Hip to be Square

Hello, folks. I hope mid-February finds you well. Happily, I am coming out of my yarn pause. Not by knitting something new but by learning a new skill: I’ve decided to make good on my effort to start learning crochet.

In early 2017, I took up the hook and tried some rows of single crochet with an old scrappy bit of bright rainbow acrylic yarn – the first skein of yarn I ever bought in high school with which (YES) a garter-stitch belt was made! (and worn). Single-crocheting, I felt confident and even hazarded a hacky sack formation.

Revisiting my first skein of yarn, ever. Bought at the White Rose craft shop in Scarborough, Ontario.

I met my match, however, in the form of the granny square. Despite the tutorials, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around granny square logic. I frequently lost count of my stitches, shells, and chains. Diagrammed patterns confused rather than clarified. After making one too many lopsided square-ish things, I resignedly put down my lone hook and decided crochet just wasn’t for me.

Fast forward 2 years and a month: I catch a glimpse of a granny square garland on Pinterest and feel my crochet-fingers re-ignite and search out that little lone hook, long-hidden under a clattery heap of DPNs. And, what do you know – the first square happened that very night (with 5 more since then!). The stitches suddenly clicked into square-shaped place. Proof that sometimes learning takes place during (lots of) time off.

I am happily waking up to crochet. I like the “verticality” of crochet chains, the way they grow up and outward really fast. I like the smooth, metallic bend of the hook, designed to find its way through stitches easily, but not the other way around. I like that crocheting requires a much lighter hold with the yarn-hand – it eats up yarn quite voraciously, so any clutching or tightening of yarn only results in tight stitches and slowed flow. I like the logic of crochet, too – chains upon chains upon chains, all held together in different configurations. And, I like the toughness of crocheted fabric – it’s thick and solid and feels strong enough to walk on.

I placed my very first successful granny square with my doe doll. I’ve assigned her the important role of Keeper and Guardian of the Granny Squares and, accordingly, Steward of the Crochet Spirit, with the hopes that I don’t lose my crochet verve again. Is that too loopy? (pun intended). Either way, I think she enjoys her new gig.

What are you making this month?

Until next time, looking lightward!

Frost-land

Greetings from the polar vortex. If you are anywhere in or around the American Midwest or central Canada, then you know what this is all about. The last two days have seen the region clobbered by heavy snowfall, blinding snow squalls and freeway-whiteouts (imagine a dense, moving pocket of snow that clouds up your windshield), and of course, record-setting lows and their bitter, bitter winds. In Chicago alone, this early morning, lows dipped down to -28 C/-21 F (-39 C/-39 F if you happened to catch a side of wind with that). We were colder than parts of Antarctica, Alaska, and apparently, Mars.

What does strange Martian winter feel like? Frightening. It’s the kind of weather that hardens the world in ice, slickening the footsteps on past snows into unyielding, ankle-twisting formations. It’s the winter that will take the air out of your tires and leave you stranded a near-mile from home, just because (luckily, on the warmer of the 2 days, at -21 C). You’ll spend the afternoon re-heating at a strip mall sub and sandwich joint, waiting for the tow truck to arrive, and when it does, an exhausted mustachioed man in a blue sweatshirt lifts your felled car away and your heart sinks to know he’s been at it all day. You walk that near-mile home at your best speed, but the darkening sky and the growing sharpening in your knees suddenly reminds you that there are parts of your body that are made entirely of flash-freezable fluid.

On the way, passing 6-foot snowdrifts in pharmacy parking lots, you notice a curiosity: an abandoned bottle of perfectly good, uncorked Merlot is peering out of a snow bank. You try to imagine a scenario that starts with “purchase fancy wine” and ends with “leave fancy wine in the snow.” You wonder if you should adopt said wine. Then you fear it’s a trap! (and then you realize that, at this moment, the outside world is a trap). Hastily, you leave the abandoned wine in its place, but take it as incontrovertible proof that the cosmic order of things has shifted. Is shifting. The graininess of the picture of the bottle reminds you of UFO-sighting photography.

You arrive home safely — not frost-bitten but frost-nipped, a little reddened and unprepared for the sting of thawing out (ow!).

