Friday, 31 January 2020

Procraftination & Craftermath

" I cursed you as I procraftinated for weeks and then double cursed you in the craftermath."
The workshop participants are usually on their best behavior the first few hours of the workshop.
We meet in a calm hotel lobby in the chaos of downtown Tokyo at ten in the morning and I have them in the quiet mountain village by twelve for lunch. There is always that WTF-how-did-I-get-here-? feeling in the house as they peek in their rooms and check out the house and pets and bathrooms. Then they stealthy eye up their fellow indigo otters. (And the otter chief.)
But the happy-happy-craft-holiday-in Japan-spirit is present and thick. 
After lunch we gather round the table and look at the dreaded homework. (They inevitably shyly boast of how they were stitching the last twenty rows on the airplane.)
A total group of strangers and they have to show what work they have done in preparation the past few months.
Judgement time. 
I send out a homework box from Japan to their homes around the world in advance. There is not enough time to stitch and cut stencils once they are here. I use the homework projects to keep them busy to the point-of-almost-desperation the entire ten days. 
There are two bigger projects that take time and talent.
Cutting a few stencils on the smokey smelling traditional persimmon tannin paper.
A woodgrain stitching project that can take up to 50 hours of stitching. A pattern is drawn on and the horizontal stitches and jumps determent the pattern. I send an amazing 2 meter piece of crinkle fine linen for this project. It dyes in indigo to perfection. 
The patterns each has chosen and drawn on with disappearing orchid ink are of endless interest to the young indigo otters. Each person stitches differently. Some have incredibly fine even stitches covering the entire cloth. Others have rough irregular stitches. These details are quietly noted with pursed otter lips and twitching whiskers standing around the table. 
Over the next ten days the threads are meticulously drawn up and tied and dyed in indigo twelve dips/ twelve oxidations and then opened rinsed and taken to the river and beaten until the water runs clear and the blue is deep and gorgeous.
The process binds the otters as they see the pride and hard work and determination in each other through the steps. 
One Scottish lady years ago had a tad too much rice wine at the welcome lunch. She didn't seem so plussed about putting her work on display either. 
" I cursed you Bryan as I procraftinated for weeks and then double cursed you in the craftermath."
Fer a wee moment we taut 'er accent was bit 'ard to understand.( Or she 'ad a wee bit of a wisp. )
Then we all cracked up.
I am putting together the 50 spring homework boxes right now to get them in the mail in a few days. 
It has become a winter tradition. Hiro was in the hospital this winter and that gave me plenty of time at home being serious and focused on methodical tasks.
Finding cute stamps for the box, endless postal form filling and double checking everything is in each box and they inch towards the post office....
The country town post office workers dread the days I swamp them with a truck load of homework boxes. 
It is comforting to know that the boxes are opened all over the world with anticipation and delight. It adds to the excitement of their trips to Japan.

Friday, 22 November 2019

I lost my voice for a few days of the last workshop. We were down in the river beating indigo dyed projects on the rocks in the fish ladder.
We had climbed back up the staggered ladder rungs imbedded in the faux rock face and were standing around all chattering from our frozen November wet feet, the excitement of the unfolding of freshly beaten beautiful indigo projects and the overall beauty of the spot with golden light filtering through breeze-fueled autumn leaves.
The old hunter guy next door was up on the road just out of sight firing a rifle over our heads.
I doubted he could see us below. Synapses fired... Is anyone dressed like a boar or a monkey by chance....No..thank God.
Are we dressed in monkey-grey hoodies with red-assed trousers on?
No... God is merciful.
I doubt he has his hearing aid in because it would deafen him when he fired the rifle.
Screaming will do no good.
But insanely animated jumping jacks and shouting seemed the only reasonable thing to do in the situation.
The workshop of United Kingdomers...
What is going on? Turned to amusement, turned to terror as I started jumping around waving my hands screaming at the half-unseen 89 year old monkey-killer-hunter on the embankment above us.
Perhaps he would hear the twelve of us screaming just below his field of vision and aim downward to shoot 'monkeys' as they ran across the bridge to escape without looking?
"Indigo workshop members shot in cold blood after rinsing their homework projects...."
He noticed us and blushed and laughed.
He might have been shooting into air just to amuse himself at our expense.
I love this old guy. Lives in the house in front of mine. One foot in hunter/ gatherer in 2019. No glass windows on the front of his old house. Just the most elegant simple entrance imaginable. A red tengu mask above the door.
I walked back to the house and told James the story.
"You mean he was shooting 'at' monkeys over your head. I thought he was shooting monkeys over your head for a moment."

