Tag Archives: crochet

A kick to the groin, a karate chop

IWD Bathurst

Sally Neaves and Leah Moulden from Rahamim at the IWD event in Bathurst.

I’ve just returned from a stint on a stall at the International Women’s Day event in Bathurst. This day has many and varied meanings, some entirely contradictory, but that’s to be expected. Women come in all ages, sizes, shapes, races, height of heels, wealth, education, sexualities and even biological starting-points (in the case of trans women). School girls in their white blouses trooped in. Business women networked. After unstructured time for a trawl around the stalls with their fliers about domestic violence, aged care and health, we were called to order to witness a martial arts display. The mats were brought out and a group of young women and one young man readied themselves nearby, wearing black suits with orange embroidered or appliquéd flames running up their trousers.

I’ve always had a bit of trouble with the self-defence narrative when it comes to women’s rights. Some of this may stem from the fact that, as a teenager, I was rubbish at judo. We practiced in a hot metal shed out at the pony club. The vinyl mats were spongy and thick and sweaty. I wore a hot, white, quilted suit. I remember half-heartedly doing a bit of uncoordinated kicking and flailing about. Deciding I was hopeless, I plumped for just riding it out until I could legitimately declare (to Mum, who sewed the suit) that I’d given it a go and now wanted out.

There’s also my suspicion that the self-defence narrative helps perpetuate the idea that men are violent, lustful creatures by their very nature. Rather than putting the onus on men to change their attitudes and behaviour, self-defence puts the onus on women to change their attitudes and behaviour. Fight like a girl!

But unlike me in the sweltering hall at the pony club, or me stuck in the mental back rooms of feminist discourse analysis, these young black-suited women were putting their hearts and hands and feet into it. They were shouting and grunting and making precise, jabbing, swishy movements. It was exhilarating to watch. Their moves told a different story about young women: not passive princesses but active creators of their own lives.

After the girls had dealt with each other, the young man of about the same age stepped forward to play his part as perpetrator, the prowling opportunistic stranger who might accost them in a dark alley or an underlit carpark.

Another twinge of unease. Despite the media’s entrancement with Anita Cobby and Jill Meagher – both victims of the lurking stranger – most violence towards women is perpetrated by their own partners or ex-partners. I think back to last winter, when Nadia Cameron was shot by her ex-partner after she’d left him. Lurking, murderous strangers certainly exist, but women are much more likely to be raped, injured or killed at the hands of the men they know.

The young man performed his role in good spirit, repeatedly felled by a young woman with a swishing long blonde ponytail. In a sharp, unambiguous movement, she pretended to knee him in the groin. This final humiliation was a high point for the ladies in the crowd, who met it with clapping and cheering. This seemed to be the end of the show. But it wasn’t, not yet.

Off to one side of the mats there were two big heavy concrete breeze blocks with three stacked roof tiles suspended between them. As the young women retreated and disappeared, the young man picked up the top tile and took it over to be inspected by members of the audience. Yes, a genuine roof tile out of someone’s shed, complete with spider webs. He went back and carefully replaced the tile. Someone lay a towel over the pile of three strong tiles. Holding his palms upward, he lowered and raised the backs of his forearms over the tiles, sizing them up. And then, in an almighty display of strength and technique, he suddenly punched his forearms downwards. The tiles smashed satisfyingly to the floor, kept from spraying in all directions by the bath towel. More clapping.

I made my way back across the room and sat down behind the gentle undulations of our crocheted river. I could hardly believe what I’d just seen, on International Women’s Day no less. It was as if a display of female strength and assertiveness could not go unanswered. It had to be immediately “corrected” by an even more dramatic display of male strength. That mental image of the vanquished boy on the mat with the girl standing triumphantly over him must not be allowed to linger. No, he had to get up and have the last “word”.

I’m sure this was not intentional. I’m sure it was simply the local martial arts group displaying its wares, putting itself through its usual paces. I’m sure nobody was thinking about the appropriateness of a dramatic display of male physical strength on a day dedicated to celebrating women’s rights and achievements. But that’s how culture works: it’s invisible. We find ourselves doing things that feel natural. After we’ve broken the natural order, we feel compelled to restore it again. So the roof tiles had to cop it.


