From field to jam in just a day. Not pictured? The ridiculous amount of strawberries we’ve consumed while washing and cooking, with every meal and between every meal. With ice cream, over waffles, by the fistful, these berries have stained us and sustained us all weekend long. Now luxuriating in our freezer and in jars, I suspect they will soon be joined by more because I don’t think I will be able to resist going back and picking more. I don’t think anyone will mind if we gorge ourselves while this short season last. Strawberries!
A sticker on my office door exhorts passersby: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.
The basic philosophy of this statement has underpinned much of my efforts as a teacher-scholar to promote critical thinking and combat apathy. But, we are living in an age of outrage, only some of which is the result of actually paying attention. I am slowly coming to realize that outrage can cripple us if we let it.
For the better part of two years, I have lived in a state of near-constant outrage. A colleague and I spent months examining news coverage of child abductions while conducting a research project on the topic. We delved so deeply into the darkness of heinous crime news that at times it seemed to us that evil lurked in every shadow.
One doesn’t have to research news media to see cause for outrage. Crime, disease, terrorism, and inequity fill our media and touch our lives in profoundly disturbing ways. Through social media, we can react with outrage and see the outrage of our friends mirrored back to us. We can add our raised voices to the cacophony as we hurdle from one disaster to the next.
Our best hope is that our voices, together, can make the status quo tremble.
We are seeing the transformative potential of outrage leading to profound questioning of bigotry on college campuses, where students are rightfully outraged over the prevalence of sexual assaults, racial injustice, and Islamaphobia.
I don’t want to discount the power of protest for these students who are paying attention and are outraged. Yet, what I have been contemplating in my own life is the power of lowering my voice and engaging in conversation about the joys that bring people together. Preferably in a cozy room, with knitting needles in hand.
For many years, off and on, I have enjoyed the singular delights of social knitting groups. These gatherings of women have offered a paradoxically soothing and stimulating blend of intellectual conversation, skill sharing, laughter, and silent camaraderie.
I have been craving this sense of bonding in my new hometown and in the midst of local and state political turmoil, so I recently took the bold step (for introverted me) of starting my own new stitching group.
By far the most important aspect of this fledgling group is its diversity. Women of different ages, races, classes, and religions are drawn together for brief moments simply by a common love of looping yarn over needle, allowing our differences to melt away as we talk.
The Canadian knitting goddess Stephanie Pearl-McPhee writes, “I believe knitting is a transformative and intriguing act that can change the life and brain of the person doing it, and that knitting is a perfect metaphor for life and insight into some better ways through it.” I would add that knitting in a room full of happy women is even more life changing.
If we are to overcome the differences that so often cause discord and seek solutions for a more just world, we must build diverse communities.
Engaging in shared hobbies that bring us joy can lead us to see the humanity in people who love the same things. Gathering together a group of diverse women who enjoy each other’s company feels decadent – a luxury in the midst of the pressures that fill our busy lives.
There is a time for outrage. Sometimes outrage is not a choice, but a necessary and valid reaction to injustice. But we should also pay attention to what people love that can bring them together to create beauty in this chaotic world. Through book clubs, public libraries, parks, and over potlucks, we must spark friendships that push back against the darkness that divides us.
Paying attention to evil and dwelling in outrage last year left me bereft. The inescapable vileness of much public discourse is disheartening. My hope is that when we feel like the world is unraveling around us, we can still find ways to knit ourselves back together.
We seek out tiny little magical moments as we walk the earth.
A mossy spot where fairies surely dance.
A muddy face that makes us laugh.
This caterpillar crawled right up to talk to us! Or so it seems to little girls.
We don’t just stop to smell the roses, but to wiggle our toes in the moss and inspect rocks and wave sticks around because, after all, they look just like wands.
Happening upon these tiny spots brings light into our days. And so, we try to leave our own whimsical marks on the world in the hope that perhaps the next person walking by will see it and smile. Or, maybe it will just make the fairies dance a little livelier.
Those messy brown spots are so frustrating most of the time. Slopped down shirts right before an important meeting. Spilt on stacks of student papers you are just. trying. to. finish. grading. Dried onto the car console when you carry a regular mug because you can’t find a clean lidded thermos. Coffee stains can be the worst.
But, there is one kind of coffee stain that kind of makes me smile lately. The floor by my front door has little drips of coffee dried in place that constantly need to be mopped up, but I don’t mind. Why are they there?
Every morning that I leave to teach, my little girl runs to hug me just. one. more. time! And most days, I’m already weighted down with bags and books and, yes, a coffee mug. Slosh. Drip. Splat. Another coffee stain.
I don’t mind. I’ll take messy little reminders of love anytime.
This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.
I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.
And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.
This is not a season of gentle growth, but of riotous abandon, life bursting forth from soil and skin too long cloaked in winter’s dull sluggishness. It is time to fling open windows and arms and dance to the sound of bird song. I intend to get muddy, to scrub everything clean, to breathe deeply, and let my spirit be tossed by the wildness of this season, my season, the season of my birth and of my renewal.
In the opening moments of the BBC program River, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the curmudgeonly lead and his abrasive partner. Trying to get John River to sing [ABBA], Stevie coaxes and prods him until we realize that it’s his fault she’s there at all.
I had almost decided to give up on River when Stevie turned her head and revealed the first and most pivotal plot twist.
River and Stevie aren’t any more likable than the other characters in this intense program, but the ABBA ear worms as a plot device had me hooked.
ABBA’s pop music runs throughout this starkly miserable program as River descends deeper into his own madness and into the intimate details of Stevie’s life. River is played to perfection by Stellan Skarsgard, whose Swedish identity is woven into the script and justifies the presence of ABBA in his life. Yet it seems that he never really cared for ABBA before Stevie insisted that he listen and sing and dance. She forced the music on him, pushing him against his will to enjoy it. But, with her demise he now listens as a way of feeling connected to her, not to Sweden and his lost childhood.
