Saturday, February 26, 2011

Aganist my Better Judgment

In one of my favorite movies, a young Marlon Brando is heard to say: "Daddy, I've got cider in my ear." 

He says this after accepting a sucker bet.  And though I haven't recently agreed to a wager, I'm starting to hear something swishing around near my tympanic membrane.  Against my better judgment, I've agreed to do something rather foolish.  Let me explain.

Several weeks back, I received an email from a fellow who works at the Seattle Art Museum.  They had a new exhibit coming up, and were looking for local people to lead what they refer to as "Highly Opinionated Public Tours."  The email asked me (TSMK, that is, not my day-to-day persona) to consider leading one of those tours.  

To truly grasp the chaos that erupted in my frontal lobes, a bit of armchair psychology is probably in order.

As you may have noticed, I blog.  And, in my opinion, unless blogging is conducted for purposes of communicating important messages or improving humanity, it is an exercise in narcissism.  It is navel-gazing with a microscope and a megaphone.  I've given this some thought, and believe the pantheon of egomaniacal behavior may be delineated as follows:

Now, suppose you're a blogger and a lawyer.  And you've been ordained over the Internet and occasionally refer to yourself not only as "The Reverend" but as "The Right Reverend."  And further suppose that you're the kind of person who will knit lace anywhere and everywhere, including in public.  You're not exactly working in a leper colony, now are you?

Coming from this perspective, its hard to decline when you're asked to do something where you're going to be effectively on a stage.  My first instinct was to jump at the chance.

But shortly after, self-doubt inserted its fingers into the nostrils of my subconscious and began to pull. 

What if I agreed to participate, but I was really boring?  What if I bombed?  What if people noticed that I know essentially nothing about art?  Worse yet, what if nobody bothered to attend?  It is one thing to do something poorly, its another thing entirely to go unnoticed.  Oscar Wilde was right - the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.   

The battle raged. 

I mentioned the opportunity to a few close friends.  Their response was unanimous; this was something I must do.  But then, cracks began to form in their facade.  One suggested I would likely go from piece to piece within the museum, making increasingly negative remarks until my tour culminated with a six-word indictment of one particular work: "That is a piece of [excrement]."   Clearly, my friends were having a laugh at the suggestion that I might be considered highly opinionated.  And they hadn't even seen the PEGB.

Still, the battle raged.

As my psyche cartwheeled from argument to argument, I started to notice something.  I do, on obviously very rare occasions, find myself having thoughts which could be considered highly opinionated.  Of course, this requires one to adopt tremendously strained definitions of both "highly" and "opinionated."  But still, it is conceivable that one might make such an argument.  Of course, if I met that person I would probably try to dissaude him or her from such an obviously flawed worldview, but then again that too might be considered the response of a highly opinionated person.  There was no way out of this conundrum.

And so, I have agreed to do this.  If you're in Seattle on March 11 and looking for something to do in the evening, please give some thought to stopping by SAM and taking in a tour of the new Nick Cave exhibition.  It looks really interesting - and even involves crocheted doilies incorporated into clothing.  If you're there at 8:30, perhaps we'll meet.  If you're patient and I'm extremely lucky, I might even think of something clever to say.  I just hope I can form an opinion.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

What will it be?

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE - The giveaway is now complete.  I will announce the winner shortly.  ~TSMK

I haven't given anything away in a while - and the urge has returned.  But the trouble is - I don't know what I want to give away.  So... I'm going to let the winner decide.  Yes.  That's right.  I hereby announce the start of the TSMK-What-Will-It-Be-Giveaway (TSMK-WWIBG)!

Here's the deal: the winner will get up to 500 yards from my stash.  I'm drawing the line at qiviut or cashmere, but anything else is up for grabs.  And if you win, you can choose whether you want me to send you the yarn or knit you something you select.  Could be a pair of socks.  Could be a pair of mittens or a nice lace scarf.  The choice is yours.  My world is your oyster.

