Category Archives: this and that

#WordlessWednesday (sort of): Froschi

Okay, a few words are necessary here: Project Unstick turned up a very old friend in a bag of stuffies in the basement. Froschi was a gift from a friend – she sewed him for me for my confirmation, when we were both in Grade 7. I didn’t even know I still had  him! Steve was pleased to meet one of his forerunners.

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Me showing my new Froschi to my aunt

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This, That, Jealousy and Herding Cats

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Steve guarding the old watering can (it’s a family heirloom)

I keep getting emails from WordPress these days: “Shenoptikus Caractacus [or whatever other name] is now following your blog. They will receive an email every time you publish a post. Congratulations.”

Oh dear, I think to myself, I wonder what Shenoptikus Caractacus thinks he’s getting into. Perhaps he started following because of the advertising on Enchanted Conversations’ newsletter, and expects regular erudite Editorial Pontifications. Or he picked up my blog because of a fairy tale story post, or a cooking one, or a “Wordless Wednesday” snapshot, and he thinks that’s what there is going to be on a bi-weekly basis – writing, recipes, photography.

Instead, Shenoptikus, what you’ll get is a hodgepodge of topics (not unlike the hodgepodge of my house), posted with less-than-perfect-regularity. Sometimes I drop out of the blogosphere for weeks or months at a time, then there’ll be a flurry of posts and blog engagement for a bit. And every once in a while, there are posts involving a small stuffed bear – his name is Steve. You’ll see him in the photo above.

So I apologise in advance if my blog doesn’t meet your expectations. But it’s not like I asked you to follow my blog, is it?

Aaagh, yes – yes, it is like that. I did ask; I want people to follow my blog. I’m jealous of bloggers who have a huge following, who get dozens of “likes” on their posts and lots of comments. Truth is, I have a jealously problem. I’m jealous of others who’ve achieved what seems so far out of reach for me – for example, writers who have traditionally published books, or an actual income from their self-published ones. Or editors who have a large clientele of gifted writers lining up and clamouring for their expert services.

For that matter, I’m also jealous of people who have clean and tidy houses and neatly weeded and trimmed yards with thriving plants and beautiful cosy patio nooks (yes, I’m looking at you!), and whose ducks are all nicely lined up in a row, doing synchronised swimming.

Mine – well, I don’t even have ducks. I have cats, and you know what they say about herding them.

However, cats are also far more comfortable to cuddle than ducks (I think – I’ve never tried cuddling a duck). And, sure, they shed fur (Louis currently exists in The Cloud, i.e. he raises a fur cloud every time you pet him), and they bring in dead things (or even worse, live ones), and they claw the furniture (my dining room door post is completely shredded). But they’re soft, and cute, and such personalities; and it makes me happy to have them around. They’re part of my life, in all its messiness.

So I think I’d rather have my cats than someone else’s tidy, cold, quacking ducks, even if they’ll never neatly line up in a row. Like my blog posts – they don’t line up neatly under one topic, either. Which might mean I won’t ever get that really large blog following, and once Shenoptikus figures out what an eclectic mess this page is, he might unsubscribe again. Oh well, too bad.

Then again, if Shenoptikus Caractacus is a spam bot, I don’t care about him anyway. Steve and I don’t need him; we’ve got all of you.

Life, the Universe, and Herding Cats. Jealousy is a waste of time, isn’t it?

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#WordlessWednesday: The Hope of Crops to Come

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18 April 2018 · 07:25

#WordlessWednesday: The Paw

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11 April 2018 · 10:39

Thoughts on Social Media

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Another one of my friends announced on Facebook today his intention to delete his account, so as to no longer feed his time and emotional energy into the social media monster. Well, when I say “friend”, I really mean “acquaintance”. I’ve met him only once in real life – he was one of my grad school profs, and as the school in question is an online university, all of our contacts happened in the cyber world. I was sorry to see him leave Facebook – there goes any further opportunity to get to know him a little better.

However, I also very much understand where he’s coming from. I’ve just come off a six-week hiatus from the FB world myself – I didn’t cut it all altogether, but restricted my facebooking to checking in on specific messages, and tried to avoid browsing and scrolling through my feed, let alone actually posting status updates or engaging in conversations.

Unfortunately, with the kind of work I do, I can’t really avoid Facebook and other social media altogether. I write books and try to sell them online. I write for an online magazine. I edit the work of writers who work online and I get new clients and professional contacts online. Getting off the cyber merry-go-round isn’t really an option – much as I sometimes want to.

