Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tell Me A Story

It seems that spring is finally here, with temperatures up to 10 C in the daytime, though we still have frost in the nights. Today, the weather is very Aprilesque, with sunshine one moment and a shower of hail the next.

Big news of the week: I have a new phone! My old one apparently decided that if I was treating it as an mp3 player, it was going to behave like an mp3 player. So first, it kept insisting that the headphones were in even when they were not, which made it somewhat of a scramble to answer a call. Next, it ignored my attempts to make a call – which did rather impair its usefulness as a telephone. So, I decided to replace and upgrade, while I was at it, to a smart phone.
The biggest challenge was to get to learn all the new stuff: touch screen, apps, Internet games, you name it, without Victor grabbing the thing out of my hand to show me – at a high speed that left me going huh? Sometimes, I feel old.
The generation gap, when it comes to technology, is immense, and even shows itself across half generations, like the one between my boys, who are teenagers, and my sister’s toddler-age children, who have grown up with touch screens. Emil on his second birthday was playing games on an iPad. To me, that looks weird; but of course, a touch screen is much easier to understand than a computer mouse or a controller: you touch the button you see on the screen, and things happen. Pretty straightforward, much more obvious than moving a separate object around to do stuff on the screen.
But anyway, now I have me a new toy, including, of course, an Audible app, WordFeud, QuizBattle and all. And I can still treat it like an mp3 player, as well; so my podcast listening is safe.

In other, minor (heh), news: the teacher lock-out is in effect, with nearly 900,000 children and their families affected. There is a rumour that the government will move in on the situation, but only after two weeks have gone by, so it doesn’t look like it was planned from the start.
So it seems that between the flu, the Easter break and this lock-out, Victor is going be out of school for over a month. He manages to be stoic about it, though (heh, again), filling his time with playing the guitar (always a good thing), playing WoW which, he claims, counts for both English and social studies, and reading (English again).

The Apple of the Week
is all about story telling, in person and in writing.
This Saturday, I participated in a story telling class: a dramaturge visited the group to teach us about – well, how to better tell a story. It was a great day: 6 hours of theory, instruction, lots of exercises, fairy tale writing, re-writing, and telling, good food and fun.

The instructor, Lene Skovhus, was amazingly focused on the details of everybody’s body language, facial expressions, gestures, voice, quality, tone, and speed of speech – as well as the words and structure of the story itself.
She uses two images to describe the story:
A skeleton, gradually fleshed out and with the addition of a heart: the skeleton is the structure of the story, fleshed out with descriptions, emotions, &c – and the heart is the deliverance of the story, the way the story teller uses his or her body in the telling.
A shark: its teeth are the beginning of the story, designed to grab the listener (or reader); after that the story arches towards the raised back fin, becoming more interesting and complex; and finally, it resolves, maybe with an added flick of the tail, a morale of some sort.

One exercise had us tell six-sentence fairy tale-style stories in groups of six (or one group of six and one of seven, as it turned out) with prompts that go as follows:
Once upon a time ...
Every day ...
One day ...
And then ...
And then ...
It all ended with ...
The first sentence introduces a Who and a Where; the next one presents the situation, which is disturbed or altered in the third, with the intensity rising through the fourth and fifth and being resolved in the sixth.
There is a certain challenge to continuing someone else’s story, not least in ending it in a meaningful way that ties off the threads presented.

After lunch, we each chose a fairy tale, either from the ones which Lene had brought, or one that we knew well already, to work on and make our own for telling. We were invited to maybe update the tale or put a different spin on it. Afterwards, we told the tale to a partner giving feedback; then we had one minute to tell it – or rather, the bare bones of it – and next, we were to tell it in varying tones of voice according to prompts: slow, quick, loud, sorrowfully and joyfully. This last, of course, became quite absurd, when the phrasing did not match up with the content of the story.
I worked on Rumpelstiltskin; it needs some more work, particularly on the ending, and then I may put it out here for you.

The part about the structuring of the story itself is, of course, relevant also in writing. I am slowly working my way through What If?, as you can see from the Goodreads widget in the sidebar; the first chapters are all about beginnings that capture the attention of the reader and makes him want to read on. Like:
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Both of these give you a protagonist and a place – and questions. Who is the man in black, and why is he running? What does the gunslinger have to do with him?  And what is a hobbit?

One exercise from the book is to every day write the first sentence of a story – just that, not the rest of the story – to practice this grabbing of attention. I like the image of the teeth sinking into the reader and holding him fast.
These are a few of mine that I am somewhat happy with:

All through that winter, the men took it in turns to keep watch, and the children were never allowed to play without supervision, never let out of sight; and no-one ever crossed the shallow, fast river that never froze.

If Lucy had been asked a week earlier, she certainly would have agreed that finding her fiancé dead in bed with another woman, also dead, was the worst thing that could happen to her; but now that seemed almost trivial compared to the events that followed this discovery.

Mr Dawes hardly ever agreed with his wife about anything of importance; so she was quite surprised when he concurred with her views on the new neighbours.

Three very different stories, n’est-ce pas? In the first one, the threat from the far side of that winter river can be anything from wolves to vampires, Vikings or witches. The second one raises the question, among others, of the cause of death for the lovers: were they both targeted, or did one of them just become collateral damage? The third one gives me a picture of a Dursley-like couple – and what are those neighbours up to?

