Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Old Biddies and Mother Hens Trying to Look Like Young Chicks

Women have always had a desire to look good, especially to men, and as anyone who's worked in a nursing home or around old people in a hospital can tell you, that desire doesn't go away with age. It's why you'll see 70-somethings sitting under the hairdryer at the salon and 80-something ladies with a smear of bright red lipstick. But in the past most women aged more or less gracefully and didn't try to look twenty when they were well past forty. They recognized that to do otherwise was futile and a bit silly and they had a term for women who tried, through dress, to look like girls--mutton dressed as lamb.

Nowadays it's different, and many women think they really are supposed to look like twenty when they're forty--or at least that they're supposed to try their darnedest. Fifty is supposed to be the new thirty, we're told.* So exercise classes are filled with middle-aged mothers trying to attain the relatively flat bellies of their teenage daughters, diet books are always on the bestseller list, and info-mercials abound for wrinkle creams and makeup that will "turn back the clock".** Thirty-something mothers sport tattoos, forty-five year old redneck grandmothers wear low-cut jeans and belly-baring shirts to show their belly button piercing, and fifty-something women with breasts not far shy of wrinkling wear plunging necklines--all in the name of looking young. Wealthy women come closest to achieving the new goal of eternal girlhood, thanks to the "miracle" of plastic surgery. But, aside from the sometimes creepy results, look at the cost they pay--not just the money, but the physical pain. Cutting, pulling, puncturing, and bruising their flesh. Burning it with lasers or injecting it with poison. All so they won't look as old as they are.


The worship of youth that boomed with the boomers, but probably goes back to the Romantics or further. Boomer narcissim. A culture of shallowness. Better nutrition and health care that, while providing actual improvements in appearance and function, may create unrealistic expectations about what else is possible.

But personally I wonder if the breakdown of marriage doesn't have something to do with it. Back when marriages could reasonably be expected to last forever, a woman could age gracefully. Her husband wasn't going to leave her because she had wrinkles. Neither was he going to divorce her because his secretary was better in bed or because he'd decided he wasn't "fulfilled" and the answer must be returning to bachelor life. For that matter she wasn't going to leave him for those reasons, only to discover she's now having to date men her own age who have--sorry, but it's true--a natural, biological preference for youthful-looking partners. Divorced women (and those in shaky marriages) can get used to sleeping alone or compete with college students for unattached males. What a choice. Women were, in this one sense anyway, more secure in the past. So a fifty year-old woman in the past could do the basic grooming that comes from the natural desire to look good and otherwise just let herself be a fifty year-old woman. There's a kind of freedom in that.

*These things really escalate. It's less than a decade and a half since we were told that thirty was the new twenty-one. I guess the next slogan will be "Seventy is the new forty" or "Life begins at eighty".

** NASA should really look into that. Think of the benefits for long-range space travel.

A Little More Food for Thought, Offered Almost Without Comment

Looking for something else, I came across EWTN's Christ in the City, 2006, a series of talks by Father George Rutler. One of the episodes is about art and here's a bit that struck me:

"Every inspiration that is blocked by pride is an offense
against God. There are incalculable numbers of great works of art that never
were produced because of human pride--fear of criticism, the domination of the
ego which wanted to impose one's own desires rather than serve a higher truth."
(Father George Rutler)

Katherine Patterson, a novelist who deserves to be better known among adult readers, has an interesting line in her book Come Sing, Jimmy Jo. The eponymous protagonist comes from a family that performs mountain music and, although he has the family gift in spades, he will only sing at home because of his shyness. Early in the book his grandmother tries to convince him he should sing for others, because (I don't own the book, so this is from my middle-aged brain's memory)

"God doesn't give private gifts."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Recommended Reading Containing Deep Thoughts About Art and Craftsmanship

JPII's Letter to Artists

I read Pope John Paul II's Letter to Artists during my conversion and was impressed by its respect for art and artists. Among other things, the Holy Father said that artists have a special vocation and are needed by the Church, he spoke of history and the goodness of God's creation and said that we need beauty; there's no surprises there, but it was something I could not imagine any of the American televangelists writing.

When Pope John Paul II died, some commentators remarked on how, because JPII's body had been encumbered by age and disease for over a decade, we tended to forget he had been a good-looking, athletic man when he first became pope. Some of us may also forget (or never have known) that he was involved in the arts (actor, playwright and poet) before he became a priest. It may be that his personal experiences informed his Letter. But it's not reflective only of his personal views--the Church has a long and great history of supporting art (if that statement surprises you, where did you think all of those magnificent cathedrals, requiem masses, and religious paintings & sculpture came from?); I think this may be because of the incarnational way Catholicism views the world, but that's a discussion for another time. Right now, I recommend people with an interest in art and craft (obviously they overlap; an interesting question for people who liked to argue arts vs crafts is whether Bezalel and the others God had Moses get to make His sanctuary--see Exodus 25-31 and 35 on--were artists or craftsmen) check it out. As I haven't read it since back then and as I'm now afflicted with middle-age brain (something like what I once heard a pregnant woman call "preggers brain", except it doesn't go away), maybe I'll even take my own advice and re-read it.

