It’s been anything but a quiet week in the knitting community. Karen Templer, from Fringe Supply (the purveyors of the boring AF $65 project bag and roughly the same rich-white-lady-minimalist-aesthetic as GOOP), wrote a breathless blog post about how brave she was for making the decision to go to India. (Read it. Please. And then do something I almost never recommend—read the comments). Are you back?
When people of color oh-so-gently pointed out that the tone of her article was imperialist and racist, Karen got defensive. She then pointed out that her brown friends said it was okay, so it was okay (WRONG, KAREN), and that she was sorry if anyone was offended, but she didn’t mean to be offensive, and that was really what mattered (WRONG AGAIN, KAREN.)
People of color started speaking up with truth and passion and holy fucking fire. Things have been said that needed to be said about the knitting community—that it isn’t all rich white ladies but you wouldn’t know that from publications or lists of vendors at fiber festivals. And that racism: overt and covert, is still very much at work in the crafting world.
Of course, Karen had her defenders. “But she didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings!” “Knitting is my happy place and I come here to be safe, not to hear about politics! I’m disappointed and unfollowing [sad face emoji].” “This bullying of Karen has to stop!”
(Literally all I can hear right now is Bey singing “MIDDLE FINGERS UP.” )
At some point- and I’m going to go ahead and say we are past that point-denying the existence and power of white supremacy is just willful ignorance. It’s not a matter of education or “listening.” Countless brilliant books have been written on the subject in recent years. People of color speak up over and over and over again. Choosing not to hear the pain of others is a conscious decision. And ain’t nobody got time for that.
The Sentient Sunkist Can (thanks, Anna!) currently occupying the Oval Office is throwing a massive temper tantrum that is keeping children from getting fed in order to build a wall to keep brown people out of The United States. The fact that a Sentient Sunkist Can was even allowed to darken the door of the Oval Office after eight years of a brilliant, leveled, measured, compassionate, competent, deeply kind black man is in and of itself a sign of the power, sway, and stupidity of white supremacy. But it’s not just those bad racists over there that are the problem: the literal Nazis marching in Charlottesville aren’t the whole story.
All of us—all of us—with white skin benefit in ways, large and small, from white supremacy. If this is news to you, this classic article is a good place to start.
White supremacy is real and pervasive and shows up in the most well-meaning of white folk in countless ways (myself included). White privilege is made invisible for white people— the illusion that the playing field is level is just that, an illusion.
It takes courage and a willingness to call our deepest-held convictions about ourselves (BUT I’M NOT RACIST! I HAVE A BROWN FRIEND!) into question.
It requires empathy and compassion and curiosity and listening and then action.
It requires not being a defensive asshole when a person of color tells you that your privilege is showing.
Once you see white supremacy as the rotten scaffolding that holds up systems of power and oppression you can’t unsee it. If you are a feminist, you may have some practice with this.
What’s at stake for people of color is their lives.
What’s at stake for white folk is our souls. “You shall know the truth,” Jesus tells his disciples, and “the truth shall make you free.” Free. Not comfortable. Not warm and fuzzy. Not safe or sound or at peace with your life decisions in a cozy little knitting bubble. But free.
And being free is an essential part of our humanity. “Don’t be a garbage human” is one of my friend Anna’s favorite sayings. Mine is “White people, don’t be shitty.”
Here is a non-comprehensive list of some ways to not be shitty. I welcome all suggestions/addendums/critiques!
- Educate yourself on race, white supremacy, and systemic racism. There are so many good books out there.
- Between The World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
- White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
- If you are a Jesus-y type-America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privlige, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis
- Also if you are a Jesus-y type, anything by James Cone.
- Don’t expect your non-white friends to assuage your feelings of guilt or discomfort OR to offer you praise for being a not-garbage human. That work is on you.
- Buy some of the fine folks doing hard work a coffee: Korina, Ocean Rose, Sukrita, Tina
- I’m doing this.
- Listen first, but then do something about it. Faith without works is dead, y’all.
- Don’t be a white moderate.
- Support yarn businesses run by people of color. Maybe buy something from them and not from me. Here are JUST A few to get started:
Visuvios Crafts (Atlanta-based, talented as hell, also both knits AND crochets)
Baltimore-based Neighborhood Fibre Co.
