China, O My China

When I first arrived in Beijing, summer of 1995, Olympics fever had already hit. Kind of. China had bid (and was apparently still lobbying) to host the 2000 Olympics, and that lobbying permeated society – enough that a Chinese illiterate, freshly arrived from Santa Cruz, could figure it out. Could, in fact, choke on it. The city was, to my eyes, so obviously, painfully, ludicrously unready for, well, any international event, the hosting mania seemed less quixotic than psychotic. Wouldn’t the smog alone induce scores of coronaries during competitions? Where would visitors be housed – in the crumbling Soviet prison-style towers lining the streets, streets where poster-sized photos of the most recent traffic fatalities (blood, guts, severed limbs, brains on the asphalt) decked the intersections? Would the cartridges from the latest public executions be swept away in time to prepare the stadiums for the opening ceremonies? Could visitors tear themselves away from the Animal Killing Pavillions long enough to cheer a pole-vault?

And international friendship … Well, after enjoying the movie “Red Sorghum” (an uplifting tale of various Japanese brutalities, including live human skinning) at … wait for it … the “Sino-Japanese Friendship Center,” I was suspecting that maybe, just maybe, the Chinese had an issue or two in that area.

And now, 2008. I have mixed emotions about these Olympics.

If you have any interest at all in China, you must know Orville Schell. He has a better understanding of the Chinese psyche than just about – well, anyone, and I say this not just because I agree with him completely (though yeah, that’s compelling). He knows and loves China as, I think, I do: for what is there to love, without letting that love cloud sight of all that there is to despise. And there is much to despise. Much.

Here’s a bit of an article by Schell that appears in the current issue of Newsweek – do read it all, here.

As I argue in the current New York Review of Books, the most critical element in the formation of China’s modern identity has been the legacy of the country’s “humiliation” at the hands of foreigners, beginning with its defeat in the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century and the shameful treatment of Chinese immigrants in America. The process was exacerbated by Japan’s successful industrialization. Tokyo’s invasion and occupation of the mainland during World War II was in many ways psychologically more devastating than Western interventions because Japan was an Asian power that had succeeded in modernizing, where China had failed.

This inferiority complex has been institutionalized in the Chinese mind. In the early 20th century China took up its victimization as a theme and made it a fundamental element in its evolving collective identity. A new literature arose around the idea of bainian guochi—”100 years of national humiliation.” After the 1919 Treaty of Versailles cravenly gave Germany’s concessions in China to Japan, the expression wuwang guochi—”Never forget our national humiliation”—became a common slogan. To ignore China’s national failure came to be seen as unpatriotic. Since then, China’s historians and ideological overseers have never hesitated to mine the country’s past sufferings “to serve the political, ideological, rhetorical, and/or emotional needs of the present,” as the historian Paul Cohen has written.

Let me pull out two sentences:

“In the early 20th century China took up its victimization as a theme and made it a fundamental element in its evolving collective identity.”

“To ignore China’s national failure came to be seen as unpatriotic.”

That, I think, is indeed the heart of China’s bizarre and repellent nationalism. And that is also what is most alienating, to me, about China as a nation: its martyrdom, in that Catholic sense, whereby one’s suffering really does impart superiority, martyrdom blended with a terrifying, dehumanizing hatred of those who inflicted the suffering. All of which would make more sense to me, would be more acceptable, if in fact the accused victimizers were anything of the sort. In case after historical case, the suffering heaped upon the Chinese people has actually been inflicted by … the Chinese themselves: by a leadership vastly corrupt, addicted to opium, pleasure, power, made weak and incompetent by those addictions. Oh, the suffering has been real, horribly real, but it’s been borne by the peasants, the poor: the same people whose children were crushed in the Sichuan earthquake. The same people who are sent to prison, or sent to labor camps, for any gesture for justice after their children, their lives, their loves, their futures, are ground to pulp by the current incarnation of that corrupt leadership.

