Entries by Friederike Wunschik

I’ve been a Bad Poster

Not posting for several months: bad!

Baking rhubarb meringue cake and banana bread and not taking a picture to post it: bad!

Reading Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman and not having anything to say about it: not so good.

Going to see Porgy and Bess on Broadway, liking it (a lot) but not writing anything about it: also not good.

Going to see Being Shakespeare at BAM, enjoying it immensely but not telling anybody about it: pathetic.

Visiting the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden and not even mentioning it in a facebook post: sad.

So what have I been wasting my time on now? Well, I’ve been planning a garden I don’t yet have and going through garden catalogs dreaming of an impossible garden with all kinds of climate zones; I’ve been hanging out with friends and family; I’ve been moving from Darmstadt to Mainz to back home, only to go traveling for 3 weeks; I’ve been reading about the health care debate in the US and I’m not quite sure I understand it; I’ve been following the movement of academics boycotting certain publishers with great interest and have encouraged my sister to publish her doctoral thesis in an open access journal.

Books I’ve read since my last post:

  • Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett (re-read to get into the Christmas spirit)
  • Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman (good for a train-ride to Berlin)
  • The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (while fighting jet-lag)
  • Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman (re-read when I had to ride the subway a lot)
  • Utopia, by Thomas More (as an e-book on an iPad)

In conclusion: I am a bad poster for actually doing, seeing, and thinking about stuff but not posting about it.

The New Domesticity and Privilege

In 2008, Steven Wells called into question the subversiveness of knitting and questioned the titles of Alter Nation and AntiCraft: Knitting, Beading, and Stitching for the Slightly Sinister. He eloquently argued that taking up a domestic chore and insisting you are doing it ironically, post-anything, or just tongue-in-cheek does not automatically make it radical, anti-anything, or even just non-controversial. He ended the two articles that I read (there may be more, I didn’t check) by listing people who had left their mark on the world and had notably not crocheted or knit their own bobble-hats, finally suggesting “If you need a hobby, take up spitting.”

Yesterday I read an article titled The New Domesticity: Fun, empowering, or a step back for American women? and a response arguing that yes, “New Domesticity” Is a Step Backwards for Women. I also followed the hashtag #newdomesticity on Twitter.

And now comes the confessional bit in which I tell you that I like to knit, bought books on ikebana as a child, love to bake, and don’t have a high-power job. I’m also going to tell you that I don’t like to clean or cook. Luckily, my husband loves to cook and therefore does all the cooking and grocery shopping. In exchange, I occasionally clean in a non-ironic, half-hearted way.

I understand what Steven Wells is saying. I also understand what Jamie Stiehm is saying. I’m also sure that Emily Matchar understands that making jam for the pleasure of it can quickly turn sour when it is your only option in life. Nevertheless I’m going to write my (slightly rambly) bit.

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1. Maker Culture and Feeling in Control

The maker-culture is a broad and inclusive term that encompasses jam-making, bee-keeping, knitting, and tinkering. It includes the person who can fix their own bike, darn their own sock, build a shed, make a souffle, program a lego-robot, or knit a bobble-hat. It appeals to the idea of knowing what you’ve spent your time on because you’re holding it in your hand. It appeals to a mindfulness about our consumerism, by valuing repair-ability, re-usability, and recycle-ability. It also appeals to those mistrustful of large corporations and where they get their raw materials from. Buying locally, foraging, and making are interconnected. They all mean taking back control of who we give our money to and what exactly we’re getting for it.

Admittedly, for many it is enough to feel like they’ve taken back that control. They’ll sew new covers for their throw pillows, delighting in having made something themselves that no-one else has (with fabric bought at IKEA). These are the same kind of people who will drive to the organic supermarket in an SUV to buy organic pineapples that were flown half-way across the globe. They’ll buy a book on organic gardening and plan their little vegetable patch and decide that it’s just too much work.

