Friday, January 31, 2014

Sci-Fi Nerds: If you haven't seen Babylon 5 yet - do!

Recently I came to a startling realization. As much as it pained my Trekkie Whovian Browncoat heart to admit it, if I were forced to choose a favorite sci-fi show, I would choose Babylon 5.

I have my husband to thank. (In fact, he's introduced me to almost all of my favorite shows - that's the way to a girl's heart!) We love a good space opera, and once we'd finished Star Trek: Deep Space Nine together, he suggested we try B5. He'd seen some of it in college, but we're both too young to have appreciated it when it was on the air in the mid-90s. Once we both got hooked, I was surprised at how few of my nerdy friends had seen what is certainly one of the best sci-fi shows ever made. I hope to remedy that by sharing some of the reasons why it is so excellent.

Babylon 5 is like a good novel. No matter how many times you read a good novel, you find something new; B5, for me, is the same way. Every time I see it, I pick up on something new. And it's fairly consistently good - where many great shows have episodes that range from "really good" to "really bad", B5 tends to stay in the "really good" to "pretty good" range.

So here, in no particular order, are some reasons why you should watch it. (They're spoiler-free, but it's a 20-year-old show, so I don't recommend getting too hung up on spoilers.)

1. It has good characters.
Characters make or break a work of fiction. I don't care how great your concept is - if you don't have good character development, then what's the point? Though many of the characters are aliens, the "human element" is strong. And this shouldn't have to be a separate category, but...

2. It has good female characters.
I won't dismiss a good work of fiction on the grounds that it doesn't have well-written female characters (even with its blatant sexism, I love the original Star Trek), but I really appreciate it when it does. In B5, women are just people - strong, weak, admirable, frustrating, funny, lovable, hate-able, intelligent, awkward, noble, flawed. Complex. In other words, just like men! Who knew?!

3. It has emotional resonance.
It will make you happy and sad, sometimes at the same time. Almost every episode had something in it that made me laugh out loud. A few had me sobbing into my knitting.

4. It deals with religion and belief in a realistic, nuanced way.

5. It was ahead of its time.
The '90s special effects make me giggle a bit now, but I understand the show's extensive use of CGI was pretty new at the time. Also, I'd argue that there are few truly stand-alone episodes - almost every episode has some relevance to the arc of the series, much like the best TV shows of the 2000s and 2010s.

How to watch it:
It should go without saying that an epic narrative needs to be experienced from beginning to end. Personally, I think that season 1 is the weakest, but I would say that for most shows; that's when the show is still figuring itself out and, in this case, setting up for the main story and character arcs. I recommend watching season 1 and, if you're not hooked by the end of it, stick it out through season 2 before making a final judgement.

Unfortunately, it's not currently on Netflix instant view. If you can borrow it from a nerdy friend, great. We did that until we got hooked, then bought it season by season on iTunes. iTunes and Amazon Instant Video have it for $1.99 an episode or $39.99 a season, which I think is a reasonable price for what you're getting, but it does add up. If you're old-school and/or want to save some money, has the DVD sets distinctly cheaper at around $16.99 per season or $139.99 for the complete series.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

July 19th - August 22nd

I've been knitting a lot of "stock" items over the past month - hats, gloves and so forth - but I managed to get some creative time in as well. I designed and crocheted a cotton jacket using one of my favorite crochet patterns; it looks like a spiderweb and works up fairly quickly.

I sewed a bunch of new bags and have three more listed on my project bag page. This one is my favorite; I have a gorgeous skirt made out of this fabric:

Dad has a new set of spring-themed notecards in his shop:

Oh, and scarves! I crocheted a few scarves. It's been a long time since I've made scarves. I had the yarn on hand and wanted to make something fun and different (for me, at least), and since crochet works up faster I was able to price them lower than I would've had to price knitted ones. I created a new scarf-only section to include them.

I have two more patterns drafted that still need to be typed up and listed. Let's hope I get to them before my next post.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

June 14 - July 18

Jumping over yet another month. Here are the updates:

1. I'm expanding my line of project bags as my sewing skills improve. You can see them all here. I think I need to move the sewing machine closer to the window unit, though, as it's been too hot lately to sew in the study.

