Archive for October, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007


The Difficult Person

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Last week, my sister and I were having a discussion about difficult people. You know the kind we’re talking about. Everyone has had experiences with these types—someone in your family or at work who is irrational and combative, who likes to keep everyone else on the defensive or a little on edge, who throws obstacles in the way what should be the simplest transactions or tasks, who attempts to drive wedges between people and play one person off against another, who is vicious and wantonly cruel, but if called out on his or her behavior will claim that he or she has no idea what you are talking about and that you must be crazy or pathologically oversensitive.

You know the type. You probably have one in your family or office. A person you cannot easily get away from, a person of untrammelled malevolence, someone who makes your days long and fills your nights with dreams of homicide. You know the type?

One of our grandmothers—God rest her mean, twisted little soul—was a
Difficult Person, so we are well acquainted with the territory. Well acquainted.

But as a result, we are also less patient with this type of individual when we encounter her elsewhere because we know from long and bloody experience that nothing satisfactory is going to come of interactions with a irredeemably Difficult Person. Nothing. We learned this lesson as children.

And they can never take that away from us!

Sarah and I were discussing difficult people not only because we were nostalgic for the Golden Days of Yore when Grandma was still alive and could spoil an entire holiday with one exquisitely-timed vicious remark over turkey and cranberry sauce, but also because I—as is inevitable in this imperfect life of ours—had once again encountered a Difficult Person.

My patience and tolerance sorely tested, I was casting about for ways to cope. Then I remembered the lessons of the “Wisdom” column in Yoga Journal. Admittedly, I used to cast the hairy eyeball on the “Wisdom” column because I had come to regard it as—in the immortal words of one of the great philosophic minds in the Western tradition—“windy, New Age horseshit.”

But upon further reflection, I realized that at core, once you (ahem) cleaned out the stable, you really were left with some of the basic lessons I learned in Sunday School. Love your enemy as yourself. Bless those who curse you.

There was in fact a recent “Wisdom” column on the power of blessings, a power, the article claimed, that we all have within us and that would bring us, in return, abundant blessings. But there was one catch: you had to bestow sincere blessings on people you did not like. A Difficult Person, for instance.

A very deep, Sunday-schooled part of me found this mysteriously compelling. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if I could bless this Difficult Person and create a magical nimbus of positive energy and love around our interactions? Instead of, for instance, thinking of ways that the Difficult Person might come to be poisoned with untraceable chemicals and the killer never apprehended by the authorities?

So I set out to become a blesser of the Difficult Person. I’m a morning person by temperament and I start every day by walking my dog, an activity I greatly enjoy at a time of the day I greatly enjoy. What could be a better daily backdrop in which to bless the Difficult Person? The day is new and fresh, anything is possible, I have a steaming hot cup of decaf coffee laced with high-fiber soymilk (The Breakfast of Middle-Aged Champions!), and I am parading about my neighborhood with an overexuberant yellow dog. People, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Thus I set about the sacred task of bestowing blessings upon the Difficult Person. On Monday, I offered this blessing: “Difficult Person, may you be blessed with joy, wisdom, and the love that all of us deserve.”

Not bad, I thought, and certainly in the right spirit, but a little generic.

So on Tuesday, I refined my blessing: “Difficult Person, may you see that the road on which you have been travelling is the road of hatred, not of love, and the road of hatred is full of stones and home to scorpions. May you turn down the road of love at the very next intersection. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.”

And then on Wednesday: “Difficult Person, may you find the right blend of psychotherapy and psychotropic medications to transform you from a monster into a half-way reasonable person.”

Clearly, I had a long journey ahead on the road to enlightenment and ennoblement.

With my program of blessings degenerating quickly, I decided to take a new tack. An earlier “Wisdom” column specifically about dealing with difficult people had suggested that you invite the Difficult Person into your special “Heart Space” (I can only hope that we are meant to understand this as a metaphorical or imaginary space…otherwise, blech…) and once you envision yourself with the Difficult Person within the imaginary of your “Heart Space,” you extend feelings of warmth, compassion, and understanding toward the Difficult Person, inspiring healing, trust, and mutual compassion.

So I invited the Difficult Person into my imaginary Heart Space and I was sitting there with the Difficult Person, exuding imaginary warmth, compassion, and understanding, when I noticed that there were a couple of violent-looking heavies standing at the door to my Heart Space. Since they were guarding the only entrance or exit, I immediately recognized them as the hired muscle of my Heart Space, a pair of spiritual bouncers, if you will.

