Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Scattered Attention

I feel as though my focus is really spread rather thin at the moment. In a way, when is it not? But it's particularly acute just now.

I'm getting married later this week - look out for a post on 'how to plan a feminist wedding' - and simultaneously trying to organise and arrange and meddle, and trying to distract myself from the whole venture. I'm looking forward to the being married part, but all the racing around collecting kilts and getting eyebrow waxes and stuff is stressful.

I've been watching various shows - The Good Wife is on netflix, and very enjoyable. It makes great background for knitting and I really enjoy some of the performances a lot. I remember watching some of it when it was new, but now I'm onto stuff I haven't seen before, and finding the combination of moral dilemma, legal procedural and political drama works nicely. It's also a show where the women are whip smart and as brutal and vicious as the men, which I like rather a lot. I'm also still watching Speechless, and Mr Handmade and I are working our way through Luke Cage slowly. It's very topical and racially charged in a challenging way, and I find it refreshing that there are so few white folks in it. While watching the pilot, though, Mr Handmade and I looked at each other and said, 'I hope this is run/written by a majority black team,' because there are some things that a community can say about itself but which would be deeply uncomfortable if said by a privileged group. 'Everyone has a gun, no one has a father,' for example. Ouch.

When alone with my flatmate, we're watching Killjoys, a wonderfully silly show about space bounty hunters. I found a list of sci fi shows by searching for something like 'proper sci fi tv show with spaceships', and we've been watching some of those shows. Mr Handmade and I both grew up on Star Trek: TNG and Voyager, and both love shows like Farscape, Battlestar Galactica and The Expanse. We like our sci fi in space, thank you very much, and preferably with guns. Odd, since I'm definitely a pacifist.

I'm trying to run down the number of knitting WIPs I have going on, because it is just too many for me. I'm constantly looking for needles that are in other projects, or searching for a project bag when all of mine are full. A friend of mine only has 3 things on the go at any one time, which I think is brilliant. I'm going to try to emulate her a bit, and get some of the big stuff from my list done. Like, there's a cardigan I've been working on for over 2 years - I first posted about it in August of 2014. It's up to the arm holes and split for the back and fronts, and stalled. I want to get it done so I can wear it! And the Josephine shawl which I've been doing for almost as long - over a year, at least. I bought the yarn over 2 years ago, though I don't think I started it instantly.

I've got some of the smaller projects done and off my list. My second pair of Byatt socks are done - I like the pattern even more in variegated yarn than in the solid I used for my first pair. It's based on a shawl pattern, but I like it as socks, too. Just trying to convince myself that I'll be happier with more discipline, actually finishing and using things, rather than jumping in to the ooh, shinies.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Speechless: Keep punching up

A while back, I wrote a post about disabled siblings in fiction, and the way they are so often dehumanised, used as macguffins and turned into inspiration porn. People with disabilities are not ofter allowed, in fiction, to be the protagonist in their own lives, and if they are, their story is more often than not entirely about their disability. Many of the LGBQ people I know hate that so often stories about people who are on that spectrum fall into either the 'coming out to self' or 'coming out to the world' category - there are more interesting things going on in queer people's lives than coming out! Likewise, trans and nonbinary acquaintances hate that the only storylines available to trans people in fiction are often 'person realises they are trans' or 'trans person is outed, dies'. People are affected by their marginalisation, yes, but they are not in entirety defined by it. We all have more complexity than our identities, but media is in many cases still catching up to that fact.

I do not mean to say that there is no merit in a coming out story or a first love story. There can be a great deal of meaning, particularly, I find, in YA fiction where children and young people see those who look like themselves and are thrilled to be acknowledged. But let us not pretend that gay life is all coming out, first love and the deaths of our lovers. Let us not pretend that trans life is all violence, black life all racism or disabled life all being treated like a prop to further our siblings' stories.

All this to say, I'm rather enjoying ABC's new show Speechless, a story about how disability and the attitudes to it from those who should know better, affects a whole family. It's a pretty standard setup for a sitcom: two parents, still married, three children, one brainy, one sporty and one with cerebral palsy which means he uses a wheelchair full time and uses assistive technology to communicate and express himself. You see how instantly, the kid with a disability is entirely defined by his disability? So easy to do.

