On walkability and how to measure it: part 1 of an intermittent series

I’ve been wanting to write a post about walkability for some time now, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it should be a series, because if I tried to say everything I wanted to say in one post, it would approach book length, and it’s long enough already. So consider this the initial post in an occasional series on walkable urbanism, interspersed with your regularly scheduled poetry, opera, and bibliogeekery.

Among the myriad of nifty mappy things the internet has enabled in recent years, Walk Score is among my favorites. You type your address into it, and it gives you a walkability score based on your proximity to various necessities, which you can then view on a map. Pretty sweet. But when I moved from Philadelphia to New London, I started to notice some of Walk Score’s flaws. It rates my previous address in Philadelphia at 89 out of 100: “very walkable” but not quite ideal. My address in New London, by comparison, gets a 92, “Walkers’ Paradise.” I actually think my current location is a good deal less walkable than my previous one: while I can easily walk downtown and avail myself of an organic
food co-op, a couple of good coffee shops, a bunch of small boutiques, various art galleries, and the local arts center (all good things), there aren’t really any large grocery stores within easy walking distance (Walk Score has an annoying habit of classifying small convenience stores as “groceries”; it also counts the local porno shop and a small “Christian
bookstore” in a nearby church as “bookstores”), and other necessities of life are farther off.

In Philly, I lived two blocks from a post office, a drugstore, a hardware store, a dry cleaner, a couple of laundromats, many restaurants, a great coffee shop, and a wine shop. Within a ten-block-or-so radius were my favorite used bookstore, a Whole Foods, a small local grocery, a tiny farmers’ market, and the central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. What’s more, I could walk all the way across the city, mostly on streets that weren’t too wide to cross safely or too traffic-clogged to be enjoyable; many of these streets were shaded by trees and lined with lovely old brick and brownstone buildings. If I didn’t feel like walking, there were three bus routes within a couple of blocks of my building, and I could get to regional rail and Amtrak easily. (I can walk to the train station here, and I use the bus system—but any bus system that runs once an hour, stops service at 7 p.m., and doesn’t run on Sundays is all but unusable for most people.) When I was out and about in Philly, I saw my neighbors; here, I’m often the only person on the street. There’s a whole subjectively perceived (but no less real) culture of walking (or not walking) that tools like Walk Score miss.

So I was pleased to see that there’s now a project afoot for an open source use of the Walk Score algorithm. I’ve signed up to be notified when it’s released; I hope it’ll allow for citizen walk-score mappers to update their local maps, to re-flag misclassified businesses, identify streets where there are no sidewalks or many lanes of traffic or lousy snow removal, and offer some commentary as well as concrete data.

And I was even more pleased to find Walkshed, a tool rather like Walk Score but with fine-tuned controls you can adjust to specify your greater or lesser need to be near various amenities—so if you really want tree cover and parks but would rather not live near a bar, or if public transit is a must but you don’t particularly care about hardware scores, you can adjust your map accordingly and it’ll show you a nice “heat map” of your city, with the most promising areas shaded in green. And it takes street connectivity and barriers to walking (like highways and rivers) into account. Alas, it’s limited to New York and Philadelphia right now, but I really hope the concept catches on.

Personal anthology: Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In keeping with today's wanderlust theme, and with the Victorian-poetry kick I've been on lately: a favorite Tennyson poem, one that's run through my head at various points when I've changed course. I'm surprised, still, how much it moves me. All the more so because Tennyson's Ulysses is more reminiscent of Dante's Ulysses, who winds up in hell after his last voyage founders, than Homer's Odysseus.


It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle —
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me —
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads — you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Those lines about how "all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades / For ever and for ever when I move" are maybe my favorite moment in all of Tennyson (that I've read so far, anyway). This poem and C.P. Cavafy's "Ithaka" make an interesting pair; I once taught them both in a class on retellings and adaptations of myths and fairy tales, and my students seemed to like that part of the syllabus, though that may have been partly relief at being done with the chunks of Homer I made them read first. Back then it didn't seem likely that I'd see much of the untravelled world gleaming through the arch of experience; now I'm hearing its call louder than ever.

