Category Archives: Dare I Say Philosophy

On excellence and mediocrity

So many of us are taught to excel at everything, from very early on. We are told that there is nothing that we can’t do if we put our minds to it. We are promised success in return for hard work, with a side of happiness. Work hard, and you’ll get somewhere in life, with the implication that if you don’t, you are nowhere.
Now, I’m not to say that this is entirely wrong. I’m going to save my opinions on the matter of happiness for another day, and I think we’re in agreement that if everybody gives up on working to achieve what she or he believes in, we may well find ourselves in dire straights. But I digress.
I took this ethic to a slightly odd extreme. For the longest time, I did only that at which I could excel. Anything I did, I would set the highest demands of myself, and perform impeccably. But on the other hand, if I couldn’t be excellent, I just would not, could not, do it, and would slog through lazily and without accomplishment.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a varied handful of useful skills, you can get through life this way for quite some time. But not forever. Eventually responsibilities and workload catch up with you, and not everything you do is such a spectacular success anymore. And when you’re so strongly conditioned to succeed, if it’s not a success, it’s necessarily a failure.
So, you have this new breed of humans walking the Earth. They are smart, capable, and talented. They do things well, with dedication, and are quite possibly creating their own little dents to make the world a better place. And they are slowly burning themselves out, seeing themselves from inside as a growing mass of failures.
You get to believe this about yourself too much, and you stop moving. And that makes it even worse. You get sucked into an endless cycle of feeling inadequate, like a disappointment to yourself and those who rely on you, of self-loathing, even. The deeper you get sucked in, the harder it is to unstick yourself, and slowly the terrible things you believe about yourself are starting to become true to others as well.
If you’re lucky, someone will unstick you. This someone might be yourself. This someone might be someone who loves you very much, but this someone could also not even be close to you, or even ever know this happened. This someone could be a group of people. This someone will deliver the slap in your face you need to get unstuck and back on track.
So you get back on track and keep moving. Go back to being your excellent old self. Until you start burning out again. This will keep happening, unless you change the rules.

I think I found a way to trick the system. To avoid, or at least stall the burnout.
Make a list of things you wouldn’t normally do. Because you’re no good at them and they are a waste of your time. Single out one item that sounds like it would be fun, or that maybe you’ve even harbored wishes of maybe someday mastering. DO IT. Do it with the full knowledge that you will NEVER be excellent at it. Enjoy it anyway, just because you’re doing it. Keep doing it. If you improve over time, pay no mind to this. Anybody will improve over time. You’re not in this for the improvement. This is your chance to be truly and utterly mediocre at something, and not give a fuck about it. Just because you enjoy what you’re doing.

Did you just spend 30-60 minutes of your day doing something absolutely useless?
Excellent. No. Just kidding.

Enjoy it. Savor it. Love it. Love yourself. Give yourself the credit of being allowed to be less than stellar at something. Don’t be excellent. Just be.

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Well, as long as somebody left this soapbox lying around…

I might as well take a turn on it as well.
I Took The Handmade Pledge! BuyHandmade.org

Yes, I bring you another cause. At face level, this might just look like a clever ruse to get you looking at my Etsy shop, or to amuse myself because I’m bored.

I actually already took the pledge a while back, while I was still using my old getcrafty blog. And I’ve actually been trying to live up to it for much longer than that, once I became an independent consumer. Even though I hadn’t been die-hard religious about it in the past, for the past 10 years or so, I’ve been trying to buy as much as I can handmade. Clothes, presents, even foods and housewares.

I think it started with a desire not to be generic. I preferred shelling out more for a handmade designer somewhat elvish raincoat which was made in a small lot rather than wear that same red peacoat that all the other girls on campus were sporting. Then it went on to thinking it was cool to be able to say that I’ve personally shaken the hand of the potter who made my salad bowl, or attended the wedding of the industrial designer who made my handbag.

