Saturday, January 05, 2008

I Think I Have Anthrax

Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration. But it is not a good thing when you look at the prescription and you realize it is the very same antibiotic used to treat anthrax.

It is also not a good thing, when the doctor looks up inside your nose and says, "Oh, my."

But that is what she said, when my husband dragged me to the after-hours clinic today. I was hoping to tough it out, but I woke up this morning unable to breathe through my nose and unable to touch my face without flinching.

The doctor also shook her head and said, "You have a terrible sinus infection." And then she gave me an injection of cortisone, some potent decongestants and the abovementioned antibitotics.

"Go home," she said. "Get in bed and stay there for a couple of days."

Technically, I am in bed. I am ensconced on the futon in the spare room, with pillows heaped behind me like a proper invalid, keyboard in my lap, with warm cats deployed along the length of my body. I can see the montior screen from here -- the desk is right next to the futon and the keyboard has a long cord.

I am in bed, and doing nothing except typing and knitting. She did not say that I had to get in the bed without a keyboard, knitting needles, tea or a book.

So I might as well do a little catch-up writing, and talk about the yarn and fiber and spinning I have in the works.

I was pleasantly surprised, my first few times at the arts market, to have more than a couple of people ask about hand-dyed rovings. Some were spinners themselves, and some were looking for gifts for spinners. After the first request, I dyed some roving. I found that presenting two ounces of roving in a large Mason jar went over well as a holiday gift. The roving is simply squashed into the jar and the lid placed on, with a bit of scrap yarn for decoration.

Presenting roving this way is not a good long-term storage solution, but it makes a nice-looking gift package, and it is also wise as protection from toddlers with sticky ice cream fingers.

Two samples are in the photo below. Left: "Tequila Sunrise." Right: "Margaritaville." These are food coloring dyes and will look darker when spun into yarn. Yes, I want people to think "lotsa happy fun" when they spin my stuff. There is also a portion of cat in the upper right hand corner of the photo (see the fur and the rabies tag?), but I'm afraid I had to edit my boy Seven out of the picture in order to get a good closeup of the wool. I doubt he'd take it personally, but please don't tell him that I cropped him out. I promise to post a lovely photo of him for you to admire in an upcoming post.

If the buyer divides "Margaritaville" in half and plies it against itself, they will get a flecked, tweedy effect with the yellow and hints of white.

Also, in the following photo, I've been playing with dyeing singles in gradients of green and russet colors. Top: "Peas and Carrots." Bottom: "Lettuce Knit." Getting good greens makes me grin more than any other color. Maybe it's just that I'm not such an experienced dyer, but I find that good, rich greens are hard to accomplish.

I think my very favorite thing, and it's getting to be somewhat of a signature with me, is to spin fine singles, space-dye them, and then ply them together. It means two extra steps in the winding off, but I really love the play of colors. "Peas and Carrots" was space-dyed after plying. "Lettuce Knit" was dyed before plying. The colorplay has a lot more depth, I think.

This yarn in the next photo was flat-out, total fun. Regular readers may remember that when I added my pre-owned Ashford wheel to the family, she came with some accessories and two fleeces: one was in fairly good shape but the other had been stored unwashed, in the grease and full of vegetable matter, smashed unceremoniously into in a five-gallon tin for almost 20 years. It emerged from the can as a hairy, dirty, waxy lump. I nearly threw it away, but my Capricorn subconscious wouldn't tolerate that, so I salvaged it. Salvage operations required a good, long soak in Dawn and cold water, then a second de-greasing soak, and two good, cold rinses.

I don't find the resulting wool soft enough to be suitable for garment-quality yarn, but I'm frugal, so I made rustic-spun singles and I came up with a good felting wool suitable for purses, rugs, and slippers. The college-student crowd at the arts market bought me out of wild colors last time, and they always appreciate a bargain, so I've dyed these in wild colors and priced them less than first-quality wool. I have lots more of this salvaged fleece, and it will all be rustic spun, and boldly dyed for felting projects. This colorway, called "Summer of Love," was photographed drying outdoors on a cool, dry, sunny day in late November.

