Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Block Party!

Okay, so yesterday I mentioned that I finished my shawl, and that I needed to block it. And I have, it's done, and all I can say is OMG pins. God save us all from PINS.

And I am now going to give you the full story of CW's First Blocking Adventure.

The first thing you do when you block is decide that this is easy; you've done the hard part. You've knitted the garment. This, in book language, is like writing the first draft (aka "lace chart") editing it (knitting it) and then shipping it off to an agent according to all the submission guidelines. You think that the hard part is done. "All" that is left is the blocking.

I mean, Grandma used to do this. How hard can it be?

Serious lace knitters may want to break out the popcorn.

So first you gather your equiptment, which according to the internet are: Bedsheet, pins, sheet of plastic, pins, spray bottle, pins, wool wash or baby shampoo, pins, a place to do it, and while you're at it you might want to pick up another box of pins. You are (thank god) smart enough to know better than to do this in your little tiny trailer house because your bed is too small, you'll have to do this blocking thing on the  floor and whatever room you choose to do it in will be out of commission for the rest of the day. So when you go to Wal-mart to get items, you first stop at Maternal Unit's place of work and request the use of her king-sized bed for the day, because the king-sized bed should be more than enough room to block a shawl that is about four-and-a-half feet wide, unblocked.

If anyone reading this has ever blocked a piece of lace before, they are laughing at me.

Maternal unit gives Okay, so you go to walmart and buy one white cotton blanket, forgoing the pretty blue one only because you remember the words "color fast" in the internet instructions, one clear plastic shower curtain, one spritz bottle, one box of T-pins (40 count) and, instead of a second box of T-pins, about two hundred quilting pins. There is, of course, no way in hell you would EVER need that many pins, but hey, you might need to do this again and some of the pins might rust.

Pictured: shampoo, spritz bottle, small box of pins, large box of pins.
Not pictured: Sanity.

Like I said. Experianced lace knitters. Now laughing their ass off.

So you go home, strip bed of sheets, put down plastic sheet, put down cotton blanket, pin in place, and put lacy thing in sink for first washing.

And the learning begins.

Internet says to treat lace being washed very carefully. About five seconds after turning on the faucet I understood that "very carefully" means "treat as if any form of agitation will upset the capsule of radioactive nitro glycerine wrapped in the middle of the shawl". You might think this is an exaggeration. It is not. First, warm, wet wool + agitation=felt. Felt is not something you want to happen to your six-month project because this cannot be undone. Second, this six-month project is made out of relatively unstable handspun yarn that your mother usually refers to as "hair". And it has just absorbed about a gallon and a half of water that you cannot get back out. Because wringing? Agitation. Crumpling into ball and squeezing? Agitation. And the fiber? Gets very fragile when wet. So you now have a very fine lacy thing that is much more fragile now then when you put it in the sink, and is way, way, way heavier. 

So washing means fill sink with cold water. Submerge shawl. Spread baby shampoo over shawl and squeeze very, very gently (We're talking tomato-test squeeze) to get shampoo through everything. Drain sink, supporting shawl the entire time because you don't want fragile string getting sucked down the drain. Fill sink back up. Slosh shawl around carefully to get shampoo out. Drain sink. Realize there is still shampoo in shawl. Fill sink. Slosh. Drain. Realize there is still shampoo.  Repeat process until water is clean of suds, which is about three more fill-slosh-drain repeats than you want to preform.

Now you have to get heavy, wet, fragile shawl out of sink and to bed without breaking anything. You try pressing shawl against side of sink. You get about a cup full of water out. There is still a gallon or so in the shawl. Next best thing: lay towel out on floor, spread shawl on towel, roll it up and press on it. No wringing. We still cannot wring. Bodacious amounts of water will bleed through towel. Bring the whole thing, towel, shawl and all, to bed all rolled up like a wooly burrito. Lay on bed, unroll. breath sigh of releif because, hey, hard part's over, right?

Wet shawl about to be squished dry

Towel Burrito

Ha ha.