Schell concludes that, as far as protesting goes,

“… this is not the time—and not just because any unauthorized protest is quite likely to fail. … Protests would almost certainly spark the kind of nationalist and autocratic backlash that they’re meant to remedy. Remember what followed the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations—a nearly 20-year period of reaction and restoration from which China has still not recovered.”

Then consider what Amnesty International has to say. This is from the brand-spankin’ new report, “The Olympics Countdown – Broken Promises,” July 28.

The IOC’s diplomatic, non-public approach on human rights cases and issues does not appear to have yielded significant results. International pressure from other governments for human rights reform has also been insufficient, sending a message that it is acceptable for a government to host the Olympic Games in an atmosphere characterised by repression and persecution. The danger now becomes that after the Olympic Games these patterns of serious human rights violations may continue or intensify with even less attention paid by the international community than has been the case so far.

Please take a look at the full report here.

The Independent also has a good article.

Mr Hancock {Tim Hancock of Amnesty} added: “World leaders attending the Games – even if it’s only the closing ceremony – should send an unequivocal message that they support human rights for the Chinese people.”

And, I may add, the Tibetan people. And the Taiwanese people. And let’s not get started on the animals. I’m heartbroken enough already.


More Sewing, More Links

Well friends, I am still in this obsessive sewing mode. It’s hard to explain — I sorta thought that, by now, after a straight month off work, I’d be rested up, raring to go, and writing more, working out, doing yoga, doing ceramics, drawing, painting, working on the fiber art, travelling, visiting. But, noooo. I garden a bit, an hour a day or less, and I cook some nice treats here and there, but as for creative juices – they are exclusively devoted to sewing clothes. Clothes! Me, the woman with “a style … but no fashion,” as a college friend put it. I am getting excited about invisible zippers and fly fronts, fusible interfacings and clear elastic. What the … ? Isn’t this all too, too Martha Stewart-y? Well, I’ve come up with a theory of sorts. I think that what I love about sewing right now is the place I am on the learning curve. I am actively learning stuff, all the time; incorporating stuff I’ve known forever (I started sewing as a pre-teen, after all) with new stuff, and oh there is so much new stuff. New products, new techniques, sure, but also just new levels of ability; new precision, dexterity, intuition. So, there are ideas – the engineering side, if you will; measurements, and theories of fit and alteration, and just plain topography. There is the development of intuition, visualization – will these two fabrics work well together, will this needle do the job, will this stuff gather well, how will this hem hang. There is the physical side, the handiwork side of things, the finesse in the fingertips. And finally, there are all the vast resources of experienced sewists who selflessly share their wisdom online. (Maybe you say “sewer,” but written … no, let’s stick to “sewist.”) It’s amazing, the generosity of these online sages, and equally amazing, that there are so, so many of them! And for a while there, it seemed that the handcrafts were in their decline … Yeah, in an increasingly digitized world, we crave the nubbly imperfect touch of the handmade more and more.

Far from an original thought. But I think I see this impulse lots of places. Listening to the PDX Pop Now sampler, it’s like the K Records aesthetic all over again- embrace of the amateur, the heartfelt. Off-key singing, childishly strummed chords, erratic drumming. Sure, yes, I see the inherent flaw in this logic: heartfelt is not necessarily the opposite of finely-crafted, crude does not equal authentic. And the “made by sixth-graders” aesthetic approach often totally fails to touch me. But when it does, it is magic. I still love Calvin Johnson, damnit!

In my personal aesthetic life, I aspire to a perfection of craft – the exact opposite my personal slovenliness and the exact opposite of the lo-fi approach. Hmm, minor insight: perhaps that’s why I have turned away from the fine art world (where I thought I wanted to be, age 18 ) and immersed myself instead in craft: I am addicted to learning, and in the pursuit of technical excellence, you never stop learning. Hah. Sounds plausible.

On to links. Warning: these are all intended strictly for people who sew!


Last night I posted a review to Check it out to learn a lot and get inspired. Admission: I waste more time on this one site than any other. It has raised my work to an entirely higher level.