Here is how you win.  In 14 days of Safety, I took you along on a ride accompanied by music from my Charles the Fat Coronation playlists.  You tell me all 10 songs that played during that drive, and you win.  Entries should be sent to  The first entry to correctly identify all 10 songs will win. 

Simple, right?  Have at it!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

14 Days of Safety

Heraclitus supposedly said something that one can never step into the same river twice. 

Bob Dylan made sure we knew that you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.

Both were in my mind this week, as the whole TSMK clan schlepped across the US to spend a few days in the land of my youth.  Not quite a land of milk and honey - more one of sweet tea and pecan logs.

Most of my family is no longer there.  I have extended relations in the area, but most I probably couldn't pick out of a crowd.  The older ones I was close to have all passed away.  The younger ones have moved away.  But Mrs. TSMK's folks still live in the area.  And so we make something of a regular pilgrimage to see her mom and dad.

Her mom lives on the St. John's river.  You can't quite see the paper mill from her house, but Bob was right; weathermen need not apply. 

We drive past the mill to go and visit her dad, who lives a bit closer to where we grew up.  It is a sprawling complex with a cheerfully morbid sign out front that tells you precisely how long it has been since there was an industrial accident at the facility.  In all the times we've visited, we've never seen it reference more than 21 days.  Think about that the next time you're squeezing your Charmin.

On the last day of our visit, I excused myself from the family to run an errand.  Before we'd left home, I'd done a bit of web-surfing to see if there were any interesting yarn shops nearby.  As it turns out, there was one about 30 miles away that looked fairly interesting. 

I set out for the store with the iPod plugged into the disappointing stereo of the rented minivan, looking forward to an hour or two away from my wonderful, but somewhat loud, sons.  I turned out onto the dirt road leading away from the house and dialed up the playlist we'd recently created for a party at our house: pizza and homebrew in celebration of the anniversary of the coronation of Charles the Fat as King of Italy.

Have you forgot that once we were brought here we were robbed of our names?  Robbed of our language?  We lost our religion, our culture, our God.  And many of us, by the way we act, even lost our minds.

The road stretches in front of me.  On either side, single-wide trailers and stick-built homes on cinderblocks.  In the distance I can see vultures circling.  I hope they're not looking for me.

Yo ye Pharaohs, let us walk through this barren desert, in search of truth, and some pointy boots, and maybe a few snack crackers.

I stop at the flashing red light where the two-lane meets the county road.  Looking to my right, I see an odd sign at the intersection.  My pulse increases slightly and my palms start to sweat.  Am I the only one here without a gun?  Do I need to be packing heat to go to the yarn shop?

Though I might be straight as an arrow, he's busy shaking hands with my monkey.

The county road is flat.  Seriously flat.  Flatter than the water I cross during my work commute.  Almost as flat as the affect of the waitress at lunch yesterday.  The one who looked like she desperately wanted to be Sookie Stackhouse.  Who called us "you'uns" and deftly executed the triple-negative: "y'all don't want no refills neither?"

Left alone with big, fat Fannie.  She was such a naughty nanny.  Big, big woman, you made a bad boy out of me.

The rental is foreign.  I realize this with a start as I sit at a stop light.  I'm surrounded by cars but mine is the only one not sporting a domestic nameplate.  Possibly also the only one without a bumper sticker espousing either family values or a conservative political candidate. 

I don't want no lonely lustful woman's irate husband after me.

I stop at a familiar green logo.  As I walk through the door, I can smell the coffee.  It smells as it does in Seattle.  The decor is the same, only the pastries have been changed.  I place my order.  I place it again.  Failure to communicate.  I'm speaking in Seattle.  He's listening in Green Cove Springs.  I slow down and order a third time.  He chuckles and asks me where I'm from.  What do I tell him?  Am I from here?  I was originally, but now I'm not so sure.  Heraclitus was right.

And did I mention she's a world famous billionaire bikini supermodel astrophysicist?

The coffee is delicious.  My mood is lifting.   

You shouldn't come around here, singing up at people like that.

