Tree house update, July

Time for a growth report.

Today:

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Compared to March 19:

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Stories is stories and Twitter is Twitter, and never the twain shall meet

I set up a Twitter account the other day. There’s a link located on the right side of this page, unless you’re reading me on a cell phone, in which case I’m not sure where the link would be located, so: here. There’s nothing much up there yet, as I’ve thus far just been retweeting interesting tweets from other people. And really, when I’ve got Glenn Greenwald on one side and Amy Goodman on the other and the Nation in the middle telling me about the horror in Gaza, the death and destruction amok in the world, and all the courageous people fighting for change, what am I going to do, tweet a photo of my knitting?

Twitter goes against just about everything I believe in, and yet I signed up because I applied for a job the other day (which I will not get now, since the address of this blog is listed on my CV), and part of the job was dealing with their social media things, so I felt like I should make this small gesture of signing up for Twitter to show that I’m not stuck in the past.

I’m already addicted and I’m already hating it. I check it constantly, and it’s easy to fall into that because my tweet feed or whatever it’s called is constantly crying “42 new tweets!” and I’m like oh Jesus no, what did I miss?! And each time the answer is: nothing much, because the people/media I subscribe to tend to tweet the same thing several times over, with different wording, because it is so easy to get lost in the rapidity of it all that you have to repeat yourself over and over if you have any hope of being heard. Kind of like dinner with my family — but I’m used to and a part of that, and plus we’re only four people. If we were 34 people (the number of people/media to which I currently subscribe) I would probably never eat with my family again.

Why then did I sign up? Like I said, it was mainly because that job posting said the chosen candidate would have to tweet, but it was also partly because I’m trying to explore other ways of communication, and Twitter is the way of the world now, whether I like it or not. It’s also peer pressure, certainly, to keep up with every minute detail of what’s happening, which if you think about it is a ridiculous burden to put on oneself. When I was a journalism undergrad I felt constant anxiety that I was not keeping up with the news; it was all I could do to get through the New York Times before going to class, only to discover that the dope sitting next to me had gotten through that and the Washington Post as well, and was now working his way through USA Today. (It was a rare bird that expanded beyond the national media.) I felt grossly inadequate, and that sense of inadequacy also came from the fact that I felt like I needed to be well versed in everything that was going on in the world, to know numbers and names by heart, to be able to give a fluent back story to a current event without using note cards.

My dad went through law school and was a practicing lawyer for a year before he quit because he realized that he hated law; that’s more or less how it went for me and journalism, though I stuck it out for a bit longer. (Now I’m definitely not getting that job.) I found the work environment to be toxic, one-uppish, too competitive, sometimes cruel. I didn’t like how part of writing an article on, for example, a 19-year-old local kid getting killed in Iraq involved having to call up his dad and his old high school football coach to get their reactions because that’s just what you do, you need reactions from close family members. WTF do you think the reaction is going to be? The dad, as I expected, said he didn’t want to talk to me and hung up the phone. The football coach, on the other hand, really wanted to talk, and as he did he began crying in great, heaving sobs. It was pretty much around that time that I realized this was not what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to talk to people and I wanted to write, but the nature of working for a daily newspaper, a quotidian grind in which one is expected to hurry up and get the story out because the world needs to know (and we need to beat the other news outlets to it) demanded that I sometimes invade people’s privacy in the worst of times and I was not comfortable with that.

I’m glad I left, because my life has taken me places that have made me much happier and more fulfilled than I would have been had I stuck around. And I’ve realized that there are so many other ways to talk to people and to write. I’ve also realized that what I like to talk and write about are not the details of daily events and horrors, but rather long, drawn out pondering that often involves daily events and horrors but tries to fit them in a wider frame, spatially and temporally, going back thousands of years if need be; essentially it’s the difference between information and stories according to Walter Benjamin:

Villemessant, the founder of Le Figaro, characterized the nature of information in a famous formulation. “To my readers,” he used to say, “an attic fire in the Latin Quarter is more important than a revolution in Madrid.” This makes strikingly clear that it is no longer intelligence coming from afar, but the information which supplies a ready handle for what is nearest that gets the readiest hearing. The intelligence that came from afar — whether the spatial kind from foreign countries or the temporal kind of tradition — possessed an authority which gave it validity, even when it was not subject to verification. Information, however, lays claim to prompt verifiability. The prime requirement is that it appear “understandable in itself.” Often it is no more exact than the intelligence of earlier centuries was. But while the latter was inclined to borrow from the miraculous, it is indispensable for information to sound plausible. Because of this it proves incompatible with the spirit of storytelling. If the art of storytelling has become rare, the dissemination of information has had a decisive share in this state of affairs.

