25 October 2006

Juggling Skeins

(Yak/Merino scarf from ages ago, finally modeled now that the weather is cooperating. Nice match with the coat, yes?)

[NB: There is much text and little knitting in the rest of this post. Feel free to skim or skip]

Hyunjee commented on yesterday's post:

OK, I'm coming out of lurkdom to ask how on earth you balance dissertation writing with knitting, blogging, being married, having friends, teaching, etc etc. I've read your very thoughtful pieces on the Mason-Dixon craze and on price fixing in the yarn industry, and now you are writing Blogger tutorials... and you have chapter % bars in your sidebar!? That move?! Maybe you should write a long post telling us underachieving diss writers how to keep all these balls up in the air, because it's pretty damn impressive. OK, back to writing... :)

(And Carrie seconded the query.)

My first reaction was laugh hysterically because I really do spend every waking second and most sleeping ones in a state of total panic about how many important things I'm not doing at any given moment (even when I'm working, I'm thinking about all the diss-related tasks I haven't done yet).

So what the @$^%$^@ am I doing wasting any time on a blog at all?? I have asked myself this question. And I have, indeed, been asked by others. My answer is that it's either this, or go completely raving mad. I'm only one untwisted strand of cobweb-weight yarn from madness as it is. After trying to find something to keep me sane for a long time, this blog is really doing it better than anything else. Just knitting alone didn't entirely cut it - dissertation-writing is so anti-social already, and my knitting was pretty anti-social, too, and I just needed to force myself into some human interaction.

What about my ("real"-life) friends, you ask?

I'm actually terrified to even tell some of my friends that I have this blog, because I'm scared they'll hate me for doing this instead of calling or visiting them. Not that I don't ever call my friends anymore, but I am WAY behind on all the things I want to be doing both to be a good friend and to enjoy being with my friends for my own sake.

But here's the thing. I've already got all kinds of guilt and self-pity and guilt and more guilt associated with my friends right now, so I'm mostly doing what little I can manage and hoping life will improve in this respect once this !#$%!#$% graduate program is over. And hoping they'll let me make it up to them. Hand-knit socks for EVERYBODY!!!!

The beauty about this blog, by contrast to the real-life friend situation, is that I have these lovely online friends (this means you) - almost none of whom I've even met, but people who read my blog, and/or whose blogs I read - who are there when I need them (via Bloglines =] ), but who won't kill me or even be particularly hurt if I just disappear without a word sometimes (not permanently). This is about the only kind of friendship I can handle right now.

Of course, I'd love nothing more than to talk for hours and hours with all my friends on a regular basis like I used to, but these days the very thought of calling up a friend or going out for coffee actually gives me stress headaches. I know that once I get somewhere so good, I won't be able to stop myself from having lovely long chats and...before I know it, whole days pass and no work gets done and I'm back to questioning why on earth I'm bothering with this dissertation.

Don't get me wrong, I still see my friends, and luckily they're very patient, understanding, and many of them are also in very similar stages with their own study and work, but at the moment that whole area of my life feels partly stressful, and often all-or-nothing. The blog is the opposite - I really have no expectations or consequences attached to it, but there's also lots of fun, and laughter, and shared interests and human interaction with really great people whom I respect and admire.

