Sunday, August 12, 2007

Chesterton on Hobbies

I read G. K. Chesterton's autobiography a few weeks ago and was struck by, among other things (it is Chesterton after all), his comments early in the book on hobbies.

Chesterton talks about his father, who was known outside the home as a reliable, ordinary businessmen but wh was at home a man of many talents and loads of hobbies. ("It was a very good first lesson in what is also the last lesson of life; that in everything that matters, the inside is much larger than the outside.") This leads him to talk about hobbies:

"A hobby is not a holiday. It is not merely a momentary relaxation
necessary to the renewal of work; and in this respect it must be sharply
distinguished from much that is called sport....It is not merely taking
exercise; it is doing work. It is not merely exercising the body instead of the
mind, an excellent but now largely a recognised thing. It is exercising the rest of the mind; now an almost neglected thing."

[emphasis in that last sentence mine]

The outside world limits us; our hobbies expand us. Our hobbies let us use the rest of our mind, the parts that our job usually doesn't, that the world--perhaps especially the modern world--doesn't care if we have or not.

Chesterton also says that seeing his father at work on his hobbies, and especially on Chesterton's beloved toy theater, made a great difference in his life--not least that he learned to love seeing human hands engaged in doing and making. If the father had been only a businessman, he would have seemed smaller in his son's eyes.

"And this experience has made me profoundly sceptical of all the modern talk
about the necessary dullness of domesticity; and the degrading drudgery that
only has to make puddings and pies. Only to make things! There is no greater
thing to be said of God Himself than that He makes things."

And being Chesterton, of course he has more to say and it is interesting. The next few pages move into buying things versus making them, how children play, moral/moralizing literature and adult cynicism, wondrous reality and imaginative play, and a great deal more. This is the second chapter of the autobiography and quite the best one in it; read it for yourself if you have the chance. Some craftster types might like another line: "I wish we did not have to fritter away on frivolous things, like lectures and literature, the time we might have given to serious, solid and constructive work like cutting out cardboard figures and pasting coloured tinsel upon them." I've loved books and stories too much to quite agree, but I'm on board with the general point; considering Chesterton was himself a great reader, I don't think he'd have wholly given up literature for his cardboard figures, although I can't say for the production of literature.

Anyhow, can there be any doubt that if Chesterton were writing today he'd have something to say about this news item on a new surgical technique which "whittles" thumbs down to better fit i-Phones and other handheld devices. We do not fit the machines that are supposed to serve us, so we alter ourselves to fit the machine, rather than altering the machine. It's like women who, rather than having clothes made to fit their bodies, agonize year after year, trying to make their bodies fit the clothes. Or worse, and more precisely, the women we read about a year or so ago who were having surgery on their toes so they could wear fashionable pointy-toed high heels. Oh what a brave new world we are making.

Update: The news item I linked above is apparently false. I was not familiar with the source and was taken in. My apologies. However, as the other examples I mentioned are true, I believe my larger point stands.

Monday, August 06, 2007

(Catholic) Quote of the Quarter

"Milque-toast Catholicism does not produce milque-toast Catholics, it produces non-Catholics."

(Thomas E. Woods, EWTN Live, May 2007)

Oh so true. But never let it be said that I'm friendly only to Catholics. Here's a secular quote everyone can enjoy:

"Lemme tell ya something, Webster. Grammar am for people who can't think for myself. Understanded me?" (Bucky Katt, Get Fuzzy)

Visualize World Papercuts

One periodically hears of leftists starting a drive to send a 1000 (origami) cranes to Congress or the White House or whoever, which activity will no doubt promote peace, pascifism, faux-pascifism, environmental consciousness, or global healing in ways that are unclear to me. And I say good luck to them; a little harmless eccentricity never hurt anybody and, besides, origami cranes are kind of pretty. Maybe the congressional pages take them home as free Christmas--sorry, Holiday--tree ornaments? Or play some crane version of desktop football with them. But I digress. Because what I was actually wondering about, before I started visualizing Congressmen clustered around a men's room sink having paper crane races, is what message mailing an origami Cthulu to a politician sends? The old "Vote Cthulu" buttons had it that he was the choice for when you're tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. Sooo...that means this "send a 1000 pieces of folded paper" campaign will be by conservatives to Republicans? Gentlemen (and ladies), start your folding.