But there are people out there who are taking their kitchen gardens seriously because for them it is a way to save money, control where their food comes from, and literally reap their rewards. Teachers have set up gardens as a way of teaching students discipline and the value of work. And they are not all female.
Also: the blogs on foraging, food preservation, and vegetable gardening on guardian.co.uk are written mainly(?) by men.

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2. Fetish

2.1 Artisan, Hand-made

Hand-made chocolate, artisanal cookies and bread, hand-crafted jewelry, or even a home-cooked meal. These things evoke a sense of luxury and wholesomeness. This of course can lead to the fetishization of things that often require back-breaking labor and consume a lot of time. Terry Pratchett wrote in Monstrous Regiment “It was women’s work, and therefore monotonous, backbreaking, and social.” (He describes the job of washer women in particular.) There is a reason we have washing machines and dish-washers. Convenience food freed many people from having to slave away in their kitchens. There is nothing romantic about making preserves if it is the only way you’ll have food in Winter.

Nevertheless there also seems to be a psychological demand in our post-industrial societies for preserving “ancient” knowledge, as the Foxfire books, among others, show.

2.2 Women are Disproportionately part of a Movement that Fetishizes Domestic Making

Yes, it’s questionable when a lot of young women decide to go all Bree Van de Kamp, with a cookbook or a book on parenting being the only contribution to mankind they can imagine. Yes, it is worrying when otherwise intelligent people start saying things like “it just makes me feel so feminine,” “women’s work,” or even “it’s just something women /men are naturally good at.”

It is worrying when there is suddenly a growing market for paraphernalia that copies the look and feel of kitchens in the 1950s and 60s. When the era depicted in Mad Men is romanticized, despite the issues the show mentions. We know better. The educated women discussed in Matcher’s and Stiehm’s articles are all aware of their grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ struggle and the systematic and wide-spread medication of women who were unhappy despite “having it all”. Yet, I’d argue, just as female politicians occasionally pass legislature that harms or oppresses women, so too are other women free to submit to a domesticity that many others around the world would love to escape. I’d put the emphasis on the freedom of choice. A choice between working a 9-5 job or staying at home. This freedom is hard-won and needs to be preserved.

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3. Working around the Patriarchy

Let’s consider this 9-5 job. A job in what one might call the real world and the real economy. A world of negotiating for a raise, glass ceilings, and getting ahead. A world where work-life balance is scoffed at. This is a world shaped and dominated by men. A world that women have fought to be a part of. And now, that they are a part of it, changes have been made. Wonderful changes, such as part-time jobs. So that women can live the work-life balance. Except it’s a scam. Accept a part-time job and you won’t get promoted, let alone rise to the ranks of upper management. More knowledgeable and informed persons have no doubt analyzed the systemic disadvantages women face in the workplace. I’m too lazy to google them right now.

I heard an inspiring story of two doctors sharing the position of Head of Gynecology at a Swiss hospital. They share the work-load and the salary and both have a family. I think that’s a fantastic way to work around the system. But doesn’t it sound predictable that this should be the gynecological department, instead of, say, the surgical one?

3.1 Alternative Economies

Something in Ms. Matchar’s article, reminded me of Pedro Almodovar’s Volver Then men in Almodovar’s movies are noticeably absent, disposable, weak, or bad. But my point is, in Volver, among many other things, the characters make use of a non-official economy comprised of the women in their neighborhood. One sister runs a hair-salon out of her apartment. The other suddenly finds herself with an unexpected catering job for a film crew, so she borrows food from her neighbors. She borrows the food because she has no capital to go buy large amounts of food (she has the keys to an unused restaurant because the owner is on vacation). She has no capital to buy large amounts of food because the only money most of the women have is in their husbands’ control. This alternative economy of the neighborhood women, by necessity, operates outside the patriarchy. It circumvents the normal channels of power, for example banks, and relies on the community and the skills of the individual.