This shawl is a circle. And we want it to stay a circle, which means we have to pin it into a relatively round shape. Now, do any of you remember how hard it is to draw a perfectly round circle? Imagine having to draw that circle using six bazillion tiny dots. These dots being pins.

Logically, you'd think that the shawl, being a circle, would work kind of like a compass and you can use its natural diameter to trace the outline. This would be true, if washing it had not turned the shawl into elastic. You set the shawl on the bed, and because the first step is to pin the compass points, you grab one point of your pretty, pointy edging and pin it to the edge of the bed. You go to the other side, and start pulling. And keep pulling. And. Keep. Pulling. Until you find yourself holding about six inches of shawl that did not exist before you got it wet. Six inches that are much bigger than the king sized bed. Oh, well. Four more pins, and now you have the compass points pinned down, more or less where they ought to be.

Only you don't know about the "more or less" part. Yet.

Then you start pinning points in the middle. And then points in the middle of that. And then points in the middle of that, until you have touched the bottom of your forty-count T-pin pack and you are not nearly done pinning the points down. You realize that the pins, pins, pins internet list wasn't exaggerating at all, and your decision to buy a 200 pack instead of another 40 pack has probably just saved your bacon, if not your fingers.

 Not. exaggerating. At all.

And then you realize you've spent so much time pinning and are not even halfway done yet, the shawl is starting to dry out. So you spritz, and you keep pinning. You have one quarter all pinned up and you realize that the circle is looking more like well if you squint it kinda looks round. And that the line you're squinting at is made of about, oh, sixty pins (<---lowball estimate. Really low) that you now have to readjust. Spritz away, you've got another hundred and eighty pins to go.


So to fast-forward through pins, pins, pins, bleeding, pins pins pins, you've decided that since you don't have to squint quite so hard to see the circle, you're done. You go sit in the living room because it will only take about an hour for the nice, light lacy thing to dry.

I mean, it's not like we've underestimated anything else, right?

Three hours later you realize that the "be careful about it drying out" and the guesstimates on drying times were made by people who live up north in the middle of the country. Not in Coastal South Texas, where the air has the same humidity and viscosity as a deep water sponge in an oceanic trench, and that all the panicked spritzing you did has probably extended drying time by a couple more hours. Which you will have to sit patiently through, because you promised you'd have it all cleaned up by the time your stepfather got home, and barring that, you'll need to stop him from throwing clothing on top of the pretty light lacy thing taking up most of his bed. And dear god in heaven, DON'T TOUCH THE PINS.

And then you go back and carefully, cautiously pull the first couple of pins out of the bed. Nothing explodes or unravels, you find no dropped stitches. You continue, growing more and more excited. When it's done you take it outside and take pictures of it, because you know what? All the work, all the sore hands and bleeding bits and the pins pins pins?


I rock. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Absolutely no one else will be impressed, but I've FINALLY completed my shawl.

This is a horrible picture, but I don't have a better option short of putting it down, and I don't want to put it down yet. It's off the needles. I made this. The only part of this I did not make is the actual wool fiber. I spun the yarn. I spun the yards and yards and yards of yarn this is made of. And then knitted it. And then made up the outer border when I decided the pattern was too small. And it's off the needles. It is no longer attached to the tiny pieces of plastic and bamboo (wooden circular needles FTW) that have sustained it through the last year or so. Off the needles. I need to mention this again. This moment is kind of how I imagine it would feel to have somebody tell you that they absolutely want to publish your book, because the damn thing is done. Well, done-ish. All the little sticky yarn bits are woven in and clipped off, and all that is left is blocking.

Ah. Blocking.

Have I mentioned lately that my house/trailer, while new and wonderful and not in the middle of a horribly big city, is really, really small?

Okay, lemme back up a bit. You know how when you wash a sweater, you need to lay it out on a towel so that when it dries, it still looks like a sweater? This is called "blocking". You set the shape and sometimes, size of a knitted piece of fabric by washing it carefully (DO. NOT. SCRUB. KNITTED. FIBER.) (EVER) (you get felt. Especially if it's a natural hair fiber like wool.) and then laying it out to dry. With a sweater the laying-out-to-dry part is not particularly difficult because the sweater washed is roughly the size you want the sweater to be dry.