Of wanderlust and long-distance walking

The topic of "life lists" came up at my knitting group yesterday, and I realized that inasmuch as I have a life list, it's more of a travel list than anything else. Yes, I suppose I'd like to go bungee jumping or hang gliding or skydiving at least once, but I don't think my life will be incomplete if I don't check those particular experiences off. And there are a lot of things I'd like to learn — it would be lovely to revive my Italian, and maybe learn another dead language or two just for the hell of it, and I'd really like to learn to play the cello at some point in the nearish future — but really, a lot of my non-career-related personal goals boil down to "travel through a bunch of interesting places, preferably on foot." I don't particularly care about climbing X, Y, and Z famous mountains; I just want to go off on an epically long walk.

Blame it on John Keats. I read a couple of biographies of him at an impressionable age, and decided early on that I wanted to recreate his and Charles Brown's 1818 walking tour of northern England, Scotland, and Ireland (documented with gorgeous photographs in Carol Kyros Walker's Walking North with Keats, another book I came across when I was in the middle of my early Keats phase). Lately the long-walk impulse has returned, in spades. Some months ago I read an article on the Camino de Santiago, which convinced me that a long-distance hike across the northern end of Spain should be high on the Things To Do Before I Die list. (Give me my scallop-shell of quiet!) And then there's been the planning for my travels in Scotland and England this summer, which won't be long enough for any really extended walks, but will at least allow me to spend a couple of days in the Lake District tracing Keatsian and Wordsworthian and Coleridgean footsteps.

Then I found the National Trust Book of Long Walks in England, Scotland, and Wales on an expedition to the Book Barn a few weeks ago, which gave me even more British itineraries to dream about. (The length of the Welsh border! Hadrian's Wall! As much of the Scottish Highlands as I can possibly tramp across!) I've just put in an interlibrary loan request for John Hillaby's Journey Through Britain, which narrates an even longer walk, from Land's End to John O' Groats. I don't think I'll ever have the time to do something like that, but at the very least, I can read about it.

And that's just a couple of countries in Europe. There's a whole world out there. Readers, do any of you share the long-walk wanderlust? And if so, where would you go, if you had the funds and the time?

The past is a foreign country; they write poems differently there.

My Material Cultures paper is coming together at last, with a little over a month and a half to go before I present it. I suspect a lot of the points I’m making have been made at least once or twice before, but I’m working with a body of evidence that doesn’t seem to have been examined in a lot of detail, and I have so much to say about it that I’m going to have a hard time cramming it all into 20 minutes. There are so many more commonplace books I want to look at that I think this could very easily become an extended project of some sort: perhaps a journal article, or if I get wildly ambitious, I’d still like to build a database to track the reputations of individual poets and poems among Victorian readers.*

One of the things I’ve been realizing, as I pore over extract books from various points in the 19th century, is how different my own literary tastes are from those of the people I’m studying. One finds Familiar Canonical Poets in these commonplace books, of course. Shakespeare turns up regularly, mostly in the form of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations-style snippets from the plays; Byron was wildly popular, much more so than his fellow Romantic poets; the most famous 19th-century Americans—Longfellow, Whittier, Bryant—are heavily represented as well.

But one also finds dozens of now-obscure poets, not to mention reams of poetry that strikes the modern ear as sentimental, even treacly. The poems in these collections tend to be heavy on the moralizing, or on the kind of pathos that Mark Twain sent up so vividly in the person of Emmeline Grangerford. I’ve paged through entire albums filled with sad poems about dead children, pious poems about Christian resignation, and upbeat love songs. One can resuscitate the reputation of a Felicia Hemans or a Letitia Elizabeth Landon; but it’s harder to do that with Coventry Patmore’s The Angel in the House (quoted seven times in one Boston woman’s extract book), especially after reading what Virginia Woolf had to say about it.