(Hat tip to Jimmy Akin for the link)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Forgotten Tidbit

I meant to post this with my "Crafty Tidbits" post earlier today, but I forgot.

Isn't it funny how the tiny bits of the past get forgotten, waiting for something to recall them abruptly to mind if it is part of our past or gone utterly until we find a chance reference if it happened before we were born. (Assuming any reference exists.) A couple of months ago I finally got around to reading The Annotated Lolita. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the writing was and I decided to risk the 1990s film; I'd seen the '60s film and just assumed the remake would be worse, as remakes usually are. The '90s Lolita turned out to be as good as the first film, if not somewhat better. It was certainly better in the sets.

Well, when one of the closets in the Haze woman's house was opened and there was one of those bits of unimportant history that gets forgotten: braided coathangers. We had these when I was a kid, and so did my grandmother's house; heck, my grandmother's probably the one who made them. I got such a nostalgic kick out of seeing them, yet I'd totally forgotten their existence until I saw them. I think there were also some knitted discloths hanging in the kitchen, but they may have been potholders. There's also cool '40s clothes to look at, and Jeremy Irons isn't so bad to look at either.

Anyway, I recommend both the Lolita films and the book, which I plan to reread, but in the unlikely event that anyone decides to watch the second film based on my recommendation, maybe I should point out there's full frontal male nudity in one scene. I'm not offended by nudity myself and this isn't gratuitous, as Clare Quilty's penis flapping about as he runs down the hallway serves only to underscore the pathetic state his life has become, but some people are offended by nudity so I thought I'd mention it.

HP and Religious & Cultural Illiteracy

I don't want to go on and on about Harry Potter, but this morning's Corner had a post with links to HP articles. One warns James Dobson and others are picking the wrong fight and should save their fire for genuine attacks on Christianity. (I've said much the same.) Another talks about Christian references in HP and his failure to convince some American evangelicals of their existence. I could quibble with a couple of his not-central-to-the-main-point claims, but why bother? His column is more worth its space than my quibbles would be, and I'd rather remark on a sad observation he makes:

...I think the problem is that so much of the religious
right failed to see the Christianity in the Potter novels because it knows so
little Christianity itself. Yes, there are a few ‘memory verses’ from Saint
Paul, and various evangelical habits like the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and the alter
call. However the gospel stories themselves, the various metaphors and figures
of the Law and the Prophets, and their echoes down through the past two
millennia of Christian literature and art are largely unknown to vast swaths of
American Christendom, including its leaders.

Let's right up front get rid of any notion that what the author is referring to is a phenomenon of evangelical Protestants only. Catholics are every bit as guilty of being ignorant of Christian heritage, and as our Christian heritage forms the bulk of our Western heritage, one could argue secularists are guilty as well.

People used to grow up hearing the Bible, even if they weren't particularly religious, and we also lived in a culture where it was okay to mention religious themes in conversation or artistic expression and so people gained some familiarity almost through their skin. That is gone. We don't know the Bible and we don't know expressions originating there.

For example, John Derbyshire once mentioned using the expression "being expected to make bricks without straw" and having not one of the group of educated Americans he was talking with know the term. As another example, I once referred to Isaac and Ishmael and the lifelong churchgoer I was talking to asked who they were. Kathleen Norris has written about her hymnal changing the term "my Ebenezer" to "my greatest treasure", presumably because people nowadays aren't expected to know what Ebenezer refers to. And lest it seem I'm only picking on other people, back in the nineties I had to ask someone where the phrase "through a glass darkly" came from. I wasn't a Christian, but considering what our Western heritage is, that is no excuse. I didn't know any Ebenezer other than Scrooge, either, and while I assumed it came from the Bible like so many old-fashioned names, I didn't know who the Hezekiah my busdriver was named for was.

