Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Search

I spent eight hours on the 19th floor of a fancy Chicago hotel yesterday, interviewing possible colleagues--creative writers--in the company of three of my current colleagues. Dear god, what a long day, and an unpleasant one at many points. I have lots of tired, mean comments I could make about doing academic job interviews, but I'm really trying to recover from yesterday, so my fingers will not touch those keys.

Instead: I brought two old copies of Threads with me to read on the train. On the way downtown, I enjoyed re-reading articles that I hadn't paid close attention to when they first arrived in my mailbox. But on the way home, at 8 p.m. on a very, very cold Chicago night, that copy of Threads was the thing that kept me awake and kept me from crying/screaming/falling asleep, especially while some weird guy sat across from me, staring and smiling at me *the whole way home*. I did not think I could be more fried than I was, but I paid close attention to the most technical details in an article about drafting a pants pattern from scratch. Learning how to switch gears *completely* is really hard for me, but last night, I felt like I did it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Molasses in Late December

Something's up with my MS Vista "enabled" computer, and for the past week I haven't been able to post photos to this blog, open attachments on email, or get on Blackboard (for work). What *does* work is as slow as the proverbial wintertime jar of molasses. So....because I can't stand a lot of frustration right now, I won't even try to post pictures (or do any of those other everyday tasks) until I can get this situation straightened out. (Man, do I hate Vista.....)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Two stores + two parking lots=one handmade hat and scarf

This morning, after I finally got all of the out-of-town holiday packages wrapped (but not mailed, mind you---I don't know when I'll get to that), and I was out the door on my way to work, I remembered that Astrid has a birthday party to go to tomorrow. I could have cried: the last thing I wanted to do after work today was shop. On the train coming home, I decided that I would make Astrid's friend a winter hat and scarf out of polarfleece and vintage buttons. I told my husband that making these items would take me less time than driving to any store--assuming I could even find a parking space. It's Friday evening, and Christmas is Tuesday, and the news says everyone in the U.S. is waiting until the last minute to do their Christmas shopping. As it turned out, I made a major construction error when I was sewing the hat, and I had to redo a big part of it, so the project ended up being roughly equivalent to going to two different stores (in my shopping-aversive mind, that is.) Embellishing the hat and scarf were way more fun than *any* step in the moneyandtime-for-stuff exchange would have been.

I don't know how parents of my kids' friends look at handmade gifts. Last year I made another of Astrid's friends a pair of slippers for her birthday, and her mother's response seemed somewhat confused--polite, underwhelmed, and a little brittle. Are plastic toys and pink princess accessories a birthright for young girls? Ack.

I fear the hat I just made is a bit small (young girls have such big heads, don't they?), but it's pretty "stylish." (When it comes to clothes, this is Astrid's all-purpose descriptor--though her definition of stylish can be quite loose at times. Elliot reminds me that her favorite recent accessory has been an unraveling shiny pink gorra [knit cap] sized for a newborn....she wears it when she's acting out scenes from her private Olympic Games and private Cinderella, not realizing that she looks like to put it nicely? Well, she doesn't look like any of the Olympic Cinderellas I know about. That's fine with me.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Naturalist Quilt

My husband didn't actually use the word "overkill," but his look said it all. Not surprisingly, I'm not even sure that I like how this "quilt" came out. I did the whole thing over a period of three days--this included finding images, ironing (*lots* of ironing), quilting, binding, and...hmm...adding stuff when I wasn't satisfied with how my "draft" was looking. (I went through some of my vintage clothes to find the 1940s stocking and handkerchief; I "distressed" [ha ha] the handkerchief with some tea and lipstick.)

On its own, it's certainly not overkill, but my whole reason for making the thing was so that I could show my students that I was willing to do the kind of work that I was asking them to do. I do hope that some of them got as lost in their work as I did in mine, but given just how "generous" my enthusiasms are, I have to keep in mind the likelihood that they didn't.