On my most recent visit to Brown I encountered a poem by Edward Augustus Rand, an Episcopalian minister born in Vermont, which began:

Across the sands, strange darkness fell;
The sun had dipped beneath a cloud;
The waves now sullenly swept on,
The surf fast whitened to a shroud.

But then the speaker sees a sunlit white sail in the distance, and neatly unpacks the metaphor to conclude with “O souls that find in Christ the light, / Sail on across life’s shadowed sea!” I rather liked the ominous first stanza, but I felt a distinct flash of disappointment when I saw how it ended. The combination of religiosity and sunny optimism was off-putting to my tastes, which were honed, like every other English major’s tastes, on the irony and disjunctiveness and unsettlement of Modernism and its aftermath. This kind of poetry is exactly what 20th century literary culture revolted against.

But people clearly loved this kind of poetry—cut it out of newspapers, saved it in their albums and scrapbooks, copied it out by hand, shared it with each other, kept their compilations and passed them on to friends and relatives. And one of the things I’m interested in is getting past my own aesthetic prejudices, which are very much of my own time and place, to try to understand what the Victorians saw in their (rather different) canon.** There’s something moving about all the effort so many people went through to preserve these poems; staying aware of that has been a useful corrective to my own literary snobbery.

Take, for instance, Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life,” which was much beloved by Victorian readers but is apt to sound almost unbearably earnest nowadays. Not long ago, I found one of its most famous stanzas emblazoned on a vintage postcard from around 1913:

Poetry postcard, 1913

One’s first impulse may be to roll one’s eyes; but the fact that postcard companies could print poems like this on cards and sell them is yet another piece of evidence for their popularity. And the appetite for reassuring, uplifting, optimistic poetry hasn’t gone away. I used to see “A Psalm of Life” quite regularly on the backs of Celestial Seasonings tea boxes, before they stopped putting entire poems on their packaging. (I could probably do an entire spinoff project on the detachable poetic quotation as it appears on various types of commercial products. But I have to finish this stage of the project first.)

Most of this won’t fit in the paper, which is less concerned with aesthetics than with reading practices and with the physical construction of homemade texts, although I do plan to sneak that postcard into my slides. But I wanted to share it anyway, because it seemed to interesting not to think through.

* It would be an enormous amount of work, and there would be all sorts of logistical challenges, but I still think it would be a very cool project. Had I but world enough and time, &c.

** Joanne Dobson’s “Reclaiming Sentimental Literature” (American Literature 69 no. 2, 1997) says a lot of what I’d like to say about the mismatch between 19th-century poetry and 20th-century aesthetic sensibilities.

Living room and fishbowl: On Facebook and semi-privacy

I have (for the time being, at least) a Facebook account. I signed up for it because all my real-life friends and acquaintances were on it, and because all of the people I'm closest to live at least a hundred miles away. Coworkers from former jobs in cities I've moved away from, college and grad school classmates, a far-flung handful of friends from the blogosphere — the great appeal of Facebook is that it's a low-energy way to keep up with people you don't see every day. After you use it for a while, email begins to seem clunky and archaic; it's so much easier to have a multi-person conversation with long-distance friends via status updates.

But the other great appeal of Facebook is, or rather, was, that you could limit access to what you posted. Matt McKeon has a fantastic visualization of the gradual erosion of privacy in Facebook's settings over the years, with more and more information being visible not just to Facebook users but to the whole web. It's based on this timeline from the Electronic Frontier Foundation; in a post at Wired, Ryan Singel spells out some more of the implications. To say that Facebook's disregard for its users' privacy is creepy and invasive is, if anything, to understate the case.