But really, it addresses all of the above and something far more significant. I have a soft spot for our planet, so to speak. I’ve been troubled with the state of the environment, and generally with the state of the society I live in for as long as I can remember. I recall staying awake late, lying in bed and wondering about big issues such as poverty (and realizing that immense wealth must be at the expense of the poor) and famine as early as six years old (yeah, slightly disturbing, I know).

I’m no billionaire heiress, but my family has always been well-off above average, and just like many other children growing up in the USA in the ’80’s, I’ve been exposed to a good share of corporate branding.

When I first came to Israel, I really missed it all. Toys R Us, McDonalds, Saturday morning cartoons, tv ads. As the years passed, Israel caught up, so to speak, and now we have all that and so much more. Everywhere you look, you see some sort of corporate franchise, be it a local corporation, or more often than not a multinational giant that you can find virtually anywhere in the world. We have truly become a part of the civilized Western world in that sense. And it has its advantages. There’s a certain degree of comfort in knowing that wherever you go, you can always count on being able to find your favorite soft drink/hamburger/candy bar/coffee/shoes/underwear/toothpaste/magazine/television show… um, it goes on and on.

But as opposed to how I felt when I was eight, now it makes me kind of sad. If I take it to a kind of cyberpunk extreme, it just reduces us all to corporate affiliations – I drive a ___ and I drink ___ while wearing ___ and ___. Now, I’m trying very hard not to be extreme in my views anymore, that is a luxury which you can’t really afford if you actually want to be a part of the world you live in, but still. I would like to have a better sense of where the things I use in my life came from, whether it is the food that I eat, the cosmetics I use, or the clothes I wear.

If what I’m writing seems patched and odd, it’s because the above paragraph was written over the course of two and a half week, due to unforseeable circumstances being life. But my opinion hasn’t changed, and with the threat of global economic meltdown looming larger by the day, I think that it’s really time we all acknowledged our responsibility. Responsibility to our planet, responsibility to our fellow humans, responsibility to our futures. Buying handmade, buying local, buying products acquired by fair trade, enable us to take that responsibility into our own hands. When you buy something from a person who has a name and a face rather than a nameless conglomerate, you are choosing to know where it comes from. You are choosing to reward an individual for his or her work and creativity. You are choosing to own something which is truly unique. You are choosing to celebrate indiviuality, personality, rareness, and the fact that we do live in a world whose resources are actually limited and fleeting.Now, personally, I am not really in shopping mode at the moment. We are starting to feel the strain of living on a PhD student’s salary plus occasional random income spurts from me, and the current economic has us in the dark as to when we will be able to upgrade those sources. But I am going to do a little something every so often for those of you who are, and for the benefit of fellow artists and crafters on Etsy. I am going to pick out an Etsy store that has not made any sales yet, whose wares I would probably buy myself, given the right conditions, and show some of their stuff. Blog readers are encouraged to go and shop, and if somebody ends up getting something for me, well, I won’t be too sad about it.

So for my first foray into the land of consumer reviews, I chose PocketfulOfSunshine:

Just in time for holiday season, for those of you who are so inclined, Maria sells lovely paper cards, which are in my opinion truly a pocketful of sunshine. Bright and cheerful cards for a variety of purposes fill her shop.

For her store opening, until the end of November, she is offering a free holiday card with every purchase of $10.

And, like you will find with so many small-scale crafters and artisans, she, too, has a cause which is near and dear to her, the Florida Boxer Rescue. To benefit this cause, she has created a special line of doggy-themed cards, which I find especially adorable, and would probably bring a smile to the dog lover in your life.

*clicky the images to reach the product listing

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Filed under Dare I Say Philosophy, Random Ranting

A Disgrace

To all knitting philosophers. Or maybe philosophizing knitters. Whatever.

I’ve abandoned Kant. It took me 15 years, quite a lot of reading, a degree in philosophy, two kids, and a sock to realize that I don’t much like metaphysics. Upon closer introspection, I found that the big questions I am really asking myself are no longer whether we exist and what can we know, but these days mostly involve how we can be better people to each other and to the world we live in. Even if it’s an illusion. Gads, I dig ethics!

