Friday, July 8, 2016

Hate Is An Odd Feeling

Good afternoon, everyone. A few bits of news:

I haven't written lately because I have been doing my best to move forward with my life, and it turns out that when you marry someone with two little kids and no immediate place to live, your forward movement looks more like the flight pattern of a bumblebee.

Secondly,, my knitting home for five years, is shutting down this Sunday. That means when I fire up my column again, it will either be housed here, or it will find a new home all on its own. Don't give up hope.

I am writing today because I was sitting at Starbucks, knitting this great Mr. Rogers-style sweater for Erik (he must REALLY love me), and I was thinking about the events in the news the past couple of days.

First of all, we are all racist. There are degrees of racism, and while I am sure there are some on the end of the spectrum of zero racism whatsoever (maybe the clergy?), most of us fall somewhere between "I hate everyone who is not a white man" to "I am angry and don't know why." It is subtle, but it is there. And it stems from three main things:  1) fear, 2) ignorance, and 3) upbringing.

A black man was shot and killed during a traffic stop in the suburbs of Minneapolis. The officer...and I am not justifying his behavior by any means...had some moment in his life that made him fear coming in contact with a man who told him he had a legally-registered weapon on him during the stop. Police officers are trained to keep people safe, but they also trained to act fast and in the best interest of their own safety. Somewhere in the crosshairs of this officer's synapses firing, he was fearful.

Chicago has had over 1,500 shootings in the first six months of the year. If I were a police officer, I would fear for my life every time I left the house.

On the other hand, had this man been white and told the officer he had a legally-registered weapon, I feel with all of my heart that this traffic stop would have ended differently.

What is the solution? Well, it starts with acknowledging our own fears and our own beliefs. One of my nieces was watching a Barbie movie once, and she told me that she thought the princess belonged with the other prince in the movie because his skin was lighter. I asked her what she meant, and she said, "Dark goes with dark, and light goes with light." She was eight years old at the time. I told her that the dark prince was born that way, just like the light prince was born light-skinned, and you can't help who you fall in love with on the inside.

Hell...I can't imagine choosing someone eleven and a half years younger than me with two kids under the age of six if you COULD choose who you fell in love with.

My point is that the belief she spewed at me must have come from somewhere. Maybe another kid at school? Television? Her parents or grandparents, or some other member of her family that she sees on a regular basis? A book? A message within the Barbie princess movie that I did not catch myself? I have no idea...all I know is that we are equally accountable.

It doesn't matter if you have a chance encounter with a child or you are raising one. You have a responsiblity to not only your own generation, but the next one. Perhaps random acts of kindness are not newsworthy because they happen every day, and black men getting shot by police officers is newsworthy because it doesn't happen every day.

Wait. But it does, though. And it is getting increasingly difficult for police officers to do their job when they are shielded by their own fear. Twelve officers shot by snipers in Dallas, with one of them telling arresting officers that he wanted to kill white people before dying himself? It may not happen every day to the tune of twelve officers, but someone on the bus with you, in line behind you at Walmart, or passing you on the sidewalk while walking his or her dog wants to kill white people.

Right here, and right now.

Don't tell me you have black are still racist. Don't tell me you saw so-and-so's police record, so it's are still racist. And please, for the love of god, don't tell me you don't see that in your everyday life. You do. But because you are racist and so is everyone around you, you accept it to a degree. So do I...nobody is a perfect lover of all creatures and things equally. But we need to strive for it anyway.

Do me a favor:  thank police officers for their service the way you thank the military. Buy them a java. Show them respect. Yes, there are bad cops. I was told when investigating internal theft at Nordstrom that 3% of employees are thieves. I assume it's not just retail; that 3% can probably be applied to every profession across the board, and it is not just thievery.

Let's even give the media and anti-law-enforcement groups the benefit of the doubt. What if 10% of all cops were bad, and 3% of the population are bad? Well, I don't know about you, but I would much prefer 90% of a population of law-enforcement officers protecting me against the bad 3% of the population, than not having any law-enforcement at all.