Benjamin was talking about stories, fiction, tales for round campfires and spinning wheels, and I don’t see it as a bad thing (nor do I like labeling anything good/bad) that we have become an information society. We need to and should know what’s going on in the world. What I wish, however, is that information were presented more like stories, but in order to do that the media needs to be less interested in viewer and reader numbers, and we the viewers and readers need to attend to the cultivation of our attention spans. I often wonder what came first, a mainstream media that looks like this:

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or a public that thinks “Gosh it’s so complicated in the Middle Ea– whoa whoa what?! Thor’s a GIRL??” Are they stupefying us or are we stupefying ourselves?

Thankfully there are some people in the news media giving information in rich, storylike form, but getting through those stories takes a commitment that not a lot of people have because there is shiny, flashing, pretty glitter being thrown at us as well from all directions and our time is monopolized by so many other things, some things that are forced upon us and others that we readily choose because we want distraction. But regardless of what the good stories are like when I read them, their links on my Twitter feed run down my screen like scrambled code and leave me only with the feeling that I am missing something and at the same time that I’m seeing the same things over and over. I feel similarly about what I see on Facebook, which for me serves the dual function of keeping track of my friend’s babies and grouping all my preferred news sources into one digest. Except, it always seems like the same stuff is getting posted over and over. I think the answer to this crisis is to stick to Google Reader for news, Facebook for babies, and Twitter for knitting. Good stories are not compatible with the rhythm of social media.

PS, in case you were wondering:

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History repeating

Yesterday I reread A Room of One’s Own and closed the book profoundly depressed. Then Alvaro got home heated up about Gaza and bursting with the need to talk about it and all the other shit that’s wrong with the world because his coworkers don’t talk about these sorts of things. And that all depressed me even more, so after dinner I flung myself on the bed and stared at the ceiling for ages not being able to form a coherent thought in my head.

What depressed me in A Room of One’s Own (besides pretty much everything in it) was specifically the end:

How can I further encourage you to go about the business of life? Young women, I would say, and please attend, for the peroration is beginning, you are, in my opinion, disgracefully ignorant. … It is all very well for you to say, pointing to the streets and squares and forests of the globe swarming with black and white and coffee-coloured inhabitants, all busily engaged in traffic and enterprise and love-making, we have had other work on our hands. Without our doing, those seas would be unsailed and those fertile lands a desert. We have borne and bred and washed and taught, perhaps to the age of six or seven years, the one thousand six hundred and twenty-three million human beings who are, according to statistics, at present in existence, and that, allowing that some had help, takes time.

There is truth in what you say — I will not deny it. But at the same time may I remind you that there have been at least two colleges for women in existence in England since the year 1866; that after the year 1880 a married woman was allowed by law to possess her own property; and that in 1919 — which is a whole nine years ago she was given a vote? May I also remind you that most of the professions have been open to you for close on ten years now? When you reflect upon these immense privileges and the length of time during which they have been enjoyed, and the fact that there must be at this moment some two thousand women capable of earning over five hundred a year in one way or another, you will agree that the excuse of lack of opportunity, training, encouragement, leisure and money no longer holds good. Moreover, the economists are telling us that Mrs Seton has had too many children. You must, of course, go on bearing children, but, so they say, in twos and threes, not in tens and twelves.

Thus, with some time on your hands and with some book learning in your brains — you have had enough of the other kind, and are sent to college partly, I suspect, to be uneducated — surely you should embark upon another stage of your very long, very laborious and highly obscure career. A thousand pens are ready to suggest what you should do and what effect you will have. My own suggestion is a little fantastic, I admit; I prefer, therefore, to put it in the form of fiction.

I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young — alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to-night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so — I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals — and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.

It’s the same sort of rousing call that I also find depressing in Walden (don’t get me wrong, I love Walden, I love Thoreau). Rereading these words so many years after they were written depresses me because they still ring so true, we connect with them and feel moved. Why? Because there are still needs for calls like these, because we’re still in the same situation we were in when they were written, with a few improvements and other areas of deterioration, because nothing much has changed. And that depresses me.