I sit in an uneasy place with this. Republica Unicornia exists in some (large, even) measure because of my white lady privilege. I look an awful like other indie dyers, I am welcome in all kinds of spaces to hawk my wares, I am in a position where I can undertake the not-inexpensive task of starting a business. I am in that place because of my social class and education, which was accessible to me because I was born into a middle-class white family, which was middle class because their parents were able to buy homes in the 1950s and weren’t kept out of neighborhoods by redlining. I could go on, back through the generations, and point out the ways in which my white skin, which provides no actual biological advantage (in fact, it just makes me prone to sunburn and skin cancer), but it provides me social advantage after social advantage.
And I worry that even by writing this I’m somehow (even unintentionally) vying for a spot on the Woke White Lady Olympics podium.
But I believe, deeply and to my core, that the work of loving our neighbor as ourselves is the work of being a human being.
Don’t be shitty, y’all.
Happy New Year, y’all! Warning: this is going to be a long one, replete with Feelings and (because it’s me, swearing), so make yourself a cup of tea and settle in. Or don’t read it. That’s up to you.
It’s been a hot second since I’ve been on the blog, for various reasons- the big one being that last fall, I decided I really needed a proper job to supplement what’s going on with Republica Unicornia.
And it’s been a good thing, really- helped me heal from the toxic relationship I’ve had with work over the last ten years. No one at my part-time cooking store retail job has shamed me for being a human being or told me that if I worked longer hours or just tried harder and wasn’t so much myself, I’d be worthy of being there. I have been able to talk about food and cooking and proved to myself that I can put on pants, leave the house, function for eight hours straight, and not dissolve into a puddle of anxiety-ridden goo.
This functioning has felt like a major coup, and I feel like myself again.
But I’ve missed having the time to devote to Republica Unicornia—I had a meltdown in mid-December because I felt like I had missed the holiday season. Running a one-woman business where you make everything while also holding down a job that is physically exhausting (and heavy on the extroversion) got to be a bit much.
So I decided to cut my hours at the steady paycheck gig in favor of the rainbows and unicorns. RU isn’t a vanity project for me—we are dual income, but me faffing about with yarn just for funsies isn’t an option.
And so, I haven’t taken the decision to give up stability lightly- it’s a true leap of faith. But when I think back on my adult years, the things that have caused me the most pain and suffering aren’t the leaps of faith—it’s those times when I decided that what I really needed to do was grow up and be responsible and settle down, even when—especially when—every fiber of my being was saying NOPE NOPE NOPE.
I may have mentioned this here before, but one of our family mottos was “We all have to do things we don’t want to do.” My mother said it to me when I wanted to quit gymnastics (I was so uncoordinated that I was *demoted* a grade level by the park district), or when I wasn’t quite sick enough to stay home from school but still feeling pretty gross. And I absolutely see why she did this- as adults, we have to clean the bathroom and get pap smears and spend glorious sunny days doing our taxes.
But the message I internalized was that “being responsible” was about mind over matter—that the “should” outweighed everything else.
And so I married my college boyfriend, despite the fact that I woke up with a panic attack every morning the year we were engaged, and remember standing at the altar thinking, “Whelp. We’ll see how this works out.” (Spoiler: it didn’t.)
And so I became a United Methodist pastor, despite the fact that my prevailing feeling during the whole time I worked in the church was sheer, abject terror—terror that I was not good enough to be in the pulpit I occupied, terror that I was not equal to the tasks placed before me, terror that I was going to lead people away from Jesus with my honesty and my swearing and my inability to toe the party line.
Both of these situations ended poorly, and in much the same way—with swearing and heartbreak and some truly kickass breakup playlists.
It’s so easy to look back on our massive screw-ups and say, “I knew all along.” Because we do, really. On a deep level. But we are taught to suppress our appetites: to do the grown-up, responsible thing at all costs. Even if that cost is ourselves.
For me, it’s not just that searching my feelings tells me it’s so—it’s a physical thing. My “gut feeling” is *literally* in my gut—under stress and unhappiness, my GI system is a hot mess.
When I moved out of the condo I shared with my ex-husband, I remember going, “Huh. I don’t want to throw up for the first time in seven years.” I was voracious—enjoying food and life in a way I had forgotten that I was capable of.
