Family names, Kurt Vonnegut, figuring shit out.

I’ve been considering the idea of giving all my kids different last names. Resurrecting various maiden names or something, picking them the way people often pick middle names out of their whole pool of known family names.

I think it is mainly being married that has me thinking about names and name systems. It’s easy to skip that whole “married name” business, but if you want to give your kid some kind of awesome, non-patriarchal name you actually have to come up with a plan. That gets complicated really fast, even in the common, surface solutions like hyphenating last names or using the mother’s family name in an attempt to go matrilineal (by passing on her dad’s name). All of those schemes run into the usual problems if there is a break from monogamy, if anybody leaves a relationship, breeds with more than one person, or dies. The “team name” gets broken all the time, even if you are trying to play along. Even just making up a new last name doesn’t solve the question of what the grandkids would be called.

Family structures and systems are fucking intense. Where do they all come from? Which ones are good? Research questions.

This multiple last name idea has been wildly unpopular with everyone I’ve mentioned it to. Intensely unpopular. Instant frowning. Worst idea ever. I still kind of like it. Galen and I already have different last names and we manage to be a family team. Maybe it would be good, if we had kids, to remember that they were individual people and not just “ours.” Maybe a team name is just a manifestation of compulsory/wishful monogamy and maybe we can do better than that. It scales well across multiple generations, unlike, say, hyphenation. I’m lucky enough to know a lot of my ancestral family names, and it seems like maybe reusing them would be a fairly robust way to remember your lineage if you moved or were displaced. Or maybe it would just make it impossible to find each other again.

Lacking a unified last name, maybe we could give our household its own name, to make it easy to refer to. That happens sometimes with places populated by roommates. (I’m thinking of places I’ve known called The Husbandry, The Folk Museum, The Queens Den, The Triple Crush Palace…). That doesn’t solve anything about family members who don’t live in the same home, but it’s a start.

This is unresolved. I just found an old booksale purchase called World Revolution and Family Patterns that I’m hoping might contain some inspiration. I also found a Kurt Vonnegut quote via Bex that I have filed away.

12. … Even when Vonnegut dared to propose a utopian scheme, it was a happily dysfunctional one. In Slapstick, Wilbur Swain wins the presidency with a scheme to eliminate loneliness by issuing people complicated middle names (he becomes Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain) which make them part of new extended families. He advises people to tell new relatives they hate, or members of other families asking for help: “Why don’t you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don’t you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?” Of course, this fails to prevent plagues, the breakdown of his government, and civil wars later in the story.

Complicated middle names: noted.

Old men knitting, a gap, then young men knitting

Flickr photo

I posted a few photos of knitting ideas this week, and when I was thinking about what to post to round on the week’s set, I got to thinking about men knitting.

Several times, I’ve had old white men come up to me while I’m knitting (or especially the few times Galen has been knitting in public), and they’ve talked about how they used to knit, or about how all their sailor or fisherman coworkers used to knit their own socks, hats and sweaters. People in my grandparents’ generation. Pretty much the exact dudes in that photo. The middle one is knitting. Can you tell? That’s my usual move, knitting while everybody else drinks beer.

My gramma, who has been my main knitting tutor other than books, is totally unphased about men knitting. She seems to find it normal and expected, which strikes me as odd since knitting is now cast as such a gendered activity, as a feminine art to be reclaimed and valued, as something our grandmothers did. When guys knit now, it’s celebrated as a happy transgression similar to chicks fixing cars. I should ask my grandparents about this, see if they remember a break when western or North American men stopped knitting.

(My brief googling for pictures of men knitting turned up lots of men knitting within apparently conventional knitting roles in Peru — Andean male knitting traditions are well-known— as well as Turkey, plus net-makers all over the place. Only the young urban male knitters in North America had any kind of “breaking tradition” vibe happening. E.g., a drummer, a subway rider.)