And now, an abrupt change of subject. Sort of.

The other day, I visited a friend who is a legal secretary by occupation, and a painter by vocation. I wanted to tell her about my experience at the arts market and wanted to encourage her to apply for a booth space of her own.

When I arrived, she was working on an oil for an upcoming show -- the figure of a lone man on a grey street in a big city, a painting with strong contrasts and deep shadows. The man wore a long, grey overcoat and a brimmed hat reminiscent of film noir and of our own fathers.

After a few minutes, she draped the work-in-progress and set her hands to stretching a new canvas.

Our coffee mugs sat between us on the paint-splattered table in her garage studio. I perched on a stool, knitting with my own handspun, hand-dyed yarn.

We talked about our friends, her dogs, her daughter's school, and her own paintings. We discussed how people perceive and define art differently.

We were not having this discussion at the graduate-school level by any means. Terms like "postmodern" or "dadaism" did not come up. We simply talked about what we think is beautiful, what is emotive, what makes us think, and how other people react.

What makes a thing "art?" Why is a thing "art" to one person and not to another?

Is it art if a pedantic art critic says it is art, and not-art if a nine-year-old thinks it is art? If I fail to understand it, is it not-art or am I simply dull-witted?

We were talking about these things lightly, sometimes amused, sometimes bemused, relating stories of people we knew and the things they liked, tales of how some work that she was sure would be a hit had flopped, while people went wild over what she thought would be dead-certain duds.

We gnawed at the perennial question: why do so many artists have to struggle so? Why do most people more readily embrace mindless entertainment than good art? Is it because of the simple fact that interacting with art requires some degree of thought -- which frightens many people -- while interacting with pop culture requires only passive observation? Does art live in the hands of the artist or the eye of the beholder?

We also considered: is art craft? And: is craft art?

We both said "yes" to both concepts. And then she gestured at my hand-dyed work and said:

"I paint on the canvas. You paint in the canvas. Same thing."

So I pondered that. I thought about all the fiber artists I know who put so much of themselves into every dyebatch of yarn and into every skein of handspun fluff. I thought about how difficult it is to explain to some people why I have to make things. I have to make garments from scratch, I have to make yarn from scratch, I have to make colors, I have to write. These things are not mere pastimes or hobbies. They are powerful and singular urges which cannot be ignored. It's like being hungry, or needing to go to the bathroom. I will be miserable unless and until the need to knit, spin, or write has been vented.

I don't have to explain this tangible need to a painter, but it's difficult to explain this urgency to people who think of arts and crafts as mere pastimes, activities which exist for the sole purpose of occupying an idle mind, like the word-and-number puzzle booklets you can buy at the airport.

Before I went home, I told her one of my favorite art stories. It happened to a young man I knew back in the 1970s, a young man named Jeff who was a sidewalk painter in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I had a bit of a crush on him, back when my high school friends and I would take the streetcar downtown on Saturday mornings and wander around the French Quarter all day.

Each morning, he set up his easel on the flagstone sidewalk outside of Jackson Square, right across the street from the Cafe Du Monde. He'd work on a classic New Orleans scene in oils, while intermittently knocking off quick little oil portrait sketches of tourists for a modest fee. He worked earnestly, in all kinds of weather.

Once when I passed to admire his work, Jeff was all smiles and told me that something remarkable had happened to him. Around midday, he was hungry, so he closed his paint box, laid his brush rag across the backrest of his folding chair, and asked a neighboring artist to watch his things for a few minutes while he went to buy a sandwich.

When he returned, a tourist was holding up his brush rag, scrutinizing it carefully. The man asked him, "how much do you want for this?"

Jeff was puzzled, thinking perhaps that the man was rather ineptly trying to make a joke about modern art. In jest, Jeff replied, "oh, I was planning to ask five hundred, but I haven't decided on a firm price."

The man reached in his wallet and pulled out a wad of money. "I'll give you one hundred," he said, wagging a cluster of twenties at Jeff. "I'd pay more if it was mounted. Also, you need to sign it."

