Sunday, October 16, 2016

Behind the brown door.

I had every intention of writing a blog post last weekend while I was away, but time got away from me as I visited with friends, and I forgot to even put up the "on vacation" sign. I'm pretty sure it's the first time I've completely missed a week in the five years (five years!) I've been doing this blog. Still -- sorry about that. I hope I can make it up to you with this week's post, which is about Georgia O'Keeffe.

O'Keeffe is probably my favorite painter. I can take or leave her flower paintings -- which, by the way, she never meant to be sexual. "I hate flowers," she's quoted as saying. "I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move." The art world pinned the "girl painting girl parts" label on her because her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, had used her as a nude model for his photography.

My favorite O'Keeffe works are those she painted after she discovered New Mexico: the bones, the amazing landscapes, and this one window. I loved the window painting so much when I saw it at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe that I bought a print and framed it. It's called In the Patio II and she painted it in 1948.

That wall fascinated O'Keeffe. She painted and sketched it at least twenty times. It's the reason she spent more than ten years convincing the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to sell her the crumbling ranch house with the patio -- a courtyard, really -- in the center.

The wall fascinated me, too. I wanted to know what was on the other side of the window. I was sure it was something magical.

But when I took a tour of her house and studio in Abiquiu, NM, this past week, I discovered it's not a window at all. It's a door. Here's a link to what the real thing looks like. I'm resorting to a link so that I don't violate any copyrights -- but I encourage you to click through so you can see what I'm talking about. In the photo at the link, see how the shadow of the adjoining wall slants across the wall with the door? Well, when I was there, the wall with the door was itself casting the shadow. Adobe is the same color as the dirt in the courtyard. And O'Keeffe was a Minimalist; she left out details to get at the essence of what she was painting. So for In the Patio II, she left out the line where the wall ends and the patio starts. The dark stripe under the door is the shadow of the wall; the brighter stripe beyond is sunlit dirt.

So what's behind the door? It's a storage room, according to our guide. O'Keeffe hated clutter. She kept all her extra canvases and brushes and paints and stuff in there.

Some folks might have been disappointed to hear that, but not me. I was charmed. For the tools and supplies are what O'Keeffe used to make her art. She kept magic behind that door -- just as I'd suspected all along.

These moments of bloggy curiosity have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Yes, it's another knitting post.

It occurred to me last week, after I wrote about those cute alpacas, that it had been a while since I talked about the stuff I turn all this yarn into. And knitting is on my brain anyway, since I've been doing a lot of it lately (knitting is a stress reducer! The New York Times says so!) and also since I've been evaluating my project queue with an eye toward packing for a trip later this week.

Since my last post on my projects in May, it turns out, I've been pretty darned busy. First up is the Pogona shawl, which I mentioned in that post.

There's a story behind the yarn I chose for this project, and it begins when I was in college. Back in 1975, freshmen at Indiana University came to campus for a few days over the summer for orientation and to sign up for classes. Back then, there was no such thing as online anything. Registration was a real-time event. Each academic department set up long tables with boxes and boxes of IBM punch cards, organized by course number and section; to sign up for a class, you went to the department's table and told them which class and section you wanted. If there were punch cards available, you were in; if not, better luck next semester. Anyway, after all that, you were funneled into the Financial Aid line, where they gave you actual cash money; unfortunately, from there, you went immediately to the queue for the bursar's office, where you handed over all the money that Financial Aid had just given you. The very last thing you did was to get your photo taken for your student ID. "Stand right there," the photographer said, and pointed to a pair of barefoot footprints painted on the floor of the gym. After the gantlet I had just run, I thought those feet were hilarious. The resulting goofy grin graced my student ID for the next four years, and earned me the nickname Chesh -- short, of course, for Cheshire Cat.

So when my daughter Amy spotted a yarn called Cheshire Cat at the shop where she worked, she alerted me, and of course I had to buy some. And I used it to make the Pogona.

Moving on...

I brought a lot of yarn back from Ireland, but I kept just two skeins for myself. I used it for an asymmetrical triangular shawl that I'm calling Emerald Hills. The pattern is called Winter Sea, but mine is green. I think the chevron design looks a little like trees marching up a hillside, if you squint just right. Here's a close-up so you can be the judge.

Then I decided I wanted something big and navy blue that I could wrap up in and wear with jeans. So I bought a bunch of aran-weight yarn in a dark blue and made a Guernsey Wrap. The big challenge with this project was reading the charted directions correctly when I turned the work to knit back. I ripped out more than a few rows of knitting before I got the pattern settled in my mind.

Here's the final result, stretched across the back of my loveseat (pardon the mess!). I'm looking forward to wearing this when it gets a little cooler outside.

Before someone asks: Yes, I made the cover on the pillow in the foreground. As for the ripple afghan: I made part of it. My mother bought me a kit so I could learn how to crochet. I got maybe a third of it done before she realized I was going way too slowly to finish it before I headed off to college, and took it back. So Mom made the afghan, but I helped.

One more: the project I finished tonight is called the Vee Vee shawl, and it, too, comes with a story. The dark yarn is a qiviut sock yarn that I bought in Alaska. It's beautiful stuff, as you can see from the photo. I knitted it up into a shawl right after I bought it, but either the pattern was screwy or my gauge was way off. In any case, I had only half as much yarn as I needed to complete the project, and I ended up never wearing the shawl. Last year, I reclaimed the qiviut yarn and paired it with this lighter variegated yarn, and last week, I decided to make them into a Vee Vee. The knitting took no time at all, even though I made a mistake about halfway through and had to rip out one whole section of the dark yarn. (The photo is not great; the parts that look green are actually gray. But you get the idea.)

