Harry Potter and the Amorphous Blob

So, this was a blog I ran for about five seconds about my learning to knit. I had a lot of fun writing the first couple posts, then immediately ran out of material that I found interesting enough to share. So, the blog died, as blogs by lazy writers probably tend to do.

And now, it’s back. Kinda. Not Really. Temporarily. This time, I’m not pretending to set off on a grand adventure; I’m openly acknowledging that this blog may be dead again this time next month, and probably permanently if so. But in the meantime, some fun shall be had. Kinda. Maybe. No promises.

The cause for RMK’s sudden resuscitation comes, indirectly, by way of my mild success. I recently found out that I passed the Oklahoma Bar Exam, meaning a group of strangers have determined I possess the minimum competence to fully enter the professional legal world. It’s probably a terrifying thought for the rest of Earth, but for me, hooray minimum competence! With this news came the realization that I never have to study for anything ever again. I mean, there are CLEs, but let’s ignore inconvenient facts for the purpose of this premise.

So, I eventually decided I should embark on this new chapter by doing something I’ve been urged to do for about half my life: read Harry Potter. After all, with no real commitments outside of work, this would be a good time to allow myself to get sucked into the HP world. And maybe it would satisfy some of the friends and relatives who’ve been incredulous at times by my “missing out” on the series. Thankfully, my wife already owns them all — or so I thought (it turns out she stole her brother’s copies; luckily, she’s now married to an attorney). And so, I spent some of my free time the past week reading the first two books. But when I mentioned to some friends that I was finally trying Harry Potter, a few really wanted to know my thoughts. I’m still not entirely sure why. Probably like a billion people have already read them; I’m not sure I have anything worthwhile to add. Perhaps I’m a rarity; maybe most people who can be persuaded to try the series already have. Perhaps loving Harry Potter means a need to make sure all future readers also love Harry Potter. Perhaps I’m just that captivating to listen to (probably not that one). Regardless, rather than continue updating several people individually on my impressions reading those two books, I’ve ended up resurrecting a defunct blog to communicate with all interested (and disinterested!) parties at once.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be trying to share my impressions on reading Harry Potter for the first time. I’ll start with a few posts catching up with thoughts on the first two, which I’ve already completed. Then I’ll try to keep up with sharing thoughts on the remaining five as I go.

But, the title of this blog is Real Men Knit. I think I once thought that was a slightly clever turn on the silly ways that gender roles and identity are shaped; it probably wasn’t. But the word “knit” is still in the title, so the least I can do is occasionally have a knitting tangent. Toward that end, I’m picking back up my knitting needles for the first time in well over a year. I have two massive balls (insert laugh track) of yarn left from when I was gung-ho about getting into knitting, and I’m just going to go for it. Starting this weekend, I’ll try to knit at least 20 minutes a day, with absolutely no goal allowed for what the knitting all becomes. Maybe it will eventually be converted to a scarf, or a blanket, or even something Harry Potter-themed (like an Invisibility Cloak that only works if a person can’t see cheap yarn). But there will be no end game for the foreseeable future: it’s just going to be an amorphous blob.

Mortal Kombat: Knitting Battle

Mortal Kombat was a fighting game that first came out in the early 1990s. It became one of the most popular games ever, and, because of its bloody violence, one of the first targets of those kinds of parents who don’t like taking responsibility for their child and blame video games instead. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided Street Fighter was actually the better game series, but I owned neither as a child and my friends preferred Mortal Kombat, so that’s what I grew up playing. I never loved the game, really just because I was awful at it. My slow fingers could never master the combo moves, and the game’s voice-overs just mocked my futility as I died repeatedly.

Which brings me back to knitting. OK, not really this time. I haven’t been knitting much lately because of school and some illness, and I even missed the most recent knitting class Wednesday. So this is just a slightly exaggerated account of my Mortal Kombat-style encounter with an elderly woman.

At the last knitting class I actually attended, which was a week and a half ago, there was fairly light attendance. I had finished my washcloth, and decided not to add on to my light blue scarf; now that I was able to knit better, I wanted to do a scarf from scratch, one that wouldn’t have all the many mistakes I made when first learning on the blue scarf. So I spent a while looking at unappealing patterns, then finally just decided to use some orange yarn I had to make an OSU scarf, hopefully in time for Bedlam. But I haven’t gotten far enough on the new scarf yet to really make posting a picture worthwhile.

