Monday, April 20, 2015

Knitters are Doing It For Themselves

I was knitting at a party, keeping my hands busy and out of the potato chips when Sal, a man I didn’t know well, asked me why I was bothering. If I wanted a sweater, why didn’t I just go to the store and buy one?

Anyone who knits in public is bound to get that question eventually and it doesn’t surprise me that it came from a man. Women will ask me what I’m making, but mostly, they look at me a little warily as if they’re unsure if they should feel inadequate for not having acquired this traditionally feminine skill themselves, or if they should accuse me of setting the cause of equality back by decades.

But knitting has empowered me in ways I had never imagined. For most of my 37 years, I hadn’t realized that I’d been letting strangers limit my fashion options.  I’d never tolerated limited choices in any other part of my life. I began my career in technology knowing I could out-geek any of the guys. And that if it didn’t work out, I’d be able to try any of a dozen careers that struck my fancy. But every time I go clothes shopping, the fashion designers and the store buyers treat me as if I’d be happy to choose between being a stenographer, a librarian or a housewife with no other options. Why else would they present me with countless variations of the same three designs, none of which fit my style?

“You need a new top for the office? Well, you can have what’s on these two racks, or nothing. Oh, you look like you’ve been dead for a week when you wear yellow? Well, that’s your problem isn’t it?”

I always walk into a clothing store full of hope, dreaming of the kicky new outfits I’m going to be taking home with me. When it’s time to leave (with one pair of socks), I’m exhausted, disheartened, thirsty and in need of a cookie. I am woman, hear me sigh as I face another weekday morning slipping into something ill-fitting, worn out and reasonably appropriate for the office dress code. The variation for the weekend is that I can lower my standards—I just need to wear something that will cover my body in a weather-appropriate manner.

What kind of feminist was I being anyway? Why was I leaving my self-determination at the entrance to Macy’s? When I learned to knit, I was able to decide to take back my power and I started to make my own darn clothes.

I answered the man at the party with a quip about saving the world from mass production, but really I was saving myself from the limited options the fashion industry thinks I deserve. There are more knitting patterns to choose from than styles of sweaters in any store. And many are so stylish that imitators appear at the mall anyway. With cotton and linen yarns for summer and animal fibers for winter, I can supply myself with tops for any day of the year. My favorite yarn stores give me a dozen or more colors, instead of the five I have to choose from at a department store. The sweater I was working on at that party was a certain shade of light green that looks perfect on me, but hasn’t been spotted in stores since the mid 90s.

With every stitch, I dream of a closet filled with clothes made with my own hands. Everything custom made at a fraction of the cost of hiring someone to make them for me. I fantasize about cardigans with vintage buttons found at thrift shops, pullovers with flattering silhouettes and tank tops that don’t put my bra straps on display.

I can go out and conquer the world without worrying about how I look because I can make things with sticks and string.

The man at the party finally understood after I explained that no one else in the world was making that pattern with that exact yarn in that color. I was making something unique and just for me because I wanted to. I am woman, hear me squeal with glee when I try on my one-of-a-kind-looks-fabulous-on-me cute sweater.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


I had a great idea for a blog post, but it was right before bed, so I didn't write it immediately. Then I remembered it while messing around on Twitter. So I just tweeted about it instead:

And now it's a blog post too because I'm too lazy/sick/whatever to come up with something else.

If you don't know, Eddie Huang is a chef whose memoir was turned into an ABC sitcom. He's mad because the network sitcom version of his life leaves out the domestic violence he experienced, his grandfather's suicide and his grandmother's bound feet. (Read his tweets about it here, if you're so inclined.)

My own childhood wasn't as bad as Huang's, but this isn't a contest. Mind you, some people think my parents should have their own sitcom, but my brother and I both know there's more to it than the wacky bickering they do in front of company. So I understand the impulse to call the sanitized comedy family a sham. And we forget that the characters on a sitcom aren't enjoying living through each week's crisis as much as we enjoy watching it. It's only funny with distance. 

