Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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On Meditative Labor

I have a number of things I do which are both contemplative and produce something.  Knife sharpening, breadmaking, spinning.

Today I finished making some 2×3 cabled yarn.  As I was finishing it was pondering how how much fiber has passed through my hands in the process of turning about 4.8 oz of alpaca and tussah into yarn.  From first to last each piece of fiber has run through my fingers 21 times (in about six hours of spinning/plying/cabling)

First it had to be “pre-drafted” as I pulled the roving out to a density which made spinning each of the 6 singles possible.  Then I had to reel each of those from the bobbin I spun them on, so they would be easier to ply.  Then I had to reel  each of the 2-ply yarns so they wouldn’t fight me as I turned it  all into cabled yarn.  After that I had to skein it off, and that adds up to 21 times through my hands.  I overtwisted the cabling*, so it’s not going to be as balanced a yarn.  I’ve got 78 yards, which means I have 1404 feet of singles (which means I was spinning about  4680 feet per pound of fiber), for a total of 29, 484 feet of fiber I had to move to get that 78 yards.

Historically yarn making has often been seen as, “incidental labor”, something women did in their odd moments (hence the term, “distaff” to refer to women).  Weaving was a man’s trade, but the yarns he warped to the loom, or put in the shuttles, was made by his wife/daughters.  Independent spinners, in Yorkshire (where Defoe was when he visited the cloth exchange), might; at that time, get a ha’penny per pound of spun yarn; suitable to weave.  Even then this was known to be an incredibly low wage; and only attractive to the very poor.  I’d guess I’m spinning about an ounce an hour; assume someone who was doing it all day would be faster, maybe even thrice my rate, that’s a pound and a half in eight hours, so a days work would be be somewhere between 2-3 lbs. .  6 days a week that’s worth about a schilling.  London prices at the time (like Manhattan a bit higher than the rest of England) mean that she could buy four meals, or 3 qts of beer for her weeks work.

The interesting this is that handspun was (for some little while) still the preferred yarn for warp (weft was easier to spin on machines).

Cabled yarn, of course, is tolerably specialised, and the 2×3 I did the moreso.  It looks a lot more like 3-ply than anything else, though it’s loftier, and would make a warm sweater, or cap. Stitches will be more defined when uses it to knit/crochet.  It’s also more durable, so it’s a well-favored type of yarn for socks, though that demands the spinner be able to make very thin singles.  I’m getting better at that.  I discovered I’d done a less than perfect job of portioning  my fiber, and the last pair of singles was a bit lighter (about 1o grams per bobbin).  The remainder on the other bobbins was 16 yards, and 5 yards, so I was spinning the last couple a fir bit thinner (this was intentional, I was trying to make it go further).  So (at another rough guess) the singles on the last bobbins were a bit more than the 4700 ft per lb I was estimating above… I got 78 yards out of .8 oz. on the last one).  Most weaving is done on 2-ply.  Two ply only moves the fiber through the hands six times.

And I can talk, watch television, listen to music, ponder things (in this it’s a like riding a motorcycle; it’s taking up some of my mental energy, but not all of it).  So I can, in various ways, commune with myself as I do it.  So I guess that I can’t get what my time is worth (even at the rate I’m being paid to do retail, there is no way that the time required to make even a two-ply yarn is going to be something people are willing to cover the cost of; take out the cost of materials [which has to amortise the cost of wheel, bobbins, spindles, lazy-kate and niddy-noddy) and making a living as a handspinner isn’t something I’m likely to do.  If I can recoup some of my fiber costs I’ll call it good.  If I can make a slight bit of money for my time I’ll call it a win (the yarns I can make as gifts are made of pure win).

At bottom if I don’t do this for myself, there is no good reason to do it.  Happily, as with gardening, playing the pennywhistle or doing Aikdo, the doing is the part which matters (to me).


*actually, as I was looking at the remnants on the other two bobbins I see that I undertwisted the plies.  Depending on what MBF thinks of it I may unspin the cable, and then feed it all through the wheel again to up the twist, before recabling it.

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For those who came to my blogging recently, I thought I’d link to the beginnings (lord, it’s been ten years, where does the time go?), and to the transitions.

Where it all started.  Being how I got into blogging.  I was being deployed to, ostensibly, Afghanistan but actually to Iraq (technically I’ve served in both OEF, and OIF, though I never set foot in Afghanistan, and there was never any question of sending me there.  Politics).  I cut my chops, in the vein of personal writing, in Amateur Press Associations.  Back in the old days (really old, as in the turn of the century before last) people who had a press wanted to show off the things they’d managed to do.  So they got together and collated newsletters to show off the tricks they’d managed.  These became social, with natter about life, and arguments about religious differences (serif/san serif, 1pt leading or 2, etc.).  SF Fandom adopted the practice, and somewhere along the way I got involved (ca. 1983, or so in APA-L, a weekly, still being produced, at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society; collation is on Thus. Evenings.  Locals have minac [minimum activity] of every other week.  Out Of Towners [ooties] every three weeks, and Out Of Country [as I recall] every four weeks).

When I deployed I sent a ‘zine, when I could.  At some point Hal O’Brien told me he’d like to put it up as a blog.  I said sure, but since he wasn’t me, and not willing to commit me to a platform; and comms between us being a bit… uncertain, at the time, he didn’t.  When I got back to Walter Reed (details to be found in the blog entries), I took my ‘zines, and backdated them to the relevant time of writing.

