Yesterday I got a *ping*ping* on my WhatsApp from my friend’s daughter Sarah. The conversation as it transpired went like this:
Sarah: Hey Kate, it’s Sarah, I made mittens today
and I’d like to show them to you[Insert slightly blurry video of her modeling her very finely knit mittens, which caused feelings of shock and admiration and a little bit of jealously to arise within. Yes indeed, I was envious of a ten-year-old.]
Me: WOW!!! I’m so impressed! Mittens are my next project, I made some once but without fingers like those. Was it hard?
Sarah: No not at all, it took me a day to make both
Me: What? Are you joking?? You’re so fast!! [Please note that I was not dispensing patronizing encouragement to a young knitter. I really was in awe of her talents.]
Sarah: No it’s super easy
Me: Are they a kid’s size? [Note pique of interest on the part of time-crunched adult knitter.]
Sarah: No, my mom can wear them
Me: Because I’m going to make mittens for my mother in law and sister in law but I haven’t picked out the pattern yet
Do you have the instructions?
Sarah: Yes but I can teach you
Me: That would be cool! [In my head: thank god, maybe I really will get all my Christmas presents done in time this year.]
maybe next week
Me: Dunno. I’m going to be at the garden tomorrow. But you’re at school. [Damn elementary school!]
Sarah: Ah too bad. But at 4 maybe I could come if you’re still there
Me: Ok let’s do that, next week. Mas and I are there every Thursday so that would work
Sarah: Ok at 4
I’ll be there
Me: Great, I’ll stick around for you to get there. But talk to your mom to coordinate. [I’d just realized that Sarah needs to ask permission for stuff like going somewhere to hang out after school.]
So this Thursday? Or next week?
Sarah: Next week
and Mom said ok
Me: Ok cool it’s a date 🙂
Sarah: Ok see you next week
On Wednesday Mas and I met up at the garden to catch up, which is an odd thing for me to say because normally we see each other all the time, but by fault of various circumstances we somehow managed to go an entire month without seeing each other, nor even really having much in the way of contact aside from a couple of brief emails. At long last we were reunited then, and before we knew it we’d been talking for 10 hours straight. It was nearly 2 a.m. and we were both too exhausted to make our ways home, so we slept in the house of the art association that cohabitates in the same land plot as the garden (we have the house keys). The next day was Thursday, which would prove to be a highly productive day.
0827 – I woke up, showered, dressed and was in the kitchen making a pot of coffee by 0900.
0910 – Mas and I are sitting at the table on the garden terrace, drinking our coffee and enjoying the still of the morning. I’m working on my latest knitting project. The still was interrupted when the birds arrived to feast on the grape arbor hanging over our heads. “I’ve had enough of their gluttony,” I said. “I’m fine with them eating some of the grapes but last year they ate everything. Let’s pick everything that’s ripe and make wine.” Mas said, “Right,” and got her laptop to start looking up how to go about such business, because neither of us had ever done it before. I got a pair of scissors from the kitchen and stood on a rickety wooden chair cutting down bunches of grapes and loading them into a plastic bag hooked on my elbow. I picked a huge pile, something like six or seven kilos I’d say, and then returned to my seat to continue knitting while Mas read aloud to me instructions she was finding online for how to make wine.
I was talking with someone the other day, I can’t remember with whom, and we were talking about mainstream education, standardization, norms, etc. And I was reminded of something Doris Lessing wrote in the introduction to The Golden Notebook, talking about critics and their inability to write what they really think and to consider works of literature in any other way than as in comparison to other works of literature. She expands what she says into a deeper criticism of the factory model of education and the competition and value judgments it encourages. She writes:
It is not possible for reviewers and critics to provide what they purport to provide — and for which writers so ridiculously and childishly yearn.
This is because critics are not educated for it; their training is in the opposite direction.
