Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Her Reputation Precedes Me

Now then, where were we?

About three weeks ago, I started noticing occasional visits to The Panopticon via Ravelry. If you knit, and you're reading this, you probably know about Ravelry. If you don't, here's a quick briefing:
  1. These two nice people decided it would cool, and perhaps profitable, to launch a Web space for knitters that would allow them to create profiles (like MySpace), catalog their stuff (like Librarything), and interact with other people (like the Knitty boards, et al.).

  2. The two nice people wanted a couple hundred beta testers to play with the shiny new (if still incomplete) toy so that they could make it run properly before asking the general knitting public to step inside.

  3. Knitters beat a path to their homepage so quickly, and in such numbers, that it tore a gash in the fabric of the universe and temporarily reversed the flow of the Mississippi, the Ganges, the Nile, and the Rio de la Plata.
At present, "Where are you on the Ravelry waiting list?" is a question as much on the lips of the knitting community as "Did you finish yet?" was among Harry Potter fans last week.

Those who have been let past the velvet ropes are known to be enjoying themselves heartily on the dance floor. Occasional squeals and giggles heard through the door suggest a level of orgiastic delight akin to the parties thrown in Rome just before it fell. Those of us still waiting on the sidewalk are doing our best to be patient. Fortunately, we brought our knitting.

The proprietors are wisely employing a strict policy of only inviting new users according to their places on the waiting list. As one commenter over on Stephanie's blog said, "If they made you wait, we know there are no exceptions."

As of today, I'm 11,565 [edited. oops. originally published with wrong number] on the list. In front of me are 4,107 people. Behind me are 10, 198 people. Ten thousand one hundred ninety eight. The number keeps rising; even as those ahead of me have been allowed in, the total percentage of admitted applicants has held steady at about 33%.

I will admit I've been damned curious about what's happening in there, particularly since it's started sending folks over here. I'm reminded of an episode in middle school when one of the boys discovered one could hear conversations in the girls' toilets via a transom window facing the playground. He took to hanging about under the window, trying to find out if they were talking about him. (They were. They were saying, "Why is that little dickhead always trying to listen to us while we pee?")

Here's one thing I do know, and it makes me nervous as hell: Dolores is already in there. Naturally. She's already got her own fan club, the Dolores Devotees, complete with their own badge and banner.

DD Banner

Madam is over the moon. I can't get her away from the computer, and every time I come into the room she closes the browser and pretends to be deeply engrossed in a spreadsheet.

Should I be nervous?

Monday, July 30, 2007


Hi. It's Dolores.

You're gonna have to hear from my today because His Royal Shortness is still not up to writing. He wanted me to say thanks for all the thoughtful comments, which I had to read aloud, holding the print-out in one hoof while keeping the cold compress on his forehead with the other. He says he'll be back soon.

It's been like the last reel of an Alice Faye movie around here, let me tell you. We've had to administer sal volatile a couple of times, and by the way who the fuck has a ready supply of sal volatile in the medicine cabinet in 2007?

So to minimize the fainting spells we're keeping him in bed with the shades drawn. Harry managed to get all the Billie Holiday and Patsy Cline off his iPod, but it just means that instead we've heard the second act of Grey Gardens 2,683 times.

The final volume of Harry Potter shut him up for a couple hours, until he got to the very end and ripped up the last five pages into little bits and threw them out the window.

And he's writing poetry. On the other hand, he's switched from blank verse to sonnets and to me that spells improvement. (In his mood, I mean. Not in his poetry.) When he starts writing limericks we'll know he's on the way back.

Cripes, gotta go. He wants a rhyme for "rigormortis."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Fifty First Dates

Let none say I've not done my utmost. I've swallowed my shyness, learned to speak up, put in my time at the gym. Moisturized and buffed and polished and trimmed. Kept my mind open. Danced. Dined. Listened with all the interest I could muster. Sympathized, empathized. Put myself out there. Said hello. Bought drinks. Accepted drinks. Kissed and been kissed. Loved and...not been.

