Are You Getting the Full Spartan Holiday Experience?

millais14For the exclusive, comprehensive Spartan Holiday experience, might I suggest liking the Spartan Holiday Facebook page? Why would you want to do that? Well, I post extra stuff to my page during the week: dazzling photo essays, pictures of Victorian desserts, perplexing and intriguing links.

The full Spartan Holiday experience is like drinking a big bowl of milk in an apple orchard, in full bloom with a bunch of young maidens with flowers in their hair while a scythe of death hangs over your head. As opposed to, say, hanging out with some young maidens with flowers in their hair and a scythe hanging over your head, but not the other stuff.

Conversely if you only like Spartan Holiday on Facebook and are not following the blog, you may also be getting a half-assed Spartan Holiday experience. Facebook is a fickle mistress, you see, her fickleness is based not on human emotion but on a complicated algorithm that dictates what you will and won’t receive from your newsfeed on any given day.

Wanna talk about how one day all of human experience might be reduced to one monstrous, but brilliant, algorithm?

Me neither.

In other news, they’ve finally discovered dark lightning and the United States no longer has a grain reserve. (And hasn’t for some time.)

Okay, I’m going camping. Happy weekend.

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Yarn Bombing and the Nefarious History of Knitting

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I know what you’re thinking, you’re imagining, by the title of this blog, that I’m going to take the school-marmy/hipster/main stream (yes, knitting is all of those things) art of knitting and spin it into something it’s not. You think I’m going to smear an ancient and respectable craft by zeroing in on a few freakish examples of social deviance.

While that sounds fun, what I actually hope to do, is uncover the very real, seedy, subversive, anarchist and/or fascist history of the craft all the way to this present moment where a rosy-cheeked young lassie named Valerie S. is plotting a series of yarn attacks with her Peaceable Yarn Army all over the borough of Hackney in London.

Let us begin with my hastily researched, but drop-dead accurate, mini-report called:

 A People’s History of Knitting:

(Points that Substantiate My Thesis Are Featured in Caps)

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1793, French Revolution times. A certain specimen of market women (lower class) show up at guillotine beheadings and death row trials with their knitting projects, basically as a way to say “EFF you” to the victims. Click click click went their needles. Ploop ploop ploop went the heads during the period known as the REIGN OF TERROR. (The sounds might not be historically accurate.)

These VULGAR, BLOODTHIRSTY Jacobin women are known as les tricoteuses (female knitters). To add insult to injury, they wore DUMB HATS. Les tricoteuses inspire Charles Dickens to create the character of Madame Defarge, a villainess who knits names of future guillotine victims with encoded patterns of stitches. This turns out to be a very good book.

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1832-1866, James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan. You mean that kind of cardigan? Yes. That kind. The cardigan sweater is named after an insufferable, incompetent fop who worships fashion instead of military science. You’ll be happy to know the men in his light brigade are issued button-down knitted waist coats so that the look very snazzy when they are slaughtered by the Russians.

When Brudenell was a child he FELL OFF A HORSE, which may or may not have given him an itty bitty bit of BRAIN DAMAGE. Oh yeah, and he was an ADULTERER, ELITIST, and according to Wikipedia, a PEST and a BULLY. Also he CHEATED AT DUELS. And BANNED THE CONSUMPTION OF DARK BEERS from his regiment. He died from a stroke precipitated by FALLING OFF HIS HORSE.

1921: The Prince of Wales.edwardviii Future King Edward VIII (but not really because he abdicates the throne and is basically exiled to the Bahamas) known henceforth simply as The Prince of Wales, CO-OPTS the Fair Isle Sweater from Scottish fisherman. He even poses for portraits in them. The layer-cake patterned sweater quickly becomes all of the rage in England. Dresser drawers at Cambridge and Oxford overflow with Fair Isle sweaters, so much so that the young students can barely shut them.

How is this bad? Turns out The Prince of Wales is a known NAZI  SYMPATHIZER, BON VIVANT, RACIST, ADULTERER and CARRIER OF SMALL DOGS.

I think you can see why I was greatly concerned that my friend Valerie seems to be experimenting with yarn bombing. Was the sweet little farm girl from my past turning into a fascist/bon vivant or worse?