So as I lackadaisically started my new project that day, I talked to Victoria, my 90-something-year-old mentor. I steered the conversation toward sports, and we ended up on baseball. The league championship series were still going at the time, and she expressed her hope that the Cardinals would pull through. I told her I wasn’t really a St. Louis fan, but would root for them if they ended up in the World Series against Texas (which is what has happened). When she asked who I was a fan of, I responded that my favorite team is the Atlanta Braves.

Victoria gave me a look of disgust that I imagine most senior citizens reserve only for people who talk bad about the Hoveround, Life Alert, eating dinner at 4, or Murder She Wrote.

“The Braves?” she said distastefully. “The Braves suuuuuuuck.”

I was dumbfounded. Victoria had already shocked me once by being a sports fan at all. Now she was turning out to be the kind of sports fan who would talk smack in the middle of a knitting class. Suddenly, it is on, Mortal Kombat style.

“The Braves have as much talent under the age of 30 as any team in baseball,” I say. “Enjoy being the beneficiaries of our collapse this year, because we’ll be a force for the next decade, while St. Louis fades away once Pujols signs with the Cubs.”

Shadow Kick, Johnny Cage style.

Solid opening movie. But Victoria rolls her eyes.

“Since when has talent ever meant the Braves win anything? You had your ‘Big Three’ pitchers and won all those division titles, but you only got one championship, and that was in the strike season.”

Holy crap she’s good. Ice Blast from Sub Zero.

She keeps on the offensive.

“And even if the Cardinals do lose Pujols in the offseason, we can count on Atlanta to just make another bad trade, like giving us Adam Wainwright for a washed-up J.D. Drew.”

Air Throw from Scorpion.

I’m off my feet and the game won’t let me move. Somewhere deep inside me, an eight-year-old child screams with a horrible sense of deja vu.

“And it’s not like the Braves have been any better historically,” she continues. “You had Hank Aaron for 20 years and only won one World Series then, too.”

Lightning Blast from Raiden.

My health bar is low.

“Though it’s not like Aaron was ever as good as Ruth, even if he did break Ruth’s record,” she concludes.

Wait a minute. That combo missed. Suddenly I have an opening.

“Um, yes, Aaron was absolutely better than Ruth. Sure, Ruth had more pure power, but Aaron had 1,000 more hits. 1,000. Seriously.”

Spinning Takedown from Kung Lao.

I’m back in the game.

“And Aaron was an elite defender, winning multiple Gold Gloves. Ruth could barely waddle around out there.”

Acid Split from Reptile.

Victoria squirms in her chair and prepares her counter-attack.

“Yes, but Ruth had a shorter career than Aaron. He would have accomplished even more with a couple more years.”

I block her attack. I’m ready for this one.

“He had a shorter career because he was fat. Part of Aaron’s greatness was his ability to have such longevity. A major aspect of the game is just being able to be out there, and Aaron was better than Ruth at that, too.”


“And let’s not forget that Aaron played against much better competition. Ruth got to play in segregated baseball. Aaron’s era had the best athletes in the world, and he was better than all of them.”

Dragon move from Liu Kang.

Fatality registered!

“Well, OK, but I still don’t like Atlanta,” Victoria murmurs.

Eight-year-old David can’t believe he finally won. Sure, the opponent was nearly 80 when Mortal Kombat first came out, but it’s still progress from indignantly claiming I only lost because my controller wasn’t working.

Next week: Actual knitting. I hope.


I’m pretty sure that almost everyone I know who is likely to read this blog is also going to be quite familiar with director Michael Bay. But for anyone who isn’t, he’s the genius behind Armageddon, The Rock, Pearl Harbor, the Transformers trilogy, and the Bad Boys duology (let’s pretend that’s a word). In short, some of the finest films since Gone With The Wind.

But if that list of films doesn’t make it clear who Bay is and what he stands for, this short clip should explain everything:

Which brings me back to knitting. No, really, it does; you’re just going to have to be patient on this one.

On Wednesday, I went to knitting class. As mentioned in my last post, I had agreed the previous week to learn to knit a washcloth. And sure enough, Victoria was ready and waiting to teach. She was already halfway through her explanation by the time I could even sit down; if Victoria ever decides she wants to be a law school professor, she’d be a natural.

