On Courage

In December 1999, I got one of those calls from my doctor – “there’s something on your mammogram. You need to see a surgeon…”

In the single-digit-dates of January 2000, I had two outpatient surgeries to remove all of the bits that were later identified as ductal carcinoma in situ. In early April I finished six weeks of daily radiation treatments.

Throughout this experience, I learned as much as I could about dcis, questioned the doctors, confronted the technicians (on one necessary occasion), continued to work nearly every day, felt weak and tired, and, eventually, healed in a lot of ways. During those months, I acted in ways that were often outside of my previous pattern of behavior. Prior to this experience, I and others viewed me as a timid wallflower who was “painfully shy.”

In early 2000, I discovered that I am courageous.

Since then, I’ve done a few things that some people think “took great courage,” and maybe some day I’ll write about some of them. But this post is mostly sliding into an introduction of the next few posts I’m planning.

Sometime in the mid- to late-1990s, I learned about a man named W. Edwards Deming from a PBS biographical piece. Then I learned more about his work. Then, based on some of his approaches and philosophy, I wrote a manuscript for a book. I submitted it to a few publishers and was not surprised when they turned me down. I had no credentials, just what I thought were some good ideas. Coming up with some good ideas was not enough to get published in the mid- to late-1990s.

A week or two ago, I saw the 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts by Neil Gaiman that I’ve posted below. Gaiman  invites each of us to do what only we can do. Later, he says, “the rules, the assumptions, the now-we’re-supposed-tos of how you get your work seen and what you do then – they’re breaking down. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates.”

Between seeing this speech, and feeling courageous lately, I’ve decided to start posting chapters from my manuscript. It’s called “Quality of Life.” Coming soon to this bit of web-land…

The value of knitting – and of women

I have been knitting regularly for close to 25 years. I cherish the time I spend knitting, and have in the last several years developed sufficient skill to create a garment of my own design that fits. And I even like wearing a couple of the garments that I have designed and knit.

Still, I can’t honestly say that I have felt proud of my knitting skills. Over my lifetime, I have spent more time knitting than I have spent in any other activity (probably) besides sleeping. But when people ask what I do, I say I work in a library. Or when asked what my skills are, I say problem-solving or mathematics. And then I’m only too eager to point out that my bachelor’s degree is in Physics.

Ogee Lace – pattern from Mary Thomas. Knit by the blogger.

Because knitting isn’t worthy of basing my identity on.

Our society as a whole does not value the craft of hand-knitting (though knitting is at a relatively high point in its cycle of esteem right now). Most people think a nice sweater is one from L. L. Bean that costs, at most, $60. Occasionally, when something I’ve made has come out well, acquaintances will suggest that I should “make those and sell them.” Then I tell them it took over 100 hours to knit, and to get as much as $10 per hour, that would mean $1,000.  They understand pretty quickly why I don’t sell my knitting. And I rarely give it away, either.

It happens that some fabrics created through hand-knitting can be simulated by an automated process. Likewise, some structures created through hand carpentry can be simulated by automated processes. But not everything that can be hand-knit can be automated, and neither can everything a carpenter can do. However, our society values the work that only a human carpenter can do – many of them make a decent living. I don’t think anyone can make a living by just knitting. And very few in the world earn an independent income from designing and selling patterns and so forth.

Off and on over the last several years, I have pondered about this and tried not to jump to the conclusion that this disparity exists because primarily men do carpentry and primarily women do knitting. I think that is an unjust conclusion for this particular comparison. But I have come to the conclusion that knitting is not really valued, at least to some degree and perhaps to a large degree, because women are not really valued.

A couple of weeks ago, oral arguments were heard at the US Supreme Court regarding two cases. The decisions in those cases could equalize marriage rights between heterosexual and homosexual couples. That will be a great day. But over those two weeks I have been nagged by the memory that our nation failed to grant women equal constitutional rights in the mid-1970s, and there have not been any significant attempts since to codify the equality of women.

In our nation, phrases like these in our Constitution –

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected … (Article I, Section 6)

[Regarding qualifications of Senators] … be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen. (Article I, Section 3)

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office … (Article II, Section 1)

make more than half the population of the country cringe with a feeling of exclusion and unworthiness. At least they have that impact on me. Women have been elected to all but one of the offices that the language of the Constitution seems to exclude us from, yet that language has not been rectified by a constitutional amendment. Apparently, it’s just not important. After all, it only impacts women.

I said above that I can’t honestly say I’ve been proud of my knitting skills. I also can’t honestly say that I have been proud to be a woman. Well, I am now officially coming out – as a proud woman and a proud knitter. Look out, world!