Though I knew it was wrong, I stopped exuding compassion and motioned toward the heavies. “See those guys?” I said to the Difficult Person. “Maybe they can help you understand that in my Heart Space, it’s my way or the highway.”

Perhaps this was not what I was supposed to glean from this visualization exercise. Perhaps Yoga Journal will learn of my indefensible Heart Space interaction with the Difficult Person and drop me from their subscriber list.

But I think my expulsion from the Garden of New Age Wisdom, should it come to that, would be worth it. Already I find that I feel better about the Difficult Person than I have in months.

Soft Horizons

Friday, October 26th, 2007

There are probably many reasons to come to Eugene, Oregon in the fall, but this is not the least of them:
What I need to emphasize is that this is simply a representative tree. There are hundreds of trees like this. I can’t get over it.

If you get under the tree when the light is coming through the leaves, it looks like this:
I never tire of fall leaves, and this is why.

The University of Oregon makes its home here and it has a lovely campus:

The youth of today soaking up sun. And no doubt knowledge.

Downtown Eugene is also home to a remarkable yarn shop:
Soft Horizons Fibre.

The sheer amount of stock in this shop is remarkable. I’m almost glad Sean didn’t see it, because even for me, a minor, part-time employee of Woolcott, the envy was difficult to manage. Soft Horizons occupies an ENTIRE VICTORIAN HOUSE! The ENTIRE first floor—must have been five large rooms—is devoted to beautiful yarns, every kind of needle and tool you can imagine, knitting books, fleeces, and spinning wheels. Floor to ceiling fiber goodness and more Ashfords than you could shake a stick at.

As I was browsing this shop, I had an ugly realization. Back in Cambridge, we are selling yarn out of a closet.

I hasten to add that it is a very nicely appointed closet, we do an excellent job with our space, and we have many, many beautiful yarns. To paraphrase one of our profoundest philosophers of the modern battlefield—whose name I have actively repressed—we are going to war with the army we have.

I showed great restraint, inspired more by the already bulging suitcase I am travelling with than any genuine yarn asceticism:
Alpaca Sox in a colorway I could not pass up and Bryson Rosewood needles, the latter purchased both because they are so pleasing to the touch and because Bryson is a Eugene company. Supporting local industry and all that.

So if you are in Eugene, make sure you stop in to Soft Horizons. Here’s the info:

And now, I gotta catch a plane. Reporting from Boston again next week…

This one’s for you, Harve

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

What a great week!

I’ve been to Texas and to Oregon in a whirlwind trip and here’s what’s gone down: two fascinating interviews that will contribute beautifully to my dissertation; the discovery of a marvelous yarn store in Eugene, OR (more on that in my next post…); fall color in Eugene that would have you halfway convinced that this is heaven (photographic evidence will be produced in a forthcoming edition); gorgeous East Texas countryside, complete with grazing cattle and horses (alas, no photos…I was zipping by in my Jeep…yes, a Jeep); and ample opportunity to purchase firearms!

And then this!:
On 7th Avenue in Eugene…Harvey’s Magic Emporium!

This one’s for you, Harve! I like to think there’ll be a magic emporium in your future.

Of course, there’s a downside. Yeah. I’ll show you the life of the mind: it’s very low budget and it looks basically like this:
La Quinta Inn interior. Anywheresville, U.S.A. Tell you what it isn’t—it isn’t the Ritz Carlton.

My knitting hangs out with Mr. Coffee, vintage 1976.

That’s the academic profession, a little frayed around the edges, a little proud of being frowsy, unstylish, and even ascetic. This ethos gets on my nerves a bit, the way it can seem so self-conscious and masochistic. It sure ain’t investment banking.

But then again, it’s hard to put a dollar value on the luxury represented by being able to think your own thoughts and to spend all your time on a project you chose and you find fascinating. It really doesn’t get any better than that. It’s the intellectual Ritz Carlton! No kidding. (It’s just that the room service is virtually nonexistent.) I try to remind myself of this wondrous fact periodically, especially when I’m experiencing various mild forms of deprivation. You gotta keep the celebration going, you know?

And the crummy hotels? Well. I’ve got a good imagination. I just close my eyes and I’m at the Ritz.

In which I win my bet

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

A brief note from Eugene, Oregon—a lovely place, though rather overcast—where I am conducting an oral history as part of my dissertation research.

