Tag Archives: creative life

Alpha Flee

On Saturday, I, my friend Lin, and my son went on a road trip to Amherst, Mass., to see the Shakespeare Folio from 1623. It’s a printed book of his plays. From 1623. Think about it. It’s amazing. It was on display at Amherst College’s Mead Museum and we decided to drag my son with us to check out Amherst College, UMass Amherst, and Hampshire College. The college portion will be another blog, no doubt involving me mapping out college visits by student-only tours close to bars that open early.

Lin is a theater lover, author of her own fabulous blog, The Creative Part-Timer, and the genius behind the Tiny Colony (TC) in Boston, which alluringly combines the idea of a creative colony with the tiny house movement. I’ve been to TC and it’s fabulous, but little did I know TC can also go on the road. As we talked about our own college experiences on the trip, I unearthed one I had clearly stuffed up into the attic and is now coming to you in full blog color: Greek life.

To all of you who liked Greek life at college and actually got something out of it, congratulations. I was not one of you. When I started telling Lin the story, she, who has known me for 30 years, said, “I wouldn’t have thought you were a person who would do that.”

Indeed.

I’m not, which is how I got mixed up in it in the first place. I went to Boston University, and in the 70s it had kicked all the Greek organizations off campus. When I got there in the 80s, they were trying to make a comeback and four houses were sniffing around for recruits, two women’s and two men’s. My main interest in joining the yet-to-be-legitimized-sorority was to get invited to frat parties. The drinking age kept going up just a year ahead of me and alcohol was always just out of reach. So logically, one of my main college pursuits was procuring alcohol; who are you again? Alpha Phi? Sisterhood, alumni opportunities, blah, blah, blah. Oh, frat parties? Why, yes, I’m in!

And so for most of the year, I and two of my friends Gloria and Rosemary went along, getting our friends into the parties and attending meetings that I remember as mostly social and harmless. I’m fairly sure the whole thing was casual, otherwise I would have been suspicious sooner. Towards the end of the year, though, the group took a very disturbing and serious turn. Suddenly (or at least it felt that way to my frat-party addled brain) an adult from the national Alpha Phi organization was coming to anoint us, tap us on the head three times with a Greek wand, put a sorting hat on us, or some such thing.

The next thing I knew I was being blindfolded and led to a secret ceremony down in the bowels of a college building. I’d seen Animal House enough to think maybe it would be a cool thing, until the blindfold came off and I was sitting with a group of other 20-year-old women being sworn to secret handshakes and passwords. OK, historically women’s organizations were a secret because they were not allowed to exist. And I appreciate that reminder that women have struggled to be seen and heard. That’s cool. Still being secretive a 1986? Uncool. And dumb, like a slumber party for 13-year-olds. So we sat and had to swear to never reveal the secrets. Spoiler alert, the Alpha Phi secret handshake is squeezing someone’s hand to the syllables Al-Pha-Phi, Al-Pha-Phi: three quick squeezes, done twice. There were other secrets revealed, but honestly I don’t remember them. I was preoccupied with how we as women had worked so hard (and have to continue to work so hard) be seen and heard, and why the hell were we hiding in a basement swearing loyalty and drinking something out of the big goblet that wasn’t alcohol and passing it around? Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, they started outlining The Rules. In one minute we went from annoying 13-year-olds to feminist-destroying women. We had to agree that we would dress a certain way and act like “ladies” especially when wearing Alpha Phi crap.

Um, say what, now? I went to college to throw off society’s rules and find new ones. I became an atheist, I drank, I swore, I debauched, I wore ripped clothes and slammed against strangers to the Sex Pistols, I had a stint as the other woman. Why the hell would I want to pack all that back and cross my legs and wear “appropriate dress”?

I kept waiting for someone to jump up and yell, “Surprise! Gotcha! Just kidding! Let’s go drink!” But no one did. It should have been me, and I regret that I didn’t. I considered myself lucky to get out of there with my feminism intact. My two smarter friends bailed after that. But there was one more piece to this ghastly business: The Induction Ceremony. Requiring, of all things, a white dress. Never mind that I only come in two colors, pale and sunburn red, and look like crap in white. The real problem was how ridiculous this seemed to me. I assumed these women I’d been kind of hanging out with would all come to their senses, but they all fell in line and embraced this like a bunch of Stepford wives. Even me asking if anyone found this ridiculous made them look at me weird. Without my two friends as a buffer, I realized too late that these people were not my sisterhood.

