Friday, July 27, 2018

Getting My Goat Out of the Closet

An Angora goat, part lawnmower, part yarn store. He's what I'd call an investment. If you agree, talk to my husband.

I am in a funk.

I don't know if my biologic or my antidepressant is failing me, if it's the combined stresses of upcoming changes, if it's this never-ending shoulder pain that migrates between and up and down both arms, but I'm definitely not well.

In a practical sense the why doesn't matter as much as the what. What this does is leave me tired, apathetic, and peevish, not the sort of person I want to be around. And I'm pretty much stuck with being around myself.
Look up "adult coloring" on Google images--it's safe, and cheaper than coloring books

I need a pick-me-up. Careful calorie counting eliminates the ice cream option, though I could have some in place of lunch. Consumer therapy (shopping) is also off the table because due to all the future job/benefit/insurance/life changes potentially looming, we are being careful with money.

I tried the coloring thing. This last month I've colored my way through half of two different coloring books. It beats eating while watching TV or playing computer solitaire, I'll keep doing it. But it isn't distracting enough.
I'm only sure two of these bags are goat. Labeling things is important.

 I need a project--something I can get excited about, something more frivolous than all the cleaning and organizing I should be doing.

And in one of the cupboards I've been organizing is a frivolous project I've been postponing because there are so many other things I should finish first.

I have a several bags of washed, but not combed hair/wool from an Angora goat. I have no idea when/where I purchased this. Angora goats are supposed to be the source of mohair, which itches me to work with, but this goat fiber is soft and lovely. I've only used it for one project because it needs to go through the whole combing and maybe dying process before spinning and knitting. This is the complexity I need.

I'm serious, order anything from Created by Elsie B on Etsy. I'll work it up for you.

My plan is to combine the goat with some already dyed and ready to spin fiber I have from Created by Elsie B. (If you buy me anything she makes, I will joyfully spin and knit it into an item of your choice.)

clean, combed goat hair
 Fortunately, I even have some goat hair already carded. I need 12 ounces of goat to blend with 4 ounces of wool, which will give me a pound of finished fiber, enough for most projects. Now I just need to finish this blog, eat breakfast (?11:35 AM? I spend too much time in bed.) and clean off the drum carder.
dirty drum carder

THE PODCAST is about the music of the wind, which Emily Dickinson can hear, but I can't. Maybe Amherst is windier than Sandy. Most places are. Maybe one of us is a little crazy.


Hats, so many hats, I think six of them, in need of photographing and listing in my shop on Etsy.

I don't know why it is hard to do that final step. I don't know why it's hard to return emails or make phone calls. Sometimes I just get stuck and I'm stuck right now. Here is a picture of the only hat I haven't already posted on the blog. 

And here is a darling new dinosaur I met yesterday at the museum of natural history. He is a Utah native who was hiding in the politically controversial Grand Staircase Escalante Monument. His story is worth reading. 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Was the Bard a Bigot?

Opera singers have long played Verdi's "Otello" in dark makeup? How did Shakespeare present his Othello?
I was excited to plan my second annual excursion to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, but less than thrilled with the choice of plays. Why did they present the two racist plays on the same year?

Fortunately our only comedy came first, "Merry Wives of Windsor." It was sweet and silly, set in turn-of-the-century America and punctuated by barbershop quartet numbers. This Elizabethan Drama actually passes the Bechdel Test, with two middle aged female leads who talk about their children as well as about the greedy, lecherous drunk they work together to bring down.

There are jokes at the expense of the French, in the form of a doctor who can't pronounce words understandably, and the Welsh, through a clergyman who often uses the wrong word. But apparently I haven't been raised to feel sensitive about the feelings of those groups, despite a good dose of Welsh DNA.

"Othello" worried me most. I had read it in college and found it too painfully tragic to cope with. I also saw a film version of the opera "Otello" with Pavarotti in what could best be described as "red face," really bad makeup that made him look more like all the blood had rushed to his head than like he was from Northern Africa. So armed with expectations of racism and domestic violence, I tentatively entered the intimately-sized theater chosen for the performance.