It happened again when I left ministry, although the healing this go-round has been much slower. I’d gotten down to a weight not seen since I hit puberty, and it’s taken almost two years for me to regain my appetite, but I’m here. I feel at home in my body again, not at war with it, and I know it’s because I feel at home in my life again.
Last year, when I was serving as a chaplain, my badass supervisor had us all read the chapter on intuition from the weird and wonderful Women Who Run With the Wolves. Clarissa Pinkola Estés takes the Russian folktale of Vasalisa and Baba Yaga and argues that the story is really about the power of intuition. I’m not going to go into the plot of the folktale (I tried and frankly, it’s just a little too strange to summarize) but Stuff You Missed in History Class did a delightful podcast on Baba Yaga last October, if you’d like to take a listen. Or read the book.
The upshot of the whole thing is that as women grow, they shed timidity and sweetness and learn to walk in their own power, trusting themselves.
And that shit is terrifying to everyone, ourselves included.
We women especially are taught not to trust ourselves: that our appetites are dirty and must be suppressed, managed, denied, that food is the enemy and our bodies are disgusting. Our cellulite (which, by the way, is a MARKETING term and not a biological one), our armpit hair, our unruly eyebrows and all the rest of it must be tweezed, plucked, shaved, moisturized, squeezed into post-modern corsets and shoes that can literally hobble us.
So we deny ourselves the joy of cake and homemade bread and shave the tops of our Hobbit Feet (raises hand) and squeeze ourselves into clothes that hide the fact that we have hips and butts and squidgy bellies. Our value comes not from how much we love our lives, but from how much of ourselves we deny.
Having so long worked to make our bodies into something they are not, it’s a natural extension that the cult of self-denial extends to our life decisions, too. “Good” women put on their big girl panties and deal with it: with sexist co-workers and abusive partners and seventy-two cents on the fucking dollar.
“Being good” almost cost me my life and I am calling bullshit on the whole thing. This year I am trusting myself and my appetite: that if something is right or not right, I will know. It feels risky and somewhat subversive to trust myself, and I confess that I’m more than a little afraid of bankrupting us. Well-educated, responsible, put-together young women don’t put color on yarn for a living, do they? DO THEY? But also- maybe I can trust myself enough to know that if push comes to shove, I will not let us starve.
I have some good evidence that this system works—pretty soon after we started dating, I told Steven that if he ever caused me any kind of gastrointestinal distress it was over. We’re nine years in and that man has caused me nary a tummy ache.
I cannot even begin to articulate how grateful I am for all of you who have supported my fledgling business this first year—when I left the church I couldn’t see a way forward, and thanks to you, I can. Y’all are blessings upon blessings.
I hope that this is a year when you learn to listen to your appetite and give the proverbial (or literal) finger to all those forces that say that you can’t possibly know what’s best. Because you do.
PS: OH! And because this is *technically* a knitting blog, I have also decided to apply this “follow my appetite” thing to my knitting—I cast on a Nightshift Shawl quite out of the blue on Christmas Eve, and while I was planning on making the Selbu Mittens next, I decided to cast on the Cardamom Coffee hat and the Floozy Sweater instead. Maybe this will be the year I actually post pictures of my knitting on my knitting blog. Or maybe not.
When I started the Republica Unicornia blog, I never dreamed I’d be talking about fascism on the regular, but here we are.
It’s a Sunday morning and for the first time in a long time, I almost wanted to go to church.
It’s been a total violent shitshow this week: bombs sent to leaders who have dared to be critical of the current occupant of the White House by an outspoken supporter of said occupant, and then, yesterday, the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. I am even struggling to write those words for so many reasons—I’m a former clergy person, for one, so this obscene violation of the sacred space of people of faith rattles me deeply. Eleven beloved children of God gunned down in a place of worship is heart-rending.
But also—I grew up in a predominately Jewish community north of Chicago and I can say, without a moment’s hesitation, that who I am as a human being was formed and molded by the lived values of Judaism that surrounded me in Highland Park. I learned about empathy and social justice and the importance of civic engagement from my community. I also learned a healthy does of fear of fascism—I went to school with kids whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors. The public school system did an outstanding job of teaching us historically what the rise of violent, totalitarian regimes looked like, not only in Western Europe, but also in South America. When I went to college to study Spanish and Latin American Studies, I delved deep into the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s, in part because it was a reminder that the rise of these regimes was not something fully buried in a distant past.
