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Dear Santa,

I already have everything I could possibly want. Please make someone else’s dreams come true this Christmas.

Love,

Dixie

Stop and look up

What a day! I felt the tingle as the forces of the universe aligned at 11:11:11 today on 11/11/11 and granted everyone in my timezone a wish* right then.

Or maybe I didn’t. I may have been rewatching the best college story ever delivered and giggling like an idiot. (That’s a step up from the first time I heard the story, when it looked for a few moments like I might suffocate from guilty, horrified laughter.) Apparently there was also some kind of event between the moon and Jupiter last month, which I did notice at the time but didn’t know what I was noticing. Both time and the stars are pretty regular, reliable things that we attach names to and track, so I suppose it’s natural that we’re going to get excited when things line up.

Perhaps we’re really celebrating predictability, which is about the closest thing to stability we’re likely to be able to enjoy in an ever-shifting life.

Perhaps it’s another point in the constellation of celebration season, that time of year when it’s dark longer than it’s light, so we grasp at reasons to turn all the lights on and push back the dark with the sheer force of our cheerfulness.

Probably it’s really just a fun excuse to type a lot of 1s in a row.

*Since this proliferation of repeated digits coincides with Armistice Day, maybe lots of those people will/did wish for an end to war.

Can’t we all just get along?

Astute readers of my blogular warblings over the past decade or so may have some hunches on why things have been so quiet on my public soapbox. Relative newcomers might point to social media and the allure of sharing short form blogs through the various sites that facilitate sharing quickly. You may all draw your own conclusions.

I noticed some friction recently between “arts and humanities people” and “STEM people” (which I had to look up, since I didn’t realise scientists, technologicians, engineers, and mathematicians had all been herded into one acronym). It feels similar to the animosity between some knitters and some crocheters, which I will never understand and take a certain offense to. As someone who does both, it means I occasionally get crap from one side or another. The STEM/arts debate hurts everyone, and it prevents people from having productive conversations. Not all scientists are antisocial autists. Not all arts people are innumerate. This is a boring debate.

Both artsy and sciencey people value creativity. Devising creative solutions to a problem, whether that problem be a blank canvas or a molecule that hasn’t ever been made, moves humanity forward. If something has been done it’s easy enough to do again; these days you can ask a computer or a robot to do it in many cases. The movers and shakers in any field are the ones who are the most creative. Arts and STEM people should be able to talk to one another about this, as both camps do a lot of thinking about how to facilitate creative work.

All this came to mind when I stumbled over a line from J. J. Thomson (who you may remember from your secondary school chemistry class, if you had one). He was talking about science, but you could easily replace the word “research” with “art” and get an equally salient point:

If you pay a man a salary for doing research, he and you will want to have something to point to at the end of the year to show that the money has not been wasted. In promising work of the highest class, however, results do not come in this regular fashion, in fact years may pass without any tangible results being obtained, and the position of the paid worker would be very embarrassing and he would naturally take to work on a lower, or at any rate, different plane where he could be sure of getting year by year tangible results which would justify his salary. The position is this: You want this kind of research, but if you pay a man to do it, it will drive him to research of a different kind. The only thing to do is pay him for doing something else and give him enough leisure to do research for the love of it.

People know that artists need to be supported but not necessarily pressured to create art, and I think it’s the case for creative work in fields less commonly associated with creativity as well.

How I learned about life from IKEA

Santa brought me a chair for Christmas, where I am sitting right now as I type (though possibly not as you read). It’s my favourite chair, an exact replica of the chair I had back in LA. It is a PoƤng chair from IKEA, my favourite chair from my favourite home furnishings supplier.

Despite its many shortcomings, IKEA holds a special place in my heart. It may be like one’s first girlfriend or first car, simply that it was first furniture store in my way when I needed to furnish a space. It could be because it was the cheapest place in town to get breakfast while I was a destitute postgrad. But I think it was because I really enjoy putting things together, making IKEA the drug pusher to my inner crack whore. After putting together my own stuff during postgrad, I pounced on any opportunity to put my friends’ stuff together whenever they furnished a new space. With each bookshelf, bed, chair, or stereo cabinet I pieced together, I noticed a pattern emerging.