In the process of this realization, I have formed an actual opinion. Preferably everyone, but at least parents to be, should take a little pause to ponder upon the value of the Golden Rule. Find out what it means to you. Find out what would motivate you to practice it in your life. Do you need a punishing deity to get there? Do you need to think that we are all part of a single entity? Do you need to believe that every individual is absolutely other from you? Whatever floats your boat. Whatever makes you want to treat the rest of the world around you with the same respect that you would want to be treated with.

I know I’m going out on a limb here and sounding awfully New Age-y and stuff, but all I’m asking is to give occasional thought to the idea. You don’t have to be morally perfect. God knows I’m not. I’m not a bad person, but it is virtually impossible to keep everybody’s best interests in mind without going absolutely berserkers. However, if you do give a little bit of thought to the matter every so often, it will reflect on some of the things that you do. Little things. Those are the best. The way you act on the road. The choices you make when shopping. The way you act around your kids.

Instead of going into how much the world would be a better place, let’s direct our attention to knitting. The eye of partridge heel? I haz it. Mind you, after I was boasting my mad detective skillz here and redid it, I saw that it was still not working. After further investigation, I came to understand that my purportedly near-genius intellect could not wrap itself around the simple concept of slipping only one stitch and purling the rest of the row to the end on every other row. So I ripped the heel again and started it over. Lo and behold, this time it really worked!
After there was much rejoicement and cheer on my part, and I was about ready to turn the heel, I tried on the sock for what must have been the hundredth time at least. And out of the blue, all of a sudden, contrary to previous times, the sock was ginormously wide. Ugh.

Tal suggested I finish the sock and give it to Mom’s BF. But I couldn’t. This sock was going to be a learning experience. I had already failed the reading part, I wasn’t about to sell out with my knitting. So I took a lot of measurements, learned where it is best for me to measure for socks for myself, took a deep breath and ripped the little mofo all the way.

At present, the first sock has been re-knit up again, and I just have to kitchener the toe stitches and get on with the next toe.

As for Kant, seeing as now I am philosophizing outside of the realm of formal academia, I really don’t need to comply to any compulsory reading lists or what have you. So with all due respect, let’s just say that I understand what an important thinker he was, and that his work did indeed have a lot of influence on the evolution of contemporary thought. And I’m not reading him, though out of respect, he will remain on my bookshelf and not be traded off at the used bookstore for comics and music albums.

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Socks, Kant, and Child Labor

Last night I picked up a random notebook laying around by my bed and wrote something for this post, because I was to tired to get out of bed:

“I knew I wouldn’t be ab;e to go to sleep before I solved The Mystery of the Partridge Eye Heel (sounds like a Sherlock Holmes story to me).

So I took the sock, took the book, and started to troubleshoot. Close inspection of the heel revealed faint texturing, as if it was trying to follow the pattern, but not quite succeeding. Close inspection of the book revealed that I had been trying to follow the pattern, but not quite succeeding.

Suffice it to say I had been consistently performing an act of silliness every fourth row, and thus preventing my heel from living up to its glorious potential.

Now, had I bothered to look up a picture of the pattern before I started, I would have realized my mistake as soon as I considered making it, because I would have figured out that it wasn’t going to give me the desired result.

So I also learned the importance of consulting with visual aids before obeying a pattern.

Kant would say that my synthetical understanding of the pattern was flawed and would have stood to gain from analytical examination of visual input, aided by my a priori knowledge of what a knit stitch versus a slipped stitch should look like. Instead, I ended up falling back on a posteriori realization that I botched the heel.

Hark, ’tis the sound of a German philosopher spinning madly in his grave. Sorry, dude.

That was last night. After writing, I ripped out the heel so I could start afresh today.