There will be photos and updates very soon about my week on the road, which has included stops in Houston and College Station, Texas, and now Eugene, but with the first game of the World Series set to begin shortly, it seems only fair to point out that I have won my sock yarn bet with Laura.

Granted, this occurred last Sunday night, but it seemed in poor taste to mention it until the immediate sting of the Indians loss had worn off.

So, Laura? Pony up?

Oh, and, I’ll say this just this once, but if you bring it up later, I’m going to vehemently deny it: “Go Sox!”

Getting out

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Well, back here at the ranch, some of us (dare I say), are not really quite as interested in baseball as others.  I know, I know, bite my tongue.  Sorry, sis.

I did manage to get out this weekend, though.  Howard and I went to the Renaissance Festival in Kansas City, which was great fun.  I have many happy memories of going to the Festival when I was a pre-teen and a teen, and it really hasn’t changed all that much, except that it’s more crowded.  Both a good and a bad thing, I suppose.

Of course, many people come in costume, like these little children.

girls at the Renaissance Festival

You can see from their little shoes that at least one aspect of the Festival was authentic–that is to say, the mud.  In some places it was practically ankle-deep.  I really felt kind of bad for all the women in beautiful period dress whose skirts were three inches deep in mud.

Then there were the Festival performers, like these ladies holding gorgeous and deadly birds of prey.

woman with hawk

woman with owl

That second picture is a bit blurry, but she’s holding the cutest little owl you can imagine.  Deceptively cute, if you’re a mouse.

Lots of people brought their dogs for the day, which seemed like a great idea and made me wish I had thought of bringing Hugo.

dog at Ren Fest

Until I remembered his unfortunate penchant for picking fights with other male dogs.



Saturday, October 13th, 2007

So there I was—a weary and broken Yankees fan in exile in the Puritan North—thinking the unthinkable: that my bet with Laura on the American League Championship Series was going to bust me down to being a de facto Red Sox fan. But then I really got to thinking.

In fact, I realized, this is a win-win situation!

To wit: if the Red Sox win, I get sock yarn. And if Cleveland wins, the Red Sox lose. Sending sock yarn to Laura will be my pleasure.

I’m not sure why I didn’t see this before.

In any case, I think we can all agree that it would be poor form to dwell here on the staggering 10-3 victory of Boston over Cleveland last night. Besides, as Laura has pointed out, it is a seven-game series and baseball is proverbially not over until it is over.

Before I head off to watch Game Two, however, here’s what I did during Game One:
Completed scarf for Alex. Three skeins of Rowan Cocoon in color Mountain.

Close up:
As you can see, the pattern is really quite simple—perfect for knitting during a baseball game! For all its simplicity, it also shows off the fiber.

And now, fifteen minutes to game time… Gotta run me down a frosty brew (we drink Sam Adams over here, natch!) and some CrackerJack.

A betting woman?

Friday, October 12th, 2007

As you know, if you haven’t been living under a giant moss-covered stone for the last few weeks, the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians are inaugurating the American League Championship Series tonight, here in Boston.

In about 25 minutes, to be precise.

In “celebration” of this fact, I have proposed a bet with Laura, of Affiknitty fame. The terms are these: if Cleveland wins, she gets a ball (or two skeins, depending on the put-up) of sock yarn from me; if the Red Sox win, I get sock yarn from her.

Wanna bet?

Now, I want to make it VERY clear that this in no way should be taken to indicate that I support the Red Sox (clearly, nothing could be further from the truth), but I do live here in the greater Boston area (having been, obviously, cast into the baseball equivalent of the Outer Darkness when I left NYC) and Laura is a true Cleveland fan, so for the purposes of the bet, it is a temporary stance that I will endure.

Much like a difficult yoga pose, this may increase my flexibility. And much like a difficult yoga pose, it will certainly be excruciating and damaging to my dignity.

But for sock yarn, I will do this terrible thing!

Real time update: Laura has accepted the bet.

Now, 12 minutes to game time!

Zen knitting

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

After that whole Minnie debacle, the pain of which is still well in mind, let me tell you, I have decided that in lieu of never knitting again (which I briefly but seriously contemplated), I will do a couple of simple projects before tackling another sweater.

Neat, clean, brief projects with minimal chance of abject failure.

