Saturday, August 30, 2008

Closely Knit

As you may (or may not) have noticed, I haven't been writing a whole lot lately. I am in a bit of a funk. It comes from having a very demanding and difficult new job, all of the nuances of which I don't fully understand, a 3-year-old starting preschool (which he is crazy about, by the by), and a husband starting a new school year. In addition, I have family who are in a crisis of heretofore unseen proportions, a mother-in-law who is visiting at the end of the month, and a KitchenAid stand mixer which has been calling to me. It's been saying "Make bread in me! You love carbs!" It's true, I do love carbs. And I've been making some truly unspeakably good bread. Even as I write this, there's a loaf of sandwich bread cooling on a rack on the counter right next to a loaf of hearty olive-rosemary country bread that's rising. When I'm feeling sort of fractured, like all of my loyalties are being jerked in different directions and my time being swallowed until there's nothing left to give, I bake.

If I were smart, I would be talking more of this out on paper, or with a good therapist. But I don't have time to find a good therapist, or an hour a week to spend with him, and my creative energy has other outlets that need it right now. For example, two of my friends are getting married in eight days (to each other; I know that might have gone without saying but it's good to be, you know, clear.) Look, aren't they cute together? I can't believe I've known that guy since we went to church camp together when we were 15, and I can't believe I've only known that girl for a couple of years. Anyway, I so wish that I could be there when they get married (despite my fear that a hurricane will wash them and their entire family into the Atlantic Ocean, or that if I were there my husband might make me go to DisneyWorld) but instead I am just frantically knitting them a wedding present. And it's so awesome too! I can't wait for it to be done, mostly so I can put pictures of it up here.

Lately all of my emotions are sort of being knit into things. I am deeply concerned about the effect that my cousin's problems are having on my mother. On the one hand, I am not currently the squeaky wheel of the family, which is a good thing because my mother tends to drive me slightly out of my head when she has nothing else to think about (I tend to get emailed demands for me to tell her everything that Max has said for the last three days), but on the other, she seems totally unable to cope with anything that my cousin is experiencing. Later this month, he will report to Morgantown, WV, to the minimum security facility there, and while I am reassured by the fact that he is close by and that we can visit him if he wants (I am fine with it if he would prefer not to be visited too, of course) I am inexpressibly sad that an exceptionally good father, friend, and human being will be incarcerated, separated from his children, friends and family for the next eighteen to 22 months. What troubles me most of all is things like this, and this. And my cousin, while hardly blameless in this situation, was a member of his city planning comission, former candidate for the city council, a member of his church, a freakin' PTA dad! And he's a criminal? Quick, send a SWAT team.

Anyway, for my mother, who is taking all of this very hard, I have started a lacy, comforting, cozy shawl out of the most gorgeous yarn I think I've ever seen, in every shade of a sunset. I will put up pictures of that as well, because, God willing, she will never know that this blog exists, because if she did, I would have to stop talking about how much I wish she wouldn't wear a bikini on public beaches (Mary, you're 68. Just say no.) She really needs something lacy and comforting and cozy right now.

I know it's not the answer to everything. But I will say that there is a lot of crap in life that knitting can get you through--either by giving you a creative outlet for all of the emotions that you don't have any other outlet for, or by giving you a finished product that helps to take some of the sting out of everything else that stings. In addition, knitting is fun. It is great for teaching your brain to turn off to everything else and turn on to what is in your hands right now, to be in the moment in a way that I have never found a way to do in any other way. Giving away things you've created feels good, better than going to Target and looking at someone's gift registry. I look forward to Christmas now, and birthdays, and new babies, in ways I never have before, because I can give the people I love something that I've spent my time and energy on, not just my money. And your hard work yields a tangible result, something to put your hands on or in, something to wrap around your neck, something to fall asleep under.