2. There are a bunch of beautiful new prints in my Dad's shop.

3. I've come into possession of an absurd number of vintage guidebooks from family members' travels in Europe in the '60s and '70s, and I've been busy listing them here on Etsy. They're really quite interesting, but I do not need them all. So far I have 24 listed and I'm not even done.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

May 2nd - June 13th

I have a lot to show for the last month, so I will give you a list:

1. I finally started a line of project bags, featuring one in pink and one in lavender. More to come.

2. I finished designing and knitting a black and gray sweater for my husband; photos and pattern to come.

3. I designed and knit a teddy bear plushie; pattern listed here.

4. I finished knitting my Surprise Jacket, based on Elizabeth Zimmermann's extraordinary pattern. Gorgeous! I've worn it three times now (thanks to the cool, rainy weather we've been having) and I've probably gotten more compliments on it than anything I've ever knit for myself.

5. And in other news, I sewed a dress. I don't think I've ever sewn a dress before (though I've knit them). How about that? I had to sew the zipper on by hand, which was a bit tedious, but I rather like the pattern and I think I'll make more.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Jar and the Chasm: My experience with depression and anxiety

A few days ago I came across Allie Brosh's recent post about depression, which has to be one of the best descriptions of depression ever made. What impressed me so much about it was that I believe someone who had never experienced a similar mental illness could read it and begin to get an understanding about what true clinical depression is like. I say I "believe" because, while I don't talk about it much (certainly not in my blog) I have experienced depression firsthand, many, many times.

Here is one thing I think I can say definitively: it is not possible to truly understand clinical depression unless you've experienced it. But for those of you who've never experienced it, please don't let that stop you from trying. That is why I'm straying from my norm and dedicating this blog post to an attempt to describe my experience with depression and anxiety.

One of the hardest things to overcome when you are suffering from depression is the prevailing attitude that surrounds you from all sides: that your illness is somehow your fault. Don't get me wrong - there are certainly people out there who derive a perverse kind of pleasure from being miserable; there are those who dwell needlessly on unpleasant things and bad memories. I think everyone has, at least once in their lives, been in a place where they just needed to "man up" and "get over it." I know I have! But clinical depression is an entirely different matter.

In the eight years or so since I first received professional help for my mental illness, I've been lucky; I haven't had to think about it too much. A combination of therapy, Dharma practice, and, yes, medication have enabled me to live my life as "myself." I think of my "real" self as someone with a lot of joie de vivre. I take a lot of pleasure in daily life, in my creative endeavors, and in being with people (and animals) I love. I am one of the lucky ones - I've found a treatment that works for me.

Everyone's experience with mental illness is different; for me, depression and anxiety were inextricably linked. I don't think I've ever experienced one without the other. I find that analogies are helpful when describing something as abstract as mental illness, so I've come up with a couple of analogies that describe my experience.

Depression: The Jar

Imagine, all of a sudden, that a great big jar drops out of nowhere and lands right on top of you, trapping you like a bug. You can see out, though it's kind of blurry, and the people around you can see in. Maybe at first it's not so bad - it's uncomfortable, but there's still plenty of air, and you can see out. You can still go about your life with some normalcy, so you figure it'll just go away.

Gradually, however, you start to lose oxygen. The glass starts to cloud up and you can see less and less. You're struggling to breathe and to see and you realize you have to get out or you'll die. So you start to panic, banging on the glass and screaming, but for some reason no one else can hear you.

That may be the worst thing of all: nobody else can see that you're stuck in a jar. They don't even believe it's there when you try to tell them. You try to explain that you're stuck and you're suffering and you don't know how to fix it, and they insist that it's all in your mind and you should just snap out of it. Eventually, you realize no one around you is going to help because no one believes you have a problem that you yourself can't fix.

So what do you do? Keep banging on the glass, even though you know you can't break it? That's getting harder and harder, because more and more, you're struggling to breathe. So do you lie down, close your eyes, and try to shut everything out - the jar, the people, the world around you - hoping someone will notice you now you've stopped fighting?

