#ThrowbackThursday: Sock Puppetry, or: Showing Off and Hiding Out

I just ran across this post on my old blog, from September 2012. And it’s not a bad post, worth rereading. So here it is.

Sock Puppetry, or: Showing Off and Hiding Out

There’s this lovely term floating around the internet: sock puppetry. In case you haven’t run across it, it’s when people build themselves fake identities in order to make themselves (in their regular identity) look good. Say, for example, if I created multiple google accounts for myself, and then posted admiring responses to my own blog posts, that would be sock puppetry. (No, Steve made his own account, I had nothing to do with it. Excuse me? Who’re you to say that a bear with two-inch-wide fuzzy paws can’t type?)

But there’s another, subtler form of sock puppetry. Oh, perhaps it’s not technically called that. But I think it might well be. It’s when we portray one persona on the internet, but behind the scenes, things are really different.

 
I used to do puppetry in high school. Marionetteering, to be exact (handling marionettes, string puppets). I have some photos from the first show I was part of, a production of Dr. Faustus – not Goethe’s classical piece, but one closer to Marlowe’s original. My character (see picture) was the Duchess of Parma (I both handled and voiced her; we recorded the play on tape and then moved the puppets to that soundtrack for the performance). She’s a beautiful, elegant noblewoman who does some heavy-duty flirting with Faust, but doesn’t really get anywhere with it. But I was also Helen of Troy, a speechless specter which is used by Mephistopheles to seduce Faust away from his impending conversion. And I was a silly-looking demon, who, at the beginning of the play, gets rejected in favour of Mephistopheles (being a much more sophisticated-looking devil, the latter was obviously better suited to Faust’s purposes. I mean, he had a silk-lined cloak – how could my sackcloth-clad character compete with that?). But really, literally behind the scenes, where we stood on a little walkway holding the cross bars over the miniature stage on which we made the marionettes dance, hidden behind the backdrop, I was an awkward, naive eighth-grade girl who had a crush on the boy who manned the sound equipment (I think for the most part he was unaware of my existence).

When you’re doing puppetry, you can hide behind the backdrop. On the internet, you can be whoever you want to be. You can, all at the same time, show off and hide out. You can tell people in the breeziest of tones about your latest wonderful project, and make yourself sound like you’ve got it all together. But meanwhile, your world isn’t nearly so cheery and bright. You’ve been fighting fatigue and depression for weeks (or not fighting it, as it were). You’ve been dumped by a friend whom you were trying to help. Your beloved kitten has vanished; he’s almost certainly become coyote bait. Your garden is going to pot (no, not weed. Just weeds. And the plants you liked died of thirst). Your remaining kitty, the neurotic one, has gone and pooped in your bathtub (fortunately, you weren’t in it at the time). And so on.

I think it’s interesting that the word “person”, or “persona”, comes from the Latin or Greek word for “mask, character in a drama”. We wear masks. We play puppets; whether sock puppets or string puppets, it hardly matters. I don’t know if we can get away from it, from presenting one persona in one place, and another one in another; the whole of us just doesn’t fit on that little marionette stage.

Internet sock puppetry is offensive because it is meant to deceive. But perhaps it’s possible to play our puppet personas without deception. I don’t think anyone who watched that production of Dr Faustus, back in 1981, was  really under the impression that any of us were the characters we voiced and acted (well, if they thought that I was, in fact, a ten-inch-high Italian duchess, let’s leave them their illusions; they’re probably happier that way). Masks don’t have to mean deception. Sometimes they can even be protection. Sometimes it’s safer to hide behind the scenes, and the dusky lighting backstage can be comforting. So long as, at the end of the play, you step out from behind the curtain, and rejoin your friends and family who have come to watch you do your thing with the puppet on the string. So long as you’re not trying to deceive.

Life, the Universe, Showing Off and Hiding Out. Sometimes things are better on that tiny little stage.

