Saturday, January 24

atypical adventuring

my Friday began as ordinarily as any Friday. I waited at bus stops, sat in my office prepping for class, eeked a few moments of good class discussion out of my students, talked about our Empirical readings and micro-studies. but inbetween all those things--as I walked across campus from here to there, as I rushed through the halls from office to classroom and back and forth, my insides were nuzzling up to a great and impatient longing for adventure. like burrs will collect on your trouser cuffs when you walk through an unkept field, adventurousness collected around me with every step I took that morning.
I didn't know what kind of adventure to look for. of course my imagination was swirling with the kinds you read about in fantasy novels: meeting mysterious figures with intriguing secrets--wandering up to an irresistibly inviting magical doorway--suddenly confronting some supernatural abnormality in grave need of investigation--getting gradually but totally lost on some other plane of existence-- you know.

that sort of thing seemed unlikely even for such a deeply ordinary Friday, so I realized I would probably need to plot my own excitements. they didn't include anything very supernatural. they weren't particularly hazardous or daring. they involved spending bunches of money at various random spots on my way home, and then a speck of a town called Buck Creek, and then an empty cornfield. let adventure be in the attitude of the adventurer.

first, I ducked into Von's books and acquired the $70 text I needed for my Empirical class. perhaps that was the most harrowing part of the day. the semi-grizzled old bookstore clerk was nice enough, though. book in hand, I poked through a few other shelves (of books, of hats, of coin purses, of beads and stockings and scarves and trinkets) while I was there. noticed Jessica Hische's dropcap covers all lined up on one side. stepped around an employee sorting through a massive pile of aqua pendants and baubles on my way out. kept walking, very cheerfully, taking in all the grey chill of the weekend-to-be, thinking about how it didn't really matter what I spent the rest of the afternoon doing. we'd gotten out of class early. I had no particular obligations.
on my way, I grabbed chips and guacamole from Chipotle. I puzzled at their little posted sign about not having any pork while I waited, and then waltzed out, munching (probably awkwardly) my way from there to town across the pedestrian bridge. the river was completely thawed, all the grimy-looking, jagged chunks of ice from a few days earlier were gone.

before I got home, I wandered into the candy store on Main Street. last year I made it a tradition to buy myself chocolates from this lovely shop at all ends of all semesters, but fall of 2014 left me no time. so on this adventuresome Friday, I made up for it. raspberry cremes, caramel truffles, dark chocolate everything.

it was a long walk from there to my apartment, mainly because I wouldn't let myself eat any chocolates yet. once home, I unladened myself of books and bags, tossed some trail mix + a few cookies and chocolates into a container, and took my car out of its lonely parking spot for a drive. going on drives without destinations is not usually a thing I do. the newness of such an activity gives it at least a few extra adventure points, I say.

we went north, mainly. east-ish, sometimes. west-ish other times. I think. I never once looked at the map in my back seat. my sense of direction has no reliable anchor out here in this flat place. no mountains, no visible-from-everywhere landmarks. the sun wasn't even shining. in the face of such a horizon of nothingness, I trusted a few roadsigns and knew that if I needed it, that GPS I got from my brother for Christmas was right there.
but I didn't need it. maybe that's a sign of failure. I didn't let my adventure get me lost enough. or maybe it's a sign of awesomeness--that I have at least partially, subconsciously, mastered the Indiana landscape within a certain radius of where I live. or maybe both.

I still haven't looked at a map to see where exactly my meandering drive led me. my mental map would say my path traces something like a wonkily stretched-out figure eight with prongs. way out to the northeast, around in a bit of a circle across highway 25, and then back west to where I started recognizing things. like this absolutely striking one-lane bridge over the Wabash:
months and months back, friend Priya and I got lost here, too. we were looking for the Wabash Heritage Trail but we kept missing it, for some reason. we had a glorious time anyway, and there was ice cream afterwards.
I knew where I was at this point, but it was still too early to go home. so I turned north again. and then east again. there were acres and acres of half-frozen fields. cornstalk stubs prickling from the ground for miles. I pulled over and sat in the middle of all that for a while, rolled down the window, listened, waited, hoped nobody thought I was crazy or stranded or lost.
only one (nice-looking, scruffy, young-ish) farmboy slowed down his massive truck to make sure I was alright. a few other cars drove by, adding an unfortunate layer of self-consciousness to my sitting. I regret not bringing a notebook. I could have soaked in that nowhere till it got dark. wouldn't that have been nice?

instead, I returned to the road, wound my way a few inches north, back south, further west, and west, and then southwest, southsouth, southeast, and back to town. home. I rolled out some pie crust and folded it over some turkey-pot-pie-ish filling. I continued snacking on trail mix. I put on a show and pulled out my embroidery floss. I am making my own version of one of Gina's handstitched hats.

the rest of my evening was not quite as expansively calm as an empty cornfield. but it was cozy. I didn't save the world or anything, but I'm calling it all an adventure anyway.

