Sunday, February 13, 2011

Musings About Stuff and Things

It's an icy day here today. Hubby and I took Rascal out for a walk this morning, and we didn't talk much. I needed to concentrate on not breaking my neck while we crept along, keeping our eyes open to any surface that might afford us enough friction to stay upright. Rascal trotted along happily, oblivious to the immense danger his people were in. Oh, to be a fluffy dictator like him...

On the way back, we found a patch of rougher ground, and I started talking about the things that were floating around in my head earlier. "I was just thinking about this hobby that my friend's husband has. He likes to find old clocks and record players and take them apart. I was there once, and it was a lot of fun. There are a lot of little pieces in there that spin like tops when you spin them on a table."

"Yeah," hubby said. "Those old analog clocks are really amazing contraptions on the inside. Nobody wants them now. It makes more sense to have a digital clock. They're cheaper and simpler. But the old clocks were amazing technology back then. Ships could sail across oceans and still have accurate time to calculate their longitude."

"They're still amazing technology," I said. "Just mechanical technology."

And yes, they are still amazing, if not especially useful nor cheap. But still... valuable.

I've been thinking a lot (as usual) about the physical world of things made by hand, and things that work through physical mechanics... things that move because of all the little bits and pieces inside of them, gears and levers and belts... and wondering about all of this knowledge that is out there that seems to be talked about less and less. How did anyone ever figure out how to build an ice jigger? How did anyone figure out how to make popcorn? How did we figure out that you could eat lychee, or brazil nuts? How did someone learn that you can dovetail wood and make a strong joint for a cupboard? Why did someone decide it would be a good idea to make a quilt?

We figured it out because we needed to know. And because we needed to know, we shared the information.

We don't really need all that information now. Most people in the modern world don't need to know how to string a fishing net, or weave a basket, or descale a fish. It's all done for us, then neatly packaged, sometimes into a fully cooked meal, and we don't even need to know how to warm it up - we just read the instructions and we have dinner. We don't even need to write our own stories. We can be entertained by so much that is not of our own making.

I don't really need to sew my own clothes or knit my own scarves, shawls, socks or sweaters. I could easily drive down to Walmart and buy a set of clothing at a quarter of the price and have it all in a tiny fraction of the time it would take for me to even design something to wear.

But I knit my own clothes and cook my own meals. And I do know how to gut and descale a fish, and bake my own bread, and how to make a meal with whatever is in my cupboard and fridge. And I know I'm not alone.

Writing in Interweave Knits, Bethany Lyttle says, "Knitters represent one of the largest blogging interest groups of all time." Yet, nobody talks about it. It's not important. It doesn't raise our economy, nor does it raise the value of my house. You don't see many people knitting in public - most are too embarrassed. Why?

Why isn't it important to preserve the knowledge that is buried in our minds and in our muscles? I remember watching an episode of Ray Mears' Survival, and he said, "I carry my fire not in my matches or in a lighter. I carry it in my muscles." Frankly, I think that's a guy I want to have around. And I want to have knowledge that will keep me alive when the going gets tough. If I get marooned on a desert island with a bunch of people, I want to be the person that doesn't get eaten.

This is not to say that I am against technology; for heaven's sake, I'm blogging on my computer right now. I just like to have a distinction as to how much I can do for myself and what needs to be done for me. Technology can augment, rather than replace.

It is very unlikely I will ever be stranded on a desert island, trying not to be cannibalized. But maybe sometime in the future, someone will need to know how to clothe themselves or light a fire or skin a fish. And they might not know how because nobody ever told them. Nothing in this world is concrete - anything can happen. But we can talk to each other, share what we can do, and value this knowledge as the treasure that it is. And this is not to say this isn't happening, and that technology is not helping this to happen. I heard about a man who survived being trapped in a building after an earthquake because he found an app on his iPhone that told him how to survive such a circumstance.

I just don't want people to be embarrassed by their skills anymore. I want them to feel valued because of what they know how to do.

I don't want to hear people say anymore, "Oh, I made it myself, and yeah, it's not a professional finish, but I made it anyway." I want people to be proud of their skills. Yes, you did write that play yourself, and it's damn good. People should pay to see it. Yes, you did make those cookies, and yeah, it's from a mix, but they taste good. Thank you for using your energy to make them and to share them with me. Yes, you are knitting in public, and it's not a common sight, but I am fascinated by your skill and by how you are making something out of string. Yes, you did fight in the Second World War, and you are old and bent now, but your medals tell us about feelings and fears that nobody had ever known before. You are all not little quaint antiquities that we should take pictures of while on holiday. You are important because you know important things.

Maybe I have such strong convictions about this because I am a "just-in-case" kind of person. I want all the bases covered, most of the time. But why not? Why should people know these things just in case?

Yeah... why not?


YarnKettle said...

Thankfully I am not embarrassed to knit in public. I did it this weekend in a car dealership, I could tell he wanted to ask about it but was too afraid. Wait till I go back to sign the papers and want him to wait till I finish the row. Thanks for another well thought out post. You Rock! (and knit)

AdrieneJ said...

I can not wait to hear how the dealership takes that! Oh man, that'd be hilarious! You rock, too!

Arron K-W said...

Loved this post, thanks for sharing it. It's something I feel as well but nobody seems to be talking about. Your "I don't want to hear people say anymore" paragraph made me teary. Thanks for moving me!

AdrieneJ said...

@Arron K-W: Thanks for coming by and reading. I suspect these musings are ones that float through a lot of people's heads. I'm glad that my thoughts meant something to you. :)

Anonymous said...

Heyy Adriene..thats beautiful.. Im surely gonna try doing this :)

AdrieneJ said...

@simplysruthi: Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you found it useful.