Forgotten Gratefulness

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FORGOTTEN GRATEFULNESS

Gratefulness.
I’ve forgotten about gratefulness.
I’ve been standing in front of a full cupboard, starving.
Starving for joy,
My heart drying up into a hard, shrivelled knob,
Weakening to a limp, wilting shoot.
Gratefulness.
I’ve forgotten that joy
Is there for the taking,
That it is around me
All the time.
Gratefulness.

What shall today’s litany be?

I am grateful for, today:
I am grateful for today.
My celadon green mug.
Soft thick yarn.
The blanket.
The view (always the view).
The colour and pattern and texture of my kaftan.
A day without obligations, so I can finish my mugs.
My computer.
Books.
Movies to watch on my computer.
Good food – eggs and toast and butter and jam – to eat for breakfast.
A lovely kitchen to cook it in.
Air to draw into my lungs,
Lungs to draw air into.

And I feel my heart expand
And my head lift up,
Joy flowing back into my veins.

24.07.2020

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PS: Gratefulness.org: “A Heart with Wings”

There Is Not Just One Way

Last week, I was watching the online graduation ceremony of one of the Offspring. The university did a lovely job, complete with cheesy “photo op” with the university president (he paused for a minute, smiling at the camera, with an empty space beside him so the graduates could stand in front of the screen and take a selfie).

One of the things that stuck with me was the speech of one of the valedictorians. He talked about how weird it was to address his talk to a camera rather than an auditorium of smiling faces; how different from what he had expected. He had expected one thing, but had to do it quite differently. And then he issued a challenge:

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

One way of doing things. The only way. The right way. And if we can’t do it this way, we might as well not do it at all. Isn’t that’s the way it works?

I learned how to knit when I was in Grade 3, or maybe 4, in needlework class in school. Well, actually, I think I already knew some of it before we got to it in class; my mother had shown me. But that was all right, because she knew the right way to do it, so I didn’t have to unlearn anything.

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There is, of course, only one way to knit. You feed the yarn through the fingers of your left hand, hold the index finger up with the yarn looped around it, grasp the left knitting needle with the remaining fingers, take the other needle in your right hand, insert it into the stitch, and scoop the yarn through. That is the way to knit, the right way. Everybody does it that way – my mother, my grandmother, my teacher, all my friends… That’s how I learned to do it. That’s how knitting works.

And then I came to Canada.

I still remember the first time I saw a Canadian knitting. At least she said it was knitting, and she had knitting needles and yarn. But what she was doing seemed really weird. Awkward. She was somehow trailing the yarn from her right hand, poking the needle into the stitch, then picking up that trailing yarn, looping it around the needle, and pulling it through. With every stitch she did that loop-around thing. So odd, so slow. She’d obviously never been taught how to knit properly, poor thing…

But you know what?

That very weird and awkward style of holding yarn in your right hand and looping it around the needle with every stitch – which, incidentally, is called “English knitting” or “throwing” – is not only a perfectly legal method of knitting, but it produces a piece of knitwear that is indistinguishable from one done the “right” way. Honest to goodness! Take any handmade sweater, toque, mitten, sock, or scarf, and I defy you to tell just by looking at the stitches whether the knitter held the yarn in her right hand or left hand, whether she was “throwing” her stitches or “picking” them in “continental style”.

Furthermore, English-style knitters are just as capable of producing vast quantities of knitwear with just as many variants in patterns and colours and fancy stitches as us continental-style knitters. True, continental knitting seems to be faster, on average, and, once you learn it, run more automatically. But really, what it comes down to is how you learned to do it, and what style you prefer. Left hand knitting or right hand, it’s your choice.

But wait! There’s more! Yes, there’s English (or American or French) knitting, and Continental (or German) knitting. But then there’s Western style (needle inserted in the front of the stitch) and Eastern style (needle inserted in the back)! Needle held under the hand (standard American) or above the hand (British English or Parlour style)! Portuguese! Norwegian! Russian! Shetland! Combination style! Picking, flicking, throwing! Looping your working yarn through your fingers; wrapping it once, twice, three times; just letting it hang loose!

I had no idea. I was taught how to knit one way, and a very good way it is, too. I can make sweaters and socks and mittens and even little hats to put on boiled eggs to keep them warm*. But, contrary to what I used to think, it is, by no stretch of the imagination, the only way.

