, I know.  But I do.  I focus on a word or a sentence that doesn't sound exactly how I want it to, and instead of moving on and coming back to that part, I obsess until none of it makes any sense at all and I can't find my way out.  When you're drunk, inhibitions are loosened, including writing inhibitions.  The words flow, and if they don't, eh, I'll just write something until a good part comes along.  I honestly haven't had a lot of experience with drunk writing, but I understand the sentiment.*

The important thing with writing, I believe, is to put the words on paper.  To have them out to look at and dissect.  Once that's done, then the rest just happens.  Write drunk. Edit sober.

I was speaking with a colleague this week about writing, about how we don't necessarily feel like real writers.  I am not a fiction writer.  I've started many, many stories that fizzled out before I decided to call it quits.  That's not to say that I don't hope to someday be better at it.  I do.  I want to be a real writer.  I just don't know whether I am one.  Or whether I have the time and dedication to be a real one.

And I do believe that to be something other than a blogger or newspaper writer would take more dedication from me.  It would take more work than I have been able to put in.  And I like the personal narrative, which is what I mainly write.  I'm happy that there is a genre now to fit people who like to talk about themselves, and I'm happy that some people are actually making a living talking about themselves.  (I am not.  Though it would be nice.)

My friend sent me a link to a MFA in Creative Writing program that looked amazing.  And part of me really wants to do it.  It's terrifying and scary and completely out of my comfort zone but would also be amazing and something I've secretly always wanted to do.  But I've never before let myself consider that it was an option.  And honestly, right now it isn't an option.  School costs money and I have small children and a job and now is just not the time.

But one day, when I let myself consider that I could be a real writer, maybe then I'll go.

*Although I did write an awesome cover letter drunk one time.  Because the words flowed freely.  I didn't get that job.