Learn to Embroider at Trade School Los Angeles

Due to my ostentatious Facebook embargo, now in year two, I rely on comrade Lee of nearby Mixville Heights to pass along important notices via an awkward but mostly reliable chain of semaphore stations and carrier pigeon relay. Brother Lee spotted my post on embroidery and informed me that the barter-based Trade School Los Angeles is offering a free embroidery class on November 17th. In addition to embroidery, they have a zero waste sewing and mending class on the 16th and a class on fermentation on the 23rd. For more information on these classes head to their Eventbrite listing.

Here’s how it works according to their website:

Step 1) Classes at Trade School LA are taught in exchange for barter items provided by students. For example, if you teach a class about building a website, you might ask students to bring 1 of the following barter items: a pack guitar strings; a paperback novel; a bag of local fruit; help with finding an apartment. Every class’s barter will be different, as each instructor sets their own class’s exchange.

Step 2) Students sign up for classes on our website, and, by signing up, they agree to bring 1 of the barter items requested by the instructor.

Step 3)  On the day of class, the teachers & students meet in a space that is made available by Trade School LA. Students give their barter item to the teacher, and the class begins!

Perhaps brother/comrade Lee and I will offer a semaphore class on the hilltop above the Red Lion in the near future in case any of you would like to explore Facebook alternatives.

The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour

I’ve sprinkled references in the past few posts to a book I just finished reading, The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour. The central thesis of the book is that we are all writing more than we ever have in history in the form of tweets, Facebook updates, texts, emails etc. Seymour contends, however, that we are not so much writing as being written by the platforms we use and that we all have a propensity for trolling and narcissism that tech companies exploit with a kind of algorithmic agnosticism.

Seymour chronicles the horrors of these platforms: the trolling, doxing, mob hate that we all, at this point, are familiar with. It’s hard to imagine anyone now coming to Mark Zuckerberg’s defense. But Seymour notes that this mass violence is nothing new and only breaks out thanks to pre-existing conditions, within all of us, that Silicon Valley exploits for a business model built on the unholy combination of gambling addiction psychology and mass surveillance.

Paul Klee, The Twittering Machine.

What separates Seymour’s book from others chronicling our current dystopia is a nuanced analysis of the crisis combined with a admonition not to fall into the simplistic “backlash” style of criticism of the sort I’ve been guilty of on this blog. Seymour says,

The backlash style, despite having the advantage that it disputes the inevitability of our assimilation into the Borg, is reactionary. It is compromised by a subtending fantasy that it could somehow be sufficient to exhort others to quit which is further underpinned by a fantasy that the frequent flights into mob irrationality, paranoia, nihilism and sadism characteristic of social media could be solved simply by ‘going back’. As though these phenomena had no deeper and father-reaching roots.

Seymour retells the often mis-reported history of the Luddites who were not opposed to technology, but instead against the ownership of the machines of production by the upper classes. He suggests that we need to develop a Neo-Luddite “escapology.” He leaves it to us to develop that alternative but implies that it might just an internet owned by all and stripped of exploitation and “gamified capitalism”–an internet that, in his words, leaves space for and encourages a sense of reverie, a stroll in the park with a pen and notepad or a quiet time in a church with our eyes closed. With Seymour’s nuanced and insightful analysis we might just be able to start mapping creative ways out of our predicament.

Embroidering the World

Washstand runner designed by Ernest Gimson and embroidered by Margaret Gimson, 1890.

I suspect that I’m not alone in feeling like I spend way too much time looking at screens to distract from the dystopia that surround us. Neuroscientist Marc Lewis says, breaking an addiction requires a “unique act of reinvention” such as “learning a new art or skill, or religious conversion.” (Richard Seymour, The Twittering Machine, p. 212).

During the daytime I have settled on a successful strategy to hold the Silicon Valley attention thieves at bay. I retreat to my wood shop and either work on house infrastructure, furniture projects or stuff for other people. The phone stays in the house. But I can’t do woodworking at night. I’m just a little too tired and that’s a safety concern. But I think I may have stumbled on a way to stay away from screens at night: embroidery.

