Monday, November 01, 2010

Shop and Home Ec

I am 2/3 of the way through Shop Class as Soulcraft.  I would have finished the whole book, but he mentioned his father was a physicist at Berkeley and then I looked at the cover and dedication and realized that name is familiar, and then I took out his father's classic book and then I started Googling his dad and then I found the on-line notes for a waves and quantum mechanics class going on RIGHT NOW at Caltech, and then I started looking at their problem sets....

It's really kind of funny that, at the same time he (the son) was a teenager living in a commune in Berkeley, I was living in Foster City and sitting next to Luis Alvarez' niece in HS science class.  I left FC for bohemian Berkeley and Boulder while he ended up in an soulless job in FC*.  Small world.

So far, I am really enjoying the book, but he is really preaching to the choir. The main weakness of the book, and of Robert Pirsig's book, is that it is focused only on a small part of the culture of making and fixing, a world that is mainly inhabited by men.  There is nothing wrong with that.  As he admits, he is writing from his own experience, and it is a rich experience.   But, there are whole other worlds out there.

I have been swamped at work, my child's illness, and then my own illness.  In September, I was the September Patchwork Star at the South Bay Quilters' Guild meeting.

Here's an excerpt from the questionnaire with my thoughts about making.
How long have you been a member of the guild? Have you served on the board or community service? What else?

I joined the guild in 1997, when I first moved to the South Bay. I spent time on the Usenet bulletin boards when I should have been writing my PhD thesis. I met P (the president of the quilt at that time) on-line and she gave me info about the SBQG. I also joined the local chapter of the American Knitters’ Guild. I would have joined ASG (American Sewing Guild), too, if they had a local chapter.

I meet very few women at work or school. Wherever I live, I always sign up for fibery groups for the company of other women who like to make stuff. Advertisers want to create communities of consumption around their products. These guilds are communities of production and creativity. The women here are much more interesting than the random person on the street.
At the time that I left Boulder, I had belonged to the Boulder chapter of ASG and a quilt group that met in the Physics building on campus.  Eric's wife belonged to the quilt group, too.  There were 5 current or former IBM systems engineers out of about 20 members in the local ASG in the late 1990s.

At my first SBQG meeting, they announced the "Sunshine and Shadows" for the month.  I was one of two women that had recently been awarded PhDs.  Many women came up to me at the break to introduce themselves and I met 3 other women with PhDs that night, including a grandmother with a PhD in algebraic topology.  Somehow, she talked me into becoming the guild's first webmaster and thinking that it was my idea.  Clever, isn't she?

I did make it over the lecture at the Fowler museum last week; Bad Dad and Iris went to her team's soccer game instead of tagging along.  Atta Kwami gave a very interesting lecture about the contemporary scene in Africa.  It was followed up with a thought-provoking conversation between Kwami and Professor Sylvester Ogbechie (UCSB).  I was struck by one phrase that Atta Kwami kept repeating.
"My passion lies in making."
Yet, he did write a book about contemporary artists in Kumasi, Ghana because no one else was going to do it and he felt it was really important to get the story down.  Kumasi Realism is listed on, but is not on the US site yet.  Kwami showed some slides from the book.  Hopefully, Bad Dad will be going to the UK again on business and can bring it home as a gift.  Hint, hint.

* It sounds like Matthew never got out of the office park and mall corner of FC.  It's actually a much nicer place than he describes.  Where else can kids spend all summer sailing, canoeing and kayaking from backyard docks?  Or go Christmas carolling by canoe?  Or just hangout in modernist homes that blur the distinction between inside and outside? Or bike around the island on the network of bike paths?  Or birdwatch in the 30% of the city limits set aside as a wildlife sanctuary?  It did sound like he had a sucky job, though.  That can color your whole perception of a place.

More about making stuff:


  1. I've been intrigued by the series of posts about making things. I wonder, do things in the virtual world count? Because I'm happiest when I am making new data resources and things like that.

    I took shop in school, because I already knew how to sew and cook. I was pretty bad at it, actually, and I'm not much better with a sewing machine. I was a pretty good baker before I had kids and could no longer find the time to do it. As my girls get older, I hope to bake with them. But who knows- maybe they'll prefer to do the projects my husband always has going.

  2. I think that writing software definitely counts. You are making/building something out of your imagination, right?


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