March 24, 2008

Inexplicable Knitter Behaviour

It is my experience, that people don't have a clue about knitters. They think that everything we do is pretty nutty. If you don't believe me, rent a mini-van and drive to another country for a sheep and wool festival with four knitting friends. Hell, just say you have "knitting friends" and watch ordinary people glaze over. I used to think that it was a problem of stereotypes (which I still do) but now I've gained another layer of understanding. I think that knitters upset people because we lack a demographic, and because you don't understand knitting until you do it.

Think about it. Imagine trying to finish the sentence "Knitters are...." and see what kind of trouble you can get yourself into. Can't say old, can't say young, can't say women. Can't say we all like wool, can't say we all knit acrylic. Can't say we all enjoy knitting socks, can't say that all of us see the pleasure in an afghan. We don't all knit for charity, we don't all have cats. We didn't all vote for the NDP, we don't all go to church. We don't all have grandchildren, we don't all go to Knit Night, we aren't all hip - or not hip. We don't even all stash yarn or knit in public. We are almost impossible to describe, and the things we have in common aren't really visible. Now try "Knitting is...." and you'll have the same trouble. What are you going to say? Fun? Easy? Hard? Challenging? Meditative? Cheap? Expensive? No matter what you try to say, a thousand exceptions are going to crop up and ruin your point. The truth of all of it is (I think) that the answers are so complicated because they have to do with what we've learned about knitting and how the practice of it has influenced our thinking and behaviour. Which sort of brings me to this book, which has just arrived here (one copy) and has been carefully examined and held proudly by yours truly to the point of obsessive weirdness.

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I like it.
It's hard for me to say that, because I wrote it, and that makes it sound terribly prideful to say I think it's good or funny, but the truth is that I wouldn't have sent it to the publisher if I didn't think it was good or funny, because writing things and putting them out into public for people to say whatever they want, is scary enough without at least believing in my heart that it's a good book. You need at least that to come back to when you're done reading all the reviews. (At least my picture isn't on the cover of this one, so I at least only have to read opinions about my work, rather than my appearance.) I do think this is a good one. It is, I hear, in stores today in the US though I have no reports of it being successfully hunted in the wild yet. I'm not going to pretend it's an important book, or even a big one, but it is one that I worked very hard on... and I really hope you like it.

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While I was carrying it around this weekend (Yeah. I know, but it's sort of a big deal to me) I was talking to someone who clearly wanted to be kind to the little author with her silly book, but totally could not get what it was about. Once we had established that there were no patterns and no instructions for knitting, he was clearly at an impasse about what the hell could be in it? "Humour and Philosophy about knitting" I said, and he looked at me exactly like I had said it was full of "the crushed and dried entrails of a wildebeest with my personal diary written in blood". It was, I realized, inexplicable to him. Just like a bunch of knitters partying in a yarn shop, or travelling to a knitting event, taking over a coffee shop or filling a bookstore, it was inexplicable knitter behaviour. Next to the stereotypes, it's probably the biggest thing that knitters face. They can't define us, so they can't understand us, so they ignore us, or stare.

Now, this is not a call to arms (or needles). We are never going to get them to understand us. Instead, I have realized that the way that non-knitters find us inexplicable is an invitation. I can't be the only one who, upon realizing that they don't get us and don't care that they don't get us (in fact, they don't think about us at all) suddenly develops an urge to be as absolutely inexplicable as possible.

There is, I think, a tremendous freedom in it. If they don't know what we've learned from knitting, or what we get from it, if they are confused because they can't pigeonhole us, If they stare and whisper when four knitters have dinner in a restaurant, may I humbly suggest a knitting dinner for forty? If they think that knitting at a pub is weird, then take over a pub. Invade. Wear tee shirts. Ride the bus en masse. Take sock pictures, pose sweaters in trees for for blog pictures. Give up. Don't try to explain yourself. Don't make any attempt to explain. All those things that make sense to us and don't make sense to them? Just do it. Be knitters, and let it rip, and that's what I'm doing with this tour this time (which doesn't really represent a lifestyle shift for me, but might for you.) Starting with the launch, I'm going to suggest that everywhere I go, that knitters spend that day getting as inexplicable as possible. Embrace your inner knitter and go nuts. Your choice. Think up the weirdness and get to it. Imagine our goal as trying to make as many of the non-knitting as possible, wander home smiling to themselves and saying "I saw the damnedest thing today".