And yet. The character of JJ, played by the talented and charismatic Micah Fowler, who himself has CP, is way more than his disability, even in the pilot. Smart, funny and silly, JJ is presented as a very normal teenage boy, with a subversive sense of humour and a screw-you attitude to authority. The fact that he struggles to articulate his fingers separately doesn't stop him flipping the bird to some oglers in a car park; when assigned an aide to speak for him, interpreting from his technology to give him a voice, he decides that she sounds like a fairy godmother and delights in making her say things about pumpkins and 'bibbidy bobbidy boo'. I've worked a lot with young people, and JJ is presented as a very typical teenage boy, in a way that is utterly delightful.

Not only that, he is flawed. Like many (dare I say most?) teenagers, he is at times deceitful, rude, and a bit of an asshole. He uses other people's perceptions of him against them for his own gain. He says things which are deliberately hurtful when lashing out. His sense of humour is not victimless. He objectifies cheerleaders in a very teenage way. He's charming, but not always nice. Which I find particularly refreshing. JJ is not inspiration porn, and the show acknowledges this in the first episode. His new class try to nominate him as class president, citing that he's 'so inspirational!' Bemused, he says, 'Why? You don't know me.' The joke is on the short-sighted teacher and class, and is not made at the expense of people with disabilities.

JJ's mother, Maya, played superbly by Minnie Driver, is likewise a hoot. Determined to get everything JJ should be entitled to, she goes to bat for him with a vengeance, pulling him and his siblings out of school and into new districts when she feels it will be possible to get better provision for her son. Quickly frustrated by school administration, she rails against the barriers and hurdles JJ encounters. Maya is shown to be quick to judge, melodramatic and fiercely loving and protective of her children, particularly JJ. One of the themes which seems set to emerge is the way that JJ, at 16, is ready to begin enjoying some independence from his, at times, overbearing mother, and how difficult it is likely to be for her to allow this. Although Maya is a character played for laughs, the show never seems to shy away from the fact that what she is doing is from a place of love and is the right thing to do for her child. The show is not laughing at parents of kids with special needs, but with them. It's punching up, not down, as the best comedy does, and it manages to do it without being preachy.

I do have some concerns about the show, but so far they are fairly mild. One is that the viewpoint character, if one had to be chosen, is Ray, JJ's brother. We see life from the perspectives of all of the family members, but more Ray than the others. I am anxious that the show avoid falling into the trap of 'disabled sibling exists to make abled sibling's life harder'. I hope this show will do that, and one of the ways it can will be by placing the whole family front and centre, not just Ray.

Another is Kenneth, JJ's new aide. Lampshaded as 'the black guy' in the town - yes, this show is spectacularly white - he is shown to be cool, laid back, easy going, caring, gentle and strong. All good attributes, and particularly important in bringing to the forefront the gentle side of black masculinity and caring. As long as Kenneth avoids being written as a stereotype, the show will do ok, but it would be preferable to me if the cast was more diverse. I love the barriers they're breaking by having this gentle, caring guy - but did the one named black guy in the show have to start off as a janitor? Break a stereotype, make a stereotype. The other one lacks a name, and is a cop.

I write this having seen the first two episodes, and I'll keep watching with interest. I really hope this show turns out well. It seems to be written by careful people who are aware of the harmful tropes that they could inadvertently perpetrate, and I hope that that remains the case. At least we can be pretty sure that in this realistic series, there will be no miracle cures. Thank goodness.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

An Exotic Holiday

Anastasia Socks
During the summer, Mr Handmade and I did something we've long talked about and never actually done: we rented a holiday cottage with some friends and did a proper grown-up holiday with some of our favourite people.

We chose a small town on the edge of the yorkshire dales, with the promise of a little walking, a little shopping and some days out to encourage us. We found a cottage and took it for a week in July, just before most of the schools went on summer holiday.

When the time came, we crammed four adults and all of the bags and baggages we thought we'd need or want for a week away into my tiny purple car, and set off. Driving a heavily laden car around some relatively steep inclines was... interesting, but we arrived, got fish and chips from the local chip shop, and settled in.