F-I is written by Kathleen Fasanella, a very interesting person in her own right. It is NOT geared to the home sewer or hobbyist, but there’s a lot of information to be gleaned here – her slogan is “Lessons from the sustainable factory floor,” and while I’ll admit I don’t always see a lot of sustainability here, it’s part of the mix anyway. Even if you can’t sew you’ll find out a lot about how your clothes were designed and manufactured.

Total eye candy, all in French – “Japan Couture Addicts.”

And this one’s bilingual, Portuguese and English. Maybe not my style but again, so much to learn from an incredibly talented person.

I love this woman – she’s a great, personable writer, she cracks me up, she’s endlessly charming, and she’s international as all heck.

Next time – my favorite fabric stores.

Blog? Or Blah-g?

The dog days of summer must be upon us, because about all I want to do is drink iced tea, sew, and sleep. I keep thinking rationalizing that I am storing up the sleep I’ll need when the academic year begins, but that’s not bloody likely … Or is it?

Last night, Echo asked (very plaintively) “Where my friend Joel at?” During his visit, she had also suggested (with a devilish look) that we lock the doors, so he couldn’t leave. Tonight, she saw a generically Joel-looking guy in the parking lot of out favorite pizza-slice joint and started bouncing excitedly: “Joel! Call him!” So, Joel, you may be gone but your presence lingers.
Tom just got in from PDX Pop Now. Here’s the ad I did for this musical orgy ….

Hmmm, whatta ya think?

Goodbye, Joel

Aaand he’s off … Joel, that is: off to two months in an alternate society. In his week here, Joel found an apartment nearby, got chosen as a housemate in a shared house, and was accepted into the Mount Madonna Center’s Yoga, Service and Community Program. With this smorgasbord of choices he went with – drumroll, please – Mt. Madonna! Maybe he’ll be back house-hunting in two months. Or maybe he’ll keep doing sun salutations with Baba Hari Dass. We shall see.
As for life here, why, things are churning quietly along, boring as can be. Which is utterly delightful to me. It’s been cooler here, overcast mornings that only clear in the late afternoon; I’ve dug out another patch of lawn, making the treelawn a little closer to my “Food, Not Lawns” ideal. (Sortof, because I only planted flowers there, not chard, but hey, baby steps.) We all feel good. My dental pain is finally completely gone; I gave $5.00 to the DNC today (to a canvasser, while Echo admonished “My papi say no give money dat guy.”). And Tom’s Mac is bac from the Mac clinic – new faceplate, new trackpad, new [larger] hard drive, no charge, all under warranty – so I get my computer back, all to myself. Aaah, sweet.
So, because i am finally getting relaxed enough to start thinking about preparing to plan to consider contemplating the future, let me drop a hint: softies. Softies, the book: softies, the blog. I have a pattern book from Wee Wonderfuls and will be cranking out bunnies and kitties soon (like these ones). Girl gifts seem easy enough, but boy gifts, a little harder. Would a stuffed piece of poop appeal to any boy you know?

Happy Monday

Every Monday is a happy Monday when you’re on vacation. Actually, believe it or not, I woke up at 7:00 this morning thinking about school stuff … about the textbook committee I chaired and the 2 tasks I have yet to finish for it, about my website design, about book orders … work stuff in general, the kind of stuff I used to sweat about sixty hours a week. So different from my life right now. The moment passed.

Let’s see: a few quick Echo exchanges.

Mama: “Can you please stop touching my booty, NOW?”
Echo, regretfully: “Sorry. I can’t.”

Echo to Jessica: “I have so many babies. They all in my belly, waiting come out.”

Mama, after the third scream: “Honey, why are you screaming out the front door?”
Echo: “That my elephant call. Papi hear that, he come home.”

And my favorite: with a hug around the knees: “Mami Echo best friends EVER! Right, Mami?”

Jessica and the Moonbeam were over yesterday for a little swim party. It was pretty much Ladies’ Night Afternoon … the girls were so sweet together, Echo offering Moon her favorite satiny dress and saying, “Moon, let’s dance!” – Moon shooting me a few of those patented Mischevious-Elf Child looks that made me fall for her in the first place, what, two years ago. Baby Bro Landen, aka the Manly Lanny, was in good form – gave me some fantastic smiles and let me snuggle his chubbiness. He’s 5 months old, such a sweet baby, at such a lovely age. I am psyched to think about starting to sew an outfit for him and his sis …
I started thinking about sewing and how much I’ve done, and wanting photographic proof, I started to pile up the things I’ve made for the Gecko.