But Hell, I'm half tempted to write a sitcom pilot about my own family just so I can see us all without the psychological scars. It wouldn't be us anymore, because your baggage forms you, but it would be comforting to visit that world. 

Kind of like how 9/11 didn't happen in the world of any sitcom airing in 2001. The characters of Friends and Will & Grace didn't discuss 9/11, not because they were so self absorbed that they took no notice of it, but because it didn't happen in their New Yorks. Those characters weren't living in a nervous, jumpy, scarred NYC, but in an alternate timeline NYC where 9/11 never happened. It was such a relief to watch that alternate NYC. 

I'm not saying that Eddie Huang should stop complaining and enjoy Fresh Off the Boat for what it is. But I am saying that in his position, I would say, "It wasn't like that. This is better."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Why I'd Rather Rent in NYC than Own Anywhere Else

Note: I wrote this several years ago, but the sentiment stands. And considering the rising rents and housing prices in Brooklyn, a lot of people agree with me.

After 43 years as a middle-class woman in NYC, I've seen the housing market fluctuate as much as my waistline. But the one thing that always goes up is rents. In June, the Rent Guidelines Board raised my rent by over $80 a month. But the most expensive city in the U.S. is also the greatest, so given a choice between renting here and owning anywhere else in the country, I'd rather stay put.

  1. Housing costs are lower outside of New York, but so are salaries. After living where having a six-figure household income makes you middle class, adjusting to the cost of living somewhere more affordable would feel like going back in time to when bread cost a dime and milk cost a nickel. I fear I’d end up vacuuming in a skirt and high-heels.
  2. Renters aren't responsible for home repairs. When a radiator in my apartment started spitting water, it took the super 15 minutes to replace the faulty valve. Left to our own devices, my husband and I would've needed three Google searches, five trips to the hardware store, one ride to the emergency room and an e-mail blast asking our friends to recommend a good handyman.
  3. Even New Yorkers who own cars have the option of taking the train. Elsewhere, you can’t take public transportation without first finding a parking space. If I left, not only would all the money I'd be saving on housing go towards auto insurance, but I'd also have to start caring about gas prices. Besides, I'm just not willing to give up the smugness that comes with the small carbon footprint of not owning a gas guzzler.
  4. Few places outside the five boroughs are this diverse. From my apartment in Woodside, Queens, I can walk to some of the best Salvadoran and Thai restaurants in the city. I'd rather not build equity if that means my only dining options are chain restaurants in a strip mall.
  5. I’d get carsick driving to dinner anyway. On a recent business trip to Florida, during the thirty-minute drive to a beachside eatery, I couldn’t stop whining that there are ten places to get a bite in any two-block radius back home. I was ready to gnaw my own arm off in hunger by the time we got there.
  6. There are so many entertainment options here that it’s difficult to be bored. I may stay home with rented DVDs more than I go to Film Forum, Lincoln Center or Broadway, but they're there when I want them. Other cities have one art film house, if any, and touring productions of Broadway shows don't stay very long.
  7. The thought of home ownership triggers my fear of commitment. I once had a railroad apartment in Williamsburg, with a series of roommates whose bedroom I had to walk through to get to my own. After roommate #3 left, I got tired of trying to sell someone on an apartment I hated. So I gave notice and left the landlord to find a new sucker. If I had owned the place, it would've been like being stuck in a bad marriage in a country with no divorce laws.
  8. By the time I’ve schlepped my laptop to the subway, and climbed all the stairs involved in changing trains, I feel like I’ve finished a biathlon. Whenever I leave New York, all my walking takes place between the front door and the closest possible parking spot and I end up longing for an hour on the treadmill. That’s just unnatural.

OK, convince me I'm wrong and tell me why I should move to where you live. Because don't kid yourself - living her means having a love/hate relationship with the city.