Despite this photo, Iago is rarely in the shadows. He controls the show.

I think it was the best of the three performances we saw. Wayne T. Carr brilliantly portrayed the charismatic Othello, a confident soldier slowly goaded into tortured insecurity and murder.

But the star was Brian Vaughn as the villain, Iago. We spent most of the play inside Iago's head as he plans to manipulate everyone around him to accomplish his ambitions of military advancement and his personal vendetta against Othello.

Because I was watching for it, I noticed that all the racial slurs in the play come from Iago. Everyone refers to Othello as "the Moor," but it doesn't seem to be out of disrespect.

The other character who showed dislike for Othello was his father-in-law. Apparently Desdemona's father suspected nothing until she eloped. We don't know if race, rank, or money was the reason the couple didn't ask for permission. When Brabantio complained to the Duke about his daughter's marriage, he was told to accept the couple because Othello was crucial to the safety of Venice.

Shakespeare doesn't give Desdemona enough lines to explore domestic violence and why women stay.
When Othello begins to suspect and mistreat Desdemona, everyone who knew him shows absolute shock because the behavior is so contrary to his nature.

The ending was as horrible and sad as expected and I left the theater wanting to wash the evil scheming of Iago out of my brain.

"The Merchant of Venice" is a weird blend of comedy and racism.

When I first read the play in college, I assumed Shakespeare created Shylock, the Jew, from old folklore. Jews had been expelled from England several hundred years before, maybe they hadn't come back yet.

During the pre-play introduction we learned that "Merchant of Venice" may have been anti-Jewish propaganda. Queen Elizabeth had a trusted Jewish physician. As she started preferring his advice over that of some of her official advisors, they took action against him by paying popular playwrights to stir up anti-Jewish sentiment. Eventually, when the queen went out of town, they quickly arrested and executed the doctor. Some scholars think Shakespeare was already writing the romantic comedy side of "Merchant of Venice" and added the Antonio/Shylock conflict to fulfill a commission.

Whatever Shakespeare's intention, the director, Patricia Anderson, made the Jewish characters in the play completely sympathetic. We see Antonio's friends (played by a multi-ethnic cast) violently abuse Shylock on the streets. His anger at these people who abuse him and steal his daughter is understandable.

The audience is torn between our expected sympathies for main characters and feelings of repugnance toward their words and deeds. Although no one in the audience wants Antonio killed, I think most of us would have been happy to see Shylock get away free after his claim is denied. Instead he is jailed and forced to convert to Christianity.

All the while, Jessica, Shylock's daughter is shown regretting her choice. Conversations with her husband quickly turn into arguments. She tries to pray by crossing herself and finds the gesture unsatisfying. While Shylock is stripped of traditional Jewish clothing and a cross is put around his neck, Jessica, far away in Portia's house, is in a quiet corner rocking and reciting a Jewish prayer.

An image search shows Tarah Flanagan in many roles
The casting of this play was interesting and fun. Bassanio, Portia's successful suitor, is played by Wayne T. Carr, star of Othello the night before. Portia, Tarah Flanagan, is one of the Merry Wives from two days ago. These are professional actors, but my mind spins at the thought of remembering two leading Shakespearian roles at once. And they likely appear in in some of the plays I didn't see.

Casting characters with more thought for talent than race has long been the tradition in Opera and Shakespearean performances, but Anderson also cast some parts contrary to gender. Just as Shakespeare used boys and men to play women's roles, Anderson cast three women in men's roles, including the title character, Antonio. I noticed, but it did not at all distract from the story.

Next year features Macbeth, Hamlet, and Twelfth Night, all plays I know and love well. I'm looking forward to it, but wondering if I can find a less painful way to travel or a better recovery plan.

So as to my title, was Shakespeare a bigot? To some degree he probably was. We are all raised with the prejudices of our environment, surely he was not too unlike other Elizabethan Englishmen.

But because Shakespeare gives all of his characters depth and motivation, it's hard to tell simply by his words. We would probably have to see Shakespeare direct these problematic plays to get a sense of his feelings.