On Tuesday, Tal informed me that Neta’s Passover vacation is starting a day earlier that we were originally notified. That is, today. I’m stranded at home alone with both kids. Whoopee!

I decided to be Creative Supermom. Last night I skeined some yarn, so I could dye it today with Neta. Tal let me sleep in a bit later than usual today, to give my patience a welcome boost. Before he left, I put a load of laundry in the machine, and then I sent him off. One setback was that the house was a total mess. Games and toys all over the place, dirty dishes strewn across the kitchen counter. Fun stuff.

But I’m in control. I sat us all down for breakfast, then put Yiftah down for his morning nap. Then, I made myself a cup of coffee and got Neta to work. We picked up the toys, took a heap of paper out to the recycling bin, soaked the yarn, took the clean dishes out of the dishwasher and loaded it, then heated a pot and started mixing up Kool-Aid to dye the yarn.

I let Neta pick the colors, stir them up, and pour them into the pot. Between colors, she had gone all the way to the toilet, and stood next to it as she wet her pants, but I was not going to let that spoil the fun, so I cleaned up the mess and moved on.

After we finished, Neta wanted to do more, so I had her help me skein yarn. Yiftah woke up in the middle of the second skein, so I fed him, and then we continued with the yarn.

After soaking the yarn, Neta once again went all the way to the toilet and wet her pants. This irked me somewhat. I took off the wet pants, socks and shoes and shooed her out of the bathroom, and she took the liberty of completing the stripdown, until she was completely naked.

I had to keep telling her to wait with opening the Kool Aid, so she turned to mess around with other things on the counter, and when the pot was finally warm enough, and I was ready to let her stir the color for this batch, I noticed that she had spilled a full liter of cooking oil on the counter. Good times. Things were getting slightly psychotic. I was stirring Kool Aid with nudist Neta while simultaneously scolding her for making the big mess, telling her she could not have cheerios until after lunch and making mad dashes to keep Yiftah from crawling up the stairs.

At noon I did the sensible thing and placed an order for a delivery from an Asian restaurant, and forgave myself for coming off as a little stupid on the phone, seeing as both kids were climbing on me and whining for various reasons (Neta was out of juice and Yiftah is cutting a tooth). Somehow I managed to pull through until our noodles arrived, and I distributed noodles amongst the kids and let myself go into a brief catatonic state as they munched away.

When I came to, I saw the hellish mess that had become of the just-freshly-tidied-up house, and I sorta wanted to cry. Now what do Supermoms like myself do when faced with a mess of such magnitude, along with the prospect of getting both kids to sleep for their afternoon naps, and about another hour’s worth of work on a patent application that should really be getting on its way? We call our husbands and let them know that they have an hour to come home from work, clean up the mess, and bring us a bottle of Coke while they’re at it. I love that I’m so smart.

The yarn we dyed came out quite lovely, if you ask me. I am going to knit Neta a pair or two of socks of it so she gets to enjoy the process even more.

As for my own socks? I’ve restarted the heel, all the while singing to myself: “It’s the eye of the partridge, hope I’m doing it right, knitting up with philosophy and courage, If I mess up again I will be knitting all night, ’cause I’m not giving up on the eye of the partridge”… (duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duhhhhhhh).

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Filed under Crafting Under Fire, Dare I Say Philosophy, La Familia

Doubt Sets In

I should have known that mixing German philosophers and socks was risky business. I’ve just finished reading the introduction, and have started reading on the Transcendental Doctrine of Elements. I’m afraid that other than bashing Hume a bit and explaining the need for this critique to examine our methods of reason as a way of acquiring knowledge of the world we live in, I don’t really get what Kant is trying to do. I guess that the reason that Kant is considered difficult to read is that Kant is difficult to read. This may have been a very poor choice for the learning experience that is the sock.