The washcloth design was based more on decorative style than actual utility. I later decided this was a good thing. You can give someone a decorative washcloth as a cheap gift, but giving a regular washcloth just says, “I think you need to wash.”

To do the decorative design, I had to learn a new technique, called “yarning over,” which results in stylish holes in the pattern. I was doing well with this for a while, but noticed later in the class that my knitting had ceased to create the holes. I consulted Victoria, and she informed me that I had screwed up. Screwing up in knitting was nothing new for me; I was already an old pro at that. But what came next was new. Victoria said I had reached the developmental stage where I shouldn’t just accept my mistakes, but instead go back and fix them.

For a second, I thought we were about to have a Back to the Future moment, with Victoria as my Doc Brown. We’d jump in the DeLorean, she’d say something about, “Where we’re knitting, we don’t need roads,” and we’d go back in time to before I messed up my yarning over. Then she’d get trapped in the Old West, and I’d fight some Terminators, and we’d have an Excellent Adventure (or possibly a Bogus one), hoping each time that the next leap would be the leap home.

But before I could even finish sorting out which time travel references belonged to which movies or shows,  I realized I was wrong. Victoria wasn’t talking about a quirky adventure through time, she was talking about destroying my work. What happened next unfolded with the kind of over-the-top drama only Michael Bay could provide:

(See? I told you it would all tie together. Also, there are going to be some spoilers from various Bay movies in the following paragraphs, so if you don’t want to know that Bruce Willis dies in Armageddon, you really shouldn’t have read this sentence.)

[Michael Bay/]

Victoria snatched the knitting from my hands with a maniacal grin on her face. She explained that in order to get better benefits for her former Army buddies, she had to take a historic prison captive. For the sake of plot advancement, I ignored the fact that this doesn’t make any damn sense.

Victoria pulled a shotgun out of her purse. I pulled out the two pistols I had strapped to my back (because everyone carries that many guns in real life, right? Right? Right?). But before I could do anything, Victoria set off a massive explosion the blew me across the room. Sure, the blast logically should have killed or severely injured me, but instead it just messed my hair into an even cooler ‘do.

I looked up to see Victoria starting to pull out my incorrect stitches. Stitch after stitch fell by the wayside in super slow motion as a dramatic, John Williams-wannabe musical score yielded awkwardly to an awful Faith Hill song. As the yarn fell, it whipped wildly about, destroying building and bridges in a cacophony of collateral damage that, for some reason, no one acted all that concerned about or would even mention later. I looked over to Ben Affleck for help, but he was struggling enough just to vaguely simulate human emotions.

I crawled over toward Victoria, still in super slow motion. Giving a long, dramatic scream, I reached out and grabbed back my yarn. As I observed the damage done, I raised my arms and screamed again toward the heavens. As I yelled, it started raining, just to enhance the drama, even though there had been a shot of the sky just a frame earlier without a single cloud. Out of nowhere, a flock of doves flew by. (Sorry, that last one is John Woo.)

[/Michael Bay]

Or maybe it didn’t quite happen like that. But Victoria did rip out about four rows of stitches so I could do them again correctly; all that was missing was her saying, “And this time, don’t embarrass yourself.”

But redo I did, and by the time I finished my decorative washcloth a few days later, I was glad Victoria forced me to do it right. The result was the closest thing to perfect knitting I’ve yet accomplished:I’ve decided to give this one away as a gift, though I haven’t decided whom to. Preferably someone who appreciates things that in retrospect don’t really look all that impressive. And maybe someone with an appreciation of Michael Bay movies.

Malcolm Gladwell was wrong

Most of my friends seem to now know Malcolm Gladwell as “the guy who writes on Bill Simmons’ website.” But before Gladwell started talking sports for Grantland.com, he did a book called Outliers.

On a scale of 1 to I’ve Read The Book … well, I haven’t actually read the book. But I do know that Gladwell’s central thesis revolves around the “10,000-Hour Rule,” the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing a skill to become truly great at it. It’s become a highly influential analysis of what it takes to be successful in life, but it doesn’t take much effort to realize Gladwell’s Rule is fundamentally flawed. He bases his idea on the necessity of those 10,000 hours by examining a bunch of normal people like Bill Gates, Robert Oppenheimer, or the Beatles.