And taking my examples away from the Bible itself, I can remember as an older child reading a magazine my mother sometimes got at church (I read everything...well, except the Bible) and seeing an article in which the author mentioned attending Handel's Messiah. I'd never heard of the Messiah, I'm not sure I'd ever heard the term messiah, and I don't think I was aware of any classical music having been informed by Christianity. Yet I was more culturally literate and well-read than any of my classmates. And, at least through the elementary school years, my religious education was the equal of any of theirs. I may have read lots of novels and plays and recognized lots of paintings and sculpture, but there was any number of things I didn't know about the Christianity I'd supposedly been raised in and even when I recognized something came from the Bible or was a religious concept I often couldn't tell you what the reference was or define the concept.

Is any of this important? Well, when as a teenager I was told by various sources that Christianity hates life and regards the natural world as evil, I believed it because I was too ignorant to know otherwise. That mental path--or chute--was already well-greased by years of media depictions of Christians as ignorant hicks who were apt to be bigots as well and I'd already long since rejected Christianity, but that one particular lie which I did not have the knowledge to refute, more than anything else, resulted in my becoming a pagan. So is it important for people to know what Christianity teaches? If you're a Christian parent who doesn't want your teenager to leave Christianity for something else, I think you'd say yes.

And as to Christian history--or the general history of those parts of the world formerly known as Christendom--and the artworks inspired by Christianity, you do not have to be Christian to believe it is important to know about those. Friar Tuck, the Holy Grail, the Nun's Priest, the fleur-de-lys, the Pieta, De Profundis, and Judith Beheading Holofernes belong to all of us.

1 + 1 + 1 = 4

Uncle Pookie had a good story the other day. Seems some stranger started telling him how the singer formerly and currently known as Prince is Satanic. Her "reasoning" was that Prince wrote a song called "Purple Rain", there is no such thing as purple rain, therefore purple rain is unnatural, therefore Prince is Satanic.

Me: "I don't think doves actually cry, either. Did she mention that?"

UP: "Yes."

You just can't make fun of some people.

Crafty Tidbits

Acrylic Yarn and a New Word

A few weeks ago I learned a new word: tawashi. A tawashi is a Japanese scrubbie. (And "scrubbie", for anyone who doesn't use the term, is an English word for something you use to scrub dishes with.) What's interesting to me is that I've read they're typically crocheted with acrylic yarn. I've come across a lot of people online saying you must use cotton yarn for crochet and knit dishcloths, with no reason given, unless you count "because acrylic yarn in the kitchen--eww!" Now, I knew you could use acrylic yarn--my first few did--and that it worked fine. Also, as acrylic yarn dries much faster than cotton, it was arguably more hygienic. (I figure the longer the cloth hangs around damp, the longer nasty things that thrive in damp environments have to grow on it.) But people were so unanimous about not using it I wondered if they knew something about acrylic fiber I didn't. It's good to have some backup to my "it's okay" theory.

So if you have some cheap, scratchy acrylic, make tawashi. Scratchiness is a plus for scrubbing.

You can see one lady's pattern for a tawashi here. I haven't tried the pattern; I'm mostly linking it as an excuse to link the rest of her site, as she's obviously a very skilled crocheter and happens to reside in my home state.

Painting #10 Thread

I mentioned recently that I find size 10 crochet thread a bargain, as I can find it for 29 cents a ball at Goodwill and a ball lasts a long time; even paying retail, which I've never done, it isn't expensive, considering how far it goes. But, no more crocheting than I do, I don't want to clutter up my house with a lot of balls I won't use up. If you need a small amount of size 10 crochet thread in a color you don't have, you can make it yourself, provided you have some cheap acrylic paint on hand and don't mind taking a bit of time. I've tried this several times now, and the only color I had fail was black--I got a nice gray instead. How-to below.