The sock. The sock. I’m at the heel right now. I’m experiencing severe doubts regarding the cuff. It looks like it may be a bit too slouchy for me. And I can’t imagine why, but I decided to try an eye of the partridge heel. Now, on one hand, I’m not terribly afraid of fudging the sock, because the book is long, and as I said I have a whole dung heap of the yarn which I bought for peanut, so even if the yarn is damaged beyond repair for whatever reason, it’s no major loss. I am generally not afraid of frogging projects, particularly not something as small as a sock. On the other hand, my only motivation for trying the eye of partridge heel was that I had heard mention of it on Yarn Zombie’s blog. I did not even know what it’s supposed to look like before I plunged into making it. Nu.

After working it for a little while, I finally bothered to check what it is supposed to look like. This is what it’s supposed to look like:

I don’t really see that happening yet with my sock. This is what my sock currently looks like:

Hmmm…

So what I’m thinking is that I will trudge on until I turn the heel, and then try it on. If it turns out to be the travesty I am fearing it is, I will frog it, and maybe look into a companion book to help me with Kant. If it turns out to be okay, there will be much rejoicement, and I will forgive myself if I abandon Kant, say, for Alice in Wonderland. Mathematicians on LSD are far more my thing than German Hume-bashers.

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Kant Get No Satisfaction

So I’ve been doing some re-reading of philosophical texts, stuff I read back when I was an angst-ridden teenager and stuff I read for courses at the university (still angst-ridden). Parenthood has given me a new perspective on the meaning of life and junk and stuff, and is getting me doing some spring cleaning on my belief system. You know, throwing out the beliefs that I don’t need anymore, and polishing the ones that still work for me so I can put them on display for the world to see.

Truth be told, I have a very deep ambivalence to the study of philosophy. On one hand, I am a thinking person. Ever since I can remember myself, I was discussing major philosophical issues with myself. What exists, what is good, who am I, who are the people around me and so on and so forth. My everyday mundane choices are often determined by a philosophical debate of how the options work with my world view. You could say that there is a madness to my method, but that’s just who I am. On the other hand, because I take my philosophy so seriously and always seek to apply it to the real world, I would often come out of philosophy classes either frustrated that yet another great thinker turns out to have just come up with an elaborate tautology that doesn’t really have any implications on how we lead our lives, or utterly depressed because in class we just either disproved the very existence of life as we know it, or concluded that we are insignificant blobs of biological matter and nothing we do is really of any consequence anyway.

I’m really getting beside the point here. The point is after having started out with some lightweight fun in the form of “The Tao of Pooh” and “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, I decided to go for the big leagues with Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”. Back in my wild days as a student, I didn’t get Kant. That may well have been because the professor who taught that specific course was monumentally boring and I hadn’t yet learned that knitting in class helps me listen. So essentially, I am challenging myself with something new. I’m really just a couple of pages into the introduction , but so far so good. I decided to pair up this challenge with another challenge. I am knitting a pair of socks, using actual sock yarn for the first time. It’s knitting up at a fine gauge of 26 sts/4″, as opposed to the much fatter yarns I had used in my previous endeavors. Also, I am knitting this pair using the Magic Loop technique, which is ten shades of awesome. I hate hate hate DPNs. Not having to ever use them again really sounds nice to me.

I thought it would be cool to have a knit&read-along with myself – I’m knitting while I’m reading the book. Yeah, I knit and read at the same time. I have very good control of my toes (that sounds even better than I was planning). I’m gaining the benefits of knitting sharpening my concentration, and racing myself to see what I finish first, with the hope that seeing as the book is quite long, I will be saved from the dreaded second-sock syndrome and end up with a whole pair.

The pattern is the Yarn Harlot‘s basic sock recipe from “Knitting Rules!”, the yarn is a 75% wool 25% nylon blend a shitload of which I picked up from a bargain bin in my favorite yarn store in Beer Sheva. The lucky feet are going to be my own.

And now I truly must be going. Yiftah is toddling around the living room without a diaper, and I know that if I don’t do something about it soon, there will be hell to pay.

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