a few changes

Although right now in real life I should either be packing, throwing things out, cleaning, or sleeping, I decided it was instead the right time to refurbish my long-neglected virtual home a little. Put plainly, I am no longer going to be a desert knitter – I’m moving to the deep dark woods, to the general area where I grew up; hence, return to the mothership. I know the locals where I’m going will identify themselves as absolutely different from the people where I grew up. But for me, being within a ~2 hour drive of where I began, in pretty much the same climate and the same kind of landscape, is a form of going home. It’s certainly much closer to my original home than I’ve been for 25-ish years, and also – hopefully – going to be my long-term home.

So excuse my long absence here, and I hope to find more time to post, and show you cold-weather clothes and accessories for a change.

img_4757Where I’m going

New neighbors

A new couple has moved in to the arroyo across the street from our apartment.

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I keep seeing them when I’m out with my iPhone, but someday I’ll have to stalk them with my telephoto lens, in the hopes of getting a better picture.

They look like young creatures to me – full grown but not quite filled out, with that semi-adolescent lankiness. But then, maybe all coyotes look like that. These are certainly the first ones I’ve got this close to. And they seem at home in the arroyo – this is my fourth sighting in probably as many weeks.

They’re lovely graceful creatures, with their low loping stride, slipping into the invisibility of the long grass and sand that lines the arroyo at a moment’s notice. They worry me, though – the arroyo is in the middle of a city (admittedly not a massive one), surrounded by homes and a semi-industrial/warehouse patch. The coyotes probably shouldn’t be as at home here as they are, if they want to stay here.

I’m told that the arroyo was fixed up by the Department of the Interior not long before we moved here – it used to flood every monsoon season, so it got graded and drained and whatever else you do to arroyos that flood. Apparently it used to be much wilder and overgrown, and home to much more wildlife. I’ve seen javelinas out here (but only once), tons and tons of birds, lots of little lizards, and once a bearded dragon-type creature. But these are the first coyotes I’ve seen.

Interior also built a nice walking path around the arroyo, with landscaping making it all pretty, and a huge draw for the neighborhood. There are people I regularly see walking the path in the morning when I go to work, and in the evening when I walk myself. I’ve learned to recognize people by their dogs. I’m sure the coyotes aren’t going to mess with the largest German Shepherd I’ve ever seen who lives a few blocks away (he’s like the size of a Newfoundland), but there’s a yippy Shih-Tzu that regularly slips its leash, and lots and lots of cats that roam free.

There’s also a bike park, with human-built obstacles, like a skateboard park but for BMX bikes. That’s where the coyotes are in the picture above. The one is sitting on a dirt obstacle, and there are a bunch more obstacles to the right, out of the picture. At the very far end of the circuit was a kid with his bike. Clearly he could see the coyotes, because he stood next to his bike, just watching them, waiting to see what they would do. In coyote v. BMX, it’s pretty clear who’s going to win.

It’s a little unnerving, though, to see the coyotes quite so close. You know they don’t want to mess with humans, but you also don’t know whether they could get aggressive, or if they’re just fragile enough that encountering us could harm them – the way that touching butterfly wings is so tempting, because they are so beautiful, but cripples the butterfly if you can’t resist.

I love seeing the new neighbors, at the same time that I want to tell them to run far, far away.

I will endeavor not to whine. But it will take some effort.

The summer here has been pretty mild so far, with one of the latest “first day over 100 degree” dates in years. But we’re paying for it this coming week, which is forecast to be full of triple-digit temperatures, reaching perilously close to the hundred-and-teens (Wednesday’s high is supposed to be 109°.) We will be facing an awful lot of this:

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This doesn’t even look so bad, because of all the green and because the tree casts welcome shade. Shade is key in the desert; when the heat is dry, stepping into the shade knocks the temperature down some noticeable amount. Shade in a humid climate doesn’t really do anything – the moisture in the air conducts heat wherever you try to hide. In a dry climate, though, shade protects you from your enemy, the sun.

Cool becomes relative. Right now, it’s 11:00 at night, and it’s 88 degrees. Stepping out the front door still feels like draping yourself in a warm blanket, even after dark. (But a dry blanket.)

The locals are used to this, of course. Their summer is like winter where I grew up: you hole up indoors and spend as little time as possible outside. But I still suffer from cognitive dissonance, because I think of summer as the season of free time and outdoor activities and picnics and relaxation and all those things that don’t really work with the weather here.

At least the sunsets are awfully pretty.

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It just feels wrong to wish the days away, but: is it September yet?

Yarn clubs, updates, and fear of missing out

I own a lot of yarn.