It starts when the child is as young as five or six, when he arrives at school. It starts with marks, rewards, “places,” streams,” stars — and still in many places, stripes. This horserace mentality, the victor and loser way of thinking, leads to “Writer X is, is not, a few paces ahead of Writer Y. Writer Y has fallen behind. In his last book Writer Z has shown himself to be a better writer than Writer A.” From the very beginning the child is trained to think in this way: always in terms of comparison, of success, and of failure. It is a weeding-out system; the weaker get discourages and fall out; a system designed to produce a few winners who are always in competition with each other. It is my belief — though this is not the place to develop this — that the talents every child has, regardless of his official “IQ,” could stay with him through life, to enrich him and everybody else, if these talents were not regarded as commodities with a value in the success-stakes.
The other thing taught from the start is to distrust one’s own judgement. Children are taught submission to authority, how to search for other people’s opinions and decisions, and how to quote and comply.
Last week’s workshop was in the context of a weeklong, countrywide event of workshops for students in master’s of art programs. This happens twice a year, and when Mas and I were master’s students, it was sort of the bane of everyone’s existence. I always thought of it as losing a week of my life, because in most of my (and Mas’s) experience, the “workshops” were didactic lectures or else someone presenting his or her portfolio, all in a very hierarchical sort of way, a bestowing of knowledge upon us, and the students attending generally didn’t interact much. There was room for so much more experimentation and creativity in the fact that for these two weeks out of the year, students have opportunities to go to other art schools and see what’s going on there, to meet people from other programs, to do things together. We felt this was not happening, so we decided to organize a workshop in the hopes that it would. I think I can say that the project succeeded in many ways, with some areas where there could have been room for improvement.
This is how it went: We decided to propose a sort of reading group of Felix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies, which did not mean read Guattari for four days. We wanted to propose the text for reading and discussion, but to focus on how the theory could be used to act and to create. This is the course description that students saw:
This workshop is inspired by Félix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies, which maps out the author’s vision for a uniting of the ecology of the mind, social ecology, and the ecology of the environment. The fundamental integration of the three ecologies – creating what Guattari calls ecosophy– is the key toward reversing current trends toward individual alienation and isolation as well as looming environmental disasters. The themes in The Three Ecologiesare arguably even more relevant and pressing today than they were when the text was first published in 1989; it is for this reason that we have chosen it as our foundation and starting point for discussion.
Over the course of three days (with an optional fourth day for those who wish to go further in the activities and discussions), we will explore the main themes in The Three Ecologies through theoretical discussions as well as hands-on experimentation involving in large part the practices of permaculture and the politics of seed sharing and saving. Modeling our approach on Guattari’s proposal of ecosophy, this experience has as one of its goals the mingling of theory and practice, of theoretical exchanges and concrete action.
One of the desired outcomes of the workshop is the creation of a collective project or intervention, to be determined by group members. We work according to principles of nonhierarchical organization, including consensus-based decision making. As such, we do not consider this experience as an occasion for us to “bestow knowledge upon” participants, but rather as an open platform for dialogue, debate, knowledge sharing, collective action, and collaboration among peers. We also believe strongly in a transdisciplinary approach to research and creation, and strongly encourage participants to come to the workshop with any texts, stories, images, or other tools and objects that they believe will help foster a richer exchange.
What will we all gain from this? Aside from new friends, a sense of glowing optimism for humanity, and a deeper connection to the cosmos, we hope that this experience will lead toward a greater understanding of Guattari’s thought, as well as provide inspiration for individual and collective work in the future.
It was obviously us who wrote that. But we were really serious. So were the students, it turned out, which was a good thing because since we were going with the idea of consensus-based organizing, the whole thing could have blown up in our faces if the students who signed up weren’t particularly passionate about permaculture or seeds or Guattari. Luckily, they were!
The first day we discussed the text and pulled out what for us were the main points, one of which was the sanitization of the individual, homogenizing desires and actions. From that we started a brainstorm list of all the sorts of small daily things we do that we only do because that’s just how it is. Constructed. Such as: brushing teeth with a toothbrush, dusting, cleaning in general (what do we consider dirty?), personal hygiene habits. When, why, and what we eat (how did the concept of mealtime come into being, and why?) and what we consider natural and industrial. This led to the decision that for day two everyone would bring something(s) to show and tell, including particular knowledge, images, videos, stories, etc.