THE PODCAST--I am back on track and talking about a poem that sounds like Emily Dickinson is ready to march into battle. It was written during the beginning of the Civil War and probably caught my eye because I am currently listening to the Civil War podcast  (which I would highly recommend).

The likely agoraphobic Emily is all talk in "Unto like Story--Trouble has enticed me," just like I am when it comes to politics. Neither of us are physically able to march into trouble for a good cause. I am thankful that, unlike women in the 19th century, I can at least vote. And unlike Emily, I am not afraid to publish.

THE KNITTING remains slow because I am not supposed to do much of it if I want to get my aching left arm back. I've reluctantly taken up coloring to pass the time when I want to knit. I've also finished another hat. Like the previous hats, it will be in my shop when I get on the ball and get Etsy caught up.

LIFE is stressful. We have a date for my disability hearing now--October 2. Our family has to change to my husband's insurance on September 1 and we may have to go on COBRA in January because his layoff is scheduled for December 28. With that much up in the air it is hard not to feel stressed and stress exacerbates all my symptoms. I'm not sure when I'll be back to normal or if I need to accept current levels of pain and lack of energy as my new normal.
My normal range is 3-8. I've been spending a lot of time at 7 lately.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Fun is Too Expensive

I went to a Shakespeare festival this week with one of my retired teacher friends. It was fun while it lasted. It will be fun in my memory possibly by the end of next week. But right now is not fun.
I've fallen and. . . you know the rest.

Whenever I use an unusual amount of energy, which is still very little by a healthy person's standards, my brain and body need a lot of time to recover.

Part of me is already composing next week's blog with insight into the performances I saw, but thinking in whole paragraphs, staying upright to compose full paragraphs will have to wait.

I left planning to write my podcast for Thursday while resting in my hotel room, then record and post it after I got home. Didn't happen.

At least I knew knitting was out of the question. Though I cheated a little. We spent some time at a second-hand store where I bought a sweater for $4 to pull apart and a scarf loom for $1 to fake-knit on. (I would have bought needles if they had any.) That movement is not repetitive enough to add to the pain in my arm and shoulder which haven't seemed to recover any with rest. I'll share photos next week.

When I was still trying to teach and live a normal life in spite of illness, I had a few songs that helped me through. Pain is very individual and very lonely, but the songs made me feel like someone understood. A lot of people probably misunderstood. A young teacher asked with great concern about my mental state. I'll leave it with you, but also leave it to you to find links to the songs. Any recommended additions are welcome. I need to lie back down and cry for a few minutes.

Valley of Pain by Bonnie Raitt
Everybody Hurts by REM
Hurt (originally by Nine Inch Nails) cover by Johnny Cash

Saturday, July 7, 2018

New Tech, Distant Journeys, Deep Time

This Studebaker is a marker for Route 66 in Petrified Forest National Park.

Before I escape back into vacation memories, a personal update.

Based on current information from my husband's company, we have chosen not to move. That means instead of a relocation upending us right away, we are looking at unemployment beginning with the new year. I'll keep you posted.

When my husband relaxed into this choice, I was able to drop the high energy supportive wife  mode and collapsed into a flare. That meant I was radiating heat from my whole body and pain pills didn't make any real difference.  After a week of mostly resting, I am back to my definition of normal.

But neither of us are well. My husband's coworkers are facing the same issues, so the conversation at work is constant and stressful. He nervously over-exercised yesterday and is now suffering. I channelled my own nerves into knitting, so my shoulder is back to bad. I'm going to be a good girl and leave the knitting behind when I go out of town for a Shakespeare festival next week. I've packed two fidget spinners and will bring high-tech distractions. I might have to find a yarn shop in Cedar City.

Back to travel memories:
We are serious science fans. For my husband, anything involving space exploration and the technology involved with it attracts him like a magnet.

Due to this obsession, he has long wanted to visit the Very Large Array in New Mexico. It is a series of 27 radio dishes (and one spare) that have been picking up signals from space since the late 70s.

