My knitting postdoc

I am resisting the pressure to find a postdoc in science because I do not want to go straight into academia. The job track I want goes through industry, involving a job where I can use my science, then take my experience back to the classroom. That kind of background is more valuable to students, who are more likely to become workers (in any number of industries) than academics. Also, the reason I’m being turned down for jobs is not my lack of a postdoc; the experience I would get is not relevant to the jobs I want.

In the meantime, I seem to have fallen into something of a knitting postdoc. I am sponsored by a local institution where I receive advice and guidance but am pretty much left on my own to create. I arrived with a significant body of experience, as well as the interest and motivation to expand the field on my own. I support myself and my sponsor by teaching and performing necessary duties to keep things running smoothly and bring in revenue. I do original research, and I have published the good bits (Ravelry link). While I do all this, I look for a more permanent job. As far as I understand it, that’s what postdocs do; at least, that’s what I would be doing if I was doing a scientific postdoc.

A few things are missing. I did not write or defend a thesis on knitting, and I have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal on knitting. (I think Knitty or Twist or Interweave Knits would count as peer-reviewed, though commercial publishing is a very different beast from scientific publishing.) I also wouldn’t compare my colleagues in the shop to grad students in the lab, even though we do all support each other in our projects.

It’s not science, though I use a scientific approach to lots of my problem solving. It is endlessly creative and challenging, like a good postdoc, and I am enjoying it.

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Even you have time to knit

When I started knitting, very few people had the temerity to suggest that I must have had lots of spare time to be taking up such a hobby. It might have been because I was in grad school and therefore short on spare time to begin with, or it might be because I’m generally kind of a busy person. It might have just been because that’s kind of a rude thing to say. In any case, while I became familiar with the standard knitters’ rebuttals of the time issue, I only rarely had to trot them out with any seriousness.

During my VodaKnitting adventures, that reversed itself completely. I’ll admit to being a little extra sensitive these days, but the overwhelming sentiment rolling off of many people I talk to has been, “That knitting is all well and good, if you have a lot of time to sit around and do nothing. Which I don’t.” One woman even went so far as to say “When you have kids to take care of, you don’t have time to knit.” That was a surprise to me; some of the most famous knitters I know not only have kids, but have full responsibility for taking care of them and keeping the house in order. Elizabeth Zimmermann had kids, and at least one is now a designer in her own right.

I am tired of the implication that knitters are lazy or idle (or were before they took up knitting as a way of passing the time). I also resent the idea that knitting is simply a way of passing the time. It’s true that many hours of work go into a hand knitted item, but how many hours a day does one person waste?

You can knit while waiting to pick up those kids, while queuing at the grocery store, during a lunch break, just before bed, while you’re waiting for food to simmer, on the bus, and while watching TV. That last one really gets to me. The same women who sniffed at me and said they didn’t have time for knitting could probably tell me all about what’s happening in whatever TV shows they watch regularly.

Knitting isn’t for everyone, just like stamp collecting isn’t for everyone. I don’t mind that. I don’t mind if someone just doesn’t enjoy it or isn’t interested in learning a new skill. It happens. But chances are, if you have the time to wander through the mall and stop to check out a promotion, you have the time to knit. You just don’t want to.

Every day is a school day

I’ve been travelling around the country teaching knitting. Some places I do more teaching than others, but I can safely say I’ve taught at least five people knitting “from scratch” every time I head out under Vodafone’s sanguine banner. I’ve reminded many, many people of skills they already had. And I’ve chatted a lot with knitters who are unaware of the resurgence of the craft, telling them about the fabulous tools, wools, and resources available to fiber artists now.

The funny thing? I think I’ve learned a lot more than I’ve taught. I’ve learned silly things I should have known before, like where Athlone is and how the road designations change from R to A when you cross over into Northern Ireland. I’ve learned more subtle things, like local slang and grammatical oddities of Hiberno English that I hadn’t been able to parse before. Or that if you work with the public, the morning hours are a lot more enjoyable than the late afternoon or evening ones. But I’ve also developed some hardcore skills, some of which I’ll be able to use in any job or even any social situation. Since the work is pretty much the same thing over and over, I’ve even gotten to test ideas and see what works and what doesn’t.

Here I was thinking this was just an awesome opportunity to travel around the country knitting.

The neatest thing I learned this weekend was how to teach small children. At least, I learned how to not be completely useless at it. I spent this weekend parked in the centre of the Liffey Valley mall, hawking knitting lessons and a contest to win a (Vodafone branded) Dublin GAA jersey. When preparing for the weekend, I worried excessively about obnoxious kids, specifically packs of them in the 8-15 age range. We only had one pack of them over the course of the weekend; they were as horrid as I’d expected but they got bored easily and didn’t wreck anything I couldn’t fix. I saw far, far more kids in the 5-9 age bracket, and they were the ones who had no knitting experience, or only very little.

