For my first Confluence article ever, I thought I would share something more personal and fun. Last week I bombarded you with listserv messages trying to bring awareness to the plight of Term and Contract Academic workers as part of Fair Employment Week… but guess what? Before this past week, I hadn’t really paid that close of attention to what Fair Employment Week was all about, I had the kind of tunnel vision that protects and insulates us from going crazy! I know you know what I mean, because you’ve survived this far in the pandemic. It wasn’t for lack of effort by my esteemed CCFA colleagues or our excellent Past-President, it was because their plight hadn’t touched me directly. Yet, there are some experiences universal enough to bind us together in empathy. The death of a loved one, for example. I have been utterly fortunate in my life to have known my grandparents closely, at least in my youth. As an adult, my attentions were diverted elsewhere, my own child – our life, the job that consumed me, and the bills needing to be paid. All of these loomed larger and more importantly upon my small world. As they aged, I knew it intellectually, but I didn’t experience it. And whey they passed, it was a sorrow – but distance had a way of blunting my grief. Until my partner’s grandmother, Roshan, was diagnosed with age-related mental dementia, I had been able to carefully avoid the pain of loss and feelings of powerlessness as I had observed the similar declines of my own grandparents. We’d all prefer to be able to lock those feelings up in a box and bury them too deep to find. Maybe I’m luckier than I’ll ever know because somehow Roshan, in her altered states of consciousness, responded to me – and no one else. I could reach her, she would listen, and that made all the difference in her care and managing the progression of her disease. From 2014 onward, I was her companion, personal shopper, medical advisor, and non-judgemental confidante. Maybe after you’ve lived so long, you begin to feel like only someone who hasn’t known you all your life can really understand you or see you as who you are in the moment. Free from the baggage we carry as a result of a lifetime of choices, decision, and relationship challenges. Maybe she just liked my smile and voice… even at the end, she said both were a comfort to her. The pandemic was especially hard on us both – due to the visitation restrictions in her care home, it was over a year before we were able to visit in person again. But, she cheerfully received two COVID-19 vaccinations so we were able to spend time together in person again before her passing at the age of 96.
I didn’t expect it to be such a blow. I mean, I’d lost all my other grandparents before this, and while I’d felt the pain of loss, it had never hit me this acutely. I can’t bring myself to cancel the reminder alarm on my phone that tells me it is time to Skype with her at the nursing home. Even now, at 11:20 every Sunday, the alarm ring tone “you make me smile” plays, and I either I smile or I cry. OMG… you are thinking to yourself, what the ______! Is this an issue of the Confluence or the script for the next Netflix limited series? There’s a link. I promise. Maybe you can guess from the title? Grandma Roshan was a brilliant knitter. When we moved her into the care home and cleaned out her apartment, there were large plastic bags full of yarn, waiting to become hats or booties or scarves. She’d knit them by the hundreds for premature infants at the hospital, for local unhoused members of our community, and even sent some to refugee
camps across Europe. As I look back, until her dementia and arthritis robbed her of the ability to knit… I can’t recall her without some sort of Work in Progress (WIP).
When she moved into the care home my attentions were elsewhere, they were divided, other things ranked much, much higher than what to do with a mountain of stuff I had nowhere to store. I had mere days to determine what would join her, end up at Goodwill, sort the recycling, and dispose of the remainder. I can be insanely efficient and decisive, be warned! With the task completed and Grandma settled, I didn’t think twice about surrendering her entire collection of knitting needles, yarn, and notions to Goodwill.
After all, I had no use for them and didn’t know how to knit myself, when would I ever need such things? And then she died. It wasn’t truly sudden, but it wasn’t unexpected either. She was
just spent. As a health care professional who spent more than six years working with end-of-life patients, I had experienced it many times, my own grandparents when they passed, I remember being sad. But nothing could have prepared me for the devastation I felt when Roshan was gone. I felt adrift and disconnected, something someone I’d (possibly) viewed as a duty and burden was gone from my life and I missed them more than I’d ever experienced from a loss before.
What do you do? You search for a way to connect with that thing you’ve lost. You try to find a way to feel closer to them. Well, I decided to try to learn to knit to feel closer to grandma. Let me tell you… learning to knit is EXACTLY like learning to be president of this Union. You have no idea how sorry I was to have gotten rid of all her kitting paraphernalia, a lesson I’m thoughtfully applying to our digital data management and file archiving project. I started out not having a clue. There were knitting needles and yarn in my hand… I had an idea of what you’re supposed to be doing (and pretty confident that I’d have no problem learning) and just expected the amount of effort applied to equal a fantastic hat, shawl, or scarf in not time. NOPE.
Instead… I would knit three rows tentatively, and then rip (or frog) out two of them, at least twice before feeling confident that I’ve got it right. Then, after knitting several projects and being super happy with how they had turned out, someone mentioned that I’d been twisting my stiches. Making an unintentional mistake, glaring in retrospect – but impossible to have known
without the hind sight. The finished projects are done, but I learned how to improve in the future.
Now I’m learning to read knitting patterns… and if you think we have a lot of acronyms in the union SD, PD, FPSE, DRISC, BCC, CMC, CNC…, that’s nothing on knitting SSK, K2TG, SSP, WS, RS, KFTB & more! But reading patterns in knitting helps you understand the fabric and fall of the finished product. Learning to read labour management patterns and the fabric of our Collective Agreement has been a huge part of my initial learning curve as president. I hope better understanding these helps us fall in better with the future president and to improve our fit during bargaining this round.
Also, there’s about a dozen different ways to knit, I’m a Russian style knitter. I spent many hours trying to figure out why nothing I watched on YouTube made any sense, or matched what I was doing. It made me feel like everything I was doing was wrong even though my product was the same and my stiches looked just like they were supposed to. Finally I realized it didn’t matter if I got there a little differently. I’m going to be a different kind of president than the CCFA has had before. But in the end, I hope what you get turns out the same; a strong union that upholds member rights, is engaged with members, and adds value to your employment.
If you want to learn more about our Union’s “WIPs” (works in progress), drop by Young 222 on most Tuesdays or Thursdays for a chat – I’m even occasionally at IU! The best way to reach me is on Teams. I’m probably in the minority, but I love it. Also look for me randomly wandering your office hallways from time to time, dropping in to meet as many of our members as I can. The survey results are telling us of what kind of “infosessions” will be of greatest use to you and I hope to announce the first of those in November.
I’d also like to invite you, the members of the CCFA to tell me more about what you need from your Union representatives. We are here to support you, and if the way we are going about it, isn’t doing the job, we need to figure out the best way to change. I’m not afraid of undoing & starting over. The scarf (previous page) just wasn’t working for me… seed stich and hand
-spun yarn are not a good match, so I undid it all. Now, I’m loving the progress of the sweater above (even after restarting it at least three times). It seemed like I wouldn’t be able to get the cast-on to come out right, but I never quit. You can depend on me, as your president to do the same and I know somewhere, Grandma is quite proud of both.
Yours truly on day 65,
New CCFA President, Lynelle Yutani