Let me say, unequivocally, that the current climate in the United States: the bombastic rhetoric and the rallies, the complicity of political leaders with an increasingly unhinged leader, the daily acts of violence, the voter suppression, the demonization of the free press—all of it—all of it—is textbook fascism. And this rattles me deeply because I know how this story goes. It’s not inevitable, to be sure (VOTE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT BECAUSE IT DOES), but the United States is going further and further down a dark path.
For years, it was my job to take the horrible things that human beings do to one another and stand up in front of hundreds of people and put them into the context of what is the good news of Christianity—that the bastards might be winning now, but in the end, they won’t. The tricky part (this is where faith comes in) is believing that last part even as if feels like the bastards are on a long, long winning streak. And dear God is that part getting even trickier. I’ve felt despair steadily creeping in over the last several years, and it is starting to seem that all of my worst fears are coming true.
How do we hold to hope when hope just feels like being delusional?
I don’t know, to be perfectly honest. I think the key might be to hold on to both hope and despair at the same damn time.
It’s tempting to go one way or the other.
I want to bury myself in the lovely things that are happening in my personal life, like the knitting and the yarn and my family, to turn off NPR for weeks on end and pretend that the whole world is the Republica Unicornia. My little bubble is safe, filled with kindness and cozy things and seasonal baked goods.
And then sometimes the opposite happens—I’ll get so deeply wrapped up in the relentless news cycle that I’ll have NPR and MSNBC on at the same time while also reading the Times. (This happened during the Kavanaugh nomination process and I’m still reeling from it). I struggle to find any good in the world and lose interest in things like food and knitting.
Holding the good and the horrible together isn’t about balance: about having equal parts knitting and rage time a day so you don’t lose your mind. It’s the paradox at the heart of being a human being: things are beautiful and wonderful and also totally fucked, all at the same time. Our hearts are whole and broken, and this is what it means to be a human being. And sometimes being a human being hurts like hell but we are still here, which means hope isn’t lost.
Be a full human today—ugly cry your way through your breakfast burrito and love your people and fight like hell. Be whole and broken all at the same damn time. (And please, for the love of God, vote November 6th.)
PS: I really want to take away my nonviolence disclaimer about not actually stabbing fascists with your knitting needles, but instead of that, why don’t you pick up an enamel pin so I can give money to the SPLC who will kneecap said fascists using the legal system?
I am currently sitting on my sofa eyeing my cutting table (the piece of furniture that used to be called the “dining room table.”)
I see stacks of precut bag pieces, piles of fabric scraps, gallon-sized Ziploc bags of zippers, yards of interfacing, and neatly folded bundles of fabric. It’s happy chaos being made into some kind of order, and it’s lovely to know that these bags will go out into the world and hold treasured craft projects and make people happy (because how can a bag with unicorns on it do anything but?). It’s such a direct kind of production—I control at least some of the means of production, and the supply chain is much shorter than in traditional industrial production. When you buy a skein of Republica Unicornia yarn or a bag, you know the working conditions under which the finished product was produced (me, happy, in my house, surrounded by cats, with Bob Dylan playing on the stereo). I try to source ethically-produced materials and support smaller businesses for things like dye and fabric and zippers (I do not do this perfectly, for the record).
One of the totally unintended consequences of learning how to knit was how it changed my relationship to stuff. I’ve always loved to shop: even as a child, it was one of my favorite activities. I grew up in suburbia in the ‘90s, and going to the mall was a standard weekend activity. (I am sure I remember going to Northbrook Court every single weekend when I was in high school). Until I was fifteen or so, I was too tiny to fit into regular adult-sized clothes, and when I finally grew into the size 0 at Gap, it was a revelation. I loved having new age-appropriate clothes, and that thrill has followed me into adulthood.
In my adult life, if I had the money, I would shop. When I graduated from grad school and had a proper job and financial stability, I immediately started buying all the things I hadn’t been able to afford: a pair of Docs, dresses from ModCloth, a pair of $98 Free People overalls. Since my budget had gone up, I was able to buy better-quality things, like Birkenstocks instead of crappy Target shoes, but the volume of consumption was still high. When I was feeling bad about myself (which became increasingly common in a job in which my humanity felt like a liability), a new outfit or a box from Zappos helped lift my mood. If I was going to feel like shit, at least I wouldn’t look like it.