It wasn’t that the directions were unclear, or all that difficult to follow. One doesn’t even need to be literate to make it through a set of IKEA directions. But with every piece save the three-piece wonders that one doesn’t need directions for, I noticed there was a point in every assembly process where I got stuck. It’s when I’m more than halfway but less than two-thirds done. It’s where the wheels come off. (Sometimes literally, in the case of a particularly sticky chest of drawers.) It’s the point when I look at the sad little man in the front of the directions and think that I, like the little man, might be able to solve all my problems by ringing IKEA and confessing that I have no idea how to proceed.

I call this the IKEA Point. I have gotten past it every time without having to ring IKEA, though it has sometimes required that I leave the room and have a cup of tea. Oddly enough, I have reached the IKEA Point in other sections of my life, and thanks to IKEA I have some confidence that I can get past it. I had a series of scares while working on my thesis and research proposals, for example, where I was convinced I would have to give up on LaTeX and retype everything in Microsoft Word. I got past it.

Lots of stuff in life doesn’t come with instructions, but some stuff does. Often those instructions are confusing, but it’s possible to get past it. Not a bad thing to remember, when facing down a room full of pine and you’re armed with only an allen wrench.

When I don’t like Christmas

Three times I have been prodded, and so it shall be. I am bound to blog, unlucky are ye.

I usually like Christmas. A lot. This year a series of mildly irritating circumstances in the immediate runup to the holiday reminded me of all the stuff I really despise about Christmas.

I’m lucky that although I am technically a part of the retail phenomenon that is the problem, neither I nor anyone else in the shop feel the need to force Christmas down anyone’s throat. In general? I blame retailers for everything I hate about Christmas. Starting as soon as they possibly can, sometimes before Halloween, we are whipped into a frenzy of spending and preparing and stressing to create the perfect day, which nearly always falls flat because we are all of us human. After months of preparation, Christmas leaves people exhausted. This is perfectly timed, as people are thrust into contact with their extended families with whom they may not get along even on the best of days.

We are told to shop for everyone, regardless of whether they want anything or can use the token you’ve procured for them. We either abstain from shopping for ourselves, or we buy stuff anyway and feel guilty. And then we still binge shop the day after Christmas. There are even sales for facilitating this.

Meanwhile, as Dublin is hit with weather we’re not equipped to handle, some people are left stranded and unable to travel wherever they’d planned on spending their Christmas. It throws things into sharp perspective, when you’re out shopping at the last minute for someone you may not get to see after all. You remember that what you (and they) really want is just to be home for Christmas.

I am lucky in that I usually get what I want for Christmas, which is to be home. After the frenzy dies down and everyone is enjoying the results of their frantic shopping, I can enjoy being home. It’s a lot easier these days than it used to be, but I don’t appreciate it any less.

I hope you’re enjoying your Christmas, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, and whatever you’re doing.

Louisa

July was a big month, as it turns out. I got the weekend holiday I needed so much, I worked more hours in the shop than usual, I caught and defeated a Death Cold, and I met one of the brightest stars in the knitting sky, Louisa Harding. If you’re a knitter, you may know her from yarn labels. You might have seen her books or compilations. You may have opinions about her distributor, or on her yarns, or the distinctly (possibly stereotypically) feminine slant of her designs. It’s tricky gauging someone by a yarn label, though, and I was extremely lucky to get the opportunity to meet and hang out with her when she came to the shop to give a workshop.

Sari Ribbon

When we approached Louisa about the possibility of doing a workshop, she had things all figured out already. It would be a full day workshop, the fees would include yarn (always a plus!), and the project would allow people to explore creativity in wool and sample a bunch of yarns all at the same time. She arranged for sample garments to be sent to us ahead of time, so the students could try things on and see what the designs look like in person rather than having to guess from photos in the books. We also got a preview of the new books and yarns for autumn/winter, inspiring several of us in the shop to get started on new cardigans and tops.