What Facebook founder Mark "Privacy? What does that word mean?" Zuckerberg completely fails to understand (or, perhaps, just doesn't care about) is that people want to be social online, but they often want to be social with a limited subset of other people. This blog is a public space; so is my Twitter feed. But just because I'm willing to say some things to the entire interwebs doesn't mean I want to say everything to everyone. For someone who spends a lot of time online, I have a fairly high privacy threshold; ideas and opinions are one thing, but when I want to talk to friends about my personal life, I want a restricted-access space to do it in.*

There's a moment in William Gibson's Pattern Recognition where Cayce, the main character, reflects the privacy of her favorite online forum: "The site had come to feel like a second home, but she'd always known that it was also a fishbowl; it felt like a friend's living room, but it was a sort of text-based broadcast, available in its entirety to anyone who cared to access it."** It's a feeling a lot of us probably recognize: the intimacy that comes from a good conversation with friends, combined with the awareness that potentially anyone can eavesdrop.*** There's a definite need for semi-public spaces where you can have the conversation but still keep the eavesdroppers out.

A while back, via Chuck Tryon on Twitter, I came across a nifty article by Lee Humphreys comparing microblogging to early American diaries, which (like Twitter) were full of telegraphically short entries on the minutiae of daily life, and which were also, interestingly enough, sometimes shared with friends and family. Which suggests that the desire to share details of one's life with selected people, but not necessarily the whole world, is nothing new.

There are some encouraging projects underway by people who want better privacy controls in their online social networks. In the meantime, the only reason I still have a Facebook account is because I started a page
for MPOW and I feel obligated to maintain it. I've deleted most of my personal information from Facebook, and as soon as a viable, open, privacy-aware alternative comes along, I'm dropping Facebook entirely.

[Update: The people at The Onion, in their inimitable way, explain why you should be worried about privacy on Facebook:

Facebook, Twitter Revolutionizing How Parents Stalk Their College-Aged Kids]

* I've considered starting a Livejournal and friends-locking everything,
but I don't know if I have the writing energy to do that and maintain
this blog. What I want is a platform where you can just post quick bits and specify who can see them. Which was what I liked about Facebook, originally. If any of you know of something like that, I'd love to hear about it.

** William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (New York: G. Putnam's Sons, 2003), 65.

*** Incidentally, this is what a lot of the critics of Twitter get
wrong: Twitter users aren't broadcasting what they (or their
) had for breakfast because they really think everyone on the
internet wants to know; in the words of
one Twitter user
, "people don't
blog/tweet/etc because they think the whole world cares. They do it
because some tiny, kindred subset might
." They're just
using a public forum to do it, and assuming that people will skip over the tweets they don't care about instead of pitching a hissy fit about Kids These Days and Their Web 2.0 Narcissism.

Personal anthology: Thomas Hardy

I've been learning some very basic music theory lately (thank you, Open Yale Courses — it's so much easier to be an autodidact in the age of podcasts and Creative Commons educational materials). And one of the first things I realized was that I wish I'd known more about musical meter during all the years when I was learning about poetic meter.

In the lecture course I just finished listening to, the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" came up as an example of a triple rhythm — specifically, 3/4 time. (Hum it to yourself, tap your foot, and you can hear it: PICture yourSELF on a BOAT in a RIVer with TANgerine TREES…) 3/4 is also the oom-pah-pah rhythm of the great majority of waltzes, which, if you imagine waltzing to the Beatles' trippy psychedelia, only adds to the surreality of it all.

Anyway, I was listening to this example and I suddenly thought "Huh. Dactyls." The dactyl, for those of you who didn't spend your education obsessing over this kind of thing, is the metrical foot with one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones (DUM-da-da). And "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is full of three-syllable words with a dactylic stress pattern: tangerine, marmalade, cellophane, looking-glass, towering. I'd never particularly thought about the meter of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," or made the connection between dactylic meters and waltzing, but there it was.