But you know what? For all that I hate the amount of time and energy suck that social media generates, there are some real benefits I’ve derived from it. Apart from my professional contacts, I have made real friends through the Internet, and have rediscovered old friends and deepened existing real-life friendships. I have a network of connections all over the world.

Granted, the kind of relationships you form through social media is of a peculiar type. “Facebook is so terribly fake!” I’ve heard people say more than once. “I don’t want to see pictures of your lunch or your kittycat!” In fact, one of the several reasons my abovementioned friend gave for cutting the Facebook strings was the triviality of so many posts.

Yes, I agree – there is a lot of idle chatter, a lot of fakeness, a lot of posing. But, at the risk of sounding judgemental, the kind of person from whom I’ve most often heard comments of this kind is male and of the Baby Boomer generation. I don’t know what he (this generic middle-aged man) expects from social contact. In my experience as a slightly younger (i.e. GenX) middle-aged woman, trivialities are the very stuff relationships take their beginnings in.

You want to show me the snazzy lunch you had on your business trip? Please do! You like posting pictures of your funny cat? Bring it on! You think your kid’s jumping on the furniture is worth broadcasting on the Internet? Yes, I agree! Because to see how your children are growing, or that you love your cat, or that your favourite food is sushi, tells me things about you. You become more of a person to me. And what, may I ask, is a relationship but a connection from person to person?

If you’re the kind of person who has lived in one place their whole life, whose birth, education, career, friendships, and family life have all taken place in a 20 km radius, then what I’m saying might not apply to you. You know that your friend loves their dog because they live next door to you; that your buddy from Grade 2 just had another baby because you’ve run into her at the grocery store when you picked up milk; and that the guy you met at a professional development seminar is an arch-conservative because he has political placards all over his front lawn at every election.

But that kind of relationship circle has become very, very rare today. A Facebook friend (another grad school prof, as it happens) recently posted a quote that said something like this: “When future generations look back on us, the thing that they will find most puzzling is that we thought our online life was separate from our real-life existence.”

Just this morning, I was enjoying the stunning landscape photography of a childhood friend who now lives in Switzerland. I saw that an online friend whom I’ve never met in real life is having a great time on a trip to New York. I watched, in slow motion, as a friend’s small grandson leaped off the bed, his floppy blond hair flying, and it brought a smile to my face.

All these things are real. I know that if my online friend’s travels ever take her out my way or mine hers, we’ll meet for coffee and spend hours talking about everything under the sun – I know, because it wouldn’t be the first time that happened. Seeing the pictures of the sun gloriously glinting on the Alps means I’ve shared in a small piece of my now-Swiss friend’s life – before Instagram, I had no idea she was such a great photographer; in fact, I hadn’t spoken to her in decades. As for my other friend’s grandchildren, they are growing up so fast, I would never be able to enjoy the exuberance of their little lives in even such a small way as I do now if it wasn’t for Facebook.

This might all sound kind of Polly-Anna-ish. “Aren’t social media great? Don’t they give you the warm fuzzies? Isn’t getting the warm fuzzies the best thing ever?” Blah blah blah. Yes, I know that most of what scrolls by in a social media feed is sludge. I hate the politics, the mud-slinging, the preaching, the arrant nonsense, the sheer volume of all the jabber and beak-clacking. It eats into my sanity, drags my mind down into the muck of arguments and darkness. And that’s not even considering the big-picture societal problems that the social media phenomenon is implicated in.

There have been times when I’ve wanted nothing more than to hit the “delete” button on that Facebook account, be rid of its drag on my life. But I never did, because – see above.

I wonder if 15th-century Europeans felt about books and newspapers the way we do about the Internet. “Oh, I wish I could be rid of all this print! Shelves full of clutter, of people’s opinions, of paper! Let’s just go back to the day when people actually talked to each other!” But, of course, they didn’t go back. They learned to live with it, live with the new reality their world had evolved into. Yes, the invention of print brought problems – enormous upheavals, in many ways – but it also brought so much good.

And that’s the place we’re in right now. We need to learn to live with social media, learn to use it, instead of letting it use us. Oh, good grief – what am I using the “royal we” for? I need to learn it, need to get a handle on social media.

Sometimes, I think, that could mean pulling the plug entirely, like my friend is doing. I’ve never chosen to do that yet, although that’s not to say I might not do so sometime if the sludge threatens to overwhelm the joy. Or sometimes, it requires taking a step back – staying away from social media for a few weeks just to prove to myself that I can, and to build new habits.