And then I picked up knitting needles. To be sure, there was a lot of yarn-buying in those heady early days. Lots and lots of yarn-buying. And needles. And patterns. And stitch markers. And of course there was the swift and ball-winder. But I noticed if I bought a skein of yarn, I was less inclined to buy a $25 top from Target. Items became measured in their relative cost to a skein of yarn: that mug with a unicorn on it from HomeGoods was like half a skein of hand-dyed yarn. I found I’d rather have the yarn.
But the real epiphany came after I’d been knitting for just a handful of months- I was walking through the clothing section at Target and saw a cute sweater. I went over to look at it–I think it was like $29.99—and thought, “Why would I pay $30 for an acrylic sweater made in a sweatshop when I can make one for twice that and enjoy every moment of the process?”
This was like giving the finger to late-stage industrialized capitalism.
Why buy something quickly and cheaply when I can make it for more time and money is literally the opposite of American-style consumerism.
It was a revelation. To be clear, I’d never knit a sweater before. But I knew with time and patience, I’d figure it out. I did, and I’m happily knitting away on my fifth sweater since January.
The writer Michael Pollan has a rule about food that I adopted immediately: You can eat all the junk food you make yourself. The rationale makes sense to me—if you make a pie from scratch, you a) know what goes into it, and b) you won’t eat as much of it. Experience proves this—I can’t be trusted alone with a package of Oreos, but I’m fine stopping at one homemade chocolate chip cookie. There is something more satisfying in something made from scratch. You can argue it’s the ingredients, I suppose, that butter and eggs are intrinsically more nourishing than high fructose corn syrup and the like. But I think there’s something existential happening, too: that when we create things with our own two hands, we put ourselves into it. A chocolate chip cookie is more than the sum of its parts: it is made up of vanilla and brown sugar and flour, yes, but also of knowledge and know-how and memories of my mom making chocolate chip cookies and me showing up with a batch the morning after my first date with Steven and freaking him the hell out.
And fast fashion is like fast food: it fills you up, but offers little in the way of true nourishment.
If this sounds too high-minded, to be clear—I spend an inordinate amount of time and money searching for and buying fabric and saying it’s “for the business” (which it is, but it’s still a LOT) and have more yarn than I can knit with in a lifetime. I have a weakness for vintage vinyl and hand-thrown pottery, and it’s hard for me to pass up things that have unicorns on them. I do my level best to support local businesses and other makers. I recognize my privilege in having enough time and resources to make things and to buy more expensive things that other people have made.
Making more than I consume is making me deeply content in a way I don’t know that I have been in my adult life.
I’m not saying knitting is the way to happiness, but I’m not saying it isn’t, either.
Related: I’m reading this book and it’s rocking my world. I’ve recently discovered I can knit on the body of my current sweater and read on my Kindle (it makes me slower at both activities, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing).
George Carlin talking about stuff is one of my favorite, favorite things ever. (NSFW, obviously, because I’m recommending it and it’s Carlin.)
Things I Have Patience For:
- Complex knitting projects
- Complex baking projects
Things I Do Not Have Patience For:
- Literally everything else
When I was a child, one of the things my mother often said was, “You want what you want when you want it.” It was always uttered in that momlike tone of pure frustration, tinged with disbelief that she, with her deep wells of saint-like patience, could have possibly produced such a single-minded and selfish child.
As an adult, I am arguably just as single-minded and selfish, and things that require the exercise of patience inevitably end in frustration for me (unless they are cooking- or knitting-related, see above). This inability to wait around for things to happen makes me driven, I suppose, but it also causes me to rage when things aren’t progressing at the speed I think they should.
I’m struggling with this mightily at the moment. I’m not going to go into lots of detail, but suffice it to say that the last ten years have been jam-packed, and not always in a fun way. I’m not particularly advanced in years, but my twenties and very early thirties were comprised of a series of events, one after another, that normal people go through later in life. One of my favorite movie lines (from Indiana Jones, when Marion tells Indy that he looks way rougher than the last time she saw him) suits me perfectly: “It’s not the years, it’s the miles.”