Under the guise of an interview for my blog (which actually did end up in my blog), I made an appointment to computer chat with Valerie about her new hobby. Here is a transcript of the interview (more or less).

My Computer Chat with Valerie

1:57 PM me:  So tell me, Valerie, how did you get mixed up in the world of yarn bombing?

Valerie: i officially got into yarn bombing when my husband was inspired by seeing some other yarn bombing work, and thus commissioned me to organise a group

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(Here’s where I learned that Valerie isn’t just some wide-eyed recruit, but the ringleader of the Peaceable Yarn Army.)

1:58 PM Valerie: Yarn bombing is, from my perspective and experience, a community-based movement to bring a little light into otherwise dark and dank places.

me: That doesn’t sound very sinister (I say, pretending not to think it sounds sinister).

1:59 PM Valerie: Well, the local authorities may not appreciate it…to them, it is subversive and evil. Maybe. Not always. But it’s good to have an us v. them mentality. I’m being sarcastic a little bit.

me: ( I don’t want to directly call her evil, so I ask:) Can yarn bombing be used for evil?

Valerie: i think YB’ing can be perceived as evil by some. For example, our recent installation was removed not by us…and we have no idea who took the panels off the trees. To some, it may be a nuisance or eye sore or, maybe even stupid.

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me: Have you ever thought of yarn bombing and then yarn staking-out? So you can see who is removing your work and punish them? (The thought just occurs to me that yarn-staking-out should go hand in hand with yarn bombing).

2:02  PM Valerie: Totally. Our installation was directly outside our house, and I literally woke up in the middle of the night to check on it after the first tree was rendered naked, but I never caught anyone.

me: I bet it was the bobbies (I say as a way to passive-aggressively point out that she is breaking the law).

Valerie: yes, the bobbies on lorries

2:03 PM me: Do you ever call them boobies? (I say to keep her talking.)

Valerie: Only to their face, never when they can’t hear us.

me:  (I see she has the same wry Valerie humor, which is a relief.) How many people are in your army?

Valerie: There are 3 head honchos, but MANY people contributed pieces.

2:04 PM  me: (three doesn’t sound bad, but MANY does, so I say:) So how does yarn bombing work?

Valerie: Yarn bombing works in the way that the bombers want it to work. it’s quite decentralised.

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(Here’s where I notice that Valerie is spelling things the British way with s’s instead of z’s)

2:05 PM me: (Sounds like anarchy or tea parties, I think. But I say:) Is yarn bombing a way of tagging ugly things? That’s another question. (I remind her I’m asking questions so it feels more like a legitimate interview.) Is it an aestheic statement?  Oops, not aestheic, asthetic… (My various attempts to spell aesthetic are deleted here.)

Valerie: I would say that yarn bombing aims to tag things, reclaiming them as having worth and beauty…but, perhaps have been made dirty by disuse/abuse. In front of our house is a little “park” that is notorious for being where dogs of the ‘hood go to poo

me: Have you every thought of making a poo sweater…I mean knitting a little sweater for the poo? (I do not actually think this is a good idea.)

2:06 PM Valerie: I do think something to that effect was considered.

me: (Well, it’s an okay idea.) So did you come up with the name Peaceable Yarn Army? Or PYA for short.

Valerie: i believe I did. PYA could mean “punk yo ass.”

me: (I think of a few other things that PYA could stand for, like Please Your Auntie and Probably Young Adult, but I decide not to mention them.) Are there any old ladies out there yarn bombing? (I ask this question so she’ll know I don’t think this activity is appropriate for old ladies).

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Valerie: I tried to get our neighborhood old people’s home to contribute, but they never responded. We did have one 70ish Danish lady do a little bit, but then we also had 9 year olds

me: (I almost bust a nut but don’t.) What would happen if you run into another yarn army in the middle of night and you both intended to knit around the same tree?

Valerie: i think in that hypothetical situation, we’d all be so happy to see each other that we’d have to argue as to who actually got to do the tree.

me: So you would join forces?