As for Hubbster...I'm very lucky there. He's also a grad student in the same field, so even though he's also stressed-out and swamped in work, we're physically in the same space almost all the time, we understand perfectly what the other is doing, why it's stressful, but also why it's still important and worth doing, and we can often make things easier on the other person. I am a few years ahead in the same program, so I've already taken the courses, the exams, and done the teaching that he's doing now (and yes, I give him my notes!). And he's a native speaker of Russian...([whisper:] I'm so lucky here I hate to admit it in case other dissertators want to kill me)...so I have NO translation issues. I do most of the busy work of it myself, but when I'm stumped, I don't have to waste hours with my pile of 17 Russian dictionaries (I really do own 17, I counted) - I just ask Hubbster. And he can do Russian-language online searches in the blink of an eye, while I spend 15 minutes hunting for the !%$%@#$ soft sign on the cyrillic keyboard...Since he even works in the same field, I can take an article or book that would, in the old days, have sucked up several long, painful hours of my time before I determined that it didn't even have what I was looking for (partly because most Russian academics are not nearly as orderly or predictable in argument structure...when they have an argument...as Western-trained historians) - now I can just hand it to Hubbster and say, "what do you think?" He'll happily skim the whole thing in 10 minutes (it's probably on his orals list anyway), tell me the one tidbit that's interesting, and tell me the rest is Marxist-Leninist babble that can safely be ignored. Talk about 'squeee....'!

I'm also lucky with Hubbster in the sense that when he needs attention, instead of sulking and feel ill-used (as I would do), he...sings. Makes funny noises of all kinds. Dances across the living room. And, if really necessary (like, when I'm listening to Cast-On while immersed in a bit of tricky shaping) - he'll actually come right up to me and jump up and down (or start loudly admiring the knitting in ways that hilariously make no sense). Unlike my sulking routine, his methods are so adorable that I inevitably end up giving him exactly the positive attention he craves without even having to think about it or try. He's a winner.

Beyond that...well, you should meet me, and see the way I talk. 90 mph. Although I can be very quiet and shy with people I don't know or when otherwise out of my element, most people who happen to come across me mid-stream with no previous warning just sort of stare and blink. I type and write the same way. So...even though I'm insanely slow about research, poorly organized, and DESPISE reading anything that I "have" to read and will go to insane, irrational measures to read something frivilously unrelated instead....I still usually manage to make up the lost time by typing, writing, and revising at warp speed (this is of course all predicated on the fact that I really do think about the subject of my writing while knitting, while staring into space, and while sleeping - often waking up with a revelation of some kind...there's no way this would be effective if I really blocked out work when I'm not obviously working).

I do have to revise everything I write for the diss a minimum of 20 times (no exaggeration for once) before it's even presentable, because of the typos, the un-thought-out bloopers, the deeply (nested (sentence (structure))) (for which I'm famous in certain circles), but I actually really like this process, so once I get that far I don't procrastinate much at all and if no one stopped me would often work round the clock . During the period leading up to that, though, I must have breaks where I think about something totally different or I just can't take the agony. So, lately, the blog serves really well for that. I'm on the computer anyway, so I just pop over and read my bloglines, or write a post, and usually by the time I've done that I've restored my mood and energy a bit, and I'm feeling guilty enough to go work again.

How would my friends feel if I called them in the middle of the day with no warning, asked them to be funny for 10 minutes, then hung up on them when I felt ready to work again???

Though it's REALLY bad when something I read on someone's blog is so exciting that I run over to my knitting book shelf and/or stash and start playing. It doesn't happen often, and I try to clamp down on the impulse, because it can be disastrous.

Hubbster would point out that when he's seized by one of these needing-a-break spells, he usually does something like the dishes, or making dinner, or sweeping the floor. To which I retort: who's keeping this family in hand-knitted socks, again? Okay, that's not entirely fair and I DO do my share of housework, but I tend to save it up until it's overwhelming, then do it all at once. Hubbster, too, is not blameless - he sneaks peaks at tank modeling sites while he's "working" - I've seen him!

Anyway, as you may have noticed, I type up my posts really fast and they are, therefore, often full of typos and spelling errors (not to mention rambling in nature...I try to put in lots of photos to distract you from the ramblingness). They don't often have many of those other pesky common writing mistakes, but that's from years of grading student papers - the usual kinds of mistakes leap out at me like giant, screaming, neon hammers that hit me on the head and make me feel all prissy and school-marmish.