But here’s the thing. Despite the fact that I thought it was ludicrous and hauled women’s rights back 30 years, I couldn’t throw off my family programming that quitting equals failure, even if it’s a goal you decide you don’t want to achieve. So I found a white dress, god knows where, and allowed myself to be herded to the high-rise apartment of the aforementioned adult representative of Alpha Phi, once again blindfolded. Seriously, what the fuck is it with the blindfolds? Were they getting us ready for Fifty Shades of Grey? There was white gauzy stuffed draped everywhere like we were in a bad sci-fi movie on a planet with a city in the sky. There  was some pseudo-Greek babble, more shit about swearing loyalty to the sisterhood forever, and severe awkwardness as I realized I had nothing in common with these women. It was all I could do to keep from screaming. Then it was done, and I fled the spread of cheese and crackers and a punch bowl like the Moonies were after me, and went straight to my real friends to spill the whole thing.

For many years, Alpha Phi magazine still found me after every move, which used to creep me out, but nowadays is no more creepy than Facebook knowing you were looking at blindfolds on Adam and Eve.com. Also for a long time I was mad at myself for not being the person who stood up and said, “This is ridiculous.” But speaking up is still a work in progress for me, so I try to forgive myself. These sisterhoods should be teaching that shit.

But now I realize the real purpose was so I could write about it so fully now. If I had quit after the goblet and secrets, you would have been entertained/horrified by only half a story. So thank you Alpha Phi. I dearly hope you have moved on from the blindfolds, or at least are exploring more interesting uses for them.

Nerd Nirvana at PAX East 2015

This past weekend was our annual visit to dorky cool nirvana, aka PAX East, the Boston gaming convention. This is my fourth year taking my son who is now 16. When I told friends and coworkers how I would be spending my weekend, I got looks running the gamut from sympathetic, to puzzled, to a blank stare: “What’s PAX East?” Indeed, what it is? It’s short for Penny Arcade Expo, and is an explosion of sight, sound, and happiness all focused on video games and whirling around 80,000 people. “It’s THREE days?” is usually the next question. “What on earth do you do?” Mostly, I just follow my son around and enjoy how happy he is. I don’t play video games myself—my hand-eye coordination was formed before gaming was popular, and I don’t work well under pressure, even when it’s supposed to be fun. However I can do credible damage with Ms. Pac Man.

This year we pulled out all the stops, logging in 13 hours on Friday and 12 on Saturday. Most of that was due to the screening of the Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN) movie on Friday night and then waiting two and a half hours to have the filmmaker and You Tuber AVGN James Rolph sign the PAX East badge and the movie poster. It was an Olympic-level test for both me and Lucas: I was making a monumental effort not to clock the only annoying person in the line who would NOT stop talking loudly, and Lucas was battling the leg pain from standing for 12 hours (they are called muscles, he should use them more). We both survived.

This year brought more people dressed up as game characters, although I only recognize Mario and Zelda. Other than people watching, there is a main floor of all the gaming companies, big and small, where you can try out new games and buy games and game-related merchandise. The rest of the convention center is filled with all kinds of events and panel discussions—yes, you heard me—panel discussions. About gaming. Some are about the state of the gaming industry. Others focus on specific games. We saw a couple of panels of well-known You Tubers, that is people who actually make a living by making funny and serious videos about video games on You Tube. You Tubers are stopped in the hall and asked for photos and autographs. They are politely swarmed by fans after the panel discussions to chat and sign. And everyone is soooo patient. They will wait an hour for a signature, two hours to play the hottest new game. And no one gets mad, no one makes a scene. They are happy to be there, they are happy to get deeply involved in a conversation about a video game with the person waiting in line next to them. They are just happy.

Which is why I like to be there. Sure, it’s loud, overstimulating, I don’t get the inside gaming jokes, but being a writer, I do get the creativity—serious gamers care deeply about the story of a game, the quality of the characters, and the originality of the game play. And I recognize that while they are a group of people who are gaining acceptance, they are still outside of the mainstream. Ultimately I go to support my son, because that’s what parenting means to me. Some parents spend many hours over a season watching their kid play sports. I efficiently get all my hours logged in over a two-day period. Seems like a nerdy good deal to me.

Don’t Blame My Teacher — I’m a Reckless Crochet Rebel

My beloved memere, my French Canadian grandmother, made afghans for all comers, and I was mesmerized by the smooth, quick motion of her hook making loop upon loop over and over until I had a lovely, warm yarn blanket at the end of my bed. I still have one of hers there. She taught me crochet when I was in middle school. I made a groovy granny square clutch purse in red, white, and blue. OK, it was a clutch purse because the shoulder strap I crocheted was too bulky and weird-looking, and I was too impatient to redo it. So, presto! A clutch! I made a bunch of other things with my slow and not-so-smooth loops. I can’t really recall the details about them, but I would guess many of them were misshapen and offered up as “practice.”

