Archive for February, 2012

We’re trying to open a gateway to another backstage using the repetitive power of… the Camera!

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The sock visits the DMV

Sorry for the absence – it’s been a crazy week at work so far, and I haven’t had a lot of down time for posting. One of my moving lights started shutting itself off during the performances on Wednesday, and so I spent extra time at work today re-aiming the replacement light to where it is supposed to go. That’s the difficulty with MLs – if it can be a lot of places, then when you have to fix it, you have to fix it everywhere. They’re awfully convenient though, so trust me, I get it.

R and I try to stay out of the suburbs as much as possible, but R needed to renew his tabs on both the motorcycle and his car, so we decided to make a day of it. We went for breakfast at Fat Nat’s (a favorite we don’t get to much, since it’s all the way in GOLDEN VALLEY), and then headed to the Hennepin County government center. Now, there’s a DMV center right down the street from us – so why drive to the ‘burbs? Because at 1:00 in the afternoon in the ‘burbs, no one is at the DMV. Or so we thought.

This is R looking annoyed after we had been waiting for about 25 minutes for his number to be called. I didn’t mind; as you can see, I banged out the cuff and the beginning of the leg on sock #2. Maybe R should take up knitting.

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Wait, that’s not dancing! It’s Judo!

But it sure feels like dancing. There’s nothing quite like flying through the air and landing with practiced grace, or moving around the room with a partner in a calculated effort to put them where you want them. And when the throw succeeds – it’s a thrill unlike anything else I’ve ever done. When you hit that sweet spot, it’s effortless, and if you’re the one being thrown it’s magical. First you’re on your feet, and then you’re on the floor, and you don’t know how you got from one to the other.

On Saturday mornings before work I teach Wu Chien Pai to a class of little girls aged 6-12. Today, I had 19 students! It was controlled chaos, but we started our Judo unit with gusto and a lot of giggling and rolling around on the floor. Judo with kids is great because most of them haven’t learned to be afraid of the ground yet. They’re short to start with, so it’s not as far to go, and they don’t know that it can hurt them because they’re down there all the time – playing games, looking at stuff, sitting at storytime or in front of the tv… the list of why kids sit on the floor is endless. With adults, you have to get over wariness and years of ingrained bad habits to teach them to fall in a safe way, but with kids it’s relatively easy.

I can’t post photos of my class because I don’t have permission from the parents, so I’ll leave you with an image from my belt test last summer:

Like magic!

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She walks in beauty, like the night

   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
   How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart whose love is innocent!
George Gordon, Lord Byron

This poem, dredged from old days as an English major, has been playing through my head for the last couple of days. The celebration of these two are always the most problematic for me, because I think they’re the least straightforward. Flowers, jewelry, dancing, even luxury are open to a certain amount of interpretation, but in the end pretty concrete. Love and beauty, however, are notoriously difficult to pin down. Every year these two lead to a great deal of introspection and a certain amount of navel gazing, and in the end I do them a little differently each time.

Today I thought about beauty all day long. It ranged from the simple – putting on a favorite shirt and my moonstone earrings – to complex thoughts about the nature of art (or Art) and finding beauty in the most mundane parts of our days. I set aside the never-ending parade of chores for a few hours (work that produces its own kind of beauty) and concentrated on some projects that often get neglected but are the essence of the person I think I am. That person is a Maker, a crafter of beautiful objects and ideas, a sculptor of light, and a fashioner of grace from old, unwanted, and broken things. My workroom has been piled under a combination of junk and treasures for the last few months and essentially unusable; I’ve been working hard to get it clean for the last few weeks and I’ve finally reached a point where it’s not clean, but it’s livable. Today I played with yarn, washing and blocking the swatch for the green sweater, winding off some skeins for my next project, and putting things away. I opened up one of the boxes of my Great-Grandmother’s linens and washed a few things, and looked at how to clean and use a lovely piece of woven wool tapestry that is damaged and fragile. And I read some Byron, and thought about the ideals of beauty that people have had and changed for the last umpteen thousand years.