I arrive at the yarn shop. It is a nice place. The knitting selection isn't huge, but it is tidy and they have some interesting things. They are friendly. Quizzical but friendly.

Another man comes in the shop. An older guy. Does he knit? No - he's just following his wife. The shopkeeper offers him a comfortable chair and a copy of either wine spectator or field and stream.

I pick out a few items - including some very cool sock yarn that I've not seen before. One skein is an astonishing shade of green. I look forward to wearing those socks to the office in an act of sartorial disobedience.

After a brief discussion with the clerk about the merits of knitting socks with circulars or double-points, I get back in the rental and start heading back to the river.

Getting my dinner from a garbage can.

Back on the main road, it seems like everywhere I look I find a warning about trespassing.  Is this really a significant problem?  Are there people lining up to trespass on parcels of sand and scrub pine?  Do people hop over fences to purloin mangy-looking dogs?  I'm confused.

You keep trying.  Ended up in the middle.  Had an enigma - ended up with a riddle.

I pull off the main road and make my way back in through the oaks and spanish moss.  With the wind coming from the north, I lower the windows and enjoy the breeze.  I can't smell the mill. 

First one says she got my child, but it don't look like me.

I pull into the drive.  Refreshed by my errand, but wondering about my place.  Am I still Southern?  Was I ever?  If I'd stayed here, instead of moving west, would I have a concealed weapons permit or a bumpersticker?  Would I work in the paper mill?  Would I still enjoy sashimi?  Would I still knit?

And then I step back, take it all in, and realize that my place is crystal clear.  I am here.  Now.  These oaks aren't going to climb themselves.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Stemming the Tide of Wussification

I was born into a world of leisure suits, men with perms, and Alan Alda.  Clearly, the wussification of man had already begun.

Had I been born one hundred years earlier, things might have been different.  The rules for collegiate football were adopted that year, and Susan B. Anthony was fined for trying to vote.  Obviously, the wussification had not yet taken hold.

But the sad fact, is that even if wussitude were not the norm for American men today, there would be little opportunity for the kind of sweat-reeking machismo of years past. 

Take my own situation, example.  For the rest of my foreseeable life, it is highly improbable that I will have the opportunity to participate in any of the following historically masculine activities:
  • Killing a bear when I am only three
  • Drinking myself to an early grave
  • Discovering a lost civilization
  • Losing an ear in a bar fight
  • Starting a global conflict
Honestly, it is a bit depressing when one considers how limited one's prospects may actually be.  Deprived of expressing my manhood in one of these traditional avenues, I can understand why so many of my colleagues have begun trading their historical scent of partially burned hydrocarbons for musk-scented AXE body spray.

But I say no more.  I refuse to bow.  I will not be diluted.  I will wear my stubble with pride.  And yes, I will do the crossword in pen.  For in the absence of marital permission to run with the bulls in Pamplona, doing the crossword in pen is nearly the most foolhardy display of testosterone-addled insanity I can muster. 

And not the Monday crossword, mind you, but the Friday and the Sunday puzzles as well.

And not just any pen.  But a bold, bloody red pen at that.

To paraphrase Kennedy, who may have been our last undomesticated President:

I choose to do the crossword in pen. I choose to do the crossword in pen in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of my energies and skills, because that challenge is one that I am willing to accept, one I am unwilling to postpone, and one which I intend to win, and the others, too.

Heady stuff, this.  And of course, this is not my only salute to the greatness of the unwussified man.  For I choose to do one other thing, harder even than the Sunday puzzle. 

I choose to knit lace without using lifelines.

And because I choose to knit lace without using lifelines, I choose also to unknit lace.  I choose to unknit several rows of incredibly complicated lace.  Lace made from Filatura di Crosa Centolavaggi in a crimson red that would make your eyes ache even if you wore your reading glasses.  Which of course I refuse to do because I am a man.  And men don't wear readers.

But - Men do wear comfy vests.  Like this one, which I recently finished.  Manly.  No?