Sometimes the parents would sit down and teach their own children, but sometimes they would park a kid with me. I have a hard time with very small children. The memories I have of being small involve mostly wanting to not be small and the casual cruelties inflicted by other small people around me. (Doubtless I inflicted some of my own; sometimes I wonder about that.) So I deal well with young people who behave like adults, at least around me. This doesn’t work well with most kids, and it’s useless when trying to teach a 7-year-old to knit. After many false starts, failures, and frustrations I finally started to figure things out and managed to get the kids knitting as easily as I (usually) do the adults. The youngest person I successfully taught was 5. I was really, really proud of myself. Still am, a little.

I didn’t get much knitted this time around. After a well-meaning knitter nearly picked up my nascent Clapotis to knit her two rows, I kept my own knitting out of sight and didn’t have much chance to get back to it. Means I have more Clapotis to savour over the next couple weeks.

I fixed it!

It was not until today that I realized there was a pop-up preview thingy for all the images I include here. I hate those. I’ve disabled it, I think.

I finished those socks I blogged about a couple days ago. There are no pictures.

There is no other news today, other than that I got a whole crazy lot of new music recommendations. I’m going to go through them one by one, slowly and carefully, to give each album the time and respect it deserves. I am looking forward to it.

I am also doing more Vodafone work this weekend. If I don’t survive, now you know why.

Still true

I’ve been out of ThesisWorld for almost 8 months, and yet PhD Comics still rings true.

Lewis Carroll wasn’t the only academic better remembered for his extracurricular pursuits than his scholarly work. Any chemist with even an inkling of classical music interest knows about Borodin, a Russian chemist and composer. In all my years of chemistry I never came across his professional work, but I often listened to his music.

Even though I’m still looking for a “real job” in science, I’m very lucky and happy to be working in wool for the time being. I like helping people plan their new projects and troubleshoot their current ones. I like talking to people about techniques that have helped me out, and I enjoy seeing new knitters grow into confident craftspeople and artists. I love working through an idea and creating a new design for people to knit and enjoy. It’s frustrating sometimes that I worked so long on a PhD and have yet to use it, but it’s impossible to forget that I wouldn’t have started knitting had it not been for the stress of getting that qualification. I’m using what I learned in my postgrad, but it’s not what you’d think.

Could you spare some mojo?

I remember the last time I hit a knitting slump. Well, I think I do. It was towards the end of my third term teaching freshman chemistry. It was a year and a half after my boss started calling surprise meetings that sometimes happened on weekends. It was well after I’d gone sour on every aspect of my life, frustrated with my house, my work, my relationships, and my knitting. So I made socks. Lots of them. Eventually I came out of it, though not before dropping a lot of money at The Loopy Ewe and accumulating a really crazy amount of sock yarn leftovers.

These leftovers are slowly making their way into an epic blanket project.

While I am not nearly as miserable now as I was then (in fact, I’m really not miserable at all!), I seem to have hit a wall with my knitting. In the case of my ill-fated Constantine socks, literally. After a repeat and a half, I faced reality and tried them on. Despite working the largest size, they were too small. Ah tension, thou art a harsh mistress. Within a few hours of the frogging, I stupidly left the bag with the ball of wool in the living room, which is the signal to the cat that it’s okay for him to play with it. The ball is a little worse for wear, but I think it’ll live to be knitted another day.

So, the one project (other than the ongoing leftovers blanket, which is also stalled) that’s going okay? That’s right, it’s yet another pair of plain socks:

These will keep me going until I get my mojo back.

On coffee

People give out to me for ordering decaf coffee. I’ve even been denied my chosen order because the barista didn’t feel decaf was worthy of our consideration. Today, I got a small amount of shit because I’d asked for a double latte (decaf). “What’s the point of getting a double decaf?”

I’ll tell you the point.

The point is that I like the taste of coffee but don’t want to be a cranky monster for the rest of the afternoon because of caffeine overload. Why a double? Because that’s a better coffee to milk ratio. (Why don’t I just get a cappuccino? Because it’s gone too quickly.) I’m going to start sounding like Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally,” but I make no apologies. I worked for Starbucks before there was one on every corner, and as a result of the training and exposure I am very, very particular about coffee and will order exactly what I want if given the opportunity.