The holiday was lovely - very restorative - and included a little of all the things we enjoy. Mr Handmade and I sneaked off on our own and wandered around Acorn Bank, a national trust property with excellent gardens and a house in the early stages of renovation and setting up. We had lunch at a chocolate factory in Orton and bought fresh bread from the town bakery each day. We played most of the board games we took with us. And I took one of the friends and the car and we went to a yarn shop and visited Farfield Mill.

Farfield Mill was... interesting. It was mostly given over to shopping, with artists having individual little divided spaces and selling various things. I think my mother-out-law would love it, but I'm not sure that we are the target market yet. Downstairs, it has some great displays and a pretty good presentation on the 'Terrible Knitters of Dent', who knit in a sort of whole-torso rocking motion and were apparently very fast. I'm quite sad that their sort of knitting - known as swaving - has died out, but there are not very many accounts of it, and no video evidence that might enable us to recreate how they did it. I am aware that a certain blogger claims he has worked it out, but I have watched his videos and he is wrong. What he is doing is knitting, cottage style, with bent needles, not swaving.

We enjoyed Williams' Wools, a lovely shop where the owner was very happy to let us browse at length. I bought some West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4 ply in the Kingfisher colourway, which knit up very rapidly indeed into some socks which were claimed by my grandmother. Overall, the holiday was a distinct success, and one we plan to repeat in future. Holidaying with friends is very different to going with family or just as a couple, and we liked it a lot.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Recipe: Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Cookies

I've been making variations on these cookies for years, having initially adapted the recipe from the Good Housekeeping recipe book my mum's had since before I was born. I've never actually made them to the recipe in the book, and just keep fiddling and messing until I find something I like.

Having slightly hurt my left wrist doing too much deadline knitting, I'm cutting down on the knitting for a couple of days. My big project is done, and my next knitting deadline isn't until December. I don't mean by that what you think - I'm not planning to knit gifts for people this year as I have other plans. My best friend is anticipating a new family member, so I'm using this as an excuse to make all the cute baby clothes and accessories I've had my eye on for ages.

Being fat, I'm careful about knitting baby things in public. I have a sock on the go for that, to avoid the embarrassment of the conversation which goes like this:
Stranger: "Aww, when are you due?"
Me: "Not pregnant, just fat."
Stranger, embarrassed, wanders away

Anyway, baking uses different muscles to knitting, and I was itching for a creative outlet this morning. Baking cookies is a great way to start the weekend. These are particularly excellent about 10 minutes out of the oven, when they're still warm and a bit chewy inside. When they cool, they have excellent snap and a slightly complex sweetness, not too cloying.

A note on measurements: All ingredients are by weight and in imperial measurements. Although I am what's called a 'millenial' and learned metric in school, I was taught to bake by my mother and grandparents, who taught me in imperial, and so that is how I bake. Sorry.

Makes12 good size cookies.

3oz butter or margarine, softened slightly
3oz white sugar
3oz light brown sugar
1 egg
6oz self raising flour
2oz white chocolate chips
2oz smooth peanut butter
vanilla extract or chef's vanilla

Preheat oven to gas mark 4 or 180°c.

Cream together the butter with both sugars until smooth in consistency and light in colour.

Add the egg and a splash of vanilla extract (not too much - 1/4 teaspoon is enough) and mix until just combined.

Add the flour and chocolate chips and stir in gently. When most of the flour is incorporated, add the peanut butter and stir until mixture is even and no floury or excessively peanut-buttery areas remain. Make sure you scrape around the bowl to incorporate everything.

On a lined baking sheet, place 1tbsp sized dollops of mixture spaced well apart to allow for spreading. Bake for 12 minutes at 180°c and then check on them - they should be well risen and lightly browned at the edges. I find that the first batch tend to need 2 minutes longer, but for subsequent batches 12 minutes is enough.

Leave to cool on the baking tray until the cookies have sunk, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack or paper-towel-lined plate to cool the rest of the way, or eat warm with tea, coffee or glasses of cold milk.