Knitted lace has an added problem: it doesn't look like lace. Or rather, it looks like lace that has spent six months crumpled on the bottom of your closet. So when you block lace, you also have to stretch it. Also, you can make a large piece of lace even larger. You have to soak it in water, spread it out on a piece of absorbant pinable fabric that will stay in place, pin the knitting into place, and leave it alone to dry for several hours.

I have never blocked a piece of lace. My first shawl developed a hole in it before I had the room and bravery to risk getting it wet. This will be my first try. And according to research, my options for a large shawl are bed, floor, and floor with carpeting.

I have a small bed. And a cat who really likes the floor. Any attempts at blocking will take the room the blocking happens in out of comission until blocking is over. And I have NO IDEA Where this will happen.

But it will happen tomorrow! And I will report on it here! Because I have nowhere better to go.

(Yes. I totally finished it fifteen minutes ago. And I am tired. And my fingers hUUUUUUUUUrt. And I should be in bed. And I don't care.)

(also-also finished first draft of second novel, but that isn't all that important. nobody is ever going to read that.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Confession Time!

I am a negative fan, and I enjoy every minute of it.

Yes. I read Twilight, the Left Behind series and Laurel K. Hamilton’s novels (Everything after Obsidian Butterfly, that is .Everything before rocked socks in a positive way) because they suck. I’ve watched Skyline multiple times, and you all know how I feel about that.

In fact, I someday hope I can have my own negative fan group so that we can discuss Why Authors Write Bad Things. Because I don’t understand the phenomenon—you’d think you’d, like, be able to tell—and the only way to educate myself on the subject is to, you know, actually do it.

However, something that positive fans say to we negative Nellys (“If you don’t like it, don’t read it!”) ignores a big part of why bad whatever fans are fans of their bad whatevers. It’s something we don’t want to admit, but it’s true none-the-less.

We do like it.

We spend fifteen dollars on an Amazon rental and a rifftrax so we can watch Clash of the Titans. We own every single episode of MST3K and we watch them with popcorn. We pay money to see the Room and watch Tommy Wiseau’s ass wander across his bedroom. We do it in groups and giggle to each other. We read Twilight, watch the movies, and then go congregate at Reasoning with Vampires or Mark Reads Twilight so that we can get greater enjoyment out of the experience. I love the Left Behind series because it is terrible,  because it is a horrifically wonderful mélange of my faith and total WTF-ness, and because how do you fuck up the Second Coming? And then write a goddamned sequel?!?

Maybe if I ever do get published and I do get my own group of bashers, it’ll change. I’ll want to crawl into my own little hole and whimper to myself about how horrible these people are. I will hate the people who get such enjoyment out of hating my work. But I can’t imagine forgetting my own enjoyment of the crack so thoroughly.

It’s not personal. If anything, it’s the opposite of hating the author/ writer/director. Why should we hate you? You provided the crack! Part of me wants to snuggle S. Meyer for kindly providing the world with Breaking Dawn, Nina Bangs for giving me Eternal Prey, and the special effects team that gave us Skyline, the movie so bad it attempts seppuku halfway through its runtime.  Hamilton has provided weeks of quality entertainment in her first ten books; she has provided years of crack with everything else she’s written, and you know what? It’s still good storytelling. It’s just…kinda lost in there. You know. Under the porn. (It’s porn. If your main character has a male harem whose only purpose is to get her preggers, we are not pretending it isn’t porn anymore)

Yes, there are people who genuinely hate the authors…but you know what? They don’t read them anymore. I refer to my not-so –infrequent trips back to LKH’s section of the bookstore as “falling off the wagon” for a reason. I know those books are not good for me. I know I will hate myself in the morning. I know the plot will not be what I want, that the tantalizing hints of good storytelling will never pay off…but you know what? This is a series where sex with the MC is that series’ sonic screwdriver. It is the kind of comedy gold you cannot make up unless you are totally and absolutely serious about it, and that makes it fucking priceless.