Yesterday was my day of Love. In Vodou, there are many Erzuli and each has her own complicated relationship with the idea of love. Erzulie Freda wears three wedding rings, one for each of her husbands. Erzulie Dantor embodies mother love, and is a protector of women and children – and often associated with lesbians. Other Erzuli deal with hiding secrets, revenging wrongs, or helping women though childbirth. Some are fierce and some coquettish, some dangerous and some nurturing. All of them love passionately, though, and all of them weep tears of pain and sorrow for the heartbroken, the wronged, and the downtrodden. I think that for all the celebration, the central image of Erzulie is of a lover with a complicated relationship to the things she loves. The practitioners of Vodou recognize with their Spirits the realities of love that are sometimes overlooked in other religious or philosophical contexts.

Love can also be controversial. All we have to do is open a newspaper, turn on the radio or tv, or do a little web surfing to find people from all ideological camps arguing about who may love whom, and how, and whether or not it is up to God, society, or individuals to even make those decisions. I certainly have strong opinions on the subject, and I’m not shy about them.  R and I are planning a September wedding, and we think it is a travesty that many of our friends and family who will be in attendance cannot enjoy the same privilege in most of our country. The entire point of the American Dream is that we strive to be more free, not less – and we certainly shouldn’t try to make others less free. Yet in the US we have a long lineage of “moral” tyranny including slavery, indentured servitude, Jim Crow, miscegenation laws, disenfranchisement of the poor, the indigent, and the different… the list goes on and on. The United States isn’t alone in this history by any stretch of the imagination, but we may be the biggest hypocrites, since our nation was founded on the preservation of individual freedoms. In Minnesota, there is an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot in November that would codify institutional homophobia here. These so-called “Marriage Amendments” have been cropping up in states all over the country, and in every state to this point the people have decided to ban same-sex marriage. It’s hard to guess what will happen here. The Twin Cities are two of the most gay-friendly in the US, and yet they’re ringed by the suburbs that elected Michelle “Pray-The-Gay-Away” Bachmann to the US Senate. People in the Upper Midwest are conservative by nature, if not by politics; I fear that those are the people who will take their uncertainty and distrust to the polls with them this fall.

I’ll wrap up this already-too-long post with a lighter note: a Litany of What I Love. These are the things that were circulating around in my head yesterday as I mulled all this stuff over.

  • R, the idea of getting married, and the joy of having a partner in life
  • The Kitties, who are still trying to kill each other but getting better
  • My family who keep me honest and my friends who enable me
  • God, in the complicated way that you come to after many years of disagreement
  • Having a job where they pay me to play
  • Having space of my own and time in which to work
  • And last, myself, my journey, and the gratitude I have for life

Thanks for hanging through this whole thing with me. See you tomorrow for DANCING!

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R decided that today is flowers day all on his own, and came home from the store with this:

He’s so awesome. Plus, roses are WAY cheaper the day AFTER Valentine’s.

Now that the January FOAMs are out of the way, I’ve been plugging away at a couple of small projects, just to tide me over until I dive into this sweater full-time. Today I’ll show you the first of what will hopefully be nearly identical socks.

I hand painted this yarn in a sock blank at Shepherd’s Harvest last spring. I’ve been really compelled to keep knitting these, even though it’s a completely plain-jane sock — I can’t wait to see how the colors will play out! I’m almost done with the first, and if I can book it through the second these could be my February FOAM.

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From Wikipedia:  “Erzulie Fréda Dahomey, the Rada aspect of Erzulie, is the spirit of love, beauty, jewelry, dancing, luxury, and flowers. She wears three wedding rings, one for each husband – Damballa, Agwe and Ogoun. Her symbol is a heart, her colours are pink, blue, white and gold, and her favourite sacrifices include jewellery, perfume, sweet cakes and liqueurs. Coquettish and very fond of beauty and finery, Erzulie Freda is femininity and compassion embodied, yet she also has a darker side; she is seen as jealous and spoiled and within some vodoun circles is considered to be lazy.”