UPDATE

Righto, this has been an interesting one. As soon as I hit “Publish” on this blog, I started to worry about it. Was it fair to dump some heavy-duty feminist theory on the local martial arts group? Possibly not. But then, what’s the use of feminist theory if it’s not used to think through the situations we confront in everyday life? Social change happens when we keep these discussions going. Anyway, this evening I got a phone call from Gerarda, who is a leader of the martial arts group I’m talking about in this blog (and author of this book). She understood my problem with the appropriateness of the tile-smashing at the end and took that on board, but felt I’d also been sarcastic about the particular girls involved in the demonstration (or their group). Oh dear. The last thing I want to do is be negative about girls being involved in a positive, assertive activity that builds a sense of strength and confidence in the world. The girls demonstrating their skill yesterday were amazing, and I was genuinely impressed. Their group is obviously highly professional. Gerarda pointed out that the training received by the men in the group is all about self control and skill and the utmost respect for women. Young men with such training learn ways to handle themselves consciously and respectfully in the world. I do take this on board – it’s obviously a great club doing great things! Hopefully this note will go some way to counteracting the whiff of negativity in my piece. But I’ll let my original post stand, because I do think that on a broader level my uneasiness with the self defence narrative (ie its place in the wider movement against violence against women) is worth putting out there. But this is an ongoing conversation and one that links with much wider issues around creating a culture that is genuinely non-violent and respectful towards women. It was great to have that chat!

 

Crochet me a river

The beginning

The beginning

So! We’re already just over a couple of weeks into the new year. If you don’t watch them (days) they tend to escape. In just a few weeks – it’s not certain exactly when – we’ll find out whether the Powers That Be are going to go ahead and divert water from the Macquarie River into the wide open maw of an open cut gold mine. The quantity would be up to 10 megalitres a day, about four Olympic swimming pools’ worth. If the project goes ahead, the water will go out in an ordinary-looking concrete water pipe; the pipe will be laid down by people who are just going about their ordinary jobs; and then people will start working at the gold mine and earning good wages, part of which they will spend at the ordinary Coles or Woolworths supermarkets and perhaps the cafes and dress shops in town. In other words, a perfectly ordinary thing is about to happen.

It’s all pretty routine, but hundreds of people are making it known that they don’t agree. Opposition to the diversion of river water to the Regis gold mine is coming from all quarters – cabbage growers downstream, people who like to fish for Murray cod, people worried about diverting water out of the district just as global temperatures are rising, people dismayed by the privatisation of river water, people worried about declining flows into the fragile wetland habitat  of the Macquarie marshes at the other end of the catchment. Kayakers, bushwalkers, people with dogs that like to swim (that’s me and my dog, Bertie). The nuns around the corner from my house. People who can’t see the point in another gold mine when we’ve already got an absolute whopper just down the road.

Just because something is business as usual, doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it. Smoking, slavery and foot-binding were once business-as-usual.

So what’s a girl to do but take up her crochet hook and fight?!

A small group of “craftivists” has been getting together on Thursday mornings to create a long, crocheted, knitted and textile-based representation of the Macquarie River. We’re hoping that by the time Council makes its decision we’ll have something long and colourful that we can brandish before the media and general public.

The process has been wonderful so far. It’s both relaxing and, to use a rather over-used word, “empowering”.

If you’d like to join in, we’re meeting at Rahamim, 36 Busby Street, Bathurst on Thursday mornings from 10am to 12noon. Come for the whole session or just part thereof. Or if you’d rather just work on a stretch of it at home (we’re asking for lengths that are 20cm wide by however long you like – ie narrow lengths that we’ll join together), you can just drop them off at Rahamim any time in business hours (ask for Sally).


 

 

 

THE REVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL OF CROCHET

In my twenties, I remember reading a pamphlet by Ernest Mandel (I think it was, will check), called The Revolutionary Potential of the Working Class. If the working class has the ability to change the world, what about crochet?

Question: Are you taking the piss?

Answer: Yes. A little bit. But piss must be taken.

This week a possum crashed down out of the ceiling of my hallway, bringing the manhole cover with it. Before we could shepherd it out the front door, the possum pissed on the floorboards. Maybe, as an oppressed, homeless possum, it was taking the piss. Literally. Because sometimes your ability to piss is all you’ve got. (I told you this was going to be a little mad.)