Dactylic meters can be hard to pull off in English.* They can sound heavy (Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" is a standard example: "HALF a league, HALF a league, HALF a league, ONward"), but they're also sometimes used for comic effect. There's no intrinsic reason why a triple meter would be funnier, or more serious, than a duple one, but if you're used to the predominant iambic meter of a lot of poetry in English (da-DUM-da-DUM), anything else is going to stand out.

All of which is a rather long preamble to this Thomas Hardy poem, which is part of a group of poems about the memory of his first wife, Emma Gifford, who died in 1912, and which came to mind when I started thinking about triple meters:

The Voice

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

— Thomas Hardy (Satires of Circumstance, 1914)

If he'd kept up the dactylic meter of the first couple of stanzas
throughout the poem, it wouldn't have been as striking; but as the remembered image of Emma that Hardy conjures in the second stanza dwindles into a ghostly voice in the wind, the triple rhythm starts falling apart along with it. "Heard no more again far or near?" marks the shift; it's as though syllables have started dropping out of the pattern we've come to expect, slowing down the bursts of energy we heard in the previous stanzas. And with the next line — "Thus I; faltering forward," with the only trace of the previous rhythm being the word "faltering" — we're in a different world entirely, a slower and sadder and bleaker one.

This was going to be a simple commonplace-book post, but I got a bit carried away. Prosody geekery and music theory: two great tastes that taste great together!

* The dactyl was the basic foot of ancient Greek and Latin epic, but those meters are based on syllable length rather than stress, so it's a different kind of sound altogether. I once encountered a verse translation of Homer that attempted dactylic hexameter in English, and the lines just sounded interminably exhausting.

Stories I may or may not write someday

Lately I seem to have fallen back into no-blog-land even as my writing brain has been kicking out ideas right and left and every which way. There’s the Material Cultures paper, for which I have so many things to say that I can already tell it’ll be a struggle keeping it under the 20-minute mark. And then there are the short story ideas that keep accumulating in the notebook I carry around. First there was the subway station staircase story idea; then there was the haunted urban virtual reality modeling story that I never quite got off the ground, but still want to write someday. And lately quite a few more ideas have been suggesting themselves.

There for a while I wrote poems when I wrote anything creative at all, but now I seem to want to write only fiction, and specifically in the weird and eerie and ghostly mode. So, in the interests of getting back into blogging and encouraging myself to actually follow through on ideas once I have them, here’s a list of Stories I Might Write:

  • Scientists synthesize a scent (or a flavor) that smells or tastes different to different people, but induces a strange sense of déjà vu in everyone who encounters it—a certainty that they’ve encountered this scent or flavor somewhere important, and that there’s a rich, fascinating, powerfully detailed memory attached to it, which they absolutely must try to remember, but it’s just out of their reach. Some manage to remember things that never actually happened; others just wind up with an acute and inconsolable case of nostalgia.
  • A character is fed up with getting email meant for someone whose address is apparently one letter off from her own, and sets out to try to contact the person. But it turns out that virtually meeting one’s email doppelgänger is as bad an omen as seeing one’s physical doppelgänger. (This one, minus the virtual encounter and the supernatural element, is completely autobiographical.)
  • Whatever story goes with the title “Dark Archive.”
  • Someone finds and buys a cache of old postcards from the 1910s or thereabouts in an antique shop, all in the same handwriting. The messages on the cards seem to tell a story amid all the ordinary back-of-a-postcard remarks. I don’t yet know what happens next.
  • An artist’s book by an unknown artist arrives, via a dealer, at a special collections library. It may be haunted in some way, or it may just have some very odd qualities. Weird and disturbing happenings ensue. (If I ever write this, it’ll be my M.R. James homage. I can’t resist trying my hand at the “haunted artifact” plot.)
  • An invisible train car, which contains an infinite collection of books and exists in some sort of alternate dimension, turns out to be accessible on any train, as long as you know how to find it. (I got this idea after hearing how Amtrak conductors sometimes refer to the Quiet Car as the “library car.” When I tweeted this idea, someone reminded me of Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Night Bookmobile,” which was probably also in the back of my head when I imagined the Library Car.)
  • I have a couple of ideas about phantom street noises: the sounds of carriage wheels in houses on a city block that used to be a street a century or more before; the tinny off-key music of an unseen ice cream truck that only some people seem to hear on summer evenings. But no plots have materialized for those stories yet.
  • A man briefly encounters an artist whose work fascinates him for years; eventually he encounters the artist again, and buys an engraving that moves him, though he can’t quite tell why and it’s just an image of a corner of a perfectly ordinary room. And…I know how it ends, but I don’t want to reveal it, because I’d rather keep it a surprise.