“It’s not you, Internet, it’s me…” – and that’s the thing to keep in mind: I don’t have a relationship with social media, but with the people on the other end of social media. The Baby Boomer’s lament that “Kids today are always glued to their phones!” completely overlooks the fact that it’s not the phones the kids are interacting with, it’s their friends on the other end of the phone.

The word “social” in “social media”? It’s there for a reason. Social media isn’t good or bad – it’s what we make of it. I for one want to learn to use it, not be used.

Life, the Universe, and Social Media. Oh, in case you’re wondering – even my stuffed bear has Facebook.

 

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Happy Easter!

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Project Unstick: Holy Slippers!

Project Unstick advanced to the coat closet yesterday. And in amongst the random mess of mittens, scarves, sun hats, broken umbrellas, and dozens of mismatched stretchy gloves that were crammed into the shelf above the coat rack, I found a pair of slippers I knitted a few years ago. Unfortunately, something got into the stuff and chewed holes into the slippers, so they’re kind of useless now.

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However, they inspired me to dig up the blog post I wrote about knitting them, just a few weeks after I first started blogging. And re-reading it, I thought it’d be worth re-posting. Even though the slippers can’t be worn any more, the insight I got from the process of making them is still, dare I say, kind of profound-ish. Here it is:

27 August 2010

Lost Pattern

It’s raining today. And I’ve got a rotten head cold. So, instead of doing the headless-chicken impression that I had planned on for today (a.k.a. cleaning the house), I’m just going to do not-much-of-anything. I pulled out my knitting again, because to me, knitting is a bit of a not-much-of-anything activity. Stitch after stitch after stitch, bit by bit – it’s a very inefficient way to produce clothing. But as a meditation technique it has a lot going for it.

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Here’s a project I’ve had on the needles for some time. It’s meant to be a pair of slippers when it’s finished. A number of simple squares in garter stitch, attached to each other, rather like a scarf with a couple of extra pieces sticking out the sides. Then there’s supposed to be some rather complicated bit of folding-and-sewing trickery, attaching the corner of square number one to the edge of square number three-and-a-half and so on, and you’re meant to end up with something that keeps your toes toasty.

The only problem is that I’ve lost the pattern. I found it in a library book, and copied it out by hand on a piece of paper – I even drew the picture of how it’s supposed to look, and coloured it in with felt pens. I returned the book, knitted the first slipper (but didn’t sew it together yet) – and then lost the paper. It just went AWOL. And for the life of me I can’t remember what the book was called. So I know how to knit the piece – I can just follow the pattern of the first one – but I have no idea how it’s meant to be finished any more.

A lost pattern. But the project is still going. And working on it like that, without knowing if I’ll ever be able to really finish it, rather emphasises the zen aspect of the whole experience. I’m knitting for the sake of knitting, not for the sake of having finished slippers to wear at the end. It’s quite a useful discipline.

Isn’t it also rather like life, in some ways? We’re doing things a certain way because once, we had a pattern for it, we had a goal. Now the pattern is lost, but we still carry on doing it the same way, because now the aim of doing it has changed. Now I knit because I enjoy the sensation of the yarn sliding through my fingers, the slow rhythm of the needles poking, looping, clicking, poking again.

Actually, in the back of my mind, I still hope, faintly, that I’ll find that book again. Or that someone will know the pattern, and can tell me. Or that, in experimenting with the finished pieces, I’ll remember how it was supposed to go. So in working on that piece of knitting, I work on hope. Not anticipation – just a vague thought that maybe I’ll be able to finish this after all. But I won’t worry about it now. For now, I’ll just stitch. Bit by bit. Whenever I feel like it, or I have a head cold.

Life, the universe, lost patterns, and hope. I’ll let you know if the slippers ever get finished.

The slippers did get finished, thanks to a friend who commented on the post with a link to a pattern (here); and I wrote another post about that, too (“Loose Ends”, here). I didn’t wear the slippers much, but I do hope the moths or whatever it was that made the holes enjoyed their snack.

And now I want to sit down and knit some more… Maybe another pair of slippers? Or I could finally finish the scarf or the pair of socks I’ve had on the needles for a while. Not as long as the nine-year-sweater, though – but that one is a story for another rainy day.

Life, the Universe, and the Philosophy of Lost Patterns. Still something to be said for that.

 

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