Clearly the 10,000-Hour Rule wouldn’t apply to someone like me.

A funny thing happened shortly after my last blog post: I suddenly got awesome at knitting. I’m not sure exactly how it happened. Three possibilities:

1) Practice really does make perfect, and I just have a short learning curve due to my natural awesomeness.

2) Zoltar Speaks, the carnival fortune-telling machine that Tom Hanks and I went to, really worked; if so, we kinda screwed up by only asking to be Big and learn to knit, respectively. Probably should have asked for something better. (And yes, I did remember the name of the carnival machine from Big without looking it up. Be jealous.)

3) I underwent an experimental brain surgery, Flowers for Algernon style, to increase my knitting prowess, and part of the surgical process was to remove my memory of the surgery. I’m not entirely sure the science checks out on this possibility, though. Zoltar Speaks looks most realistic.

Zoltar: the easiest way around the 10,000-Hour Rule

Armed with my Zoltar-produced breakthrough, I made my triumphant return to knitting class on Wednesday. The old women were overjoyed to see me — either because I remind them of their grandkids who don’t call enough, or because they get confused easily and thought I was from the Social Security Administration.

Victoria, whose age suggests she might’ve been one of the first young adults to complain about having to pay for old people’s social security, was particularly happy to have her prized pupil back and looking surprisingly competent. She told me an anecdote about trying to untangle a ball of yarn that was like the Gordian Knot. I told her she should have cut it with a sword.

Victoria’s face lit up. “No one else here knew what the Gordian Knot was.” Understandable, I thought; it’s not terribly high on the list of famous classical references, and with our education system, most Americans probably didn’t even know who Alexander the Great was until that awful Oliver Stone movie a few years ago. Then she told me that the entire group had also never even heard of the Ides of March. We both started laughing. For the 3,207th time in my life, I bonded with someone by laughing at how dumb everyone else is.

Victoria showed me what she was working on: a washcloth. She told me she could teach me how to make one; it’s a more advanced maneuver, involving adding and dropping stitches (which I’ve actually done often, but never intentionally). As I glanced over at Victoria during the class, I started to realize that she didn’t actually want to knit right now; she preferred to teach. So I agreed to let her teach me washcloths next week.

However, that put the pressure on me to get some scarf work done before this coming Wednesday. Luckily, I was flying now. On Saturday, I spent a couple hours knitting while watching football. At one point, I realized I was enjoying the knitting more than the football, and wondered what the hell was happening to me. I nervously dismissed it as the game’s fault for not being more exciting.

Then something really amazing happened: I ran out of yarn.

I had been given a ball of yarn on my first day of class, and at the time, it seemed huge. But I had whittled it down: slowly at first, then suddenly, much faster. And before I knew it, I didn’t have enough yarn left to do another full row of stitches. And my scarf was only 17 inches. Sure, that’s technically enough to get around my neck, but that’s it. I think that’s more of a collar than a scarf.

So in addition to the washcloth, I’m going to need Victoria to teach me how to add more yarn. For now, though, I’m going to show off my jump to Knitting Master. Week One saw my knitting be the size of a quarter. Week Two got to the size of a library card. And Week Three:

And it didn’t even take 10,000 hours. It just felt like it at times.

Knitting Badly Well

A chapter of the recent critically-acclaimed book Successful Failure chronicles, in part, the success of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus despite his flawed swing. The key, Nicklaus said, was “playing badly well.”

Perhaps the book was trying to make some point about finding success even when you’re not at your best, blah blah blah, or whatever. That’s probably the conclusion people who “are able to read” would draw. But why listen to those snobs with their first-grade-or-higher education? I choose to interpret the story of Jack Nicklaus to mean that you don’t have to do something well in order to do it awesomely. All you have to do is turn off the part of your brain that says the preceding sentence makes no sense.

Which brings me back to knitting. In the time since my last post on this blog, I slowly learned that I don’t knit particularly well. But that doesn’t mean I don’t knit awesomely.

Oh wait, that’s exactly what it means. Dammit, brain.