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

Life is better when you like more things – and life is better when you can think of more than one way to do things.

I recently taught myself to knit and purl the “awkward” English way. I still prefer continental style – I’m literally twice as fast at it; I timed it – but now, when my shoulder starts to ache from knitting with the yarn in my left hand or I get bored, I can just switch to the right and fall into another rhythm for a little while. The slower pace and slight awkwardness that still remains makes the process that much more meditative, and at the end, I can’t tell which parts I knit continental and which parts English.

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

The students to whom this valedictorian’s speech was addressed via a Youtube livestream are just as graduated now as they would have been if they had listened to it in a big auditorium, shoulder to shoulder with their fellow graduants. The times required that the graduation was held differently – with the yarn in the right hand, as it were. But it’s just as valid this way.

Life, the Universe, Graduations and Knitting. There is not just one way of doing things.

img_20200622_141949754 *This is an egg hat. In case you were wondering.

#ThrowbackThursday: The Power of Music

I was looking at my old blog, amo1967.blogspot.com, and this post from Sept. 12, 2014, caught my interest. I clicked on the embedded Youtube video, and once again, the music lifted my spirits. It struck me how little has changed – replace “our province” in the first paragraph with “our world”, and this could have been written today. So I thought I’d share it with you.

I was feeling kind of down this morning, for a number of reasons. It’s morning, it got cloudy, the political situation in our province is not good at the moment. Especially the latter. Politics really gets me down. And much as I try to stay away from it, in this case it directly affects me, so I can’t. Ergo, frustration and depression.

And then a friend shared a video clip on Facebook (I’ll try to embed the link). It’s a group of orthodox Jewish men singing, a capella, around a table (at Seder, maybe?). It’s a five-minute movie, and it hit me straight in the heart. Hit me, and lifted my spirits. I don’t understand the words to their song, don’t even know what language they’re singing in – Yiddish, probably – but the sound cut straight through the gloom that surrounded me today. I don’t know what it is about those minor keys and the strong beat of Jewish music, but it grabs me like no other and makes me want to start dancing the grapevine.

And that’s the power of music. It bypasses all those intellectual barriers, the thoughts and ideas that crowd around us, and goes right for the emotional solar plexus. It crosses international, cultural and linguistic boundaries. And it has the power to soothe, to cheer, to comfort. Martin Luther said that “Once sung is thrice prayed” (which is why he wrote a great number of hymns for the purpose) – it’s that powerful. It can express our hearts like nothing else can, even, or perhaps especially, when words fail or when we do not even know we need the expression. That’s what I experienced today. I needed to hear that music today, and I didn’t even know it.

Life, the Universe, and the Power of Music. It lifted me out of the clouds today.

Addendum: after I posted this to Facebook, another friend of mine managed to track the singers down on Youtube. Apparently it’s the Shira Choir, from the States, and the song is called “Im Hashem Lo Yivneh Bayis” and was sung at a Bar Mitzvah. And here it is on Youtube:

It’s Been a While

It’s been a while, hasn’t it. More than three months, to be precise. Steve and My Man and I went to Europe at the end of February for another family-event-with-stopover-in-London-on-the-way. While we were there, Covid-19 started ramping up, which did spoil the fun a bit, so when we came home in early March, we hunkered down with the family and pretty much stayed put.

I’ve been spending a lot of time ever since making things. Getting my hands into clay and garden dirt and bread dough (not all at once, silly! I do wash my hands in between) helps my soul stay grounded and cope with this very, very strange and disconcerting time.

Here’s a few pictures:

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The British Museum,
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where I saw 5000-year-old spindle whorls from Troy. (Five! Thousand! Years! Old!)
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At the Tower of You-know-where. (The Yeoman Warder was hilarious.)
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Random kettle on London sidewalk. Because you never know when you’ll need a cuppa.
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Seven Dials
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Way Out
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In Germany it was spring.
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Then we came home.
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I made pots
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and I spun yarn
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and I grew seedlings
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and I made bread
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and I had glaze failures
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and I drew wonky pictures
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and I delighted in birds
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and I made weird poetry.
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Steve was there, too.