Often, when I hit a brick wall in writing the diss (note the violent imagery that keeps popping up when writing or the diss is mentioned?), a little aimless blathering about knitting can be just the ticket to get the fingers moving again over the ol' keyboard (hmm, warm, wooly imagery...pictures of alpacas with big, brown eyes...yarn porn...just the words are soothing, aren't they?)

Of course, if I were teaching right now this blog wouldn't be here.

Last year, when I was teaching, I only vaguely knew there was such a thing as a knitting blog universe, and was reading only the Harlot (whose career I've been following since the old days of the e-mail KnitList, before she started blogging). I wasn't even knitting very much, and certainly not anything remotely complicated. Teaching has a tendency to take over my life and leave no energy left for anything else. In my experience, it's much easier (than writing and research) to know what you have to do, and there's just no way to procrastinate however much you might want to, but doing all of it takes everything you've got. I only barely got started on the writing in that whole last school year, whereas I think I can finish the diss completely in this school year, because I'm not teaching. Writing alone is exhausting creatively and intellectually, but it feels more to me like trying to force lots of abundant energies - including good stuff but also the adrenaline produced by stress, for example - into channels that will be productive, rather than letting them take over and result in spontaneous combustion. Sometimes this requires running some of the energy into alternative streams, just to keep it from exploding.

Also, the reason I came up with a way to avoid Blogger as much as possible (see post below) is that when I first started this blog and went through trying to upload images directly a few times, I had a moment when I thought, "either there's a better way to do this, or this blog dies tomorrow." So I thought of a better way, and now that technical side of blogging doesn't really take up any time, either. I have organized bookmarks for all the image hosting and counter sites, and my passwords are remembered by the computer...it's so easy these days to coordinate this stuff. Why can't my diss be this well-organized??

(Note to Carrie: it's usually much better in the evening than the middle of the day. Maybe that's why you've had better luck? The image uploader is much slower than any I've ever seen anywhere else [even years ago], and it often breaks down altogether around midday / early afternoon. And the connection to Blogger required to post or access files is often very flighty around the same time. I have a high-speed cable connection that never shows any trouble with any other sites at this same time. One would also hope that BloggerBeta is better. Spider says she doesn't have much trouble in uploading small images, anyway.)

As for the moving progress bars...well, you may have noticed that knitting bars move much faster than the diss bar?? I knit a little bit almost every night before bed, for sanity purposes, and I also knit whenever I'm on the phone, waiting for the computer to do something, traveling, walking, or talking to people. That's not really very much of my day (except for the part about waiting for the computer to do something), but it adds up. And, about once a week or so - more often when deadlines are far away, not at all once they start looming - I can put on some podcasts and a movie or some Sopranos, and just knit, knit, knit most of a day away. Sizzle got finished so fast because of a once-a-year, paid-for-by-parents weekend holiday that included long hours in the car and on the train, and a following weekend when I was sick and couldn't really sit in front of the computer. Now that my current chapter is revving up again, knitting progress has slowed back down to a dull buzz in the background, and my posts - you may have noticed - are both less frequent, and less interesting.

It also makes all the difference in the world to New Yorkers like ourselves not to go out. We pretty much stopped doing that because (a) we're on a very tight budget this year (b) we're on a tight time budget too, and we're homebodies who can only really relax at home by ourselves, so time "out" is tiring too, though in a different way, and (c) we're sick of being fleeced - movies and restaurants in New York have gotten to cost so many times more than their actual value that we just gave up. Not worth it. We'd love it if we could afford Carnegie Hall and Barge Music more often (read: at all, since Hubbster is no longer a lawyer), and there are certainly a few restaurants that I consider "worth it" (Caffe Dante, anyone?), but most of the places one tries out with friends or on special occasions turn out to be...if not disappointing, then certainly not worth a week's income.