I mean, there are plenty of people who own more (not even just people who make a living from knitting), but I have plenty. More than I can use in, say, at least a year? A couple of years? Eh, I’m totally guessing, because even the prospect of using up all my yarn makes me hyperventilate.

And I love my yarn. I have plans and goals and backup plans and goals for almost all of it. Sure, I have a few remnants of very early purchases that don’t work for me any more (Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride, I’m looking at you… you’re a lovely economical yarn and I made a hat for charity out of you, but a bulky wool/mohair mix isn’t really where I’m at right now), as well as orphaned leftovers from finished projects. Neither of those categories are going to get used up soon, but if I were put on house arrest and all my assets were seized and I absolutely could not, in any way, ever buy more yarn, they’d keep me going a bit longer.

This is all to say: I do. not. need. more. yarn.

But did that stop me from ordering this a few weeks ago?*

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excuse the overexposure; this seemed to show the color best. I’m still terrible at photographing yarn

 This is Delilah Lace, from Posh Yarn, in the “Every Neighborhood Should Have a Great Lady” colorway (I love Dee’s color names, even though – because? – they rarely have anything to do with a specific color; if you scroll down at the link you get her picture, too). I can’t really tell you anything about it as a yarn yet, because I haven’t wound it or knit with it – all I’ve done is stroke it and ooh and aah over the softness and the gentle sheen and the spectacular color.

I didn’t need any yarn, but it’s 1) purple 2) silk 3) lace – my nemesis. I was powerless. Really.

And, crucially, Posh Yarn operates on a limited-time basis. Once a week the shop opens with a new batch of yarn. There are a number of bases, but they don’t all appear every week (one week may be a lace week, the next a sock week, and so on). The colors are all one-offs, unique and unrepeated. There’s no going back to buy anything later; if you like a color and base, you need to buy it when the update opens up (or perhaps scour Ravelry later in the hopes that someone will sell it to you, but that’s not very reliable).

These kinds of updates are such a great way to suck in knitters like me. I bought the yarn above at the tail end of a Posh update, fueled by that pleasurably frantic feeling of “This yarn is perfect and if I don’t buy it now I will NEVER see it again!!!”

Similarly, yesterday evening I stumbled into the middle of a Plucky Knitter update over on Etsy. If you follow that link you won’t see anything now, because those updates sell out FAST. Those yarns are gorgeous, but I don’t need any yarn (duh), and I can’t really afford to buy a sweater’s worth of yarn from them right now. Nonetheless, I still found myself putting random single worsted skeins in my cart because OMG IT’S A PLUCKY KNITTER UPDATE I ALWAYS MISS THEIR UPDATES PRETTY PRETTY SHINY.

I hesitated long enough that the skeins got bought out from under me, which is good, because I don’t really have any realistic uses for a couple hundred yards of worsted yarn right now, and they would have sat in my stash to be admired but not used, which would be sad. It was a relief to miss out, really.

But it still also felt like missing out.

So then I was scrolling through my e-mail and saw a notice I’d saved for Madelinetosh’s Magnolia Society Yarn Club (you sign up to get three shipments of different yarn bases, for which you choose the general color family, but the specific color within that family will be a surprise, and exclusive to the members of the club). I’d been thinking about signing up, but I hadn’t yet, because (once again) I don’t need more yarn and wasn’t sure exactly what I’d use it for. But when I saw the e-mail tonight I thought, “I know! I’ll buy Madelinetosh yarn instead! That’s a great idea, because I know I love Madelinetosh and I totally deserve to sign up for the yarn club, because I missed out on the Plucky Knitter update!” And I clicked over to the MadTosh page… to find that the signups had closed.

And there was much disappointment.

So here I was, practically lousy with yarn, having convinced myself that I had missed out by not managing to get something I didn’t need (even though I would very much like it. And a trip to Europe. And a pony).

Marketing is an amazing thing. I could take the cost of the Madelinetosh yarn club and buy myself some amazing stuff – including regular issue Madelinetosh that’s available in plenty of online stores, which I would love just as much, and for which I would choose the exact color and amount I want – but that doesn’t hold any appeal at all. Well, buying yarn is always appealing, but there’s no urgency. There is pretty much always going to be some color of MadTosh yarn that I like available somewhere on the internet, and there’s no reason I have to buy any right now, because (say it with me) I don’t need any yarn, and I don’t have the money to just start keep buying more willy nilly.

Call it a “yarn club” or an “update,” though, and make it limited edition of some kind? And I’m all over it – even when all that’s needed for entree to this exclusive group is the cost of admission and being at the keyboard at the right time.