Since the launch is here in Toronto, which is the first time that one of my books has launched properly and first in Canada (which is a very big deal to me) we have a special opportunity to show everybody what knitters are made of in these parts, and we are taking it just as far as we can. I (with the help of Rachel H and Joe) have arranged a few things that should make perfect sense to all of you, and be entirely inexplicable to everyone else.

1. April 1st, all day, there will be, here in Toronto, a Sock Picture Scavenger Hunt. A list of sock picture opportunities will be posted (here, likely tomorrow) and knitters have all day on the 1st (and only the first) to scramble around the city scoring sock pictures. I imagine that this should be seriously inexplicable. At the launch, prizes will be awarded for mad sock picture skills. It is going to be weird. It is going to be good.

2. For the fist time in Knitter history (I think) a Canadian knitting author/philosopher/ comic is getting an opening act of iconic Canadian musicians. Andy Maize and Michael Johnston (Skydiggers) are starting up the show, and if you don't think that's cool, you're not thinking. (It's also pretty inexplicable.) I have given them very little direction, and only asked that they start somewhere before I do, (Doors open at Six, I go on about seven) and keep you company while you knit. They are brilliant and funny and you will love them. I promise. Hell, come see them and forget about me. (I don't really mean that.)

3. Rachel H, that organizational genius and generous heart, has sprung for more of the famed (and pretty rare) Knitters Without Borders pins.

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This means that you can have one at the signing in exchange for a donation (give big) to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, which we will hand right over to them for you. There is a limited number of these pins, and it is really pretty likely that the only place you are going to be able to get one this year is at this launch. Last year they went almost all in an evening in NYC, so this year it's Toronto.

4. I'm pre-signing all the books. If you buy a book at the launch it will be signed with no waiting around. Last time, that was not the fun part, so we're skipping it. This makes the next part super fun.

5. We are all going (me too, since I don't have to sit and sign) to meet up afters at The Foxes Den. (If you are from Brampton, that's probably cracking you up, because in Brampton there's a strip club (where men, rather than women liberate their clothing) by the same name. This is not that place. Everyone will have clothes on. I think. I can't promise anything for all knitters.) We'll head over there after, hoist a great many pints, laugh, confuse the wait-staff and other patrons and I'll personalize any books that you simply must have done. It will be grand, and I think we should go over together. I suggest a parade, just to mess with the non-knitting.

The Isabel Bader Theatre is huge, we are going to have tons of room, you don't need tickets or an RSVP (no matter who tells you differently) and there should be enough knitters that it gets truly weird, and should shock the pants right off of the University of Toronto, who own the joint. (You can already hear it in their voices. "Knitters?") The whole thing is going to be big fun, and I'm looking forward to what else people come up with, for that day, and for other days in the future of the tour. Hundreds of knitters congregating is as inexplicable as it gets to the non-knitting, and If people already think you're inexplicable, then you might as well take it as far as your wildest dreams go. There is much that knitting has taught me, not the least of which is that we're a subculture, and I know that to the non-knitting, it all looks like most of our behaviour is odd. I don't care, and I think you shouldn't either. People who don't knit aren't going to get it, and that is an awesome opportunity to mess with them. We can serve our own purposes, create events and occasions that make sense to us, and boldly go, unfettered by the norms of the rest of society, since we're already weird enough that we have nothing to lose. It's taken me a long time to figure it out, but one of the things I've learned from knitting is that it changes you. It shapes your life, and you're not the same person once you know how, and that means you think differently than other people.

Inexplicable knitter behaviour. Coming soon to a city near you... but starting right here. Party on.

Posted by Stephanie at March 24, 2008 3:31 PM