Saturday, March 21, 2009

Little by little

Before I left for Korea, my boss told me to be present and take in everything while here b/c this is such an incredible gift. I thought it was a nice idea at the time, but not one that I was capable of enacting: being present?! ME? But now I'm closer to it than I ever imagined. I feel thankful daily, and am taking in as much as I can w/o imploding.

Yesterday, I headed back out to the papermill where I worked this winter. I needed to shoot video of my teacher to prep for a presentation where I'll compare sheet formation styles of living hanji makers. I've gone there twice on my own before, but of course at the very last transfer, I got on the wrong bus and it veered off in the wrong direction. After waiting for too long at a seemingly abandoned bus stop, I walked up to a church compound that was open but eerily empty. Then I walked until I found some semblance of civilization, and was able to ask the front desk at a motel-type establishment to call a cab for me. The good part was that I was lost in incredibly beautiful mountain and water scenery.

The cab driver talked about how he used to teach and do lots of public speaking in front of hundreds of people, but how cab driving has made it harder for him to do that. He then launched into the nature of cab conversations, and how people talk about things they never would in other settings. It was kind of great since I was there, fully present, fully loving this ride, being taken from lost to Eden (literally, to Eden). It was kind of magic, sitting in that cab with black upholstery and the button cushioned ceilings.

It was GREAT to go back to the mill, but funny to walk it now in spring, with things alive, no ice, and water trickling in the streams. Now that my teacher's younger brother has re-joined the family business, all sorts of new developments are afoot. There's a porch now off the box container, the deck off the mill is being re-stained, gardens are being prepped, there's a new trough for beater outflow, the broken greenhouse glass is gone and a GORGEOUS new, huge wood vat is inside, a new load of pepper plants is waiting to be burned, and the vinyl house is now filled with 3,000 mulberry plants. Plus, my teacher's mom had back surgery and now is in much better health - it was amazing to see her standing upright and with her face so bright.

Of course, my teacher was crazy generous again with information, paper, and other materials. He took me to three different storehouses to give me samples of mulberry bark, and then gampi and mitsumata. SUCH lovely fiber. We talked about how the former makes paper like men's skin, and the latter, women's. I had lunch with the family, complete with homemade "cookies" - not sweet, with mugwort leaves. My teacher drove me to the train station, got me some amazing Korean tea (more like a power drink: this dark brown, sweet tea with a raw egg yolk, nuts, dates, and sesame seeds) at the Korean predecessor of today's cafe: no frills, men sleeping on benches and being woken up when customers came in, strong tea/coffee.

After riding back to Seoul and napping hard, I rushed back home with all my paper goodies, got into a changing frenzy, and ran back out the door to attend a Fulbright dinner. I met some amazing new grantees, and am excited to spend more time with them before I leave. One teaches at the school I visited down south last week, and knows the people that I met, one of whom sent me fantastic photos of my visit and gave me lovely feedback about my work (art and research). Afterwards, we went out for tea, which turned out to be a girls' night out in a cafe set up like a train - seats from trains, train tracks, etc.

I stayed up until 2:30am trying to get work done. Thankfully, I finally finished my taxes. I went back to my dyeing lessons today after a week and a half away, and was thrown into a super intense day. Today's dye was safflower petals, which require a lot more work and handling. I kneaded a huge bag of them for about half an hour, and then learned to prep fabric to tie dye. Suddenly, there was a huge influx of visitors, and we ended up having a 9-person lunch. I had coffee forced on me 3x today, which was NOT a good thing to accept, but now I know never to do that again.

It was great to get back to dyeing after lunch while everyone socialized, and there was a man there whose wife came for lessons. He had given up drinking and smoking in hopes of getting off of high blood pressure medication, and it was nice to dye side-by-side quietly. It made me think about what I should be doing NOW to prevent my own hereditary high blood pressure proclivity. One of things should be not freaking out constantly about my obese workload. I am getting coached almost daily by Ben to only take things one at a time, instead of going into paralysis thinking about my entire to do list all at once.

He was asking what kind of work I have to do after I do fieldwork or meet with people, and I told him that I need double the time that I spend with people to digest and process. Most of my processing is through writing, but when I don't have time to do it, I feel like armies of aliens have invaded my body and are constantly crawling under my skin. The problem is that if I don't write immediately, some of them get deep enough into my body that I can't flush them all out. And then I just feel crazy. The other problem is that the rest of my processing has been sacrificed b/c of time: sketchbooking. No wonder I feel like my lymph system is all clogged. Yesterday was enough interacting, hearing stories, and sharing information to keep me processing for a week. Today was all about remembering that I have magic hands. And making gorgeous pinks.

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