Have no fear -- I'm working on story ideas, too, while I've been doing all this knitting, and I plan to bang out the first draft of the next book during NaNoWriMo. I'm pretty sure nobody in it will be a knitter.

These moments of knitty blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

There's a fiber festival? Alpaca my bags.

Autumn may have started last week, according to the calendar, but today was the first day that really felt like fall in the mid-Atlantic. So of course, I used it as an excuse to trek west for the annual Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival.

We've been attending this little sibling to Maryland Sheep and Wool for the past couple of years. When I say they're siblings, I don't mean to say they're run by the same people; what I mean is that they both cater to fiber arts enthusiasts -- knitters, spinners, and weavers. However, there are also a few exhibits for farmers who own sheep or other fleece-producing animals, like these alpaca, as well as contests for sheep farmers and sheepdog trials.

Maryland Sheep and Wool happens at the beginning of May. It's an easy drive from my house, but every year, we talk about making a weekend of it because the fair is so darned big. They have more than 250 vendors (and, according to their website, more than 600 sheep). By the time you've seen the whole thing, you have to think long and hard about whether you want to go back to get the perfect yarn you saw but didn't buy because it was at the first booth you visited -- a booth that's now about a mile away, on the other side of the fairgrounds. Well, maybe it's not quite a mile away, but it feels like it.

Dude, comb your hair...
The Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival is much smaller -- only about 125 vendors, and in a much smaller area. You can scope out all the booths before lunch, if you push it, and then have plenty of time to weigh your purchasing priorities before heading home. Plus it's fall, not the beginning of summer. And the part of the fairgrounds where the festival is held is mostly under trees. In all, it's a less overwhelming experience.

That's not to say the selection is lacking. I still saw a lot of yarn today. A lot of yarn. And I managed to find everything I was looking for (and a few things I wasn't, like a beautiful new wooden spindle with a Tree of Life design etched into the whorl).

I find myself buying most of my yarn at festivals these days, rather than at boutique yarn shops. The selection is wider and the prices are about the same, And at a festival I'm typically buying from small producers who not only spin and dye the yarn they sell, but are also behind the cash register (well, the iPad with a credit card reader attached). Which is not to say that local yarn shops are a bad deal; they're convenient, they have knowledgeable staff, and they're small business owners, too.

I used to be frugal -- okay, cheap -- when it came to buying knitting patterns and yarn. But after I became an indie author, I realized that knitting pattern designers and yarn spinners and dyers are in the same boat I am: we're all producing a quality product, and we deserve to be compensated for our time and effort.

These moments of fibrous blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mabon's coming, or: posting in the Dark.

It's been several years, it turns out, since I've done a post about Mabon, a.k.a. the autumn equinox, which is coming up on Thursday. In 2011, I talked about its significance as the second harvest. Pagans recognize three harvest festivals in our Wheel of the Year: Lughnasadh, at the beginning of August, for grains mostly; Mabon, at the equinox, for the last of the summer fruits and veggies; and Samhain, at the end of October, for apples and pumpkins and things that go bump in the night.

Well, okay -- we don't often set out deliberately to harvest the things that go bump in the night. But maybe we should. And if you're going to begin, Mabon is the time to do it.

The equinox is all about balance, as you know; we have two each year, and each has an equal number of hours of daylight and darkness. The difference is in the trend. In the spring, we are heading into the lighter half of the year. In the fall, we are heading into the dark.

It's easy to chirp about balance in terms of our personal harvests -- the things we've done in the light. What's not so easy to talk about is the dark side of the equation. That's where the scary stuff is: the parts of our lives we'd rather not think about. Our dark nights of the soul. Time's toll on our lives. Death.

When I say "death," I don't simply mean shuffling off this mortal coil, although that's part of it. Many of my indie author colleagues and I have spent this week mourning a friend and fellow traveler, Rich Meyer, who died unexpectedly earlier this week. Rich was a trivia whiz who wrote and published a bunch of trivia quiz books -- but he was also a top-notch e-book formatter who was always willing to help authors with their problem children. He saved my bacon last year while I was in Denver and trying to get a book published. Plus he was hilarious. I miss him.

But physical death isn't the only challenge. I'll be honest -- even though it's been more than a year, I'm still reeling a little from losing that job in Denver. I'm coping; I've been spending time with good friends, and I ticked the last big trip off the bucket list in April when I visited Ireland. But every now and then, I remember, and the memory still feels like a punch in the gut. I suppose it will for a while. Grief is like that.

Time's passage is another one of those Dark Side things, particularly for women. Pagans have this thing about threes, as I've mentioned before, and one way we express it is to split women's lives into thirds: the Maiden years are all about attracting a man; the Mother era is when we bear and raise our children (and sometimes raise our husbands, too, but I digress); and the Crone years are when our looks are fading, but our wisdom and life experiences make us valuable in a new way. Crones have been the victims of bad press for centuries, of course -- see that picture of Baba Yaga above -- so one of the aims of this triplicity is to remind the world at large that older women deserve not derision, but respect.

About five years ago, I suggested to some Pagan women friends that I was thinking about declaring myself a Crone. My 50th birthday had come and gone, my kids were in their 20s, and I felt ready to move on to the next stage of life. My friends were kind of horrified. We were pretty close in age, but none of them felt anywhere near ready -- partly, perhaps, because none of them had had children, but also I think partly because society has us programmed to want to be desirable Maidens forever. (Never mind that Mothers must have sex, too; they don't harvest those babies from a turnip patch. And never mind a chief benefit of Cronehood: birth control measures are unnecessary.)

Anyway, after that, I dropped the idea. Maybe it's time to revisit.

A blessed Mabon to each of you, and may your harvests be bountiful.

These moments of Dark blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.