And now it’s almost summer; the garden is growing and so are the dust bunnies in the corners of the house; I’ve almost run out of good clay and need to reconstitute the dried-up stuff I’ve been saving up for several years; I’m part-way through editing a novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo a few years ago; and Steve is telling me I ought to get back to writing some stories with bears in them (he’s a stuffed animal of a one-track-mind).

So now you know. How’s things been with you?

Life, the Universe, and Coping in the Time of Covid-19. Making things helps.

#CreateDaily

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It’s Kevan‘s fault. He just sent around a newsletter announcing a new project of his that began with a determination to “Create Daily” – in his case, write a blog post every day for the next year.

For some reason, that really struck me – “Create Daily”. Lends itself so well to hashtaggery. I had a lot of fun with #inktober this year, and of course right now it’s #NaNoWriMo, which you absolutely can’t get done unless you work on it every day or nearly every day while it lasts.

Having a motivation to do something every day is a good thing. So, Create Daily … something. Something small. YOU’RE ON, KEVAN!

But being an inveterate overthinker, I started ruminating about it. Do I really want to commit myself, in public, to do something like this? Every day? For a whole year? It’ll just create pressure again, performance tension. Which I need more of like I need a hole in the head.

And then I read something in Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly*: There’s one bit where she calls herself “a recovering perfectionist and an aspiring good-enough-ist” (p.128). And a couple of pages later, she says that “one of the most effective ways to start recovering from perfectionism is to start creating” (p.135).

Put those two together, and you’ve got the perfect (haha) recipe for how to approach this #CreateDaily thing.

Because creating can itself very easily fall prey to perfectionism. If I say I’m going to create daily for a whole year, the first day that I don’t, I’ve blown it. Aaaack! Perfectionism trigger! But, if you apply good-enough-ism to it, you’ve nipped perfectionism in the bud.

So, I’m going to approach the #CreateDaily thing in the spirit of Good-enough-ism. Start here, right now. With small (very small) acts of creation; maybe every day, maybe not; for a while (I’m not going to give it a specific time limit). I’m not even going to call it a “project” – more of a “practice”.

I’m defining “creating” as “intentionally making something that wasn’t there before“. So here’s some things that might count:

-writing a small, not-very-polished blog post

-writing a fiction fragment of three sentences

-knitting a few stitches on my current project

-playing half a song on the guitar or recorder

-taking a photo with my phone

-taking a photo with my big camera

-writing two-and-a-quarter lines of a poem

-cooking a pot of soup

-spinning half a metre’s worth of yarn

-making something in clay

-doing a five-minute sketch or doodle

-baking a batch of brownies

-growing a seedling, or a tray of sprouts

-writing a letter…

Of course, there are also the “big” creative things, like working on a novel (I’m still in the throes of NaNoWriMo at the moment), organising an event, completing a knitting project, baking a fancy cake, etc. And there are a hundred other small creative things one could do (Making ink! From walnuts! Or making soap! Or writing a song! Or arranging pebbles in the backyard in a spiral! Or learning a new cat’s cradle pattern! Or…).

All of that counts. And perhaps, even, what might tie into it is the celebration of other people’s creativity, like going to an art show or a stage play, or listening to a wonderful piece of music, or applauding someone else’s short story, or appreciating a lovely piece of homemade cake accompanied by tea in a handmade pottery mug. Because almost invariably, when I see other people’s creativity, I’m inspired and propelled towards my own.

Which is exactly what happened when I read Kevan’s post. “Go ye and do likewise.” Create Daily.

Life, the Universe, and Creating Daily. Thanks, Kevan, I will.

*Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York: Penguin Random House, 2012.

**Another book that very much ties into this is Craftfulness: Mend Yourself By Making Things, by Arzu Tahsin and Rosemary Davidson, which I impulse-purchased this spring in the gift shop on the Vancouver Island ferry and have been living on ever since.