Clearly this works on many more people than just me, or yarn producers wouldn’t do it. Nor is it exactly an obscure or complicated principle that scarcity/exclusivity make something more attractive. But it amuses me how well it works, and how easy it is for sellers to manipulate one’s FOMI (fear of missing out). While FOMI’s usually understood to result from viewing others’ carefully curated/sanitized lives on social media like Facebook, somehow in the consumer context (because it’s not limited to yarn) it endows a physical object with emotional, social significance. It makes me feel not only as if I need and deserve this yarn – despite the fact that it is entirely a frivolous, if beloved, luxury – but also as if purchasing that yarn will make me part of some kind of in-group (for lack of a better term).

Because these kinds of updates are very social experiences. There are Ravelry groups devoted to each of these yarns, to discussing the updates, and to sharing pictures of the yarn, plans for future projects, and photos of finished objects. If you join the Magnolia Club, before each shipment you get to vote on what color it will be, by choosing from a selection of inspiration photos. Even though voting on a very general color family is really not a significant part of the creative process, it makes the members feel involved with that process – much more so than simply plunking down a credit card at a store or online.

To be clear – I’m not criticizing these limited edition updates/yarn clubs. I love them. I love being part of a group of people geeking out over the same pretty, shiny, fuzzy, colorful hanks of string. I love that yarn producers/dyers make the effort to involve their buyers, and are responsive, and have an emotional connection to what they do. The apogee of this is probably Clara Parkes’ Clara Yarn, which is perhaps the most intentional, mindful example of creating a community around the production of a good, about which the producer is incredibly and genuinely passionate, and including consumers in the process in a way that’s thoughtful, educational, and exciting.

I’m also not knocking these practices for being centered around luxuries. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying things you love and will use, if you can afford them. Really, there’s nothing wrong with accumulating great piles of yarn if you love it and can afford it and have space to store it, even if you may not really knit with it for, well, a long time, if ever. People love and collect a lot of different things simply for the sake of having them, and yarn is no worse or better than most collections. (My mom has a beautiful collection of eggcups.)

And “manipulate” isn’t a great word to use here because it implies some kind of sinister purpose, which isn’t what I mean at all. It’s just that it’s the nature of a market economy that people who create things for others to buy must find ways to convince said others that those particular things are worth buying, or go under. This doesn’t preclude producers from also being warm, kind, generous people who are genuinely interested in and supportive of the communities who use their products. In the context of yarn, that has certainly been my experience so far. But they must be businesspeople and marketers, too.

Well. This post has taken a much more philosophical turn than I intended when I started writing, when my intent was really only to say, “Look at my new pretty yarn!” But I continue to be fascinated by the dual nature of crafting communities on the internet – at once commercial and creative, artistic and business-savvy. And it seems to me (as very much the amateur/hobbyist) that there must be quite a bit of pressure on designers/producers of yarn and knitting patterns and other craft items. How to be at once the warm, friendly, maternal/grandmaternal/crafting buddy stand-in that consumers want, to enhance their experience of crafting as something social, that builds community and addresses emotional needs; and at the same time, the businessperson who has to be responsible to a bottom line? Maybe that’s not really a tension for most people in the industry; maybe it would just be a tension for me, and I’m reading too much into things. But it does seem to me that people who buy yarn and yarn patterns have different expectations than people buying, say, glue, or flour, or some other kind of staple.

In any case, I’m still super glad I caught that Posh update.

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The Love Your Blog Challenge: Interactions and Community

Kate at A Playful Day has proposed a Love Your Blog challenge for April 2015. Throughout April, she will post a prompt to explore every Monday, to encourage people to fall back in love with their blog and think about what inspires them and find inspiration in others. The first prompt is Interactions and Community, and my response is below.

IMG_1348This is a very new blog, but I’m not new to blogging. My first blog was born in August of 2004, when I had moved to a new city for a new job, my husband was living elsewhere for grad school, and – though I didn’t realize it right away – I was desperate for community.

While aimlessly surfing the web, I stumbled on a few other people like me: recent PhD grads starting new jobs and figuring out how to negotiate an academic identity. I created my blog only because I wanted to comment on others’, and I thought it would be rude to comment without having an online identity/blog of my own. (I was completely wrong, but it was the early days of blogging and I wasn’t sure how the etiquette worked yet.)

That blog was a godsend precisely because it allowed me to join and participate in a community that I treasure to this day. Probably close to half of my Facebook friends are people I came to know through blogging, many of whom I’ve still not met in person, but would be happy to hang out with at any time. (And those of you who followed me here: so lovely to see you!)

