This started off as a comment on Karie Bookish’s blog post, Knitting as Lifestyle Brand? But it got so long I had to put it here! I wanted to touch on two points in her post: Why I knit, and also the “staged sweetness” idea. We’re not just performing ourselves online, we perform ourselves all the time. In the spirit of debate, I thought I’d post my thoughts. (I should say if she felt like this is career limiting to talk about this, then that sucks.)
Why I knit (and spin)
I don’t knit and spin because it’s a way to protest cheap labour, or even to customize garments for my bat wings. For me, nustling down into the warm, lanolin-soaked fleece of the fibre world has given me some context to learn about farming, food security, history, economics, mechanics, manufacturing and traditions. I love so much about it. And I’ve met some really amazing people and enjoyed some fantastic events.
But the truth is I’m not a product knitter or spinner. It’s all process. If I get a finished item, then that is a bonus.
When I don’t knit, I knee bounce wildly, I fidget, I peel labels off bottles, I pick my scabs, I literally pull my hair out, I worry napkins into twisted little sculptures, I distractedly get a low hum of anxiety goading me: you should be DOING something Heather instead of just sitting here.
When I knit, I not only assuage that worker bee in me, but I also do something productive with my hands which isn’t anti-social, like reading on my phone. I try not to use my phone when I am with people. There is some urge in me to fidget and multitask. Sitting still is hard. Though I’m not someone who gets bored, I’ve never been bored, but I always make sure I have something to do.
When I was in school (about 9 yrs old) I doodled so much I was punished for it. While doodling and notetaking actually help me digest and comprehend what is going on, my down turned head was off putting for my teacher. She made me bring ALL my sketchbooks into the principle’s office where they were locked up until the end of the school year. It turned me into a REBEL. NO one was going to stop me doodling. HA! I could draw on ANYTHING, I didn’t need sketch books and fancy pens. I hated that cruel teacher and that school and counted each day until I defiantly reclaimed my sketchbooks at the end of the year.
I have a theory why knitting works better: When I wasn’t knitting in the years prior, I kept doodle notebooks to sketch and collage in. I noticed that people found that if you were read/writing/drawing, it’s a little off-putting or anti-social, I think because it looks like communication, and people may feel, ‘why aren’t you paying attention to me?’ in communication settings. Whereas knitting is not competing for “communication-attention.” It’s handwork and some puzzle-solving.
I mainly take photos to record what I’m doing and share insights as I go. It’s easier on Instagram, but I do try and take some time to journal on my blog. If I am sharing it is because I’m trying to connect to others, and also get inspired, get advice or sometimes, just as a retreat from the day-to-day.
Staged sweetness? But it’s all a stage!
Since I think Karie was keen to start a debate, I’m going to stick my neck out right here and boldly say I’m kind of annoyed about this idea that I’m not ‘being true to myself’ or ‘not being authentic’ because I don’t write about the horrible illness, failures, fears and sadness in my life on my blog. Hmm… if I “had to be myself” as Karie suggests, I don’t think I would participate online.
We facet ourselves in all situations, it’s a normal human thing. (Example: My family know I swear like a sailor, but I’m not going to swear in a client call or when I’m sitting with a friend I know who’d be offended.) In fact, when people don’t properly facet themselves online, we see it as really strange. Ever see someone post on someone’s Facebook wall something that should be in a direct message? Some people have no online social filters, or don’t know the mores or online etiquette.
Please read the awesome book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” by E. Goffman. Karie’s suggestion that this is “staged sweetness” fits within his notion of a Dramaturgical Framework. We have a Front stage, Back stage and Off stage of our self presentation, and we behave according to social scripts, stages and performances. This doesn’t make any one performance more or less authentic, because these are all facets of yourself.
Conflating an individual’s staged sweetness with the targeted marketing efforts of product companies is a little unhelpful and not useful. How can we compare someone’s knitting blog or Instagram feed to Goop? If someone is selling sweatshop products and trying to pass them off as hand-made it certainly should be called out. Though I also feel that if someone is promoting sweatshop craft supplies to help westerners to sate their need for self-expression, well that sucks too. I digress… Knit British writes about this better than I can.
At any rate, I think even the most active lifestyle blogs are presented by people with plenty of personal challenges. There is a person behind that presentation, we just don’t know them. Listen to Meighan’s “What’s your Story” podcast interview with a Doyenne of Staged Sweetness SF Girl by Bay, where they discuss depression and the “candy-coated, curated world of social media.”
My old blog is gone, but I had posted something similar in “Craft Blog as Domestic Fantasy” (june 2006) because of discussion on some blogs saying pretty much what Karie is saying in her post. As I said in my response: “If anyone has read my blog and thought I was projecting some kind of domestic fantasy, I promise I didn’t mean to.” There were over 40 responses, because on top of all the challenges of life and the little spare time you spend to share, post and connect: you get told you’re doing it wrong? Life is hard enough.
I actually wonder if Social Media hasn’t made it actually harder to facet ourselves, and control which aspect of ourselves and identity which wish to share in an appropriate situation. Sharing on a blog is a big unknown. Is a future employer reading? Is my current employer reading? Is an ex-boyfriend reading? Is a stalker reading? (If you haven’t been stalked or censured yet, maybe you haven’t been online long enough.)
In other ways I also think: Who cares? The people who are close to me know about it and that is where I talk about it.
On my instagram feed I literally wrote in my profile: “wooly fluffy, knitting and good things.” I wrote that around the time I decided not to continue my #photo365 for the time being. Not because I wasn’t taking pictures, I was. But it wasn’t something I felt right sharing then. I was in the hospice with my dad, taking pictures of him, for him, with him and my family. And it was too painful to even look at, let alone share. So I stopped posting photos for that time and I didn’t pick it up again. I’d love to write about how technology helped us through this experience, but just not right now.
On a quick review, I see my instagram feed is mainly travel, wool and cats, it’s focused on things I’ve learned and a lot of screw ups and mistakes I’ve made in knitting for example. Even my blog is like that: A learning log. I’m not trying to stage any sweetness, but if you want to know about death, death, death, death and death, you can talk to me in person about it. I’m very open 1:1, not so much in a group, and not so much online, unless we’re friends on Facebook.
I’m not “hiding” my sadness or suffering, but I don’t want to put it in my learning notebook. I keep a lot of note books and this one is for my fibre adventure. I try to make the pictures clear, but many are poorly lit (I knit at night) and yeah, I’m in my PJs probably. I’d love to learn some better product photography actually.
If someone peruses it and thinks that my life is all happy fluffy kitties and pretty things, you’re part-right. There’s that, but then there’s also fear, sadness, doubt; messy stuff, sad stuff and crappy stuff. I try to assume the same about everyone I see and meet. Getting closer to illness and death has actually made this easier to comprehend and keep close on my mind:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Ian Maclaren
A page from a doodle book of mine.