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.


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)


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

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


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?
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.

Reading on cooperation and non cooperation

It Takes an Ecosystem: The Rise of Worker Cooperatives in the US (Shareable)

The distorting reality of ‘false balance’ in the media (Washington Post) – I was really happy to read this. I got my undergraduate degree in journalism and worked for a few years at local newspapers, and I was very definitely in an environment that held high the importance of finding “balance” and “objectivity” through always presenting “both sides” of a story. It drove me crazy — I can’t tell you how many times I was instructed to go hunt down a dissenting opinion in order to provide more “balance” to an article about a situation in which there was no real dissenting opinion. I’d like to hope that more media outlets and schools will start shifting that focus, but who knows.

The Silicon Valley Creative Class Takes Over: The divide between Silicon Valley’s creative class and their blue-collar neighbors could be a harbinger of things to come for the rest of America. (Utne Reader)

Full Employment and the Path to Shared Prosperity (Dissent Magazine)

Knitting 101

Was I professionally qualified to teach a beginner’s knitting class last night? Of course not. I started knitting at the end of March (I’d tried learning a few times before, but I was still basically starting over again). And that is one of the things I love about the idea of Trade School: I can cast on, cast off, knit and purl, do decreases and increases, cables and button holes, and I have the patience to see a fairly lengthy project through to its completion. In a world where you must have professional certification in tying your shoelaces before you are deemed qualified to teach other people how to tie their shoelaces, it’s revolutionary to propose a school in which teachers are welcome to teach based simply on the fact that they say they know how to do something and would like to share their knowledge with others. Since I know enough of the basics of knitting to teach others how to get started, that’s what I did.

At the same time, it was definitely a lot more difficult than I’d expected. Knitting is not like baking bread (the last class I offered, which I was also professionally unqualified to teach): With bread, there’s plenty of wait time, nothing is particularly precise, and it’s a skill whose explanation lends itself well to meandering discussion on other topics, like the degeneration of crop diversity caused by industrialized agriculture. Knitting, on the other hand, requires precise attention when you’re just getting started and therefore leaves no room for talking about the industrialization of the wool industry and its economic and environmental implications. Pity, since I’d prepared a whole rant in my head along those lines, which we never got to because we were preoccupied with our needles. Oh well, next time.

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(By the way, that foil-covered circle on the table is the homemade cake one of the students offered as his barter item. Another reason why I like Trade School.)

The four students I had were impressively patient. They had all at least attempted knitting before, but they were still starting over, like I had four months ago, and it was definitely not easy going for most of the two-hour class. We went over casting on, knitting and purling, and in the end only got to a quick demonstration of casting off because we had run over the class time. I seem to have already forgotten how tricky it is to learn how to knit, because I’d figured two hours would be too much time for learning all of that. Everyone was motivated for a Part 2, so I’ll be teaching a continuation of Part 1 in the near future, and am hoping to figure out a way to organize things so new people can jump in with us as well. I’m not sure how that can be done, because already with four people I had my hands full hovering over their shoulders to help with stitches and unraveling knotted yarn. To be seen.

There was one guy in the class (I was very happy about this, a gender stereotype being breached) and he seemed to be the one with the most knitting experience, having learned a bit back in the day from his grandmother. I had a hard time helping him, though, because his grandmother had taught him continental knitting so that’s what he immediately defaulted to once he got going on his rows, and since I only know English knitting I couldn’t tell at all in the beginning whether he was doing okay. In the end his practice square was nice and neat, though, so he must have been doing it right.

We also had a neuroscientist in the group who was highly skeptical about the idea that repetitive manual work in itself aids our memory capacity and our ability to concentrate, something I mentioned in passing toward the end of class when we were all talking about how relaxing knitting is despite all the huffs and swearing involved when we’re first learning. She said the memory benefits had to do with the counting involved, which sounds right to me, but when I said I’d also read that knitting activates the same parts of our brains as yoga and meditation, she seemed to wholly dismiss the idea. Now I’m trying to find that article I cited with such confidence, but I’m having no luck with it. The only thing I’ve found is an old article in the Huffington Post, not exactly a peer-reviewed journal. Intuitively that all makes sense to me, but I’d like to hit her up for some legitimate scientific resources on the topic.

As for my own knitting, this past month I completed tobacco pouches for Mas and Lucas, and now feel the itch to jump into something more complicated. The neuroscientist brought circular needles to class, which weren’t ideal to learn on, but they reminded me that I have several sets at home that I haven’t yet taken for a spin. I still owe my friend Patti a baby item for her seven-month-old son, and yesterday I spied some really pretty rainbow-colored baby merino that I think would make a very cool hat. So here we go, on to the next challenge.

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