In Which I Rediscover the Sublime in the Ridiculous, or Yeah, I Knit an Asshat this Weekend

It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to pick up on the fact that I’ve been feeling less than inspired lately. I haven’t posted here in ages, for one thing. The effort required for the act of writing, whether for work, or for freelance work, or for secret book-writing or here has felt just a hair’s breath closer than insurmountable. And this sense of ennui hasn’t been limited to wordsmithery; I haven’t been cooking or doing much in the way of anything crafty. I have a couple of projects I’ve been poking at, but not with vigor and with nothing approaching joy. It’s been tiresome, but not a huge deal; I’ve been at this making-stuff gig long enough to know that sometimes you just have to let the fields lie fallow, go do something else for a while, and wait.

That’s the state of mind I was in Friday afternoon when I saw this tweet from @crazyauntpurl: “If someone doesn’t knit an asshat soon I will lose sleep over it.”

And the tiny light between my eyes switched on, illuminating the path before me. This challenge was mine to answer. I would take up this gauntlet that had not been thrown down to me. I would use yarn and needles to create something wearable that also happened to look like a human derriere. I would knit an asshat.

It turns out that this kind of project — absorbing, absurd, and with nothing at stake — is an ideal way to pull myself out of a creative funk. First, it meant spending a lot of time thinking about butts, which is hilarious. And since I wanted to make something that really would be wearable potentially, without necessarily looking like a stunt, it took a fair amount of consideration. I gave a lot of thought to orientation: whether the hat should look like the wearer had his or her head UP a butt, which seemed to be more in keeping with the spirit of the term, (which, as I understand it, is just a shortened way of saying that one is wearing an ass (one’s own or someone else’s) as a hat), or if it should be sitting on top of the wearer’s head with the cheeks facing up, which is anatomically unlikely, but more easily recognizable. I ultimately went with the latter, partly to make it more clear just what kind of splendor you were beholding, but also because it would make for a more traditional hat shape. The former would have meant having the cheeks hanging down on either side of the head and would either need to be stuffed to fill them out or run the risk of looking like a deeply unwholesome lop-eared bunny. Either way: less wearable, nonfunctional, unacceptable.

[Incidentally, almost everyone I told about this project over the weekend had the same response: “Oh, a hat for your ass?”
Seriously? A hat for your ass? How would that even work? “No,” I said over and over, perplexed, “A hat that LOOKS like an ass.”]

Conveniently enough, a regularly constructed handknit hat always has a hole at the center top exactly where you’d need one for, you know, this kind of project. And, frankly, I’d always privately referred to it as the hat’s sphincter anyway. So I started there, casting on about three times as many stitches as you’d normally use so there would be a larger hole and more obvious puckering when it was drawn together. I knit a couple of rounds to give it a little structure and then divided the stitches into hemispheres and worked out from there to build exaggerated half-moon shapes. The plans was to knit the cheeks separately, then sew them together on the wrong side, so the exposed seam would more clearly delineate them.My first take made for some sorry-ass, pancake-flat buttcheeks, since I was increasing on autopilot at the rate you’d normally use for a hat. So I ripped back and increased more than twice as quickly, throwing in some short rows after the last increase row to build up the curves more dramatically. Then I decreased across the row a couple of times to curve it back in and sat back to look at it.It was … ass-ish, I thought, evocative without being too over-the-top. The shaping didn’t really seem to lend itself to a wearable finished product though, so I set it aside and went about the rest of my weekend, having a picnic in the park, seeing a friend’s band, checking out Smorgasburg, learning all about lens flare from watching Star Trek with a couple of stoned post-production effects engineers.

Then this morning, I figured I might as well finish up the assembly since I’d gotten this far, so I sewed the cheeks together.I still don’t think the shaping is really there yet — casting on the whole midline, short-rowing the cheeks and pulling the hole together out of some of the center seam stitches would probably work better — but it’s fine. I even picked up around for some beret-style ribbing at the lower edge, so it may end up being a wearable, albeit aggressively unattractive, piece of headwear.

But the most important thing about the project is that it shook something loose in me, whatever’s been preventing my synapses from operating at full crackle. I didn’t really spend more than a couple of leisurely hours on this, but forcing my brain to pretzel itself into some new patterns really made a huge difference. Watch this space; there should be some fun stuff soon.