Let’s have a test (ungraded). Identify this passage (don’t cheat by looking at the source until you’ve read it):

People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy. So, I would like to fasten on someone from the older generation and say to him: ‘I see that you have come to the last stage of human life; you are close upon your hundredth year, or even beyond: come now, hold an audit of your life. Reckon how much of your time has been taken up by a money-lender, how much by a mistress, a patron, a client, quarrelling with your wife, punishing your slaves, dashing about the city with social obligations. Consider also the diseases which we have brought on ourselves, and the time too which has been unused. You will find that you have fewer years than you reckon. Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose; how few days have passed as you had planned; when you were ever at your own disposal; when your face wore its natural expression; when your mind was undisturbed; what work you have achieved in such a long life; how many have plundered your life when you were unaware of your losses; how much you have lost through groundless sorrow, foolish joy, greedy desire, the seductions of society; how little of your own was left to you. You will realize that you are dying prematurely.’

So what is the reason for this? You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as thought you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last.

Now that everyone’s good and gloomy, if you don’t know the source of this citation you can find out here. Note the dates of birth and death of the author here.

I prefer to hold on to a shred of hope that someday we’ll wake up to the hurt that we’re causing to human and non human life on this planet and thus radically alter our ways, but it’s difficult, especially this past week, to think much of anything except the worst and to consider everything I do to be unimportant. I don’t really believe that to be true, and I know this feeling will become less intense given time, and so I just keep doing the things I think I should be doing with the hopes that it’s going to do some good somewhere. That, however, is what countless people have been doing for millenia and it doesn’t seem to have solved much. Am I just being too impatient? Maybe in a few more thousand years we’ll have things straight.


Rereading

I’m in a reading mood this week more so than writing, which is slightly inconvenient because I’ve got an essay deadline on July 30 and another deadline for a project proposal at the end of this week. But I’m not overly worried about getting them done, so for today at least I’m going with the flow.

On my list are some old favorites that I feel a push to reread (again, for the tenth time):

The Storyteller: Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov, Walter Benjamin

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

Free Time, Theodor Adorno (starting on p. 187)

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Donna Haraway: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble

Watch it: Lecture at the University of California, Santa Cruz

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I’ve got a date with a neuroscientist

(from the neuroscientist who took my knitting class this week)

Dear Kate,

Thank you so much for introducing me to knitting! The class was a lot of fun and I’d love to come for a few more but I am leaving on holidays on August 4th so unfortunately I won’t be there for the scheduled part 2.
I hope we will meet again for a session of knitting in the near future.
Best wishes
***
Oh that’s too bad! I mean, too bad that you won’t be there — holidays are always a good thing. But actually, if you’d like, I’d be happy to meet up with you before you leave for a one-on-one knitting class. Also, I was hoping that at some point I could ask you a bit about your work, because I am very interested in the neurological effects of craft and have been wanting to find someone with a background in neuroscience to enlighten me a bit on the subject. Would you be interested in that, trading a knitting lesson for a neuroscience lesson?
Best,
Kate
***
What a nice idea, Kate: I’ll do it with pleasure. 

I have quite a lot of work these days and a deadline on August 1st, so how about we meet the weekend 2-3 August, or the evening of Friday August 1st? Are you going to be around?

I’d like to prepare for this knowledge exchange: do you have any specific papers / news excerpts about crafts and brain plasticity/development that you’d like to talk about? Or specific questions?
My areas are reward and learning, memory, emotions and musical training-related brain plasticity, plus a vast amount of random neuroscience knowledge about other  things. So you see, I’d like to tailor it to what you’d like to learn. 
Looking forward to some more knitting!
As am I!

Circular needles are not that hard

Update on the hat.

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All that was done last night. I enjoy making clothing for small humans — projects get done so quickly when they’re in miniature.

However, I’m fairly sure that this fine hat is going to be too small for its recipient. I texted his mother to ask about his head circumference, slyly telling her that I was researching baby heads (not at all creepy), since I didn’t want to ruin the surprise like I do every other time I make something for someone. She replied that it was 16.9 inches at six months, but he’s now seven months so I’ll have to figure that in. I have no idea if I can just keep knitting around in a circle until it’s big enough to fit his head. I think so, because this is a top-down pattern (Wasabi Baby Hat on Ravelry, for those who are interested in these things).

Tutorials I used (as this is my first go at knitting in the round, and my mom is sadly several thousand miles away so she can’t show me):

Casting on

Increasing on circular needles (I used the second method she shows)

It took a couple of false starts before I got going, and now I’m a regular machine. It’s much easier working with circular needles than I thought it would be, and I find it even more mesmerizing than working with straight needles. The stitches are split between the two needles, but the pattern straddles one needle to the next so I have the impression that I’m just going around and around and around infinitely. I need to make Alvaro hide this for me and only take it out in the evening, because I keep stopping work to knit another row. I have a problem.


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