There are alternative currency systems where people can barter a service (mowing a lawn) for points and exchange their collected points for another service (tutoring for their kid). These systems also circumvent the Man. They might not change the law or our education system, but they take back a little control.

Alternative economies express our true needs. Many important services and tasks are not valued in the “established” economy. How much is raising a kid worth? How much is a friendship worth? What about a neighbor who will look after your kids spontaneously and help you shovel the snow in front of your house? How about knowing what the chicken whose eggs you eat in the morning was fed and how it was treated?

Finding someone who keeps bees and exchanging a jar of honey for a jar of blackberry jam made from foraged blackberries cuts out the conglomerates that are selling us artificial honey and jam that is made of 5% real fruit. Basically, it cuts out the middle-man who, as one food-scandal after another shows us, is regularly selling us bad food or even non-food.

Finding a local herd of sheep and their humans (that sounds a lot more touchy-feely than intended but I’ll leave it like this) and buying wool from them that you then knit into a sweater for yourself or someone else frees you from wondering about toxins in the fabric or dye. It also frees you from wondering what kind of sweat shop it was made in. I don’t know how realistic it is to say that many people do this or exclusively wear clothes like this (“Hello, my name is Rain. I have my own kiln, and my skirt is made of wheat.“). But I can relate to the underlying thought process.

3.2 Alternative Bodies

I’d like to point out something else: knitting or sewing your own clothes, for some people, is also a way of owning clothes they feel good in. We all know the beauty and fashion industries are not always friends to women’s bodies. If the clothes you offer women are a big eff you to their bodies, do not be surprised when they decide to make their own clothes.

Similar line of thought regarding all these allergies and additives in cosmetics and soap. If everything you can buy either makes your baby break out in a rash or is just really expensive you are going to try and find out how to make your own baby-shampoo with stuff in your kitchen.

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4. Privilege

A lot of what I read on Twitter regarding Matchar’s and Stiehm’s articles articulated one defining factor in this mass-exodus of bright, young women into domesticity: privilege. Not having to work for a living (for whatever reason) is one factor why a person might not want to be part of the work force. Feeling that women’ rights have come a long way and you don’t need to become head of the IMF or policy chief at the Pentagon can contribute to not wanting to participate in the rat-race. Not feeling marginalized also plays a big role in being complacent. I live outside the US and my cultural experience is slightly different; but I’d wager that women of color have their own, slightly different take on the New Domesticity compared to Matchar or Stiehm.

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5. Buying things is easy. Making them is not. Time equals more than Money.

It’s almost Christmas. The time of year when we all collectively go “oh shit! I forgot to buy so-and-so a present!” and get on each others’ nerves by crowding malls and christmas markets. We try to buy each other the perfect gift when we can’t even think of something they might really need. In this case making something for a loved one means not just thinking of them and choosing something they might like, but taking the time to make it. Instead of spending money a person can spend time; especially in a world in which time itself is a commodity. Gathering your friends and family around to bake cookies, make decorations, sing, or read stories to each other is worth more than the money you planned on spending on them. Knitting a Vlad-the-Impaler bobble-hat for your niece can mean more than buying her some mass-produced doll.

At the end of this very rambly text I feel like saying: Everywoman can choose what domesticity means to her without being labelled anti-feminist. But what do I know?

Nanowrimofail

I failed the Nanowrimo2011. Totally and utterly. There is no excuse. Though I started a week late, I managed to rack up some daily word counts that (if I’d kept them up) would have had me finishing the thing on time. But no! I got distracted and lost interest. I think I could finish it up (I at least like the direction it was going in) but I don’t know if I’ll bother. Oh well… I’ll just have to try again.

Unicorn with a Warm Horn

For work reasons the DH and I have been living in Darmstadt for almost two months now. We’ve been subletting an apartment that is near a fountain with a unicorn in it. Because it is getting cold here in Germany and inspired by the yarnbombs in the park surrounding the castle in Darmstadt, I decided to knit the unicorn a little something to keep his horn warm. The pompom was made by DH himself. For more information: http://ravel.me/fritzoid/wh
The unicorn is also wearing a mask because someone was worried he might inhale too much particulate matter (the city of Darmstadt has a serious particulate matter problem).