This morning, after a night of sleepless contemplation, the truth-telling light of dawn revealed to me a fugitive vision of my future:


I hate men. I give up. I am retiring to the remotest mountaintop monastery I can find and never coming out again. Although yes, I do see an issue with trying to get away from men by moving to a monastery. No plan is perfect.

First one to the apartment gets to keep the stash. And Dolores.

The Subject Was Movies

So listen, if you're interested in hearing me shoot off my mouth about a topic I don't normally dwell on in here, check out my interview over at the Film Experience blog. Far better than my responses, if you ask me, are Nathaniel's graphics to accompany them.

Such a clever man. It makes you wonder why he doesn't knit.

Coffee In, Coffee Out

If you're a long-time reader you may remember this cartoon (now re-drawn).

Side by Side

I hesitated to even post it, but when I did a bunch of you asked for it on a coffee mug. Here it is.

I don't know why Cafepress makes the close-ups of mug designs look so dreadful on screen, by the way. All I can tell you is the artwork shouldn't be pixelated on the finished product even though it appears so on the screen.

I also don't know whey they changed the template for tote bags and never bothered to tell me, especially considered the flood of spam messages I get from them on other topics of no import. I've got to go and re-do all the bags. Ah, the life of the bourgeois shopkeeper.

Happy weekend, y'all.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Abigail's Christening in Four Pictures

I'm thunderstruck by the comments on the shawl and thank you all very much. Of course, the weekend was not about the christening shawl, it was about the christening, so here's a look at that.

1. A Meeting at Mugglefest


Friday night, while Abigail snoozes for a bit at Grandma's, we pay a visit to Mugglefest, Portland's extremely impressive re-creation of Diagon Alley. Various Hogwarts figures are wandering about signing autographs. To my great surprise, Professor Dumbledore addresses Susan and Phil by name and the three pose for a portrait. As we leave, Dumbledore shouts, "See you soon!"


2. Bath Time


On the morning of the big day, Mom and Dad give Abigail a good dunk in the tub.

3. A Contemplative Moment


As she waits to be dressed, Abigail asks herself, will that bald paparazzo never leave me in peace?

4. We Meet Again, Professor

More Water

We arrive at the garden where the Big Event is taking place. I whisper to Susan that at least I don't have to worry about a church roof falling in on me, to which she replies that I could still be struck by lightning. The service begins. Do you recognize the minister, this time with his own facial hair?

How many kids can tell their friends they were christened by Albus Dumbledore?*

*I am still reading Deathly Hallows, so DO NOT REVEAL PLOT DETAILS IN THE COMMENTS or I'll hurl an Avada Kedavra at your stash. I mean it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Four Wishes for Abigail

The "Four Wishes for Abigail" shawl was knit for the christening of my niece, Abigail Ann, which took place on July 22, 2007.

Tempus Fugit

The completed shawl measures approximately four feet across, including the points of the edging.

Design Sources and Inspiration

EdgeThe design is my own adaptation of the "borders outwards" method of Shetland lace shawl construction, as described by Sharon Miller in her book, Heirloom Knitting. The same work, which has been my constant companion from the swatch stage to the final weaving, was the source of many of the stitch patterns in the finished piece.

In addtion, the following works were consulted and found to be most helpful:
  • Creating Original Hand-Knitted Lace (Margaret Stove)
  • A Treasury of Knitting Patterns (Barbara Walker)
  • "A Lace Alphabet to Knit" from Piecework (May/June 1998)
The project also had a long-distance godmother: Jean Miles. Jean's work, displayed and beautifully annotated on her Web site, stirred the lace-knitting impulse in my soul. It was she who introduced me to Sharon Miller's work, to Bridget Rorem's lace alphabet, and she who provided me with the Latin translations of the words worked into the shawl edging.