The Black Madonna

So, what is Erzulia? It’s a made-up holiday that celebrates the six aspects of Erzulie Freda: love, beauty, dancing, jewelry, luxury, and flowers. It begins on the second Monday in February, and continues for six days  – one for each aspect. This all began several years ago, when a friend of mine, in a fit of pique, decided that Valentine’s Day was for suckers and she was going to celebrate something she could really get behind. Hallmark hasn’t picked up on this one yet, so we’re spreading the word one blog post at a time.

The best part of Erzulia is that it doesn’t matter which day you celebrate which aspect, so you can let things fall organically. Yesterday was a very long work day – twelve hours in all, most of it done at top speed. Honestly, I didn’t even think about Erzulia until I got home last night and R greeted me with gifts. I love how excited he gets about gift-giving! We exchanged presents last night (his wasn’t really finished, but I was able to give him an idea of what I was going for). He gave me this beautiful pewter necklace:

So yesterday was Jewelry day by default. Yay! I’m wearing it today, and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Today we’re celebrating Luxury in a number of ways. First of all, we managed to juggle our busy work schedules this week so that we could spend the whole day together (even tonight, as we’re running the same show). We had lunch at Psycho Suzi’s, our favorite tiki bar and the place we had our first date. Tonight when we get home, we’re planning on watching the last episode of season six of Dr. Who — we’ve been saving it, and we’re both way more excited than we should be. Ryan got pie and Izzy’s ice cream, and we’re going to enjoy a quiet evening at home with each other and the kitties.

Stay tuned for the rest of the week. I’ll keep listing our little celebrations and more fun facts about Erzulie. Feel free to join in – the more the merrier! Leave me a comment telling me which aspect you’re celebrating each day, and how.

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January FOAMs

What’s that, you say? It’s already half way through February?

I know, I know. I want to make it clear that while I’m posting this on Feb. 13, these UFOs were, in fact, FOs before the end of last month. The delay lies in my inability to get finished things wrapped up and taken to the Post Office in a timely manner. As both of these objects were VERY belated Christmas gifts, they needed to arrive at their destination before I put them on the internet, just in case.

Everyone in the family eventually gets socks, and D and A were the last holdouts. The trouble comes because my lovely SiL A, who is wonderful in every other way, is sadly allergic to wool. I have been hunting for years for a nice sock yarn that contains no wool at all. This summer, I laid my hands on a cotton/viscose blend from Aslan Trends. Concerned that the socks might not hold their shape, I worked some elastic thread into the first five rounds to give them a little more oomph. I guess we’ll see how they do.

A’s socks are Kai-Mei by Cookie A., easily one of my favorite sock designers. I’ve knit several of her patterns over the years, and they always prove fun and interesting. This pair was simpler than many, but the lace inset that travels across the foot is ingenious.

D’s socks are a combination of Pfeffer/Merrow’s Resoleable Socks and a stitch pattern I worked out, similar to a waffle stitch. These socks met a lot of fits and starts as I tried to figure out how to get the most of one skein of Mountain Colors Bearfoot that I’d been saving for a special project. It wasn’t going to be enough on its own, so I padded it out with a ball of Brown Sheep Cotton Fine in a contrasting color. Hopefully he’ll like them, and now they’ll be easy to mend if he wears them out!

I’ve already got some things in the running for the February FOAMs, so more on those as they develop later in the week.  I also swatched for the green mohair sweater last night, and I’m starting to get excited for a new project.

And now – to bed! Tomorrow I’m working a Mike Birbiglia show at the theater, and it’s going to be a long day.

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I love mornings.

There, I said it. I work nights, I have a fondness for staying up late, I am often at my most creative at the end of the day. My whole life is structured so that I encounter mornings as infrequently as possible. So what the what am I talking about?

I love the mornings where my eyes open at 5 or 6 am on their own, without the help of the cats or the alarm. I love laying in the dark next to R, listening to him breathe, and thinking about the day to come. I like to get up and drink coffee, work on quiet things so as not to wake the boy, and watch the sun come up. This time of day makes me contemplative in a way that early mornings from the other direction do not. When I see 5 am because I’m still awake, I’m usually tired, grumpy, and only there because I have to be. When I see 5 am because I can, it’s a little glimpse into the spirituality of a world that I usually miss out on. Between my natural predilections and my sleeping medications, this doesn’t happen often. It’s always a treat when it does.