Thus day two was a sort of show and tell of the tactile and the theoretical. We learned about homemade toiletries, the local impacts of mining in Peru, traditional medicine in South Africa, bread (from Erica, whose knowledge about wheat and baking caused an abrupt paradigm shift in my way of baking), and plenty more. At the end of day two we came to the decision that all of our sharing that day could be turned into a small publication, and that this small publication would take the form of those information notices you find in packets of medication. Information cure for alienation.
Day three and four, then, were busy putting together the publication through a mix of original text, detourned text, drawing, and collage. We were all quite happy with the end result, and if anyone reading this wants a copy , just let me know and I can email it to you. (It’s in English and French.)
Photos of the week.
Mas and I and a few friends of ours have been talking for several years about someday putting together a collaborative research/study/art institute focusing on ecology issues. This week was like a microcosm of what could be at that institute in the future. We must do it.
The past 24 hours have been amazing. Nothing crazy, just crocheting and reading, but what I was crocheting and reading was the amazing part of it, to me.
First, the crochet – after I calmed down from yesterday’s hissy fit I looked up another pattern to work on for crochet. This time, no booties. I’m done with booties for the immediate future, maybe it’s a mental block. I was stuck, however, on what to do next. I only had two smallish skeins of yarn of two different sizes and colors, so scarves etc were out. Lucas put in an order a while back for a pouch for his tobacco and rolling papers, so I browsed through the patterns for pouches and clutches on Ravelry and found nothing except for the most amazing crocheted uterus pouch for carrying tampons or a moon cup (the drawstrings are fallopian tubes). I am absolutely making one someday, but I figured Lucas wouldn’t care to carry his tobacco in a uterus so I moved on to other project ideas.
Finally I settled on a pattern for fingerless gloves called “Dead Simple Fingerless Mitts,” which has lived up to its name because not only can I manage them, but they’re turning out nicely enough that I plan to give them to a friend. I only started working on them last night and have nearly finished the first, made with a woodsy brown merino wool-silk blend yarn that my mother had extra of and gave to me so I wouldn’t have to go back to the yarn shop in town for more of the stuff I’d bought before. (She also gave me a fat stack of batik fabric that she thought I’d like, because I’d said a while ago that I’d like to get into sewing. Melanie, how about our sewing session? I know you’re reading this, you can’t hide.) When I’m done with the gloves I’ll post a photo. My wounded ego is repaired. I think my fingerless gloves are the most beautiful fingerless gloves I’ve ever seen. Lesson: never give up.
Reading: When I was around nine years old, my grandmother lent me a book that she said I would like. I was flattered because this was a grown-up book with only a few pictures (pen and ink drawings), and she was right, I loved it. It reappeared a few months ago on my mental radar, and I’ve been going on and on about it to Mas, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember the title. I tried several times googling a string of phrases like “husband and wife move from New York to Ireland, start a farm,” and obviously with that nothing came up. Assuming it was a nearly lost cause and hoping only that some day I would just spontaneously remember the title, I gave up active looking. Then today I walked past one of the bookshelves in my parents’ house, and it was there clearly sitting on the shelf in the Ireland section. (My mother organizes the house’s books like a library.)
The book is called O Come Ye Back to Ireland, by Niall Williams and Christine Breen, and if you google the title you get 40,000 search results, which indicates that it is clearly not that obscure of a book. The story is that Niall and Christine ditched their stressful lives and dull careers in New York to move to rural Ireland (Niall is Irish and Christine is of Irish descent), and the narrative is about their first year back in the old country winging it as farmers. I read it at least three times as a kid, and apparently never gave it back to my grandmother. I don’t remember when my obsession (unabated to this day) with stories such as this began, but I know that this was not the launch of my farming dreams, only fuel to the fire. Ireland is for sure not top on my list of places to farm — too damp, and also probably populated enough already with nostalgic third generation Irish Americans searching for their roots — but I love this story and reading it again is making me want to head off to the green, green hills.
That, then, has been my day so far. Cozy. Now back to it.