Thursday, June 17, 2010

An ancient art and an ancient language

I've spent this past year learning to knit and learning to read Classical Greek. These things (along with wedding plan) certainly keep me occupied.

I'm kind of obsessed with languages, and I can't remember a time when I wasn't. When I was in the 5th grade I found a book in my school's library, some sort of Teach Yourself Italian for small people, with lots and lots of pictures. I taught myself sentences which were probably grammatically horrifying, because what 10-year-old has a firm grasp on noun-verb agreement in foreign languages? But I was in love. My grandparents had a set of those old, old Berlitz books, one each in German, Russian, French, and Italian, and that's how I would spend my time when we visited.

It is true that having learned a language before makes learning another language that much easier. When my professor introduced concepts such as "adjective declension" in Greek, I sympathized with the glazed-eyed 18-year-olds, but having already learned Russian I thought nothing could scare me.

That being said, every time I learn a new language I have to re-discover just how rich and varied (and challenging) they really are. I've learned Russian well enough that it just seems simple(ish), but of course it's not. You learn a few key words in a language and then you feel like you're off to the races, but then your teacher or textbook starts dropping words like "participles" and "progressive aspect" and you realize just how little you actually know.

I've found knitting to be like this too. I've crocheted and crocheted and crocheted, to the extent that nothing scares me any more. There are a few techniques I haven't used but I know I can learn them. Knitting is starting all over again. And I had forgotten just how rich and varied (and challenging) it can be to learn a new craft.

But of course that would be the case. A language isn't only capable of expressing ideas like "I like to read in my free time" (the Italian sentence I taught myself in elementary school); it encompasses everything, every thought possible. And the fiber arts have been around for millenia; it was only recently that any type of cloth or garment wasn't made by hand by skilled women (and a handful of men), using techniques they learned from untold generations, able to create any shape or texture or weight or function.

It takes a lot of patience, something I am occasionally short of. I'm jealous of those generations of scholars who grew up reading Greek and Latin, fluent in both, composing dissertations in each, no longer having to slog through verb paradigms and declension charts. I'm jealous of my friends who have been knitting as long or longer than I've been crocheting, who can breeze through a lace shawl or a fair-isle sweater without needing to look down at their work. Sometimes I don't want to have to learn, I just want to be able to do it.

But then again, for me, learning is how I participate. And it really is lovely to get to participate. One verb form and one yarn over at a time.

Greek vase detail of women weaving

Friday, October 23, 2009

another year

A couple of weeks ago, the lovely Jared and I got together to do a photo shoot for my new batch of Best Friend Beanies. It's the same friend from last Fall's shoot, for three reasons:
1) he actually is my best friend
2) the beanies are unisex, so I like showing them on both a guy and a girl, and
3) Jared takes good pictures.

I've known Jared for...probably close to 8 years now. When you're that close to a person for so long, you obviously don't notice them aging, but looking back at photos from when I was a freshman and he was a sophomore always make us laugh and say "we look like babies." So clearly there is some boundary there, some quantifiable period of time that changes you from younger-than-you-are to as-old-as-you-are. What is that boundary? Does anyone know? Does it change the older you get?

Here we are at almost this exact time last year:

And here we are now:

With the rather obvious exception of one of us growing copious facial hair, do we look different? Is there another year in our faces? It's hard for me to tell.

Not that it matters. We're know. Us.
It took us I think five takes to keep straight faces for this shot, we kept cracking up. But I think it was worth it. This picture obviously has "we are awesome" written all over it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ayn Rand, a summary

I feel like this blog post was a little disorganized and clearly written as a kneejerk reaction instead of well-thought-out. So I want to write a summary, and here it is:

I don't believe that life is a zero-sum game among people. And even if it is I don't believe that that is any way to live.
and also Ayn Rand is a terrible, terrible writer

There. End of all discussion of Ayn Rand for all time.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I try not to rant about things, both because it's usually pointless and also because I don't want to offend anybody by coming down on the opposite side of a controversial issue, but I just read this article on the Daily Beast about how Ayn Rand is "in" and fashion designers are so inspired by her writing and/or philosophy that they are designing whole collections "inspired" by her. So I feel I really must comment, and my comment is this:

I hate Ayn Rand.