Because of the show, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Judy Garland lately – particularly the tragic end of her life. Judy died of a drug overdose in 1969, and it was a long time coming. Looking at the last years of her life, as she grew progressively more and more erratic and slid ever deeper into depression and addiction, it seems inevitable that she would pass either by OD or suicide. She spent her whole life on stage or in front of a camera. From the outside it looks like a charmed existence, with fame coming easily and fortune not all that far behind. We look at the 16-year-old girl in living Technicolor and see poise, grace, talent, and beauty, and think “I wish I could be like her.” What we don’t see is the immense pressure she was under from family, producers, and studio executives always to be perfect; to work harder, longer, and better while being beautiful at the same time. She never believed she was good-looking, and no wonder – the film producers she worked for made her wear prosthetics and caps on her teeth, and frequently dyed her hair to make her more “traditionally pretty.” She was given amphetamines to keep up with the busy production schedules and barbiturates to help her sleep. In this light, it doesn’t seem strange that she ended up depressed, suicidal, insecure, and addicted to alcohol and drugs. What is remarkable is that she kept going for so long.

End of the Rainbow takes place during her last London engagement at the Talk of the Town nightclub in the winter of 1969. Today I’ll leave you with a clip from one of those concerts. The sound quality is sketchy, but the voice is inimitably Judy.

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Shifu was out of town on Monday night, so some of the high-ranked students led us in a review of Nan Chuan. It’s a form from the Southern Fist style of Wu Shu, and is easily the most difficult form that we learn as a part of our regular curriculum. Shifu went to China several times to learn and refine this form, and we begin learning it, at least in small pieces, as early as white belt. For my red belt test this summer, I had to know the first third or so; for brown belt, you’re supposed to know the whole thing (SUPPOSED to).

We worked on the section between :54 and 1:11 (but watch the whole thing; this is Chen LiHong and she’s AMAZING.)  The net result of that body drop followed by jumping back up, repeated ad nauseum, is that my left hamstring has been aching for the last two days. Today I was finally able to stretch some of the cramp out, but making my way up and down the stairs at work is a project.

It’s that awesome kind of hurt that tells you you’ve really done something with yourself. If you’d shown me this video ten years ago and said to me “You can do this,” I’d have looked at you and laughed. Discovering that I was strong enough to carry a light up a ladder or nimble enough to walk through the rafters when I was in college did the work of getting me out of my head and really into  my body for the first time in my life, but learning martial arts made me love being there.

Women in western culture are bombarded with ideals of beauty, blah blah blah. Being good feminists, we’ve all heard this argument before. We see, hear, and feel all this crap around us; even when we’re raised in loving families by women with positive body images, we know we’re supposed to be white, thin, and blonde by the time we’re six. Some of us get away lightly; we just have days (or weeks or months) where we think we’re ugly, or fat, or we hate our hair or skin or the dimples on our thighs. Some women succumb to the more sinister aspects of this early conditioning and develop eating disorders or various forms of OCD. Some just get really, really depressed at the thought of looking themselves in the mirror every morning. I’ve had bad days myself, and I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t had these thoughts at one time or another.

For me, the magic bullet has been making my body into a tool I can use to do amazing things. I know that there are stories of dancers and gymnasts who starve themselves nearly to death, and anorexics who exercise themselves into nothing. But for me, it was like opening my eyes for the first time. How can I hate something that can kick over my head? What’s not to love about the arms that can do one more push-up today than they did yesterday? When I learn a new move, or execute a perfect throw, or hoist 80 pounds of socapex cable on my shoulder and carry it up three flights of stairs, I am proud of my body. I love the bones and muscles that make it go, the fine work that my hands can do, and the things that I know make me beautiful. Sure, I’d love for my skin to be clearer or my abs to be more defined, but at the end of the day I’m ok with how I turned out.

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