When I have issues with a crack writer, it’s not about their writing. It’s about their behavior IRL, and there are a lot of fantastic authors that I have equally strong issues with because as soon as you get them away from the typewriter they kind of turn into an ass. If a writer can produce something uniformly awful and then be a good sport about it? I will not only buy the book, I will buy you dinner.

Everybody wants to be taken seriously. To be the great (insert whatever here). Everybody wants to get nominated for an academy award with their first movie (DISTRIC 9 SHOULD HAVE WON. IT SHOULD HAVE WON ALL THE THINGS. That’s all I’ll say on the subject.) or get a Pulitzer, or at least a Hugo, for their first work. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes the public looks at your baby and goes…uh, really? You’re serious about this? And they either like it, hate it, or break out the popcorn and call the guys from MST3K, because this is gonna be a party, man.

And you know, if I had a choice—and you really never do—I’d rather have people love my books because they suck than ignore them because they’re…meh, almost good enough. I’d love to sit on the couch with hypothetical fans and discuss just how crazy that was and why I should never. Do. That. Again. (Except for the right group I totally should. Crack is almost as hard to find as good books)  I’d rather be the Rocky Horror Picture Show or the next Amanda McKittrick Ros than I would be just good enough.  It may not look like it from the outside, but people like me love Eye of Argon, and the Gor novels (shudder. The Gor novels) and The Aztec Mummy Vs. The Robot, and those old 1950s rocket man shorts. Our lives would be incomplete if we could not elect to tear one off with Asylum pictures like Megashark Vs. Giant Octopus.

We are the love-to-haters, the negative fans, and you will get your books back when you peel them out of our cold, dead fingers.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tipping on the credit change

Okay, so I haven’t posted in a while. This is due to my having nothing of either a positive or negative nature to report—seriously, what do you talk about when every day is the same, and same=tons of work for pretty decent money?—and having an internet connection that sucks so bad logging into Blogger takes about fifteen minutes and a TON of refreshes, let alone actually getting to the posting part of the dashboard. I’m switching carriers next week, I swear to GOD.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today. What do I want to talk about?

Tips. And how they can sometimes annoy me.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind getting not-tipped. It’s a scum-sucking, selfish thing to do, not to tip your waitress, let alone your barista (coffee gals don’t get tipped as much as waitresses. So when I am in coffee-mode I am not as "FUCK YOU KILL IT WITH FIRE" about tables that don't tip as I am when I'm a waitress. Just an FYI) but I don’t mind. I don’t even mind small tips. A tip is a tip.

What do I mind? Well, I’m gonna assume that all of you have, at one point or another, paid for food with a credit card. And you’ve seen a nice little place on the white slip for you to write your tip in, so that the waitress can take it in the back and adjust it and you don’t have to screw around with cash. Some people leave cash and ignore it. Some people put a nice tip in there, some people put a small tip in there, some people just write the original total into the slot, which is really really stupid because I COULD interpret that as leaving a 100% tip—I’m smarter than that, but I could if I wanted to—and all of the above do not bother me.

Not even when I can’t read the tip because your handwriting sucks.

What bothers me are the people who tip on the credit change.

This is when you get your credit receipt, and instead of writing a nice, round number, like $1.00, or the obvious 15%, you write a tip that, combined with your total, adds up to a round number. You stick me with your credit card’s spare change.

Example: on a 29.17 bill, they tip 5.83. The new total is 34.00 even and I have to figure out what the fuck I’m going to do with eighty three cents in change. I do not mind if you have paid in cash and decide to leave your change in the tip jar, because I don’t like carrying change around either. But credit card bills are imaginary money. You are not getting any spare change out of my register. There is no reason to give me change. You have a little slip of white paper on which you are to either write a tip, or not write a tip. Today I sold a guy a cup of coffee. Cost 3.25 (hey, the boss does the pricing) and he decided to pay with a credit card. I did not expect a tip, because it’s a three dollar cup of coffee and he already tipped me on the other six cups of coffee he bought for his party. He writes .75 in the slot. I didn’t even bother processing it because I didn’t want his fucking imaginary spare change.