I began River expecting the kind of dark BBC crime dramas I have come to appreciate as an antidote to the hypersensationalized US crime procedurals. Luther, Broadchurch, and others. Each of these programs, I realize now, features an enigmatic and deeply troubled male lead who is only knowable in relation to the complex women in his life. Luther and Alice. Alec and Ellie. But, of course, both of those women were alive.
River takes one bleak turn after another as it meanders through the lives of ever more wretched victims and despicable villains. The final truths discovered take on the quality of revolting evil that so many BBC dramas seem to wallow in. The ABBA songs do not lighten the mood of the episodes. Rather, the lyrics take on a sinister tone as the simplistic pop song version of falling in love and dancing are juxtaposed with the morbidity of death, abuse, and insanity.
The moment when River finally gives himself over to delusional happiness as an ABBA song blares around him is when tears ran down my face for the first time in the series. His happiness could only exist as a manifestation of his insanity after it was too late for joy in the real world. He could only revel in Stevie’s life once it was gone.
River is depressing, but when I think about the program, “take a chance on me” runs through my head. When I remember River, I enjoy the cognitive dissonance of seeing in my mind’s eye the mostly greyscale, somber imagery of the program while hearing the overwhelming cheerful strains of ABBA.
What better way to start a snowed in weekend than by casting on a simple, chunky hat? If the yarn was gifted by a dear friend and the hat is made for my biggest girl, nothing at all could be better.
After binding off the snuggly hat just in time for her to do a bit of sledding, I cast on a superfine mohair for a lovely wispy scarf of my own. It’s the Airy Scarf from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. It took quite a while for my fingers to adjust after going straight from a bulky yarn to a superfine yarn – the the mohair slipped and slid around on the needles for the first dozen rows, featherlight and uncontrollable. But, the decadence of the yarn more than lived up to its Sublime name. I have another two skeins of this yarn in a pale dove grey and can’t wait to find a pattern worthy of it.
Since this snow storm has us fondly in mind of our Canada winter last year, it seems just right to wear the scarf with a beautiful pin I bought from a lovely local shop in St. Catharines, Ontario. The sun is shining brilliantly now and the snow will soon be melting. But knitted goodness will keep us cozy the rest of winter.
It’s been a long week of David Bowie appreciation after his death from cancer and I’m not willing to move away from dwelling on him quite yet. I’m settling into a long, slow burn of mulling his music and the incalculable cultural impact of his life and art. While I reminisce about the presence of his music in my life, I am also enjoying learning so much more about his life and career than I knew before.
During the last few weeks, I was actually quite excited by the release of his newest album and the various retrospectives, interviews, and paratexts circulating around the music. Maybe his death was so surprising to me because he seems timeless – at once frozen in the past as Ziggy Stardust and simultaneously always current, always relevant, always fascinating.
Much of the memorialization of Bowie this week has focused on his iconic imagery, gender bending, and sexual fluidity. While his music and star personae have been life changing for so many people, his musical presence in my life was more subtle. As a cerebral child of hippie parents, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t listening to and puzzling out his lyrics. By the 1980s and 1990s, when I was coming of age, much of his most controversial work was in the past. My family did not subscribe to cable or watch much television, so I missed out on being an MTV kid and didn’t consume a lot of the visual media that he produced until later in life. Instead, as a child I listened to a tremendous amount of music and some of my earliest memories are of proudly telling my parents that I knew what a song meant. So, while I appreciate the focus on his startlingly odd, beautiful imagery, I tend to care more about his equally weird, delightful lyrics.
Space Oddity was one of those songs I figured out at a young age.
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do
Though I’m past
one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead,
there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Here am I floating
round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.
I can still so vividly remember the heartbreak I felt as my youthful active imagination saw Major Tom drifting helplessly away, towards his inevitable death in the endless void of space. I cried then and still feel my throat tightening with emotion when I hear the song. When I showed the music video of Space Oddity to my media studies students to illustrate the commodification of culture after the opening countdown was featured in a car commercial, their awe and appreciation fizzed through the room.
As a lyricist, David Bowie was a powerful storyteller and social commentator.
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
What strikes me about so much of his writing is that he often sings about imaginary lands and dream-like spaces, of love existing beyond the reach of reality.
Baby, I’ll slay a dragon for you
Or banish wicked giants from the land
But you will find, that nothing in my dream can hurt you
We will only love each other as forever
His music is as otherworldly as he has always been, whether in or out of whatever his chosen character of the moment was.
And the village Dreadful cried
As the rope began to rise
For the smile stayed on the face
Of the Wild Eyed Boy
And the women once proud
Clutched the heart of the crowd
As the boulders smashed down from the mountain’s hand
David Bowie is one star whose magic was only heightened for me as I studied him in graduate school. Some celebrities do not stand up to scrutiny, their mystique and allure diminished under critical interrogation. But, Bowie’s epic life and whimsical works withstand every critique I have seen and I still unreservadly love his music and art in a way that I often can’t with lesser beings.
David Bowie didn’t change my life. He was simply a part of my life, fused into those earliest memories, his unparalleled voice a key part of my teenage soundtrack. Analysis of his identities and works have been important to my training as a scholar and is a constant in my work as a teacher. My husband and I have sung Golden Years together more times than I can remember and I have dance parties with my girls to Suffragette City and Let’s Dance. While I write this, my daughters are singing “we could be heroes! just for one day.” We’re reveling in his music now as we always have and always will.
On a rainy, cold, grey day, when you aren’t feeling well and so many responsibilities need to be addressed …. sometimes the best thing to do is just settle on to the couch and organize your knitting bags.