Shop Class as Soulcraft

I've only read three or four New Atlantis articles, but every one of them was thought-provoking and Shop Class as Soulcraft is no exception. In it Matthew B. Crawford talks about manual labor and craftsmanship, questioning assumptions that manual work is mindless (a relatively recent notion, I think) and white collar work is automatically mentally stimulating, giving a little of the history of vocational classes and factory work, and thinking about the relationship of craftsmanship and consumerism. I'm probably going to reread it later, to make sure I've gotten everything I can from it.

Some quotes to whet your interest:

"The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in
the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and
easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering
interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the
building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy
does, who has no real effect in the world. But craftsmanship must reckon with
the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot
be interpreted away."

"Being able to think materially about material goods,
hence critically, gives one some independence from the manipulations of
marketing, which typically divert attention from what a thing is to a back-story
intimated through associations..."

"The craftsman’s habitual deference is not toward the New,
but toward the distinction between the Right Way and the Wrong

"...trafficking in abstractions is not the same as

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Super-Simple Crocheted Dishcloths

I know there's a lot of dishcloth patterns out there, but many of them seem too fancy or impractical to me. Some of the slightly more complicated stitch patterns look nice and making a dishcloth would be a good way to practice a new stitch, but some designs seem too frilly for use; personally I don't think, say, lace edgings or or a big flower motif belong on something that will be used to scrub dishes. YMMV. I prefer my version of a crocheted dishcloth to any I've seen. It is so simple it would make a good first or second project, and it can actually be used to wash dishes. You only need to know some very basic stuff, it is mindless enough to do even while reading subtitles on an anime program, and it makes a dense fabric with ridges that I believe--rightly or wrongly; I've not actually done any remotely scientific testing of my notion--help with rubbing the dishes clean.

Super-Simple Crocheted Dishcloths

Skill level: Absolute beginner. (If you've really never crocheted before, see below for some helpful links.)

Materials:Worsted-weight cotton yarn, such as Peaches & Cream or Lion Cotton.*
H hook
Scissors and a large-eyed needle for weaving in ends of yarn


Chain (ch) 25.

1st row--Single crochet (sc) into second ch from hook and into each ch until end. Ch 1 and turn.

2nd row--Sc into the front loop (that is, the loop nearest your body) of each stitch (st) of the previous row. Ch 1 and turn.

Rows 3-20--Repeat 2nd row.

21st row--Repeat 2nd row, but at the end of the row do not turn.

Finishing--Add two additional sc at the end of row 21 and continue making sc in each st down the side and all the way around the dishcloth, making sure there's 3sc in each corner. When you get back to where you started, make a slip stitch (ss) to finish off. Optional: Instead of finishing off right there, ch 9 to make a loop for hanging the dishcloth and then ss to finish off. Weave in any loose "tails". (Actually, for the "tail" of yarn left from where you made your foundation ch, you can avoid having to weave it in by holding it over the edge of dishcloth and sc your border over it.)

Variation: Ch 27 and make 22 rows for a slightly larger dishcloth. (Obviously, these are sizes that work well in my hand; vary according to your hand-size and preferences.)
Variation: Use an ombre yarn for the main body of the dishcloth and then use a solid-colored yarn in one of the colors of the ombre for the border and optional hanging loop. For example, a yellow and white ombre yarn body and a solid yellow edging.
Variation: Add another row of border sc to the edge, either by continuing around again or by turning and going around the other way.
Variation: After the first row, make a normal sc--i.e., sc in both loops--for the first two and last two stitches of each row. This makes the ridge you get from crocheting in only the front loop not start at the edges. It looks nice, but because the yarn twists to go from the normal sc to the front-loop-only sc, you will have a bit of fabric all round the edge that feels a bit harder than the main fabric or the edging.
Variation: Use your imagination! Crochet is easy to frogstitch, so if you start something and don't like it, just pull it loose and start over--no yarn wasted.

*(Actually, you can use cheap acrylic yarn, such as Red Heart, for dishcloths if you want; acrylic yarn dries quickly--always a plus in a humid kitchen--and I'm not aware of any health reasons against it. Cotton is the standard, though.)

- - - - -
If you've never crocheted before, Lion Brand Yarn's Learn to Crochet pages have some good, basic help to get you started. (You may have to subscribe to the site to see this site nowadays, but subscription is free and you then have access to lots of free patterns.)

If you want to see someone doing these things, Stitchguide.com (now subsumed into Annie's Attic) has short Quicktime videos. See
Chain ,
Single crochet ,
Crocheting into front loop only ,
Slip stitch ,
and Color change .