“But CW!” you say. “Surely, he was just being considerate. He tipped you!  He was trying to give you money! What’s wrong with being given money?”

True, but remember what I said: This is not real spare change. This is not that handful of pennies and dimes that you don’t want to stick in your pocket. This is any amount of money he wants to write in the total, from 0 to $100. So let me ask you this: Why couldn’t I have the other quarter? And if I couldn’t have the quarter, why do I have to take the seventy-five cents? Why couldn’t he just, like, not tip? Why do I have to deal with an uneven number?

Because he wanted to see $4.00 on the bottom of the card, and not 3.25 or 4.25. No. He wanted to see that nice, even 4.00. Wasn’t about giving me a tip at all. It was about making his life look neat and orderly, and so what if the barista doesn’t want another three quarters sloshing around on the bottom of her purse, or to have to make yet another trip to a Coin Star to get folding money out of her tip jar? He’s got a neat total at the bottom of his credit receipt, and that’s all that matters.

Tipping the change tells me you are a considerate person who wants to tip, and who also doesn’t want to carry six tons of change in your pockets. Tipping the change plus an extra dollar makes you my BFF and I will probably give you a free refill when the boss is not looking, and sometimes even when the boss is looking because we throw out a heck of a lot of coffee. Tipping on the credit change tells me you are an obsessive compulsive asshole who wants to look like a decent person who tips, but who can’t bother giving me a whole fucking dollar because then the total on that piece of white paper would bother you.  So thank you. Thank you for making my tip jar all about you.

There is no reason to not use round numbers on a credit check, unless you want to tip a full 15%. In which case I am still annoyed at having to lug change around, but I understand it. But if it is obvious you only gave me that fifteen cents so that your check will be a nice, even 67.00, you know what I’m going to do? I’m not processing the goddamned fifteen cents.

Yes. I know it’s self sabotage. Yes. I know it’s petty. Yes. I know I am throwing money that you willingly gave me away because I’m irritated over spare change. But you know what? Credit-change tippers are also the people who run me ragged wanting their beers “dressed” and their salad done with no-fat lactose free blue cheese dressing (seriously), and the meat cooked rare plus plus (Medium rare just not good enough for you?)  and the fish cooked with no seasonings, just oil, we like to taste the fish (Oh, hey. Let me quote our cook/owner: FUCK YOU.) (Seriously. That’s like asking the artist to leave all the paint off the canvas because you want to look at the fabric. If you want plain fish, save our time, save yours, go eat at a restaurant where they’re not going to charge you twenty bucks for the privilege.) They’re the ones who complain about the dish being tasteless (Again: FUCK YOU. THAT’S WHAT YOU ASKED FOR) after they ate every bite of it. They are the ones who look over the menu, see what we have, and then ask for a triple-shot no foam no-fat venti mocha latte (WE ARE NOT FUCKING STARBUCKS) but could I please leave room for cream? (Seriously.) And you know what? One of them is going to be so fucking OCD, they’re going to go down their credit bill with a red pen and check every single one of the totals, and they are going to see that I did not charge them for that fucking fifteen fucking cent tip, and they are going to twitch.

And they can’t do a goddamn thing about it.

And for the rest of you kind, considerate people: Tip, or don’t tip. Give us your tired (coins) your poor (pennies) your huddled masses (of real money) yearning (to be in my pocket). But if you have a credit slip, and you have to write something in it, put in your percentage, or a nice, round number. Don’t give me your imaginary spare change. I really, really don’t want it, and it makes you look like an obsessive-compulsive ass.

And if you really are that OCD, you can let me know. Mental illness isn’t fun, and I feel sympathy for you. I still won’t process your change, but I won’t call you an asshole either. And you could probably talk me into putting chocolate in your latte.