I turned thirty-four last Sunday, and woke up in a state of intense anxiety, which soon led to a total meltdown. I cried on my sweet husband. Then I cried when I saw that my mom had decorated their kitchen with the very same birthday decorations she’s had since my fourth birthday. And then I cried on my sweet mother. In so many ways, I am not where I thought I would be: We do not own our home. We do not have children. The career that I thought would be the end-all-be-all of who I was professionally and personally turned out to be, um, not that. I’m in the beginning stages of starting a business, which is a roller coaster, and I’m prone to motion sickness.
And underneath it all is the simple fact that this fairly-recent-model-year-but-high-mileage human being is tired as hell.
This pisses me off for a variety of reasons, mainly, one: that deep down, I do not feel I deserve to be this tired. It seems like the ultimate in white lady privilege—being able to take to my fainting couch with the vapors while other people work proper jobs while bearing burdens I can’t even begin to imagine.
On some level, this is objectively true. Being able to stop long enough to feel my own exhaustion is a luxury of sorts.
But also: it is what it is. Being a human being is always hard work, even if that work exists on some kind of spectrum. Even the most charmed of lives contain loss and heartbreak and health scares and worries about money. And wherever our individual struggles fall on this spectrum, they are still struggles. They wear on us, body and soul.
I try, I really try, to be patient with myself, to practice what people who move in hippier-dippier circles than I do call “self-compassion.” I am, after all, technically a finite creature, one with a limited lifespan and limited energy. And after ten years of fighting like hell to be the person I actually am, not the person everyone else wanted me to be, I am weary. I’ve lost a lot in the last decade, too: loved ones, for one, but also a sense of stability and predictability in my life. I’ve had to grieve the life I thought I’d have, not once, but twice, and grief is grief.
And, to paraphrase the brilliant children’s book “Going on a Bear Hunt,” you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, OH NO, guess we’ve got to go through it. I fucking hate going through it, for the record.
I fret that I won’t feel like myself again, that normal, everyday things will provoke what feel like bottomless anxiety pits. I wasn’t always this fragile, I tell myself. I used to be strong. Fearless. Put together. Able to handle sixteen-hour days and manage a social life and keep the house spotless.
I return to Mary Oliver’s words in her poem “Don’t Worry”, again and again: “Don’t worry. Things take the time they take. How many roads did Saint Augustine follow before he became Saint Augustine?”
That’s not the only Mary Oliver poem on my mind these days.
The opening lines of “Wild Geese” remind me that, at the end of the day, my truest vocation is to be a creature.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
I’m tired of being good. Being “good” got me in this mess in the first place.
Maybe I’ll try letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves for a bit.
Which is yarn. And knitting. And color. And fabric with chubby squirrels on it. And naps. And going to bed stupid early. And giant cups of strong-brewed English Breakfast. And cake.
Thank God for cake. And Mary Oliver.
Our apartment is a pit.
Well, that’s not entirely fair.
Our apartment is a studio.
Literally every single room in my home (except for the master bathroom) serves some kind of function for Republica Unicornia.
I do have a craft room, which is where my sewing machine, dye supplies, undyed yarn, and all the other craft supplies I have accumulated over the last twenty years: crayons, markers, paint, beading supplies, embroidery thread. But pretty early on in all of this, it became clear that no craft room could really contain all the stuff needed to make Republica Unicornia a reality.
The dining room has been commandeered for fabric cutting/storage and inventory storage. There are giant plastic bins in the corner, stacked two and three high.
I dye yarn in the kitchen, so there’s that. It pulls some hardcore double duty. Before I dye, I clear everything out and drape the counters in plastic sheeting (a la Dexter), and then afterwards, I scrub the whole kitchen down. We live in a rental with WHITE LAMINATE COUNTERTOPS, which are a terrible idea under regular kitchen situations, to say nothing of my unusual ones.
The (unused!) second bathroom is known as the Janky Ass Studio Annex: it’s where I mix up dyes, rinse and spin dry yarn, store drying yarn when it’s not on the porch, and block my knits. The bathtub is a jumble of dishwashing tubs and the pans I use for dyeing. The countertops are speckled with dye.