Step back. Look at your life. Look at the news. It is okay if it makes you uncomfortable; if you watched the video that Philando Castile's girlfriend posted on facebook in the aftermath of her boyfriend being shot by police, and you are NOT uncomfortable, then that it something you need to examine immediately.

If you see news of a black man being shot by a police officer, it is possible he was a thug. It is possible he was resisting arrest. It is even possible he shot at the officer first. But most people assume this, instead of giving the benefit of the doubt to the black man.

While this case is still under investigation, it sure does appear that Castile did everything he was asked. And yet he was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter. What lesson do you think the four-year-old learned from this?

Ask yourself how you can be a better lover of all creatures and things. Hate itself is odd, because in some cases, it stems from betrayal. In most, however, it stems from something we can't quite put a finger to. When you feel hate or anger to something you can't attribute, is it because of an entire group or series of events? Then step back. Look at your life. Look at the news. Ask yourself if you are looking for a pattern, and look at the situation as individual instead of just another shooting, just another bad cop, just another black man as a victim...

Our kids deserve this, at the very least. If we end up better people in the end, then that is an even greater gift. The only way to stop being racist is to literally stop being racist. Do it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Benefits of Kindness

Good evening, everyone...My apologies for keeping the blog dark for a bit. I have had about a million life decisions that needed to be made, on top of the normal "What do I want to be when I grow up?" crap and the traditional "What should I do with my company?" mumbo jumbo.

Not the smallest of which is that I am getting married in just over three weeks. Yay!

I was thinking about the fact that I have cashed in probably every favor in the world to keep this wedding under an already-minimal budget (which is why there is a cap to the number of people we invited...we chose a venue that maxes out at 95 people). I was thinking about some of the people in the periphery of my life who do not see kindness as a state of mind. In fact, I have a few glaring examples of people in my life who do not even see kindness as an advised practice. None of these people are close to me; I think kindness is one of the most attractive traits a human being can have, and the lack of kindness one of the most repelling traits by the same token. This post, then, is a reminder for most of us, and a tutorial for the rest of us.

This blog post is almost a repeat of a previous one, but it's an ever-important message. Be kind, always do the kindest thing, and accept kindness from others as if everyone equally deserves it (we usually do deserve it, anyway).

Why be kind?

Because the world does not have enough kindness. Don't believe me? Well, if the world had enough kindness, we would not be gushing thank-yous to our buddy when he or she buys us a popcorn at the movies. If it were less of a surprise, that would mean that we were closer to "enough" in this sense. Hopefully, we will never have enough kindness.

Because it feels good. Since kindness tends to be a slight surprise, the recipient of the kindness shows his or her gratitude fairly emphatically, no? Selfish, yes, but it feels really nice to hear someone burst with appreciation for something you did. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Because you can make a difference. Sometimes, people have bad days. Sometimes, people have bad weeks, months, eons...whatever. And you giving up your seat on the bus may feel like the only positive thing to have happened to someone all day, week, month, or eon. He or she may not know your name, but the rest of the day will be spent remembering the sweet stranger who gave up his or her seat on the bus.

Because it doesn't hurt. Nobody ever died of too much kindness. Nobody ever went broke from too much giving. Nobody ever depleted their own resources from sharing too much. Just do it.

Because it is easy. Kindness is a state of mind, and the running thread through the psyche is, "How can I give of myself today?" You do not have to write checks to charity that will bounce out your bank account. You can open a door for someone, compliment an outfit, buy a java for the person behind you in line, help someone across the street, hold an elevator, smile at someone and make eye contact, tell someone to have a nice day, give a kid a quarter for the gumball machine, put out a bird feeder and a bowl of water, sweep an elderly neighbor's front porch...

Because kindness begets kindness. It is a well-known fact that kindness is contagious. See, people like to feel good. When someone makes them feel good, they in turn want to make someone else feel the same way. It's why "pay it forward" is a reality; when you have more than you previously had, often times you want to share it to help others. Those people being helped will remember your kindness, and they will be kind to others because they now know how good it feels. It is the best vicious circle in the world.

Why am I bringing this up now?