Beyond that, Jean's good-humored descriptions of her own works-in-progress have also been an inspiration. An inspiration to not throw the knitting out the window or run it through the shredder on days when, for example, one of the sides somehow acquired three extra stitches...again.

Design Strategy and Themes

On the chair

I knew I had to make this piece from start to finish on a tight schedule. It was, furthermore, to be my first large piece of lace knitting and my first piece of lace design.

I set myself a few limits. First, all motifs used had to have small repeats that I could memorize easily and work anywhere (including the subway) without a chart. Second, if at all possible all motifs had to alternate a row of patterned knitting with a row of plain knitting in order to save time and keep the level of difficulty moderate. Third, all motifs in the shawl center and borders had to read well on a stockinette ground, as I would be knitting in the round and wanted to be able to knit all the plain rows instead of purling them.

Blocked Corner

That said, I knew that shawl had to include motifs appropriate to Maine. I wanted it to have a certain robust beauty appropriate to the rugged terrain and the forthright people who live on it. Maine is breathtakingly beautiful, but the beauty is fierce. Odd as it may sound, I didn't want the shawl to appear too delicate.

And I knew I wanted the design to include words, a message of some kind to Abigail. The inspiration came for the final design came, oddly, from an afternoon spent flipping through photographs I took of inscriptions at Ostia Antica, the ruins of the ancient seaport of Rome.

I swatched everything, and there were still surprises both pleasant and unpleasant. However, swatching did minimize the unpleasant and definitely led to a better finished product. If you want to design your own lace, you'd better be prepared to swatch. If you just can't bear it, choose another project.

The Four Wishes

The edging comprises two design elements:
  • Sharon Miller's double scallop shell edging, and
  • four lozenges surrounded by faggot stitch, each containing a wish for the baby.

The wishes, written in Latin as befits a solemn occasion, are:
  • SAPIENTA (wisdom)
  • ROBUR (strength)
  • MISERICORDIA (compassion)
  • RISUS (laughter)
With those, Abigail should be well-equipped to deal with anything life has to offer.

I confess that about halfway through MISERICORDIA I began to wish the Latin word for compassion were somewhat shorter.

Other Stitch Motifs

The center of the shawl consists of a square panel of the pattern variously called fern lace or leaf lace (Barbara Walker) or candlelight (Sharon Miller). It is closely related to the traditional Shetland "fir cone" pattern. Worked in stockinette, as here, the decreases create a diamond grid that surrounds the openwork. In Abigail's shawl, the motif is meant to represent the white pine cone - the state flower of Maine.

On the Porch

Immediately surrounding the central panel is a stockinette band worked with roses, although we're going to call them hibiscus as a nod to Abigail's mother's adopted home state of Hawai'i.

The four trapezoidal borders are filled mostly with diamond trellis. Around the outermost edge of the borders, inside two eyelet rows, are pine trees: once again, an homage to the state of Maine.

The roses and trees come from Heirloom Knitting; Barbara Walker collected the diamond trellis.

The Yarn and Needles

The yarn is a natural white silk/cashmere laceweight procured from Sean at Wolcott and Company. I cannot, cannot, cannot scream and yell enough about how much I love this yarn. The color gives the finished piece a warm, antique look that I prefer to the chill of pure white. The silk lends a sheen so subtle it's barely a sheen; it's more of a glow. The drape and softness are luxury itself.

The entire piece was knit up on an Addi Turbo circular, size US zero.

The Gift and the Recipient

Abigail seemed to like it. Four wishes for her, one for me: I hope to live to see her happy children wrapped up in it.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Shall Never Grow Tired of This

Four Wishes for Abigail has now been blocked.


More photos (including action shots from the christening) and the full dossier on the project when I come back from Maine.

You'll excuse me, won't you, whilst I go lie down for a little while? But not on the bed, of course. The shawl gets the bed. I'm sleeping on the sofa.

That will seem odd only to the non-knitters who are reading this.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Last night, I dreamt that I had finished the christening shawl.

