Saturday, 15 December 2012
The Y Bomb
Yarn bombing, the practice of decorating or covering large objects in public spaces with knitted or crocheted items, seems to have begun in 2005 and has grown into a worldwide movement. With the growth in yarn bombing's popularity has come some criticism, the most common being that it's a waste of time and yarn. Yarn bombers are quick to point out that no one says an artist who is painting a park bench is wasting time and materials. True, although since the artist is probably using paint chemically engineered to withstand the elements, the bench art will last much longer than a tree trunk cozy. Then too, the bench artist has probably been commissioned by public officials to paint the bench, while the yarn bomber often hasn't, and could technically be considered a vandal, albeit one who does no lasting harm.
I'm a little bit conflicted as to how I feel about yarn bombing. I'm a very practical person, and everything I make has to meet something I call the "utility quotient", by which I mean that if I'm going to spend X number of hours making something, it has be an item that will last and be used for at least X number of hours, and preferably more. I've never been able to get into making Halloween costumes because I can only wear them once a year. I've never really liked cooking much because a meal takes the same 20 minutes to eat regardless of how much or how little time the cook spent preparing it. So I do not want to do any yarn bombing myself. But while I also don't want to condemn yarn bombing, I do think that like any hobby, it's best practiced with some restraint and self-awareness.
This topic hits something of a nerve with me because of the thinking I've been doing for the last year or so about leisure-type activities. The lengths to which North Americans go to pursue their hobbies alternately awes and appalls me. I used to volunteer with a woman who was into quilting, and she told me about a weekend road trip she was planning with a friend, which trip involved them driving from Toronto, Ontario, to somewhere in West Virginia for the sole purpose of looking at a quilt. A former co-worker of mine once drove over an hour to get to, and spent all one Sunday afternoon attending, a basset hound owners' picnic with her basset hound puppy. My father, who is a very talented woodworker, flew to Norway with my mother in the summer of 2011 to go on a woodworkers' cruise. There are video gamers who spend forty hours a week gaming, and this is on top of holding down a full-time job. And of course there are mountain climbers and deep sea divers who travel the world for the sake of finding new heights to climb and new depths to dive to.
I'm not about to condemn any hobby as an outright waste of time. Practically any endeavour can become worthwhile if one brings a sufficient level of effort, intelligence and creativity to it. And lots of hobbies, though they may not be what you could call productive in themselves, yield benefits. They might be good physical exercise, be educational, keep the brain challenged and active, or give one the opportunity to make like-minded friends and become part of a community. Sometimes they can be developed into a money-making business, at which point they can be said to have stopped being a hobby. Or they can just be purely for fun, and that's just fine. Simple enjoyment is a worthwhile end in itself; one cannot and should not work all the time.
But I do get appalled when I see leisure time activities pursued to harmful excess. Though I won't condemn any particular activity, it's also fair to say that not all leisure activities are equally worthwhile. Some are flabby pleasures, activities that demand almost nothing from us and that will degrade us physically and mentally if we spend too much time on them. Spending the entire evening watching TV and loafing on the couch with a bag of chips is fine once in a while, but if you do it every night of your life, or even every other night, you won't like the long-term results. And on average, North Americans are doing almost exactly that; it's been estimated that the average Canadian spends 21 hours a week, or a quarter of their lives, watching TV.
Even the most worthwhile of hobbies can be problematic when indulged in to excess, if they are carried to the point that we neglect other, more important things, such as physical care of ourselves, relationships or livelihoods or other responsibilities, or life goals. Leisure time activities can become a black hole in which we can lose our way in life, our ambitions, our obligations, ourselves. I think often of a guy I knew in my early twenties who owed his ex-girlfriend $2000. She was on social assistance because she couldn't get work after an inter-provincial move, and he never sent her a penny, but somehow during the same time frame he had $1200 to spend on Laser Quest — he told me so himself. His playing Laser Quest in this context was both selfish and the means to suppress any awareness that he was being selfish; it was the snake eating its own tail. A few years later I met someone else who spent seven or eight hundred dollars a month and almost all her free time on ballroom dancing and clothes shopping, and then expected everyone she knew to listen to her feel sorry for herself because she didn't have a house or retirement savings, or the time to take courses to qualify herself for a better job than the one she had and hated, or even to clean her one-bedrooom apartment.
In this world, 35,000 children die of starvation of every day, and over a million people make their living from picking garbage dumps. Even in first world countries there are so many problems that need to be solved, and so many people who need a helping hand. And yet many of those who are comfortably circumstanced, who spend hundreds of dollars and a hundred hours or more a month on frivolous pursuits, claim they have "no time" to volunteer and "no money" to donate to charity, nor even the time to inform themselves on current events and to vote. It's no wonder the rest of the world resents North Americans the way they do.
After writing and considering all the above, it seems to me any hobby is fine if pursued with a certain mindfulness and sense of proportion. Things like TV-watching, internet surfing, crafting, sports, artistic pursuits, video games, recreational shopping, and reading trashy books are all very well (I wouldn't want to live in a world without them), but they do need to be kept in their place.
I see no reason why yarn bombing can't be just as worthwhile as many other more common leisure activities, or why it should get any less respect than, say, golf. Yarn bombing can be made to serve a larger purpose. As you can see from the photos of yarn bombing I've included in this post, yarn bombing can be a way of making a political statement, a way of getting people talking and thinking about an issue. Yarn bombing is an undeniable attention grabber. If you were to walk down the street and pass a bus covered in crochet, you would notice the decorated bus because would be impossible not to notice it. And then given all the people who will see the bus, at least a few will be bound to take a picture of it and put it on the net. It will get covered in the local news, and possibly be picked up by larger media outlets. In a noisy, busy world like this one, attention-getting stunts like yarn bombing can be very useful in terms of promoting events or raising awareness for causes. Yarn bombers who harness that power can hardly be said to be wasting their time and materials, especially when yarn bombing is only one, fun part of what they're doing with their lives.
(All photos taken from Time magazine's photo essay on yarn bombing, which can be viewed here.)