Wind the desired amount of white or ecru thread onto a book or chair back, then loosely tie this skein with a bit of acrylic thread in six places so it won't become tangled during the dyeing. (Five ties will work for skinny skeins.)

Dampen the thread, if desired; I wouldn't bother for a tiny amount of thread, but for a thicker skein it can help get more even coverage.

Squirt acrylic paint in the desired color into a cup or plastic bowl. Thin with water and mix well; you don't want the mixture watery, just a bit more soupy than straight paint (the size of the "bit more" can vary according to the effect you're going for).

Submerge the thread and stir to coat thread with paint. (A bamboo skewer is handy for this.)

Leave to soak a while. I'd say at least half an hour, but how long depends mostly on when it will be convenient for you to do the next step; I've left it all day with no problem. Just leave it somewhere accessible so you can give the thread another stir every time you walk by.

Remove the thread from the paint and hold under running tap water to rinse. When you've rinsed it well, hang to dry.

Bamboo Skewers

Bamboo skewers, while we're near the subject, are a another good crafting bargain. Where I live you can get a pack of fifty, 9"-long bamboo skewers for under a dollar. In addition to poking holes in polymer clay and such like, you can make knitting needles with the skewers (mine gave US size 3); like Thompson's Individual String-ettes, there's a whole host of household uses.

This Blog

I recently began adding labels to past blog entries. I'm far from done and I may never get done because it is a mind-numbingly boring task, but I'm 99% sure I have gotten all of the crafts posts labelled. Not that I'm a good resource or anything, but just in case anyone is interested.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I saw this post on "hip-hop syndrome" last week, and I wanted to mention it for somewhat tangential reasons. It quotes a City Journal article by Myron Magnet that references Wynton Marsalis.

Wynton Marsalis’s scathing critique of rap understands how hip-hop relates to the larger problem. Leaving aside the lyrics, rap is musically “ignorant,” Marsalis says. “Rhythms have to have a meaning. If the rhythm is corrupt, the music is corrupt and the people become corrupt.” (And, one might add, rap also subverts music’s aim of creating a realm of harmony and beauty.) As for the lyrics, Marsalis says, “I call it ‘ghetto minstrelsy.’..."

I am not well able to comment on the musical opinion Marsalis is quoted on (although I find the idea intriguing), and I refer people to the City Journal article for a discussion of hip-hop syndrome. What I wanted to share was something about Wynton Marsalis, the man.

Eighteen or so years ago, I had the good fortune to hear Mr. Marsalis play. I enjoyed the experience, although I was well aware that my place would have been better filled by a more musical person who could more fully appreciate the obvious artistry. What I best remember is a non-musical thing. I was seated near the stage and could see everything. Mr. Marsalis' piano player was blind and before the performance began, Marsalis led the piano player to his seat himself. And after the performance, Marsalis, the man we were all there to see, gave the piano player his arm once again and led him off the stage. Now, that might seem just common courtesy, but there were other band members, less famous, who could presumably have been made to do it. And there was something thoroughly humble about the manner in which this action was carried out. Mr. Marsalis' name and his face was the one on the tickets and the posters, but he clearly did not consider himself above the un-glamorous task of helping a colleague to his seat. Moreover, it seemed to me by the way he introduced his fellow musicians that he respected them; he really seemed to be more interested in the music than his own ego.

This may seem like a very small thing to relate, but it impressed me at the time. And really, can anyone imagine Barbara Streisand helping her underling to his seat with her very own hands? Or any of quite a lot of other famous people putting aside their own applause for a moment so they can look to someone else?

I may not know much about music, but I do know that I have a lot more respect for any man (or woman) who is more interested in practicing his craft and in being a decent person than in behaving like a prima donna. No one will ever write "Decent Guy" out in sequins and sparkly paint on a tee-shirt, the way they do with "Diva", but we'd all do a lot better to aspire to decency and humbleness than to diva-hood. Or to hip-hop values.