There is, as I review them, more than a bit left out.  Some for reasons of OpSec (Operational Security: Yes, my using the term is sort of affected.  I say sort of because I still think in Army, and I type it as I think it, then I have to decide about how to deal with it being in Army.  I could ignore it.  I can gloss it [as I just did], or I could drop it in unpacked and leave it.  Each of those tells a different story, this one is mine, and that’s how I choose to tell it).  Some of it for ease of mind to those back home. Some day, perhaps, I shall go over the letters I sent home and read them.  I am not sure how much I left out, and how much I put between the lines, I’ll recall.  I will be able to map where I was, because the letter after we left someplace I put down the lat/long, so that I’d know where we had been (but no one who might intercept it would know were we were.  No, that wasn’t an OpSec problem, because none of those places were secret; everyone knew the US Army was there; they just didn’t always know who was there).

The second, large chunk of single narrative to read is The Narrative of The Trip.  When the VA got around to deciding I was disabled (and some of that was my fault, but life is what it is, and who knows what contingent factors might have changed the outcome if I’d made my petition sooner) I bought a motorcycle, suitable for long-distance riding, and took a trip.  That, perhaps, understates it, a lot.  I took about 10 weeks and rode some 8,000 miles, crossing the Canadian border four times, and hitting two Provinces, as well as 24 states.  It was an experience.  I don’t know I’ll ever be able to take the time to do something like that again, but if we assume an average speed of 60 mph, I had not less than  133.3 hours of time to spend in meditative thought while I was riding.  Time on a bike, on “interstate slab” is a sort of quiet time.  Time to think.  It’s a “zen” sort of time, because you have to be both in the moment, and aware of the endless possibilities of the future moments (if you are thinking of riding, or ride and want to get better, I can’t recommend, “Proficient Motorcycling” by David Hough, highly enough.  I just re-read it, and the insights that trip gave me were both shaped by that book, and have since shaped how I look at what the book has to say).

Of course, the entirety of that blog is also available; sadly not very well tagged.

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It’s raining.  I like the sound of rain, but just noticed that I’ve not heard it in months.  This isn’t such a big deal.  I’m from Calif. (mostly) and we can go nine months between rains.  This is, of course, a thunderstorm; which makes me think of being a child in Ohio, or of summer at my father’s, in Tenn.

But this is NY/NJ, where precipitation is much more common.  But this has been winter, and snow is quit; which rain isn’t.

Spring is here.  My grape had bud-break a couple of weeks ago, though the nighttime temps weren’t warm enough to put it, or the bonsai olive, nor yet the etrog, outside until Monday.  I put some tulip, and crocus in the ground today (and trimmed the plants in the front of the building, as well as spending a couple of hours on Monday attacking the forsythia in the back… that is a project.  What I realised is that, as a Californian I don’t ask, “will it grow?”, but rather, “will it take over?”).

I’ve got rosemary, and oregano, and basil, in pots, and a couple of gardenias.  All but the Basil will overwinter, if I bring them inside.  The tulips and hyacinths I bought for inside color will go out front; and I’ll plant some Calif. poppies (in the hope of one of those little touches of home Ex-pats like to keep about them, as the Scot will have a pot full of heather).  Spring is come, and the seasons turn and more than autumn, and New Years, and the like I am aware of having spent another year in my new home.

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It seems I have an odd idea of what it is to be “productive” in a day.  I’m making a stir fry for supper. I made rice this afternoon, so it would have time to dry out some.  I blanched some carrots, so they would cook well. I soaked some <I>wakame</i> in vinegar and water to provide some counterpoints.  I also moved the potted <i>etrogim</i> outside, pruned the grapevine, repotted a gardenia; potted up some basil and oregano, rearranged the last of the disordered shelves from Passover and lopped enough forsythia to fill a pair of 60 gallon trash cans. I also started some stock, and washed the dishes from last night and this morning.

Then I said I’d been lazy, because I didn’t make it to the store to get some asparagus and bok choi.

In the shower I was thinking about why it is that not getting to the bodega caused me to, honestly, consider I’d been lazy.  MBF says that because I can get so much done in a day, I tend to valorise getting more done.  For my birthday one year Maia got me a book. The title is something like, “Advice for Men Who do Too Much”.  I can’t say I took it as well as I might.  It was nice, but I confess I saw it as a semi-critical comment on my not getting enough of the right sorts of things done.

Which is a failure on my part.  I see myself that way (and perceive others as seeing me that way) all together too much.  It’s not that I think I don’t get things done, it’s that there are some things I see as essential for the day to be done properly. It probably comes of being criticized for that sort of thing.  It didn’t matter that I’d turned a couple of cu. yds. of earth for the garden if I’d failed to get the carpet vacuumed, or the dishes done, or some other; fairly trivial thing.

So the measure of productive/not lazy isn’t so much the quantity of work which is done, so much as it is that certain; specific, and fairly visible, things were achieved.  What’s horrid about this is that many of those “failures” both make me defensive, and are completely personal.  No one at home thinks that a lack of bok choi is going to ruin dinner, but I still feel I have failed at the deeds of the day.

Not today, not really, but in general.  I have the sense that something I did, which wasn’t getting bok choi, was undeserved, wasted, a pointless distraction from what I ought to have gotten done.  It’s my internalisation of the Puritan Work Ethic.