It was washed, blocked, ends worked in. A hint of lavender permeated the tens of thousands of tiny stitches. From across the lake came a magnificent summer breeze, tickling the scalloped edges and making them dance.

I tossed it into the air and watched it drift, like a homing angel, back into my arms. I spread it out before me on the green grass, and noticed that I had spelled two of the words in the inscription incorrectly.

I woke up in a cold sweat, jumped out of bed, turned on the lights, grabbed the shawl and checked three times to make certain that there were no typographical errors in my knitting. Ten minutes later, back in bed, I was still shaking. Fifteen minutes later, I got up and checked it again.

The shawl will be finished and blocked by tomorrow night, just in time to head to Maine for the christening. But I've become a little afraid to actually wrap this thing around the baby. If it's at all true that the Spirit of the Knitter pervades his work, Abigail will grow up to be a neurotic, compulsive copy editor.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Click Click Click Click Click

Such a weekend. This will be a quick post, though, because the christening shawl must be blocked not later than Thursday night and I can't spend much time doing anything else until it's done.

Saturday, of course, was the first full day of shooting for the 1,000 Knitters project. My secret goal was to end with fifty sittings complete. And, would you believe, exactly fifty knitters sat and worked their little bit of the scarf.

Lower Half

I hope I didn't look as nervous as I felt. I am terribly shy by nature and the prospect of meeting many of you was both thrilling and daunting. At about 7:30 on Friday night I considered whether it might be better for all of us if I were to just scrap the project, get on a plane bound for the Lesser Antilles, and spend the rest of my life quietly doing whatever it is they do in the Lesser Antilles.

Anything, anything rather than make an ass out of myself in front of lots and lots of people.

And then I thought, well, you're assuming lots of people will show up. You're assuming anybody will show up. It's possible nobody will show up, and then won't you feel silly? Won't that be a fun blog entry to write?

Suddenly the Lesser Antilles didn't seem remote enough to constitute a refuge.

But I did show up.* So did you. And bless your hearts, you were cooperative and good-tempered and enthusiastic. You gave freely of your time on a beautiful summer's day. I am grateful.

The parade of people was fascinating.

Here, on the very first day, we had women and men. A straight married couple. A lesbian married couple. Black people, white people, Asian people, Hispanic people, old people, young people, skinny people, fat people. People with tattoos. People with floral print dresses. People who have been knitting less than a year, and people who have been knitting longer than I've been alive. I even photographed a lady from Serbia who spoke no English at all, and whose son had to translate for me–until she picked up the needles.

You know what? It really is a bond that goes beyond language.

One thing that amused me mightily was the number of people–dozens–who picked up the yarn and said, "Eeewww. What is this?"

It's the first yarn I ever bought, that's what it is. The final remaining skein of seven, purchased three days after I learned the knit stitch. I decided I was going to knit a sweater. I went to the nearest yarn shop. I threw myself at the mercy of the very ill-tempered, suspicious saleswoman and she took full advantage of my naïveté.

Ironically, that yarn was Hot Stuff for the time–1991. It's pure wool, and it came from a producer in New England small and crunchy granola enough to be considered artisanal. It cost a bundle. And it's nasty.

Now that same shop is owned by a friend and sells much better stuff for far less money. My friends, my friends–what a wonderful time it is to be a knitter.

It's an exciting time for the project. I have enough raw material now that I can begin (once the shawl is done) to sift and sort and see how the series might be arranged. Already, in my brief scans of what I've captured, possibilities are presenting themselves that I didn't imagine at the outset.

Special thanks, of course, to the Arcadia Knitting crew (Kathy, Sharon, Chandra, and Sarah) for hosting the project and taking pains to make it work.

I'm not sure when the next shoot will be, but there will be at least one more this summer. Stay tuned.

I have to go knit lace now.

*Thanks in part to my father, who called at 6:30 a.m. to make sure I was out of bed, and not hiding under it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

1000 Knitters: The First Public Shoot

ThirdA friendly reminder from the little guy with the camera to you.

