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Like Steven, I’ve created my own solo (and probably non-comics) blog, surer tonic. I should begin posting there more regularly in August.

This will be the end of Peiratikos and I’ll be closing all comment threads once I get through the comments currently in moderation to make sure nothing legitimate got nabbed by the spam catcher. I know Peiratikos has been dead for the last year or so, but when it was an active blog it helped me learn to be clearer about my thoughts (sometimes) and responsible for my opinions. I made some lasting friends and many more ephemeral ones whose opinions and comments still matter to me. I’m grateful to have been part of the early comics blogging community, and Steven and I both benefited from our early participation. Thanks to all who made this possible and pleasurable, especially Steven. It was an interesting time and I’m a better person for having gone/grown through it.

I’ve started a new blog at Hopefully I’ll be blogging there for a while. I haven’t decided whether I’ll be coming back to Peiratikos at some point, but for now I’m not planning to.

Bell-Sleeved Jacket

I’m pretty deeply depressed right now and not able to grapple with regular blogging, but here’s some knitting I’ve been doing to pass the time and prove to myself I can accomplish things.

Rose wearing her bell-sleeved jacketPattern: #15 Bell Sleeve Jacket, from Vogue Knitting International, designed by Daniel Adamczyk.
Yarn: Naturelle Aran 10-Ply, 100% wool
Gauge: 16 sts/24 rows = 4 inches or 10 cm on US size 6 needles
Size: XS (at my gauge, this gave the Medium width indicated in the pattern)
Knitting Dates: 21 October 2006 - 22 November 2006

Modifications: Many!
I knew from the start that I didn’t want to close the sweater with a belt and decided on hook-and-eye tape instead (although I have to resew it so that the edges fit more tightly than in the photo above). With the yarn I’d chosen, I was more comfortable with the fabric I got at 4 stitches/inch than 5, so I was able to follow the XS instructions to get a Medium width sweater, following the Medium or my own directions for how long to make various pieces.

I quickly decided not to make a collar once it became clear that the collar would be 13 inches long in the back, which seemed excessive. Instead I carried the inner cable up the front and attached it to the back neck, which I made about an inch lower than the pattern called for. I used short rows to shape the back cable part and left an open section to transition from right-curving to left-curving cables. I also changed the way the decreases toward the shoulder worked on the front so I’d end up with the same number of stitches as the back. The picture in the magazine shows a second line of knits with reverse stockinette separating the two, but this is not what the pattern specifies. I also used short rows for the shoulders on front and back, as well as for the back collar opening.

Since I wasn’t attaching the collar, the extra rows on the front edges to which the collar gets attached seemed superfluous and I didn’t much like the idea of matching reverse stockinette to orthogonal stockinette at the bottom. For a bottom edging to the garment, I used a provisional cast-on so I would have free stitches at the end once my seaming was done. I then knitted up the pattern at the bottom of the sleeve, though without the decreases for added bell effect; I just cast on the closest number of stitches to my live stitches that was a multiple of 8 (plus two selvedges for the front edges). I kitchener stitched this bottom flare to the live stitches. This added 2 inches in length, where the pattern-specified reverse stockinette (in my gauge at least) would have been about 0.5 inches.

Last, I worked an edging in double knitting with a garter stitch selvedge (Cast on 8 sts. or other even number. Row one: K1, *k1, slip 1 purlwise with yarn in back,* repeat from * to end. Row 2: *Slip 1 purlwise with yarn in back, k1* repeat from * to end.) I attached it to the garter selvedge on the inside edge of the sweater by alternating mattress stitching one stitch of the sweater to one of the edging and one of the sweater to two of the edging, going in under two stitch bars before coming up for the next stitch on the sweater side. This gave me a tension that didn’t buckle in but also wasn’t floppy. There may be better ways to do this, but it was my first experience with an edging like this.

Thoughts: I really like the changes I made, but I’m not sure they’re enough. I love the way it’s fitted through the bust and at the waist, but after that it flares and flares and flares, which I just don’t think is a great look for me. If I’d been able to add a few inches of fairly straight knitting, maybe another diamond’s worth (and I’m honestly tempted to make another version in which I do that) and then the flare would be down sort of camouflaging my thighs rather than uncomfortably close to my waist. I’m getting better at figuring out what sort of things I should wear, but maybe how to wear them is a bit beyond me. My sweater currently retracts to about 22 inches in length, which is shorter than suggested in the pattern. I’m hoping I can block it aggressively to get out the few extra inches I want. I just have very springy yarn and I’d hoped all the weight at the bottom would hold it down more. I’m frustrated by the how excessive the bottom flare can be but I still love the sweater and what I did with it. I’m hoping blocking will move me into total swooning territory, but I’m proud and it’s warm and perhaps that’s enough. Or maybe I’ll learn from my mistakes and make a second, which could be a lot of fun!