I didn’t get to participate in the workshop, but the few bits I got to see were well planned and carefully thought out. She started by encouraging students to look at the sample garments, then followed that with yarn selection for the bag project. This required the students to wind some of the yarns into balls from the hanks they’re usually sold as, giving everyone the opportunity to chat and interact with each other. By the time everyone settled down to knit, people had gotten the jitters out and were ready to focus.

The workshop project is a simple bag using five different yarns. Louisa encouraged students to choose colour and gauge combinations outside of their comfort zones, resulting in beautiful little works of art.

Louisa Harding bag

I selected my yarns after everyone else, picking over the leftovers during lulls in the shop downstairs, so I didn’t get as adventurous as some. I did end up working with the new colours of Sari Ribbon and Willow Tweed, as well as a bit of the new autumn/winter yarn Rosetti that I ordinarily would have avoided. (I’m not really a fan of chunky yarns.) The bag was simple to knit and enjoyable as it gave me plenty of opportunity to sample the yarns and see how they worked up.

Also, I love the bag. Desperately.

Bag closeup

I think the workshop encouraged students to think more ambitiously about colour and texture, and to experiment more boldly. It also gave us the opportunity to make something relatively impractical, simply for the joy of playing with colour and texture. Lots of us focus on practical projects which might be well crafted and beautiful, but not as recklessly fun as this little bag.

After the workshop, Louisa hosted a meet & greet and talk that was free to everyone. Lots of regulars in the shop and local S&B groups showed up, and despite the blistering heat people managed to enjoy themselves. Louisa talked about starting her own yarn line, how the process works, and the elements she highlights in her designs and yarn choices. She describes herself as “a woman designing for women,” and how this plays out in her choice of colour, yarn, shape, and size. For example, many of her designs feature 3/4 length sleeves. Why? Women wear bracelets and watches, and it’s nice to show them off. Simple as that.

The day made me think about the yarn industry, what moves and shakes it, and how the people involved make the choices they do. It inspired me to give certain yarns a chance where I previously would have dismissed them. And it gave me the opportunity, through an awesome sneak peek at some of Louisa’s new and currently unreleased books, to cast on for a new cardigan.

Willow Tweed

Using Willow Tweed.

Row, row, row your boat

Before we made it to the tree, we saw and experienced one of the more prominent features of the Lough Key forest park, the island with the castle on. I believe it is usually called Castle Island, distinguishing it from the islands with the church on (Church Island?).

Castle Island, seen from Lough Key

It being an island, the only way to get in and have a good look around was to use a boat, or pay for one of the boat tours. We hired two rowboats and immediately learned who had ever rowed a boat before in their lives and who hadn’t. I was in the latter category, but I still had a great time rowing us slowly across the lake for the second half of our outward journey.

Transportation

Despite the presence of someone who clearly knew what she was doing, our boat was very egalitarian and all four of us rowed across half the lake at some point. No one fell out, I don’t think anyone got whacked by oars, and we did make it to and from the castle without major incident despite some interesting rocking when a motorboat whizzed by and gave us a wake to bob over.

I like castles, even overgrown ones. I especially like castles I’m allowed to explore and climb on, where the only barriers to exploration are my own ability to spot paths and stairs and ways up and around. This one offered all that. I’m not sure how old it really was; even though there were apparently people living here a very long time ago, there was evidence of recent work done to support the structure and I think this particular castle might have been built in the past couple hundred years on the site of an older castle.

Broken Castle

There hasn’t been anyone living here for a while though.

Broken castle

A couple of us climbed up for a better view, and poked around some of the smaller tower bits. I’m pretty sure there are good names for everything, but I don’t know any of them so I’ll just show you the picture.

Broken castle with a view

I love that more times than not, when I venture out of Dublin I get a surprise castle sighting. (As it happens, I see a lot of a particular castle when I’m in Dublin, but it’s not that much of a surprise since I live practically next door to Dublin Castle.) I also love that most of the time when I see these things, I’m with friends who like climbing around as much as I do.

Arborsexual

A couple weeks ago, several couples and I were invited out to Boyle (Roscommon) for the bank holiday weekend. We were housed, fed, and entertained, and I not only got to hang out with people I don’t see often but I got to see bits of Ireland I never had before.