I wonder if it has anything to do with different modes of transmitting knowledge. I’ve never seen any written knitting instructions or patterns geared to guys before the last few years (Knitting with Balls and the like). All the heaps of vintage commercial patterns I’ve seen are for the ladies. I would assume the knitting sailors and knitting workmen maybe learned it right from another person. I could also see job changes, mass production, world wars, and gendered income differences being involved in there.

I haven’t even tried to google this. It’s just going in a pile with other vague research topics that I casually keep an eye out for. Knitting grandfathers. Maybe I’ve got some.

The best thesis since Xena

I helped my granny pick her peach tree on the weekend, so I took the opportunity to explain my new thesis project to her and ask for her input about mortality and dying.

She’s 86; she grew up on a farm; she’s had her funeral and burial plans pre-paid for years; she tells a story about her experience speaking with the spirit of her recently deceased sister; and we often have conversations about my grandpa’s advanced Alzheimer’s dementia and the merits of burning out versus fading away (elder nursing home version). I thought she’d have lots to contribute.

The first thing out of her mouth?

“Oh darling, there’s a book I’ll have to give you when I’m finished. It’s about one of those… those men who never die? (Well he could die in a fight, but not of old age.) And he’s supposed to hunt evil? It goes back centuries. Just centuries.”

(The name she’s looking for is Dark Hunter, and he surely owes his existence to Boris Vallejo.)

Dark Hunter novel cover

I know that I need to start narrowing my topic as soon as possible— at the moment I’m reminded of my aunt’s high school independent research project on the entire history of ancient China— but for now, while I scope out the lay of the land, it’s pretty cool to just ask everyone I know if they have any tips or resources about dying, to see all the different angles that pop up. I would not have thought to examine sexualized immortality in post Buffy pulp fiction if granny hadn’t suggested it.

I should really go visit my old relatives

Last night Galen and I popped down to Pagliacci’s to pick up a pre-amp from Brooke, who was playing there. Pag’s jazz jam in full effect! It had been awhile since I’d been down for one of those nights. I think it was officially a Marc Atkinson show, but he was out of town, so the rest of the band asked Brooke to come play, and then various musicians came in off the street, and everyone on stage played several instruments so they all took turns switching. A pot pourri.

Of particular note, I finally got to hear Devon sing, and he is not kidding around about singing. I was having major grampa-convergence feelings watching him get settled on stage, though, because he was wearing the same kind of cuddly, old-man cardigan that my grampa always does, and this great plaid cap. Furthermore, Devon started out sitting in a chair on stage with no instrument and no microphone, no obvious reason for being there, just looking contented and watching the other guys play the intro.

My grampa does that kind of thing a lot, since his Alzheimer’s got noticeable. I’ve done a lot of sitting with the old guy, looking around and being contented. It made me think that my grampa should join a band. I think he’d be into it, as long as they played something old timey.

Future parents of lesbians

I didn’t notice anything remarkable about these packages until I was on the way out the door to mail them this afternoon.

Galen, man of the house, addressed this one:

To: Zoe...

And this is the product of my womanly touch:

Mr. #2-5 Londo...

You can watch the progress towards this moment in both our family trees. Grandmothers with business diplomas, fathers who stayed home with babies, and so on. In a couple of generations, the clan will surely have morphed into swashbuckling androgynes of some sort. Hot! (… for my own fictional great-grandchildren! Um, I stand by it!)

But you could invent one

Granny: “What I want, is a phone… for my wrist. So I can call if I get in trouble.”

Me: “Oh yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a phone like that. But lots of cell phones can clip on your belt.”

Granny: “I don’t wear a belt, though. What I do wear, is my wrist. And my wristwatch.”

Me: “Hm. Most cell phones are too big to wear on your wrist. How about hanging it around your neck, or keeping it in your waist pack?”

Granny: “But you see, I’d want it to be convenient to get to. When I’m in the car, driving, I can get to my wrist really quickly.”

Me: “So you want a private detective, wristwatch walkie-talkie?”