I store my knitting projects in the living room, so by the sofa is a giant basket stuffed with project bags, a bag with my supplies for making mini skein stitch markers, and a vintage knitting basket that is overflowing with needles, notions, and patterns.
Even our porch has yarn stuff on it—it’s where my drying racks live.
From where I sit in my favorite chair, our home looks like a well-decorated, comfy, tidy space. This is assuming I don’t turn my head.
I wasn’t always like this. While I have never been a minimalist, I used to be the kind of person who could have people drop by at a moment’s notice and not have to explain anything. I deep cleaned the whole house every week, my laundry was more or less under control, and there certainly were not giant plastic bins out in the open. I wasn’t a tidy child, but as soon as I got out on my own, I took great pride in keeping my living space spotless. I am a baseboard scrubber, if not by nature, than at least by habit.
But every time I get all wistful about how put together I used to be, I think about the darker side of all of it. There is an inverse relationship between how happy I am and how clean my house is. When I am struggling: when things are feeling out of control or when I am mired in the muck of self-loathing, scrubbing surfaces with toothbrushes and folding clean laundry is a reminder that I have some control over the world around me and I am capable of at least having a house that smells like lavender. When I have experienced bouts of depression, my living space has also been spotless.
We humans have a need to make order out of chaos, and we do it in all kinds of different ways. I’m drawn to the kind of activities that end in a finished product: a clean house, a loaf of bread, a sweater. It’s why I do the kind of things that I do: the whole arc of my creative process is about moving from chaos to order. Out of water and flour and yeast come bread, out of a tangle of yarn comes a pair of mittens, out of a yard of fabric comes a project bag with a friggin’ unicorn on it.
One of the first things to show up in the sacred text of my faith tradition is the story of creation. God breathes across the void—the deep, dark, chaos—and out of this comes creation. So much of what happens next is about the struggle between order and the chaos that is constantly threatening to overtake God’s people: the institution of complicated law codes that provide for every eventuality, the attempts to make sense of exile, Job shouting into the whirlwind being like, “WHAT IN THE ACTUAL HELL?” (I love Job.)
And unless you live in a bubble, I’m willing to bet that there are areas of your life that are total chaos: relationships with your family members, things that are happening at work, the state of your mental health. If (somehow) your life is all perfectly ordered, I invite you to turn your attention to current events.
But I’ve also been reconsidering my own relationship to all kinds of chaos, including the kind that has overtaken my dining room. It is anxiety-producing, to be sure, but it is also generative. If our creativity springs from a need to make order out of chaos, then without chaos, there is no creativity. Chaos isn’t the enemy: it is the foundation of what happens next.
All this shit is still driving me crazy, though.
Happy Wednesday, y’all.
(Photo from Wikipedia)
I’m writing this as we are coming up on the anniversary of the deadly “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, as white supremacists are gearing up for another big ass rally in Washington. Steven and I watched the ProPublica/Frontline documentary “Documenting Hate” last night, and I can’t think of another word besides “chilling” to describe it. I drank my tea this morning and listened to this total nonsense from Jason Kessler, the organizer of the rally who claims, without a hint of irony, that he is “not a white supremacist.” I’ve spent a lot of the last year feeling mad as hell and powerless, doing what I can in the ways that I can.
And I’ve also listened to this song a lot. It’s called “All You Fascists.” Here are the lyrics if you don’t want to fuss with the music.
I’m gonna tell all you fascists, you may be surprised
People all over this world are getting organized
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
Race hatred cannot stop us, this one thing I know
Poll tax and Jim Crow and greed have got to go
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
All you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists
Are bound to lose
People of every color marching side by side
Marching across these fields where a million fascists died
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
All you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists are bound to lose
Woody Guthrie wrote and recorded the song sometime in the 1940s, and in the 1990s, Billy Bragg and Wilco wrote new music and recorded it as part of the Mermaid Avenue project. (If y’all don’t know about the Mermaid Avenue albums, you should absolutely go check them out. They are some of my very favorites).
Woody Guthrie’s original recording sounds, well, like a Woody Guthrie song. The Billy Bragg and Wilco version is rollicking—it is a rocking, hopeful anthem, and it plays on the regular in the Republica Unicornia: after Charlottesville, after the news about children being separated from their families at the US border, after each clip of the current occupant of the White House bloviating about America First. And sometimes we play it on a regular Tuesday because it feels like we are moving backwards, not forwards as a society—like greed, racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism, and hate are winning. It feels like every day we are getting further away from our own better angels.