If any of this appeals, if knitting sounds like a possible cure for whatever is ailing you, if it sounds like something that you might enjoy or something to do while your husband (or wife, I'm equal opportunity) watches something unspeakably boring on TV, if the thought of seeing your child wearing something you've created for them speaks to you, let me offer you these small bits of advice. They're not about learning to knit--you have the internet, obviously; you can work that out for yourself. They're about the things that will keep you knitting once you've figured out the fundamentals.

1. Find a local yarn store (LYS) to support you. Here's mine: A Tangled Skein. Remember when you were in maybe second or third grade, and you and your friends had a club? You hung out with the club at recess and after school, you ate lunch at the same table, you wore the same things on the same day? Eventually you'd all get mad at each other, dissolve the club and re-form it to exclude whatever poor soul had somehow managed to get herself into the doghouse? Yeah, that's what a good LYS is like, only without the getting mad, dissolving and re-forming. When I say support you, I'm talking about supporting you like an AA sponsor would support you: my LYS is consistently full of knitters (customers as well as employees) who remember what I was knitting the last time I was there, ask how it's coming along, ask me what I'm thinking of doing next, have patterns to share, suggestions about yarn or needles or patterns they've liked or hated. There are soft places to sit and knit. The staff is as hands-on or as hands-off as you want them to be. Here's the best part: nobody will ask you what you're "sewing," nobody will ask you "How do you do that?" and expect to be taught how to knit a sweater in thirty seconds or less, nobody will tell you that "my Grandma knits" (Guess what? Your grandma probably learned to knit when she was ten. My grandma knits too, and she can probably kick your grandma's ass.)

2. Take a class. Your LYS probably offers some; if not, check with your local community center, art center, or community college. You can probably teach yourself how to cast on, knit a basic scarf, and cast off, but when you're ready to progress, it helps to get some guidance. Things can get pretty complicated, especially when it comes to things like choosing the right yarn and needles for a project, knitting something other than a rectangle, and certain aspects of finishing.

3. Don't buy crap. Okay, this is sort of important. Don't go to Wal-Mart and buy whatever post-consumer-waste-recycled garbage yarn and plastic needles they happen to have sitting on a shelf. It's like cooking: if you buy your groceries at 7-11, you will probably get ripped off and not like the result; also, you probably won't find half of what you need to make what you want. If you don't want to spend $40 on a skein of cashmere/merino blend for your first whatever, you don't have to. But at least go to someplace like Michael's and buy a decent-quality wool or wool blend. You will like the results better, it will be easier to work with, and you are more likely to continue. I call this the You-Can't-Polish-A-Turd school of knitting philosophy.

4. Get ready to fuck it up. You will tear out and re-knit your first piece. Over, and over, and over again. I guarantee it. And it will look terrible. You will drop stitches. You will yarn-over when you shouldn't. You will forget that the yarn should be in your right hand, not in your left, get turned around, and have some crazy looking short rows. Accept it. Prepare to throw away your first project and write it off as a learning experince.

5. Yarn will talk to you. It will say things like, "Buy me, it doesn't matter that I cost $30 and you're unemployed." It will say things like, "Your sister is pregnant. And it's a girl." It will say things like, "Your mother loves this color." It will say things like, "It doesn't matter that you have more yarn than you can possibly knit in this lifetime." You will pick the yarn up, rub it against your cheek, envision it wrapped around your neck on the coldest morning of the entire winter, picture it snuggled around your best friend's new baby. The yarn that talks to you will be the yarn that makes the things that you love the most.

6. Maybe you'll get obsessed, maybe not. Maybe you'll knit every time you sit down, or maybe you'll knit once a week. Maybe you'll never finish a project, or maybe you won't buy anyone a Christmas present next year because you've knitted for everyone. Maybe you'll learn to knit while you watch TV, read, listen to music, talk to your friends, or, like me, stand on the Metro during rush hour, or maybe you won't ever really become a knitting multi-tasker. But there is something in it for you. Give it a month and let it become a habit. Knitting has something to say to you.