Jeff looked around, thinking there was a camera crew and a TV comedian waiting to pounce on him, but nothing happened. He looked at the rag, smeared with layers of blotchy color, and asked the man if he was serious.

He was.

Jeff signed the rag and took the money.

Beauty is always in the eye of the proverbial beholder. I try to keep that in mind when I make up new dye jobs. I think it's important to offer something for everyone. I can't just dye everything in my own favorite colors.

I've run out of things to say and now I think I can finally fall asleep. It's quite a trick to try to rest when you've just had a jolt of cortisone.

I'm off to sleep. Carry on.

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At 6:58 AM, Blogger Barbara-Kay said...

Ah, the classic Louisiana diagnosis: Jungle Rot! Your position on the futon with the cats and the keyboard hark me back to Annabell Lee. What would Poe think of today's version?

Hope the meds kick some germs quickly for you!

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Adele said...

Those beautiful jar contents look good enough to eat (or drink).

Hope you are already feeling better, having both you and the dear Yarn Harlot sick at the same time is bad. Glad you both keep us informed so we can send get well fast wishes.

As always, your writing entertains, informs, inspires, and causes much thought. Thank you.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Beadissimo said...

I love your stories...

At 3:45 PM, Anonymous calamityjanee said...

You always have something important to say and I am so glad you share it. It is just uncanny how I was having this same discussion(need/compulsion versus dabbling)this morning with my husband. I was telling him how, when another mother came to pick up her boy from basketball practice, she made a bemused comment to me of "Oh, you're still knitting." She knew I had been working on Christmas gifts the past month and assumed that they were not finished or some such. TO which I replied "I am ALWAYS knitting." You can imagine that did not register. Knitting is a lifestyle that is unique to each knitter. What you said resonates with me so much-I also NEED to knit, NEED to work with my sheep, NEED to train a horse/create a bond, NEED to ...well, you know all too well.

At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two comments:
The jars are lovely, the one on the left looks like home-canned peaches. Not knowing much about roving or spinning, I'm curious about just how much worsted weight yarn one could spin from two ounces of roving.

And I have been musing about art and entertainment since watching on DVD (Hooray for Netflix!) the first season of "Slings & Arrows", a Canadian sitcom about a theater company. It's hilarious, full of intelligent dialogue, a feast of words and wordplay, and it moved me to tears in episode six. It engaged my mind and heart; watching it made me feel smart. It put to shame every mass market sitcome I've ever seen.

Why do we in the United States set our sights so low? Why do we settle for so much mindless trash on television? So little art, so much filler just to space out the commercials.


At 2:54 PM, Anonymous Chris S. said...

Hi Dez. Sorry you're feeling so ratty - hope this comment gives you a little relief. I was in Texas visiting my sister after Christmas, and managed to spend a couple of hours at Apple Leef Farm. Wow - I'm so glad I had read about your friend in your blog! My sister and I had a lovely time as Leef is such a sweetheart. We talked and talked, and I bought some good things (including a drop spindle and some roving - Leef gave me a demo and hopefully that's enough to get me started) and my sister is going to go back for a felted scarf/shawl class. There - does that make you feel any better? Sure hope so. Thanks for the recommendation!

At 7:33 AM, Blogger Vickie said...

This proves again that every cloud has a silver lining. While sick, you managed to write things that inspire, educate, and make us go "ooooooh." (Even though I am not a spinner, I so want that roving in a jar!)

I hope you are feeling better soon.

Dumb questions: what does "Space-Dyed" mean?


At 10:11 AM, Anonymous oneken said...

what is art and what is craft -- those two will never be separated for certain. things get comically tricky when you try to decide what is fine art and what is folk art. and must a masterpiece be singularly 'right' or can it be replicated many times over, as in silk screening.

there are no answers. and unless you retain a dealer to be on the look-out for unexpected treasures, it comes down to what you like and what you are willing to pay. the brush rag anecdote is perfect.

capricorn eh? happy birthday dez!


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