As with most of my problems in life, I blame law school for the problem of my stunted growth as a knitter. I had a paper due last Wednesday night for one of my law classes, which meant I needed to skip my second knitting class to finish it. Some people might suggest that the real problem, then, is not law school, but my own procrastination. But those people can be dismissed as jerks.

Regardless of where the real blame lies (still totally law school), I wasn’t able to make Round 2 of Knitting. I’m guessing that the women of the class noted my absence and decided that “the guy who sucked at knitting” just couldn’t cut it. If I knew anyone in the class better, I might have alerted them about my completely unavoidable conflict. But the only person I talked to much in Week One was well-into-her-90s Victoria, and her telephone probably looks something like this:

No. Wait. That one doesn’t look old enough.

Hmm. Closer. Let’s try one more time.

There you go. However, using the above photo of Alexander Graham Bell seems a little less funny once I realized that his and Victoria’s lives literally overlapped. Wow she’s old.

But I already misjudged Victoria once only to find out she was just a little facepaint away from being the world’s biggest sports superfan. For all I know, she has an iPhone 5 and is downloading a gangsta rap app as we speak so she can listen to her boys from N.W.A.

But regardless of the conclusion about my absence reached by the church ladies (and yes, the phrase “church ladies” does make me think of a group of Dana Carveys), more than a week off knitting meant I completely forgot the entire process. I finally picked my knitting needles back up over the weekend while watching football and proceeded to bludgeon the thread with all the precision of a drunk baby playing “Operation.”

I kept splitting strands of thread with my needles, which meant that the fairly simple process of getting thread on a needle became difficult. And when the simple parts became difficult, the difficult parts became kind of like learning Mandarin while solving a rubik’s cube blindfolded. Even once I started to get the hang of knitting again, after a week and a half without practice, there was something noticeably…off about the results:

That left edge? It’s supposed to be perfectly straight. I have zero clue as to how it ended up like this. One theory is that a couple of my accidental splits of strands of thread weren’t corrected, and somehow resulted in extra columns on the left. A second, more plausible, theory is that it wasn’t my fault at all, but the demon Cthulhu messed it all up whenever I wasn’t looking as part of some evil plan.


Regardless of how the problems started (Cthulhu), I eventually got them under control. I’ve done a couple rows of stitches without any problems, and I feel like I’m on a bit of a roll. I’ve been knitting badly, but I’m doing it well.

When I went to my first knitting class, one of the women asked what I wanted to make. I hadn’t considered that question at all, and said so. Someone suggested I make a scarf, since that’s easy enough. Sounded good to me, so that’s the goal: make myself a scarf.

So far, I’m up a library card holder:

Hopefully my neck doesn’t get cold anytime soon.

Introduction to Knitting

On the day of my first knitting class, I had abandoned my positive attitude. I was tired, having a bad week, and was perfectly ready to give up on knitting before I ever began. But my fiancee, who was taking a different course at St. Luke’s, said I should go — which really meant, “You’re going.” And so I went.

As she drove us to the church, I thought about the many ways this experiment would surely end in disaster. The scenarios covered everything from accidentally stabbing myself with the knitting needles, to complex situations involving a crocodile attack, to the most likely scenario of the entire class immediately denouncing me as the worst knitter of all time. I also wondered what was more likely: that there would be another man in the class, or that there would be another person under 40. My guess was neither.

I was pretty OK with the idea of being the only guy, though. Society has come a long way in the past 50 years, but still puts a ridiculous emphasis on gender roles. I do a little more of the cooking than my fiancee, but she doubtlessly knows more about cars. Neither masculinity nor femininity need be affected because someone partakes in an activity that people more typically associate with the opposite gender. And if I needed any more confirmation about the compatibility of knitting and manliness, I found this:

That’s Cary Grant learning to knit in the 1943 film “Mr. Lucky.” Yes, Cary Grant. The same man who taught me I could dodge airplanes, raise a leopard in my apartment, and have exciting chase scenes on the faces of Mount Rushmore.

Yet when I walked in the room reserved for the knitting class at St. Luke’s, I found a group of women looking at me, clearly confused. “Can we help you?” one lady asked. The thought that I might be there to learn knitting had clearly not even crossed her mind. But once I explained that I was indeed in the right place, they were extremely welcoming. There were no other men, but I wasn’t quite the only person under 40 — there was also a 12-year-old girl who was already a better knitter than I’ll ever be.