In totally unrelated news: I’ve been neglecting my NaNoWriMo and I feel horrible about it.

10,000 Words

I just passed the 10,000 word mark 600 words ago! Wahoo! I am now less than 8,000 words behind on my NaNo 2011. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out NaNoWriMo.org

Also, I have a better feeling for where the story is headed. It’s not very imaginative, but it’s a direction. As, Ms Frey said in a recent blog post: first drafts are always a bit crap.

So that’s where I’m at. Things are happening.

myNaNoWriMo2011

Having been a spectator to the craziness that is NaNoWriMo for some years now, I have decided to participate this year. I started about a week late (I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened) but i’ve had two very productive days, resulting in 6094 words (out of the 50 000 words required to ‘win’) so far. I’m not wholly convinced I’m going in the right direction with this. I’ve chosen to write an epistolary novel that includes letters (some of which actually get sent), emails, chat transcripts, diary entries, internal monologue, internal dialogue, and phone calls. I’m using different fonts to differentiate between these. Like I said: it might be too complicated or artificial or too far up its own ass to actually work as a readable (if not enjoyable) novel. But hey! The motto is “don’t get it right, get it done”. So I’m writing away. It’s actually kind of fun (she says, after only 2 days of writing) and I hope I can at least finish it. Whether I go beyond a first draft is up in the air.

I love the NaNoWriMo forums, the pep talks, the idea that out there several thousand people are also doing this, and the pure joy I feel when I watch my word count go up. Some of the dares (give your character an annoying trait, have one of your characters make a ridiculous order at Starbucks) are useful, even when you don’t accept them, simply because they shake your brain up and help move things along.

I’ve noticed I like to mention food every couple of paragraphs. Maybe I’ll include a recipe somewhere. Hmm…

Anyway, I wanted to mention that I’m using Scrivener for Mac to write this baby. I used it to write my thesis last year and it served me so well that I’m using it again. Scrivener is basically so great that I’d have to dedicate an entire post to it and so I shall at some later date. But go download a free trial version right now (Mac or Windows) and play around with it and tell me there aren’t some nifty functions in there.

Ok, enough procrastination. Back to writing my NaNo. (Too bad the word count on this post doesn’t count towards my NaNo word count.)

The Difference between Camping

I’ve spent today’s afternoon (Central European Time) watching livestreams of Occupy protests. One of the tense anticipation of the Occupy Wall Street crowd in Zucotti Park waiting to be “cleaned” out of there and rejoicing at the news that they can stay for now. The other of Denver police removing protesters there from the park they had been camping in for 22 days. I watched CNN’s live footage of people being dragged away and tents being thrown into orange dump trucks. I also watched an unedited 9News feed from Lincoln Park in Denver.
I followed twitter streams talking about the Occupy movements in both cities. And I laughed out loud when I read @denverwill’s tweet about the dichotomy between the OccupyWallStreet campers and those camping out in front of Apple Stores to buy the new iPhone 4S (apparently Steve Wozniak is first in line).