The first day of public shooting for the 1,000 Knitters photography project is this Saturday, July 14, from 9 am to 5:30 pm at Arcadia Knitting (1613 West Lawrence) in Chicago.

If you are thinking about coming, and I hope you are, please read the following carefully. I hate, hate, hate lists of rules, but I think setting forth a few will help to ensure a pleasant day for all.
  1. Do I need to sign up in advance? No. Sitting will be on a first-come, first-served basis. I've had terrible luck with advance reservations for stuff like this, particularly on summer weekends. That way madness lies.

    When you arrive at the shop, you'll be given a number. Until your number is called, you're free to roam as you wish. The shop will be replete with a trunk show, sale items, new arrivals, and much more to occupy your time if you prefer to wait your turn on the premises.

    Please don't stray too far, though; if you miss your turn, you'll be asked to move graciously to the rear of the line. Of course, I don't expect that to be an issue. Knitters are always fair and never pushy, unless there are Koigu mill ends going cheap.

  2. How long will the wait be? Honestly, I don't know. It will depend on how many people show up. I intend to keep things moving along as quickly as possible, but I also have to spend quality time with each person to tell our story properly.

    I suppose I could shoot bangbangbang, three faces a minute, like those nice people who issue driver's licenses at the Department of Motor Vehicles; but I fear you might not like the results.

    Besides...you're going to be in a yarn store. With knitters. How much of hurry are you going to be in to get away?

  3. What should I bring or wear? The only thing I will ask of you, other than the gift of your presence, is that you complete and sign a standard model release before you sit. A model release is a simple form which gives me permission to use your image in this project. The form will also ask you to provide your name, occupation, city and state to possibly accompany your photograph in future exhibitions. ADDENDUM: Please note that if you are under 18, you will also need to have your release signed by your parent or guardian.

    As far as what to wear, that's up to you. Just please wear something. Not that I have moral objections to nudity, mind you, but the yarn is rather itchy.

  4. You want to use my name? Can I be anonymous? While I would prefer that you agree to use both your first and last names, I won't insist. But I will ask that you at least provide your first name and initial. After all, part of the point of this is lifting the veil of anonymity that traditionally blankets those who do handwork. If you are not willing to be identified minimally as, for example, "Patricia T. of Niles, Illinois" then you may prefer not to sit.

  5. What will this cost me? There is no charge for participation. What happens when you encounter the bin of sale yarns, however, is your own affair.

  6. Will be allowed to preview and approve my photograph? What, and spoil all the fun on the day I launch the first exhibit? I couldn't possibly do that to you.

  7. I can't be there. Are you going to do this again? Yes! I've got three messages (at least) from other yarn shops waiting for a response and I am hoping to work out arrangements with all of them. In addition, it looks like (this is not confirmed) I may be shooting at Stitches Midwest. And that's just for starters.
Arcadia says they've encountered quite a bit of interest. I'm excited beyond words. Smile pretty, y'all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ode on a Lace Edging

Thou still unfinished strip of garter stitch...
How do I knit thee, double scallop shell edging?*
Let me count the rows.
When by thy scorn, o slipped stitch, I am dead...
Not scrapbooks, nor the quilted monuments...
No no no no no no no.
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I'm thoroughly sick
of knitting you.

Ad Infinitum

*By Sharon Miller, in Heirloom Knitting. Quite a brilliant design, actually. Must remember to write Mrs Miller a note of thanks when my fingers uncramp.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Three Announcements

Item the First: Pondemonium

Almost two years ago, at a Stitch 'n' Bitch at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, our own Jen Small passed around a design that she'd just submitted for publication.

Now, one of the first patterns I ever followed was Jen's bunny hat from Stitch 'n' Bitch Nation. And this new piece–a child's sweater–was another example of her rare ability to tiptoe along the whimsical boundary waters on the far edge of the Meadow of Cute without pitching headfirst into the Swamp of Sickening.