In fact, the entire group of 10-15 women were all experts. And I didn’t even have any thread. Luckily, I was graciously given a ball of yarn and seated by the group’s elder, a woman named Victoria who was well into her 90s. Victoria “cast on” for me, explaining that this process of getting the first row of stitches on the needle would be too much for me to absorb in my first class. I wasn’t going to argue.

For the first half hour, as Victoria was trying to explain to me how to knit the additional stitches, I was fairly certain that everything was going to be too much for me to absorb. It was like learning a foreign language. I couldn’t tell what she was doing or what she was trying to have me do. But gradually, this sweet old woman got through to me the basic method, and I was slowly and nervously knitting on my own.

The class was meeting in the parlor, gathered around in a circle on couches and chairs. Different groups were making small talk about all sorts of things, and since I was the only person who knew no one, I couldn’t easily force my way into those talks. So I tried to talk to Victoria, but had no major hopes. What on earth was I going to talk to this old woman about? What would I possibly have in common with someone literally four times my age?

As it turned out…a lot.

Funny story: Victoria is a sports nut. Here I was, so proud of myself for defying gender role expectations by learning to knit. Yet for all my pretensions of enlightenment, I had painted these women into the same burdensome expectations. And now Victoria was shattering them. She told me about watching Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in person at the 1926 World Series. She talked about her favorite player ever, Stan Musial. She told me about how much she loves the Thunder, and how she’s nervous about seeing the Oklahoma universities go to the Pac-12 in conference realignment.

I mean … what??? I did not see that one coming. The title character from “Driving Miss Daisy” had just taken off her mask to reveal she was actually Bob Costas all along.

The class lasted an hour and a half, during which time I chatted sports with Victoria and gained confidence in my basic knitting skills. By the end, I was rolling right along without any help and moving much more quickly than I had been early on. When it was time to go, I got up to survey my progress, half-expecting a full five-foot scarf to be done.

Turns out, I had knitted something the size of a quarter.

Yeah. I still have a ways to go.

A Challenge Is Born

It began with a superhero.

Dr. Bob Long, the senior pastor at St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, was talking about getting out of your comfort zone. Trying new things with a positive outlook. Saying things like how the only difference between an adventure and an ordeal is your attitude. Things that would come across as a cliche from anyone else, but that sound like a revelation of wisdom from Solomon himself when spoken by Dr. Long.

You see, I love superhero stories. And I’ve become convinced that Dr. Long was once bitten by a radioactive Confucius. Or perhaps he was born on a planet of Athenas and was sent here on a rocket ship as a baby. I haven’t figured out what his origin story is yet, but SuperBob clearly has powers.

And on this particular day, Dr. Long’s super-powered sermon had me all fired up to try new things. And it just so happened that brochures were out for Wednesday Night Alive, the church’s free semester-long classes that meet once a week. Among the many, many courses being offered for the fall were ones about the historical origins of the Bible or understanding Islam — the kinds of classes that could increase your knowledge and expand your worldview. Intriguing? Yes. But increasing my knowledge and expanding my worldview? I’m in law school; I take care of those tasks by lunch most days. If I was going to get out of my comfort zone, I would have to look elsewhere.

Then I saw another item in the brochure. Knitting. Well, that would certainly be different. I’ve never knitted a stitch in my life. Pretty sure I’ve never even seen someone knit in real life. I kind of just assumed that the concept died out back when television was invented. Who needs to entertain yourself with knitting when you own all three seasons of Arrested Development on DVD? My 21st-Century brain could scarcely comprehend a reason.

And yet, the idea of learning to knit suddenly appealed to me. It would be a kind of challenge I’d never experienced. I’ve never been artistic or created something beautiful out of nothing. My grandmother paints wonderfully and makes gorgeous quilts. My masterpiece thus far has been arranging my green beans into the shape of a smiley face as a child. Unfortunately, my parents made me eat them before the Louvre could be contacted. Truly a grave injustice.

So before I knew it, I had decided to become a 24-year-old first-time knitter. I was enrolled, but immediately filled with doubts. I’m only barely coordinated enough to brush my teeth; how am I going to learn to knit? But as SuperBob said, the only difference between an adventure and an ordeal is your attitude.

This is an adventure.