I grew up, got busy, and whatever skills I had acquired lay dormant until I took an adult education crochet class in my late 20s. I was lucky enough to be taught by the now fabulous owner of the 10 Hours or Less  knitting and crochet website. At the time he was a then fabulous teacher who taught in addition to his day job.  He was an excellent teacher, clear, funny, and calm. The calm was especially important because some of the things we’d bring in that we’d worked on between classes were seriously scary. Super tight stitches, looped within an inch of their life, drunkenly ragged edges of what was supposed to be a straight afghan, a sweater the size of a football player that was meant for a baby. This was fiber road kill. But he was unruffled. He’d calmly examine the patient, methodically track where things had started to go wrong, and tell us how to make it right. I crocheted an afghan made up of squares. After I mangled the first few, I got them fixed, mastered the squares, and  I did pretty well. I remember doing it while the winter Olympics were on, and to this day when I look at that afghan, it feels like the Olympics are woven into.

After the class, the teacher and I became friends and knowing he could get me out of pretty much any crochet trouble, I went to town. He thought the washing machine cover I made for my sister was part ingenious and part crazy. She lived in a small place and the washing machine was in the living area. When I asked my family if I could make them something, she said, washing machine cover. There were no other takers, and who am I to judge? I used the same squares as I had used for my afghan, but made them a color to match her house. The squares were easy to assemble in pretty much any cubic form. With that success, I started dream bigger, perhaps dangerously so. At the time there weren’t very many sweater crochet patterns, and I wasn’t about to learn how to knit. I’m a one-hook kind of woman. My teacher had previously been a freelance pattern designer, and helped me design and make a sweater. He rescued me any number of times through that one. I especially remember the collar opening was big enough for two heads and there was a lump in one shoulder that made my then husband look like Quasimodo. I called in my teacher. His quick hands unworked the unruly collar in a key place, he flattened the lump, and then stitched it all back to near perfection. He called it “Hiding the dead bodies.” I love that.

The problem was my impatience. I’d see that the piece had started to go wrong, but I didn’t want to stop to undo it. Insanely I’d tell myself that it would even out in the end. Right, like the Quasimodo shoulder. I should have become more cautious and methodical, but with every fix, it only emboldened me to try harder patterns. My teacher could bail me out. I remember making a children’s cardigan sweater that had one front piece edge that was nearly perfect and the other … well, it gave even my teacher pause. Let’s just say, that yarn accident was only remedied with scissors, sewing tape, and vow of silence.

Life got busy, and I stopped crocheting, and my teacher moved away to start his fiber empire. This past winter I got the urge to crochet again, all the prior crochet mishaps now a dim memory. And what easier way to start than to visit my friend’s website? I needed slippers so I found a pattern, called Rolling Ridges. I even found some extra yarn and serendipitously, the winter Olympics were on again! I started in eagerly, my fiber bravado in full swing as the athletes flew off the ski jumps and zigzagged along the half-pipe. However, this was not to be a repeat of the squares afghan. I had trouble right off the bat getting the gauge right. Everyone’s stitches are slightly different sizes, so a pattern will tell you that so many stitches should be so many inches. Then you find the right size hook to match. I tend to be a loose stitcher, so I had to keep trying smaller and smaller hooks. I finally got the gauge right, but the hook was so small, crocheting was nearly impossible. Did I call my friend for help, which he surely would have given? Oh, no. I decided I had been apprenticed long enough, and it was time for me to go it alone. I would go up a hook size and compensate along the way—I mean how much could it matter? Overconfident mistake number one. As I looked more closely at the pattern, I realized there is a lot of counting. A LOT. Between my impatience and my dislike of numbers in general, this did not bode well. Add on that I was trying to watch the Olympics, and we have another fiber tragedy waiting to happen. To be completely transparent, there may have been a glass of wine involved. I’m just saying before you judge me, there were a lot of variables in play, none of which were related to my friend’s pattern. This was a user error.

I will give myself some credit; unlike my previous tactic to crochet on as if I were England in WWII, I did pull apart the slipper sole at least seven times before I got it right. And by “right” I mean it wasn’t hideously large—just mildly so. I jumped into making the top part of the slipper without taking into account how the size of the sole was now off the grid. The rest of the pattern was no longer a close friend to the sole, but merely a stranger. Add in the counting of all those stitches that were supposed to line up with the sole, and you could perhaps even say a hostile stranger. Overconfident mistake number two. Midway through, I started to have flashbacks of the child’s cardigan sweater, but I was now in a fiber fever and couldn’t stand the thought of giving up, or god forbid, starting over. I just wanted to finish the damn things. I did finish them. Exactly how is between me, the slippers, and pair of sewing scissors that you will never, ever find.