Valerie: i can only speak for our group, but i think we would attempt to join forces. all yarn bombers, i believe, should be allies.

me: Are you anarchists? (I ask, but I already know the answer because look at this picture of a yarn bomblette from my own neighborhood.)

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2:14 PM no, we’re…hmmm…not sure. i’ll have to think about our political association

me: What about someone like me who can’t knit? Could I just go tie ribbons around things? (I ask this even though I would NEVER in a MILLION YEARS tie ribbons around public property).

2:15 PM Valerie: that question was raised in our very group. it was suggested that a person could get a sweater from a 2nd hand shop to be cut up. i DO think that other textiles could be used, but it would be a bit difficult to mix different mediums on the same panel

Me: (This is getting awfully technical so I ask): How do you yarn bomb anyway?

2:18 PM Valerie: it depends on how secretive you want to be. we measured the trees after dusk. i tried to vaguely map out how to separate the various trees — so, for some of them, we divided the space up in 6″ blocks to make it easy for people on the fringes to just submit something small. those of us more invested in the project did larger bits. then, we gathered all the pieces together and sewed them into panels/blankets. early early in the morning, we installed them, fastening them with cable ties.

me: Wow, that is a lot of strategery (I say realizing I just made her get even more technical).

2:22 PM Valerie: a friend of mine is doing a large bridge in Pittsburgh. that’s a little less covert (insurance!), but it really does take all shapes (literally).

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me: (I feel uncomfortable knowing about crimes before they happen so I change the subject away from the bridge.) What are you going to yarn bomb next?

Valerie: we have enough to do another bombing, but we’re having trouble deciding the where

me: Hmm. I’ll try to think of something for you. (Oops again, wrong question if I don’t want to know about future crimes. Good thing I’m not a journalist, I think. I also think I would NEVER give the PYA any yarn bombing targets.)

2:26 PM Valerie: Use the google maps thing and go around our streets looking for places that need sprucing up. We are also limited by our noviceness in knitting. i do squares and rectangles, mostly a straight stitch. nothing fancy.

2:27 PM me: Righto. Maybe a parking meter? (I say because I am too lazy to look at Google maps.)

Valerie: Yeah, we don’t have those here

me: Parking is free??? (I ask).

Valerie: No, there are these kiosk things

me: Oh right. Hmm, so it basically has to be something round and post like?

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Valerie: For our skill level, yes

me: I’m trying to think of round, post like things. (All I can think of are posts and I’m not gonna say that.)

2:29 PM Valerie: yes…and things that no one necessarily is in charge of caring for. That’s when it’s likely they will stay up longer

me: So you never yarn bomb private property? (I ask, as if all I care about is private property.)

Valerie: it’s very much public art or, i think it should be. It’s like tactile graffiti.

me: Oh, tactile grafitti, I like it. (But secretly I wonder who wants to touch things in public?)

From here, I basically conclude the interview, because I don’t know what else to say. Just when I’m about to chalk Valerie up as just another farm-girl-turned-terrorist, she sends me this link.

Suddenly I feel so much better about yarn bombing!

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Since then I’ve realized: Some knitters are good, some knitters are bad, some knitters are both. Sometimes these lines are blurred. Sometimes bad is good inside-out; sometimes good is bad upside down. Sometimes bad is the shadow cast by good; sometimes good is the illuminated face of bad. Maybe I should stop worrying about Valerie so much and tend to my own self. Is there anything I’m doing that’s illegal but harmless? Didn’t I once try to take up knitting? Don’t I have inside/outside, upside/downside, light and dark parts? I don’t know. But my friend is here for lunch so I’m going to have to think about this later.

Methinks I Found a Poem

Contrary to popular belief, found poetry is not when you detect a discarded poem fluttering in a bush, trampled in grime on the subway floor or sneakily baked into a Victorian dessert.

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Found poems are not poems that have been dropped romantically like handkerchiefs on country lanes for others to pick up, or like terror-inducing verse bombs from the air.

Found poetry is when you magically excavate poetry from some other text. Some people (poetry finders) believe that potential poems are embedded in almost everything you read; it’s just a matter of trimming the prosaic fat. For a quick demonstration and a bookwormy trip down memory lane, check out puliterremix.com. Even if you don’t read the poems, just go there to feast your peepers on decades upon decades of novel cover art. You won’t regret it.