Also, I love writing, and I love analyzing things. Mason-Dixon, the yarn market...19th-century Russian cultural history...whatever. It's just the way I think. I think this way about EVERYTHING. It just spills out of me wherever I go and whatever I do, so those long analytical-type posts really took nothing out of me. I can do that in MUCH less time than it takes me to, say, look up fussy details about a pattern, its designer and yarn and needles and explain clearly whatever weird half-assed modifications I made...that's why you hardly ever see that stuff on my blog. :-) And yes, speaking on behalf of the people who know me well...it's kind of freaky. You can't ask me about the simplest thing without getting a three-part argument with citations (ask my parents). Luckily, most of my friends are also academics, or at least academically-minded, and respond in kind.

I seem to be posting a lot about HTML, but only because no one else seems to be posting much in a quick-n-dirty way for bloggers who don't want to deal with technical crap, so it feels like a useful thing to do. I am new to blogging and have limited tolerance for technical crap myself, so I understand, but on the other hand, I have a very soft spot for HTML. I learned it back in the day when it was ten times simpler, and also when there was no such thing as software that did it all for you. We're talking circa 1994. Two of my best friends and I, in college, started a "'net'zine" (we coined the word independently at exactly the same time that a million other people coined the same term). Bits and pieces of it are actually still online,* though the images that once made it great are all in deep storage (can't be bothered to find, sort, and upload them). It was fun to do, got up to a whopping 1,000 or more subscribers, and succeeded admirably at fulfulling our goal of being "the dumb thing we did in college." When I first saw the first issue of knitty.com, way back when, it reminded me enormously of the tone and style of our old 'zine, except that knitty...actually had content. Huh. I knew we had forgotten something. Anyway. The one thing I can say for it now is that we spotted Bust and how cool it is way early (scroll down to the section labeled "Testimonial Diner," if you are so inclined), and I'm still a little nostalgic about those days sometimes. Hence the HTML-related posts.

You see how I can just ramble on, and on, and on? Effortless, I tell you.

But my life is actually completely crazy, and I'm a mess of psychosomatic illnesses because of the stress involved in the whole dissertation thing and my generally bad coping skills. It's only Hubbster, my closest friends, and knitting/blogging that get me through the day.

Most of all, I really miss fresh air and real, slow-cooked meals (you see why I'm so addicted to The Purloined Letter??). These days, we mostly eat out-of-the-freezer stuff from Trader Joe's, or anything likewise quick that isn't full of chemicals (note that we do not own a microwave), and we tend to eat it in front of the computer, or a book, or a draft print-out....

Er, anyway. There I went again. Thanks, Hyunjee, and Carrie, for coming out of lurk mode!

Note to all lurkers: remember to say hi once in a while! I like lurking, too, but I like comments even more!! Ura! Ura! Ura for comments!!


Nishanna, whom I met at the Harlot talk in Brooklyn, has issued a really interesting challenge to the knit-blogger community. I think it relates closely to an idea in the Harlot's latest post. I consider this post my response. The rest of you - go at it. I can't wait to read what you think.

Random picture (POSTED DIRECTLY FROM FLICKR!!! Thanks, guys!!!! [but why do they make it so labyrinthine?? PhotoBucket is so much better about that...]):

* Note that following this link, and the one on the sidebar to my Cast-On essay, will together give you my full name(s). Not that I mean to hide it or any other identifying factoids from any of you, but I'd really prefer for my full, google-able name in all its parts not to be associated with this blog, because when I'm on the job market, I'll get googled by hiring committees who probably aren't as informed as you all are about the therapeutic qualities of knitting, and will just conclude that I'm not "driven" enough to be hired. So please pretend you don't know my whole name or institutional affiliation. This gives the whole blog thing a fun cloak-n-dagger feel, doesn't it?


Szarka said...

Hah! Another one! Thanks for the break...

(back to the solar panel calculations)

cookie said...

90mph, ha! I talk really fast too and have to consciously try to slow down. If I tried to write as much as you, it wouldn't make any sense whatsoever and would change topic every 2-3 sentences.