Monday, January 19

spring semester, 2015

I have spent much (but not enough) of this long, mostly-pleasant weekend sitting by this window, trying to focus on reading stuff for classes.
classes of which there are only three, which compared to last semester is almost going to be a springtime walk in a very nicely-landscaped park. maybe.

English 626: Postmodernism And Issues In Composition Studies with Dr. Salvo
since I arrived at Purdue and made my tangly, random brain known to my colleagues and professors here, everyone has been telling me that I will love this course. pretty sure they are right.

German 212 Intermediate German Conversation with Dr. Claudia Mueller-Green
this one-hour-per-week adventure is my fun class of the semester. on our first day, Claudia spoke nothing but German to us. ich verstehe vielleicht....80% or so? enough to manage, I think. wish me luck getting better and better. ich muss mehr ├╝ben.

English 625 Empirical Research In Writing with Dr. Pat Sullivan 
I'm excited for this class too, because miraculously I already have ideas about where I want to focus my research, and how I might approach our final project proposal. that's a weird and awesome feeling.

other things I wanted to get done with this lovely Monday off that I am running out of time for now: 
grade/respond to student posts and short writings
watch the latest Downton Abbey
take a walk or bike ride
decide between potential new apartments
write to Yvonne
write to Nic

at least I'll have time for this one:
post this blogpost

2015 is here, still all new-feeling. gradually we'll get to see both how it changes my life and how it doesn't. 

Saturday, January 10

tools and other tools

during my lovely, long winter break, I asked my dad if his magical shop of tools and wood scraps could possibly facilitate the reverse engineering and re-creation of one or two of these eighty-dollar wooden crochet hooks.

he said "eighty whole dollars!? for what?" and we trekked out to the shop to find out what we could do. 

dad's lathe is pretty old and creaking, but it works beautifully. I watched him trim down and carve the first prototype out of a prism of quarter-sawn oak. 

then it was my turn, with a prism of lovely, creamy-looking maple. 

that one didn't turn out as nicely. the handle was alright, if a little rough, but as we experimented with the actual hook, things got weird. you'll excuse me if I didn't take any photos of that unfortunate failure, I hope.

after that, dad and I were on a roll. he pulled out a length of black walnut, next. black walnut from the tree that once grew out front at the house where I spent my childhood. black walnut from that tree in my once-upon-a-time hometown. black walnut that my dad himself cut down and sliced to pieces. 

the sawdust of black walnut has spice in its smell. it's a dark wood, and spinning on the lathe it blurs to a chocolatey chocolate brown. it was my favourite to work with. maybe that's cuz it's so beautiful and maybe that's cuz the wood is soaked in so much nostalgia. or both. 
this is how I carved the handle, using a few of dad's chisels to dig each groove and smooth all the curves. then the sandpaper, with the lathe settings on way-faster. then the hack saw, to crop out the lathe-bitten edges.
the little bulbs near the end are not perfectly spherical or smooth. there is some skewing to them. I think it adds character. 
I whittled most of the hook myself, after dad drilled the center out. he helped with a few other bits too. I am quite proud of our joint efforts. both my expertise on the shape of crochet hooks and his expertise with the wielding of whittling knives were needed here. and I couldn't have done this without all his fancy tools. he possibly could've done well enough without my insisting on testing the thickness of each hook against the cheap aluminum hook we used as model, or on bringing my yarn out to the shop so I could make sure the curve of each beak would function properly--but we worked together. one type of craft meeting another type of craft. one set of hobbyists tools' giving birth to another.

while I worked, trying to finish the black walnut hook before I had to get on a plane back to Indiana, this twitter conversation came to mind. knitting needles are pointier and stabbier than crochet hooks, but the principle stands. "domesticity is funny like that," Liz Abinante says. making yarn into scarves or hats is just as much a hobby as making trees into figurines or walking sticks. 

also funny (and fascinating) is the network of tools and tools-to-be that circle around all these hobbies. a whittling knife is a tool for carving wood into a crochet hook, which is a tool for turning yarn into a hat, which is a tool for keeping one's head warmer when it gets freezing and blustery outside. 
some of these tools all need each other to exist. things and their many supporting characters have a way of crowding together, accumulating.

I wonder now if you could say any of this slightly the other way around. a block of wood is a tool for keeping your whittling knives in use, and a knitted scarf is a tool for keeping your hands busy with knitting needles while you watch films. it's less usual to say things that way... but I don't think it's less true.

and if we continue, my neck and head are tools for wearing scarves and hats. my brain is a tool for reading patterns and imagining yarn as afghan or block of marble as impressive sculpture.

whichever way it is that these tools and tool-like objects work, I now own many more crochet hooks than I actually need. maybe I should give one or two away.