But you might feel inadequate when you realize how few Pulitzer-prize-winning novels you have actually read. Case in point: I don’t even hit double digits. I hope you can brush these feelings aside and think of all of the things that you have accomplished. Maybe you have a wicked backhand in tennis, maybe you’ve figured out how to fix the traffic disaster in Moscow or how to prepare my grandmother’s Pennyslvania Dutch egg cheese. Remember that life is not about cultural conquest, so much as relationships, self-discovery, compassion, old family recipes and inner wholeness. That’s what most of these novels are trying to tell you anyway.

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I understand how some people might be skeptical, even angry at first about found poetry. Isn’t “finding” poetry kind of lazy, kind of plagiarism-y? Well, yes and no. It doesn’t take as much skill as finding a novel, say. or finding a stage play. What I’d really like to see is someone find a novella within a novel, one with a completely different plot and genre. Like maybe within 1984 is a book called 98 about a group of girls coming of age in a repressed English village.

“Finding” poetry is really just a game, a mental challenge for long road trips across the Mojave or Victorian-drink-themed parties (see below). I was a little skeptical at first, but then I tried it. And it worked!

Look at this poem about a sad and ruthless social climber I found in a Spongebob coloring book:

The business of Sheldon J. Plankton

is to steal success

below the formula.

Failed, he is you.

And this one about a dyslexic sandwich:

Pttay Mstuard Myao

Tmaoot Oisonn

Tpo

Nub

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In the Blackbird Buvette brunch menu, I found a poem about some guy who is in a confusing romantic relationship.

Black-eyed Jack

Whole in the center

Stuffed, whipped

A smear of red

fresh strained

a drizzle held and mixed

Two whole eyes twist

with Mary,

Marble or Honey.

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And in my electric bill, the most poignant poem of all:

Gail, your last You

Before current Other.

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Are these found poems actually good? No, they’re not. But still. Try it. Try to find some poetry. It will give you the shivers.

Oh, I know! You can try it at my found poetry party where I hand out things like medical clinic patient surveys, and tax booklets and my Amish cookbook. Then we’ll all workshop them into stunning and macabre poems. Then there will be a reading. Please tell me if you’d like to come! If you hate poetry as a matter of principle, you can just come for the Victorian drinks–punches, sours, slings, flips, toddies…the sort of liquid courage Victorians would knock back on steamships or at hotels in Singapore.

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If this sounds like a fun time, email me asap or repondez-vous in the comment section.

Happy Poetry Month!

So This Is Persia

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The bad news: My Easter tulips are dead; Albuquerque is languishing under one of the highest pollen counts in the nation as of this writing; and my three-year-old has taken to sleeping with my belt as a memento of Mommy (who is right in the next room).

The good news: I have unraveled the secrets of The Persian Den of Sin. Were there secrets? I’m not actually sure. Louis was pretty forthcoming, even going so far as to explain how the vacuum cleaner works. But was there a bunch of weird shit? Yes! There was.

When I arrived, Louis was knee deep in watercolor bird portraits. I recently discovered that if you name a bird, Louis can watercolor it into existence. He can probably paint birds faster than you can name them, unless you’re one of those birders. I asked for a rosy finch around breakfast time and by 2:00 pm, le voila. This seemed kind of odd to me. But probably just because I don’t know how to paint or draw (despite my brief, fraudulent stint at art school.)

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Louis had also placed a gigantic wooden beam across the entryway, so that people don’t just stumble in and get murdered in the neck with an arrow (which he shoots from his bedroom to the target in the den).

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Here’s a pomegranate he killed.

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Once Louis put down his paint brush and assured me that no harm would befall me, we commenced with the interview. First, I wanted to hear tell of the history of the Persian den. Persia was a land rich with history after all, so I imagined a den named after it must also stretch back to antiquity.

Wrong. Turns out the Persian Den of Sin is the love child of a homemade game of Twister and a song title by a cowboy rapper poet.

