Friday, January 16, 2009

NOW it's starting to hurt

Brr. Just in case it seemed like I just walked 20 min down an icy country road, ate breakfast w/the family, and starting pulling sheets, it's not nearly so easy. Almost every day we have to deal w/something freezing over. Halves of days go to defrosting the pipes or whatever it is that is frozen. Luckily, I don't have to help w/that b/c it involves a lot of being outdoors w/steam machines. This is what I call them b/c I don't know what they really are. Just look like green motors with tiny tubing coming off and steam coming out of the tubes. The floors are all huge rusted sheets of metal, and of course I always step into the gaps between joints where the waste water runs out. Standing on frozen metal is kind of sucky. It's bad enough also working w/slippery hibiscus roots, but then imagine slickness iced over.

Today I walked out to whiteness: the first snow since I've arrived. Makes it quite dangerous to walk since all the ice is now hidden from view. But it meant that today was a tiny bit warmer than it has been. I took my time getting to the vat b/c I knew it would be a long day of pulling. My main teacher left yesterday for a business trip to Japan so the atmosphere here is a lot different. He comes back after the lunar new year. So this morning I slacked by reading this gorgeous book that lives in the box container: Naoaki Sakamoto's Paper Across Continents. There's a chapter on the family here. It's so lovely. He keeps saying "paper gives me peace." I think about all the people who scamper around the world on the paper chase (that's what Christian called my trip out here).

I loved this part, from when the author traveled to the Amazon. The people there, before he left, said
This is the first time you, white people who are not the Ticuna, have stayed here for eight days. We are very grateful. We would like to give you a present, but as you see, we have nothing to give. But we would like to give you a song.
And then they sang to him w/guitar accompaniment and he cried.

Yesterday, watching my teacher weave me a necklace, I thought, what if we still made things like this? By hand, labor intensive, time intensive. Everything would feel more valuable, in the best kind of way. But I know that's all fantasy. Yesterday I talked to Hyesun, and she asked if I was thinking of extending my stay. I said no, but realized that the thought of going back to Seoul in a few weeks is not so attractive. I think also of when I got a residency at Banff but turned it down, and Andrea, my first papermaking teacher, said to me that I should create my OWN residency. I suppose this is what I'm doing right now. It's more like a residency and intensive class all rolled into one.

I love that one of the women here (actually, all three at some time or another, but this one in particular does it very often) bursts into spontaneous song. She's hilarious. Today, another asked if my mom is upset that I'm over 30 and unmarried. They all seem to think that I must miss my mom a lot b/c it's so cold and I'm out here alone. I tried to explain to them that I get along best w/her when we are this far away from each other.

Last night, I got really into trying to weave my own little things using techniques I had learned, and then, b/c I am me, I totally stabbed myself in the thigh w/a tiny pair of (very sharp) scissors. I learned that artist tape doesn't stick to skin very well (I didn't have any bandages on me; no first aid kit in my love motel room). I've been really lucky, though, injury-wise. My first injury was on day one, when I scratched my face with dead, dried pepper trees b/c I was throwing myself onto piles of them, hoping my body weight would crush the branches so I could bundle a lot into each pile I made. If I make it out of here w/no machete injuries, I will consider this a highly successful experiment.

I made paper all day today. I'm getting the hang of pulling more and more, so I get less and less of those awful stretch marks/air bubbles that are highly embarrassing. But today the youngest son told me to cap my beautiful high post and start over, to practice starting a post. I was dreading this, and rightly so. I had to discard at least four sheets until he finally was able to get one to couch. Of course, right about then, a huge family came for a tour, and suddenly I had to be the demo person. Bad timing, since I was about to demo some really poor couching. But I survived. It wasn't very well heated in the studio today so it was a little rough, and I find that it's not so much my hands (which feel pins and needles when I'm laying in bed at night - it takes THAT long for them to defrost), but my wrists that get super chilled.

I called it quits at around 4pm today and tomorrow I am supposed to finish the rest of the fiber (about 2 vatfuls, maybe? I did three today) and then dry everything. I guess I should just be thankful that I can do this mostly alone now. I agitated 2.5 vats by myself, which is hard b/c the poles are only so long and the vat is BIG, but I'm getting better at stirring hard. Apparently, in the past, paper was pulled by two people at a time. I was thinking about how hard it is to have three points of movement/pivoting: my two arms, and then the cord that the back of the screen is hanging from. But it is still way easier than worrying about coordinating w/a whole other person.

What I love is when my teacher tells me stories about how bamboo poles were used by vatmen to beat the mill workers. Or when his brother says that stripped mulberry branches make very good whipping sticks.

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