It's very, very late at night -- more properly, it's very early in the morning -- for me, not an unusual development. But tonight, I find myself wondering what lies behind some recent choices. Larry and I and Katherine (his young daughter) drive away in two mini-vans at some point Tuesday evening for the Knit and Crochet Show in Manchester, NH -- a show that I attend when I can, and an event at which I actually won Best of Show some six years ago in the knit division. Plus an honorable mention.
This time, though, I go not only as a student and a contestant in the knit and crochet competition, but as a vendor. We have never done this before. In effect, we are about to exhaust ourselves and call it a vacation. We have two (TWO!) booths, end on end, and we'll drive away stuffed to the window tops by end of the day on Monday. At road's end, we'll have to unload and figure out how to set up a convention booth. This has NOTHING to do with a history Ph.D., does it? Nor does it have much to do with Larry's life as an advertiser, photographer, and trainer-writer.
I don't think of myself as a sales person. But here I am, about to try selling an extraordinary quantity of hand-crafted yarn, buttons, Artisan Knitworks patterns, handmade needle cases, knitting bags -- just an amazing array of goods collected over the past four years. Larry says I"m good at it, and I think he might be right -- if only because I know the people who make what we sell, and I really love telling people about it. The studio will look VERY empty while we're gone -- five days in all, maybe six.
But that's not why I'm feeling almost melancholy. It may be time, soon, to confront the fact of the matter: Writing history books is a source of real satisfaction, and what happens in university classrooms is unique in all the world, a matter of such importance that I'm terrified of making a serious mistake (I recall my dissertation advisor at Minnesota, Paul Murphy, who was never the same after giving a student a B and learning that the recipient of that not-bad grade threw himself within a half-hour over a Minneapolis bridge).
No. Fact is, what I'm doing more or less out of my hip pocket -- the studio is supposed to be a night job, after all -- gives me joy. Joy differs from satisfaction. I don't know what to make of or do with this knowledge. But it's very clear to me that I trust the character, the integrity, of the brilliant dozens of people I've met over the past dozen years in the knit and crochet and fiber arts industry more completely than I do the character and integrity of any people I've ever met, including the majority of academics. I certainly would like to be free of the bureaucratization (and unacknowleged moral collapse) of universitiy administrations before much more time passes. This is not to say that all academics are immoral, bureaucratic, and merely self-aggrandizing. On the contrary, some of the people I love best are academics. Many are more or less trapped in a world that is changing before their eyes. They have to scramble after scarce grant money, competing with one another instead of sharing ideas and projects. Recently, my colleagues lost their telephones, for god's sake, because of budget shortfalls. How long would Ford executives put up with this? Why do Americans permit the humiliation of the very best and brightest among them -- all the while complaining about tax dollars? Are we not one of the least taxed of all developed nations? Did the woman on Fox News really say the other day that we ought to be exacting more tax money out of poor people???
So I'd like to retire, fact is. I will finish the book I'm writing, batten down the hatches, sell some more of the 13,500 books (not a typo) that remain in my professional library, move into a loft or something similarly open and airy (I feel the need to disencumber, with the exception, of course, of spouse, cats, books, and yarn), and write as I wish, for audiences of my own choosing. I want to write a marketable but genuinely analytical book about the amazing renaissance in the fiber arts in America over the past twenty years. More on this later. And I want to publish another poetry chapbook. And I NEED to give more time to knit and crochet design. Someday, I want to be able to tell Doris Chan that I've finally learned how to write crochet patterns in standard notation!!! She will know what I'm talking about. (How pathetic! I've been crocheting for almost 60 years).
For now, two jobs, too little time to give to either one -- students enrolling in my classes at university for autumn term in large numbers --and an exacting as well as exciting road trip coming up. It will be a caravan -- gypsies from Michigan seeking their fortune. Or tilting at windmills -- but I shouldn't mix my metaphors. MUCH work to be done tomorrow. I will write about it. We will take pictures. Thanks to everyone who has decided to read what I have to say. svb