Well, I am not exactly known as a complainer. I try to fix my broken crap before I need help from others, and if I have to ask for help, I will catalogue in my head and do anything I can to pay the person back. I also dance to songs at work, sing while pouring coffee, ask customers how their kids are doing, and basically treat everyone like they matter (to the best of my ability). As a result, this wedding is a huge cash-in of favors, but it is also just people returning kindness they have received from me, a few of which were because I mentioned the one or two glitches we have hit:

I knitted a hat for a customer to replace a ratty one she occasionally wore, and she is thanking me by doing my hair for the wedding.
I mentioned to a guy who gets an Americano every day that my previous photographer and I are no longer speaking, and he offered to photograph the wedding.
A dear knitting friend is officiating the ceremony.
My big brothers (some biological and some honorary) are setting up and taking down chairs for the ceremony.
My mom is throwing parties, decorating, and basically keeping me as girly as possible.
Erik's friend is playing music for us.
And for the very, very few people who are not welcome, we have both a lookout and a rented crocodile.
The engagement ring was a trade-in of other jewelry, and a favor from Dad's jeweler.

I could have done the big nightmare again, with a banquet hall and a DJ and a bunch of strangers I would have to pay, but why? The wedding is already intimate, but kindness is what is making it feel like family, even for people who are not related by blood. I am of course paying some of these people, but I would much prefer my money to go to people I trust, who want to do their best for me.

Kindness. Try it. You will like it, I guarantee.

Oh...and this is the Eros Drifters Vertical Top pattern by Plymouth yarns. The yarn is Jacques Fonty and Wendy. I think I will wear this to my bridal shower...fresh off the needles (and I actually CROCHETED the arm holes!).


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Reverse Sexism at its Finest

Good afternoon, everyone! I actually have no knitting articles to share today...just a story.

I have a friend who happens to be dad to a six-year-old boy. While this little boy and I were on a field trip to Walmart, he passed the yarn section, grabbed a ball of orange yarn, brought it to me, and said, "You can make something with this!"

"Yes I could!" I said.

"Could I make something with it?" he asked me, curious.

"Sure," I said. "Would you like me to teach you how to knit?"

He got all excited, nodding his head, and he put the yarn back because he wanted to try out something more "disco" (I guess...the yarn he chose is silver with this awesome rainbow metallic thread running through it). I told him he could pick out one ball of yarn, and we would get the right size needles to go with it.

Now, understand that six years old is right around the age people in general can start to learn how to knit. I explained to did his dad...that it may take several tries before he gets it right, and that there was no pressure to learn. He asked me to teach him. We sat down for our first lesson, when I cast on for him, and I taught him the four steps to the knit stitch in the best way possible for a boy that likes superheroes and wrestling:

"Stab it! Choke it! Pull its guts out! Throw it off a cliff!" (This mnemonic is courtesy of a lesson I took at Vogue Knitting LIVE, by the way).

The next day, he sent me a message, asking if he could come to my work and learn how to knit again when I was finished with my job for the day. I told them both (he and his dad) that it would be fine. I am told the boy's grandmother told the father, "You know...all you are doing is setting him up to be made fun of at school."

This brought to mind two things about gender that I never was required to adhere to while growing up. The first one is this meme, which is probably the greatest contribution the internet has made, ever:

I got the impression from that statement that the grandmother thinks that knitting is for girls, and that kids will either make fun of him for it because he would be a boy doing a girl thing, or because it meant he was sissy, gay, or whatever other in-the-moment word is currently used for that sort of thing. It doesn't seem to ever go the other way, though, does it? The people who worry about things like that will complain about boys doing the things that girls like, but very rarely does one bat an eyelash when a little girl is wearing Superman Underoos, or she has a toy bulldozer, or other stereotypically boy interests.

When I was nine, I had this awesome clock radio cube that had a just-long-enough cord to pull into my bed, so I could listen to the Chicago Cubs when they were on the west coast and I did not want to go to sleep (sorry, Mom). I had a Barbie dream house, sure, but I also had a navy, orange, and yellow Big Wheel and I played little league baseball. I don't recall anyone thinking that was particularly weird, and I don't think anyone was ever worried about me turning into a lesbian because of it. I just had two older brothers, so I wanted to be them. End of story. I was never discouraged from doing something because it was a "boy" thing instead of a "girl" thing.