Here’s my short and impromptu analysis:
The Occupy movement camps out in public parks because that is the easiest way to ensure an around-the-clock presence to call attention to their cause. The Apple customers camp out in front of stores to ensure the successful purchase of a product on the day it comes out. I’m not going to compare the priorities of either group. What I’m interested in is the reaction that these campers get from those in power.
Both groups pose the same problems for a city: they obstruct pedestrians’ paths, they leave litter (paper, wrappers, cigarette butts, coffee cups, etc.), their tents or chairs leave marks on the pavement or grass. So why are some politicians more concerned with one group than the other? Why is a person there for political purposes considered more disruptive than a person who’s there to buy something? Why, in other words, is the first group threatened with eviction while the second group is left unbothered?
I’d argue that those in power would like to see citizens consuming and spending money and celebrating consumerism, rather than have them question and criticize what has become a way of life for those of us in the industrialized West.
Most of us have heard the slogan “Conform! Consume! Obey!” or a variant of it. Buying things re-inforces the status quo. It is, we are told, what drives our economies forward. It is what, one might argue, helps companies pay their employees and therefore, in a sense, keeps the world going round. Questioning one’s place in the consumerist chain or even just planting a survival garden disrupts the status quo. By removing themselves from the dominant discourse of conformism and consumerism the Occupiers have rattled a cage. They do not give those in power the chance to smile indulgently and metaphorically pat them on the head. Being questioned, or rather having your power questioned, is scary. Having your way of life called into question is scary. Hell, having the status-quo called into question is scary, even if you are unhappy with the way things are.
In conclusion: the difference between the two camps is that one questions the prevalent hegemony and the others are free advertisement for a shiny world in which your life is made better by buying things and it’s easier to be nice to those who do not criticize or scare you.

It really is a wonderful contrast that highlights the kind of society we live in today.

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This Week

This week I watched the news, I read The Economist, I read the Guardian, I read some blogs… nothing
really unusual there. But somehow it got to me more than usual… maybe it was The Economist’s cover telling me to “BE AFRAID”… or the continuous reporting and interviewing of people who didn’t seem to know what to do (and these are people who’ve thought about and read about fiscal policies and gross national products and such a whole lot more than I have). It bothered me that nobody seems to know what they’re doing or what needs to be done. Basically it just felt very scary. And I feel very stupid.

So when I saw this captioned image of Fry it reflected how I felt.
But just surfing soup.io (NSFW) is definitely not the answer to this. Ignoring world events and how austerity measures are going to affect everyone is not the solution.
I think Adam Curtis summed it up perfectly: “It’s like living in the mind of a depressed hippie.” 

Memorium in Nuernberg

Deutsch
Am Mittwoch war ich mit meiner Abuela im Memorium in Nürnberg. Die Ausstellung ist klein aber fein. Obwohl der Audioguide im Deutschen nur die Texte, die sowieso neben und unter Bildern stehen, vorliest ist er trotzdem wichtig für die Stellen, an denen Archivmaterial abgespielt wird, da dieses über den Audioguide empfangen wird. Das Museumspersonal war sehr freundlich, die Ausstellung detailliert und gut aufbereitet. Vorallem der Schluß, an dem erklärt wird wie die Erfahrungen von den Nürnberger Prozessen auf die Prozesse in Japan und schließlich in Den Haag angewandt wurden, enthielt für mich viele neue Informationen.
Das Einzige was fehlt ist ein kleines Café in dem man zum Abschluß noch ein gutes Stück Kuchen essen kann.

English
On Wednesday my Abuela and I went to the Memorium in Nuremberg. The exhibit is small but very good. The Audioguide doesn’t just translate the German texts but also streams original recordings of the proceedings at the Nuremberg Trials. The staff were very friendly and helpful and the exhibition was detailed and well executed. Especially the last bit, in which they explain how the experiences of the Nuremberg Trials was then applied to similar trials in Japan and later in The Hague, contained lots of information that was new to me.
The only thing missing is a cafeteria or café where visitors could enjoy a nice piece of cake.

Last day at the Camp

This is a list of observations in no particular order.

The changeable weather made for some uncomfortable moments.

We discovered that it is possible to make Ramen noodles and tea and coffee in our rice cooker.

The burgers at the camp are pretty good.

We ate our dinners at the ICMP village.

I attended several really interesting lectures with a sociological, philosophical, or anthropological angle.

A friend of mine posted some pictures online.

It’s amazing how the quality of my sleep progressively improved over the week.

I am not looking forward to packing up tomorrow. Setting up camp seemed far more appealing than having to leave the place as we found it on Monday.