That is most of the child’s haul for the month of July (a few things are missing). Everything in the group shot is from the Ottobre mag; the dress is my own pattern, though I used an Ottobre t-shirt as the template. The little bike shorts on the right are based on an Ottobre long-johns pattern; I’ve cranked out about five pairs, and have made a few skirts that include the shorts (like the striped ones … are those too ’80s or what? Can’t you visualize Belinda Carlisle bopping around in those, chirping “We got the beat”?)

Let’s see … Made in May was a fancy dress from Ottobre:

and made earlier, ALL from the same Burda baby pattern, believe it or not:

Sigh. I love some of these outfits oh, so much. And some others that I also especially love aren’t even here … none of the Burda skirts are, nor the dress she’s sleeping in right now. Awwww…

Today, I did a chunk o’ gardening and a big chunk o’ sewing for myself. Making this pair of bermudas. Interesting, how one cannot adequately appreciate the enormosity and immense curvature of one’s own behind, until faced with the radical alterations a simple pair of shorts require. Hmmmmmmm.

Everybody Poops

But so they have to do it … in their chonies? Every … day? And quite so … explosively?

Sigh. Enough said.

Anyway, I’m editing this to add:

We have been oh-so-busy this week so far; Joel arrived Tuesday; Wednesday, an orgy of gardening, home-cooked falafel dinner, fairly mellow. We’ve been doing lots of this:

Thursday, at the zoo all day:

… you can see Joel behind the fence there. Echo’s wearing a dress I finished just that morning — one of the first efforts of mine she’s actually loved. That was a nice long day. Friday, dr’s appointment in the morning; Joel and I took the streetcar from the south waterfront downtown, browsed Powell’s and drank refreshing beverages. Back home I sewed, Joel house-hunted. Bike rides and trips to the park, pizza dinner out. Saturday, first to the Alpenrose Dairy of all places, where the annual Velodrome races are going on.

That is a particularly cool picture: you can see the slope of the track, and how people riding fast are perpendicular to it, while people riding slow are more straight up-and-down on that crazy slant. Also, see the guys holding hands in middle? This race is called a “Madison,” and partners are allowed to sling each other forward that way. Some teams were sling-shotting each other on the steeply raked curves, and it was impressive to see. I’ve never seen a race like this, and I still don’t understand the byzantine rules of it all.

After that on to a birthday party. So many of my social events these days involve birthday candles.

There was live music – a guitarist and fiddler – very sweet.

Now, off to prepare for today’s pool party, in our back yard. The Moonbeam and mama will be here for cookin’, swimmin’, and general housewreckin’.

A Joel in the House

Cousin Joel — I keep calling him “Uncle Joel” — is here! We’re having a blast … well, I am, anyway. I love my nephew so much. It’s more than twenty years ago now, 22 I guess, that I quit my miserable day job to be Joel’s live-in nanny (and full-time auntie). Joel was two-ish, Brittany a babe. I realize, now, what a godsend it must have been for their mama Laurie, to just get up in the morning and go to work without packing up two babies, two lunches, two sets of diapers and clothes, feed breakfasts, strap into carseats, blah blah blah … That whole story was insanely hard the 15 months I did it with my shortie, and I’ve got just the one. But honestly, I never really thought about her experience. From my point of view, the godsent part was all to me. I got to wake up to two beautiful, I mean really gorgeous, little people, every day, for a couple of years. We made blue pancakes weekly, did fingerpainting and clay sculpture, walked to the park and the library, rationed out our one permitted TV session a day (the finest selections available to Betamax. PeeWee’s Playhouse, or The Brave Little Toaster?) Mud pies, dress-up, dioramas, book-making, costumes, time-outs, pony rides. I was a teenager, tattooed and nose-ringed in my Docs and mohawk. I was a frequenter of disarmament and animal-liberation rallies, where I fit right in, but story time at the library? Well, I loved it. I loved being right there, being right then. I loved Joel and Brittany with a purity and intensity that couldn’t have been stronger if they were my own; I mean, they were my own; my niece, my nephew. Yet of course, they weren’t my own – not my life responsibility in the way Echo is. And that mix, “mine” to passionately love, to nurture, to teach, to do right by, to grow with and learn patience, wisdom, forbearance from – but “not mine” when I needed freedom, party time, three punkrawk shows a week, hell-raising and risk-taking and sheer stupidity – that mix was the biggest gift I’ve ever had, the best education I’ve ever had, the sweetest years I’ve ever had.