Little girls who like hockey are much more accepted, I feel, than little boys who like figure skating, if all you do is listen to the chatter around you. Chatter may not be an accurate representation of life, but it stems from something. It is okay for girls to be boys, but much less okay for boys to be girls. Thankfully, nobody in my circle of life seemed to care while I was growing long as I didn't come home both pregnant and strung out on heroin at the same time while in high school, I was free to make my own choices in terms of which "me" I wanted to be. 

The other itch this statement causes to crawl onto my surface is that even if my first ponderance is misguided, kids will be made fun of for everything in the world. Let me take this kid, for example:  his name is not spelled in the traditional, character-in-the-bible way. He is small for his age. He likes the White Sox while the whole city is currently Cubs crazy. He likes tea.

None of these traits are particularly weird, but kids make fun of other kids. It is what it is. And in a world where we are trying to take a stand against bullying, something got lost in translation over the past two generations. Kids will be kids. Instead of trying to turn kids into non-kids...people who know better before they learn to know about we teach our kids to be proud of who they are, and let them explore their interests, and tell the bullies, "I knit! Would you like me to teach you? No? Then stand back, because my sticks double as weapons if I need them..." (you know what I mean)

We can't just blame the parents of the bullies for having bullying kids. Parents who teach their kids that victimization is the only option if they are different are just as much to blame as the others. There is a vast middle ground here, with a very broad spectrum of "acceptable" behavior. This means that no parent is 100% right or 100%'s how we learn from each other.

Incidentally, I would think any caretaker of a six-year-old boy would be thrilled that he is learning something that will keep his hands and brain busy, and is much quieter than playing explosive video games. But that's just me. Lesson number three...if he is still interested...will be next week sometime.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Common-Sense Resolutions

Happy new year, everyone! If you follow my column at all, you know that every year, I post an article regarding what people are resolving for their knitting habits and projects in the coming year. I assure you, 2016 is no different (mostly because I am predictable):

My knitting resolutions are pretty simple:  do as much of it as I can, be as creative as I can, and don't give a crap about spending money on yarn.

Other New Years Resolutions (capital letters added for emphasis), however, are more complicated. I tend to just reflect on the last twelve months, and decide what would need to change in order for the next twelve months to be better. This does not necessarily mean I resolve to change anything; I just like to digest what my life has been like, and be a realist about what it can be like in the future. If you are looking for inspiration, here are some common-sense resolutions to get you started off right in the new year.

1.  Give your haters the benefit of the doubt.  So, you are not perfect. You are probably not nearly as bad as your haters think you are, either, but heed their criticism before dismissing it. The outcome of a quick analysis of your haters is either, "That poor thing...they are just angry because their husband has been cheating for thirty years and they have never been strong enough to leave!" or, "Wow...I never really thought about it, but maybe I AM a gold-digger!" Either way, that dismissal can sometimes prevent you from closure. If you are someone who needs closure to move on, then get it, even if it is only in your own head.

2.  Own who you are.  I had a conversation with someone recently who was busted for probably the tenth time since I have known him, for cheating on a girlfriend. While he was beating himself up over it, I gave him some advice, figuring the last thing he needed was for someone else to beat him up over it. I told him, "You need to either figure out what makes you cheat, or just own it and be a cheater." If you own who you are, you can release a lot of the insecurities that plague your forward movement. Be a cheater! think being a cheater means you are an asshole? Okay, then. Ask yourself the next time you are putting your face between a girl's legs other than your girlfriend's, "Do I really want to do this? Because then I am an asshole." Force yourself to listen to the little voice. If it doesn't stop you, then just own it. Be the asshole. You will still have friends, I promise.