A lot of the text comes from academic Home Economics articles from the 1920s through the 1940s, and from the Delineator magazine (which Theodore Dreiser edited in the 1910s--I think he was long gone by the time this material was published.) The Delineator ran a section on how credit and installment buying were changing American consumption patterns, with articles that painted (relatively) easy access to credit as either the savior or the potential downfall of the U.S. public. Alongside the didactic materials on home management and budgeting, I used lots and lots of images from pulp novels and magazines, along with some government notices about food and cloth rationing, and blown-up, fragmented snapshots of American women (from the "vernacular photography" site Square America). The quilt is bound with a comic strip print--it's what I had around, but I liked it because it has the words "I'll get you next time!," which seems to fit the hell-in-a-handbasket spirit of American naturalism.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Are *you* ready for the Creed?

I'm working on an artquilt for the American Literary Naturalism course I'm teaching this semester. The students are required to produce a creative project (visual, literary, dramatic, musical, etc....), and I hinted to them that I hoped to do the same (you know, talking the talk/walking the walk....we have no hands-on arts courses where I do most of my teaching, so I try to create opportunities for students to work with their hands....).

In the process of gathering images for my quilt, I came across a very cool website for an exhibit called What Was Home Economics? From Domesticity to Modernity. The whole site is interesting, but I was strangely attracted to "The Home Bureau Creed" (in the "Educational Techniques" area of the exhibit. It's visually beautiful, and feels surprisingly contemporary (to me, anyway).

My favorite part of the creed is where it urges people "to lose self in generous enthusiasms." There are lots of ways to interpret this idea, but I think it's a nice way to think about the relationship building that happens when people share/teach other people handwork and useful arts. I confess that lately I've been getting tired of "project-ing" (though there are lots of sensible reasons why....); at the same time, this description of what I spend so much time doing and thinking about makes me feel pretty sunny, even on a gloomy gray Chicago day.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Christmas is getting closer, and I'm a bit nervous about being able to finish holiday presents. Part of the problem is that the gift I opted to mass-produce (nope, I can't name it yet) turned out to be more difficult than I guessed it would be. The other problem, I am chagrined to admit, is that I keep switching between gift-making and other, more interesting projects: two dresses for Astrid (they're finished--pictures soon), a bunch of long-sleeved winter shirts for Astrid (two are almost done, while the other four are cut out), and some mittens (I cut out four pairs' worth out of fleece scraps, and then screwed up the palms and thumbs for two pairs, so I had to toss them).

I haven't written a holiday letter yet, or taken a picture of the kids to send with our cards. Perhaps shingles has something to do with how behind and overwhelmed I feel....I really thought that if I did all my Christmas stuff at home, and stayed away from stores, that I'd feel in control. Can't say it's worked out that way, at least not yet.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Undercover Storyteller

A few nights ago, after Terry put Astrid to bed, I saw him puzzling over a bunch of letters Astrid had written in her notebook. Though I hadn't thought much about it at the time, Terry later pointed out that she'd really resisted his attempts to get her to put down the pencil--she said she was writing a story, and that she couldn't finish it in the morning. On its own, this wasn't unusual, as she's the kind of kid who will resist pretty much any suggestion, no matter how appealing, if she thinks she can assert her personhood by doing so. (There's a *lot* of personhood assertion going on at our house.)

I asked Terry what he was seeing in her writing, and he called me over. "Read it," he said. I stared at it for a while, not seeing much, and then asked *him* to read it. I felt kinda dumb when he sounded it out for me (remember, he and I are both writing teachers, and I regularly teach my Composition Theory students about "emergent literacy," or the beginnings of reading and writing in young children). He pronounced each letter as Astrid was likely to have been hearing it in her mind (for example, she used a "y" for the sound made by "w," because the English name for "y" starts with a "w" sound.)

Astrid is *just* learning how to read; she can sound out a lot of short words, and she's been looking at books since she was a baby. When she writes, she either does it without spaces (as in this example), or puts each word on its own line. For me, finally figuring out that she had written "Once upon a time" was cool, cool, cool. I don't have a great memory for these milestones--I'm embarrassed to say that I have no baby books or scrapbooks for either Elliot or Astrid--but I don't remember Elliot learning to write at the very same time as he was learning to read. (He did start decoding words a few months before Astrid.)

Anyway, talk about asserting personhood....