And now, my babe reaps the rewards along with me. I learned, twenty-plus years ago, that every soul is who they are, and if you are lucky enough to be there with them, to never let a theory or philosophy blind you to who they are. I learned about not just their unfurling souls, but about my own; about being transformed by selfless love, about what it means to be yourself, authentically present, reacting as yourself every moment, whether joyous or stressful. I learned about pacing with a colicky baby and that the words “This hurts me more than it hurts you” can actually be true, about how you suffer from the fact you can’t do the suffering for them. I learned about facing a toddler’s iron will, about how to model, how to teach, and of course, how to screw up again and again and how forgiving life is, and how a sweet goodnight kiss can make so many things right. And, poignantly, I learned – no, I’m learning, now – how swiftly time flies through your fingers, and how that tiny soul, reliant on your love, is there, always, in your mind, yet gone forever, yet right in front of you transformed into an adult. It boggles my tiny brain: this cat in my guest bedroom, the guy I love to talk politics with and sing Quasi songs with and analyze movies with, this self-assured, quietly competent, centered man we’re enjoying hanging out with … Once upon a time, he was a tiny person, starting in life. And I was lucky enough to be there with him.

You know, I had no intention of saying any of that.

Joel and I biked Echo over to school this morning. She was greeted by older kids who flocked to the gate calling her name and embracing her. Honestly, it’s weird the way this child is loved by the kids at her school.

Wednesday is gardening day for the Sunsong class (2 /12 to 3-year-olds). Echo is holding hands with Duncan, from the next class up. The children went through the herb garden, picking medicinal herbs, which they shredded to make a salve with. Echo was the thyme-picker.

As I came over for my goodbye kiss, I got a nice snootful of fresh thyme.

I love her school. Have I mentioned that before?

I love all you guys reading, too. And I hope I’ve mentioned that before, too.

I Can’t Sew a Straight Line!

I came to this sad realization when working on this skirt.

(Oh, yeah, see the chipmunk cheek?) This skirt is from the Summer ’08 Women’s Ottobre magazine. It took an entire week to actually finish this thing. To begin with, this is a ten-gore skirt. I carefully traced stitching lines on every piece, so that the skirt would end up the right size, but it still ended up about two inches too big … the more seams, the more chance the size will change. Also, the more you need to sew straight. Which I, apparently, cannot do. Then, there were the predictable mistakes and do-overs, and after that, there were two sewing sessions on dental painkillers.

Still, I’m so very happy with this skirt! This one’s an example of what can happen when you start to commit to any creative process: the lucky accidents, the synchronicities that just work out. The fabric was purchased last year at the giant Fabric Depot Outdoor Sale … a quilting cotton that didn’t really sing to me, but it was attractive enough, I liked the colors, and the price was right at $1.99/yard. So I stockpiled it away, not knowing what it would ever become. The hem fabric was also an Outdoor Sale steal (I’ve also got a fully lined pair of Burda trousers made from this tweedy polyester); the lining and the waistband were bought at the Goodwill Bargain Barn ($1.68 a pound for everything, and I regularly go to scrounge fabric). When I started looking over the Ottobre mag, this skirt was rather low on my “to-do” list. It looked a bit too ladylike for me, I suppose.