Monday, August 18, 2008

According To Dan: In A Previous Life He Was A TV Executive

Dan: What are you watching?

Molly: "Jo and Slade: Date my Ex."

Dan: Why don't they just call that show "Pimp My Leftovers?"

Molly: Not long enough?

Dan: How about "Shit, I Hit That?"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Thief and A Liar

That’s how the headline showed up in Google Search: A Thief and A Liar.

I’d seen the story a million times since the economy tanked back in 2001, about a million different hedge fund managers who’d misreported earnings, lied to investors, lived high on the hog and crashed and burned on the fires of the SEC.

My mother called me today at work. She was crying.

When I first picked up the phone and heard her voice, I thought it would be about Lonnie, my uncle. He’s elderly and has been on dialysis for five years. His internal defibrillator gets his heart restarted two or three times a year. He’s in a nursing home and on oxygen. I expect it to be him most of the time.

But it wasn’t. Lonnie is fine. It’s his youngest son.

He is my cousin. He’s the closest to me in age, nine years older than me. I am not sure what else to say about him. He’s a good guy, a fun guy. Girls like him. He likes softball, cookouts, the Cubs. He always brings the beer. He’s divorced. He’s a great dad. He’s got four kids.

He’s a thief and a liar.

When I saw that website headline and the story was about how he misreported earnings on his hedge fund, lied to his investors, lived high on the hog, and Monday was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison, I wanted to send an immediate email to the writer of the article. Please don’t call him that, it would say. He’s not those things. He’s a great dad. He’s my cousin, but he’s more like my brother. I never had a brother.

My mother went to court with him on Monday for the sentencing. I am named after his mother, who died before I was born, and my mother has always been like a mother to him. She is devastated by what’s happened, sick that she can’t do more to help, terrified of what the aftermath of all of this will be.

I want to tell people who read about the Thief and the Liar that he isn’t like that. He didn’t live high on the hog—he never traveled except for work, gave his ex-wife their car when they split up so that she could get a job and he used his father’s instead of buying a new one. He fought for custody of their kids when he didn’t think his ex-wife was responsible enough with them. He wanted them to have a soft place to land, a real home, something stable. He ran for city council; he loved the town where they lived and wanted to make it better, wanted it to be the ideal place that he remembered from growing up there. He lost the election.

He hurt people, I know. He made bad investments and lied about it, tried to cover his mistakes. What he did is terrible. But he's my family. He's like my brother. His mother died when he was a kid, and his oldest brother was the family golden boy, everything was easy for him. His middle brother died unexpectedly at 18 of a heart condition. I don't think he's ever felt successful, like he was living up to the potential that he saw in himself.

When I looked at him, all my life, I saw the fun guy. I saw the nice guy who liked softball and cookouts, who had cute guy friends right at the age when I was appreciating cute guy friends. I saw the good dad. I saw the good guy.

I am so sad for him, because I'm scared that he is looking at himself and seeing A Thief and A Liar. And I hope that he knows that to us, to the people who love him, to his family and his kids, the people who know him, he is and always will be so much more than that.

The tone around here has been a little serious lately. Sorry. I will shake this funk I'm in, get out of this Bad Place. I promise.

Monday, August 11, 2008

M'mm Good, M'mm Good...

Over the summer, while Dan has been at home with Max and I've been at work, we've gotten into the habit of grocery shopping on Monday nights after I get home. The grocery store is relatively uncrowded and Max needs to get out of the house.

Tonight I witnessed one of the truly most appalling displays of rudeness I think I've ever seen. As Dan and I were coming out of the grocery store, right in front of us, a woman had stopped her car, one of those giant Dodge Whatchamacallit station wagons, partially angled back toward an occupied parking spot. She had gotten out of her car, and she was clearly toward the end of a pregnancy with what I can only hope was twins.

As we were walking towards the parking lot, she started calling to a man who we couldn't see from where we were standing, because he hadn't gotten out of his car yet. "Excuse me, sir?" she called. "Sir? I was backing into that spot. Sir? Sir?"