Kelly and I took a class with Natalie Richards this past week. She has the qualities of a great teacher. She’s organized, calm, reassuring and inspiring. Her friends apparently call her the “Bob Ross of embroidery” for her soothing patter. If you’d like to learn a few simple stitches, check out Natalie’s YouTube channel. On her channel she shows you the basic stiches, how to make a hoop protector and how to transfer designs. I used her YouTube videos to review some of what we learned in the class. And thanks to her class my past few evenings have been filled by embroidering one of Natalie’s pillow kits.

Both Kelly and I have done some embroidery before but now we have the time to go a little deeper. Beyond being a useful skill, embroidery has something to teach us about life. What if we took back the time that we spend on our devices to make the world a more beautiful place, to “embroiderer” our cities and suburbs? Let’s extend that metaphor beyond a physical sort of embroidery and imagine embroidering this world with a little more love and kindness.

Saturday Linkages: Get Off the Internet and Embroider!

My great aunt enjoying a goat chariot in Stockton, CA.

Want to learn embroidery? Natalie Richards shows you the stitches on YouTube.

Unraveling the Secret Origins of an AmazonBasics Battery

All Right Already By now, we know where Facebook’s allegiances lie

Meat in the Machine

Winds of change: the sailing ships cleaning up sea transport

Silicon Valley Leaders Sit Down With Wildfire At Investment Meeting After Being Impressed By Its Rapid Expansion

Belgian TV show takes politicians on a bike ride – then confronts them with 500 relatives of cyclists killed through poor infrastructure

Sorting Family Photos

Johnny over at Granola Shotgun once described the phenomenon of alleged minimalists with secret troves of STUFF. For us that secret untidiness resided in a backyard shed. Wanting to put that shed to better use, Kelly and I decided to tackle boxes of family photos and home movies.

It was emotionally wrenching for me as my mom’s death was just two years ago. I miss both my parents and think about them every day but we don’t have the room in our tiny house to hold on to every photo, slide, super 8 film and video tape. While I was able to get rid of duplicate photos and pictures of people I can’t identify, I ended up stopping because the process just made me too sad.

An unintentional history of photography lesson
What played out as I went through over 150 years worth of photos was a short history of photography. I have just a few Victorian era photos consisting of studio portraits as well as shots of my paternal great-grandparent’s general store in Stockton, California. With the advent of snapshot photography in the early 20th century there’s more photos, but I suspect photography was still relatively expensive. The early 20th century snapshots seem more carefully posed than what comes later when photography gets cheaper. There’s a lot more photos from the 1970s and 80s but the quality of many of those photos in terms of composition and lighting gets poorer. And color photos from this period have faded badly, whereas the black and white photos from the early 20th century still look as good as new. The last photos I have are of friends taken in the 1990s. Then everything goes digital. From this digital period I have thousands of pictures on a no longer functioning disc drive that I have yet to pay to have recovered. Since formats change and drives fail, we could have a black hole in the history of photography someday, what librarians refer to as a “digital dark age.”

Digitize?
But what to do with all those boxes of photos and home movies? We don’t have kids or any other relatives interested in keeping them after we pass on. Kelly went through her family photos, picked out the best and put them in a slim volume. I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I could take all those photos, slides and movies to Costco and have them digitized. Librarians suggest keeping a digital copy of photos at home, with a friend and in the cloud (Though I feel some guilt about the energy used for cloud storage of photos I might not look at). And they don’t’ suggest throwing out the originals. Lacking a way to project the films and slides, digitizing is the only way that I’ll be able to see them.

But there’s a funny way in which grief works. With the photos in the shed I could put off dealing with the loss of my parents by keeping that grief at a distance, in a kind of stasis, locked away in a shed I rarely visit. There’s a way in which simply digitizing everything would be kind of the same in that I don’t think I’d ever go though that whole archive of images. Perhaps it would be better to face my grief and do what Kelly did and curate a selection of the best photos. Every year around the All Saints/All Souls weekend I could spend some time reflecting on that hypothetical album.

I’m curious how you, our readers, have tacked this problem. Have you digitized? How are you dealing with that mountain of digital images? Do you have kids and if so how does that change the equation?