Exhibit A:

Scarf for Alex in Rowan Cocoon, Charcoal Grey—yet mysteriously labelled by the company as color “Mountain”…whatever on God’s green earth that means. 80% Merino Wool, 20% Kid Mohair, 100% Amazing. Also knits up on a U.S. 10.5 so fast that it actually makes you feel like a semi-competent knitter again and not the kind of person who would churn out an ugly, semi-unwearable sweater…but enough of that…

Exhibit B:

Socks for Nasser in a basic 5/2 rib. Knit from Classic Elite’s Alpaca Sox, one of the greatest gifts to sock knitting ever devised. Also in charcoal grey. (See, stick around and a pattern will develop…)

I figure the successful completion of these items should smooth my ruffled feathers and make Minnie a distant memory. And then…Tangled Yoke, here I come!

Meanwhile, it has not been a particularly auspicious week.

First of all, the Yankees have been eliminated from the playoffs. (And yes, Laura, I can sense your gloating all the way from Cleveland, so don’t think you can fool me. I know the ways of the Cleveland fan, and they are the ways of the gloater.) Secondly, I have been ill with this mysterious “sleeping sickness” and although I am better, I am still not feeling as well as I would ideally like.

Ever just want to sack out and put your dogs up?

I can stand the fatigue and the general feelings of physical malaise, but what is really intolerable is the virus-induced black humour I nearly always find myself in when I am sick.

I currently feel, for instance, that civilization is in decline, that we are living in a moment of collapse of empire, that human beings are an overwhelmingly dismal species, and that I myself have made a series of irrevocable but mistaken decisions that have diminished my life.

Personally, I just like to get in a good nap as often as I can.

These may be slight overstatements. I mean, just slight.

Of course presently I will be well and all of this will seem utterly ridiculous. Well, okay, maybe not the collapse of empire business, but all the rest of it.

Then again, did I mention that the Yankees have been eliminated from the playoffs?


Monday, October 8th, 2007

As my sister suggested in her last volley, I just got home from a week in California—a week full of fun and hijinks, old friends and good conversation, new sights and new viruses.

Yes, yes, it’s true. I came home not only with a completed pair of socks…
Cherry Tree Hill Gems Merino in colorway Peacock, US Size 1 needles, my own pattern, which I will publish on the blog presently.

A little closer in on that pattern.

…but also some kind of viral ailment.

As a result, I have learned how much distress I can cause in this household JUST by sleeping until 10:30 a.m. To be fair, I am generally awake, up, and—to Alex’s mind—intolerably chipper by 6:30 a.m. Furthermore, I never sleep more than eight hours.

Except for the last two nights, when I have slept twelve hours. Both nights. Asleep 24 hours out of the last 48.

Clearly this is a disturbing sign, quite possibly of my imminent hospitalization and death. Shelley and Alex have been expressing their worry by unhelpfully hovering over me in the mornings, beginning around 8 a.m. Shelley hops up on the bed, installs herself at my side, and looms over me with a concerned and puzzled look. She is sometimes moved to place a paw on my chest, presumably to see if she can still register a heartbeat.

Alex, on the other hand, has taken to rustling around in the bedroom until I stir, at which point he asks, worriedly, “Are you going to get up anytime soon? It’s really late.”

This from the man who can easily sleep until 11 a.m. when he is well.

I pointed out to them that they might well be hastening my untimely demise by disturbing my restorative rest, but improvements have not been forthcoming. They mean well.

So until I am better, I will attempt to entertain you with photos and stories of the Golden State.

The Campanile at the University of California, Berkeley.

Our very own on-campus redwood grove. Harvard, eat your heart out.

My ride. I have since decided that I love the Mini Cooper so much that it shall be appointed the “Worldly Motivation” for finishing my dissertation. That is, I finish the dissertation and get a job, I can get a Mini. No dissertation, no job, no Mini. It’s just that simple.

One of the places I got to in my Mini: Tilden Regional Park. I went up here three to five times a week with Shelley when we lived in Berkeley. I used to like to pretend, Walter-Mitty-like, that we were Lewis and Clark, an adventure fantasy encouraged by the frequent and prominent postings warning of wildcat attacks.

The trees where you park your car before you head out on your hike.

Trail and clouds.

And last, but certainly not least, my father-in-law:
Shown here with a Baked Alaska in the low-lighting conditions (elsewhere known as “atmosphere”) that prevail at Trader Vic’s in Emeryville.

And finally, my first experience with Bananas Foster, made tableside. See above regarding low-lighting conditions.

More soon, but right now I’ve got to get some rest…