3.  Shift out of first gear.  Ask anyone on the planet if they like sitting in traffic. The answer, obviously, is "No." Why not? Because nobody likes sitting around, waiting for the others in front of them to get out of their way so they can move forward. And yet, many of us will go ahead and say, "YOU ARE IN FRONT OF ME AND YOU MAKE ME ANGRY AND I CAN'T MOVE FORWARD WITH YOU THERE!" to something in their life that has nothing to do with their actual happiness. So, your son is dating someone you don't like. Do you really have to let it sidetrack your day, let alone your whole year? Of course you don't; this is a choice. And by the way, if your response to this little section is, "Fuck them...I would rather be angry," then you may as well just admit that you love attention, no matter how you can get it.

4.  Quit the cries for attention. Which brings me to my next common-sense resolution. Are you always late? Do you hold up a line, telling your sob-story to a cashier or bartender instead of being considerate to the people behind you? Do you like to repeat your same list of complaints to every new person you meet? Do you have a "blame others" mentality, where you start sentences with something like, "I don't know what her problem is, but..."? Because if any of these sounds like you, then you need to do a little bit of a self-esteem check. When we are not happy with ourselves, we do teeny weeny things to get attention, be it positive or negative. Don't believe me? Let's start with being late...what does everyone do when someone walks into a room ten minutes after they are expected? Yep...they stop what they are doing, and all eyes turn to that person. When you are comfortable with yourself, you get enough attention. Not only is typically positive attention.

5.  Be kind.  This is the ultimate common-sense resolution, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people make this look difficult. If someone is crappy to you, and you are crappy to them back, does it really make you feel better? In general, no. The reason doesn't have anything to do with getting even, either. Most of us just really like being kind, and we can't get pleasure out of watching others suffer. If your enemy is drowning, pulling him or her out of the water feels way better than pushing them under, every single time. And again, it's not because you are sitting there and saying to yourself, "I just saved a life!" It's because you are saying to yourself, "I did the right thing."

6.  Do what makes you happy.  I don't just mean career-wise, I mean every damn day of the year. Does eating a doughnut in the morning set the mood for the rest of the day? Do you like organizing junk drawers? Do you knit? (Oh, you didn't see that coming). Then do it. If all of your friends think that live-action role-play is nuts, and there you are, sewing your costume by hand at Starbucks, then maybe you need different friends. If you love your raw-vegan diet, if you love knife-throwing class, if you love reading about the American Gold Rush in the 1800's, then do it. Anyone who gives you a hard time about something you love is either the most boring person in the world, or the best at keeping secrets. What so-called "weird" thing do they do that they don't want you judging?

7.  Prioritize.  We are a compilation of a million little factors. Priorities can either be a most-important to least-important list of tasks, or it can also be a list of qualities we see in people, and in what order of importance they are. Put the good stuff ahead of the bad stuff, not just in you but in everyone else as well. Maybe you think I am weird because I have a whole list of qualities incompatible with your "mainstream" ideals:  I don't own a television, I knit in public every chance I get, my close circle of friends ranges in age from mid-20's to mid-60's, I don't have an I-Pass, I am "just" a barista at Starbucks...the list goes on. But if you see that stuff first...the stuff you don't agree with...before you see that I am kind, loyal, intelligent, financially independent, etc...well, then you are telling me more about you than you are pointing out about myself. How about making 2016 the year we all try to see the good in people before noticing the bad?

8.  Live.  If you have put something off all of last year, then do it this year. If you get bogged down in your office every day, then start to take your lunch break outside. If you spend too much time on your smartphone, then put it in airplane mode for an hour per day. Take a day-trip in your car. Find the nearest forest preserve and plop your blanket down in it...along with yourself and a sandwich and a book...for a little while one day. Sign up for the damn guitar lessons. Write that novel. Start that company. Write a hand-written letter and mail it. Send thank-you notes. Buy the stranger's coffee behind you in line. Kiss the girl who makes your heart go pitter-pat (bonus points if you kiss her in public). Tell the world how awesome you are without following up by telling them how crappy they are...they are just as awesome as you. In short, live. And live your best, brightest, most imperfect work-in-progress life you can live.

Resolve to make this year better than last year. And then just go ahead and do it. No matter the teeny details, let's make the balance sheet on 2016 end in the black, shall we?