The older I get, the less I like taking pictures of things and prefer to experience them on my own and think about them later. I get the luxury of this opinion because I have friends who take great pictures so I’m not usually left without some visual reminder of an event or holiday. For the Sunday afternoon excursion to Lough Key, I was the only one with a camera so I did my best. I didn’t take pictures of Boda Borg (it’s like getting to do the Crystal Maze, apparently), but I did get pictures of the awesome tree.

Huge tree

I’m told it’s a redwood, though I’m not a botanist and would have believed it if I was told it was a giant cedar. We wandered in (it’s the kind of tree you wander in to) and climbed around, some of us higher than others. I admit I lazed around, mostly.

Vertical view

It’s the kind of tree people write stories about, the kind that makes people become environmentalists, the kind people get married in and bring their children to. The people in our group from the area knew the tree instantly, referring to it only as “the tree,” speaking with respect and care. It’s a good tree, certainly worthy of its own blog entry.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

People love summer here. Where I come from, summer was accepted as a necessary evil but avoided if necessary. People got really excited about spring (Spring Break, anyone?) instead. I know now this difference is because spring where I grew up is about the same climate as the height of summer here. Summer here has the additional magic of twilight that stretches throughout the evening. It’s exciting to leave work at 8 and have it still be light out, but it’s really something special to wrap up a hard night’s gaming at 11 and still catch the end of the sunset.

Summer is chock full of milestones for me. By Celtic reckoning, my birthday, my anniversary, my thesis defense, and the date I moved to Dublin all fall squarely in the summer. Last year I spent the longest day of the year in transit, landing in Dublin jetlagged and ecstatic the day after the solstice. This year I woke up the day after the solstice with showtunes in my head and a sense of smug satisfaction that I could now report my stay in Dublin with units of years rather than months.

(I never know how to answer that question. If you’re not from around here, you know the one. “How long have you lived here?” I believe the answer in my case is misleading; after a month of living here I had the experiences and support of nearly a decade of kicking around. It’s not the same thing as living here all that time, but it’s not the same as being here only a month.)

Lots of things changed when I moved, but a key one that doesn’t get discussed much is that for the first time in ten years I’m not trying to live in two places at once. Throughout the Pasadena exile I enjoyed many things, but it was always bittersweet because it sat next to the memory of what I was missing in Dublin. That doesn’t happen anymore, and it is delicious.

The 22nd of June has rolled along behind me, and I’ve found myself nearly halfway through July a little bewildered that I got here so fast. And while there’s a lot to be desired about my situation at the moment, it’s still been a pretty good year.

On ageing

Last week I joyfully celebrated my 30th birthday. My sister was in town with her husband, and I enjoyed several days of being showered with attention. Thursday we went out for sushi after stopping by to see the knitters at Brooks, Friday a couple friends hosted us for dinner and drinks, Saturday we headed out to watch the US/England match and drink some more. The universe gave me a birthday present, as the Mr. was offered a job last week. It’s only a 6 week contract, but it’s a job. As a result, I’ve had more time than usual in the flat on my own, giving me the opportunity to catch up on little things.

Some people go to pieces on their milestone birthdays (after about 25). I knew one guy who spent the entire year running up to his 30th birthday exercising and eating protein shakes so he could say he was in the best shape of his life when he turned 30. I think he did the same thing for his 40th. Another guy gets depressed every year around his birthday. I can only imagine what his 30th was like. I’ve known lots of people who jokingly refer to their birthdays after 29 as “the fourth anniversary of my 29th birthday.” And, of course, it’s not polite to ask a woman her age.

Me? I couldn’t turn 30 fast enough. Being older means you’ve experienced more, which I’m on board for. It also raises your credibility (however unfairly) in other people’s eyes. It’s been a little while since I’ve said something and gotten that look that says “Oh, you’ll understand when you’re older,” and the only thing that’s changed is that I am older, rather than any age-induced paradigm shift. I rarely get carded when buying alcohol anymore, though I suspect that’s more due to the change of scenery.

I like having a tidy pile of experiences to build upon. I like being old enough to be allowed to make my own choices, like whether to drink, vote, or spend money. I like being “old.” Happy birthday to me.

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