There has been some Shit Going Down on Instagram in the knitting sphere as of late—when knitters/designers/dyers bring up that the hot mess that is the world we live in they are met with vitriol: being told, essentially, in hateful terms, that they should stick to their knitting and no one cares what they think. “I come here for pretty yarn, not your political opinions!”
I’m enough of an old school feminist to think that the personal is always political—that what we do with our hands, what we make, the art we produce—is a reflection of who we are and what we stand for. I was at the Women’s March on Washington in January of 2017, when the Pussy Hat thing was in full force. I wasn’t a knitter then, but I remember being blown away by the power in a simple pink hat with kitty ears. The Pussy Hat was knitting—something that had long been devalued as women’s private, uninteresting work—turned into a symbol of resistance. It was genius.
One of the things that was a surprise to me when I got super into knitting (about three months after the march) was how strong this community is. Through a shared love of making squishy things, I have found connection with the most amazing human beings, some very much like me and some not. Knitting has made me kinder and fiercer and bolder. It has reminded me that sometimes the ties that bind us are stitches on a needle. It has held me together in a lot of ways—the soothing, repetitive nature of knitting has kept me from throwing things at the television.
The arc of the moral universe, Dr. King said, is long, but bends toward justice. I have a hard time believing this some days. I feel powerless a lot of time in the current climate: like the forces of hatred and injustice are so strong and pervasive that they can’t be stopped. But then I think about Woody Guthrie.
Because in addition to writing a marvelous fight song against fascism, he also kept a sign on his guitar that said, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”
I love this so much. I was listening to a podcast about Woody the other day (doing my research), and they talked about the origins of the slogan. Apparently, tanks during WWII were made with a sign that said, “This machine kills fascists,” and Woody said, “My guitar is my machine.”
Hell yeah. Woody Guthrie knew that music and beauty and telling the truth could kill fascists—not literally (duh), but that these things could starve the forces that feed the development of fascism. Fascism reflects the darkest parts of human nature: our tendency toward tribalism, fear, hatred, pride, and greed. It’s the Dark Side IRL. And whether or not you believe that the current US political climate has fascist overtones (I do, for the record), I hope we can all agree that there is something amiss.
The roots of my business’ name are deeply political—my husband Steven started calling our house Republica Unicornia in the wake of the last presidential election as a reminder that in our space, creativity, diversity, acceptance, and love would flourish, no matter what happened in the life of our country. I stand for all of these things, both in my home and in my business. And I will do so, loudly and publicly, until I can see that bend in the arc of the moral universe. (If you choose not to buy my stuff because of that, that’s your decision. I wish you all the best.)
So! I took a cue from St. Woody and my amazing friend/graphic designer Amanda came up with this design, and am having enamel pins made. (Sidenote—my new printers are the AMAZING ladies behind Tower Press and you should check them out and give them all of your money because they are fabulous).
To be clear, I’m not advocating actually stabbing fascists with your knitting needles. For one thing, I’m staunchly anti-violence. For another, it wouldn’t be effective. They’re not that sharp, even the metal ones.
I hemmed and hawed with the wording on these pins. I had said amazing friend/graphic designer Amanda change it to “These Needles Kill Fascism,” because LET ME BE CLEAR. I DO NOT BELIEVE IN KILLING ANYONE, NO MATTER HOW ABHORRENT I FIND THEIR IDEOLOGY. But this felt watered-down and not true to the spirit of the original. I’m not in the mood for wishy-washy anymore. The fire of “These Needles Kills Fascists” feels true and right to me. Incendiary seems appropriate. And I think Woody would approve.
Also, y’all, the hot pink yarn ball WILL BE GLITTERY because SPARKLES ARE TOXIC TO INJUSTICE. FACT.
If you’d like to get your paws on one of these, head on over to the shop for preorders. I’ll ship them out as soon as they are in my hot little hands (allow 4-6 weeks).
Oh! And 15% of sales from these will go to The Southern Poverty Law Center from now until forever.
The fascists are bound to lose. Keep fighting, y’all.