Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I'm home from yet another TNNA and thought I'd check in with my four loyal blog readers. It's funny, I post with abysmal infrequency and yet I'm constantly spotting things, taking pictures of things, and composing blog entries about them in my mind. It's just that final, oh how do you say, "doing it" thing that doesn't happen. I feel the need to talk about Columbus in a way that does not belong in KR. I'll be talking about the products and people and my class with the marvelous Lucy Neatby in KR, but I hope you don't mind if I bend your ear a little right now.


Now that I'm safely home and my luggage arrived intact, I can say that the skies were tremendously friendly this time.

My flights were the most miraculously smooth, pleasant, comfortable, and timely that I've experienced in the last... what... decade? It was incredible.

At one point I looked out the window and saw this incredible cloud formation. Like a Monument Valley within the clouds.

My rule when traveling to TNNA is that I try to stay somewhat separate from the event. It's such an intense experience, a place where you know almost everybody and almost everybody knows you, I need to have real separation at the end of the day.

I like to leave the convention center, go to my hotel, and absorb what I've seen, heard, and touched. I don't like to be in the elevator with the same shiny-suit salesguy I just spent 20 minutes trying to avoid on the show floor. Or being seated at breakfast next to a yarn manufacturer that has hated me ever since I told the truth about its product. It's just...profoundly awkward.







So, while everybody else was staying in mega-hotels such as this one...





















I had a room in this little place called The Lofts. I thought hey, cute brick building, interesting architectural history, not just another 1,000-room megaplex, it'll be fun, right?














Well sorta. Here's my dude lair.

I had a faux leather armchair that was cold and made fart noises every time I tried to sit in it. The huge gorgeous windows were concealed behind silver metalic blinds. No sheers, no curtains.

And it was directly across from the convention center. To maintain any degree of privacy I had to close the blinds and sit in a grey, cold, echo-ridden dude lair.

The walls were paper thin, allowing me to hear every word of my neighbor's conversations. (One word: earplugs.) On the other side I had a neighbor who seemed constitutionally incapable of existing in an awakened state without the television. (We are such a weird species, I tell you.)

But I didn't go to Columbus just to sit in a stark hotel room, now did I?

No, I went to Columbus...





To go to the North Market!

Oh my. Only one block from the convention center, this place was truly a gift from the gods. Go inside and you'll discover dozens of stalls where people sell everything from soy candles and cookware to wine, cheese, baked goods, coffees, smoothees, sushi, Vietnamese pho soup, you name it.








Including Jeni's Ice Creams.

This is not just any ordinary ice cream. This is ice cream that makes you gaze into the distance and remember things from your past. Mango. Passion fruit. Cassis. Violet cream. Chocolate infused with cayenne and cinnamon. Lime and cardamom. Bartlett pear and riesling.

Culinary artistry.

Flavors that slip in, expand, and wander around in your mouth before finally reluctantly letting go. It is incredible ice cream. Cat Bordhi and I made it our personal mission to convert as many TNNA-goers as possible. And here's the best part: They ship.

So did I go to Columbus to stay in a weird hotel and eat food all day long? No, I went for TNNA. And that's where I need to get something off my chest. It's bothering me and I need to tell the truth but I know I can't say it in KR.

When I went into this business I made an intentional choice to lift up the magic curtain and to walk behind it and see what's really there. I knew this was risky. I knew that in any industry, the closer you get to the real heart of it, the more gruesome the sights can be. Even in knitting.

First, I need to stress very strongly that fundamentally, 99.99999% of the TNNA experience is fantastic. It's one weekend-long "pinch me, can I really have made a career out of this?" moment. I see genuine people putting heart and soul and integrity into things of beauty -- yarns, tools, books, DVDs, accessories, you name it. I see generous, hard-working store owners coming to learn and to scout out the perfect blend of offerings for their dear customers back home. I see gifted teachers sharing their knowledge with the goal of enriching our knitting experience. I see friends, people who are in this boat with me, who inspire me and whom I trust. It's incredible. Absolutely incredible.

AND...

I also see the dark side. Just .00001%, but it's there. And for some reason I really felt it this time. I saw people taking pictures of the new products with their cell phones and emailing them back to their mills in China. (I don't make this claim lightly -- it's an ongoing concern and many people are aware of it.) I saw posturing, I saw intentional deception, I saw misaligned integrity, I saw anti-online-vendorism and I saw anti-brick-and-mortarism, I saw people feigning compatriotism while simultaneously conspiring to destruct one another. (Note: If you're reading this and thinking, "Oh dear, I hope I wasn't one of those people," you weren't. Those people usually lack enough self-awareness to even think, for a moment, that they're doing anything wrong.)

And this is why I believe that many knitters are best served by staying on the sunny side of the curtain. When I say "don't quit your day job," it's not out of disrespect or a lack of belief in you or some sort of smug "newcomers not welcome" attitude. It's because I want you to stay inspired and in love with the creative process. And big business is the #1 creativity killer.

There were some high points, though.

Besides consuming vast quantities of ice cream with Cat, on Saturday night she and I crashed the Vogue Knitting party celebrating the magazine's 25th anniversary. (I'd just taken part in a conference call interview with them about the state of the knitting industry, so I chose to believe my invitation simply got lost in the mail. And that everybody on staff avoided my glance because they were too busy being overjoyed by the success of the party.)






There I ran into Laurie Thomas, owner of Sticks and Strings in Scarsdale, New York. She had been at the fall 06 Knitter's Review Retreat, and my eyes immediately stopped at her shawl.

I knew those colors. I have those colors. They're Jen's colors. By golly it's Jen's yarn! Yarn she purchased at the retreat, and a shawl she began on Sunday morning during the New Beginnings session.

Not only had she finished it, but she was wearing it to TNNA. I couldn't have been more proud and thrilled to have played any part in the facilitation of that gorgeous shawl.







Here's the other thing that made me profoundly proud and excited. Although general photography on the show floor is (at least among honest folk) strictly forbidden, vendors can take photographs of their own booths and their own products. With the express permission of a certain vendor with whom I now have a professional affiliation, I did take this picture of my product.

I'll confess I walked by the booth several times during the show just to prove it was all real, not just some cruel hoax.

My baby, The Knitter's Book of Yarn, took her first steps at this show. (Despite the fact that they only had black and white uncorrected galleys for people to see. Which we won't talk about.) The enthusiasm with which it was received, the trust that store owners are putting in my work, left me humbled to the point where I almost didn't know what to do with myself. And to be displayed right there along my color hero Mr. Kaffe himself, well, my heart did skip a beat. And it definitely helped up for that .00001% darkness ever lurking in the background.











And here's the other thing that no amount of lurking darkness could possibly penetrate.










As I said, there are good people and not so good people in any industry. If you think that knitting is any different, well, it isn't. We don't live in Hello Kitty land, no matter how much I wish we did. But we still have people who approach their work with integrity, honesty, inspiration, and pride -- and that's where I choose to focus my editorial attention. We have our dark corners, but I sort of figure (or hope) that they'll grow moldy and shrivel up after a while.

And if they don't? Well... too bad. I've got the qiviut.