Anxiety: The Chasm

Say you find yourself standing right on the edge of vast, dark chasm. You can't see the bottom but you know it's miles deep, and you can feel the cold subterranean air rising from the depths. And you can't walk away from it. You can turn your back to it, try not to look at it, try to focus on other things, but it's impossible when you can feel your feet teetering on the edge, and one wrong step will send you plummeting.

Understandably, you're afraid. The fear of falling is with you constantly. Sometimes it's a small, nagging worry, sometimes it's sweat-drenching, nausea-inducing terror, but it's always there, making it very hard to focus on anything else.

And, like the jar, no one else seems to know it's there. Or if they do, they don't see why you're so bothered by it. "Just don't think about it" is the common response when you confess your fear to someone else. But how do you not think about it? The chasm is huge and dark and freezing cold and it's waiting to swallow you whole. How do you live with it?


Like I said, I'm one of the lucky ones. Therapy helped some, Dharma practice helped some, but the real treatment came in the form of something I'd been resistant to all my life - antidepressants. Antidepressants were for people who couldn't deal with the ups and downs of life. But eventually I came to the painful realization that without medication, there might never be any more ups, only downs.

So, reluctantly, I followed my therapist's recommendation and gave medication a try. And I was shocked, because I had forgotten what it was like to have a normal emotional life. A small dose of Prozac every day, and all of a sudden, I was a normal person again. I had ups, I had downs, but it was all okay. It was like the color had returned to life. It was like the jar had finally been lifted and I could breathe fresh air again. And the chasm? It was just a little crack in the earth.

Since that time, I've had a few lapses back into my old illness, but overall I've been very fortunate. Not everyone who suffers from depression can find a medication that works for them - in fact, some will make things even worse. There are those who spend their lives in the constant struggle for normalcy. Nothing, it seems, can help them.

My treatment might not work for me forever. I could always lapse again, this time long-term. But at least for now, I can choose not to be anxious about it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Weeks of April 5th - May 1st

I've been hard at work in one capacity or another for the past couple of weeks, but what else is new? To a certain extent, I live for my work. Much of my life is devoted to creativity, and always has been - I know I'm not alone in that.

Last week I was excited to see my Afghans for Afghans sweater pictured in their blog. When it was posted, I had already pooled my wool and alpaca yarns once more and was almost finished with another sweater, this time in a more subdued color scheme:

So now my leftover wool stash is sufficiently depleted and I can move on to other things.

I'd been wanting to do some more crochet designs, so I came up with a pattern for a small blanket using three colors of Vickie Howell Sheep(ish). It was originally meant to be a baby blanket, but then Teddy claimed it as his own, placing his handsome self right in the middle of the photo I was taking. What else could I do but make it a cat blanket?

I have one more design to show for April - a knitted cloche-style hat. I'd picked up some lovely tagua nut buttons at Fine Points a while back and was looking for a way to integrate them into a design. I liked the idea of taking an adornment and building a garment around it. It's a fun and simple pattern, and I might go on to make some similar hats for sale later.

And it occurs to me that I should post more photos of my sewing projects, especially as they seem to be getting better these days! I finished this skirt last week (sorry for the lousy picture):

Thursday, April 4, 2013

March 21st - April 4th

I successfully finished my entirely destashed Afghans for Afghans sweater, and I'll send it off as soon as I finish a pair of socks to send with it.

It's funny - I had a great time blending all the colors together and I would wear this sweater myself without hesitation, but this time around I found myself worrying it might be too loud for the tastes of a discerning Afghan teenager. Not everyone shares my addiction to bright colors, and I doubt that living in a war zone means you lack an interest in fashion. I probably worry about these things too much. I'll never know, but I think if I'd love wearing this sweater, there should be another girl out there who would also.

In my dad's shop, we have a beautiful new set of notecards featuring his paintings:

And in other news, I've been working on my sewing-machine skills. Teddy likes to "help":

Of course he picks the Enterprise fabric to lie on. He has a real affinity for Star Trek and other sci fi shows - I think he likes all the pretty flashing lights. This weekend he was particularly enamored with the new Doctor Who intro. He's such a precious little dork!