Saturday, April 19, 2008

Inexplicable

Back at the end of March, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee sent out a call to knitters, asking them to engage in one day of inexplicable knitter behavior. Her readers responded exuberantly, and I can only imagine how perplexed the non-knitting denizens of their respective cities were.

The day for inexplicable knitting fell on a Tuesday, a school day, and even if I thought I could get away with skipping all my classes that day, I would've been certifiable if I thought I could a) get away with ignoring all the ancillary homework and b) starting a new project. But I am all for the idea. Ordinarily cool people can be unexpectedly narrow-minded when it comes to knitting, and one of my admittedly vindictive pleasures is shaking up their idea of The Way the World Works. It's the nature of the experiment, it's the patterns of my temperament.

Ennyway, I was standing at my bus stop this past Tuesday, working on the Icarus and musing on the two presentations I had to give that day. It was rush hour, and this bus stop is along one of the main thoroughfares, so there were quite a few cars out. About five minutes went by before I noticed how many of the drivers were staring. Blatantly. I was on a purl row, so I took my eyes off my knitting to stare back (being at a bus stop liberates one from many social norms). One burly bearded guy in a pickup with his son literally turned his head to gawk as he drove past. All these people weren't looking at me, per se. They were looking at the Icarus.

Good for them, I thought. A little culture shock before work does one good.

Skip ahead to Thursday. One of the grad students let everyone into the classroom early (it's kept locked to keep people from making off with the osteological collection), so I pulled out the Icarus and got to work. Without realizing, I spaced out, gazing deeply into empty space while I tried to figure out how I was going to organize my afternoon. A voice at the edge of my consciousness pulled me back in, and I looked over to find both the professors, two grad students, and the guy at my table staring, at the Icarus of course. I had a deer in the headlights moment, awkwardly fielding the usual queries--it's a shawl, I don't know how long it will take to make, etc. "That's impressive," one professor said. Ye gods. The man pulls conclusions about population histories out of 64-dimensional space, and the So-Easy-It's-Boring Icarus is impressive?

When half the Andean Archaeology class began to ooh, I felt rather resigned. Being the bearer of beneficial culture shock is all well and good, but it was beginning to cut into my knitting time. It's going to be a shawl, no it's not hard, feel how soft the yarn is. I was buoyed up by the fact that some of these people actually knew how to knit, and one had astutely noticed the subtle color gradients that kettle-dyed Malabrigo is famous for. Then she asked if I was using different balls of yarn to get that effect. I cringed inwardly, thinking of the way randomly switching from color to color, Fair Isle OR Instarsia style, would compromise the structure of lace, unraveling all into the holes, not to mention making the back side look like a knotty mess.

But then I had a total anthro moment. Knitting is just as foreign to most modern people as Egypt to the Victorians or South America to the conquistadores, and they can react to it with just as much ethnocentrism. As a firm believer in cultural relativity, I feel that this needs remedying. So for all its setbacks, I'll keep KIPping. That everyone who sees me is going to run out and become a knitter is too much to hope, and anyway, it's beside the point. The point is to understand knitting for what it is and knitters for who they are. And maybe one day, in a Utopian future, knitting will cease being seen as something straight out of a curiousity cabinet, and it will take a whole cadre of knitters running around with cameras and half-completed socks to really shake things up.

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