September Reading List

The good news is that I’m already working on my October reading list. I’m not in much of a mood for writing here these days, though there’s writing I should do.

Placing Words: Symbols, Space, and the City, William Mitchell
I actually read this in June, but then forgot to write it up and forgot to return it to its owner. Both obligations will now be discharged. It’s a collection of short essays on architecture, design, city planning, semiotics, and symbolism. Since these essays were written over the course of several years for several sources, there’s a certain amount of overlap and also of gaps between them, but it’s an enjoyable and enlightening collection.

Braided Lives, Marge Piercy
In the 1950s, Jill, a smart, streetwise Jewish girl from Detroit, goes to college and rooms with her beautiful cousin Donna, creating a troubled friendship that will follow them through their lives. I think this is more autobiographical than most Piercy not only because Jill grows up to be a poet but because physically she’s a lot like Piercy describes herself in her autobiography and she has the same kind of anger and love toward her mother. Much of the story in terms focuses on the danger and dynamics of sex before legalized abortions. Jill is smart, politicized, and wants to be able to enjoy herself, but her relationship with her parents and her boyfriends don’t leave room for the kind of life and pleasure she wants. There are several different abortion scenes, none pleasant, and a sort of understanding between women to work together to cover them up, to keep the need a secret rather than be public about it. Like a lot of Piercy’s books, it’s pretty low-key and analytical about emotion, though still very passionate about words, ideas, politics. There’s injustice in the world and that’s made totally clear, but so too is that even people who aren’t trying to be total bastards lead difficult, painful lives.

King of Morning, Queen of Day, Ian McDonald
I don’t even know how to try to sum up this book. Three generations of Irish women are haunted/plagued/inspired by escapees from a dreamworld. In the early part of the 20th century, Emily is a dreamy teenager who wants to be a poet like Yeats (only better, probably) and is fascinated with the hints she sees that Celtic mythology may talk about a reality that’s alive and well. Meanwhile her astronomer father thinks he may have discovered a message from space. In the second story, set in the 1930s, Jessica is a foul-mouthed compulsive liar who finds the lover whose existence she lied about is suddenly very real and interested in pulling her into a life of real adventure. Then in some vaguely futuristic setting (which is to say that the drugs they have are better than the ones we do now) Enye is a skilled martial artist who uses a drug to focus her so she can fight back the forces of evil, which she doesn’t quite understand. The stories are all interconnected with some of the magical characters showing up in later tales, sometimes in slightly different guises. I enjoyed it, especially because the tone and diction for each section changes to suit the era and the personality of the protagonist.

Driftglass, Samuel Delany
Short stories, more of my new Delany obsession. There are a lot of beauties here and I think when I go back to reread it I’ll have different favorites. Delany manages to make any situation both alien and understandable, and I appreciated that.

Z for Zachariah, Robert O’Brien
I’ve had a longstanding fascination with post-apocalypse books about teen survivors. This is one I’d heard about for years but never seen until I finally ran across it in a thrift store in September. Teen survivor Ann thinks she might be the last human alive after her family never returns from searching for other survivors outside their secluded valley. One day she notices a campfire, though, and eventually another person shows up, a man in a protective suit that shields him from radiation. At first she’s wary, then delighted to have company, but once she realizes he expects to subjugate her to keep his freedom (and he tries to rape her) she decides she has to manage to get his suit and make an escape, but first she has to stay alive. It’s an interesting story, told as Ann’s diary. It predates a lot of the similar books I’d read when I was young and is dark in a very different way. This has to do almost completely with Ann’s personal thoughts and expectations, with little analysis about how to rebuild a world (although Ann on her farm is more practical and knowledgeable than most similar protagonists) or how everything fell apart.