The last one is the one I most want to write. Which of them do you guys think I should tackle after that?

Very quick Ada Lovelace Day post

Because I somehow managed to forget that today is Ada Lovelace Day, I don't have a full-on post about a particular woman in technology ready to go. And I couldn't narrow it down to just one. So instead I'm cheating a bit by posting a list of all the women I'd like to write about at greater length if my brain hadn't spaced out this week:

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!

Knitting the non-Euclidean way

[Warning: This post contains high levels of knitting geekery. Please be advised. —The Management]

The first sweater I ever knitted was made in pieces: a front bit, a back bit, two sleeves (each made flat and seamed into a tube), and a couple of bands that went on the bottom of the front and back bits and the bottoms of the sleeves. Like a lot of sweaters, it required assembly once I'd made the pieces: a seam up each side, followed by the laborious process of setting in the sleeves and stitching them to the body. That sweater, despite the loveliness of the yarn, is still hibernating among my almost-finished-but-not-quite projects; someday, I'll probably give in to the inevitable, unravel the whole thing, and use the yarn for something else that doesn't trigger my hatred of sewing.

My second sweater was a great improvement: a cardigan made all in one piece (a rectangle with some shaping around the shoulders and neckline, and sleeves picked up at the armhole). That one I actually finished and still wear. I made my third sweater entirely in the round, using Elizabeth Zimmermann's method, which makes for a splendidly simple design: the sweater is a tube, the sleeves are two smaller tubes that attach to the body once you've set aside some stitches for the armholes, and you just narrow it down as you get closer to the top.

My next sweater, like sweater #2, is a seamless cardigan, but this one is more conceptually challenging. After I downloaded the pattern, I couldn't quite wrap my head around it. There's an extra drapey section that extends the front of the sweater and attaches to the back of the neck to form a shawl collar, and I had a hard time picturing what happened up around the shoulders. There's a diagram in the pattern, but what I really wanted was a 3D visualization.

I consulted the more experienced knitters in one of my knitting groups, and one of them (thanks, Ruth!) suggested making a model out of paper or fabric. So I did, and it worked; I now have a clear idea of where I'm going:

Paper model for a sweater

It's hard to tell from the photo, but that's a 3/4 view of the sweater model, minus sleeves, and with the drapey part fanned out in front, except it's paper so it doesn't actually drape the way the finished product will.

I was delighted to find that not only did the model help me visualize the sweater in three dimensions, it also reminded me of one of those obvious but sometimes forgettable truths about knitting: knitted fabrics don't have to be flat. Paper is flat. Woven fabrics are flat. If you want to make something fitted and complicated and three-dimensional out of, say, a bolt of cotton, you have to cut it carefully into pieces of the right shape and size and sew it (or gather it, or iron it into pleats, or starch it into ruffles, but I digress). But if you're knitting, you don't necessarily have to make things in pieces and sew them together; you can just keep going, increasing here, decreasing there, warping the plane with short rows, breaking out into spirals and curlicues. You can make tubes, and sock heels, and bobbles, and Moebius strips, and hyperbolic surfaces. If I were slightly more of a math geek I'd be going off about non-Euclidean geometry* right about now, but instead I'll just refer you to the staggeringly brilliant Crochet Coral Reef project and its accompanying pages on hyperbolic space.

