Knitting comfort and semi-escape reading

posted in: Books, Knitting, Publishing, Writing | 9

The Mac's doing just fine, and I'm getting increasingly comfortable with it. Some of the software still needs to run on the PC (partly because it's a new PC and ought to be able to run some of my software) and that's not all smooth.

Meanwhile, writing and publishing involves deadlines. I do my best to keep them from increasing my stress levels, and I succeed pretty well, apart from occasional remarkable lapses. Yesterday I hit red-line overload on social media sites. I like some of what happens because of them, but I haven't got the tricks of managing them yet. And it feels like just more software to learn at a time when I'm about burned out on learning new software or wrangling with old software that's not doing the jobs it was built to do.

Except on the Mac. I'm having a good time with the Mac. Especially with Scrivener. If I were a poet, I would wax poetic about Scrivener. Maybe I will later on.

In between all this work stuff, I've been continuing to knit (for a deadline, but not one that appears hard to meet). The reading I've been doing has had to hold my interest while not taxing my computer-frayed nerves.

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The knitting proceeds at a gratifying pace. The Brown Sheep Burly Spun yarn is a treat to knit, even for someone who doesn't usually gravitate toward bulky yarns, and the color (Prairie Fire) is scrumptious.

Since I have been given leave to reveal what I'm working on, I can say that it's a just-right-sized afghan using one of Dorothy Reade's original lace patterns, worked at a relatively huge scale. Dorothy Reade was one of the pioneers of charting for knitting and her techniques formed part of the foundation of the Oomingmak cooperative of Native Alaskan knitters that Donna Druchunas wrote about in Arctic Lace.

While knitting, I sit wrapped in the afghan that inspired this project—made by a friend almost forty years ago and still, obviously, going strong—and read books that don't demand a lot of me but are well written and interesting. The two latest happen to pertain to different sorts of spiritual quests, and one is a memoir and the other is a novel.

My Jesus Year, by Benyamin Cohen

First the memoir: Benyamin Cohen's My Jesus Year: A Rabbi's Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith (site takes a minute to load, but you'll get the drift of the book immediately when it does).

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Cohen is not only a rabbi's son; he comes from a whole family of rabbis. And they're Orthodox Jews, who follow strict sets of rules about religious practice. Having grown up in the faith, he's curious about other religious traditions and wants to revitalize his own. So he gets rabbinical permission to spend a year exploring the flavors of Christian belief within reach . . . and since he lives in Georgia, there are quite a few, mostly of the evangelical variety.

At the start, he quotes M. C. Escher: "Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible." It's not an epigraph, but it could be.

Throughout, Cohen observes his own religious tradition as clearly as the Christian practices he's researching. Much of what we do in the name of religion is funny-peculiar. So why do we do it? And what does it do for us?

Overall, My Jesus Year is an interesting study of why and how people are religious, as seen through a personal quest by an excellent, thoughtful, and amusing observer.

Enlightenment for Idiots, by Anne Cushman

I'm always interested in the ways people put in-depth knowledge to work in fiction. I picked up Enlightenment for Idiots because I was curious about what someone who knows enough about yoga to have experience as an editor at Yoga Journal would write in the way of a novel.

Anne Cushman does a fine job of grounding this work in the various types of yoga, playing off that foundation, but it was her publishing-specific details that had me reading out loud to my daughter.

The premise is that Amanda, a freelance writer in need of cash (a redundant statement, I know), takes on an assignment to produce, on deadline and as part of a series, a book called Enlightenment for Idiots. (Cushman herself wrote a nonfiction book called From Here to Nirvana.)

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Amanda heads off to India, looking for personal direction and enough enlightenment to pull off her assignment. While there, she gets e-mail notes from her editor.

Here's what the editor writes shortly after Amanda arrives in India:

From: Maxine@bigdaybooks.com

To: Amandala@yahoo.com

Amanda, Production is pressing me about art and design so I'm hoping I can get some sample chapters from you soon. If you haven't found enlightenment yet just leave that part blank, we'll dummy something in until you get it.