(Speaking of guitars. Look at this huge guitar and the tiny case beside it. How weird is that? Louis explained that he doesn’t try to cram his guitar in there, the little case is for Mari’s mandolin.)

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I asked Louis how he feels about Persian current events, basically events in Iran.

“I’m not too up on Persian current events. Is Xerxes dead?” he answered.

After an awkward pause, I asked him just how authentic this den is in its representation of Persian vices.

I learned that occasionally they smoke a hookah down there. They shoot bow and arrow, burn cardboard in the fireplace (recycling it into fire, as Louis says) and they roast a lot of S’mores. In the winter they were S’more’ing it up everyday. S’mores with one marshmallow, two marshmallows, giant marshmallows and sundry candy bars. (All of that experimentation, and S’mores Classico is still Louis’s favorite.)

As Louis prattled on about all the different kinds of S’mores a person can make, I thought to myself,  “These vices are not really historically accurate to ancient Persia.”

I asked Louis if he was planning to research Persian vice in the future.

“I suppose so,” he said.

Then I thought…I get it. It’s not about ancient crimes and Elamite debaucheries. What’s going on down here is more stylistic. Like Persian Gothic. Look at this corn for instance:

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Louis grew it himself from the kernels of a decorative corn ear that once beautified his childhood home. It’s called laser corn, which is particularly creepy when you think of laser as a light emitting device that uses electromagnetic radiation for optical amplication. He believes it’s popcorn, but he’s never popped it. (Yes, I know they didn’t have corn in Persia, but if they did, it would have been opulent and freaky, just like this.)

Then there’s his partially-finished cardboard bird head masks/costumery. He has fashioned a toucan head and a macaw head that he will soon be wearing around town, terrorizing children and confusing drunken ornithologists. He doesn’t admit that is his intention. He says he is making them “just to wear around.” This struck me as full-on Persian Gothic.

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By the way, I asked Louis what, in his estimation, is the most evil bird in the world. “It’s the cow bird,” he said, “a trickster bird that lays eggs in other birds’ nests so that someone else will raise them.” Once the imposter hatches, he pushes all of the other legitimate eggs out of the nest. Then he continues to grow, often much taller than the mama bird, so that she has to bend over backwards (literally) to feed it. Which she does, Louis explained, because she thinks this homicidal-monster cow bird is her very own chick.

I concurred that this was pretty evil. “There might be other evil ones (birds) too,” Louis said.

Back on topic–Persian Gothic. Check out this vacuum cleaner. I asked Louis what that meant. I thought maybe there was another vacuum cleaner that looked just like this one nearby. No, he said. It’s called that because it runs on both solar and nuclear power. This made me think of the whole steampunk genre and how maybe the next hot literary strain will be Persiannuclear.

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And how about this jar? Louis claims it was the “spinner” for their homemade Twister game. I don’t know if they spun the jar or shook it, but it looks sinister in a primitive Persepolis kind of way.

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Then I got a closer look at some of the wall art displayed in the den. First there was this red handkerchief printed with an insect identification guide. The scarlet hue and hints of pestilence is very Persian Gothic. Louis said it was Mari’s handkerchief from Boy Scouts, which I thought was super weird. “Maybe it was Girl Scouts,” he said a little later.

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If you look closely at the modern-day, tapestry-style print hanging above the couch, you’ll notice gothic and grotesque details like this:

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Which side is who on? What’s with the smoking gun? Did the fox just shoot someone? Was it that little dead mouse in the lower right corner?

Finally there was this poster featuring flowers and cogwheels and implorations to STRIKE and OCCUPY! I wanted to tell Louis all of the ways this could apply to Iranian past and current events, but I didn’t. In the end I decided it was just some wanton propaganda to make flowers look good and machines look bad.

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Before I left, Louis fired off a few shots, which did smack of ancient Persia. The Persian army would shoot their bows in concert sending a torrent of arrows down like sleet on their enemies. IMG_1914

He also took a moment to pose with his bewitching, anachronistic corn.

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So there you have it–my perplexing and dazzling tour of the Persian Den of Sin, hotbed of the new Persian Gothic. When I asked Louis how his housemates feel about the room, he said Mari is into it but the rest of them are pretty indifferent.