After the geeky spatial puzzle-solving challenge of working out how a sweater like this fits together, not having to sew seams at the end is gravy—though it'll probably make the difference between a sweater I may actually wear on my travels this summer and a sweater that languishes perpetually unfinished.

* Not that there aren't risks to making non-Euclidean garments. Eldritch,
, uncanny risks.

The Slow Food approach to scholarship

Reading Anthony Grafton’s recent NYRB blog post on the impact of budget cuts on British universities (and especially the paleography program at King’s College London), I was struck by the following paragraph:

There was a Slow Food feel to British university life, based on a
consensus that people should take the time to make an article or a book
as dense and rich as it could be. Good American universities were never
exactly Fast Food Nation, but we certainly felt the pressure to
produce, regularly and rapidly. By contrast, Michael Baxandall spent
three years at the Warburg Institute, working in the photographic
collection and not completing a dissertation, and several more as a
lecturer, later on, writing only a few articles. Then, in 1971 and
1972, he produced two brilliant interdisciplinary books, which
transformed the study of Renaissance humanism and art, remain standard
works to this day, and were only the beginning of a great career.
Gertrud Bing, E.H. Gombrich, J.B. Trapp, and A.M. Meyer, who
administered the Warburg in those days, knew how to be patient. Their
results speak for themselves.

If American universities weren’t Fast Food Nation then, they are now, in the age of massive and permanent adjunctification. Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows how cynical I’ve become about the likelihood of any change in the situation; it’s disheartening to think of universities elsewhere going the same way.

The thing is, I passionately believe in the Slow Food approach to scholarship. I believe in taking as long as the project needs. I believe in not rushing to publish every half-baked idea.* I believe quality trumps quantity. I believe in patience. I believe the two-books-for-tenure requirement (or whatever it is now) is a formula for a deluge of mediocre monographs, and this benefits no one in the end. I believe in the sheer pleasure of discovering things, of deep and thoughtful and playful conversation about ideas. And I believe in unprofitable, obscure areas of knowledge, the more impractical the better. Poetry makes nothing happen, after all. Not every human endeavor is or should be about raking in the funding as fast as we possibly can.

I would love to start a Slow Scholarship movement, dedicated to the pursuit of intellectual discovery under unhurried and convivial conditions.** But the eternal question is: how do people who have to pay the rent and the utility bills manage this sort of thing? Whether one is an independent scholar with a day job, or a faculty member trying to squeeze out X books and Y articles while serving on Z committees and grading N papers (where N = some number always greater than time allows), there just aren’t enough hours in the day, either for slow unhurried thinking or for long thoughtful conversations with one’s (equally rushed) colleagues—or for the preparation of amazing Slow Food dinners every night, for that matter. When people complain about the perceived elitism of the Slow Food movement, one of the things they’re objecting to is the amount of leisure time it requires, which just plain isn’t available to most of us.*** And I most certainly don’t want scholarship to be feasible only for people with the luxury of a lot of spare time.

I don’t think it would be impossible to wave the flag for Slow Scholarship; I just wish I had some idea how to make it happen. At this point, I seriously doubt academia will change itself. Reader, do you have any ideas?


* Except, of course, if one is blogging. Although my own current blogging pace is far more Slow than Fast, due more to laziness than to anything else, I’m afraid.

** After a bit of Googling, I see that Lindsay Waters called for something similar a couple of years ago. I don’t think academic publishers will necessarily change things by updating their standards, though. The problem is not just mediocre writing; it’s mediocre writing that people have to churn out in ever-increasing quantities in order to compete for an ever-dwindling pool of tenured positions.

*** I also want a Slow Life movement. Down with the expectation that everyone must work 60+-hour weeks to be considered successful! Up with having time to dream or think or explore or cook or stand and stare!