I loved the sweater so much that I've watched for it to show up in print and talked about it to probably forty knitters, none of whom had even asked.

Well, happy news: It's available, as "Pondemonium," from Jimmy Beans Wool. Fair Isle, seamless, sized for babies and toddlers (6, 12, and 18 months). And the real kicker? It's free. Go get it.


Note elbow patches shaped like lily pads. I'm plotzing.

Item the Second: FibreFest North 2007

My Canadian buddy, Ted aka Knitterguy, who knits gorgeous lace and spins gorgeous yarn, bubbling all the while with wisdom and good humor and completely misplaced modesty, is the brains behind FibreFest North,* a knitting weekend being held at the beautiful Waterview Resort near Wiarton, Ontario, September 28-30.

A look at the list of those who are already signed up is enough to make me spit nails, since I won't be of the party. Ted tells me there's still room and time to sign up. Go. Have a good time. Without me. See if I care.

Item the Third: On the Airr with Knitgrrl

Some time ago, Shannon Okey stopped in on her blog tour for Spin to Knit and Dolores got to her before I could. She has now asked me to appear on her Knitgrrl Show Podcast, but swears her motive is not revenge. We'll be on the air on this Friday at 2 p.m. United States Eastern Standard time, and you don't need an iPod to listen.

One unusual feature of this Podcast: listeners can call in and talk with us. No, I don't understand exactly how it works, but apparently it does. Please resist the urge to dial if you're:
  1. Dolores;
  2. my mother, thinking it would be fun to tell 2,000 knitters the story of how I got tomato soup on the ceiling of our brand new house; or
  3. any of my ex-boyfriends.
The rest of you are welcome to say hey.

*A lot of the people on the attendee list are American, so I guess it's okay to go even if you prefer to work with fiber.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

War: Enough Already

This is my Independence Day post. The fourth itself was a very glum, solitary day for me and I wasn't up to posting, so consider this my way of prolonging the spirit of the occasion.

There used to be a custom in American families that on the fourth of July, the Declaration of Independence would be read aloud to remind everyone present of the ideals upon which the nation was founded. This has fallen sadly out of fashion; perhaps in the age of the sound bite we could at least read this bit to our children, before it winds up on the scrap heap:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. [The rest of it is here.]
You know I seldom get political in here, but you know I also do not support (and never have) the present war in Iraq. Of course, there is only so much one can do about it. I'm not over there fighting in it, and I keep voting for people who say they're going to try to end it.

My opposition goes well beyond that particular war to encompass all wars, everywhere. I'll still pray for peace in Iraq even after the Americans leave, although I think our leaders have done their best to ensure that the ruins will smolder for generations.

There's a protest being staged in Chicago, and I plan to be there. I like the format because it's not the usual march-and-shout affair. If anything, the descriptions of the planned action suggest it will raise no more than a murmur, and that on the shore of Lake Michigan well north of the center of the city.

It's called "Prostrations for Peace," and a blog of sorts has been established for it here, with details about where and when and how. I heard about it through a message the Buddhist Peace Fellowship sent to the Zen center where I practice. In spite of the name, the action isn't only for practitioners of Yoga or Buddhism, which makes me like it all the more.

My participation will be 108 prostrations, each with the intention I've made every morning since I became a Buddhist: May all beings attain enlightenment. Enlightened beings, you see, do not blow one another to smithereens in the name of religion, patriotism, or cheaper gasoline. It sounds to me like a pleasant change from the present arrangement.

How is touching my forehead to the ground 108 times in a public park going to help stop war? I don't know. I just have to believe it will. I can't sit here and do nothing. And as we still have 500 or so days left to go before our august warlord scampers back to his ranch (he should only stay there) there's precious little else I can do.

By the way, I know there are a lot of new readers in here lately, and I'm glad you're here. If you find this post disconcerting, please understand that along with Franklin the knitter and Franklin the cartoonist and Franklin the gay dude with the talking sock yarn, every so often you get Franklin the tree-hugging peacenik.