I will be the first to admit that I don't understand the phenomena of backing into parking spots, which is all the rage here. I have never backed into a parking spot in my life unless I was stalking some boy and thought I might have to make a quick getaway. And yet, probably fifty times since we moved to Maryland, I've been following someone through a crowded parking lot and been just about to drop to my knees in gratitude as they passed the one last unoccupied spot in the entire lot without pulling in, only to have them stop short, and have to slam on my brakes to keep from hitting them as they throw their car into reverse and back into the spot that I thought they were passing up.

The man who she was calling to was a middle-aged white man, driving a big grey Mercury sedan. He waved cheerfully at her, as though she was commenting on what a blue sky and fresh breeze was blowing today, calmly ignoring her and went stalking into the store, right past Dan and I. She shook her head, stuffed herself back into her car, and took the next available spot, which was easily another hundred yards out in the lot, as opposed to the spot that Old Fart appropriated for his own use, which was the second spot in the lot.

I was totally outraged on this woman's behalf. "Cocksucker," is what I said, plenty loud enough for the old fart to hear me, and glaring openly in his direction.

Dan is always horrified when I become openly profane and confrontational, but he didn't seem like the type to follow a thirty-something yuppie woman and soundly kick her ass in front of her husband and three-year-old son. Nevertheless, he shushed me with the consternation that I've come to fully expect from my husband.

As I continued to rage against middle-aged white men everywhere (I can't remember what exactly I said, but the name John McCain and the term "ignorant-ass John Birch Society member" may have been mentioned more than once) while we put groceries in the car, Dan snickered to himself. "Too bad Campbell's not here," he said.

"Who's Campbell?" I said, pausing in my red-faced rant against Republicans and Other Bad People.

"He's this guy I knew growing up," he said. Dan grew up in a northern Michigan town on Lake Michigan which grew from about 8,000 year-round residents to about 80,000 tourists every summer, famously snarling traffic, crowding sidewalks and beaches, and in general, lacking in courtesy or couth of any kind, earning the nickname "fudgies" for the massive quantities of fudge that they bought and consumed. "Campbell used to carry a bottle of pee in his car. And any time a fudgie would cut him off in traffic, he would follow them and wait until they parked their car and walked away, and then he'd pour the pee all over the inside of their car."

It was, as you might anticipate, the first time that I regretted not having a bottle of pee in my minivan, and that I didn't even have to go a little bit, as I did notice that Old Fart had unwisely left his window open. I briefly contemplated dropping a couple of eggs through the window, but Dan, in his infinite wisdom and as the better person and party-pooper in this relationship, wouldn't hear of it.

In the time that it took us to load up our groceries, for me to load Max into his car seat, and for Dan to return the cart, Old Fart came out with his Evil Cocktail Mix or his loaf of Craphole Bread or whatever he went in for and got into his car. I backed out of my parking spot and blocked him into his. "Molly," Dan said in his best I'm-Warning-You voice.

I waved cheerfully at Old Fart. He waved cheerfully back, clearly not recognizing me as the person who'd called him a cocksucker not five minutes earlier. I rolled down my window, and he did the same. "Hey Asshole," I called. "God saw you take that parking spot." The smile fell off his face. "And He thinks your car is ugly."

I drove off feeling vindicated, despite the fact that I hadn't come up with anything better than my ka-ka-head poo-poo-face school of insult-hurling.

But as God is my witness, I'm going to get a funnel and an old 2-liter bottle. And Campbell is going to be my new role model in childish revenge schemes carried out on other people's behalf.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

This or That, A.W.O.L. Edition

You choose:

Molly quit blogging for almost two months because:

A. She doesn't like the internet.
B. Every computer in the house died and couldn't be fixed for less than twice what we paid for them, right before our brakes went out, and just before tuition for Dan's graduate school classes was due, and she is finally enough of an adult to prioritize and make choices.