While indoors, the mind quickens and grows squirrel-jittery about staving off any incoming freeze. As the temperatures inside plummet along with the blustering world outside (an apartment built in the 1960s has presumably outworn some of its original insulation!), the utility of duvets is no longer theoretical. Alongside radiant heat, fleece, and woolen anything, duvets become the best thing ever invented and you spend the entire night rolled up in goose down, marveling at the small, storm-free world undercover. Overnight, as thick beads of ice form on the insides of the window panes, you consider the dual warming meanings of night cap. In the frigid 6 a.m. air, the wordplay makes sudden, amusing sense — and, come to think of it, also explains why your instinct, during the past 2 days, was to start knitting yourself a hat, in worsted weight on tiny #3 needles, so that the stitches pull in real close.

In other words, it’s been cold.

I hope you are staying warm and keeping safe, wherever you happen to be.

Merci, 2018

Hello, friends. It has been nearing two months since my last thing here – I managed to miss the new-year’s tidal wave of blog posts, and then some, but am finally getting around to catching up. Having also renewed the domain for another 12 months, I thought it was high time to break my no-post dry spell.

I’ve found it challenging to keep up with blogging this past while. The last few weeks have seen me a little blocked up – it’s been hard to find my yarn-fingers (the knitter’s equivalent of sea legs) and my words. Even my gouache colours have been lying dormant and unsqueezed in their travel-toothpaste-sized tubes. After some attempts at forcing a few creative Starts — a bright orange alpaca hat that came out too small, a garment-unravelling project that hit a snag and stayed there — I’m deciding to get friendly with this period of creative dormancy — to stop trying to fix it, to let it be, and maybe even get acquainted with it.

As I’ve written in past posts, The Block is no stranger in these here parts. My projects have often followed this logic and sequence: there’s the dizzying dream of making something new, the hours of research; brow-furrowed exertion melds into hyperfocus (the sweet spot and superpower of creators!); acuity grows with repetition and concentration, but unfortunately, so does fatigue; the arc of work winds down; soon, I find myself not just tapped out, but feeling a bit like the bikes I’ve seen around town, tethered in place and missing a wheel (am I the only one who likes to imagine the complex emotional worlds of bicycles?).

That said, I’m learning to soften into periods of pause, like this one. Although the needles and keyboard are mostly silent these days, I keep cooking and ironing the odd shirt and puttering around the apartment with my green-bristled broom, witchy and on the lookout for dust-bunnies. I read books and aspire to finish books — one at a time, too, which is very uncharacteristic. I eat milk chocolate and talk to friends and watch funny movies. I try not to let the post-vacation laundry pile creep too high. I drink detox herbs at night, stream episodes of “Tidying Up” with Marie Kondo and make an earnest attempt at streamlining the spice cabinet (that’s about as far as I get, but I’m happy, in the process, to rediscover a jar of hidden cloves so I count the effort a success). ūüôā

I also take stock of projects past, reminding myself that Pauses are temporary guests and not year-round roommates. When I think back on my creative journey of 2018, I remember that it was a great year, full of firsts, milestones, growth, and giving — a very first colour-work garment (yay!), breaking into lace in a big way, doll-making experiments, and knitting up a good amount of baby-things and gifts. It was a year of giving away and keeping the learnings. It was a solid year.

In that spirit, I pulled this little blue butterfly out from my 2013 watercolour archives — I chose it as if to say “Merci” to 2018 for all the good things, and to lift a little wing for the flight ahead.

GIMP Art

Happy Monday, friends.

Well, I recently re-discovered an old Wacom drawing tablet in the top-drawer of our “old tech” dresser (the one full of wires and adapters and old thingamajigs). What buried treasure! In combination with free GIMP software, the drawing tablet has given me a new way to “paint” with all the colours and leave behind fewer actual stains and messes in the process (if you haven’t yet used GIMP, and are interested in a free image-editing/basic drawing tool, I highly recommend it. It’s no Photoshop, but it’s very good).

It seems that a beast of a blizzard is brewing and making its way to Chicago. We can already hear the wind; it’s howling in the streets, shrieking in the crevices of our windows, and is bringing down fine bits of diagonally-falling snow (it’s the Windy City for a reason). That means it’s time to take out the long johns, stock up on tea and cookies and candles, and gear up for some extended nights in front of the fireplace channel. And, time for art. Painting and drawing have always helped me get through long winter days and nights. Whether in pigment or pixel form, I need those colours — their energies and worlds of feeling.

