Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Faculty Meeting Knitter (a.k.a. "Allow me to introduce myself...")

Alright, so once I got past all the dithering and decided to take the plunge and create an online journal for my needlework projects, choosing a name for the blog was no trouble at all: I *LOVE* to knit during faculty meetings. Far from becoming a distraction, the knitting actually helps me stay calm and focused, even in a room full of noisy people with Ph.D's, all spouting their opinions (hah!).

The faculty meetings themselves are basically programmed into my DNA. I am one of those academics who grew up in academe and never really left. My mother is a retired high school Latin teacher now, but she got married at age 19 right after WWII and only much later went back to school to complete her education and pursue a career. When I was a toddler (being very much the baby of the family, with brothers 14 and 20 years older than myself), she started taking classes at a local women's college and graduated with a Classics degree and a teaching certificate. My beloved late father spoke at her commencement. For he was an eminent church historian, who taught at a certain well-known Ivy League institution for many years.

With those beginnings, I made my way from the public elementary school to a venerable prep-school that required Latin from all its 7th and 8th grade students, and then to the same august institution where my father worked. I completed a B.A. in Classics (Greek and Latin). By that time, after 21 years in the same place, I was ready for adventure & decided to switch coasts for graduate school (M.A. in Greek and Ph.D. in Classics). Along the way I was fortunate enough to study in both Athens and Rome, before marriage and dissertation writing led me first to Washington, D.C. and then to Toronto. I deposited my thesis (via long-distance mail) a week before my 30th birthday. Mark my words: it was vitally important to make those two events happen in that precise order!! My first real teaching assignment brought me at length to the midwest (where my family originally came from) and introduced me to the life in the Big Ten. The bustling, crowded campus certainly had its charms, but I am much happier now at a small liberal arts college, where I can count on getting to know my students as individual human beings both in and outside of class, rather than as an anonymous mass in a dark lecture hall.

One last bit of shameless professional self-promotion before moving on. Earlier this year, my dissertation (much revised) was published at last by the University of California Press. As of today it is ranked #949,018 on What can I say (alas!), scholarly books in the field of Classical Studies are rarely best sellers (sheepish grin).

So that's who I am, more or less. Now let's bring needlework into the story.

I learned to crochet in the 5th grade from a book that my father bought me which was specially written for left-handed people, and then taught myself to knit from another book a year or so later. Believe it or not, my first real knitting project was an Icelandic pullover done in-the-round. Nothing by halves! I still have this garment and even wear it occasionally, although it is really a bit on the small side.

On a side note, the stitches in that sweater are all slightly twisted too, because being self-taught, I had misread the crucial diagram and was wrapping the yarn around the needle the wrong way (clockwise, I think, rather than counter-clockwise — I knit left-handed, remember, so don't even try to picture this, if you have any tendancy towards dyslexia). All my earliest productions exhibit this particular quirk. The kindly owner of our local yarn store took me under her wing as something of a child prodigy, and it was she who finally spotted the twisted stitches some years later and helped me identify the source of the problem and fix it. The whole left/right thing still confuses people sometimes, especially novice knitters who are barely comfortable holding the needles as they themselves have been taught and get disoriented from watching me. But I am used to it by now. I read charts pretty much automatically in whichever direction is required, and the only trick is with written patterns that have a directional component (such as slanted edges or cables, etc.), where by following the instructions exactly I will come out with a mirror-image of what the author intended. This only rarely makes any real difference, of course (most garments being vertically symmetrical), and if/when that situation arises, it is not hard to compensate. We southpaws are well accustomed to that sort of thing in life.

But I digress. Perhaps handedness can become the subject of further musings at a later date.

At any rate, during middle school I would sometimes knit during class — only sometimes. Certain teachers allowed it, because I was a good student and did not disrupt the other students. Classmates muttered about special treatment, though, and I remember one guy in my 8th grade English class crying out indignantly, "Why can't I do my math homework? Miriam can knit!" I abandoned the practice altogether in 9th grade, when a particularly stern English teacher saw me knitting before class and demanded in no uncertain terms that I "put the Mme. Defarge kit away, please." Gulp. After that the knitting needles only came out to play during off-hours. I made sweaters and hats and scarves and an afghan or two. I also began sewing dresses sometime during high school, following my mother's example. She was quite an accomplished seamstress in her day, although I distinctly recall her dealing with her share of adversity too, when it came to needle and thread, yard goods and pinking shears. The infamous bound button-holes on that floor-length black cape, for instance...

So I knitted my way through college (hooray for glee club tours and LONG bus rides!) and then through graduate school as well (especially while riding city buses and BART, and travelling back and forth coast-to-coast to see my family during breaks), and on it goes to this very day. Needlework helps keep me grounded. It gives my "fidget energy" something productive to do, so that I can relax and let the rest of my mind wander, or perhaps listen attentively to a lecture, concert, or audiobook.

Therefore, since I pretty much always aspired to become a college professor someday, and since I had also learned to knit at such a tender age, early on I developed a mental image of my future self contentedly knitting away during faculty meetings. Through the years that image stuck with me, and now happily it has become a reality. That's why I think I just may have found the *PERFECT* name for my new blog.


  1. I like classicists. I minored in Classics at UVic and was always so glad I had studied you have my admiration and envy.

  2. As of today, my book has sunk to #1,213,343 on Amazon. Sigh. Better, I think, not to keep too close a track on that. *I* know what an accomplishment the publication was and is, and the scholarly community is beginning to take notice now too, so that's what really counts.