That last bit is important, by the way. If I’m in a friend’s home, or if I’m in an eatery that doesn’t specialize in coffee, I’ll take what I’m given and I will enjoy it. Seriously. But if I’m paying €4 for a professionally pulled espresso drink from a place that boasts about the quality of its coffee and range of options, I will take them up on it.

I drink lattes because I want the protein, and I often (unhealthily!) substitute coffee for breakfast. I drink doubles because then I can taste the coffee rather than the milk, and it tends to be a little warmer (without having to ask the barista to burn the milk). And sometimes I drink decaf because if I’m already in a bad mood caffeine will make it worse. Yes, I know the process sucks a lot of the flavour out. (I also know it’s not completely caffeine free.) So yes, I know that a double decaf is not going to taste as good as a standard double. It still tastes better than a single decaf.

Much of this will be moot soon, as I’m going to change my standard coffee order yet again. Still, it’s good to finally explain myself. The full explanation usually takes longer than anyone is willing to sit through.

On finishing

Many knitters have issues with starting too many projects at once. While I recommend having more than one project going at a time so one may knit whenever the opportunity arises (that heirloom shawl project is not going to be appropriate for Knit Night, so it’s good to have a pair of socks going as well), I also try to keep things under control so I can finish projects in a timely manner. This allows me to stare down any and all issues I may have with getting things finished.

I used to have problems finishing things. Any kind of thing, in any part of my life. Either I’d get attached to whatever the project was and not want it to end (and leave my life), or I was so sick of it I was unwilling to put in the extra effort to get it done right. Knitting definitely put the kibosh on that, and that’s just one of the ways this particular vice has made me a better person.

Even still, I sometimes find myself stalling out towards the end of a project. I don’t think I’m the only one either. Lots of people relish the opportunity and freshness of a new project more than the finishing touches of an old one. I find that when I’m having project finishing issues, they tend to be one of two types. The first type, the most common one, is that I’m sick to the back teeth of a project and can’t bear to look at it anymore. Even though it only needs a tiny bit of effort, just a seam here or a tricky cast-off there, I can’t bring myself to look at it anymore.

The other type is the reverse. I love a project so much that I don’t want it to end. I want to keep knitting it forever, working on it has become part of the way I am, and to finally cast off and have an object would be to siphon off a part of my soul and leave it draped over a chair to be abused or forgotten. I’ve managed to get over this, though sometimes it’s less because I’ve dealt with my issues and more because I’ve obsessed over a project so fiercely that it falls into the first category of Nearly Finished Project rather than the second.

This is all a really long way of saying that I need to finish seaming up Gloriosa, knit a collar and a buttonband, and get it out of my life.

Getting what I paid for

I got my laptop!

A few weeks ago, I twittered along with the rest of the highly connected Twitterers in Ireland in the hope of winning one of five Dell netbooks. To my great surprise, I won one. I found out about this during the first day of my Vodafone travels, which is a little funny since I was trying to deal with the idea of travelling without a computer for the first time in a long time. (My EeePC is currently paralyzed, awaiting a full system reset. Since the recent appearance of this computer, I will probably be installing some flavour of Linux.) The computer finally arrived this week, despite the best efforts of the promotions company, and I blog now from my couch, relishing the decent sized keyboard.

I am pleased with the laptop; less so with the gimped version of Windows 7 it shipped with. I like the idea of a stripped down version of the OS to put on underpowered machines (which this is), but I am a little offended at not being able to change the wallpaper. This is a feature I think I’ve been using since Windows 3.0. Surely my netbook can handle that.

In any case, I have a new computer. The flat now boasts one desktop, one laptop, two netbooks, three iPods (one dead, one is more powerful than one of the netbooks), two humans, one cat…and the partridge in a pear tree. Now all I need is a real job to go along with all this tech.

Sample in progress

It occurs to me that knitblogging is a great safe mode of blogging. While I could talk in detail about gossip, social circles, immigration, the job search, wacky customers, interesting students, etc, it’s a lot safer to put up pictures of knitting and sanitized accounts of knitting-related work. This may be why it’s so popular; it seems like most knitters capable of using the Web either have or have once had a blog.

This week is a quiet one, relatively speaking, and I’ve been working on a new sample for the shop: Saroyan. This is a fantastic free pattern, so good that I am taking notes and thinking about how to make my free patterns as good as this one. It’s well written and laid out, it’s clear, and it’s got loads of information with clear, useful advice. It’s also a really cute little shawlette.

It’s great as a shop sample because it shows off the yarn in both stockinette and in a cute stitch pattern that suits the yarn. It’s great as an addition to one’s wardrobe, if one prefers to stay away from accessories that are too flouncy or complicated. It’s simple, classy, and elegant in the right colour.

And the little leaves are delightful.