And, later on:

From: Maxine@bigdaybooks.com

To: Amandala@yahoo.com

Interesting story in the Times today about yoga teachers trademarking the names of certain yoga postures. Very foresightful of them. I suppose "yoga" was taken centuries ago, but any way we can lock up the word "enlightenment"? Please look into it.

Except that the last sentence would have gone to the publisher's legal department rather than the author, this is bizarrely too close to reality for comfort these days.

Enlightenment for Idiots has a chick-lit-style cover and many characteristics of that genre, with more depth than is common in that (ouch) marketing segment. Cushman manages to explore the topic of enlightenment in a variety of ways throughout the text. As she says in an interview about the book, "I’ve always been interested, in my writing, in exploring the
intersection between the lofty ideals of spiritual practice and the way
those ideals actually play out in our flawed but beautiful human lives.
I’m particularly interested in the experiences of contemporary Western
women as we practice these paths that were designed primarily by and
for celibate Eastern men."

The plotting tends to be too orderly in some ways (characters show up at just the right times, and so on), but it was an entertaining (amusing but not fluffy) read.

Great for the current circumstances.

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Speaking of specialized knowledge, there's a story about hemp near the end of Enlightenment for Idiots that I want to check out. It's offered as a sort of parable, but refers to the use of the plant's roots to make rope (p. 339). Hemp's a bast fiber, so the parts that are useful for textiles come from the stalk, not the roots . . . as far as I know. Anybody else know something about the roots that I haven't come across yet?

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9 Responses

  1. Cryptic; I’m typing one handed. Working on getting range of motion and strength back after a broken humerus.

    Have a ‘memory trace’ that the fibers in bast fiber plants extend into the roots. harvest is by pulling up. Mixed results when I grew flax; the deer herd went at right angles across the garden; 1/4 to 1/3 if the crop was about 3 inches.

  2. That series of emails is way way too close to reality for me right now. I’m wondering if that book would make me laugh or cry. 🙂

  3. The afghan is GORGEOUS. I’ve been meaning to take a look at My Jesus Year but have been distracted by books about Eastern Europe.

  4. Oh, and I take leave of the social networking sites when I don’t have time or am not in the mood for them. No need to be compulsive about it. 🙂 …reminding self…

  5. Joanne and Donna, you were some of the people (also me ) that I was thinking about when I came across those quotes about publishing.

    Yes, the afghan *I*S* gorgeous. I am so pleased. It’s good to get outside our comfort zones (for me, 2mm needles and blue-shaded yarns).

    I shut down on some of the social networking to regain my sanity. I truly love being in touch with people. However, I also need to work. . . . I’m not good, therefore, at those little message windows that pop up in the corner of the screen!

  6. Ah, social networking. A true time sink and from a business perspective, not completely convinced of the utility. Fun, though.

  7. I’d trade all the social networking sites for Twitter in a Big Apple minute – get half my blog hits from over there for a fraction of the time spent every day. Facebook and MySpace are a royal PITA.

    Interesting reading – I’m just getting into The Atheist’s Way for a Maisel tour stop and so far, my impression is that it’s very evangelical (LOL) and disappointingly uncreative. I guess that’s a characeristic of exclusivity though. Will plow my way through in hopes of finding a gem or two so I can do a somewhat upbeat review.

    Dani
    http://twitter.com/blogbooktours

  8. Enlightenment for Idiots sounds like the perfect fun read, and the afghan is gorgeous.

    As for hemp, it’s roots aren’t all that impressive as I recall, and I have never heard of anyone making rope from the fiber in the roots. Here’s why: they branch into a diffuse network of very tiny roots very quickly, so the fiber pulled from them would be thin, and very fine, but not necessarily very strong. (Because of the diffuse branching of the roots, it wouldn’t be long and straight like the fiber in the stalks either.) So I suspect that’s a tale she picked up somewhere and didn’t know to check.

    I’m reading Terry Tempest Williams’ Finding Beauty in a Broken World. Not light reading, but very powerful.

  9. Thanks, Susan. Very useful. Sometimes tales are more colorful than accurate, and that was my sense here. I do know that fiberists glean everything they can from bast fibers, but that the stalk is the primary source.

    Terry Tempest Williams’ new book has been on my radar, for sure.

    And I just started Stephanie Kallos’ new novel. Very promising.

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