As as important as that community was to me for a long time, much has changed since then, both in blogging and me. The biggest change in me is that I left academia to start a new career. While not everyone in my previous blog community was (or stayed) an academic, that space was particularly focused on negotiating professional identity in a field where the personal and professional are unusually closely linked. One of the things I don’t miss at all about academia is how you were never really not at work – you could always be thinking great thoughts! you didn’t have to be in an office 9-5, which just meant you could work anytime, anywhere! – so in a way, you were never not being an academic.

This blog is part of my current goal to carve out a personal identity that has nothing to do with my employment, and to be able to leave work at work. I want to spend my non-work time on activities that I value and take seriously for their own sake, not just because they will make me better at my job or fill up the spaces in between my work days. My self-worth needs to be based in something more than what my employers think about me. And I need to exercise those parts of my brain that love color, creativity, and visual expression, which don’t get used at all in my day job. Which all led me to knitting: color! creating things! looking at color and how to create things!

I decided to blog about knitting for a couple of reasons. First, my Ravelry project pages were getting ridiculously detailed, and I realized that blogging might be a better format for that information. But second, I valued my previous blog community so highly that I hoped blogging might be a way into a knitting community as well.

needlesI haven’t had much luck finding a face-to-face knitting community. As a beginner, I was shy of getting involved in knitting groups. Now that I’m maybe less of a beginner, I’ve moved somewhere that doesn’t have a really strong history of knitting. There are great Native textiles traditions around here, which I’d love to learn more about, but as far as I know, those traditions center on weaving rather than knitting. (Though I’m by no means an expert on this, and as a gringa I’m not in a great position to talk about truly local and indigenous traditions.) So I don’t think there’s as much visible interest in or support for knitting as you might see in parts of the world like northern Europe or the Andes.

It’s also a region heavily populated by snowbirds, and my sense is that most of the local yarn stores cater to retirees who are only here part of the year, and tend to knit for their grandchildren. That is absolutely a valid and wonderful knitting tradition, but it’s not mine, and it’s not usually the kind of aesthetic that appeals to me. (I’m much more drawn to the kind of aesthetic you find here, my favorite yarn store ever.) On a purely practical level, it means that most yarn classes and groups meet, say, 2 pm on Wednesdays, which means they’re not really feasible for people who work full-time.

But I miss talking to people about what I love to do. I adore that knitting is something I can do on my own, on my own time, that doesn’t require me to go somewhere or schedule something or depend on others. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to interact with other people about it. So for community, I’ve been looking online.

The knitting communities I’ve found are amazingly vibrant, thoughtful, and accessible. Unlike when I started blogging originally, though, there’s an embarrassment of riches out there: not just blogs, but Twitter, Instagram, and especially for knitters, Ravelry forums and groups. When I blogged before, there were few enough of us that just being out there garnered you an audience. Now, the field is much more crowded, and how to find and get the attention of the people you want to talk to much more complicated. On top of that you have the commercial element of knitting communities, where designers and yarn stores have their own communities as well as mingling with hobby knitters.

It’s almost that blogging used to be like walking into a local coffee shop, the kind where people came to sit and read/work/chat for a few hours. Some coffee shops are bigger than others, but they’re still relatively small spaces, and everyone who enters has the same relationship to the space as every other, as a customer of the establishment. In such a space, it’s not hard to see what other people are doing (grading/writing/drafting a resume/playing chess/etc.), and to strike up a conversation if you feel like it. A small community can be a little stifling or homogenous sometimes – I think we’ve all walked into a small coffee shop or restaurant and immediately felt like we didn’t quite fit in with the tone or atmosphere. The plus, though, is that if you show up long enough, you become a regular without trying very hard.

Blogging now feels a little bit like walking into some kind of amazing yarn festival. It’s amazing and colorful and offers a gazillion resources, as well as access to some of the greatest knitting designers and yarn producers. It’s open to everyone, there’s something for everyone, and visited by people of all kinds of shapes, sizes, interests, tastes, and ability levels. But for the average person, it can be loud and crowded and a little overwhelming. And your position as a consumer is different from that of the people running the stalls, who are generally fascinating, kind, knowledgeable people who genuinely enjoy talking to you and want to support your knitting, but are also trying to make a living out of knitting/yarn and thus have different goals for the event than you do.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that one kind of community is better or worse; they’re just different. The nature of the community shapes the interactions that take place, but I still love how blogging makes so many different kinds of interactions possible. I feel a bit like a new kid to knitting right now, but am enjoying writing and thinking about knitting, and hope I will find others to talk to. Even if my interactions end up limited to reading others’ words, looking at others’ projects, thinking about and learning from others’ ideas, and writing here to process it all for myself, though, taking part in these communities will be worth it.

A Playful Day