Tomorrow, back to knitting. Specifically, the mathematics involved in working a lace shawl. Hotcha!

Monday, July 02, 2007


I need to decompress, darlings, so let's chat about something entirely frivolous and off-the-wall today. I spin my mental Wheel of Fortune, and it lands on...drag.

One of the gay stereotypes that absolutely refuses to die is that we all like to wear women's clothes, or that we all have a sexual attraction to men who wear women's clothes. Going about thus attired is commonly known as "doing drag." Those who cross-dress are known as "drag queens."

Vive la reine.

While it is true that drag is an old and established part of the gay scene, wearing dresses is no more a universal practice among gay men than the taking of Roman Catholic Holy Communion is a universal practice among Christians.

And oddly enough, all of the men I've known who expressed a sexual fascination with cross-dressing were heterosexual. You think I'm kidding? Think again.

Mind you, I'm sure there are gay men who find a guy in a Jean Harlow wig a turn-on. I just haven't met any in the past 36 years.

My first encounters with drag queens took place when I was a mere stripling of 15, lying about my age to get into bars. (Sorry, Ma. They didn't have high school groups in those days. Unless you count Drama Club.) The very first was either Jerry or Charisse, depending upon the day. Jerry was an amiable fellow who wore bow ties. Charisse was a spangly, red-hot mama with an Anita Baker fixation who scared the living daylights out of me.

I've often wondered why. She never did or said anything threatening. In fact, she never spoke to me beyond a casual greeting. I think the fear must have arisen from my lack of experience with those who defy category. At that age, I needed other people to fit neatly into the little boxes stacked in my head. It was difficult enough not knowing what my place in the world was supposed to be.

These days I've relaxed sufficiently to appreciate people who wander hither and thither, obliterating the boundaries that separate male and female, gay and straight. If that sounds anarchistic and objectionable, try to see it from my side. When you're a member of a minority group so controversial that your fellow citizens consider your right to exist open to debate, you welcome almost anything that makes it more difficult to decide what exactly is "normal."

However, even though I've come to appreciate drag, I still don't enjoy it. Not on me, and not on others. I once got suckered into attending a performance at a local club called "Night of a Thousand Drag Queens." I made it to number 26, but my nerves were shot for the rest of the weekend.

And I'm no better about wearing women's clothing.

It has happened twice, both times on stage. First, I played Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest - a stunt that got me into hot water at my lousy high school. Our costumer was a stickler for period detail and I wore a corset, a fifty-pound brocade dress with underskirts, and a fifteen-pound hat with an entire stuffed bird on top. By the end of our two performances I had aches in my back and neck that lasted for two solid weeks.

Years later, with a company in Boston, I played a nun in John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves. I had to shave my tough beard every night just before the show in order to avoid five o' clock shadow, and my starched wimple chafed terribly.

Some men are just not strong enough to be women.

Given all that, I have had more than my share of drag names, all bestowed during the operatic phase of my young adulthood:
  • Mademoiselle Folie de Grandeur
  • Signorina Cavatina Caballetta ("Tina" for short)
  • Dee Fledermaus
Those rarified jokes tell you something–make that everything–about my friends at the time. Most drag names are more democratic (one might say blue collar) in their appeal. Among my favorites:
  • Dieta and Tulita Pepsi (a sister act from, I believe, St. Louis)
  • Formica Dinette
  • Regina Upright
  • Frida Lay
If for some reason you'd like your own drag name but don't feel up to the task of invention, experts suggest combining the name of your first pet and the name of the first street you lived on* as a child. Mine, following this formula, would be Sandy Pittsburgh.

Dear God, can't you just imagine the wig that goes with that?

*If you lived on 14th Street, you can substitute your mother's maiden name. If you lived on 14th Street in New York City, it's entirely possible your mother was a drag queen.