Here’s a very first tablet painting. It’s keeping my thoughts warm!

The (Handi)Craft of Writing

Hello, dear folks of WordPress. I hope mid-November finds you well.

I have not, in fact, crawled under a rock, run away with the circus, or joined the witness protection program (as my recent radio silence might have suggested). I have, rather, been wading around, waist-deep in writing territory, chipping away at the Big Project. More than a couple hundred pages into this thesis, and I still underestimate how consuming writing can be. In the living room of the mind, this project has taken up lots of space. It’s been like that inconveniently¬†large¬†sofa-bed we’ve all encountered — the heavy-bulky one with weird contours that jut out at awkward, space-consuming angles. Sure, it’s big and comfortable, but it eats precious floorspace and hampers easy mobility around it, violating all the principles of¬†Feng Shui. What’s more,¬†its upholstery has got a loud, monopolizing print that refuses to match even the best of colour-coordinated afghans.¬†Such is my relationship to this work (and why the knitting needles and art supplies have been mostly unattended these days).

It’s an odd form of infatuation, writing is.¬†¬†

Why I hand write

One thing I’ve come to¬†love about the process has been thinking about all the ways writing intersects with art and hand-crafting. It seems that my crafting sensibilities have invaded my writing process. This has not always been the case! I used to rely heavily on my laptop to make words. But lo and behold, the past few weeks find me going back to what used to be my hand-writing holy trinity: pencil, paper, and Staedtler eraser.

A different kind of handmade WIP.

I find the word processor excellent for editing and revision. But when it comes to brainstorming and generating that very first draft — that initial, fear-riddled leap from nothing to something — handwriting fits the bill, for me, for several reasons.

It’s a slower pace of composition that puts no pressure for speed on word-recall. A slower hand, decelerated by the friction of pencil lead, gives my mind time to perform its internal word search. Ideas are so fragile at this first stage, and with the pencil, they get time and space to¬†ripen and coalesce. There’s time, too, to¬†pay attention to rhythm and sound; form does not fight with content.

The hand-written page, I find, is also very low commitment, and that’s good. It’s the writerly equivalent of a laundry-hamper: no one needs to ever see the state of the things that go in there! It’s also a kind of “test swatch”; the page can be a space of freedom and possibility and privacy (and that means the writing becomes a bit more comfortable again).

Also, tactility. A lot of Word processor functions mimic things we habitually do on paper. Whether bolding text, writing comments in the margins, cutting and pasting, or adding a strategic strikethrough, underline or highlight, these are all imitations of the ways we touch words in their making. Wrangling with the tactility of text — restoring words and meaning to their material state — reminds me that working with words is a craft. Word-working is not so different from wood-working, after all. It can be just as fun as selecting a fiber or texture, or planning the hues in a yoke (as the picture above shows, my process now includes literally cutting and pasting sections together, true to my crafter’s heart).

Finally, I love paper. Specifically, there’s something magic and special about that¬†yellow paper¬†— the humble yellow legal pad with the blue lines and pink margin.

Chapters.

This stuff is like chicken soup for the writer’s soul (a fitting metaphor, as it’s about the same chicken soup-colour). In pad form, the paper feels soft and smooth and cushioned and kind — as¬†inviting as a newly made bed in clean, striped yellow linens. “Lay your words here,” the pad seems to say, and, bit by bit, the words come, wanting to find a resting place. The paper itself is thin, dismally rip-able, and bordering on translucent, evoking the flimsiness of newsprint. Strangely, this flimsiness is comforting; it sends a message¬†to the subconscious that, like newsprint, this writing is entirely disposable and chuck-able in the trash bin (or better yet, recyclable). And, like the daily paper, whatever gets crumpled up today will be replaced by more ink and more words the next day; the paper evokes regularity, the mundane, and assurance of abundant things to come tomorrow. So much of writing fluency, I’m learning, lies in managing the state of constantly being confronted with the unknown; for the blocked or beleaguered writer, anything that helps with recovering ease and regularity is nothing short of miraculous. This paper is my secret sauce.


Thanks for reading my writing ramblings, with likely more to come. It helps me tremendously to take a breather from the work and reflect on what helps and what hinders the writing process. And, my crafter’s brain is always looking to stitch up the connections between writing and other forms of creative practice. I would love to hear how others make this connection. What role does writing play in your non-writing creative practice and productivity?

Until next time!