Self-Made Man, Norah Vincent
I’ve been running across blogs lately where people say they put this down because the tone was so annoying to them, but I stuck with it even when it struck me as strange. It’s a memoir, I suppose, of the time Vincent spent passing as a man (Ned) in a variety of all-male or male-dominated situations to find out what it is that men do when they’re together, which is something that’s always intrigued me. So she joins a bowling league, goes to strip clubs, tries internet dating, stays at a monastery, works in door-to-door sales, eventually joins a New Age-y men’s group (and that part did strike me as exploitative in ways others didn’t) and eventually, as Norah, has a nervous breakdown and falls into a deep depression after trying to manage all of this. Neither the anecdotes nor the analyses were things I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere from male authors, but I thought they blended into a readable enough book. It was useful for me because it highlighted some of the things I was thinking about at the time specifically about how men and women grow to deal with self-expression in different acceptable ways, but I don’t want to make great claims based on it or anything like that. Clearly a lot of people thought Vincent was too smug about passing, but I didn’t think that was much of an issue; she’s clear about the adrenaline rush she got from managing, but also the psychological toll it took. If anything, I didn’t like the way she detailed her “coming out” moments when she let people in on the fact that she’d been fooling or partially fooling them. Still, as long as you don’t read it as being about all men and all women and stupid battle-of-the-sexes stuff like that, I think it can be useful and thought-provoking. It was for me.

Dhalgren, Samuel Delany
This was by far the biggest book I read in length, time, and impact it had on me, and as a result I’m really not sure what to say about it. I have a sort of fondness for big books, especially when they have plenty of sex (which, by my reckoning, Neal Stephenson’s never do) and on those grounds alone this one is right up there with Gravity’s Rainbow, but that’s certainly inadequate. The narrative starts in the middle of a sentence or a poem, in the middle of something, and the protagonist who has forgotten his name is having a transcendental and dreamlike experience that culminates in his arrival in the lawless, post-disaster city, Bellona. There he takes to being called The Kid (or variants thereof) and moves into a world that operates by dream logic and yet seems stunningly real. The Kid is a strange attractor, able to be where things are going on and meet most of the powerful people in the city, but at the same time he’s not really a participant. He happens into a raid on a department store by one of the local gangs that ends up giving him enough status he can basically run a branch of the gang, but that doesn’t seem to have much effect on him. Instead what matters most is the poetry he’s writing in a notebook he found, which does focus on the things he’s experiencing maybe at the expense of letting him remember and understand them sometimes.

Memory and preservation of memory are key here, since obviously The Kid has lost his name and some of his background. Even in Bellona, he’ll wake and days will have gone by without his noticing. But that’s not entirely unique to him, although his problems are particularly severe. Bellona sometimes has two moons and no one ever seems to know what time it is there. This is all very much The Kid’s story even though until the last section of the book it’s third-person narrative (and only in that first-person portion did it become clear how much broader and less focused the third-person parts were than I’d realized at the time) and even the people he cares about most, his girlfriend Lanya and his (later their) young teen boyfriend, are sometimes almost incidental to him and very much to the plot when they’re absent.

I’m not doing a good job with this, as I knew I couldn’t, because I’m trying to summarize a vast summary where summary is impossible. It was a thrilling read both in style and content. I was captivated. I identify with The Kid in some ways, which probably helps, since I have my own fears about memory and my (in)ability to love and feel in human ways, my own concerns about whether I can write anything worth reading and whether I’ve ever managed to do so. But I think it’s a strong enough book that anyone willing to put up with its not being straight-forward at all, deal with the fact that the narrative slips around and reality, it seems, is pretty malleable in Bellona should get a lot out of it. I see plenty of political resonance now, when it doesn’t seem surprising that in the moment of disaster the US government might decide to stay out of a city full of minorities and degenerates, or help the white middle class escape before leaving the rest of it to fester in ruin. That something (although something full of pain and tragedy as well as plenty of people getting by) of stability and civilization can flourish in Bellona I think says a lot. Just in Dhalgren it doesn’t say anything in a direct or polemical way. It’s all poetry instead, after a fashion.

August Reading List

August wasn’t a huge month for reading. The weather turned wet for the last half and so I never even finished my pool book, The Glass Bead Game. I think mostly I had a lazy month, did a lot of crosswords and spent time with the cat. We even watched some tv, finally seeing the Arrested Development dvds for the first two seasons. I’m reading a bit in September already and I hope I’ll be inspired to write here too.

Babel-17, Samuel Delany
Oh, I loved this one as much for the relationship parts as the language bits. It’s an SF classic and sort of hard to sum up, but poet and linguist Rydra Wong is hired by the military/government to try to decode a language, Babel-17, associated with instances of sabotage across the galaxy. Deciding she needs hands-on experience and with a belief that she knows where the next strike will be, she gathers a crew and heads out into space to investigate. There’s a lot of stuff about how the way we use language structures how we see the world, which is always interesting, but also about how the way we see the world impacts how we see the world, sort of. Different characters have different perspectives toward aliens, the dead, the military industrial complex, people who go in for cyborg-style body modification, and the key relationship on a ship that requires a trio of romantic partners. Key to all the insights is Rydra’s peculiar empathy, so strong that some suspect she might be psychic. I know I’m not doing much of a job explaining this, but I found it a very powerful, moving story in the way it did push for empathy even with people who were doing some violent, unpleasant things, or at least how it required recognizing the humanity (for lack of a better term) of all the various characters. I’m trying to push Steven to read this and I’ll probably return to it soon because it was such a pleasurable read.

Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, Isabel Fonseca
This book disappointed me because I’d prefer more of a straight-up ethnography and this was written by someone who’s a journalist, not a scholar. I suspect most people don’t have the same preference I do in that continuum, and I know this is a popular book that’s assigned in classes regularly. The thing that bugged me most was Fonseca’s tendency to describe the Gypsies she spent time with as looking like “Indians,” which generally meant Native Americans though occasionally sometimes the from-India variety, because this just seemed kind of squicky and especially not the sort of thing someone writing about a historically marginalized group and about racial politics ought to be doing. Still, it was really interesting to read about travel in Central Europe in that little gap between the fall of the Soviet satellite states and the outbreak of full war in what was then still Yugoslavia. The stories of Fonseca’s specific interactions with the Roma she visited in her travels are compelling reading, but I still don’t think too highly of the book as a whole because it didn’t give me the imaginary thing I want.

Skinflick, Joseph Hansen
Gravedigger, Joseph Hansen
Nightwork, Joseph Hansen
These are three Dave Brandstetter mysteries, the first I’ve read. Dave is a gay Californian insurance investigator who looks into questionable deaths so that his various employers can know whether or not they should be paying out on the life insurance claims. These are basically the kind of hard-boiled stories I generally avoid, but I found them utterly endearing, if sometimes appropriately scary. The writing is beautiful (the first paragraph of Nightwork was clearly crafted to be read aloud) and the politics are fascinating. All three of these were written before HIV was a known issue, but they deal Dave’s friendship with his widowed stepmother; his current and past relationships and the tensions of race, age and openness within them; the rise of gang culture; the intersection between pornography, drugs and evangelical Christianity; the smothering pressures of family and familial responsibility; poverty and the rise of gang culture; the danger of unhealthy same-sex relationships based on shame (dealt with in a way that manages to implicate both the culture and the individuals involved for their various failings); and all this while managing to run through interesting, fully functional mysteries. I was fascinated and I’ll be looking for more.

The Wild Wood, Charles de Lint
A small, early de Lint novel. Eithnie is an artist who’s lost her spark and moved out to the woods in hopes of finding it, but when she finds herself falling into Faerie and perhaps making commitments she’ll regret later, she starts wondering about the nature of reality and her place in it. There’s a lot about grief for lost children (in a literal and figurative sense, as the world falls to pollution and the power of art fades) but the story manages to keep from getting too pat about the nature of nurture.

The Liar, Stephen Fry
Such a silly, engaging story. Adrian Healey, presumably the liar of the title, tells the story of his school days through his time at Oxford, during which he manages to wrap himself in unrequited love, spend some time working the streets, help drive a classmate to suicide, create lost Dickens pornography, and eventually end up embroiled in what seems to be a major spy ring of some sort, or else he’s lying about any or all of those things. Adrian is so obnoxious and self-absorbed yet endearing. He’s smart enough that he doesn’t have to study and can rattle off poetry, but not without misquoting a bit. He desperately wants an interesting life but might be refusing to see the one he’s already got. (Possibly I’m projecting.) The writing was what made this truly fun, a bit over the top when it comes to cleverness but like its protagonist blithely unwilling to admit the possibility that any of it might be de trop.

Black Livingstone: A True Tale of Adventure in the Nineteenth-Century Congo, Pagan Kennedy
As advertised, the story of how William Sheppard, an African-American Presbyterian minister, went to The Congo as a missionary and eventually helped to expose some of the horrific mistreatment of Africans going on there. This is a smart narrative willing to address racial and cultural tensions as well as avoid a tendency toward easy summation. The story is so engaging in large part because the man at its center is fascinating, a minister who didn’t seem overly bothered by the fact that he wasn’t doing so well saving souls when he was able to learn about the cultures he encountered, apparently a devoted father and husband who nonetheless had several affairs with African women and eventually lost his job with the church because of this, a black man who spoke out about the atrocities he’d witnessed in the Congo and refused to recant even when the Belgian authorities put him on trial and yet who was publicly silent on the touchy issues of race and his second-class status in his home country. I wish I had learned about this fascinating character before now, but I’ve already passed on my copy of the book to someone I think will be interested.