Wednesday, December 31

the point is to live everything

I picked up Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet for a few moments at a party in October. sometimes, I behave rather anti-socially at parties. music, small talk, and hors d'oeuvres aren't always quite enough. I want my eyes to have more to look at, my hands to have some kind of project or game. so at certain kinds of parties, even though it might be weird to be embroidering while the music blares, or crocheting as the small talk happens, or browsing bookshelves inbetween hors d'oeuvres, these are things I have been known to do.

the music and food and company at this particular October party was all lovely. the bookshelf of poetry in the corner took up a small set of moments that night, but those moments popped back into my head when I came across a quote from Rilke's book earlier. recently, On Being joined the handful of podcasts on my iPod, and I have been letting old episodes play in the background of my housework and bus riding. they are sometimes a little too earnest, these soft, meandering conversations between curious, profound people. there is almost an overly-tender, tenuous idealism hanging over it all. but usually they're interesting despite this. so when a friend posted a link to the On Being blogpost of today, I let my intrigue follow it, trailing its author from Anne Hillman's poem and the Rilke quote to the five questions below-- and eventually to google where I found this digitization of all ten letters. the inspirational tidbit in question is from letter 4. "have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language," translated Rilke advises. I was talking to my clever sister about this earlier--about the complex value of holding pluralities and indeterminacy in one's head. uncertainty is precious. ignorance is room for discovery. darkness and shadows make cradles for the candles and the lightbulbs. the blogpost at On Being suggests that to not know = to be alive.

these are the questions Parker J. Palmer has come up with, remixing Rilke and Hillman into New Year's inspiration:
  • How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness?
  • What is my next challenge in daring to be human?
  • How can I open myself to the beauty of nature and human nature?
  • Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
  • What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?

I love questions. how they lead to more and more and more unknown, unsettled, untraveled spaces. the idea of living in the moment, living in questions, feels excessively appealing. and here, in no particular order, are my pondering, tentative responses:
  • keep asking questions. around and about and underneath all the answers you think you might be setting in with, there are always more questions.
  • prepare for and take responsibility for the things you want, even if you aren't sure you want them, even if you aren't sure how or why or when or what will happen as a result.
  • get a haircut.
  • walk to school one or two mornings every week.
  • collect and cultivate a few more potted plants.
  • listen more selflessly.
  • write on paper. take more notes. make more connections among the books and articles and conversations.
these aren't all. I'll come back and keep pondering.

years and their turnings are indeed arbitrary temporal thresholds. every millisecond could be just as momentous as this one we're waiting for at midnight tonight. that the digit at the end of 2014 is switching by one is pretty neat, and this sort of switch does only happen once every thirty-one-and-a-half-million seconds, but given the way we quantify time, every single moment some digit of the timestamp is switching, spinning, ticking away. we could use every one of those ticks as an excuse to throw confetti, to dance, to live. every moment is a beautiful new question.

Sunday, December 28

Sunday, December 21

checking it twice

Sunday, December 14

Sunday, December 7


Saturday, December 6

you are not made of metaphors

this poet came to perform this week, at my little university in this little Indiana town. 

...okay, neither the town nor the university is all that little.

Sarah Kay, famous for these poems, that TED talk.

I keep thinking about this poem, "The Type." wondering who I am.

last Tuesday, in a long, narrow chair-filled faculty lounge at the Purdue Memorial Union, she performed several pieces, some from her new book, some moving and poignant, some sappy and silly, some in between. it was very fun.

we were discouraged from making recordings ourselves, but you, if you were not there (or if you were), can, thanks to this internet wonderland, find and watch recordings of some of the same poems performed at other venues, at other times.

a story full of time-skips, summers, expanse

"No Matter the Wreckage"
which made me wonder about men as ships and women as sailors, so seeming backwards.

"Private Parts"
as I doodled all over this bit of scrap paper (black ink courtesy my own pen, pink courtesy a pen borrowed from the nice fellow-who-accompanied-me-to-this-poetry-performance) I made notes on idea from this poem: "corners sanded away, the parts that once only fit one person."

now that I'm blogging about it, I had to look up the real bit of poetry I was trying to capture at the corner of this doodling. it's more specific. it's more evocative. it's real and if you listen, you'll hear the line, just there:
and the years have spread us like dandelion seeds, sanding down the edges of our jigsaw parts that used to only fit each other.
I of course want to take the idea of that--the kernel of memory of touch and meeting and change--and run with it through a lot of stretching, complicated thought-work. will identities always be settling, smoothing? what does this mean for eternity, for unity? does who we are ever stop losing uniqueness? will this time, these years, ultimately lead to inevitable mass conformity? does it ever work backwards? can we hope for getting sanded into less-smooth, less-conforming, more-particular pieces? why or why not?


these poems I've linked weren't all, of course.

the piece about South Africa was very sad.

the one she said she'd never performed before--"Dragons"--was intense.

of course that toothpaste + bicycle tire love letter made us laugh.

I have work to do, other than poetry and other than blogging. but I keep thinking.


being sanded.

Sunday, November 30