Marianne said...

Ok, no, I'm not writing a diss...but I was laughing about quite a few things I related with...I'm *really* glad you blog, I love reading your posts, and I do think you are amazing.

Krista McCurdy said...

Kate, let me know if you've gotten my package yet. I mailed it parcel post, and can't find a comfirmation number, but it had a return address of Handsome Books, my job address.

hege said...

It takes me forever to write a blogpost, so I admire you for being able to write so easily. Your post are really enjoyable, so thanks for sharing yourself with us!

Specs said...

I know *exactly* what you mean about the guilt. I think grad students always feel guilty about something. We're not reading enough, sleeping too much, not spending time with friends/significant others, not putting enough time into lesson plans, not speaking enough in class, etc.

One of the reasons I like knitting is because it gives me something to show for my "free time." Sure, I could have spent those thirty minutes scribbling notes for teaching tomorrow, but hey! I've got this neat short row heel to show for those 30 minutes instead!

Everyone needs a hobby to take them out of their job (or in our case, the entire rest of our lives), and I'm glad that mine is one that also makes beautiful things for people I love.

hyunjee said...

Specs, when I started grad school 6 loooooong years ago, a friend of mine who was already a few years in said, "welcome to grad school. Prepare yourself to *always* feel guilty." And it's so true. And you've got it right with your comment about free time: even when I spend the day spinning my wheels on the last section of chapter 4, I can at least produce an inch of sock at the end of the night.

There should be a support group for knitting diss writers (diss writing knitters?).

Kate, explain all you want, but you still boggle the mind. (In a good way!). Thanks for providing such great material for me to read when I'm - uh - taking a break from writing... yeah... that's it...

Ruth said...

Knitting is my stress release and it's amazing what the mind will mull over while knitting. What's the topic of your dissertation?

I understand completely about how the blogosphere provides community without demands, very well put.

Kirsten said...

I am very glad you find blogging to be good medicine for your diss stress! I always enjoy reading your posts.
You seem to have the right attitude about blog writing and reading. Sometimes I let myself get too obsessive about keeping up with my bloglines, a sisyphean task!

Carrie said...

Hi Kate!

Glad to come out of lurkdom. :) Couple of things:

a) It's true, I usually blog late at night, like midnight, even though by all rights I should be asleep at that time, so my experience with Blogger could be influenced by the time factor. Admittedly my photos are pretty big. (I do try to downsize them when I have a moment.)

b) 90mph. ha! Me too. I am super shy around strangers, but around people I know watch out, the flood gates have opened.

c) Re: affordable NYC entertainment - the Met (Met Opera, not Met Museum) now offers $15 seats in family circle (and some day-of rush-type orchestra seats for $20) which are always (ok, usually) worth it! (Ok I have never gotten a rush ticket, this program is new this year, and I don't have time to stand in line day-of for 2 hours just to maybe get an orchestra seat which might be awesome or might not be, so actually I can't really give an opinion about the rush seats, just the family circle seats.) I am constantly yammering to people about how they should GO TO THE OPERA! Even on my blog (hee). I don't have the time, or the money, but I make it a priority to go because there is no where in the world that has opera like the Met and if/when I move away I will regret it forever if I didn't take every opportunity to go to every performance I could have. Oh, yes, there are student seats too, but I think they are in orchestra-side (partial view), and I don't know how much because, even though I am technically still a student, it doesn't feel like it to make no progress, and it has been a year and day since I tried using my student ID to get a discount. (Nested(sentance(structure)). Or maybe just a run-on sentance.)

d) This long rambling post is awesome. :)

Warrior Knitter said...

I like your rambling post(s) & your knitting is awesome. Also, I appreciate your Blogger posts. I keep a copy of the code templates I need on a word processor & add more when I find useful stuff. Sometimes I'll write my post "live" in Blogger & sometimes in the word processor.