Friday, March 4, 2011

Catching Up, Gearing Up, Checking In...

It's now past midterm at university, and I can begin to see the end of the tunnel -- my god, what a long, gray, often unpleasant term this has been.   There are always good students.  But there are infuriating ones as well, and this semester, I've had more than my share.  You keep saying to yourself, "I got a Ph.D. WHY???"  To give one particularly galling example:  I gave the midterm in a freshman class maybe a week ago, a two-hour exam and a fairly hard one in my view, and....guess what?   After 20 minutes, eight students got up to leave.   I asked them, one by one, if they'd perhaps like to spend at least a few more minutes trying a bit harder; only two took me up on it.  Those exams, of course, are F's.  Then another big group left by the one-hour mark.  Only 20 students out of 54 stuck it out to the bitter end.  And then there is the sadness of their writing skills -- the poorer ones, some of them very SMART, in fact, but massively underskilled -- laboring away, as if carving something deeply into the desktop, and after two hours, managing to produce maybe three paragraphs.  Even the penmanship shows a comparative lack of experience with writing -- very round, or simply printed, as if high school had been skipped.  It's enough to make me throw a desk through the nearest window.

Another example:  We were reading a short text written by Herbert Hoover, who only some of the students could identify, and he approvingly mentioned "American liberalism," and so of course I asked them to tell me what he was talking about.   It may be important at this juncture to remember that Herbert Hoover was an old Progressive and a Republican.  One student loudly and confidently said, "SOCIALISM."  Could have knocked me over with a feather.  So even Herbert Hoover is a commie pinko.  After some pointed inquiry, it turned out that only the smallest handful had taken high school courses in which they actually TALKED about such concepts as liberalism, socialism, communism, fascism, and so they have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the (idiotic) signs accusing Barack Obama of BOTH fascism and communism.  It took me an extra thirty minutes, but MAYBE, just maybe, they now understand that liberalism is not a synonym for socialism.  My god.  What has it come to, my friends?  Thomas Jefferson is spinning in his grave:  It was Jefferson, after all -- that archetypal liberal -- who insisted that sound education in political principles would be critical to the maintenance of a republic.

But then I go to the studio, or I sit down to write something, and it starts to go away.  The wonderful Amy Hoffman from Women's Review of Books was back in my mailbox last week asking me if I'd like to do another long review essay for her -- this time a biography of the ever-fascinating Elizabeth Packard, a barely-known, important figure in the history of medical and psychiatric sciences.  I have wanted to write something about women's biography for awhile now, and this could be the occasion -- depending on the quality of the book.  So -- first thing out of the gate when term is done, I'll sit down to think about that amazing woman and the whole poblem of writing the life of a woman -- a remarkably difficult task actually, given the nature of the historical record.

Finally, the wool, the yarn, the possibilities -- exhaustion has made it difficult to knit or crochet very much.  I am not given to sketching or making swatches or any of the rest of it when I'm too tired to put myself into it entirely.  I wonder if I will have anything to offer this year for the CGOA and TKNA design contests.......?   But I now have enough of the back of a man's sweater in three colors of Naturally's gorgeous Vero (chunky weight variegated wool made in Australia) to know that it will be a nice design -- ABC stripes, three shades of Vero.  It will be some kind of Henley, don't quite know what yet, with some interesting vintage buttons.  The front will tell me what it has to be when I get that far.  And I have some ideas for simple light-weight garments-- one a side-to-side in Fibonacci stripes, from the cuffs up and across in asymmetrical undulations, maybe in bamboo or bamboo-cotton, and again in at least three colors.  This one will have a wide funnel collar which I hope will collapse, and I will try to reverse colors front and back.

Speaking of which:  In the newest Knitters magazine, Laura Bryant has done some of the most wonderful colorwork I've seen in years.   I hope this is a harbinger of the color book that she is producing:  If it is, we are in for a once-in-a-lifetime rreat.  What masterful stitchery and coloration!  I hope everyone will have a look (we of course have copies in the studio).  I need to find out as well about her Rapport (bamboo-cotton), which I don't remember seeing, but which is advertised in the same issue.  Might be the right yarn for the side-to-side that's stuck in my head (see above) in some of Prism's sandwashed colors.

Spring break arrives in the nick of time the week of March 14-19, and I'm going to take the occasion, maybe with Larry in tow, to drive to Townsend, Tennessee -- wherever that is (must be a Smoky Mountain town) - to a small, atmospheric fiber festival.  The vendors aren't numerous, and I even know three of them -- but the rest are unknown to me, quite a few of whom are spinning and dyeing, so maybe I can find a couple of promising new people.  Then, after the tiny festival at Bowling Green, Ohio, the next weekend, the fiber festival season will be off and running.   I cannot say how eager I am to be blessed with summer -- writing in the morning, maybe on the second-story deck in the treetops, exercising, being in the studio each afternoon until  closing.  The exhaustion this year is almost palpable -- I need a road trip, some kind of rural eye candy, and landscapes (colors, textures, water, the occasional deer flicking a white tail before dashing off as if its feet hurt!) have that effect.

I also need to learn, once and for all, how to download my own photographs.  Stay tuned.



  1. Wow, your students simply left? I can't even imagine.

    In more depressing news, my middle-class, college-town school district has announced that kindergartners in the four worst schools are not expected to meet grade level standards by the end of the year. The situation is so dire that the district scraped together some money to institute free full-time kindergarten for these schools, beginning last week. To tell you how dire it is, the reading standard is DRA Level 2. Level 1 is awareness of a written language, Level 2 is knowledge that certain sounds are associated with the various letters. It's enough to make you cry.

    In less depressing news, Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene, OR and Sock Summit in Portland, OR are coming up this summer! Are you planning to go to either?

  2. I wonder if my post of last night registered? I can't find it. Scarlet, I went to the Black Sheep one year and found it uneven in quality -- the good ones were great -- but others (I am not making this up) included knitted moose antlers. I really DO enjoy Oregon Sheep and Wool, and hope to be there. Secret: I HATE SOCKS! I make one pair every 20 years, whether I need them or not. svb

  3. My dirty little knitting secret is the same: I hate socks, too. Too much knitting on tiny needles. I need to see progress at a less glacial speed. But Sock Summit 2009 was actually all about the shawls for me; that's when I got hooked.

    Sorry you didn't enjoy Black Sheep. I was too busy in my booth to look around much last year, but I think I would've heard about knitted antlers!

    Oregon Flock & Fiber is great fun--hope to see you there!