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Ogata Kane 1918 - 2019

Sutras need to be chanted to send off our friends to their next destination.
Some sutras are about listing up the deceased persons life.
Born. Experienced war. Married. Kids. Grandkids. Played the role of a parent/grandparent etc. Liked to garden and cook.
The sutras read as the coffin is about to be loaded with flowers are more profound. More solemn as the casket is pushed into the furnace. Hypnotizing as the bones are picked up with chopsticks by friends and relatives and placed in the urn.
Really serious sutras about how nothing really exists but everything exists while the bone urn is placed on the alter and the journey to become a monk in the afterlife starts.
Ogata san showed up at my house when she was 85 and wanted to join the Tuesday indigo/textile class I ran for years.
At 85 I figured she wanted to drop by for an hour and dip something.
I drove to her house not far away at 8:30 in the morning to pick her up for many years.
She was often in her flower and vegetable garden. Harvesting something. Pruning something. Weeding something.
She always brought along a lacquered box with some delicious rice dish and something she made from her vegetable garden to share with the students at the house.
She made herself at home and knew the contents of every drawer and cupboard in my kitchen. She cooked for us for many years. Always delicious.
She would climb down the steep ladder into the river to collect wild greens. She would climb up the back mountain and gather mushrooms or ginger flowers.
Sometimes she sat quietly and stitched her projects.
She had immaculate taste.
She had silk farmed and wove kimono as a young woman. Her paper-like hands never forgot how to handle those thousands of fine silk filaments as she helped me warp a loom.
Sometimes she was talkative and told us stories of her life.
We all loved her and worshipped her.
Up until she was 100 years old she would come over to my house and show my foreign guests how to make noodles from scratch.
She met hundreds of foreigners. Hundreds of them.
They all loved her. She was so impressive in her demure way. She embodied a certain Japaneseness that we yearned for.
She modeled at 96 years old for a Finnish designer.
She came over and saw that I had some sexy hot tattooed Dutch guys staying at the house. She went home and changed into a kimono and came back and flirted shamelessly with these guys.
She had a sense of humor that would take us by surprise. As often happens, I would get carried away with a rather crude story..... she loved them. No prude.
We had media interviews together. We cooked and made things together and we ate together for so many years.
She sat and stitched after dinner her entire life. She stitched until a few days before her peaceful death at home.
She prepared dozens of hand stitched towels and they were handed out to wipe out tears at her funeral.
She used to buy the kits with pictures of Hello Kitty and stitch them up.
Last year at 100 she went rogue. She free stitched bright colors with random stitches on gauze and gave them to her admirers. (She was a Leo.
As my plane took off in the Southern Hemisphere on my way back to Japan she passed away. I must have seen her out the window of the plane in the blue sky above the clouds.
Our name collects karmic dirt as we move through life with our sins of greed, arrogance, selfishness......duality....
In Japan when you die a Buddhist priest gives you a new name as you move on to your training as a Buddhist monk after death. The new name is announced at the wake.
Ogata sans new name included the characters 清 and 藍。A 'pure indigo blue'. I felt honored. She showed up at 85 years old at my house to study indigo. She was born in 1918. She was 101 years old.
Thank you beautiful Ogata san. Thank you for those thousands of moments we spent together over the years.
You will always been my heart.