Thoughts on Twitter

I was talking to someone recently about the differences between how I present myself on the blog here and on Twitter, what each mode of communication does for me, if there’s one I like better. The best way I could come with to describe it was that the blog is an online record of things I’ve made and done, but Twitter is just me talking and, I think, more representative of what I’m like. You know, on the inside. Gretchen Rubin points out in her post about how Twitter can make you happier that “Twitter lets you share those funny little observations that float through your head. In the same way that carrying a camera sharpens your eye, knowing that you can communicate your clever aperçus makes you more observant and wittier.” And when I look back through my twitter stream, I reconnect with my own experiences and thoughts in a way that doesn’t really happen when I read my blog archives.
That’s not necessarily a terrible thing. I do have both, after all. But it’s making me wonder if it’s time to rethink how and what I write here, if I should do it daily, if I should do it more off the cuff, if I should make it more personal. I don’t know.
A few examples. I’d forgotten writing almost all of these, but they’re all thoughts or moments I was happy to have have back in my brain:
Apr 26: Nothing like a dozen big guys in NY/NJ Fugitive Task Force vests gathering outside your building before 6am to start the day off right.
Mar 31: Talk of LA made me want to listen to Frank Black, but now the cat’s looking affronted. I should have known she’d be a Black Francis purist.
Mar 30: Scraggly-bearded teen reading Vonnegut on the train,I’m glad they’re still making your type. Carry on,young sir.There are good things ahead.
Mar 22: If you really loved me, you would buy me this taxidermied vulture:
Mar 14: Early coop shift right after DST? This is some bleary-eyed suckage right here.
Mar 11: Either I just walked through a crowd of LDS mission kids or Brooklyn youth is trending disturbingly wholesome.
Feb 19: Tried to convince my mom that ‘clodhop’ is a valid Scrabble word (singular action of a clodhopper). Alas, she’s known me a while.
Feb 3: There are very few things I dislike about apartment living, but here’s one: I can’t have a really big trampoline.
Jan 31: Copy editing tip of the day: ‘heart rendering’ means something completely different, and far smellier, than ‘heart-rending.’
Jan 10: Was excited to see ‘gypsy butler’ in a book review, imagined zesty Mr. Belvedere reboot. Alas, heroine’s name was Gypsy Butler.
Dec 22: I’m in Vermont, having a glass of wine at the bar of my brother’s restaurant. And it’s snowing. I WIN AT WEDNESDAY.
Dec 21: Dear CNN, please rethink how you define breaking news. WTF? RT @cnnbrk ZsaZsa Gabor’s husband accidentally glues eye shut with nail adhesive
Dec 15: OH on the G train: “Statue of Liberty? Lucifer. The torch symbolizes the devil.” “I thought it was just some tourist shit.”
Dec 1: Fact:A disproportionately high percentage of women in my office associate drugstore chocolate-covered cherries w fond memories of their dads.
Nov 25 (Thanksgiving): Today I’m grateful for my flaws and problems, for keeping me humble and helping me be more compassionate, flexible, human.
Nov 18: I just saw that one episode of Breaking Bad, so am willing to concede that I don’t know everything about making meth…
Nov 18: …but I’m pretty sure that the one box of cold medicine I buy every other year isn’t going to get me far, weirdly suspicious pharmacist.
Nov 11: I just heard an old man say he “doesn’t enjoy the feeling of hot liquids in [his] mouth” & didn’t burst out laughing. I think I’m broken.
Nov 5: I don’t know why people are so surprised that I, a non-smoker, always carry matches. It’s almost like they never need to start fires.
Nov 4: A romance site that doesn’t pay its writers sent a 2-line email asking me to”send out an announcement”about them. Consider it done, assholes.
Oct 25: Another fourth Monday, another contact butter high from stocking croissants at the @foodcoop.
Oct 22: Today in inadvertently dirty comments, I just told the bloodmobile guy that he was the gentlest finger-sticker I’d ever had.
Sep 16: Hey, I WAS just flying into Chicago at night, watching the lake turn the sky into blue-green smoke. #lifeimitatesLizPhairlyrics
Sep 15: Oh, Brooklyn, never change. Actually heard a guy yell, “Where’d ya get your license, a Cracker Jack box?” on my walk to work.
Aug 27: Just had a scary little moment there where I honestly couldn’t remember if ‘preparedness’ is a real word. #stillsoundsmadeup
Aug 26: .@ruhlman on green peppers, most detestable of all veg: “only one way to redeem them. Stuff them w sausage & cook them over fire, angrily.”
Aug 24: Just mistyped “Waking the Dead” as “Wanking the Dead.” That’s…a different book.
Aug 11: So, The Girl Who Played With Fire finally picked up some speed on page 707. Fuck you, Stieg Larsson.
Aug 2: If I really did have a web series about my office acted out with finger puppets, today’s episode would be amazing.
Jul 31: Skipping the Sonic Youth show tonight in favor of amateur astronomers’ event. My life is like an object lesson in how not to have sex.
Jul 30: Just made a Super Nintendo Chalmers joke that no one in the office got. My dorkiness is wasted on these people. WASTED, I say.

Admiral’s Row: So close, yet so far away

Yesterday morning, I went to the first New Amsterdam Market of the spring. I said hello to a few people, introduced myself to some of my interview subjects I hadn’t yet met in person, bought a grapefruit/chamomile soda from the lovely folks at P&H and a pepperwort plant from the Vermont wild food people, and left before it got too crowded. It was a not-too-warm sunny day, so I decided to walk back into Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge and walk home from there. Halfway over, however, I was thinking about the route home and the fact that it’s the same walk I take from home to work and back again every working day. And I was overcome with ennui. However, thinking about where I’d be coming off the bridge, I realized that I wouldn’t be far from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where there was something I’d been wanting to go look at for years.

Admiral’s Row is a block of decrepit mansions where the naval officers lived around the turn of the twentieth century back when the Navy Yard was a bustling industrial center. They’re behind walls and fences now, so not really accessible, but they’re at least visible. I had a confusing walk over from the bridge — I knew which direction I needed to go and had a good basic idea of which streets would get me there, but I kept coming up against dead ends and on-ramps and strange roads with no sidewalks, some of which I swear were not on the map I pulled up on my phone. (Ah, Brooklyn!) But I persevered and found Flushing Avenue … and realized I wouldn’t be able to get any closer because the thousands of cyclists participating in the 5Boro Bike Tour were whizzing along in my way.I’ll head back over sooner rather than later, so should have some more photos then, but in the meantime, the Officer’s Row Project site is well worth your time and there are some beautiful shots on Gothamist and Scouting New York.

At least I’ll know how to get there next time.