Question: What is the revolutionary potential of crochet?

Answer: I’m glad you asked. It has something to do with the meek inheriting the earth. Crochet is associated with the meek. Crochet is inherently non-violent; it’s unlikely that crocheters, even militant ones, are going to force anyone’s back up against the wall. (Airlines, however, beg to disagree. A crochet hook is a potentially gruesome weapon. Think eyeball, steel crochet hook.) If the meek don’t inherit the earth, we run the risk of the strong continuing to inherit the earth, and look where that got us.

Also: You might have noticed that the word crochet has the word Che inside it. As we all know, Che was a revolutionary. So there’s the revolutionary potential of crochet right there!

Che didn’t think think a new society would be very well served by people made up of all the faults and peculiarities of people who had lived in the old, bourgeoise society. So he said the Cuban revolution required a “new man“. People had to be different, or become different, if they were to build a new society.

Question: What if you’re not sure you can be a new man?

Answer: If you’re a man, you might become a new man by learning to crochet. The simple act of crochet could well challenge your sense of manhood and perhaps cause you to shed some of it.

Question: What if you’re not any sort of man, old or new?

Answer: Perfect!

Question: Why are you focusing on crochet in particular? Wouldn’t you get the same benefits out of knitting or paint-by-number or adult colouring in?

Answer: Perhaps.  But every art form (and crochet is surely an artform) has its particular attributes. There could be something particular about crochet that gives it an edge in the revolutionary movement. For example, the Wertheim sisters, who got the crocheted coral reef going, say that crochet follows some of the fundamental, mathematical rules of biological growth; therefore crochet, as an activity, is connected through technique to the techniques used by Mother Nature herself!

Question: So how is that revolutionary?

Answer: I don’t know, exactly, but I’m sure there’s something in it. Maybe – if crochet has a direct connection to the very processes of Life Itself then it somehow connects to the Agency of all life on the planet. If we can respect the common or garden crocheted knee rug that is used by old people in nursing homes, we might also grow to respect the agency of all the background processes that keep life going on Earth. And then we might not divert rivers into gold mines, because we’d be thinking about the Booroolong frogs.

Question: Agent as in Travel Agent?

Answer: No. Agency as in the capability to ACT and to CHANGE THINGS. If you are incapable of action or changing things, you can’t have agency. You’re just a plum pudding. Then again, a plum tree, arguably, has agency because it is actively involved in the creation of plums. These plums change the world because now it is a world with plums in it.

Question: So how is this revolutionary?

Answer: Because Life. And I’ve been reading a book given to me by my friend Helen the other day. It’s called Blueprint for Revolution – How To Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men and other non-violent techniques to galvanise communities, overthrow dictators or simply change the world, by Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller. Anything Lego men can do, crochet can do better. I rest my case.

And here’s Ella Fitzgerald singing Cry me a River.

Twenty things

It’s Friday afternoon already. Where have I been? It’s hard to say.

In an effort to answer this question, I’m going to give a list of twenty things – animal, vegetable, possibly mineral – that might help me to recall some of the hours of my own life.

Gascoyne River in flood.

Gascoyne in flood, March 2000.

1. I’ve been watching the Gascoyne River come down, in real time. Excitement had been building for days, as big rains in northern Western Australia began making the rivers flow. The brown water spread out across thousands of kilometres of red-brown land, eventually sending feelers into the dry gravely riverbed near Carnarvon. As the lead waters began to flow, people went out to have a look, as they’ve always done and as we used to do. Children splashing excitedly in water. Eels flipping in the shallow lead waters. I followed all this on Facebook. Locals have been posting updates and photographs on the “I Grew Up in Carnarvon” page so all of us, Carnarvonites and ex-Carnarvonites alike, could follow along. It’s nothing like being there – the smell of the air, the heat, the crunch of gravel, the sounds of the bush and the birds – but it’s a way of remembering, of sharing the excitement.

***

That’s one thing. I don’t think I’m going to get to twenty. But let’s at least get to two.

2. I have been feeding Sebastianne, a friend’s tortoiseshell cat. She is mottled all over. Her nose is mottled. She yowls when I arrive, hisses when I try to leave, doesn’t seem to eat much. Her mistress has left out five – yes five – litter trays for her to choose from. This is because Sebastianne doesn’t like to revisit a used litter tray. This morning she was rolling on her back, rubbing herself against the warm terracotta brick paving just outside the back door. Beside her were giant zucchini leaves and yellow flowers.