The 10 Hours or Less photo of the slippers is up top. That’s how they should look—all snug and cozy on your feet. And they could be that if you follow the pattern. However, if you happen to be a reckless crochet rebel like me, who’s been allowed to flout the rules for too long, your project is bound to look like this below. It’s more a swimming pool for the feet. But you know what? I wear them and just shuffle on the floor. As long as I don’t lift my feet off the ground, they actually work pretty well. Thanks to my excellent teacher, I’m not completely hopeless. And I am hiding one dead body—there’s a mini Quasimodo bump in the back.

swimmingslippers

A Nerd by Any Other Name

“You’re not a geek, mom,” said my teen son in the same tone a snooty maître d’ would use to dismiss a commoner. I had made the cardinal mistake of using “geek” and “nerd” interchangeably. “Well, then I’m a nerd,” I countered, ready to flash my Vulcan sign and attest that I had attended a Start Trek convention featuring Gene Roddenberry in the mid-70s. And don’t make me break out my version of the “I walked 20 miles in the snow to school” story:  I belonged to the Math League and my friend and I were the only two kids who ever carried books on our high school bus. We often feared for our lives among the pot and cigarette smokers, which included the bus driver.

My son gazed back at me, unimpressed. It’s bad enough that I struggle to keep up with technology, have to eat better and exercise more just to keep my middle age body the same, but now I couldn’t even keep up with being a nerd? What the hell was happening to the world? And more importantly, how could I lose my nerd status now that it was cool? Back in my day, you just had to dress up like a Star Trek character for Halloween and be smart, and bam, you were a nerd. Granted most people tried to avoid that label, but for those of us who couldn’t, we tried our best to embrace it. Now, according to my son, there are different rules and distinctions to being a nerd vs. a geek. He went on to patiently explain them, but it was my turn to glaze over. At some point there was a whole subsection about his group, being a hard core gamer. Since he was eight or nine he has loved video games—playing them, reading about them, watching videos about them, and following the industry news about the companies that make them. But by then I just nodded my head and smiled: a nerd by any other name is still a dorky cool person outside of the mainstream.

Which brings us to dorky cool nirvana, aka PAX East, the annual gaming convention that was in Boston this past weekend. We started going when he was 13 and it’s his third year. When I told friends and coworkers how I would be spending my weekend, I got looks running the gamut from sympathetic, to puzzled, to a blank stare: “What’s PAX East?” Indeed, what it is? It’s short for Penny Arcade Expo, and is an explosion of sight, sound, and happiness all focused on video games and whirling around 80,000 people. “It’s THREE days?” is usually the next question. “What on earth do you do?” Mostly, I just follow my son around and enjoy how happy he is. I don’t play video games myself—when I was a teen, only the rich kids could afford gaming consoles, and I was not one of those, nor did I especially want one. Occasionally I would mess around with Ms. Pac Man, but I was more into reading books and watching Star Trek. Yeah, that’s how old school nerd is done.

Sadly there were no Star Trek characters at PAX this year, but some people dressed up elaborately as video game characters. Other than people watching, there is a main floor of all the gaming companies, big and small, where you can try out new games and buy games and game-related merchandise. The rest of the convention center is filled with all kinds of events and panel discussions—yes, you heard me—panel discussions. About gaming. Some are about the state of the gaming industry. Others focus on specific games. One cool one we saw was on how to curb hatred in the gaming community—the anonymity of online gaming allows people to say some pretty nasty things. The panel talked about how positive gamers need to step up and set a better example. That panel and others feature well-known You Tubers, that is people who actually make a living by making funny and serious videos about video games on You Tube. I’ll wait a moment while you digest that. Ok, ready to go on? You Tubers are stopped in the hall and asked for photos and autographs. They are politely swarmed by fans after the panel discussions to chat and sign. And everyone is soooo patient. They will wait an hour for a signature, two hours to play the hottest new game. And no one gets mad, no one makes a scene. They are happy to be there, they are happy to get deeply involved in a conversation about a video game with the person waiting in line next to them. They are just happy.

Which is why I like to be there. Sure, it’s loud, overstimulating, I don’t get the inside gaming jokes, and lord knows I can’t play anything, but being a writer, I do get the creativity—serious gamers care deeply about the story of a game, the quality of the characters, and the originality of the game play. And I recognize that while they are a group of people who are gaining acceptance, they are still outside of the mainstream. As one You Tuber commented, “My family still doesn’t understand what I do for a living.” Many artists and writers and other creatives can relate to that. Ultimately I go to support my son, because that’s what parenting means to me. For a few years when he was younger, I hung out on soccer fields and little league bleachers to cheer him on. In the cold spring weekday evenings. The chilly fall Saturday mornings. In the rain. In the wind. During playoffs that always seemed to happen during a scheduled vacation. I definitely prefer supporting the out-of-the-mainstream activities, especially if they are indoors. If that isn’t proof of my nerdiness, then I’ll meet you at the Boston Star Trek convention in June. I know my Spock ears are around here somewhere.