Granny: “Yeah!”

Next time my grandmother invents something that already exists, I should just buy it for her even if I think it won’t actually work very well with her lifestyle. (I mean, she phones me and plays her answering machine messages into the phone and has me say them back to her. Pretty sure a cell phone would be a bad idea.)

Galen’s granny invented music videos one time. She even got the dominant structure right. (“Darling, do musicians ever make little movies to go along with their songs, as a marketing device? You could have scenes of the band playing, mixed with scenes of the band, say, walking down the street.”)

It seems like there should be some way to define this quality. Technology or media so right that grannies spontaneously invent it.

Granny to 11

My granny just called to see if I would accompany her to a protest march on Monday, in support of the teachers’ strike. Of course I will!

This is not a usual activity for granny, but criticizing the BC provincial government is. Part of the reason I’m so excited to help her with this is that it seems like an excellent expressive outlet for her, and I think she likes that too. It’s granny to 11. She seems to feel exactly the same way I do about her being 85 and protestin’ the government: it’s awesome, it’s admirable, and it’s kind of cute.

I’m intrigued yet again at how aware she is of her age and other people’s perception of it. She’s not embarrassed or righteous about being 85, she just rolls with it. I think she might make a sign, which I would love to see. I mean, everybody would want to see my soft, white marshmallow of a foremother carrying a “support workers’ rights” slogan constructed out of cereal boxes and recycled Christmas paper or something, right?

I probably sound like I’m making fun, but I’m really, really not. I find my granny hilarious most of the time, but she thinks I’m ridiculous too and that’s half the fun of hanging out. She makes me spazz by using her Depression-era instincts to save broken rubber bands, and I make her spazz by getting my tongue pierced and building web sites. But we see each other’s point most of the time. I think granny likes being scandalized by her grandkids as much as we like scandalizing her, and vice versa.

I need to save this feeling for when the old bird is being stubborn and long-winded about some boring medical issue. Last night we had a beer together (mildly scandalous) and sorted her knitting box, and now she wants to go protesting, and our relationship is perfect.

Granny’s destiny: to live until the invention of shredders.

On Monday I helped my granny with her semi-annual paperwork confusion chores. The goal is just to replace outdated investment statements with the latest round and file it all away, but it is about the most spectacular display of granny management I’m ever required to produce. It’s guaranteed hilarity, paranoia, and a clear view to the inner workings of gran, twice a year.

I need to catalog a few things about the 2nd quarter 2005 edition.


(Unexpectedly produced by granny, from a Girl Guide Cookie caselot box1, handles tied together with old blue yarn, for me to shred2.)

  • Gas bills from 1995 on, from companies that no longer exist3
  • Eaton’s4 account statements from the nineties
  • A notebook with handwritten household bookkeeping from 1978 – 19855
  • Monthly credit card statements from 1998 – 2000, pinned to receipts with dress pins6
  • Blank airmiles card offers
  • Half a page of grampa’s income tax assessment from 1997
  • Such quantities of bank statements that we had to stop because the poor household-rated shredder started to smoke.


1 Depression-era reuse of household waste. Noble, yet absurd. See also: wrapping leftover food in the inner bags of cereal or cracker packages, storing legal documents in marketing folders that came in junk mail.

2 Granny has technology at her house, but I have to make it go. You probably guessed. I like calling her house and getting myself on the answering machine.

3 Granny is a world champion worrier. Leaves no stone unturned.

4 Granny is patriotic. We had a small conversation about the demise of Eaton’s. I actually got a little sad, thinking about the role of the T. Eaton Company in The Hockey Sweater.

5 Granny’s house is one of those breeding spots for history. No matter how many times we empty her deep freeze, there are always packages marked “Blueberries ’86” or “Quince ’91.” I wonder where the rest of these notebooks are hiding.

6 More determined cross-purposing of household objects. Also, comprehensive lack of normal stationery supplies. Only giant scissors, only giant paper clips, etc.