Though it includes a museum and visitors are welcome, the VLA is not easy to visit because it is, intentionally, far away from everywhere. For us, this was a top priority on our journey.

You might be familiar with the VLA from Contact, a movie starring Jodie Foster as a scientist looking for radio signals from alien civilizations.

We like and recommend the movie, but it creates misconceptions about the purposes of these dishes. If the aliens sent a radio message, VLA would "hear" it, but it's real purpose is to look deep into space.

Radio waves are a form of light waves that we cannot see, but the satellite dishes can detect them and give scientists usable data. The antennas are on train tracks and are moved into different positions for different types of focus, like the iris of an eye contracting and dilating to adjust to differing light.

The VLA has captured a view of material spinning around the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy. It has added to understanding of how stars and planets are formed. Because it takes billions of years for radio waves from deep space to reach Earth, scientists are using the data to try to understand the early days of the universe.

Each antenna weighs 230 tons. The diameter on top is 82 feet. They are 90 feet high. It was fun watching my husband run around the tourist area to get as up close and personal as they let us get to these amazing machines.

We now know that they post information on their web page on when the antennas will be in each different formation. I'm sure we will plan another trip back when they are closest together and therefore most photogenic. (Ideally it will also be in cooler weather.)

Our other astronomy visit was almost an accident. We planned a couple days in Flagstaff, Arizona because it was central to several locations. When I went online to find out what we could do in any spare time, the Lowell Observatory appeared. I expected something like the planetarium in Salt Lake, but this was better. Real discoveries have been made there. The observatory was built in 1894 above what was a small town in the mountains because it offered clear skies and darkness.

Newly restored, this 117-year-old telescope is now used for public education.
Percival Lowell was looking for evidence of life on Mars. Although he was disappointed in that search, important discoveries have been made at the observatory.

Pioneers in infrared astronomy found evidence that universe is expanding.

More famously, in 1930 Clyde Tombaugh used infinite patience and a telescope designed to photograph space in order to discover Pluto.

In 1961, the newest telescopes were moved further from town, where discoveries, such as the rings around Uranus, continue.

Now the Lowell Observatory's original site is used primarily for public education. When we visited, they were hosting an enthusiastic and loud science camp for elementary school kids.

We attended two tours, one about the founding of the observatory and another about the discovery of Pluto. When we left, they were setting up telescopes so people could look at the sun.

The Pluto Telescope--the wooden part on the bottom is where photographic plates were put.
We had seen quite enough of the sun already, but wished we had the energy to go back and look through the big telescopes at night.

When life settles down a little, and days get shorter, we will go back to Flagstaff and the Lowell Observatory. The hope is to visit when one of the planets is up at a good time for viewing.

We have a little back yard telescope and have looked at Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. Our telescope isn't powerful enough to show much more than bigger dots of light, but we can see more than Galileo did.

With the right conditions, we can see that Venus has phases like the moon. Four moons are visible by Jupiter as well as some sense of color on the planet. Saturn shows us its rings and and its largest moon.

Seeing these things with my own eyes somehow brings them closer. It feels like a miracle. I'd love to look at Mars with a telescope large enough to show the "canals" that excited Percival Lowell enough to invest his fortune in an observatory.

All of the photos for this blog (except for the knitting) are by my husband. Here is a rather miraculous photo he managed to take by lining up his cell phone with the eyepiece of our telescope--Jupiter and the Galilean moons--so clear and close you can almost touch them from our overly well-lit yard in Salt Lake City.

THE PODCAST is a Dickinson tribute to summertime. Summer seems to ease her obsession with death. She's not sure whether it is God or magic that deserves the credit, but is thankful to wake to yet another summer day.

Despite 100 degrees yesterday, so am I.

THE KNITTING consists mostly of two hats.

The all grey one is inspired by Ancestral Pueblo pottery I saw white traveling.

The floral and striped one is a doodle I made up, then hurt my arm to finish.

Both will be available in my shop eventually, but I probably won't get them listed until next week. If you want to reserve one of them, send me a message.