I find this a fun game to play, challenging the imagination and the precision of the language: you need to pack enough information into one sentence to generate an image – or rather, let the reader generate an image – that is interesting enough to warrant further reading.
But now to something completely different:

The Knitting
My Ocean Socks are finished; these are the Water CycleSocks by Tami Sheiffer, made in Mary Queen of Socks from Superknits. I really enjoyed this pattern: toe-up for easy fitting, with four different lace patterns for variation and interest. These socks are both pretty and fun to knit. I made the folded cuff on the first sock and then decided that I didn’t like the bulkiness of it; so instead, I did a k1 tbl, p1 ribbed cuff that fits perfectly with the stitch patterns on the leg.

I have this week had a bout of startitis – or rather, an attempt to rekindle my enthusiasm for knitting by seeking the temporary thrill of the new project.
For some reason, my driftwood cardigan does not claim my attention; I do want to finish it, not only for the sake of finishing and crossing it off my list, but because I want to be able to wear it, what with spring coming on and everything. But for some days, it was just sitting there. I got my act together last night and finished the ribbing on the body – and then spent an hour or more fumbling with the button band, trying to pick up and knit the right number of stitches and make it look nice. Having put it down to go to bed, I realised how to do it; so that will be my next job today.

Having finished the Ocean socks, I immediately cast on for a little sock yarn pouch for my new phone, to protect the screen when it is sitting in a pocket or a bag. A pocket for a Galaxy Pocket :o)

It is very simple, just a sock toe cast-on, a few increases to make the corners rounded like the phone itself, and plain stocking stitch. I made a fold-over flap and then unraveled it; with the decreases at the top, the phone sits quite happily inside its pouch even when it’s open.

And before I even finished the socks, I caved and started swatching for a summer top, in white fingering weight cotton. This design has been hovering in my mind since last summer, when I swatched a bit and then got sidetracked by deadline knitting, first for gifts and then the Ravellenics; and then the summer was practically over, and winter and Christmas knitting were more important.
I am not telling you more about it for now: if it turns out to be anything good, I will submit it to the Madame Defarge series and see what comes of that, if anything.

Since November and the Music Talent Competition, I have been wanting to do (as in knit) something nice for Victor’s guitar tutor. She is a lovely lady, always smiling and helpful towards Victor and her other pupils, giving them fine sand paper for their nails, gently pushing them towards improvement, having them participate in events that may further their work and maybe even careers. To say that she does this because she loves all things guitar (and more) would be true, but in no way sufficient – everybody who has ever taught will know that no matter how much you love your subject and want to share that love with the world, teaching is hard work.
So, I would like to show my appreciation, and how better to do that than with a knitted gift?

In browsing through What Would Madame Defarge Knit? I came across several items that I Just Have To Knit, including the Wilhelmina shawlette and Jane’s Ubiquitous Shawl.
Victor gave me a stern look: Do you really need all those shawls?
Me: Umm ...
And then the inspiration hit me – you have guessed where I’m going with this, right? – to knit the Wilhelmina for Victor’s guitar tutor. Two birds and all that; three, actually, since I have in my stash some sock yarn in (blood) red, pinks, and purple. Great for a lady with dark hair.

So now, all of a sudden, I have four active wips, and a summer skirt coming up for which I just ordered the yarn ...

Also, now the second Madame Defarge book is out in the digital version! I downloaded the PDFs Saturday morning (local time) and just wanted to stay in and knit for about a month. Well, I knew already that I want to make the Fosco socks for myself, but I did find even more lovely stuff. No surprise there, of course.
The patterns are all up on Ravelry, too, if you want to see them and have not (yet?) bought the book.

As I seem to be including this on a regular basis, I may as well make it a proper feature. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:

The Books
While knitting my Ocean Socks, I listened to James P. Blaylock’s Homunculus. This is the second book in his Narbondo series; the first one takes place in the 1960’s California, while the following are ‘real’ steampunk set in Victorian London. Blaylock was actually one of the inventors of the steampunk genre.
What can be better or more relaxing than knitting lace socks while listening to a fantastical story about intricate mechanical boxes containing gems, aliens, and wind-up toys; mad vivisectionists raising zombies to set them loose in the streets of London; and a group of scientists and poets including a sea captain with an ivory leg striving to foil the evil plans of various foes?
This is a rhetorical question; please do not send me suggestions on how to improve my life :o)

Having finished that audio book, I am continuing with the next part of the Vampire Archives – quite appropriately accompanying the knitting of the Wilhelmina shawlette; well, almost appropriately, since it’s not Dracula. But close enough for my purposes.

On the CraftLit side of things, Jane Eyre is ongoing – in fact, both in my podcast time and in real podcast time; I am nearly caught up now, only two months behind.

As for books of the papyrical persuasion, I read this week the latest in the Corduroy Mansions series by Alexander McCall Smith, A Conspiracy of Friends; his books are composed of vignettes, little pictures of the characters, their lives and thoughts on the nature and fate of humanity and the ways in which we conduct our lives and treat each other. The tone is one of generous humour with an underlying earnestness to it: we can smile at these people and their antics – and be horrified at some of the tricks that the less likeable characters play on others – but we should never forget that we are all part of the same humanity.

And on that comforting note, I will leave you for now and go and knit something.
Keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!

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