3. I have been drinking many cups of tea.

4. I’ve been teaching at CSU. First week of session. First days back after a year off sick. One class on Wednesday, one on Thursday. As we went round the room introducing ourselves, I asked Wednesday’s class to say their names, their area of specialty, and one other word – could be any word. These (below) are the words given by the students, in the order in which they were said:

5. Potato.

6. Couch. (Yes! I’m cheating on my Twenty Things! I’m going to borrow the students’ words!)

7. Yellow.

8. Mango.

9. Pen.

10. Room.

11. Alpaca.

12. Ottoman. (I asked whether he meant footstool or empire – he meant empire.)

13. Platypus.

14. Turtle.

15. Beach.

16. Hypotenuse.

17. Hot.

18. I find this list interesting. Some words seem to be inspired by the words that came before (eg potato/couch and platypus/turtle/beach), while others seem to spring out of nowhere, like Ottoman and Hypotenuse. Most are nouns. Most of them trigger clear mental images. I didn’t ask Thursday’s class to give me a word. I regret that.

19. After my Thursday class I went for my first meeting with my PhD supervisors. Yes, for better or for worse, I’m embarking on a PhD. My PhD is going to relate in some way to crocheting my abdominal organs through ovarian cancer and treatment and how this relates to Life, the Universe and Everything. We had an invigorating discussion. I felt hopelessly ignorant. My brain has been teeming, screaming and running in circles ever since.

20. Last Sunday I sat with a small group of women at Vi’s house in Lambert Street and crocheted a flower-thing (actually it was part flower, part tiny body organs) to add to Prudence Mapstone’s giant crocheted blanket to  commemorate the 1960s flower power movement.

That’s twenty things! I cheated, but I’m going to let myself off the hook.

And now, the movie

I’ve just had a flying visit from my friend John Merkel who is heading back to Melbourne tomorrow. He’s loving Melbourne and his new girlfriend and generally getting about being a Lebenskünstler. After I showed him my crocheted guts, he got his iPhone 3 out of his pocket and asked if I’d mind repeating myself for the movie. I said I didn’t mind. It’s worked out well, actually, because I was beginning to wonder what I was going to blog about today. As you can see from this clip, my eyebrows have come back nicely.

In the trenches

Major extended family arrival today – three adults and two small children – so I’ll keep this brief. I say this like the busy person I was just three months ago. I’m not busy at all these days, but I’ve still managed to run out of time to get things ready. What things? That’s part of my problem: what things, exactly? I have a great sense of urgency combined with very little focus. Anyway, Easter’s history, along with the ghastliness brought on by my last chemotherapy session. Now it’s the eve of Anzac Day and I’m out of the drama of feeling utterly horrible and back into daily life in the trenches of cancer treatment. I can metaphorically (and literally, I suppose) play cards and learn French, as the off-duty Anzacs did between calls to go Over The Top. Actually I won’t learn French. Ever. Serious illness has relieved me of a whole lot of shoulds (learn French, read Ulysses). But I will crochet, because it’s really helping.

crochet_guts_wip_webHere’s a pic of work-in-progress on a representation of my guts. Not to scale or colour, obviously. The bit I’m most proud of is the small intestine. Most beginner-anatomy representations of the small intestine don’t bother to show the mesentery, the curling structure that attaches the intestines to the back of the abdominal cavity and feeds them arterial blood (see pic of mesentery of autopsied cat). I’ve discovered that the mesentery is best represented by hyperbolic crochet, the same technique used to represent the Great Barrier Reef in the Crochet Coral Reef project. From small attachment points, the mesentery fans out, ruffles and folds back on itself, allowing the small intestines to do the same. Hyperbolic crochet is mesmerising and very relaxing.

I’m scheduled to go Over The Top again on May 13. This is when I’ll be opened up from sternum to pubic bone while two or three (upper GIT*, gynae-oncol and possibly colo-rectal) specialists work on extracting my two tumours. As I crochet my threatened guts I’m learning so much about them – what they are, where they are placed, what they do. I’ll be making two tumours, too. Not sure about the colours or how to make them look horrible enough.

*Gastro-Intestinal Tract