Sunday, November 8, 2009

Product v. Process

So sometimes, this blog looks more like a weird hybrid of a knitting blog and a running blog, rather than anything to do with going to graduate school in Canada. There are people who do both better, I know. That said, both are a major part of what I do when I'm not face down in a pile of work with a bottle of vodka glass of wine pot of tea. (Or running was, before an unfortunate incident while trying to catch a bus left me with a sprained ankle.)

But there is something that binds together musicology, running, and knitting, and it is this: the idea that both involve processes that produce products, and one can focus on one or the other and can get more out of either the process of the activity or its product. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (aka the Yarn Harlot) has written about this a lot in regards to knitting, and has raised the good point that craft cannot be all about process:

"Imagine this: You and I are sitting together on a park bench, and we are having a lovely time, knitting and chatting, maybe we have coffee and some chocolate. It's lovely. I spread my knitting in progress out on my lap to admire it, you know, the way knitters do. . . Then, something catches my eye, and I lean forward to take a better look at the sweater and suddenly you can see what I see. There's a massive mistake. You inhale sharply; this is going to be bad. This is one of those ugly mistakes that can shorten a knitter's lifespan. You slowly look up at me, prepared to help me through this awful moment, and much to your surprise, I break out in an enormous smile of sheer joy and exclaim:

'Wow! Look at that! I made a huge mistake way back at the beginning of this sweater. Oh my gosh, it's enormous. No wonder the rest of the sweater looks so odd. My goodness, that mistake is as obvious as Cher naked at a convent, isn't it? How did I not see that? Well now. What a fabulous turn of events. I'll just have to rip this while thing out. Yup, every single stitch except for the cast-on edge is entirely unacceptable! Oh, but I'm so lucky! I'm glad that I got a chance to knit the whole thing before I noticed this. If I'd seen that mistake right away, then I wouldn't get the pleasure of knitting this practically twice! Oh happy, happy day.'

Having been the knitter who has mad a mistake of that magnitude, I think that if I ever heard a knitter say that, I'd either get up and move, consider talking about her in unflattering terms after she left, or, even though I'm a nonviolent person, I think I'd momentarily consider knocking her off the bench in an attempt to smack the stupid right off the poor unfortunate."
--Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Free-Range Knitter, 107-8

Even the most devoted process person almost has to be, on some level, at least interested in the product, just as the most devoted product person has to be interested in the process, or they would just buy the stuff at the store.

That said, there are knitters who find their joy in having a big heap of finished objects that they use regularly, rather than on the hours of craft that goes into making them; there are runners whose only pleasure in running is in race times, personal records, and statistics; and there are researchers who measure their success in terms of books and articles published and presentations given. I am not one of these people. I might have a better relationship with time if I was one of these people: if I wasn't having so much fun doing the stuff, maybe I'd be more likely to finish it on time.

I enjoy running because I enjoy the journey: I enjoy watching the world around me, seeing places from a particular perspective, the feel of my body moving through space. It is like dancing, but rarely am I judged for my grace. I race, because the particular experience of racing gives is a different experience from that of just going for a run, not because official results impress me. I work as a musicologist because I love the part of it where I sit down with a heap of sources and actually find something interesting. I am less impressed by the actual act of sitting down and writing up my findings. That is, that part is like pulling teeth and must be surrounded by the perfect environment, or I will gladly clean the kitchen before I can even contemplate getting started with the real work in the other room (a room from which I cannot even see my dirty kitchen). I knit, in the full knowledge that socks are available for $5 for twenty pair at Wal-Mart and sweaters can be more efficiently acquired at the mall. I knit because I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of the act of playing with sticks and string. I teach because I like the sound of my own voice sharing what I know and seeing the moment when students "get it."

These processes would be pretty pointless if they didn't have some sort of product. I like my half marathon medal and my collection of racing t-shirts. Upon finishing my master's thesis, I printed it out and stood on it to see how much taller standing on 117 pages would make me. I wear or gift the things I knit, after taking pictures of them, and am proud of what I have made. (A sweater out of sock yarn is nothing to sneeze at.) The thing that keeps me coming back, however, isn't the ultimate product, however, it is the simple, everyday acts of which the accomplishments are built.

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