I mean, HATE. Really really.

Maybe not as a person, I mean after all I never met the lady. But if she was anything like her characters, she was probably a complete a*hole as well.

First of all, she is a bad writer. Has no one realized this yet? She is terrible. I think I've even read direct quotes from her along the lines of "fiction is not my strong suit." No kidding. The characters, the "heroes" that everyone quotes/looks up to/wants to dress like (?) are two-dimensional and absurd, to say the least; the dialogue is stilted or non-existent; the exposition is predictable or non-existent...everything that you might hope for in a novel is either completely butchered or completely missing. I'm basing this on my struggle to read The Fountainhead. To be fair, I only made it halfway through before giving up entirely, but really once you've read about 650 pages, it's probably not going to get any better from there.

Side note: in that article, Ralph Lauren is quoted as saying that Ayn Rand is his favorite author, "along with Ernest Hemingway." Aaron pointed out that this is like saying Bryan Adams is your favorite musician, along with the Rolling Stones. hahaha (apologies to any hard-core Bryan Adams fans out there.)

And of course, the main character ("hero") of any Ayn Rand novel is a Rugged Individual, a Person Who Does Not Let Society Dictate, and also A Complete Jerk. That's what it boils down to, which gets down to the larger problem I have with Ayn Rand, which is that I completely disagree with her philosophy. And that's all her (awful, terrible) novels are, just (extremely long) novelizations of her one-note, self-absorbed philosophy.

I do understand the context from which this philosophy developed. I understand that spending your childhood oppressed under a Communist regime might give you a different perspective on society than the one that I currently have. But.

I have never encountered someone who espoused such a selfish, bitter, grasping worldview, who wasn't himself or herself selfish, bitter, isolated and discontent. The wise people of the world and of history (see: Dalai Lama, for one) have always said "we are dependent upon each other. To believe or act otherwise is ignorance." I cannot think of a single faith tradition that does not teach this. I cannot think of an example where "peace" and "cooperation" don't go hand-in-hand.

Of course I believe that we should be free to pursue happiness, that we should be able to express ourselves, that we should develop ourselves as individuals. But the Rand philosophy, especially as developed and lauded by later followers I think, has a serious flaw: by trying to diametrically oppose oppression and stagnation, it has brought into its scope a complete opposition to altruism, compassion, empathy, short, all of the things that, I believe at least, make us human. Or at least, make being a human worth anything at all.

I am a member of a Unitarian Universalist church. "So, what exactly do you believe?" is a question that always follows this statement. It can be hard to explain, sometimes, and to some people. But there are 7 Core Beliefs which the UU church espouses, and one that always sticks with me is this: "I believe in the interconnected web of all being."

So it bothers me that in this time where we struggle, when we need each other most, that we look to heroes who believe the opposite.

I probably shouldn't let an article on "Sexy Beast" get me so worked up, but there it is.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What a day to forget my camera.

My job doesn't pay very well. But it does come with some perks. The professors I work for/with are brilliant and most of them are also kind and encouraging. I learn something new about religion and/or academia everyday. I get book recommendations and frequent book loans. I'm getting to take a class in ancient Greek even though I'm not in school.

And then, yesterday, one of the professors had a meeting she had to go to, so she couldn't go to the afternoon session of a conference that was in town, so she gave me her ticket. To go see this guy:
Um yes that is the Dalai Lama. (The 14th Dalai Lama, to be exact.)

The Mind and Life Institute was having its annual conference in DC at a Hall about four blocks from my office. So I just, you know, took a long lunch and went to hear several leading neuroscientists and developmental psychologists chat with the Dalai Lama about education.

That's...a pretty big perk.

(and goshdarnit if I hadn't taken my camera out of my purse and left it at home...dangit)