But then! I rediscovered the striped fabric when looking for something else, and the pattern popped up in my mind, and you know the rest. Here’s what I love about this skirt:

  • It’s perfect for a bold stripe like this. It ends up not too barbershop-quartet-y, not too Alcatraz-y. The way the stripes interact at the seams is great.
  • The lining is a perfect fit. I screwed it up a bit, of course, but it’s probably the best lining I’ve done yet.
  • Contrast hem and waistband: genius! The way the contrast hem is sewn on (basically, it makes a casing) is so tidy, and it makes the hem nice, round, and swirly. The fabric I used is heavy, and that helps the drape enormously.
  • It was fabric-miserly for such a full skirt, because of the way the gores are cut. They fit together like puzzle pieces. You could absolutely get this skirt from under 1 1/2 yards of 44″ quilting cotton, as long as your fabric isn’t directional.
  • It doesn’t hurt at all that this was one of my better zippers ever. And the snap closure is charming.

Let’s see a little more. Here’s the skirt on the dressform:

That’s a lapped zip instead of invisible, ’cause I didn’t have an invisible one handy. Isn’t the snap a nice touch?

Here’s the part that took forever: I didn’t really get the directions for sewing the lining neatly around the zip, so I forged ahead without doing that step. I thought I’d just slipstitich it in place by hand, as I usually do. But then I realized that if I could follow the Ottobre directions, it’d look even nicer, so I tried to backtrack and do it — but you know how sequential sewing is! Trying to get that right took two sewing sessions, no lie.

Hem band! That looks nice from the inside, too.

OK, OK, enough sewing talk for now, no? But let’s stay domestic and turn to gardening.

Joel is arriving … tomorrow, y’alls! I am looking forward to seeing him so much. Will he relocate to Portland? Inquiring minds want to know, and I’ll keep you updated.

Finally, for the morbid out there.

Let that be a lesson. FLOSS!

Some Links I Like

Unlike most blogs on the face of the earth, I do not have a huge roll-call of links over there on the right. That’s partly because I am not spending much time fine-tuning this baby, yet, and partly because I thought maybe I’d do a little introduction of my favorites.

I can’t really claim that I visit these particular sites every. single. day., because truth be told, I don’t even turn the computer on every single day. (Or even my phone. There are just so many very busy days, y’know, when real life crowds out gadgets …) But these are on the tippy top of the “Blogs” bookmark. These are the ones that, if the computer’s on, I do check. Enjoy this little glimpse into the hectic clutter that is my mind.
First off, I’m a liar. Because this link is not one I check all that often. But you really have to go here, at least once. And if you’re a P-town homie (and you bike) you should buy the kit. Or at least a sticker.
This one, I really do go to every day. I love the idea, love the dresses, and love Erin McKean. Check her Wikipedia page to see why …
I just love this. There’s no need and no way to explain it. I confess I was a 9th-grader who cut out especially ridiculous panels and balloons from the daily comics and pasted them on my school folders, so perhaps my loving obsession with the dailies is unique to me. But, on the other hand, no! Just look … 200+ comments on every post! I am not alone!
Why is this trashy little piece of celebrity-ogling even on my roll-call? Welll, first off, the writing. The Fug Girls strike me as flatout funny more often than not. Second, the photos. I have no idea who many of these people are, but ridiculous is ridiculous, and sometimes laugh-out-loud so. Finally, there’s something about the precise tone this site strikes that has really affected me in the year-plus I’ve been reading it. The writers seem to fundamentally like women. Which is just so damn hard to find. The writing, even when scathing, seems to have as a subtext: “You are a beautiful woman, and a famous one. Your job is to amuse and entertain me. And I applaud you for that. I am not jealous of you, I do not hate you, I have no desire to speculate on your sexual behavior or history. You are working … for me; to amuse me; to look gorgeous for me. And I do appreciate it but, well, sorry hon, but you have blown it.”

Or … something like that. You see, there’s also Bai Ling. Check out her archive if you dare.

Three’s enough for now. You see how debased my tastes actually are? Embarrassing, isn’t it? I blush, truly I do. Perhaps tomorrow, I’ll reach for the stars, instead.